About That Big Gap On Your Resume


One of the most common worries many come to me with is a lengthy gap on their resume. You might find my thoughts on this matter helpful whether you too are in this situation or like me, you’re in the business of providing help and support to those seeking employment. Let me just say here and now that I’d absolutely love to hear your own thoughts in the comments section; perhaps the advice you’d give yourself or what your personal experience has been – the good and the bad.

To begin then. When I first hear someone tell me they are worried about a lengthy gap on their resume I ask them why; not why there’s a gap but rather why they are worried about the gap. What I’m listening for are a couple of things. The first is hearing what they believe an employer’s possible objections are in order to hear if they accurately understand just what the gap implies. The second thing I’m listening for is actually the tone of their voice. It’s in the tone of the voice that I will detect anything and everything from utter despair and hopelessness through to defiance and bitterness. Most are somewhere in the middle actually;  does it SOUND like they really want to work and do they FEEL they need to overcome this barrier in order to get a job offer.  The tone is perhaps as important or in some case more so than what they say.

Now of course I want to also hear the truth when it comes to what they’ve been doing with their time during the gap, as it is often unexplained on their resumes. My direction to them is to tell me the blunt honest truth so that in that knowledge, I can determine the way to craft a few potential strategies in responding to the problem.

For a problem it is. Anything that undermines a person’s self-confidence and stands between themselves and their goal – in this case an employment offer at the conclusion of a successful interview – is a problem. One thing I’ve found over and over by the way is that when you hang on to your problems, you don’t often resolve them as quickly as when you share them with someone who has the knowledge and experience to provide you with options for reaching a resolution. Be selective with whom you share your problems of course, for telling anyone and everyone about your problems is seldom a good idea.

So, exactly how lengthy a period or gap are we talking about? For someone used to working their whole life, a 1 year gap can be their big worry. In the case of another, it could be 8 – 10 years. The length of time we’re talking about here is critical to know because there’s your perspective and the perspective of a potential employer, and they may not be the same shared view.

One positive thing about a gap in the present day is that it’s far less uncommon that in years past. Today more people transition from job to job, companies relocate, others downsize and reduce their workforce. More people find themselves as primary caregivers for aging parents because quite frankly medical advancements mean longer life spans than in years past. Sheer numbers alone play a factor too; with more people than ever working or looking for work, the odds of many of those people being out of work (after all there’s just so many jobs to go around) is up.Then there’s the people who were off due to physical or mental health issues.

One thing good to know is whether you’re unemployment was due to an issue which no longer exists. Caring for an aging parent that has passed away, or raising children who are now school age are two examples.

When I listen to a person tell me about the reason why they have this unemployment period, I always ask them what they DID do during that time, rather than what they didn’t do. Did they do any self-improvement activities such as volunteering, take a course of any kind, address some personal health issue such as losing weight, having a surgery, etc. All this information is what I’m after before I can offer up a few potential strategies on how to respond to the issue when it comes up in an interview.

My goal in responding to the person asking me for help is to provide them with three potential angles to choose from in addressing their gap. From these, they can best pick one that they feel most confident and comfortable with owning for themselves. It is remarkable to see first hand how having a good response can shift a person from dreading the question about their gap to hoping it actually comes up in the interview.

Once a strategy is selected, I’ll ask that person 3 questions which are:

  1.  Explain this gap on your resume.
  2.  What did you do between (date) and (date)?
  3.  I want to talk about this gap…

Yep, any version of the same issue asked 3 times. This gives you the chance to hear what the person actually says and gives them the chance to practice until they feel they own it and can confidently reply. With confidence, not only does the answer given satisfy the gap, the body language, facial expression and tone of voice come across as assertive.

Victims And Their Predators


Yes I suppose I’m upset, but more accurately, I’m disappointed; again.

I’m sad too, because once more, some good people have every reason to become cold and hard. Most are women – but there are men too; the victims of abuse. I ask you read on.

Why oh why I ask myself again and again are some people so intent on ruining the self-esteem, confidence and self-perception of others? Why is it that small people determinedly go out of their way to elevate themselves in sick, disturbing and twisted ways by intentionally diminishing others? What makes some people pour their energy into financially, emotionally, sexually and physically hurting and exploiting others?

Her name could be Sandra, Delores, Kelly, Cindy, Fatima, Tatiana or any other. She could be living in poverty, entrenched in the middle class or among the well-to-do. She just might have a degree or her Masters, dropped out before getting her high school diploma or be back in an adult education classroom. Her height, weight, eye or hair colour don’t define her, nor the country of her birth, the family she calls her own. She is at the same time anyone and everyone; your next door neighbour, the person you share the bus with, the driver in the next lane, the co-worker you admire for her good work habits. She could be your daughter; and you could be entirely unaware. And not be excluded, his name could be Dan, Keith, Jordan, etc. with the same realities as those above.

I’ll tell you this: he or she didn’t deserve what’s happened. She didn’t ask for it, he didn’t seek it out, neither one is in the least deserving of being on the receiving end of an abusive relationship. Let’s make it personal. YOU; yes you, you are blameless. You deserve better; you’re worthy and your not at fault. What you looked for, what you thought you’d found, wasn’t the abusive, manipulative relationship you ended up in. Those emotional beatings you’ve been on the receiving end of are just as real, just as devastating as a physical assault.

So what’s prompted this? Well, as you’d have guessed, once again, I’ve encountered victims of abuse; suffering at the hands of their past and current partners. What do these predatory men who’ve inflicted this abuse on these people have in common? Here’s their description:

  •  They are polite, well-spoken, charming and well-mannered
  •  They introduced themselves as caring and loving
  •  They discouraged contact with the victims friends
  •  They separated the victim from receiving help/support
  •  They went too far, apologized, said it would never happen again
  •  They bought gifts, they came smartly dressed
  •  They keep the victim guessing, on their guard and nervous
  •  They set impossible standards, demean and shame

Recognize anyone you know? These are the fellows who can charm parents of the victim into actually taking their side, who act and sound remorseful when it suits their needs and punish, pummel and humiliate when they are in the mood for, ‘fun’. These abusers dash hopes routinely, snoop through purses, get their mutual friends convinced they are the, ‘good’ one. These are the ones that turn kids against the victim; making it out that the victim is to blame for the fights, the arguments, the separations, the divorces. They are often extremely intelligent, convincing, likable and their greatest skill is manipulation. You might even like them very much yourself and come to doubt the truth of the victim’s claims.

I’m working closely with two victims of abuse at the moment. We’re looking to move forward with interviews that will lead to employment offers. I’ve only a small glimpse of the abuse suffered and endured. I’m hurting for them – and I’m not being trite – I’m being serious. But my hurt is absolutely nothing in comparison to theirs and please don’t think I’m suggesting it is.

What I see is two beautiful people both inside and out. They’ve got a lot to offer potential employers. They are bright, intelligent, well-spoken, educated, have superior interpersonal skills and… they are fragile, damaged, but not for a moment are they anything less than amazing and deserving.

What they want; what they deserve is decent jobs and stable, caring, meaningful relationships in true reciprocating partnerships. What annoys me and saddens me is when good people – strike that – beautiful people become jaded and hardened towards the world; when they distrust (with reason) others and miss the very healthy and secure, loving relationships they so crave. Those abusive, small-minded, evil abusers at that point have won.

If you know an abusive individual, stop pretending they aren’t doing any harm. Distance yourself from them and call them out. Abusers don’t like being in the light. If you know a victim, offer support, believe them and stand with them. Be a good ambassador for humankind. At this point, more abusers are male, more victims female. If you’re a male, you’ve got an onus to be one of the good guys; to keep alive the slim glimmer of hope for some woman that good men, while hard to find, are still out there. This is especially true if you’re in a position of authority and work with vulnerable populations. It falls to all of us however to be decent.

If you’re moved by this, impacted by this, add your voice. A like, a thumbs up, a comment. Let us stand together.

Pressure, Stress And Mental Health


By any chance, have you noticed people around you seem to be dealing with increased pressure? Perhaps too that not only are they experiencing more pressure, it’s coming from multiple sources and rather than being resolved quickly, these pressure linger?

Pressure and the stress that comes with it, seems to be more wide-spread these days. You know, there was a time when a person kept their troubles and stressors to themselves. After all, they didn’t want to appear incapable and put their work in jeopardy. When the worked piled on and piled up, the thinking was you’d roll up your sleeves, bear down and ramp up the speed. You’d come in a little early, work through a shortened lunch, stay a little later, then at some point, that mountain of work would become manageable again. Your stressors would dissipate and everything would fall back into balance.

What I see in 2019 however, is many people are putting in more effort and still falling behind. Not only are they working hard to get through the work they’ve been assigned, there’s more coming and it’s coming more frequently. So many people are playing a shell game; working on something until they have to switch tasks because something has a shorter deadline, then putting some time back into an earlier assigned job whenever they can squeeze it in. The result for many is finished work that isn’t their best; passable perhaps, but they know the result they’d love to have realized just isn’t what they’ve produced.

When a busy person takes on more, there’s two possibilities; they can handle the extra work load or they can’t. If the extra workload is successfully managed, they often get rewarded with a hearty thanks – and additional work, as they can obviously handle the increased work! The person who can’t handle the extra work; albeit they may have said they believed they could take it on – now has a known limit. In other words, the boss knows the maximum amount of work they can handle. In a just world, the boss would ensure the employee doesn’t get assigned or take on more than their capacity, but in reality, that boss is under pressure too. If the pressure they are under is get their team to deliver more, that extra work might just keep funneling down to the employee.

Pressure and stress impact our mental health and our mental health is something we don’t just put on when we get to work and remove at the end of our shift. We carry the state of our mental health in our travels back home, to the supermarket, when we spend time with our families and friends. When we aren’t observed to, ‘be ourselves’, guess what? We now feel additional pressure to be the person others have come to expect us to be not just at work, but at home too.

The result can be consistent and constant pressure to perform. Our homes; traditional places of sanctuary and places to retreat from the world and relax, become places where we are still experiencing pressure. Everyday tasks like washing the dishes, dusting and preparing meals seem taxing. Someone makes an innocent comment like, “we’ll have to buy some milk” or, “have you seen my car keys?”, and well that’s it; we snap back. Suddenly that pressure that’s been building bursts open. It’s not that the car keys or the milk alone are major issues, it’s that they are that one extra thing that you just can’t take on at the moment.

That stress you’re carrying with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is invisible much of the time. There’s no cast as there is with a broken limb, there’s no label that identifies you as stretched, no hourglass in your hands that shows just how little you’ve got left to give. Some of your precious energy reserves have actually been put into covering up your stress. That forced smile, the longer trips to the bathroom where you’re actually just trying to escape and have some, ‘me’ time for 5 minutes alone. When nobody knows – even though you think they should – they are the most surprised people when you act out of character and tell them to get in the car and go get the milk themselves; find their own car keys and stop leaving them just anywhere in the first place.

Sometimes of course we can work past our limits. Typically we do so for short periods and then return to our normal state. It’s even good to push ourselves the odd time to see what we’re capable of. But then, this new level becomes what others interpret as what we’re capable of all the time. That’s not right; that’s not fair and it’s not accurate. When we put extra energy into something at home or work, that extra energy is derived from somewhere; it doesn’t just materialize. Energy is finite.

Replenishing is the key to productivity. What is it you do in other words, that restores your capacity to deliver on the expectation of both others and yourself to perform? Reading? Meditation? Getting out for a walk? Whatever it is you do to recover and restore your good mental health is as important as any work you do.

It may sound counter productive, but in a day when you’ve got a ton of things to do, you may get more done if you go for a walk around the neighbourhood. Thirty minutes outside or with your door shut at work and a good engaging book in your hands. Maybe close your eyes, breathe deep, some quiet music playing through some noise cancelling headphones? Whatever it is in other words, consider building it in to your busy day so you restore some of that balance you have when you’re at your best.

My Advice: Hold Off Job Searching


Sounds like odd advice from an Employment Counsellor to give on the surface of it doesn’t it; putting your search for a job on hold. Yet quite often, that’s the advice I give some of the people I meet with.

Now if you’re employed and see yourself first and foremost as a taxpayer and believe that everyone in receipt of social assistance should be completely investing 100% of their time looking to work, my apologies. There are some situations in which I believe looking for a job is not only ill-advised, it can set someone back tremendously from finding employment in the long haul.

Take yesterday as an example. For two weeks, I instructed a dozen people in the basics of using the computer. I’m talking basics here; using it to make an email, learning how to access the internet, find employment opportunities, make a resume, apply for work with that resume. We did more as well, but I like to instruct with practicality in mind, so as most were unemployed, why not learn the basics of the digital world and at the same time, showing them how competing for employment these days requires computer skills? Anyhow, there I was yesterday, seated with one of the participants from that class, doing a follow up appointment.

Typically, I plan on giving someone feedback on what I observed over those two weeks, encourage them and point out moments of success and accomplishment. However, I threw all that out the window yesterday when this one woman came in and we sat down in my office. She was 15 minutes late, and said she had almost decided not to come in for the scheduled meeting. Two developments on the day before our meeting occurred; she was contacted by her Doctor who said she must meet immediately with her to share results of some medical tests and her 13 year old daughter was committed to a hospital for a few days after telling her own Doctor that she was thinking about killing herself.

Suddenly, giving feedback on computer skills and talking about using these new skills to job search seemed entirely inappropriate. Of greater importance in that moment was listening, supporting and responding to her disclosure, her fears of what her Doctor knows and must share in person immediately and her own daughter’s thoughts of ending her life. At a time like this, the focus on receiving, comprehending and processing these two major life events supersedes any encouragement to get out and get a job.

Besides, if you believe that she’d be able to effectively job search at the present moment, I’d venture you’re views are based in ideology and not practical reality. Do I think governments always get this? No. I suspect when they look at stats, they focus solely on how many people start a program, how many finish and how long it takes someone to find employment after taking a program to determine its effectiveness. Numbers don’t tell the whole story; not by a long shot.

“Will I get in trouble for not looking for a job though?” she asked. So I took an hourglass from my desk and flipped it over, letting the blue sand fall. “You only have so much energy. Right now, your focus and energy is on receiving your own diagnosis and whatever implications that holds. As a caring mom who has a daughter in crisis, the two of you have a lot to work through, you’re probably blaming yourself and you’re scared. You just got two extremely upsetting events on the same day. Forget the job search for now; you won’t be in trouble.” She looked at that blue sand accumulating in the bottom half and said seeing how the top was emptying was how she felt.

Near the end of our meeting, she told me how glad she was that she’d decided to come because she’d considered staying at home. There she was, expressing gratitude to me for making her feel better. It’s pretty humbling to hear someone in the midst of heightened anxiety and trauma be so genuinely kind and thoughtful. When she left she hugged me; we hugged each other. Somewhere in that simple act, some of her fear melted into me, and some compassion for her suffering flowed from me to her.

Do you really believe she should be focusing 100% on looking for work? Do you really think I – anyone for that matter – who counsels and supports people looking for work should pressure her into making a job search her first priority? And where I now wonder does any government making funding decisions and program cut decisions factor in this kind of experience?

I tell you this, were I that woman, receiving these two pieces of information, I’d sure be grateful to meet with a compassionate, understanding and patient person. Yesterday I was fortunate to be that guy, but this is not about me. I believe there are people with equally, even better responses everywhere, having similar experiences daily.

Something as simple as removing an expectation of finding work and assuring them they won’t have their benefits suspended, can do far more good in the long run by building a trusting, human connection. For who is equipped to deal with either of these situations let alone two on the same day?

So yes, put aside the job search; there are times when it’s not priority #1.

And your thoughts?

Helping / Living With The Unemployed


If you or someone you know is apathetic about finding employment; really not caring one way or the other if work is found or not, the only way to get them moving is to identify that one thing. “That one thing?”, you ask. Yes, that one thing that makes wanting to find work more meaningful than not caring.

For a family member, friend or professional working with an unemployed individual, this is a tremendous challenge. You are also likely to find that the longer a person has been unemployed, the greater the effort will be to shift their thinking sufficiently to get them started.

Be forewarned, you can’t motivate someone else. Oh you can help them, support them and encourage them, but you cannot motivate someone else to want something they don’t want themselves. All you’ll get if they don’t want it bad enough is a token effort, and the first time they run into a barrier, they’ll pack it in and go back to what was comfortable; not bothering to look. Unfortunately, they may reason that they can be unemployed and struggling to find work or unemployed and taking it easy. For many, a simple choice.

The frustrating part for those around the unemployed person is failing to understand why they’ve become so disinterested and why they seemingly won’t put in the effort to find work. It’s highly likely that there’s been a major shift in their values; and the values they currently hold differ from those around them to such an extent they’ve become difficult to be around. There may be an increase in friction and tension, more arguments, less things to talk about, or the conversation about work might be one they insist is off the table.

There are far too many factors that could be in play in any individual case for me to accurately know what’s behind a person’s apathy, but here’s one possibility that may be going on. After having become recently unemployed, the person took some time to self-heal mentally. This is especially true after having been fired, let go, or quit a job they found problematic. At this point, they wanted to find work, and planned on doing so soon. When they felt ready, they began to look. That period of time to, ‘get ready’ may have been anything from a week to over a year – hard as that might be for someone else to understand.

As this person started to look for a job, they found it harder to get one than they had in the past. Perhaps because of technology and having to use computers to apply online, or having a poor resume, they kept getting nowhere on their applications. Interviews weren’t happening, or when they did, no job offers came. From the person’s point of view, they’ve left a job on bad terms, can’t get interviews, aren’t sure really how to compete against so many other people now applying for the same jobs, and their psychological state is becoming increasingly fragile.

Without being able to articulate what they are experiencing and how they really feel, they retreat rather than engage, and withdraw into themselves. Socializing becomes a huge outpouring of effort and only having so much energy to get through a day, they choose to stay in the relative comfort and safety of their home or a room in their home. This isolation skews their thinking; they become anxious beyond their safety zone, perhaps more irritable and easily frustrated. Whereas they used to be happy and good to be around, they are now a constant source of worry for others and an ever-present and growing concern.

How they see themselves has changed dramatically. Once productive and self-reliant, they had dignity and a healthy view of their ability to provide. Now they feel dependent, reliant on family or friends – and when that dependency becomes too hard to live with, they remove themselves and turn to the broader society at large to support them. It’s sad, it’s unfortunate and it’s not uncommon.

Of course they – or you, never used to feel or be this way. Once purposeful and hopeful, things have changed. It’s understandable why so many might self-medicate with alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs. With the ever-present thoughts of failure, disappointment and regret, anything that takes that thinking away, even for a short time is appealing.

Suddenly, just telling someone to get a job and expecting them to respond accordingly doesn’t sound at all realistic. Getting a job is transferring our own value of employment onto this other person who doesn’t share our value system as they might once have done. Yes, they genuinely want work perhaps, but they haven’t the energy, focus, willpower and motivation to make any real progress on their own. None, until that is, they find that one thing that they want more than they want the way things are. And no, you can’t find it for them.

Conversations are good; talk that draws someone out once the trust is established that allows them to go deeper and unload the ‘big’ stuff. Some are never going to work again, some may and others will. All three types will need support however, and the nature of the support they receive will vary depending on the individual.

Sure it’s challenging for family, friends and those who work with this population. Do what you can; know your limitations.

Don’t Like Talking About Yourself?


Job interviews are often viewed with extreme negativity for many, and one key reason is a lack of comfort when it comes to talking about ourselves. To be successful, we have to come across as the very best applicant interviewed, and being the best means we did the best job at selling ourselves. Ironically, it’s this very idea of being not just really good but actually better than everyone else that most people can’t come to grips with.

I mean it’s just not in most people’s nature to believe we’re better than all the other’s we’re up against; not just for a job, but well, for anything. There’s great inner conflict you see, when we go about our lives with humility, believing that being our personal best is what we should strive for, rather than being better than all those around us. Then suddenly we walk into a job interview and we’re supposed to turn on some switch that transforms us into extolling ourselves as the best choice to hire; better than all the competition; the one, the only, the obvious choice. Then once we’re hired, feeling we’re better than all the nice people we’re to work with is going to be frowned on? Odd looking at things this way.

It’s not surprising as I’ve laid it out that many have this loathing of the interview process. It starts the moment you sit down and they ask if you wouldn’t mind just telling them a little about yourself. Right off the bat, there you are, expected to talk about yourself, emphasizing your strengths, highlighting your education, showcasing your experience, lauding your accomplishments; all in an effort to impress. But impressing people isn’t how you go about your daily living.

One person I had a conversation with not long ago told me that when they were asked the question, “Why are you the best person; the one I should hire?”, they had great conflict because they couldn’t be sure they were the best person. Without knowing who they were up against, they really didn’t know, Then they went further and said that there probably was at least one person who would be better in the job then they were. Who’s to say without meeting them?

Now as an Employment Counsellor I would hope you always come across as the best applicant to hire. This interview process is after all the employer’s opportunity to meet future potential employees and select from those expressing interest the one or one’s who will best contribute to the organization’s needs. That being said, I do understand this nervousness and great lack of comfort in what many see as bragging about one’s abilities.

As I’ve said many times before, so many influential people in our lives – in YOUR life – have sent you the clear message that bragging isn’t a very attractive quality. Parents, Teachers, characters in movies we felt drawn to and admired, all gave us the message over and over that we shouldn’t think of ourselves as better than others. These people, in positions of influence and authority kept giving us the same message so often we imbedded it, and so we act accordingly as we go about our lives. Funny then that Teachers gave us tests and told us who got the highest mark, those same movie characters were played by actors or actresses who came across the best at auditions, and even our parents likely told us we were, “simply the best little boy or girl.”

A question for you: would you feel comfortable telling someone about the excellent qualities you find in a co-worker or best friend? Likely you would. It stands to reason then that your co-workers and friends if asked, would also be comfortable telling an interviewer about your own good qualities and accomplishments. They might say how well you carry yourself, how you show up every day with a positive attitude and you’re always punctual. They’d likely be happy to say you’re trustworthy, dependable, good at what you do and well-liked by the customers who appreciate your service. Would you agree so far? Good.

Okay, with it settled that others around you would speak favourably about you just as you would speak favourably of them, let’s go back to the interview and the idea of presenting yourself. When asked why you’re the best, or even the question that typically starts the whole interview; the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself”, breathe, smile and begin. Begin with these words…

“Sure I’m happy to tell you about myself. My co-workers appreciate my positive attitude and willingness to lend a hand whenever asked. My supervisor has noted my ability to manage multiple tasks well, and customers often compliment me on my excellent service.”

Not once in the above are you actually speaking about yourself or bragging. You’re simply sharing what other’s have appreciated about your work habits and the results you achieve. The co-workers speak to your positive attitude, the boss to your multi-tasking and the customers to your service. While it’s all about you, there’s no, ‘me talking about me’ in there.

While you don’t know who you’re up against, you do know what you’re up against – it’s you and this opportunity. If you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t choose to be there. As you are there, it logically follows you want it enough, and want to be chosen. That means you do want to be seen as the best.

Awkward Or Weak First Impression? Relax!


Are you an Employment or Job Coach? At some point you’ve likely said to those you’re supporting, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you’re in the regular practice of saying this to those you help, please stop. You’re unknowingly doing more harm than good; much more harm. I grant your intentions are nothing but well-intended, but your words have the potential to have dire consequences; you’re setting those you work with up to fail.

I used to buy in to the extreme importance of making an excellent first impression myself, whether it was at a job interview or starting a new job with a lot of people to meet and get to know. Like you, my intentions were always good. So I’d pass along the typical advice for making a good impression. Have a firm but not overpowering handshake, make direct eye contact, smile, be aware of your body language, etc. Like I’ve said, all well-intended and pretty standard advice.

Those I work with confess to being nervous when I’m coaching them for some upcoming meeting. Typically it’s a job interview or meeting someone who they believe might be in a position to advance their employment possibilities. They may be quite comfortable and self-assured in many situations, but as the butterflies in their stomachs begin to take flight seconds before and into a first meeting, so too in many cases does their growing anxiety. And in 2019, a LOT of people have anxiety, so it’s incumbent on us to respond to this.

All it takes is a slight stumble in that first meeting; a pregnant pause in replying to a question they’ve been asked, sweating excessively, arriving 2 minutes later than planned for, incorrectly pronouncing the name of the interviewer and feeling an overcoming urge to apologize; it’s then that it hits them. They suddenly remember the wise advice you gave them as you sent them off brimming with confidence; “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So what are they now thinking? “Ah great! What’s the point of even continuing then? I’ve already blown it! I might as well just apologize for wasting their time and try better somewhere else.”

The thing is, you aren’t there to help ground them, tell them they can re-group and still save the interview. If you were a fly on the wall and you had the power to freeze time, you could stop the moment you picked up on their facial expression that they are in distress and you could coach them through this momentary attack of low self-confidence, then unfreeze time and they’d perform better. But you lack these special powers and you’re not there. You can’t see what those you help actually look like, you can’t observe first-hand their performance, and so all you have to go on when you assess how things went and how to improve is their own recollection of events. And, surprisingly, this person you’re helping who was actually there, may be not all that aware of how things went wrong and how they looked, because their mind was on performing well.

Take heart though. I’m offering up something I feel is a better message to send that they may find far more helpful. It’s the last impression rather than the first, that is the most significant. The way I see and understand things now is that the first impression covers the first 30 seconds or so of an encounter. A face-to-face meeting or interview may go anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and so there’s all that time beyond the first 30 seconds to either confirm or change that first impression.

Now I’m not suggesting we dismiss the value of first impressions. No, I still extol the importance of making as good a first impression as possible. However, it’s the last impression people remember more. You know the saying, “What have you done for me lately”? It means that although you may have performed well in the past (possibly an early or first impression), it’s recent performance that matters more at this moment, (the lasting impression).

This advice gives a person reason to hope when things don’t get off to a perfect start. There’s lots of time to ‘save’ a first meeting. In fact, actually saying, “Gee I’m sorry, let me start again” may be the reboot someone needs to launch an answer with confidence instead of bumbling along and fretting over a miscue. If the whole point of a job interview is to market oneself to the needs of an employer, you unknowingly put a massive amount of pressure on those you support when you send the message that those first 30 seconds will make or break the opportunity.

So instead of rehearsing some elevator pitch to the extreme, what will they say to leave a lasting, positive impression? Based on what they heard as they listened, what opportunity can they pick up on and what will they say that shows enthusiasm for wanting to be a part of the solution?

First impressions are important but the last impression is more important as the final impression is entire summation of the time together. If it started well, excellent; keep it going. However if it started awkwardly, relax, breathe deeply and concentrate on the remaining time together rather than worrying about how things started, which is beyond your control.

 

Why You Might Not Get The Best


“My answer to your question starts with, I want to help others.”

The question asked is some version of, “What do you want to do?” Every person who has ever entered the fields of Health, Social Services and Emergency Medical Services just to name a few, has at some point been asked this question and replied with the above. Most of us asked ourselves that question long before anyone else directed at us. We are helpers.

There’s so much reward in what we do and if we’re smart, we never lose sight of the special place we’ve landed in our society. We are the fortunate ones, although many outside of our professions don’t entirely understand why we do it. Many of our friends, many of the people on the receiving end of our help don’t get it either. We often hear, “I’m glad you like what you do. I know I couldn’t do it.” That’s okay; you be the best you can be at what you do, we’ll do the same.

And you know for the most part we do; try our best that is. We hope every day that our best is consistently excellent. We admit though, sometimes the best you get from us isn’t the best you’d have received the day before, two days from now or even an hour ago. In that moment that brings us together, we’re still giving you the best we can muster.

That might not at first glance make a whole lot of sense, so let me explain. Our jobs you see bring us up close and personal with people in some pretty traumatic circumstances. We may have started our shift physically and mentally ready to go but prior to your contacting us, we just finished up with someone you know nothing about. That interaction has affected us in some profound way. Right now, we look our normal best on the outside, but in our heads and our hearts, we’re grieving at the worst and still processing at the best. It’s a double-edged sword this job of ours; we often meet people at the worst periods in their lives, and we do so joyfully – but it’s the humanity in us, the caring in us, that strong desire to help our fellow beings that sometimes has us distracted when serving you, because you were next.

So what it looks like while we still try to do our best might be a lack of focus. You know, repeating a question we just asked. Or we might seem on autopilot, just going through the motions and not all that helpful. That personal service we pride ourselves on just isn’t there at this moment and as one of those we serve, you’re smart enough to recognize you’re getting inferior service.

Now we know you don’t really care about the last person before you – not in the sense that you have zero empathy for them, but in the sense of it’s you before us here and now and you want 100% of our attention. Right now it’s all about you and you’re right, it should be. Like I say however, we’re human. The very best of us has a day here and there where something or rather someone has had an impact on us in such a profound way that we’re struggling to keep that concealed as best we can while we help you. How do we do that? Right…autopilot. At first we think we can pull it off and you’ll never know what’s going on in our head; we’re disconnected at the moment here in the present while our head is still in the past.

The thing is, we’ve been doing this job a long time. You’d think by now we’d be immune to anything that would set us back. We’ve cut our teeth on some bad situations that as a rookie we hadn’t dealt with before. We got stronger for those experiences and by now, you’d think having seen it all, we’re capable of putting that aside and just giving you the very best you’d get any day. You might even demand it, saying, “I’ve got my rights you know. Just do your job; that’s what you get paid to do right?”

The thing is though, we’re sometimes still caught in the moment; profoundly affected by a sorrowful story, a tragic event, a death or suicide, a victim’s retelling of their personal horror. It’s strangely good though. It is precisely because we are so touched at our core by these moments that we are reminded that even after all these years, we’re still in the right place and the right people to be here. The depth of the event and the magnitude to how we are touched mirrors the length of time it’s going to take us to get back.

And here’s the thing…we’re never going to be exactly who we were before. Nope, never. Why? Because this one event; just one of many, has added to who we are moving forward. We are the sum of all our experiences. In changing, we’re actually going to be better if you can believe it. Having shared your story or some tragedy in our personal lives, we now carry these as we evolve and grow. These allow us to channel our empathy – even though you may unknowingly trigger hurtful memories in us – your collective interactions make us better.

We do our best and we sincerely hope on your day – this day – it’s good enough.

3 Problems To Resolve


In my role as an Employment Counsellor, I’ve looked over job postings for literally thousands of various careers and jobs over the years; thousands that is, with no exaggeration.

One thing that I’ve noticed when looking at the qualifications required to be successful in the majority of these postings is the need to bring problem solving skills. While some postings leave it at that, others give clues as to how they want them handled. With key words such as, ‘tactfully’, ‘quickly resolve’ and, ‘troubleshoot’ included in the job description, they provide us with key words to use when constructing the application resume and during interviews.

And so it is that I introduce those in my job search classes to three problems, which I share with you here today. My goal in doing so, is to observe how the participants address each one as they work in small groups. I pay close attention to not just the resolution, but listen carefully as they discuss and share with each other their own thoughts. It’s these thoughts and possible courses of action that help me best understand what a person is thinking and how that thinking stands up with the others, is dismissed or accepted, built on or ignored.

So, while I can’t do the same with you my reader, I present them nonetheless. You might find the problems here mundane, easily resolved or tricky. Let me tell you that each one here is a real life situation for someone I partnered with. For each, what would you do?

Problem 1

You wake up and realize you slept through the alarm. You’re 45 minutes later than usual, the car doesn’t have enough gas to get you to work and you’ve got $3.75 in change. The top you’ve put on has a mustard stain, the dog needs to be fed and just threw up on the kitchen floor. Oh and yes, that is a cold sore next to your lip. Welcome to day 3 on your new job.

Problem 2

It’s like the person next to you in your new job hates you and wants you to fail. They ignore you at best, give you incorrect information and tell you flat out that you aren’t wanted there. For this problem, consider not only what you would do, but what might be going on with that coworker which is causing the hostility.

Problem 3

After accepting a position and working for 4 days, you get a new job offer from one of the positions you previously interviewed for. This new offer is slightly more money, has no benefits, is 20 minutes further to commute to one way, and could provide more advancement. Your first 4 days have gone really well by the way.  For this problem, what are the factors you weigh and if you decide to stay, what do you tell the employer with the new offer? If you decide to take the new offer, what do you say to the employer you’re working for now?

Okay, so how did you do?

Problem 1

If you rely on a device to wake you on time, always set a second one. In this situation, that will help going forward but not at the moment. You’re late. First thing is to know the policy and practice of your employer. In some, you have to speak in person with your boss or another supervisor. In others, an absent line will do. Immediately report in when you arrive, explain yourself, apologize and offer to make up the time. Change the top or add a light sweater/jacket. Get the dog out while doing the above and while some have cleaned up after the dog, others have said they’d let it sit there until they came home. No comment! As for getting to work, when you have no gas, bus fare one way might work if transit is available. Can you call on family, a friend, a neighbour? Can you take a cab, share a ride, carpool?

Problem 2

If things start off this badly, it’s more about them than anything you’ve said or done. “Can we talk?” might be a good approach and then gently tell the person how you feel and ask what’s going on as you want this to work. If you get a resolution, good. If not, and only now, escalate your concerns. In this case, what was really happening was the long-term employee had hoped a personal friend of hers would get the job and they didn’t. Talking it out was healthy, the person apologized for their behaviour and they actually became great co-workers.

Problem 3

There’s incomplete information in this problem. Are you getting benefits now? What are the two jobs and are either of them a dream job? How much money are we talking about? Still, you’ve got a decision. The key is to preserve the relationship with the employer you turn down. Don’t for example, just stop going into work and refuse to answer their phone calls. If you do leave, make it clear you stopped actively applying once accepting their offer, thank them for their confidence in hiring you and hope they understand. After only 4 days, you’re not indispensable. Going from the stress of no job to the stress of multiple offers happens when you apply with a strong resume/cover letter and improved interview skills.

While not major perhaps, resolving any problem prepares you for the big ones by honing your problem solving skills.

Not Sure You Have A Criminal Record?


Maybe you do and maybe you don’t. It’s the, ‘not knowing one way or the other’, that’s undermining your confidence when your sitting in some job interview and you’re asked about whether your bondable or not. It’s at this moment; this precise moment that you can feel the job opportunity slipping away.

Yep, it was your momentary pause, that look you instinctively had come over your face that indicated you hid something. That indecisive moment when you weighed telling the truth and risking the job versus lying outright and hoping it would die right there and never be an issue moving forward. You remember that moment clearly. Why? Because that moment gets repeated each and every time you’re in an interview. It’s like a cloud hanging over your head, always present and always threatening to pour down on you at any moment and when it does, all your hopes and aspirations are washed away.

Too many times you’ve heard them say, “Gee, that’s unfortunate. I’d love to hire you but I’m prevented from doing so because of our policies. When you clear things up, get back to me.” Real nice of them to let you down easy; nice to know you performed well enough in the process to get to the final stage too, but in the end, the same result.

Hang on a moment. You say you aren’t actually sure whether you have a criminal record or not? So my question is why aren’t you taking steps – no wait, let me amend that question…why haven’t you taken steps to find out? Maybe it’s because you haven’t got the $25 – $40 to pay for your criminal record check and find out? Somehow I doubt that amount of money is at the core of why you haven’t had this done yet.

No, I suspect the real reason behind your lack of action is that not knowing for sure looks somewhat better to you than finding out that yes you do in fact have a criminal record. Even just walking into the police station to get the process completed may be so intimidating, you can’t get yourself in there to get it done.

So what was it? Something you did as a juvenile 15 years ago? Some mischief charge? A minor offence perhaps and one your not even convinced you were found guilty of because it was so long ago? Was it a warning or wasn’t it? Here’s the thing my friend. If you’re experiencing lost opportunities, stress, anxiety, shame, frustration – any of these, you’re still paying the price for whatever you did so long ago. $25 or $45 seems pretty insignificant in comparison to the price you’ve paid – and continue to pay.

Let’s look at the best case scenario first. You get up the determination to find out one way or the other and you walk into the police station and tell them you want a criminal record check. Getting same day service, you leave with a piece of paper stating nothing came up. Not only is that piece of paper clean, so is your conscious. No record. Suddenly the past anxiety on how to answer any questions about your past is gone. One job search barrier removed.

Okay now to the news that yes, something came up. First of all, what came up? Sure any conviction in the past isn’t good news but come on, there are some offences which are much more serious than others. If you wrapped toilet paper around someone’s house and in a drunken state peed all over their prize petunias in your teens, you might have that mischief charge to deal with now as a 35 year old. Seems to me that’s a lot different and less of an issue than assault with a dangerous weapon and uttering a death threat or stealing someone’s car and getting a driving under the influence to go along with it.

Hey at least you know now. So when that question comes up, you can opt to tell the truth and hope that the past 17 years as an adult with no further interaction with the justice system works in your favour. And while it’s more costly, get going on making some regular payments into obtaining your pardon. Might not be cheap, but it sure is a lot less than the salary you’re NOT getting every couple of weeks because your still unemployed due to that charge.

While the amount to get a pardon might seem high – say $1000.00 just to use a number, look at it this way. In 3 years, you’ll either be 3 years older with a criminal record or 3 years older without one. Which do you choose? Right. Move to the front of the class. And it might not take 3 years anyhow.

Steps to take:

  1.  Get a criminal record check done. Do it today or tomorrow. Find out.
  2.  No record? Great.
  3.  Record? Get the facts on your pardon process.
  4.  Start making financial contributions to your pardon. Make this a priority.
  5.  Got a record? Get professional help with an interview answer.

By the way, your answer to the, ‘are you bondable?’ question is yes. You’re insurable, (what bondable means), so don’t volunteer your conviction – that wasn’t the question asked. Interviewers hope you don’t know the difference between conviction and bondable and therefore voluntarily offer up your record.

While you might have messed up in your youth, don’t mess up as an adult. Get working on that pardon.