Many of the people I support who are looking to find employment initially come to me as a referral from co-workers. These co-workers are Caseworkers and/or Employment Counsellors like myself.
When I meet these people for the first time, I know that while I’m getting to know them and sizing them up, they too are assessing me and the degree to which I’ll be able to help them. I applaud them for this because we all want to feel our time is being used wisely and we don’t want to waste our time being shown things we already know.
It is always interesting to me (and rewarding) when a person expresses their gratitude and tells me how suspicious they initially were of my ability to help them. Most were job searching long before spending time together with me, so what, they often tell me they questioned, could I possibly show them that they weren’t already doing? They then go on to say how glad they were that they made the decision to open themselves up to what I was sharing. One woman who spent two weeks with me in a workshop recently told me that at the end of her first day, she knew she’d made a good decision and could learn so much. In addition to finding new and better ways of doing things, she also found she had more motivation and excitement at the increasing probabilities of work.
My experience is not I suppose, unique to me. There are many Workshop Facilitators, Employment Coaches and Counsellors, Resume Writers and Caseworkers who work with job seekers. I hope that all these people working with the people they do have many positive outcomes and feel rewarded just as I do when those they work with move forward.
If you’re interested in accelerating the learning process, one thing to consider is asking if you can observe someone look for and apply for a job. You can learn so much about what a person knows and doesn’t, what they can and cannot do, and most importantly, what they will and will not do, just by watching. This takes longer than simply having someone tell you how they go about looking for work, but it’s so much more revealing.
For example, you may hear someone say, “Oh for sure. I always make my résumé fit the job I’m applying to”. “Great!” you say in return, and figure their job search issues are in some other area. Ah, but now it’s you who are making a critical error if you presume that your understanding of crafting a résumé targeted to a specific job is a shared understanding with the person you are working with. If you were to congratulate the person for having that knowledge, and then follow-up with a request to watch them in action, you’d unquestionably learn a lot, making this observation exercise extremely valuable.
When I’m sitting with someone, I ask them before we start, to say out loud what they are thinking as they go about a typical search and application. It slows them down a little, but that’s okay. If your goal is to change and improve the actions they take while job searching, you have to come to know the thought processes that guide those same actions. Why do they do what they do?
Although you might be tempted to correct a behaviour immediately or give them feedback (for they will likely ask for this), hold off on doing so. Let them show you how they’d go about looking for a job and applying for it if you weren’t right beside them watching. Now of course, what you hear and see will likely be them at their best because they know you’re watching. So imagine how they typically go about it when no one is watching.
You’ll soon understand if they have the skills they claim, and the extent to which their skills and abilities are similar to or quite different from your own. You also learn in some cases what you don’t need to teach them because they already have a good understanding of those things. This is where you do save time and make their experience a better one.
So for example a lot of people will tell you they already know to pick out the key words in a posting and make sure they are in their résumé. This is good! However, if you watch them, you may find they simply copy and paste these into the résumé, or they fail to actually find the right things to include; adding things they feel would be better.
It can be challenging to watch someone make mistakes as your natural inclination is to step in and instruct them on what you know to be better. Bite your tongue, bid your time and watch in silence. This might take 20 minutes. You’ll learn more in that 20 minutes I assure you than you will simply by having them verbally walk you through what they typically do.
Up to you of course as to whether you want to try this approach. If you’ve had success using other methods that’s great. But if you find someone just isn’t having the success you’d both like and you’re both wondering why, it might be something worth trying. You could learn a lot about what they claim they know and what they can actually do.