Community Involvement And Networking

One piece of advice almost always given to people who are looking for work is to get out there and network. While I entirely agree with this, quite often those that are being given this advice haven’t got much of an idea on how or where to actually do it.

While there are formal gatherings you can look into and attend in your community such as Chamber of Commerce sponsored meetings, they can be intimidating to be one of the few people who isn’t a business leader in attendance, and your opportunity to mix and mingle is restricted to time set aside for doing so. Many a person has attended these meetings with the intent of talking to others but in the end, walked out having said almost nothing; too much pressure apparently to force a conversation.

I have a suggestion for you which you might find much more appealing and a lot less intimidating. Consider getting involved in some group of people where you feel a sense of connection in the purpose for the gathering. Allow me to use myself as an example.

Over the years I’ve acted in community theatre productions primarily where I live in Lindsay Ontario and in the neighbouring city of Peterborough. As I write this blog today, I do so in the early hours of opening night for a production of, ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. This production has brought together children, teenagers and adults from the Peterborough and surrounding area, some 50 people when you add up the actors on stage and the full production crew. Throw in the parents of the children, brothers and sisters of the cast, and you’re almost around 100 people!

So here are a large gathering of people who come together with a unified love of performing and / or being involved in a theatrical performance. Over the 2 or 3 months we’ve met and rehearsed, there’s been a lot of time for conversations, many of which involved inquiries about what occupation a person has. I’ve found people who teach, three restaurant owners, a farming family that raise and train horses, a Home Inspector, aspiring actors of course and College Instructors to name a few.

The conversations are natural, not forced, and yes there are a few people in the cast who are out of work and looking for jobs. As for the teens, while they are in school, for every one that has an idea of what they want to do for a living, there are many more that are unsure and still trying to figure things out. Just yesterday at our last rehearsal, one of them asked me backstage what I did in my job, and when I said I was an Employment Counsellor, they replied, “What’s that?” This is how they get exposed to new career possibilities, by bumping unexpectedly into people who do something they’ve not heard of and asking questions.

Now joining a community theatre group isn’t what I’d necessarily suggest you do. But do you get the point I’m making about joining a group of people in your own community that share a collective interest? Be it knitting, playing music, improving parks and playgrounds, joining a Board of Directors in a local organization, helping out a local sports team, or signing yourself up to curl for the winter months, get out and meet people.

The positive thing about doing any of the above is that you meet people naturally, and you get to know them, socialize with them, and you don’t have the pressure of feeling you have to pin them down in a single 10 minute meeting and plead for a job or ask them to introduce you to someone who does. No, in the case of my community theatre experience, I’ve had a few months to mingle and speak with any and all I wished to whether in a group or one to one. What I’ve found is that good people get involved in community activities. They are intrinsically good by nature, they are helpful, and because we are unified (in this case) by our love of entertaining those who come to see a show, we’re generally in good moods and having fun. Now wouldn’t you like to talk to people who are good by nature, helpful and enjoy being around you if you were looking for a new job?

Who knows where you’re next job lead might come from? You might find that the guy who you act beside has an opening in his business and in getting to know you, he takes a liking to you. Or maybe the backstage crew goes home and casually mentions to their family that you’re out of work and looking for a job and it’s someone who overhears that comment that says, “Really? What’s she looking for?”

Networking is really just connecting with people, having conversations beyond the initially reason for meeting. So yes, in this case we are brought together by our love of staging a production, but when we talk of things outside the theatre, we’re networking with each other.

Consider therefore looking into community groups, calls for volunteers, connecting with people who share whatever it is you find of interest. You’ll meet others who will take an interest in you and opportunity may come when you least expect it, while at the same time you have fun yourself, and that’s good for your mental health!


Job Interviews; Know Your Lines

If you’ve ever done any community theatre, film or television work, you’ll know then at some point the Director tells the cast to be, ‘off book’. This means you’ve got a target date to have memorized your lines. From that point on, you can’t carry around the script with you on stage or in front of the camera. If you need help with what you’re supposed to say at any point, you just say, “Line?”, and someone who is following along off stage or set will give you a prompt. Eventually, the Director will go further too, cutting off the prompts altogether, so if you don’t know your words at that point, you’re on your own.

Job interviews however, don’t work that way. First of all, memorizing specific answers word for word has never been advised. Let me correct that; somewhere, someone I’m sure has dispensed that advice, but please, don’t try to memorize your answers to questions you presume you may be asked. This is a bad strategy, in fact it’s one of the biggest critical mistakes you could make in preparation for employment interviews!

On the other hand, don’t go to the other extreme, (which many people do I’m afraid to say) and just plan on, ‘winging it’. Making everything up on the fly, in the moment, with no advanced preparation at all is setting yourself up to be exposed as ill-prepared and you’ll eventually find yourself growing increasingly anxious and embarrassed as it becomes clear you weren’t ready for it.

What you’re really going for is to come across as authentic and genuine, answering questions put to you with confidence and intelligence. In order to do so, you need an understanding of the position you’re after, how it fits in to the organization you’re applying with, and the ability to market your skills, experience, education and personal suitability as THE right person to be hired. If you can successful communicate this, you’re well on your way to making the best possible impression you can and landing an eventual offer.

One obvious suggestion is to do some research. Now I bet you’ve heard this before, but perhaps you haven’t really understood what it is you should be researching. Sure you should visit a website, (it is 2017 after all) and click on the, “About Us” tab. That’s a start. In the days before the internet, many job applicants would drop by an organization well in advance of a job interview and pick up brochures, financial and Annual reports. These are still largely available for the asking, and in some situations it’s a great idea to pop ’round and pick them up, with the added benefit they get to see you and you them, you get an idea of the atmosphere, how employees dress etc.

Accessing LinkedIn information is another source for this research. Research not just the company but the people with profiles who work at the organizations you’ve short-listed yourself as possible destinations. What’s their backgrounds and what routes did they take to get where they are now? How are they going about branding themselves? What have they got to say in terms of their current position? How are they dressed for their LinkedIn image?

Now all this is good but back to knowing your lines. In a play the beautiful thing is that at the first rehearsal you’re handed the script. You not only know what you have to say, you know what everyone has to say! No job interview however works this way and that’s actually a good thing. So lose the anxiety over trying to memorize answers.

You do need something to hang on to that gives you some structure and some reassurance. You can get this by looking at a job posting, networking with people who work where you want to work or those who hold down similar jobs to the one you’re after now; ideally all the above. Job postings highlight what you’ll be doing, the qualifications employers demand and often who you’ll be reporting to.

Knowing what they expect you to do should give you an idea what they’ll ask you about. It’s likely your experience will come up as they seek to see if you’ve got the skills, which come out as you relate what you’ve done in the past. Using skill-based language therefore, (I listened, I resolved conflict, I negotiated contracts, I led project teams) that mirrors their current needs will prove helpful.

An interview format will surround the content of your answers with structure and this structure ensures you’re focused and only say enough to answer the questions without running off at the mouth. Not always, but if you look at a company’s pages, you might even find information on how to prepare for interviews with them. As they want to see you at your best and make good hiring decisions, they often don’t mind sharing interview preparation information. It’s there for the looking.

So, get off book before the interview. Know what you want to say and what you want to stress. Deliver your words with confidence and certainty but at the same time by all means reflect on questions asked to compose the best answers. During this conversation with the interviewer(s), have a few thoughtful questions of your own that show you’ve given some thought. And like the best actors, be memorable!

Why Volunteer? Take Me For Example

There are many reasons for volunteering in your community, and while many people advise job seekers to volunteer, it isn’t always immediately clear how that volunteer work is really of much help. I thought therefore I’d use my own volunteer experience as an example; share what I put in and what I get out of it. See what you think.

If you find yourself seated in the Academy Theatre tonight in the town of Lindsay, Ontario Canada, you’d be entertained with an amateur production of the play, Mary Poppins. Among the cast, you’d pick out my name in the programme, and I’d be one of two gentleman singing a song that opens the show. Yes, for the next two weeks, I’ll be one member of a cast of local people who will bring this musical production to life.

So how does volunteering in a local musical production on my own time in any way advance or promote opportunities for professional development, networking and any career aspirations I might have? (And of course, that you may have if you were similarly involved?) That is a great question.

For starters you have to look at the kind of people who are attracted to these kind of productions. In our cast, we have Teachers, Lawyers, a Judge, local business owners, Musicians, Social Services Workers, a Municipal Director, Attorneys, a Yoga Instructor, a President of a local non-profit association – and that’s just to name a fifth of the cast. In addition to the adult actors on stage, there are a number of child and teen performers who have parents in attendance. There are the stage crew, the orchestra, Set and Costume Designers, Painters, Seamstresses, theatre personnel, make-up people and Lighting Technicians.

Think about all those people with whom you could interact with over a few months right from the first casting call to the final curtain and cast party. That’s an awful lot of opportunity to mingle, introduce yourself, forge a relationship, share a beverage with, learn your lines with. The play becomes the vehicle which brings you together and gives you common ground to start those conversations.

In addition to donating your time and raising some funds for the theatre or the larger community, you just feel good having some fun. It can be a creative outlet for those who need it, a pressure release valve for those who work in stressful day jobs, and it provides some work/life balance. Another interesting thing you’d find is that families often share the stage together; this year as in the past, I’m sharing this experience with my wife who has a small role and is also a Stage Manager in the wings when she’s not on stage. In years past, my daughter was also involved and the three of us bonded through the musical productions.

Good people join these productions. The students are only those who excel in school and can handle the rehearsal schedules while keeping marks up. The actors are good people, many of whom are leaders in their community. With no one getting a single dime for this experience, the people are invested because they want to have fun and love it.

Okay, so here I am networking with all these people. Remember that old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” And have you ever said to someone, “But I don’t know anyone! How do I get to know the right people?” Volunteering is one way to go about it. The best time to actually volunteer is long before you actually need those contacts for your personal gain. In other words, now is the best time to get involved and volunteer in some organization where you live and where you want to work.

Now while I’m not actively asking my theatre friends for a job, imagine if I was looking for work. With all these people available to me, I could certainly put out the word that I was looking and would appreciate any leads on jobs or the opportunity to interview for one. Ah, the opportunity to interview…. The entire time I’m interacting with these people, they are seeing what I’m like to work with, whether I’m positive, helpful, supportive or self-absorbed, aloof, critical etc. Every rehearsal with them is a little piece they gather and add to whatever opinion they are forming of me. In other words, my entire volunteer experience with them is a long interview.

I could also draw upon these fellow thespians and ask them to stand as a reference; they could speak to my dependability, friendliness, community service, character etc. Sure I may not see them ever again, but I can tell you I’ve acted with some of these people for over 20 years..

So here it is opening night. I’ve made some new friends, had lots of fun and laughs, helped mentor some new to the stage, benefitted myself from others suggestions and look great due to the efforts of the Costume Designers. I’m at the stage where I’m the guy helping other men do their makeup; something I don’t get to say very often!

This volunteer work is on my LinkedIn profile; it’s on my resume / CV, and I have a separate theatre resume I use when auditioning for roles outside my local community too.

If you are looking to work or advance your career, consider investing in volunteerism.

Following My Own Advice And Having Fun

Today might be my last day of paid work for awhile. My co-workers and I are part of a union of employees who collectively are in a situation where our bargaining committee has issued a work stoppage that would take effect at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Now I’m not going to get into the issues here and talk about that process because I don’t think that would be wise or profitable for any reader out there. Suffice to say however that the stress of a work stoppage and the loss of income that comes with it are affecting everyone. There’s an edge in the workplace.

Fortunately last night, instead of sitting at home and wondering what might or might not happen and allowing the stress over things I have no control over, I had other plans. In my local town of Lindsay, there’s going to be a production of, “Beauty and the Beast” in the fall of this year. Last night was the night when those who have auditioned last week and passed that stage were invited to get on stage and audition for specific parts.

So upon arriving, I was handed three sheets of paper, each containing an excerpt from the play with three different characters highlighted. If you’ve never gone to a callback before for amateur theatre, this means that you’re being considered for whatever you’ve been handed, and you’ll be on stage speaking the lines highlighted with one or more other people so the Director’s can see how you deliver the lines, the chemistry you create with various people, and the can gauge things like the height of the actors, their stage presence and which roles suit people best.

Do you know the play? If you do, then picture me up for the role of Cogsworth the clock, Lumiere the Candlestick or Maurice, the father of the lead Belle. Do I have a preference? Sure, Cogsworth is a fun role, and I’d like that one. But some people can’t pull off certain roles, while others can adapt and play convincingly a number of roles. So it’s really up to Director’s to assemble people and put them in roles which as an entire cast will work best for the audience.

Interesting how my fate of which role (if any) and whether I’m on strike tomorrow or not are both out of my hands at this point. But I digress.

My point here is that last night was fun. It was a chance to catch up with other actors I only see whenever there’s an amateur production in our town to try out for. And it’s been a couple of years since a show was mounted in Lindsay which called for locals to audition. Some of the people who came out are now in their 20’s, and I first acted with them when they were small children. All of us are older, and we brought back warm memories of plays past.

So from 6:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., I sat and watched small children do their thing on stage and then from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. I was doing my bit. It is fun like I said. There’s no audience out there to wow, and you’re up there on an empty stage with nothing but other hopefuls all holding their various photocopies of script excerpts and reading lines back and forth. Some get right into not only the words, but start to add actions, facial expressions, and movement. Others, well, they just read the lines.

What I really liked about the group who came out last night is that the quality of people from which to choose is strong. That makes the job harder for the two Director’s who have to cast people in various roles, but the final production will be really good because each person can sing, can act, and can dance.

While there, I did think of the looming strike from time to time when people asked, “How are things?” I think that’s normal to be thinking of it. However, it was equally nice to then just get caught up in doing something fun and enjoyable, laugh and hug a few women I haven’t seen for years.

I imagine you’ve got some stress of your own. A frustrating job search, a promotion that you got passed over for, a presentation at work that didn’t go over well or is coming up far too quickly. That’s the thing about stress, it’s not only reserved for some. We all get in situations which bring a certain amount of stress with them. It’s about how we deal with that stress that defines us and keeps us healthy or not.

Diversions such as my audition last night, serve to provide balance and an outlet for that anxiety or stress. I know that today at 8:00 a.m. as I complete this blog, I am more relaxed than I was yesterday at this time, and yet the threat of a strike is now 22 hours away.

Take a walk, play a game, ride your bike, do some gardening, go see a comedy movie. Do whatever you personally find enjoyable and whatever brings a smile or a laugh to your face. It takes 17 muscles to smile and 46 to frown I’ve heard. So stop working so hard and lighten things up a little. Lightening things up doesn’t mean your problems are not important, it only means you’re dealing with them in a healthy way.