Yesterday the local airwaves were filled with broadcasters predicting a rather significant snowfall for today. The general advice was that the snow would come in amounts anywhere from 10 – 30 cm. depending on where you lived and the influence of winds creating drifts. Driver’s were encouraged to either stay home and work from home if possible, or drive with extreme care, leaving lots of time and space between vehicles.
Well we’ve had that kind of warning twice already this winter in the area where I live, and the first two times, it was relatively uneventful. So last night I went to bed seeing a trace amount of snow on the driveway at home. I got out of bed at 3:00a.m. just to see what was going on, and while yes was snowing, it didn’t appear to be much.
You see I revel in the opportunity to drive in deep snowy conditions. So you can imagine how I looked forward to waking up with a good old-fashioned Canadian snowstorm raging. I take these as a personal challenge in getting to work on time.
This morning turned out to be in fact the kind of morning that required some shoveling. Luckily my neighbour was up snowblowing my driveway at 6:10 a.m., and when I opened both garage doors, he was just doing the last strip! Great timing. I had even backed in both vehicles the night before in case my wife and I needed a running start to break through drifts at the road.
The drive was fantastic in to work. There were fewer vehicles on the road, the plows had been out, and the evergreens are covered with beautiful white fluffy snow. Quite beautiful indeed.

So I started thinking about adversity and the job search. Well of course a job search is challenging, fraught with obstacles and barriers, highs and lows. However, why is it some tackle the job search with a different mentality than others, much like some drivers avoid the poor driving conditions while others drive with enthusiasm? Attitude. Attitude is the determining factor which defines how you view problems and challenges.

Now I need to acknowledge a few things. If you are an insecure or inexperienced driver, it is foolish to head on out into a blizzard and you may well endanger your life. And likewise, attitude alone won’t guarantee you land interviews and get jobs as a result. In fact a positive attitude won’t make a frustrating job search suddenly turn around. However, a positive attitude, and more importantly HOW YOU VIEW a situation, can indeed go a long way to how you decide to deal with a situation. Maybe you look at unemployment and the job search as a “why me?” situation. Well sure you can’t help but feel personally affected because after all, it’s you. However, see it as a chance to move in a new direction, make a fresh start, and perhaps you actually get enthused about it and for a time at least, your determination to succeed might increase.

Of course, I’m not minimizing the intense frustration of a prolonged job search, and certainly don’t mean to imply that all you need to do is see things differently and you’ll have a job tomorrow. If that was my message, then what I’d really be saying is that your unemployment is somehow your own fault; and it isn’t. This world economy is tough and looking for work is a job in itself. The message I want to pass on however is that you certainly can alter your attitude at any time; and in fact, you alone have the power to do this.
While others may attempt to console, comfort, encourage and support you, true motivation has to be born within. What is difficult is the initial kickstart to get moving. You can’t build momentum if you are standing still, you have to be in motion. Your job search is no different – it requires action and your attitude has to be properly set prior to action, otherwise you’ve got action without direction.

Adversity comes to everyone and hopefully no more than you are capable of handling. When, not if, you overcome adversity, realize that the more adversity you had to overcome, the sweeter the taste of success. Those with tremendous adversity in their lives are the ones who are remembered, go down in the history books, and the ones others stand back and admire. While I certainly would not wish adversity on you, I do wish you the best in your struggle to overcome the adversity of unemployment.

An Hour With Jacques Demers

So today I find myself out-of-town attending a conference with several of my work colleagues from my own office, and many more from across the Province of Ontario.

In addition to the planned workshops on topics of interest to those in my field of Employment Counselling, yesterday we were fortunate enough to have Jacques Demers address us as a keynote speaker. For those of you that don’t know him, Jacques is a former coach in the NHL, and won the cup back in 1993 with the Montreal Canadiens.

Now being a fan of the team, I was intimately aware of Jacques and thought I knew his story. In short, I knew he had literacy problems and that he revealed these upon his retirement and wrote a book about his problem in an effort to help others.

The man had the groups’ attention from the moment he took to the podium. Speaking from the heart, he described his early life, raised by an alcoholic father who abused his wife and son. He described hiding his literacy problem from his sisters, his teachers, his fiance and others all the while living in fear that someone might intentionally or accidentally reveal his dark secret and destroy his dream of coaching in the NHL. What fragile self-confidence he had, was constantly just a word away from being stripped from him. What he told us was that he didn’t have option of having people like us in his early life who could have given him a chance, and reached out to him.

It saddens him to realize that there are more illiterate people than ever in an age of electronic readers, I-Pads, Blackberry’s etc. and while the climate has changed and people can be more open about their literacy problems, the problem nonetheless grows.

While I had gone to hear Jacques because of his affiliation with the Montreal Canadiens, what I really heard was an ordinary man speaking about his problem with literacy growing up, dealing with an abusive father, and making a commitment to himself to improve his situation. Back then he didn’t have the opportunity to speak up and get the professional help. He said that in those days you kept your problems to yourself for fear of being branded as stupid and dumb. No way could he risk being found out and his career aspirations destroyed. Hockey would provide his family with its livelihood.

Upon his retirement from the NHL and subsequent revelation, he was contacted by Stephen Harper and asked to accept a position as a Canadian Senator. “Why me?” he asked. After all, he was a hockey guy not a politician. Apparently the Canadian Prime Minister said he needed people like Jacques who had overcome adversity and knew what it took to succeed. Jacques was being given an opportunity to take his past experience and use it to better the lives of others through his new role as a Senator.

Funny how life sometimes works this way. In order to end up in a position where he could inspire others and help them to better deal with their problems, the man himself had to endure a tortured youth, constant worry, hide his problem from those he loved most, and throughout the entire ordeal, still find a way to get by. He didn’t plan on ending up as a Senator working with Aboriginal people to improve literacy and their quality of life but he did.

The message Jacques also conveyed was one of thanks. He thanked all of us seated there for choosing to do what we do. He said we were people of character, and he thanked us on behalf of all those who don’t stop to express their thanks. I don’t know what it cost to get Mr. Demers to come and speak to the group yesterday. I do know now that his words made an impression on me personally and perhaps I would say on most people in that room. When he spoke, he spoke with genuine sincerity. He brought no notes, he used no script, he just stood at the podium and shared his story and expressed his appreciation for our capacity to care when helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

So to you on his behalf I say this. If you have a problem or secret of some kind, whether it be literacy, alcoholism, drugs, anger, or any other of the many issues that can get in the way of living a better life; the life you want to lead, seek out help.
And if you happen to be in the people profession, dedicated to helping others, I extend my personal thanks echoing Jacques, for doing what you, what we, do.

Oh yeah and I did get his autograph!

You’re Being Watched!

1984 was a classic novel that among other topics, put forth an idea of everyone being observed and watched by the state, referred to as Big Brother. I’m not going that far in this blog today, but I do want to remind you that you are being watched and more importantly, you’re actions and reactions are being not only watched but learned. By who you ask?

Well for starters, if you have children and you are unemployed, they will learn from how you are dealing with every aspect of your unemployment from the day you lose your position all through your unemployment period right up to the day you land your next job. Suppose you hide your unemployment from them, and then six months later you tell the kids you have a new job and that’s why daddy was home from work for half a year. You might expect they’ll take from that information that things are going to be better now. What they might learn however is that you should keep secrets from those you love and don’t trust other people who are close to you to understand.

On another level, suppose you are employed and working quite well in your opinion and you decide to apply for an internal promotion in your organization. You go for the interview and figure you can count on your current Supervisor for a glowing recommendation. Turns out however that you’ve played it safe and comfortable for the last year, not taking on any additional responsibilities, not voluntarily opting for any training, haven’t done anything more than what your job description called for. Could be that this behaviour was being observed and the new position calls for behaviours you just haven’t been exhibiting. Hard to convince an interviewer that you can just turn on a switch and act differently than you have in the recent past.

Of course if you have a spouse or significant other in your life, your mood, feelings and compatibility are something they tune into pretty well, just as you probably understand them better than anyone else. If your are irritable, short-tempered and generally just not all that nice to be around because of the stress of unemployment, they’re going to feel it too. This will always cause additional stress for them through association, (they feel what you feel), and this can then multiply your own stress because of it.

Of course, knowing you are being watched can also be a very good thing; a very good thing indeed. You can go out of your way to join projects at work, make an effort to strengthen a character weakness, take some additional training, seek out constructive feedback now from a Supervisor to position yourself for a promotion down the road, and forge some positive relationships.

When you are unemployed, consider that how you behave and what you share at a time when you are maybe at an all-time low point, is a teachable period that others can learn from. If you shared the loss of your job early, but reassured your children that things will work out, if you show your spouse that you are really striving hard to get your next job, you’re passing on through example, how to deal with negative situations. Sharing challenges with others, especially those closest to you, shows your trust in their capacity to share in that news and work on it collectively. Of course the key is to share in language people understand and to the limit of what they are able to deal with. It doesn’t accomplish much to share with a six year old child how annoyed you are that your position was made redundant because of the devalued currency in a tight economic climate spurred on by a drop in overall market share influenced by political unrest in some off shore country. Huh?

Every person alive has struggles, issues and challenges to deal with from time to time. Some of those struggles are relatively minor and others appear catastrophic. Any hero in a story or a movie has periods of persecution, bad luck, misfortune and these lead to self-doubt, loss of confidence, a drop in self-esteem. What we admire about them in the end however is how they deal with the situation and the resolve they have to improve their situation. Just as we watch them get insights into their thoughts, feelings and emotional struggles, so too do the people closest to us observe how we handle adversity.

Sooner or later, almost every lousy situation improves and we emerge from the shadow. Hopefully we are stronger, wiser, more compassionate of others, respected and respectful. Believing that things will improve and taking action to improve our chances and reduce the length of time we have to deal with the bad reveals us for who we are. It not only reveals ourselves to others, but more importantly, it reveals us to ourselves. What a wonderful thing if we could emerge from a problem and feel better in the end than we did prior to the disaster.

So not only is Big Brother watching, but so is little brother, daughter, son, mother, father, Supervisor, co-worker, friend, family and SELF. Rather than being paranoid that everybody is watching, feel inspired because everyone is watching and wow them with how you deal positively with disaster. This will result in people knowing you can accomplish things when things get tough, you can be counted on for inspiration, and admired for how you dealt with issues.

Keep in mind by the way that even though everybody is watching, you don’t have to be flawless. Even the best of us when dealing with problems and challenges has low moments when we acted poorly. Rather than beat yourself up for giving in from time to time, give yourself permission to be less than your best and then dust yourself off and take the steps you need to move forward.

Where Do People Get Those Great Interview Answers?

Most people I speak with who either interview others for a living, or attend interviews often, indicate that they are looking for applicants to include in their answers actual examples from their past that demonstrate their behaviour. In other words, instead of being asked what you would do in a situation, the interview asks for example of when you were actually in a situation in the past and what you did.

So let’s assume just for this post today that you are a relatively new job searcher. You have little or no actual work experience to draw on and therefore are baffled as to how to answer a question like, “Tell me about a time you had a major problem and how did you resolve it?”. Most interviewers appreciate and expect you to provide an answer from a workplace setting if only because it makes it easier for them to then translate your past experience working for someone else into possibly working for them. With no prior work experience or say, only having had a single employer, you can still answer this question with confidence.

I was speaking with a client of mine who was frustrated with her lack of success in getting interviews. A lot of energy was being put into the job search, she was taking much of the advice I shared and I really hoped things would start turning around for her in order to encourage her to continue. Then she landed an interview. Having been a housewife for years, she had no paid work experience, and then all of a sudden she found herself alone and needing work. The day of the big interview came and she was really pumped up and excited. She wore a knee-length white summer dress, was well groomed, had sensible shoes on to match the outfit, and was set. She gathered up  the posting, had a few copies of her resume, some prepared questions, and had rehearsed her answer to typical interview questions. Sure she was nervous, but it was a good nervous that comes from excitement. Then disaster struck.

On the way to the interview, a passing bus sprayed her with rainwater that had accumulated in a puddle. The water was dirty from run-off, and the shock caused her to drop the folder she carried with all the crisp, clean paperwork she had prepared. Her carefully applied make-up and mascara now made her appear to be auditioning for a role as an Alice Cooper groupie. Her appearance was pitiful and to some laughable, but with so much hope riding on the upcoming interview she was initially devastated. So what to do?

She went to that interview, wet and dirty complete with soggy resumes, cover letter, job posting and questions she could no longer read due to the running ink. She arrived 15 minutes early, told the Receptionist she was there, explained what had happened and asked to be shown the bathroom where she would attempt to freshen up. Just prior to the interview, she emerged having washed her face and arms, brushed her hair, removed all the makeup from her face, and had somewhat dried her dress using the hand blower. The white dress was splattered, dirty, stained and uncomfortable.

When the interviewer appeared, she was offered another time to be interviewed later that same day. Unfortunately what the kind interviewer didn’t know was that she had no other interview outfit period, and a few hours wouldn’t really help much. So the interview started. During the interview, she composed herself, acted confidently as best she could, and turned the experience to her advantage. She used the current disaster in an answer to the question at the start of this blog. “So tell me about a time you had a problem and what did you do to resolve it.” She broke into a knowing grin, and related the story of what had happened on the way and how she was still resolving it. The result? The interviewer was extremely impressed with her composure, and said how much he admired her for continuing and using the event to her advantage. As she walked out at the end of the interview, there were other candidates in the reception area. I’m willing to bet they saw her as no competition whatsoever when she came out looking a relatively complete mess.

The point to this story is that if you really think about things from a slightly different perspective, you will find past experiences throughout your life that you can then draw on to use in interviews to answer questions. Of course employers want to hear about your past experience in work settings. However, employers also prefer it if you can provide answers to questions from a variety of settings, not just a single job from your past.

Oh and the outcome? She got hired, and is now self-sufficient and financially independent. In a meeting with her not long ago, she now wonders what would have happened if the incident had never happened, or if she had opted to have the later interview that same day. How can you not admire someone who can take a remarkably tragic incident and then finds a way to turn it into a positive? Her attitude, her perspective and quick thinking all shone through on that day.

Find your answers to some of those tough interview questions in your everyday life both at and beyond the workplace.