The ‘Conflict Resolution’ Interview Question

One question that comes up quite often in interviews has to do with the issue of conflict. More accurately it’s not so much about conflict but rather conflict resolution. Like any question asked of you in an interview, the key is to figure out what’s behind the question and how to direct your answer to the needs of the interviewer who is assessing you and determining your fit with the organization in the position.

So if the interviewer said, “Give me an example of a time you experienced conflict on the job and walk me through the steps you took to resolve the situation”, how would you reply?

I’ve worked with many people over the years and that means I’ve heard a wide variety of responses; some great, some good and some mediocre at best all the way to just plain poor. I’d have to say the worst thing an applicant could do with this question is declare that they’ve never experienced conflict on the job and leave the answer there. No conflict on the job? None at all? No interviewer is going to buy that. Furthermore, even if it were true, you’d be expecting to be rated highly by the interviewer against other applicants by essentially skipping the question with an answer like that. This is just not a good strategy.

THE key place to start when you break down the question is to determine what conflict is. For some, conflict means an outright physical fight. Seeing as 1) physical fights don’t typically break out in the workplace and 2) to share that you have been involved in one with a co-worker, management or a customer would be suicidal, so viewing conflict as a physical altercation might not be the best approach.

Conflict if not a physical confrontation then, has to occur in some other way. It could be where the customer wants one thing and the policy of a store is something different; as in a full refund demanded but an item was purchased as a final sale. Conflict could also be where two employees have very different working styles and frequently work in shared environments. Perhaps receiving conflicting directives from two different Managers leads an employee to experience stress and there is no immediately clear way to satisfy both their expectations. Any of these represent conflict in the workplace.

If you re-read the question above posed by the interviewer, you can break it down into 4 pieces, all of which need to be addressed in your answer.

  1. A specific example of conflict
  2. The example has to be job-related
  3. Steps taken must be illustrated
  4. The example used must be resolved

By breaking down the question into these 4 components, you can better answer the question, and as you mentally check off each item as you address it, your own self-confidence rises. These beats ‘winging it’; where you ramble along and hope that somewhere in your answer you give the interviewer what they are looking for. The problem with this kind of answer is that not only does it seldom answer the question fully; you as the applicant are left wondering if you’ve said enough or too much.

Now before you get to the interview, you should include as part of your preparation a review of the job requirements. If the job posting specifically mentions conflict resolution, being able to prioritize tasks, resolve situations, problem solve etc., you’d be smart to have several examples prepared ahead of time that demonstrate your conflict resolution skills. Keep in mind that the interview is listening for HOW you went about resolving the situation and assessing your answer compared to how they want people to resolve conflict in their workplace. So how you solved problems and dealt with conflict elsewhere is likely how you’ll approach problems and conflict working with them if hired.

Everyone experiences conflict. You should never attempt to sell an interviewer the line that you’ve never experienced conflict of any kind in the workplace. You may unintentionally come across as dishonest, hiding something, not really knowing yourself, or perhaps how you’ve dealt with conflict resulted badly. None of these are what you want to leave the interviewer thinking.

What you do want to leave the interview with is the impression that you deal with conflict proactively and responsibly; resolving conflict before it escalates and does irreparable harm to the organization. Conflict never resolves itself, and if the job you are applying for is one working with other people, then it’s your interpersonal skills that are going to play a big part of your answer. How did you approach that customer or co-worker? Did you listen as well as talk to gain their perspective? Did you exercise patience, empathy and consider your options? Did you actually think of alternatives and resolutions or just quote a policy and keep repeating it over and over, further annoying the client to the point where they are now sharing their terrible experience with not just you but the company as a whole?

Conflict resolution is a skill just like any other. While some take conflict with a customer over a policy very personally, others see the conflict for what it is – a problem with a policy. They don’t ‘own’ the conflict even though they are the person on the receiving end as the company representative.

So, can you come up with an example of conflict resolution?


Musing On The Superstars

Ever wonder what it must be like for the athletes who get to play beside the really elite players? Whether its baseball, cricket, hockey, football, soccer, basketball or any other sport you can name, it must be quite a thrill to line up with some famous player and play a game you have a mutual love for. I also wonder if those same people live entirely consciously in the moments, or do they only truly realize how privileged they are after their careers are over, they get traded or moved to another position etc.

Just imagine having the chance to line up with Renaldo in soccer, Richard or Gretzky in hockey, Jordan in basketball, Ruth in baseball. Sure you might see the human side outside the spotlight where the player struggled from time-to-time, but what a thrill it would be to participate in their greatness. What a joy it must have been to watch up close those people ply their trade, train hard and use their natural skills on a daily basis.

Yes it certainly would make coming to work every day exciting to work alongside such a superstar! But wait a moment; superstars don’t only exist in the world of sports do they? What would it have been like to play with and be among the Beatles in the music industry? Or what if you were cast regularly to work in movies with Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo or Harrison Ford?

No matter the industry, there are the average, the good, the great and those who are superstars at what they do. I suppose that means there’s every possibility that you’ve got someone in your workplace who could be that superstar. Maybe you’re the lucky person that gets to work with them? Ah what that must feel like to come to work every day and take up your place next to their cubicle; just like you were lining up on the field with them! Yes sir, what a thrill!

Hey wait a minute; why be content to just take your place alongside a superstar? The really great ones; the ones who excel and don’t accept just being good as the best they can be; the ones who demand more of themselves each day and put in hours of training to become and stay great – why can’t you and I be one of those very people? Why can’t we be the superstar of the office, the best of the best on the factory floor; the closer they send in when the chips are down and the deadline is looming? The answer of course is that we can if we want it bad enough.

Whenever I hear the story of some truly outstanding athlete, I note that they usually come from pretty humble beginnings. They work hard, often being the first one to practice and the last to leave the ice or field – on a regular basis. While their teammates are out socializing or sleeping, their hitting the playing surface working on getting faster, more accurate, shooting harder, catching better, studying playbooks and doing their homework scouting the opposition.

When you punch out from work at the end of your shift, what do you do? Could you do more? Are you motivated to be the very best you can be, whether that best makes you a superstar or just a very good worker? Not all of us want to put in the effort that is required to be a superstar. Those long hours in solitude researching and learning, reading manuals, periodicals, and articles, networking with others, staying on the cutting edge of our chosen fields; no not all of us are that committed to greatness. That’s okay by the way; there’s nothing wrong with being good if not great, at your job.

Now while it’s true that if you put in the effort required you could certainly elevate your performance and be considered one of the very best in your organization, don’t expect to sign lucrative contract offers in the millions, or have your every move captured by your own play-by-play announcer. “Julie’s up from her chair and rounding the water cooler with the report in hand and drops in smack dab in the inbox on her bosses’ desk! Oh what a decisive move that was! Where does this kid get her energy? You just don’t see that kind of tenacity often enough these days!”

Seriously though, could you – or rather would you – want to be recognized as one of the very best at what you do? If the answer is yes, then what’s stopping you isn’t likely anything more than your own determination and motivation. I believe that if you really want to be considered a superstar at what you do it requires more effort on your part than those around you.

Many people learn enough to do the job and then their desire to do more peaks and stops. These aren’t bad people, nor are should they be scolded for not doing more; their doing their job. Is that good enough for you? Are you content to do your job, be remembered as an average worker who put in their time and did their job but didn’t really do anything memorable or outstanding?

If you choose otherwise, you might be the person people see as the Superstar. Put in the extra effort to be better and it could happen. Why not you?

Let’s Talk Your Perfect Job

The perfect job; well it depends doesn’t it. What’s a great job for some is a terrible fit for others. So it’s fairly safe to say that there is no one job that is going to be the ideal or perfect job for everyone. That being said however, you’re probably not looking for a job that is perfect for everyone anyhow; you’re looking for a job that’s perfect for you and you alone.

There are 3 core things that make up the perfect job and all three of these must be present and felt by the person for the job to be the best possible fit for the person doing the work. These include: a job that pays well, a job you’re good at and doing work that you love. There are a lot of factors that you need to consider when you’re evaluating the possibility of a job and / or career.

Before looking at the things you might want to contemplate when considering a job, imagine jobs you’ve held where only 1 or 2 of the 3 things has been present. Perhaps by way of example, you’ve found a job you’re good at and it pays well but you didn’t love it. Well you may have disliked the day-to-day work that you said, “There’s got to be something better!” so you left. Or imagine a job that you were good and it was work you loved doing, but the pay was so poor you couldn’t actually afford to keep working and needed more income and cried, “I love my job but I have bills, a mortgage and I want a better personal life!”, so you left. Of course the other possibility is that you loved the work itself and the job paid well but you weren’t really all that good in the job and you were let go.

Maybe one or more of these above scenarios have happened to you. Ah, but if you could find the right job with the right employer where: 1) you were good at the work, 2) it paid well and 3) you did what you loved, now that would be a winning combination!

Thinking of these three core items, here’s a short list of some of the things you might take into consideration when looking for that perfect job. Some of the items will have a low importance to you but perhaps be a key element for someone else. Conversely, someone else may put a low importance on something you feel very strongly about. So, think about how each of these impact on you personally as must haves in your perfect job:

  1. Getting positive feedback
  2. Doing physical work
  3. Outdoors vs. Indoors
  4. Working alone
  5. Group work
  6. Short commute
  7. Small Company
  8. Salary and benefits
  9. Supportive boss
  10. Challenging Work
  11. Tight deadlines
  12. Few distractions
  13. Creativity required
  14. Minimal change
  15. Job security
  16. Entry-level
  17. Advancement
  18. Recognition
  19. Humour and Fun
  20. Commission
  21. Flexible hours
  22. Shift work
  23. Weekends off
  24. Contract work
  25. Target bonuses
  26. Customer service

As you read each of the criteria I listed, which prompted a strong response and which were the items that you neither held a strong view one way or the other? When it comes to your commute, you may have such a small geographic area you are willing to work in, that you won’t be able to find a job doing what you love that pays well. And speaking of paying well, what does that mean for you? Some people are willing to sacrifice excellent pay for an average income if they work in a job they are good at and have passion for.

It may be that in order to make the high income you want, you have to expand your geographic area that you would be willing to work in. So now you require knowledge of what levels of income there are both where you live, and all the way out to the furthest you would be willing to commute. If an hour is your maximum commute, how do salaries vary between these distances for the same work? If you’d only commute 40 minutes, those incomes 41 – 60 minutes away must be passed over given your limitations.

Here’s how things break down if you only have 2 of the 3 core things required for the perfect job:

If you have a job that pays well and you’re good at it but it’s not what you love you’ll be bored.

If you have a job that pays well and you love it but you’re not good at it, you’re dreaming.

If you have a job you love and you’re good at it but you’re not paid well, you’ll be happy but poor.

You win when you have all three areas completely satisfied: you love what you do, you do it well and you’re paid well to do it.

Add other factors to your list beyond the 26 I’ve shared here. What’s important to you? Speak with people who love their work and are good at it who feel paid well for their services. As you have conversations you learn first-hand what the job is all about and from that you make your own assessment of what you’d love, what’d you be good at and what income you’d receive.

Sharing What I Received On Writing Resumes

Last month I put out an open request for input on the content and design of resumes. This was prompted when my fellow Employment Counsellors and I decided that it would be prudent to look at how others were constructing resumes, and feedback from other resume professionals, job hunters and employers would ensure we were using best practices.

Those that responded provided resume samples and comments, shared the reasons behind their suggestions and ideas, and I really appreciated the time and effort they put into what I received from them. Many also asked to be advised of what we came up with in the end too.

We decided that there has to be some room for variations and exceptions to any format as there is no, ‘one-size-fits-all’ resume. Here then, in the interest of networking and sharing, is some of what we arrived at:

  • Consistent use of Ariel font size 12 (Name only up to 20 pt.)
  • Email and phone number mandatory when available; drop headings, “Email” and “Phone No.”
  • Address optional – explain pros and cons and leave the decision to the person to include or not. Generally left out if punctuality and attendance could be a red flag based on distance of commute
  • Link to a LinkedIn profile included if the profile is fully developed
  • “Objective” or “Employment Objective” dropped
  • Profile (2-3 sentences) used immediately below contact information, written to self-brand and market concisely a person’s value offer; designed to motivate a full read of the document
  • “Qualifications” as a heading instead of “Highlights of Qualifications”
  • Qualifications should be in the present and mirror both the order and the words in the advertised posting rather than be buried in the 4th bullet
  • “Relevant Experience” used as a heading to capture both paid and non-paid experience that is pertinent to the job being applied to
  • “Additional Experience” used as a 2nd heading to capture both paid and non-paid experience a person has done but is not directly related to the job being applied to
  • Each experience formatted as Job Title Organization  Date in a single line with date to the extreme right
  • Months omitted from dates to avoid making positions appear brief
  • Locations omitted from each position (i.e. name of town, community, country) to avoid any opportunity of being discriminated against
  • Verbs used to describe actions in present jobs should be present; past used in the case of past jobs: “Manage” vs. “Managed etc.
  • Bullets should be round black dots in size 12 (like I’m using here)
  • Bulleted lines should not be concluded with periods, but if they are opted for, use them all the time or never; but not mixed
  • Include all internships, apprenticeships, volunteer work, co-ops and placements but do not identify them as such, as some employers place a reduced value on these vs. paid work
  • “Education and Professional Development” used a heading to capture a mix of both instead of two sections
  • Following the same format as experience, start with what the person obtained (Diploma, Degree, Certificate name) in bold, then the name of the organization to the right in regular font
  • Avoid any reference to an alternative, on-line or adult education experience as again some employers may de-value these and infer negative connotations; name the school board instead of the actual school attended
  • 8 ½” x 11” white paper stock
  • No italics, page borders, pictures, underlines, tables or templates
  • Do not cut and paste the job qualifications into the resume
  • Omit “References Available Upon Request” as this is a standard entity; use “Exceptional References Upon Request” if warranted and desired
  • Ensure grammar and spelling are correct
  • Ensure email is professional; it could be developed to self-brand or prompt action (mary.smith.psw@, callmary.psw.smith@)

One creative idea I received was the idea of inserting a few endorsements or recommendations from others, embedded right in the resume. Presumably, the reader would view these as external validation of the person’s impact and performance, and say, “If they’ve had such an impact while working elsewhere, I’d like to have them making that same impact working for me. Let’s offer them an interview.” I’d be interested in a follow up to see if this strategy works or not.

Where the biggest split in opinion seems to be is in the formatting of a current or previous positon on the resume. Some opted to put the name of the company first and bold, followed by the title of the position held on the following line in regular font. Others, (my peers and I included) came down on the side of putting the positon held first and in bold, with the organization in regular font.

The position we embraced as a group is that the resume is a person’s personal marketing document and as such, the employer first and foremost wants to know what positions an applicant has held, rather than the companies they’ve been employed by.

As I said earlier, I am happy to share these summations with you, and this was a good example of what networking and sharing is all about. We can learn so much from each other. I’d encourage you to actively engage when the opportunities to do so present themselves. You learn if you’re open and in the case of resumes, I could well offer a Job Seeker an alternative format I’d not previously considered.

Hope you found something here of value; a new idea or reinforcing your own style.

My Issue With Human Data Reporting

No matter what job you are in or what company you work for, you undoubtedly have measures in place that mark the organizations performance or production; captured in statistics. If you work in production, you may be counting the units you produced, maybe the number of sales if you’re in retail, or the number of complaints and goods returned etc.

If you work as I do with people, then your statistics might turn to the number of people who walk through your door each month, or as I work with people in receipt of social assistance, you might be tracking the number of folks who gain employment and drop off assistance altogether.

One thing that’s harder to measure however and I believe of far greater importance, is the number of people who make individual progress in their personal lives. How do you count and enter into some database the moments where someone comes to value themselves as a person after a lifetime of being told they would never amount to anything? How do you capture the empowerment a person realizes who calls you up on the phone and with great joy in their voice tells you how well their job interview went when previously they were filled with dread and anxiety just thinking of the interview process?

That’s the difficulty and challenge of working with people and yet needing to provide some measure of your effectiveness to those you are accountable to. If you just count the number of people who attend a workshop or drop-in to your building, you’re only counting physical bodies. If you capture only the number of people who exit ‘the system’, then you’re ignoring the people who on a daily basis are making individual progress and getter closer to their personal goals.

Yesterday I had a phone call from an excited lady I spent two weeks with in February. A significant amount of our time together was centered on interview preparation, practice and follow up. Now to be honest, she came to me with natural enthusiasm. In interviews however, she was unfocused, her answers to questions were exhausting and missed the mark. By providing her with some structure in the answers she gave in interviews, her chances of success had to improve; and in her case it wasn’t about trying to draw her out more, but in reality about trying to make sure that what she did share was on topic and confined to the questions asked.

Well, yesterday as I say she called. She has now had two interviews with an organization she is very interested in working for. The 2nd interview had just occurred yesterday and she was phoning to share her success; for even though she didn’t land the job as of yet, she feels the interview itself went well. They kept telling her things like, “Great, that’s exactly what we want to hear”, “You’ve really done your homework”, and “I like that answer!” so she felt encouraged as the interview went along. The 1 ½ hour 2nd interview was an enjoyable experience she told me, and I contrasted this statement with one of my earliest encounters with her where she said she was always nervous, stressed and filled with anxiety both before and during the process.

So how do you measure this kind of confidence and growth? This is the very kind of experience that won’t get notched into a database and passed on to funding bodies. These are the important stories however because the commodity we deal with is people; transitioning people from fragile and vulnerable to resilient and confident.

The wonderful thing about being on the receiving end of the phone call is that the good news she shared also has a residual impact that spreads out beyond just our mutual interaction. One of the things I had a chuckle over was that she told me how during the interview, she just pictured me being the person asking her the questions, and all of a sudden she felt relaxed and just started talking like she was having a conversation. Now I’ve never suggested a client picture me during their interview; I think that would be distracting personally and wouldn’t be all that helpful. However to her it was.

As I got off the phone though, I found I was smiling and happy; happy for her of course, but happy that I had played a part in helping her find her self-confidence. This positive feeling carried over without question as I encountered other people I met following the call. Call it a ripple effect if you will; I felt happy with my teachings validated by her success, and others are going to benefit as this reinforces my own need to make sure what I’m sharing is relevant in the real world. But again, how do you capture this kind of thing in some statistical report for a Ministry official who may be charged with determining a level of funding an organization receives in the coming year?

So do you work with people? If you do, then I certainly applaud you for the good work you do in having such an impact for good on their lives. If you deliver Hope and Possibilities delivered with Enthusiasm and Empowerment, you’ll have your own stories of Change and Enlightenment on those you work with. Turning a frown upside down sounds trite but isn’t it what we do?

Short-Term Transition / Survival Jobs

When you’re out of work and struggling to get interviews for your dream job; the position with the company you ideally want, there comes a time when you may broaden the narrow scope of what you are looking for to include jobs you wouldn’t have considered prior. The real dilemma in a job search is determining both when to broaden the search and just how wide the search will be extended.

There is no set formula, and the advice any one person will receive varies greatly because people are at different stages of their job search. It could be for example that an unemployed fellow is looking for work as a Marketing Specialist in the Film Industry. He’s been at it for 10 months with little to show for it; perhaps a single interview. With bills to pay, frustration mounting, and self-worth eroding, he considers looking at other opportunities. One option is to consider marketing positions in other industries where his skills are transferable while keeping one eye fixed on postings in the industry he really wants to work in.

However perhaps as another option he broadens the scope extremely wide and starts applying to jobs in the electronic retail sector. While some people broaden their scope of what is acceptable just a little, others search wide open for employment in areas they wouldn’t have previously considered.

What is ironic even to me is that the advice we might give; (the advice I myself would give) would be varied were I to meet three or four people similar to this hypothetical person. I may as an Employment Counsellor suggest one person focus on jobs that utilize the education and experience they’ve worked so hard up to now to obtain. With another, I might endorse their decision to maximize their job search outside of their field of expertise, extolling the virtues of obtaining work – any work – to build back up their bank account, stave off financial ruin and build on some crumbling self-esteem. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have one blanket solution for everyone in this situation.

This is where reading someone; taking the time to listen to them, getting to understand their level of tolerance for unemployment and the strength of their self-worth is so critical to giving someone the proper advice when being asked to do so. What is good advice for one person may indeed be poor advice for another.

Some reference jobs that fall outside a persons stated area of preference as survival or transition jobs. These are jobs rather than careers, usually short-term in nature that a person takes on while still focusing on a long-term career position. Now you might ask yourself if taking such a job isn’t a distraction to what a person should really be focused on; pursuing the job they were trained and educated to do. Aren’t they throwing away their education, giving up on their dream too easily?

Well, a survival or transition job has its benefits. For starters there is the obvious benefit of income. There is also something to be said for the benefit to a person’s psyche; when you’ve heard nothing at all in response to job applications or polite rejections again and again, it is nice to hear a, ‘yes’. This can be validation that you are a person of worth; “somebody sees value in me and wants me!” Further, if   you had one of these jobs and you did quit for a position in your field down the road, quitting outside your ideal industry would have no residual impact. In other words, quitting a job with an electronic retail outlet wouldn’t even get back to folks in the film industry, let alone mar your reputation there.

One big positive about working in these transition jobs is the way one can address it in a job interview. Imagine you’re in an interview for a positon you really want and you’re asked what you’re doing at present. You can state honestly that you’re working to pay the bills in a job outside your education and experience, but have consistently pursued your passion (the job you are now interviewing for) and this is the reason you are seated before the interviewer today. Your current position is understood to pay rent and survive, but you’re obviously still working hard at breaking into your field of training and passion. With so many people unemployed for various reasons, these transition or survival jobs are more commonplace and understood as necessary.

People with jobs are more attractive because of the good habits they keep up; the routines, the interpersonal skills they keep practiced, and for the poor habits they aren’t embracing. If you’ve been unemployed for a long time, you may find employers question your work ethic and wonder if there aren’t other issues that explain your long-term unemployed status. (“If other people aren’t hiring you, maybe I shouldn’t either – just to be safe?”)

For everyone, there is a unique time to broaden the job search when your ideal position isn’t forthcoming. The key is to know what’s right for you personally. How long will you give yourself pursuing your dream job until you consider alternatives? This isn’t selling short or selling out altogether. Transition jobs are exactly that; a transition between unemployment and your career of choice. If you opt for a transition job, remind yourself this is but a temporary measure, not your final destination.

Take A Sick Day? Hmm….

I’m seriously thinking today is the kind of day I might be tempted to make the call. The call to the boss that signals I’m not coming into work today. I’m not even sick though which makes taking a sick day seem wrong. Now if I was ill, I’d have no hesitation at all; I’d call in and give myself the best chance at being healthy tomorrow and at the same time keep anyone around me safe from whatever I might pass on to those around me. But I’m not…

What keeps you away from work? Other than illness what other reasons would or do you feel justify calling in to let the boss know you’ll be away?

Somehow between last Friday and today, I’ve done something; or a series of somethings that has taken me from a robust and healthy 56 year old to feeling like a hobbled 90 year old. Like Marty McFly, I’ve got to get back to my future and quick. Somehow, I’ve suffered some kind of a left lower back injury. The thing is I can’t recall any one thing that I did that caused me to feel immediate pain so I can’t pinpoint the source of the problem.

I’ve been thinking back to Friday and moving forward with the things that I’ve done differently. Friday certainly was different as I donned an Easter Bunny costume at work in the afternoon and was the guest of honour at a children’s party for some of the children of our young social assistance clients. Sure I had 15 or so kids on my lap but none of them weighed much. Was it the twisting and lifting?

When I left work Friday afternoon, I then volunteered 4 hours of my time to help out a good friend of mine running his booth at his very first local Home Show. I don’t know if it was standing all that time on a concrete floor or not; or again some twisting and lifting of items at the close of the evening as he moved to a better local for Saturday. Then again on Saturday I was out at the Toronto Home and Canada Blooms Shows and was walking around for many hours on a concrete floor. Maybe it was the 20 minutes in the amazing massage chair at the show?

Whatever it was, Sunday morning I could barely move. Just getting out of bed was pitiful, and I lost an amazingly sunny day I could have spent better doing well, pretty much anything. That brings me up to today. At about 12:30a.m., I woke up pain-free – until I moved slightly. I’ve been awake ever since and eventually at 3:00 a.m., I decided enough was enough and up I got. I’m wide awake and capable of working quite effectively once seated in a comfortable position.

So all I have to do is wait until about 6:00 a.m. and then take a hot shower to hopefully relax some muscles, then get dressed, sit all the way to work with the heated seats on for part of the journey and then I’m at work. Today I deliver a workshop I think for the morning. Can I pull off a 2 ½ presentation? Or should I call in, take a day to try and recover and let the team figure out the coverage for me?

I suppose my problem is with the term, “Sick Day”. I’m not really sick in the sense I think of the word. I’m far from functioning normally however. What would you do?

If I’m honest, I know of some people in my circle of friends and acquaintances who wouldn’t hesitate to call in and take a day off. I don’t have a history of missing time either; I think I’ve got an attendance award for the last 6 or 7 years running in fact. No danger of having a bad reputation on that front.

That good reputation for dependability and reliability means a lot to me, and I hope it means a lot to both my Supervisor and my teammates. Have you yourself got a good reputation for being at work day in and day out? If you’ve got someone in your immediate proximity that has an attendance problem, than you know the impact that person can have on those around them.

Being the kind of person with an excellent attendance record can certainly help those around you, but ironically it doesn’t seem to come up much until the day after you’ve been off a day. That’s when someone points out that you are so reliable. Contrast this with the person who is off seemingly every time it rains hard or is too chilly. I’ve worked in places where staff look at each other and mutter, “I bet so-and-so will call in ill tomorrow”. That’s not a reputation I want and I hope you don’t either.

Maybe you don’t get attendance awards at your work, but I know I value colleagues that are highly dependable on a regular basis. Hey if you’re truly ill stay home and recover because you could infect the rest of us. Sick days are after all, there for people to use when they’re sick. They aren’t for maxing out as a benefit though when you’re not. Well It’s going to be one long day; I’m going in and hope things get better!

2 Stores, 2 Salespeople, 2 Experiences

Last evening my wife and I were out for dinner and decided on impulse to head on over to our local mall. We had nothing immediate in mind other than a walk around prior to heading home for the evening. Now I can tell you honestly there was hardly any traffic in the mall, and that set the stage for very different encounters with sales staff in different stores.

Given it was a Thursday evening the first thing I noticed was that many of the stores only had a single Salesperson on the schedule. As the night was light in terms of traffic, it was interesting to note as we entered each store how the activity the person in the store was engaged in and their behaviour changed or not.

One store in the mall is a primary destination for the two of us; it has unique items ranging from swords and fire pots to glass dragon eggs and wind chimes. Every time I go in the store, I’m immediately greeted with a, “Hello how are you today?” which I can only assume is in the training manual. I like that they acknowledge me upon entry, and the subsequent question is whether or not they can be of assistance in finding anything. Last night was no exception. We were greeted cheerfully and engaged in discussion – but only because I’m the talkative type. I had the feeling the Salesperson was happy for someone to both talk and interact with.

As it so happens, they didn’t have an item we were looking for, and so we browsed. The Salesperson moved in synchronization with us around the merchandise; close enough to hear and respond to any inquiry we might make, but just far enough away that she wasn’t a reason to leave. She smiled; she laughed and was the right mixture of attentive and respectful.

Now I contrast this experience with the lone Salesperson in a second store we entered. It was a women’s clothing store; a well-known brand name chain. Here the signs proclaimed up to 80% off and that the entire inventory must go. To me, it was obvious the winter stock needs clearing and the Spring line is the reason.  Upon entering, the person was occupied with a broom and dustpan, sweeping the floors. The word industrious would best describe her; efficient, focused on cleaning and keeping herself busy.

Now being a fashion store for women exclusively, I would have thought she’d attend to my wife; offer to help her and I’d be left to wander. She did something different however. She stood and talked to me about the lack of activity in the mall; told me that if she herself needed something she’d be in a nearby city because they have more stores and more selection. She went on about how the two or three large stores coming to the mall wouldn’t in her opinion; make much of a difference in terms of bringing customers to the mall over the long-term. She was intense, almost bitter, and I just wanted to exit the conversation.

Oddly enough, my wife was ignored throughout her monologue, and was creatively using one garment to lower another garment she was unable to reach directly behind the Salesperson. “Ah my wife could use a hand” I said. Turning she said, “Oh did you want to try that on?” and I was free. While my wife tried on the clothes, I wander to the perimeter of the store and the Salesperson again cleaned. She was thorough and dressed in black looked like a storm cloud moving about on her hands and knees dusting everything that she could find in a meticulous order.

The two Salespeople were very different, and I have to say I would not want to return to the latter one for fear I’d be again trapped into a conversation I didn’t want to engage in with a person holding a negative attitude. While she was an excellent cleaner and no one could find fault with her ability to keep herself busy when no customers were present, she didn’t encourage people to stick around when they did come in.

The first Salesperson on the other hand did have me leaving the store with a good feeling. I felt that I was in control of how much or little we engaged in conversation; and I’d certainly walk in again. Were the two people’s employers able to watch how they interacted with us and hear what they said to us, I wondered if they would be pleased and approve.

There was actually a third experience with another Salesperson; and my wife and I were drawn to her immediately upon entering the store and into an immediate conversation. In fact, my wife would have allowed me to shell out just under $800 on the spot for an item in the store we hadn’t planned on buying. Oh sorry, I failed to mention the Salesperson was holding a miniature poodle puppy in her arms. That’s a real attraction for many people and you can’t help but smile and go, “Awww” as you greet the Salesperson. I resisted any urge to produce my wallet and we exited shortly after before reality completely disappeared.

Wherever you’re employed, never lose sight of the customer; acknowledge their presence, offer your assistance and do it all with a smile. These things get noticed.

“Why Don’t People Just Follow The Plan?”

One of the great assumptions most of us make who provide employment counselling and support is that the people we work with want to gain employment. That’s a logical assumption; we are Employment Counsellors and Coaches after all, so it stands to reason that anyone approaching us for help in finding work does so because they’d rather be working than unemployed.

So why is it then if we take this basic assumption that so many people don’t follow through with the expert advice they receive? I remember many years ago I used to come up with plans for the people I’d be working with – and they were great plans. I’d map out where the person is and where they wanted to end up. I’d look at their possible barriers to reaching their goals and I’d devise great pre-emptive strategies for moving past those barriers. The person I was working with would marvel at my skills and knowledge and I’d send them on their way with a big smile on their face and some optimism in their steps. “They’ll be working in no time if they just stick to the plan”, I’d think.

The problem more often than not is that for some reason the person didn’t get very far with that grand plan. I’d puzzle over that and end up with the same conclusion again and again; they just weren’t trying hard enough. The plan was excellent and seemed to end in success if they’d just follow the plan. The plan itself was never the problem; the problem as I’ve come to understand it was that it was never the person’s plan at all, but rather MY plan for them.

Well that was only part of the problem. In order to have any lasting impact, a plan not only requires ownership of the individual working the plan, it requires that the person have the necessary motivation, skills and resources to implement the plan.

Now this might seem hard to wrap one’s head around if like me you are employed and thankfully so, but not everyone is motivated to work. Even when someone says they want a job and comes across as self-motivated and earnest, it may well be that in reality, they have come to accept a comfort level with things just the way they are yet they don’t grasp this fact. Ironically, i’s not that this is necessarily their preferred lifestyle either, but the push to work hard at getting a job; the effort and the stress of putting in the work and getting rejected isn’t something their psyche can take. It may well be that from the outside; the person is sabotaging themselves with self-destructive behaviour, or just appears lazy.

What it comes down to much of the time is that the more we come to know someone, the more insight we gain into what they are capable of, which differs from what we think they are capable of. They may in fact not have the skillset required to ultimately be successful and the result of this means that the time they require to move from where they are to where they want to end up is longer than they’d like. In other words, they have to be introduced to and internalize some skills they don’t have at present; skills that are pre-requisites to taking all the steps to their goals. They then have to have the skills to actually implement the newly learned skills. That’s a lot of skills!

Complicating the process of providing help is that people don’t always know themselves and what they are capable of but they think they do! We, as the people working with them, may also make the mistake of simply asking someone if they have a certain skill or capability and then taking them at their word. Something as simple as asking, “Do you have basic computer skills, like using the internet to job search?” could have the person answering, “Yes”, but if we were to sit them down in front of a computer, they might ask, “Okay, how do I get to the internet?” Suddenly the gulf between what they said, (what we assumed) and what they are capable of (the reality) is painfully clear. So instead of talking about employer research, we have to go back and learn basic computer skills.

People are not intentionally difficult. They may not have the stamina required for a lengthy job search. They’ve been so emotionally beaten down they just don’t have the constitution required for a sustained job search – especially what is required in 2016 to find employment. Whether it’s online applications and employer research, social media profiles and networking, applying for work challenges some in ways they aren’t capable of.

Look, being out of work for many is shameful enough. Add to this drop in self-perception the innocent questions they get asked like, “What do you do for a living?” and suddenly something not intended to offend causes a furrowed brow, a dropped head, an apologetic response and a desire to withdraw.

Helping someone reach their financial independence requires a mutually invested effort; a plan that the person themselves devises with some guidance. In other words, it’s got to be their plan and the role of an Employment Counsellor or Coach is literally to help but not take ownership for the plan.

Plan the plan, then work the plan.


“Proofread My Resume Please?”

If you ask someone to proofread your resume, you have to be open and receptive to the possibility that they will find mistakes. If you’re going to argue and defend your errors instead of correcting them, you’re not only wasting the time of the person doing the proofreading, you’re also risking their willingness to provide you with honesty.

Yesterday I had two very different experiences with two different people in the drop in Employment Resource Centre where I work. The first was with a fellow who was applying for employment with the Province of Ontario; which meant there were very specific instructions on how to submit an application; not only in terms of the resume, but also with respect to his cover letter and how to apply.

This gentleman approached me with his initial resume and to be honest it was extremely poorly constructed. It contained irregular spacing, multiple fonts; the content was weak and didn’t relate to the job he was applying for at all. Had he submitted this version of his resume it wouldn’t even have got more than a glance let alone led to the offer of an interview.

During the course of what was a fairly busy morning for me personally assisting a number of people, he would make revisions based on my suggestions and then approach me again for further feedback. He did this five times, and with every presentation, he was getting closer to a stronger application; not to mention his basic understanding of how to make a resume in general was becoming stronger. It was precisely because he was genuinely appreciative of the feedback that he was offered more and more. In short, he took the advice he sought out and implemented the changes; never getting frustrated but learning from the experience and implementing the ideas he received.

Now I contrast his experience with another person who approached me much later in the day. This woman approached me and said she was applying for a job and would I like to read over her cover letter, resume and list of references. I looked at the cover letter first only because it was on top of the resume. The initial sentence began, “I am submitting my Resume…”

I stopped reading and pointed out that the capital letter ‘R’ in the word resume should be lower case not a capital, and she said to me, “Well I’m not going to change it now. I’ve gone back to this cover letter that worked for me years ago so we’ll see.” I stopped proofreading the cover letter right there and looked at the resume.

The resume wasn’t a disaster at first glance, but it was missing the most recent two years on it. When I asked about that she said, “Oh this is a resume from two years ago, I’m just sending it the way it is.” I shuffled the papers and moved to the list of references. Now this document looked fine. It only contained three names instead of a standard four, but there were titles and contact information so it looked appropriate. However, just as I was about to say it was fine, she voluntarily said, “The first guy is dead but I’m leaving him on there.”

I put all three sheets down and said, “You’re intentionally leaving a dead person on your list of references instead of replacing him with someone else who can actually be contacted and speak to your experience?” She told me that she was indeed, because – and you guessed it – it worked years ago so she was using it again.

So what’s the point of asking someone for their feedback if you aren’t open to hearing what they’ve got to say, or are going to actually implement any of the changes they recommend? I told her in summing things up that there were problems with all three documents and that she really should make some changes to them if she wanted to improve her odds of getting an interview. I added however that it didn’t appear she was ready to make any changes at this time, so I wasn’t going to get into identifying all the corrections needed.

Now ironically, the woman might get further with her resume than the fellow. There is the possibility that because he is applying for a government position, the competition will be fierce and others extremely qualified. Sheer numbers could keep him from advancing to the interview stage. The woman may get an interview as she’s applying for a job through a mutual friend. The scrutiny that each application is going under is very different. While the employer may look over her resume and have her in for an interview as a favour to her friend, the fellow has no such connection, and if he gets an interview, he earned it entirely.

Look, the bottom line is that it’s wise to ask for others to proofread your work, and both get full marks for asking. However, it’s equally essential that you stay open to the help you get and consider the advice of people who are doing you a favour. Otherwise you are wasting your time and theirs; showing little respect for the time and opinions of others.

Can you get an interview with flawed documents full of grammar and spelling errors? Sure you can; it is possible. Is it likely? No. Act on advice and improve your odds.