Market Yourself Like Produce

There are some people, (perhaps you are one of them yourself) who when applying for employment take a very passive approach in marketing themselves as the most desirable candidate. They have a belief it would seem that reasons if and when an employer hires them, only then will they demonstrate how good they are. Up until that point, it would be a lot of wasted effort trying to be the best candidate because they don’t know who they are up against. “Take a chance and hire me and you won’t be disappointed”, seems to be their message.

Now if you are one who holds this kind of outlook, I would like to give you something to think about with a goal of changing your view. In perhaps changing your view, you might then change your approach, and your new actions may thusly change the results you experience.

So I need some kind of analogy that the typical reader, (in this case you) can easily visualize; something that you see the logic in that best illustrates my point. Hmmm… it!

Okay so you’re at the supermarket and you find yourself in the fruits and vegetables area. You’re standing in front of the apples we’ll suppose and you’ve made up your mind to purchase a few. Now apples works nicely because not all apples are the same variety and each variety has its own characteristics making some best for pies, others better for snacking on as they are, and some are just that much sweeter or tart.

But there’s more. Even once you look the assortment of varieties over and narrow what you want down to a particular variety, you aren’t likely to just put the first four you touch into your cart and move on. Having done it myself and watched others do it, you my dear reader are in all probability just like all the other shoppers. You give them a visual inspection, you test the firmness, look for bruising or cuts, assess the overall size and shape of the fruit, and based on whatever you’re looking for, you finally decide.

Somehow amongst all those 50 apples of the exact same variety, you selected the 4 which lined up with your personal preferences. Those preferences of yours are your most desired qualities in an apple on that occasion, and you passed up some for the ones you walked away with.

Now the store itself knows how people shop and they too have watched the behaviours of their customers. They regularly have employees sorting through the apples if you think about it. They too are making those apples as appealing as they can for you the buyer. They will shine them up, remove ones they deem unappealing to the eye, turn the apples so they show their best side to the customers, and they position the overhead lights to best show the gleam of the products. Nothing is left to chance and of course any apple deemed to be bruised or damaged in some way is removed, put on a cart and either discounted for quick sale or removed completely from the store floor.

In this analogy, you the shopper are the employer making your selection. The employee putting their best out there is you looking as attractive as you can.

If you agree that the food stores are going through this process in marketing their products to the  best of their abilities, then it follows that I think you should also agree that you too should be marketing yourself to be the one to pick when applying for work.

When you pick out your wardrobe in advance of the interview instead of just throwing something on the morning of for example, you are polishing up your outward appearance to be at your best. When you research the job and the company as well as those who work where you also want to be employed, your arming yourself with knowledge and that knowledge you hope will appeal to the interviewer when you share what you did to prepare.

But you might argue, you buy your produce down at the farmers market where the apples aren’t polished, they aren’t stacked in nice pyramids, and they aren’t even washed or polished. What then? I would ask you then if when standing at that vendors stall you still don’t cast a critical eye over the apples you are considering purchasing. Of course you do. You do the same when choosing the head of cauliflower, picking the pint of berries that appears to be the best.

Employers are the same and act in the same way. They advertise exactly what they are looking for in the job postings. They cast critical eyes over the applications they receive to determine who on paper best meets what they want. They meet with those they are considering selecting to confirm what they want to know and in the end they make their selection based on who comes off as the most desirable.

Your chances go up significantly if you put in the required effort to market yourself to meeting the needs of the organizations you wish to work for. It may sound like a lot of time and effort to adapt to the needs of each employer but actually this approach is the one which will result in being hired sooner rather than later.

So are you a Granny Smith or Delicious?

Regaining Control Over Stressors

Visualize the two of us sitting down face to face. In my role as an Employment Counsellor, let’s begin with the premise that the reason we are meeting has to do with working together to tackle your unemployment. Could be of course that you are employed part or full-time and wanting to make a change too; I do have discussions like that.

So here we are, just the two of us. In order to get the most of our time together, one of the most important things we can do to accelerate the process is trust in each other. I want to hear what you’ve been doing or not doing up to this point, how you’ve been job searching and where you are succeeding and failing. I want to look at your communication and branding tools; letters, resumes, emails etc. Whatever you tell me, I’ll go on the basis that you’re telling me the truth.

So how much are you going to share with me about what’s going on beyond your job search? You know, the personal LIFE stuff? Is that even relevant? If you think the two aren’t related you’ve got your head in the sand. Imagine how lovely it would be if you only had your job search to work on. Aha! See! Your brain just formed the words, “If only!”

Am I some kind of mind reader? Not really; you are a unique person for sure but on the other hand you are a person with hopes, dreams, struggles and issues like everyone else. It’s just a matter of sharing what those issues are and then how little or much they impact on your stated goal of finding employment.

And that’s the awkward part for some people right there. You’re sitting down with someone to get some help finding a job and that’s what you were prepared to talk about exclusively. However, here you are being asked about what else is going on in your life the moment. So you say things like, “Why do you want to know?”, “I like to keep my private life private”, or “Can we just focus on getting me a job?”

Well…here’s the thing…if you tell me you’re committing 100% to your job search, we need a shared understanding of what 100% actually looks like. Is it 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. 5 days a week? Or is it 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. except for your court appointment on Thursday morning that could go all day or be adjourned, picking kids up daily at 2:50 p.m. etc. etc. etc. All necessary mind you and needing to get done somehow, but with each ‘other’ thing going on, your time for job searching is impacted.

Taken individually, you might feel like you should be able to handle things. However when looked at collectively, you might have more than you can reasonably be expected to handle. Then things get compounded further if you start to doubt why you can’t seem to get anywhere; can’t make progress in dealing with some of these barriers. After all, if the things you are overwhelmed with are things other people actually deal with and get past, it’s logical you might start to think, “What’s wrong with me?”

We’re all individuals though remember. Though we might be sitting down together at this point in time, how we got here and the life experiences we’ve had are unique to us. No one has experienced every single interaction with others in this world to the same degree as us. How we react to those incidents and interactions is our own unique experience. Thus it is that we might handle stressful situations better than others but they better than us in some other equally but different situation.

For many, the key to managing things is a series of steps. For starters know what you’re dealing with; write down on paper what’s going on and then summarize what’s going on with a label. So after you write about the stress of having to pick up children after school in some detail you might just attach the label, “after school care”.

So you’ve got a list; long or short. Now look at things and separate the things that will take a lot of energy and time to resolve and the things that might be quicker to get off your mind. By focusing on the later, you can build some momentum and feel better about making some progress. What you can’t figure out how to resolve on your own are the ones to get outside opinions and help with. Even people with problems of their own sometimes can see with greater clarity things you could or should consider doing.

Successfully obtaining a job and the income that comes with it may in some circumstances fix other issues such as using the income to find stable housing. Stable housing could lead to stronger personal relationships, raised self-esteem and the peace with having a sanctuary to call your own at the end of the day.

And here’s what could come as a surprise to you as I’m an Employment Counsellor by trade. Sometimes, the best thing you can do to get a job is put the job search on hold and give your attention to the other things going on in your life. When you’re in a better head space, resume the job search. There’s so much more to life than just finding work; work is a big piece but just a piece.



Signals We Send To Others

In my line of work, I see a lot of people on a daily basis; people who are largely unemployed, others who are underemployed. They share many things in common with one another, the most significant one being that they are first and foremost people. Obvious yes, but critically important to continually recognize.

Each one of these people has a past and present, and while they may be occupying the same visual space in front of me at any given time, it’s that past and present which they have uniquely lived which differentiates them from each other, and logically from me as well.

Interestingly enough however, if you are observant, you can make some good assumptions about people you see but have yet to interact with in conversation. From the way they dress, walk, what they carry with them, how social or private they are with others, what they are doing and their physical appearance, you can gather a great deal of information.

Now were you and I sitting down together and watching, we would see the same people, note the same things, but we might make inferences and form opinions based on what we observe very differently if we compared notes. This phenomenon is similar to having 6 witnesses to an accident who give very different interpretations of what they’ve just witnessed to a Police Officer. In those situations, you’d be asked to describe what you saw without making any personal interpretations or subjective statements.

Ah but you and I sitting side by side, our situation is slightly different. Here’s what our brains do with what’s before us. First of all we receive this stimulation; most of it visual, perhaps some of it auditory and we could pick up odours be they pleasant or foul. It’s less likely we’ve got any taste or touch stimuli. So the sight, sounds and smells are what we’ve got to work with. This information we take in and our brains start to assemble that information in ways that make sense for us.

By making sense to us, what’s happening is that our brain is organizing the data we’ve received, putting it together in a way that makes sense to us; and this is largely based on past encounters we’ve had with others in our lives that were similar. Hence a cologne or perfume someone wears might attract or repel us but it may remind us of someone we’ve known who wore that fragrance. The other thing is that with the organizing that is happening in our brain, we compartmentalize what we are experiencing. Does this person go in the harmless, danger, be on my guard, pleasurable or perhaps avoid interaction at all cost categories? Ever been walking down the street and you see someone coming towards you and you suddenly think it wise to cross the street to continue your way but avoid possible contact? Same thing.

Knowing this process is going on; receiving, processing and evaluating data in order to assess and predict with some certainty if a given interaction will be favourable or not, it’s safe to assume other people do it too. So what? Excellent question.

The answer of course is this; how we choose to dress, walk, act; the things we carry with us, our hygiene etc.; all these things are sending information to those around us. Other people are then using the data we’re sending to form opinions about us then before we’ve even said a word. If and when we do enter into verbal dialogue, those words will be additional information their brains take in; as will the handshake or hug give them touch stimuli, and a kiss perhaps some taste stimuli to add to their assessment of us. Although a hug and kiss are unlikely for a first encounter but some do greet each other this way as cultural norms.

Like me, you’ve got a lot of control over the signals and stimuli that you share with those with whom you come into contact with. Even if you pay little attention to your clothing and your grooming for example, you are still sending out information about yourself and the choice you made in how you are presenting yourself to the world.

You have control over these things I say. So it stands to reason then that if you are not attracting the right kind of attention; if you are not interacting with others in your life the way you’d like or having the impact on others you’d like, changing up some things will communicate different information and it will be received and processed by others differently. Stands to reason doesn’t it?

Now if you want others to take you professionally – for a job interview perhaps – and you want a favourable first impression, you have the power to package yourself differently and hence increase the odds of promoting yourself so you are received as you’d like to be. Do nothing, and how you’ve been successful or not in the past with others in your personal presentation is likely to remain unchanged. Without making a personal change at all, assuming you’ll have better luck or a different reaction isn’t wise.

Whether it’s a job interview, wanting to impress someone you find attractive or putting yourself in a favourable position in your existing job for some future promotion, pay attention to the cues you are sending to those around you.



Growing Your Interview Confidence

Walking in to an interview you can feel understandably nervous. In fact, if you feel nervous not only is that a normal thing but it’s a very good thing! However, many people typically say to themselves, “I wish I wasn’t so nervous!”

If you think about it, most people typically get nervous when they are about to do something important; something that involves being in the spotlight. Take the athlete about to run a race, the actor about to take the stage and yes, the interviewee about to sit down for the big job interview.

Your body is producing chemicals gearing you up to handle what you’re perceiving as an event where you need to be alert and focused. It’s getting that energy all ready for you to use if needed. Ever notice how often the advice you may get to overcome nervousness is to breathe deeply and slow your breathing? That’s to calm down and relax a little; master the body in a kind of mind-over-matter situation.

Let’s look at a few things to give you reasons to feel confident heading in. First of all, and not to sound flippant, but you’ve got an interview! The fact that the list of people this organization has decided to bring in for an interview has your name on it means that at least on paper they like what they’ve read. How many resumes and applications did they get in total? We don’t know and I wouldn’t waste time trying to figure that out. However, whether it was a huge or medium-sized list of candidates, when it came down to the short list, you made the grade. Feel good about that.

Okay so they like the paper you. Why? What was it on the resume or contained in the cover letter and resume that got you the chance to meet with them in person? It was unquestionably your combination of experience and education, coupled with your ability to express yourself well which attracted their attention. That just makes sense.

Okay, so feeling a tad more confident? You should be. Still need more? Of course! Let’s look at the interview to come. From your perspective job interviews are all about getting the job. From the other side of the desk however, job interviews are really about eliminating candidates for various reasons and going with who is left. Some people will eliminate themselves from the process by revealing damaging things about themselves. They may disclose criminal records, primary caregiver roles that hint loudly at needing time away etc. This is something you control 100%.

Watch that first question designed to put you at ease and share whatever is on your mind. “Tell me about yourself” is not permission to relate your life journey, nor your hobbies and obsessions. Look at the question as your opportunity to immediately impress them with how well you line up with their needs. Focus on your relevant education and experience as they relate to the job. If your experience is in the same field, extol that. If your experience is diverse, it still impressed them enough to get the interview so exploit that diversity as not only qualifying you but giving you that broader perspective which will enrich the organization.

They like you. It’s up to you to keep that impression going and this is where the things they couldn’t tell on paper are important. A smile, good posture, good manners, proper clothing, a warm handshake – these are some of the small things that reinforce their good opinion of you or can create doubt in their mind. By being aware of the little things you can focus on the bigger things; like the quality of your answers.

I know people who,  having a tendency to be overly serious, intentionally wear novelty underwear to their big interviews. Why? Once or twice during that stressful interview, that pops into their head which causes them to smile and that break in the tension comes across the table as a welcomed facial expression instead of the tense, foreboding look they might have had otherwise. Hey, whatever works.

Getting your body under control is important too. Why is it for example when we say, “Don’t sweat! Don’t sweat! Please don’t sweat!”, our sweat glands suddenly kick into overdrive and we become our own personal rainforest, dripping in a puddle or pool of our own making. If you’re worried about this, baby powder helps – a light dusting on the chest and underarms. Getting there early enough to give yourself the once over in the washroom is good too. Then you can sit back and relax in the waiting room rather than rushing in under pressure.

If you prepared in advance and have gone over the stated needs in the job posting, you should be able to predict many of the key things they will want to verify. This means your preparation was time well spent and you can and should have some confidence in yourself too.

You prepared well, you’re dressed well, you know you’re qualified or they wouldn’t waste their time seeing you. Enjoy your time with them and converse with them, showing some enthusiasm for the job and the opportunity. They actually want you to succeed and show them your best. Let your competition view the interview like standing before a firing squad; that’s their choice!


Why Do You Want To Work Here?

This afternoon I had an encounter with a woman who came up to me with a list of 21 written questions she was to answer as part of an online job application. In addition to the 21 questions, she had nicely composed a second sheet of the corresponding 21 answers she had formulated and wanted my opinion on them.

One of the questions was, “Why do you want to work here?” The employer which I’ll not name for reasons of confidentiality is an office of 5 Doctors; the position she was applying for was a Medical Receptionist.  So that’s the background. Her answer to the question posed was, “I want to work in this office because it would be a good place to learn from the Doctors and gain more skills which I would find very helpful.” So what do you think of that response?

As I read the answer she gave, I was simultaneously doing quick assessment of the woman in front of me. Now I’d never met her before; I’d never even seen her before. All I had to go on was a 3 minute introduction and in addition to her appearance and her voice, I had her answers which gave me a glimpse into among other things, her motivation.

Here was an answer that was all about her you see. It was all about being in a good place for her own growth and gaining more skills. To what end? To take to another employer in the future or to benefit the 5 Doctors who were going to spend their time presumably training and teaching her? I suggested an alternative; perhaps she might be better off to say that she wanted to work there in order to provide the Doctor’s with administrative support in order that they might have more time to devote what they do best; treat patients.

Now this answer shifts the focus from what the young woman would benefit from in the job to what she actually offers to the employer(s). She gave a look that suggested she was processing the alternative and after a reflective pause she said, “I get it. That’s better.” When I asked her why she thought it better, she demonstrated an understanding of the point I was attempting to make all on her own. Good for her.

This is a fundamental position to take whether you are writing a cover letter or resume, or answering questions in the midst of a job interview. Shift the focus from what you want or need in a job to demonstrating or stating what the employer would gain from hiring you. In other words, what is your value proposition. Hire me and you get ____________. Hire me and I solve your problem. Hire me and here’s the benefit you derive.

It’s not about now, nor has it ever really been about you quite frankly. It’s about what you can do for the employer. Now most of the time what this translates into is money and how much are you going to either cost them or make them. If you present yourself as a cost to the employer (as in you’ll need extensive training or with your credentials you’re not likely to stay long) you will likely be passed over. If on the other hand you can competently market yourself in a way that they see will make them money, you become a commodity of higher value.

So how do you make an employer money you ask? Well if you’re in retail that’s easy; you educate customers on the benefits of purchasing products and services and then they do so increasing the stores profits. If you are in the service industry, you provide excellent service which benefits the people you serve, and they are less dependent on services and more empowered to do things on their own, eventually becoming self-sufficient and independent.

But to some this sounds like boasting; a very tired objection but real nonetheless. You were told not to boast about your abilities as a child growing up and maybe were even told its unflattering, ungodly, shows conceit or arrogance. It’s not boasting however; it’s marketing your skills, abilities and capabilities in such a way that you become attractive to the interviewer. You want them to say to themselves, “This one is just what we need and we can’t let them get away.”

Look at the employer’s values which you can typically find out by doing some homework on the company itself. What do they stand for? What motivates them? What is it about what they believe and how they operate that separates them from their competition. Now ask yourself if what you have found out is similar to your own values and beliefs. If the answer is a resounding yes, you’re going to need to produce some examples of your work in the past that demonstrate your values and beliefs. Otherwise, without those concrete examples, you may be dismissed as just telling them what you think they want to hear, and anyone can do that.

Invest in the necessary research to learn about the company BEFORE you apply and a second time BEFORE an interview. Don’t wait and say, “I’ll look them up if they give me an interview; I don’t want to waste my time.” I’m telling you that if you don’t do your homework in advance of your cover letter and resume revisions, you are indeed wasting your time.

The STAR Interview Format

Pull up your online video service and search for the STAR Interview format and you’ll find a number of videos – some good and some poor of course – explaining what the format is and how to use it in a job interview. Why follow a format at all and why this one? Excellent questions.

The one thing a format does for you is give your answers some structure; structure keeps you from rambling and then wondering whether you’ve said too little or too much and of course it keeps your answers focused. One problem I note from many of those I work with is that they stray from the question while responding, drifting and then suddenly realizing they have done so and this undermines their confidence overall.

So the format:

S = Situation

T = Task

A = Action

R = Result

Your objective in mastering this format is not about memorizing answers themselves but rather the above 4 words which as an acronym are represented as STAR. If you can remember the 4 during the interview process, you’ll be better equipped to give answers that pull experiences from your past which will prove you have the skills and experiences the interviewer is going to want to hear.

Let’s use an example. Suppose you’re looking at a job posting and teamwork is one of the key requirements the job entails. It becomes highly probable that teamwork is then going to be one of the things you’re asked about. Rather than being future-based and hypothetical as in questions that begin, “What would you do if…”, interviewers are far more likely to ask for proof from your past or present where you have actually performed well in a team setting. These questions are formed with the words, “Tell me about a time when…” or, “Describe your team-building experience….”

Using the STAR format, start off by setting up a SITUATION you were involved in from your past and be specific in your example, don’t generalize. So what company were you working for with respect to your example? How many people were on the team and what was your role? You’re painting a mental image for the interviewer so they can visualize you there.

Now relate what the goal was that the group was TASKED with completing. So what had to be done? Was there a deadline or a specific quantity of things to produce or a certain number of people to be seen in a day? During this part of the answer, there is typically something that challenges the goal; a problem that threatens success, a delay of some sort, some personnel conflict etc.

Up to this point you’ve been talking about the team and what the team set out to do. That gives credit to not just you but everyone in your example, You however, are the only one sitting in the interview and therefore need to stress what you personally did in your example to respond to the challenge and eliminate the problem so that the target can be realized. So for the ACTION part of the acronym STAR, what action did you personally take? Your answer is going to impress the interviewer if you articulate clearly positive responses at this point. They will go on the premise that how you’ve acted in the past is how you will likely act if they hire you.

Now you demonstrate the positive outcome that came about as a RESULT of the actions you took. Did you and your team meet the target goal? Did you keep the line operating, did you display leadership, exercise tact and discretion, put the teams needs ahead of your own, save the company time or money?

Now most of those online videos stop at this point. There is however one last thing that I recommend in giving your answer and that is to summarize things by going back to the original thrust of the question posed to you. If it was about teamwork then finish off by returning to the subject saying, “Teamwork is something I truly excel at and I thrive on building good working relationships as evidenced in my example; you can count on me bringing this with me here.”

When you use such a format, here’s another benefit: you know when to zip it, confident that you’ve answered the question. In your mind you’re going S, T, A, R, summarize, done. Gone are your rambling answers, no more verbal diarrhea where you talk for 9 minutes and fail to answer the actual question. Gone are your brief one or two-word answers that leave the interview perplexed. Gone are the moments you leave the interview and then recall some fantastic example that you couldn’t recall in the interview itself.

I can’t take credit for this format but it is one I adopted myself well over 15 years ago. It’s used internationally, by organizations big, medium and small. It shows your behaviour in past circumstances and this is the best predictor for how you’ll behave should they hire you.

While you can pull examples from your personal life, do so sparingly. Examples from volunteer positions and more significantly paid employment have the most impact and will impress the most.

One final thing, specific examples make your stories believable and credible. Don’t generalize as I said earlier as you sound less convincing. Recall that specific moment or incident, label the skill and you’ll fare much better.

When It Ends How Long Do You Wait?

The job is over and apparently it didn’t end well. How long you wait before launching a new job search largely depends on two key factors: what else is going on in your life and what state of mind are you in at the moment.

Simply put, you can be self-motivated to find a new job but find that the distractions going on around you in your life make giving the job search the focus it requires an impossibility. You could also be conflicted in wanting to work; needing to work, but so mentally fragile due to how a job ended that you’d be better off taking some time to process and resolve things first.

For many people, losing their job has a similar impact as losing a loved one. You could be in shock when it happens, angry, might even go so far as to try to plead your case to have the termination undone or pray to God to have it back. Then eventually you come to terms with things and move on. Just as different people grieve the loss of people in varying amounts of time, the same is true of mourning the loss of employment.

Now of course it doesn’t always end with a termination for a job to end badly. No, you could quit a job due to harassment or where the working conditions were so toxic and your physical and/or mental health were being so negatively impacted that you quit to preserve your safety and sanity. In such a case you made the decision yourself to leave and that decision put the control in your hands, but the fact you are unemployed and the stress that brings are still taxing.

Remember though some people have to have some things end before they can turn their attention to new and better things. So while yes many people would look for another job while employed and make a seamless transition between the two, for others the one must end before they can invest energy in finding a new one. There are after all just so many hours in a day and your hours of work may preclude a real job search if you’re sleeping when the Hiring Managers of the world are working.

We are all different though aren’t we? In so many glorious ways we differ from those around us. Were we to sit down in a room of people in the same relative situation we found ourselves in, we’d find varying opinions on how long is right to wait between ending one job and starting another.

Some people would like a week or two; seeing the time as a holiday of sorts. Sufficient time to relax a little, decompress and even spend a little money on fun things or extravagances knowing that secure income is guaranteed in the near future. These folks find the 2 weeks healthy and see it as a transition period, washing away the anguish of a bad experience and living in anticipation of a better one.

Ah but then there are others for whom the trauma is so intense it is as if they are paralyzed. These people are fragile, unstable, finding it difficult to cope with the simplest of daily tasks. Their self-esteem is leveled, their confidence shattered and they question their decisions on everything from what to eat to what to wear. For these folks, the pressure of launching a full-time job search is unthinkable. The problem is that to look at them from the outside, they may be doing an adequate job of masking all this; they look, “normal”.

Creditors, landlords, banks and other people to whom they have obligations don’t generally sympathize to the point where they are willing to forgo payments however so the pressure is on to get a job and do it quick. The outcome then is people looking for work who are not marketing themselves as they would otherwise; they are damaged, broken, wounded and reeling – but all of this internally.

Of course there are those who even when a job ends terribly have the self-confidence intact and the fortitude to pick themselves up and get out there immediately. These are the realists I suppose; life sent them a lemon but rather than making lemonade, they opt for something entirely new altogether and no job is going to land at their doorstep unless they get out there, so out they go!

On the other end of the scale however are those for whom the trauma is extreme. They may go not just weeks or months without really even looking for work but perhaps a year or more. They wouldn’t wish it so, but they are entirely incapable of moving forward in this one area of their life. The danger of course is that this one area impacts all the others; income, housing, finance, debts and assets, social integration, recreation and discretionary activities, family and friends dynamics etc.

“Just deal with it and move on” is often what people hear when a job ends badly. In a way that flippant (and often annoying) advice is the best advice in the broadest sense. “Dealing with it” however, well that’s where those who give the advice are often the ones who can accelerate the transitional grieving period faster themselves.

Got someone going through this you know? Be patient and supportive, help as you’re able and wait.

Define Yourself

Who are you? You are on one level I suppose a product of your past; everything from where you were born and brought up, the schools you attended, the people who surrounded you in your earliest formative years. Yet it’s more than this or people would be very much like their brothers and sisters, and very alike their neighbours and friends. But you, you’re unique.

No one knows you better than yourself or would you disagree with this premise? There are sometimes we might say to someone, “You know me better than I know myself”, but I suspect even when we say it we’re really indicating only a certain aspect of ourselves is known well by another rather than our complete make up.

Knowing ourselves; why is that so important? What’s that remotely have to do with employment, finding a job, landing a career? If that’s what we’re after shouldn’t we just run out and get a job; any job? Some people actually do make this critical mistake – but the number is very low. Even someone who says they are looking for and will do ‘anything’ usually draws the line at some point between what they’ll really do and what they won’t – and this is a good thing!

When you know yourself well you can identify and label the things you enjoy vs. those you don’t. You have an awareness of things you can do well, others you need help completing and yes other things you haven’t mastered and perform poorly at. Put together, you’ve got a pretty good idea of your skill set. To be successful and happy, it would seem logical then to perform work that gives you pleasure and that you perform well. The more you do this kind of work, you may increase your abilities from performing well to mastering.

The amazing thing about as humans however is that we grow. We grow and change over time. We take a job and at some point early on or at a later date we evolve and look for new challenges and new stimulation. While some of us could perform the same job for years or even decades, others opt to pursue different challenges that make use of some of our other skills. We may even choose to shift our employment into occupations where we haven’t mastered skills in order to develop skills we identify as needing and wanting to grow.

We are more than an accumulation of our skills though aren’t we? Sure we are. Our thoughts, needs, wants; things we see as beautiful, desirable. Let’s not forget too the things that limit us, impede us or just make the learning or living more of a challenge. We may have a physical or mental health issue that is part of our make up; and it may or may not be visible to the naked eye.

With respect to employment, is it the case that there is but a single job in this wide world that is meant for us and it is only that one single job that we were put on this earth to do? I certainly don’t think that for a second. However to listen to some speak, they are out searching endlessly for that perfect job, the one that will give their life meaning and define who they are and give them purpose. This belief can actually be a huge hindrance in landing employment because a person that believes there is but a single job they were meant to do often turns down many jobs fearing to choose wrong.

There is, is their not a certain prestige or value that we assign to jobs and employment too. If as some do we place a low value on a particular job vs. another, it might make us feel good to pursue a job of high common value feeling that is the job we were meant to do. But then what of the person who makes pipe cleaners for a living, bubble gum wrappers or toothpicks for a living. Is it likely that they identify there work as the one purpose they were put here on this earth and they do their work with passion, finding high value in it as meaningful and fulfilling. Who is to say, perhaps they do.

When you assess yourself; likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, etc. you still don’t have the complete picture of what defines you. It’s elusive, and just when you think you’ve got it, you realize what you used to find great joy in has become somewhat stale and less than completely satisfactory; well sometimes. We evolve, grow, regress, alter, morph and every so often we note the changes. We overcome tragedies and tests of our endurance.

It is the sum of all we experience and how we interact with those experiences that defines who we are and who we become. We can shift and make different choices in life intentionally and of course much in life happens to us unexpectedly for good or bad. We get hurt, we find elation, we crawl, we fly. We are the sum of all our experiences and truly unique.

There are many kinds of work in this world that you will perform well and enjoy. With every thing you do, take stock of what you do well and what you find both enjoyable and would rather avoid in the future.

When you define yourself, you find yourself.



One thing I try to do for those I help with finding, maintaining or exploring employment opportunities is give them the gift of empowerment. Whether that’s mine to give in the first place I acknowledge could be a point of irony as it turns out for some readers.

However that aside, it’s empowerment that’s up for discussion and pondering. Empowerment is less about what you can do for someone and more about what you can help them learn to do for themselves. This is usually accomplished by sharing skills, supporting the person through their first attempts and weaning yourself off as a dependency. Eventually the person gets to the point where they master the skill or skills you’ve shared and they can readily call upon them themselves with confidence and critically, competence.

Now of course, not everybody wants to be empowered. If you stop and think about this, you will possibly be able to think of situations in which you yourself would rather employ and pay for the services someone else has mastered rather than invest the time, energy and money required to gain the skill. Need help thinking of some? You may take your car in to change over your tires from All – seasons to Winter and back again rather than doing it yourself. You might call in a Plumber, an Electrician or a Painter when their services are required. For even though you could do a little research and learn how to change your tires yourself, get advice at a paint store or learn how to install that new kitchen faucet yourself, many leave the jobs to the professionals.

And how often does the Plumber or the Mechanic call you over and ask if you’d like to watch them work and they’ll tell you how to do this yourself in the future? Probably never; they’d eventually lose many of their customers and might lose their own incomes.

It seems to me however, that when it comes to job searching, writing resumes and cover letters and going to job interviews, that many people who haven’t mastered these skills tend to think they have nonetheless. I couldn’t tell you the number of times someone puts a poorly written document in my hands and does so feeling I’ll give it a passing grade.

There are really two kinds of people who I help in the end; the ones who say, “Just do it for me”, and those that are really interested in knowing the reasons behind my suggestions because they are sincerely invested in wanting to be able to produce good documents on their own. And what makes a good document? One that gets results often, not just once for every 50 handed out. That too is interesting; when someone defends with attitude the poor resume they have which got them to the interview stage once back in 2004. Sometimes it’s best to tell someone you’re available if they open themselves up to your help, do it for them and leave it for now.

So what’s in it for me personally when I’m consistently the Employment Counsellor where I work who always takes the longest when working with someone? It’s true of course. Sit the entire team down, each lending a hand to craft a resume and I’ll take the longest every time; you could win money if you bet on that; it’s just how I work. Don’t get me wrong by the way about my peers; good people and they get results too.

I derive happiness out of passing on the knowledge I have and so whenever I’m assisting someone, not only is my brain occupied in the resume construction but it’s also acutely engaged in passing on what I know to the extent the person themselves is both interested and able to take in. After all, even the most invested person can have other things on their mind and only be able to retain so much at one sitting.

My goal as stated earlier is to empower the person to the point where they can make the modifications necessary when targeting their resume to multiple jobs – jobs that may have the exact same job title by the way. As for job interviews, my goal is to help label a persons skills who may not recognize them for what they are, give them some structure to follow so their words use skill-based language and best market their strengths.

Eventually, the bittersweet moment comes when someone knows enough that they no longer need help. I mean it’s obviously the main goal and this is a moment of great personal satisfaction for me as well as them; I’m thrilled for them. Selfishly though, yes there is a part of me that thinks back and really enjoyed all those moments along the way when they internalized and mastered one skill that made learning the next possible.

Empowerment isn’t for everybody when it comes to job searching. Many remain dependent on others to do the work for them and they may get lucky at an early job interview or it may take many interviews to eventually succeed. When a person is receptive to learning, hopefully they seek out the right person to share what they know.

Now what about you? If you’re looking for work, know whether you want to be empowered or not and sharing this with whomever you approach for help is an excellent beginning.

The Words Unspoken

I’m willing to bet this has happened to you; 5 or 10 minutes after you’ve finished a conversation with someone you recall something you had planned on saying. Or perhaps you think of something insightful and knock yourself for having missed that opportunity to say it. You stop yourself in your tracks and say, “Why didn’t I think of this at the time?”

This differs from the other times when we know exactly what it is that we want to say but for whatever reason we intentionally leave unspoken. It’s also quite different from the times when we blurt out something unintended or ill-advised and we say to ourselves, “Why on earth did I say that?”

In the situations above, whether it’s words we said and wished we could take back or words we’ve left unspoken, how we feel is similar in some respects. We might feel disappointed with ourselves, and depending on the situation and what was at stake, we can be downright mad at ourselves and say things like, “Ugh! I’m so stupid! I blew it!” And what did we blow exactly? Usually it’s an opportunity of some kind and something we’d really wanted and figure has passed us by; something we had only one shot at.

Job interviews are like this for example. You apply for a job and land the interview. The more you want the job the more you tend to see this as THE job; the big one. It would be perfect in so many ways like salary, location, advancement etc. but the best part is doing what you’d be great at and therefore love the work. With all those things aligning up this job was made for you! Now with all that accumulated stuff making this the ideal fit, you’re feeling the pressure rise to be perfect.

So what happens? You go in brimming with confidence and high expectations. The first little stumble – maybe a question that caught you off guard or a momentary blank – whatever it is becomes magnified in your eyes. Suddenly you feel things slipping away; the job of your dreams moving just out of reach and so you try harder to get to together. With that increased focus you hope to get a firm grip on things and you wish you could hit the pause button and freeze time long enough to recompose yourself; maybe even hit a rewind button and answer differently something you’ve said previously.

But time marches on doesn’t it? And so, you’re shaking hands walking away, the interview completed and you’re dazed wondering, “Where did my thoughts go? I had everything I wanted to say all ready?” If you’re really fortunate of course things didn’t go nearly as badly as you imagine they did and surprise, surprise you get a call offering you a second interview or even the job itself!

However, just as often, it didn’t turn out like you’d hoped because what you didn’t get out and express was key to marketing your strengths and strong suitability for the job. Sure it’s a moment of learning – if you learn from it. If you don’t learn from it, well, it’s really just a mistake.

So how do you go about ensuring that you don’t leave words unspoken? Excellent question! How fortuitous that you should ask now BEFORE the opportunity before you slips away.

Imagine first a personal conversation you are going to have with someone about an important issue. Whether it’s talking about sex with your son or daughter, speaking with your partner about selling your home, moving mom or dad into a long-term care facility etc. Now you wouldn’t just decide to ‘wing it’ and have a spontaneous chat over a meal. That ‘chat’ is going to be nipped in the bud because they aren’t ready for what you’re springing on them, and you won’t have prepared yourself to address the important things you want to bring up.

The best scenario is to plan in advance what your arguments are and to anticipate the counter arguments so you’re prepared. Of course you have to listen attentively to respond to things you didn’t anticipate as well. Your strength going in to these discussions is the homework you did ahead of time so you’ve got your facts ready; brochures for mom or dad about the home, a budget showing the numbers if you sell your house.

So leading up to the big conversation – aka the job interview – do your homework. Write down what qualifies you; both academic and experiential. Name the qualities you possess that make you an ideal fit with the values and goals of the new employer. Ensure you have tangible examples that prove you’ve done what you claim you have done. Please do yourself a favour and be as specific as you can when relating your past experiences; don’t generalize your past good works.

Jot down a word or two that will trigger your memory if you need to do so – so that even if you blank out for a second or so in the pressure of the moment, you can look down, see that word or phrase and remember what it is that you just have to say in order to make the strongest possible case for what it is you want.

Too many people unfortunately let opportunities to say what’s most important to them slip by and we don’t always get 2nd chances.