Behavioural Change Brought On With Unemployment

I feel a lot of empathy for you if you’re unemployed and really motivated to find work. Having had times in my life when I’ve been out of work I know personally the ups and downs of job searching with little success until that moment of euphoria comes when you hear the words, “We’re offering you a position”.

The interesting thing about being unemployed is that it’s both the lack of employment and the lack of income that while related, force us to make changes in behaviour; to do things differently than we’ve done. It’s these changes in behaviour that elevate our stress levels. Understanding this can and does help immensely.

For starters, very few people actually look for employment when they are employed. If you are the exception, I’ll still bet you don’t go about looking for another job with the same level of intensity that you would were you entirely out of work. After all, your motivation for wanting a different job than the one you have at the moment is more for personal satisfaction or happiness, wanting to accelerate your career or to build on your current income. The work you do in your current job provides some level of income however, and so if you feel tired when you can finally turn to looking for work, you feel no hesitation to put off seriously looking for another day without guilt. There is much less urgency.

When you’re out of work completely, things change out of necessity. Suddenly you find yourself having no choice but to engage skills that might be rusty or completely foreign to you. Writing cover letters, thank you notes, lining up references, networking for leads, composing resumes, marketing yourself. You may not have had to do these things for a while and you might not find these things pleasant, so you haven’t invested any real-time in keeping up with latest trends in job searching or what employers want.

Secondly there’s the change in income or rather your change in behaviour that has to happen when your income changes. You can either keep spending like you’ve been used to and you’ll increase your personal debt, or you have to cut back and save where you can. Saving money and spending only what you have to is a change in behaviour that can add to your stress. Maybe you drop the social dinners out on Friday nights, start clipping coupons, drop the 3 coffees a day at your local café and only use the car when it’s necessary to save on fuel.

These two changes regarding your spending and having to engage in job search activities are both necessary and both things you’d typically like to avoid having to do. Here then is the reason for the stress; unwanted but necessary activity you begin to engage in.

While I acknowledge that we are unique in many ways, it is also fair to say that in many ways, most of us share similar feelings when out of work. We might feel embarrassment, shame, a lack of pride etc. and want to keep our unemployed status from friends and extended family. If we could only get a new job in a week or so we could then tell people that we’ve changed jobs. We do this of course because we want to save face, protect our ego, avoid worrying over what others might think of us and wanting to keep our relationships as they are. We worry they might re-evaluate us, think poorer of us, maybe even disassociate themselves from us. Ironic then that while worrying about possibly being disassociated with us many unemployed isolate themselves from social contact.

But I get it. When you’re unexpectedly out of work, you have really two options; get job searching immediately with intensity or give yourself a reasonable period in the form of a mental health break. This time might be good for grieving the loss of your job, venting the anger and bitterness until you can focus better on looking forward not back. You don’t want a trigger of some sort to suddenly have you spewing out venom towards a previous employer in a job interview after all.

When you’re ready to focus on looking for a new role, ask yourself as objectively as you can if you have the necessary skills to job search successfully. You might be good in your field of work, but are you as highly skilled as you need to be in marketing yourself? How are your interview skills ? Are you in uncharted waters or have you kept your résumé up-to-date?

I understand that job searching ranks pretty low on most people’s list of enjoyable activities. It’s understandable then that if you too don’t love job searching, you’ve done little to invest any time or money in honing your skills in this area. Suddenly of course, you hope the skills you do have will see you through.

You’re in a period of transition and you’ll feel a range of emotions. You’ll get frustrated, maybe even educated on how things have changed since you last looked for a job. You’ll feel demoralized perhaps and hopefully encouraged at times too. It’s the broad swings of emotions, raw and real that can catch you unprepared. These are normal when you are forced to deal with change out of necessity.





Develop The Habits Employers Want

Ever been in a job interview and been asked a question about a gap in your resume? They may have asked, “So what have you been doing since you last worked?”, or “What did you do to prepare for this interview?” All three of these questions give you the opportunity to demonstrate to the employer one key thing and that is what you’ve been doing – or not – when you’ve been in full control of the time you’ve had.

They are interested to see if you’ve taken some initiative, been proactive, made the most of this period, learned anything new, taken some training, upgraded your skills, addressed a weakness, improved your health, expanded your knowledge, etc. They are also checking to see if you’ve been complacent, dormant, passive, let your skills slide, removed yourself from the field you’re saying your interested in now. In short, have you been developing and keeping up your good habits or haven’t you?

Developing and maintaining good habits; the kind of actions and behaviours that employers desire the most, are not only a good idea, they could be the difference between getting a job or not. It’s one thing to say you’re invested in the work that you’ll be doing for a company and quite another to demonstrate that you’re invested.

Now suppose for example you’re out of work altogether and you are applying for an administrative position. You can foresee that some of the people you are going to be competing with are currently employed elsewhere in those positions which gives them a distinct advantage. You may not be employed, but you can still employ the skills that would be used on a daily basis by someone in that position. So for example you can practice your keyboarding skills, make a daily ‘to-do’ list, organize your personal or family paperwork. Buy some file folders and organize all the bills, receipts, various warranties for household items you own under categories like: Insurance, Autos, Mortgage, Vacation, Renovations, Taxes, Identification, Investments, etc.

If the above seems onerous, too challenging, beyond what you want to put energy into, then I’d suggest you might not be ready for the job you are actually saying you want to do. After all, if you can’t be bothered using these same skills for yourself, why should an employer feel you’re the right person to get things in order for them?

One thing you have 100% control over is your personal schedule. With no employer to record your attendance, check on your productivity, evaluate your adherence to a dress code, measure your attitude, do you or don’t you have the self-discipline to monitor yourself? You may disagree as is your prerogative, but getting up, showered and dressed on a set schedule even when you are not working is a key part of maintaining good personal behaviours that are consistent with what employers expect. Many people who go months without work and then get a job do not respond well when suddenly they get hired and have to be sitting at a desk at 8:30 a.m. dressed professionally, wide awake and ready to go at top speed.

Look into free or low-cost training opportunities in your community and then sign up to hone your skills, update your resume afterwards and keep your mind sharp. Small rather simple things like adhering to a 15 minute break in those workshops and training programs is what employers will demand you do when on the job. If you take your 15 minute break and come back only to then go about making your coffee you’re not demonstrating a respect for what the 15 minute break is for.

Another key thing to keep up is your personal communication skills; both written and verbal. You can’t do either if you sequester yourself away behind the curtains of your living room and cut yourself off from all contact. Talk with people, engage in conversations with store clerks, the paper boy, mail carriers, people you meet on walks around the neighbourhood, cashiers; all the people you meet. Your people skills need to stay sharp as does your comfort initiating conversations.

Like so many things in life, what you do with your time while you are between jobs really says a lot about you and your values. You are free to do what you wish with your time and are accountable in the end to only yourself. That’s a double-edged precious gift however. There are consequences – and don’t fool yourself into thinking there aren’t – both good and bad for whether that time is productive or wasted.

Most of the people I counsel who are out of work know they should be making good use of their time. They sound remorseful and want to rediscover that drive and personal motivation they had when they were working. They bank on igniting that energy and ‘turning it on’ when they get a job. However, many also find that when they do get hired, they lose those jobs quickly. They tell me that they couldn’t work as fast as the employer wanted them to, they just didn’t fit in, they were so exhausted after three days on the job they were late on the 4th day and were told not to return. In short, they hadn’t keep up good habits when unemployed and couldn’t work at the high level expected.

Good habits are something you control. Ignore developing good habits and you’ll develop bad ones by default.


Excellence In Trying Times Rewarded

Two retail employees who are soon to be out of a job demonstrated friendly, knowledgeable service last night while helping my wife and I. When they have every reason to be bitter and let their mounting stress show, they each made a choice instead to be the best they could be. What happened next? I found myself in a position to reward those attributes and give back.

Let me first take you back to my drive into work yesterday morning. On CBC radio there was a short story where an employee agreed to have his feelings shared as long as someone else’s voice was used and his name not mentioned. He talked of low morale, people concerned for each other, couples soon to be both unemployed, he himself planning on buying a home that now wouldn’t happen etc. Employees are quitting outright and everyone is job searching. Tough times for sure and possibly a cancerous setting to work in.

Okay so my wife and I are shopping along with all the other vultures, err…shoppers, looking for the big bargains promised. We actually showed up to buy a cube freezer and bar fridge for the basement we are renovating. As it turns out we couldn’t see if they were in fact on sale down that particular aisle, and so it became necessary to look for an employee. As I went looking down the aisles, I wondered what kind of reaction I’d get because they were hard to locate, probably in demand and might be exasperated with the sudden flood of people in the store to scavenge when we all apparently stayed away in droves causing the stores to close.

I found two women who were in the process of concluding a conversation with another customer. One of these looked to be in her twenties and the other in her fifties. As they turned their attention to me, I asked about the items and if they were in fact on sale as no sign could be found in that area. “Well let’s go find out” said the older woman and all three of us headed over to find out.

As we walked over, I said to them, “Sorry to hear about your jobs ending, and I understand you’ve been told not to say anything negative.” The older woman smiled, gave me a knowing wink and didn’t say a bad thing. “Well”, she said, we’re just trying to do our best under the circumstances.”

When we got to the two items, the younger of the two scanned the items, told us they were both on sale (only 10% unfortunately) and then we were told if we decided we wanted them, they could call one of the guys with a dolley to help get them to the front check out. I indicated we wanted them and she called for help.

It was at this moment my wife started talking with the older woman and saying how sorry she was to hear about the situation. That left me with the younger employee. “So what are your plans when the store shuts down?” I asked. “Well, I had been hoping to stay here for a long time and earn enough to head back to school and get more education. I’ve got a degree but I want to be a Professor so I need to get my masters. I might just decide to backpack around Europe though and look for work wherever I am and do the poor trip thing.”

Ever thought of getting help from an Employment Counsellor for example?” I asked, knowing full well that business cards with that exact job title were in my left pants pocket. “Well I live in a small town and there aren’t really any jobs there, so I’d have to drive, but my mom is going to need her car back if I haven’t got a job so I’m stuck.” She was right by the way; the town she named is little more than a dozen streets branching off a main road and the employment opportunities are next to nothing.

At this point, my wife and the other employee had rejoined the two of us and I asked the older woman what her plans were after the store closed and she was out of work. Her answer was that she really hadn’t thought that far and it wasn’t apparently because she was in denial but it appeared more like she was trying to just focus on the job for the moment.

At this point I said I was in a position to make them an offer, and I pulled out the business cards and gave them one, stating that because they had such positive attitudes in trying times and provided good attentive customer service, I’d be happy to help them craft a resume and more free of charge. “Really?” said the older of the two. “Sure, why not?”

This story could be about me and doing a good deed but it isn’t. This story is really about two people who have not only good customer service skills but more importantly solid work ethics which govern how they perform under trying circumstances. Sometimes, good things happen to good people when it is most needed and least expected.

So if you find yourself in a fix, remember that’s when your character is revealed. And if by chance you can help somebody, seize that opportunity to do so.

Working The Christmas Party

Even though the economy is tough and money overall is tighter, perhaps your company still has some form of a Christmas party or gathering. If you are wise, you’d do well to remember that even though the party is outside official company hours, the opportunities for advancing or limiting your career are present are very much ‘on’ and real from the time you walk into the room until you are back home again when it’s over. Odd then that so many people act and behave as if the person they are at work, and the person they are at a Christmas party are not connected.

You’ll usually find that there are some surprises at social gatherings. Some take parties as a chance to dress up and pull out suits and dresses closer to formal wear. They shock their co-workers who see them at the party as suddenly glamorous, handsome and attractive. All of a sudden that guy in the mailroom you thought was invisible, the boss you think is too highly strung, or the clerk who you thought would be better suited to a library job, looks stunning. The boundaries seem less defined at a party; the alcohol, the dancing, the music, the social interaction; put it all together and you may forget quickly that tomorrow these same people will all revert back to the people you work with daily.

And if you should happen to meet Cinderella at the ball, you won’t have to look far across a country to find her Monday morning, she may well be sitting at the next cubicle. That close proximity could be extremely uncomfortable if you behaved in a way that was not welcomed. The possibility of course is that your behaviour was one hundred percent welcomed at the time too, but in the reality of the fluorescent lighting of the workplace, one or both of you wish whatever happened hadn’t. Awkward.

Social functions can be great places to network and while I’m not saying you should be making the rounds with your business cards in hand passing them round, they can be places where you can make a good impression over a few hours in a way you simply can’t in the regular workplace. Here you can show off your social skills, your interpersonal strengths, maybe in a way your position doesn’t allow on a daily basis. Say you are a crossing guard, you collect recycling and waste, you paint lines on roads; these jobs are largely isolating, and you seldom run into other employees at all, let alone ones that might take notice of you. The party could just possibly give you the opportunity to meet people you’d otherwise not, and form the basis of a relationship that could help your career.

Days or weeks after any gathering, you could possibly contact those you’ve met at a Christmas party, and drop off a, ‘nice to have met you at the Christmas party’ note, or possibly set up a further meeting. Those good at networking know that networking is all about building and nurturing relationships. Business often gets done at gatherings, or sets up future business. And if you act in bad taste, your poor interpersonal skills can seriously damage relationships, and turn people off from doing business with you.

Think about the water cooler gossip the first day back at work before you even leave for the party. What would you like people to be talking about if your name came up? The sexy red dress with the long slit, how you can’t handle your alcohol intake, the slap you got from patting the bosses bum? Or would you like them to talk about how great you looked, how much you laughed and had a good time, how terrific you looked with your makeup? “Usually shy at work but get her out from behind that desk and she’s got people skills this company could use!”

Not everyone looks forward to social gatherings with co-workers. You may be the center of attention at work, highly sociable and extroverted, but at an unstructured party where the rules of engagement have changed, you’re suddenly socially awkward. The expectation that others have of you may not be your reality, and you may be the person who leaves earliest, shuns interaction and wants to revert to the sidelines. While nothing you are doing is overtly damaging, it isn’t helping your cause to be there and not in the spotlight where others expect you’d be. “What’s wrong with Matt? Not having a good time?”

Christmas parties are equally important for the unemployed. Maybe you’re going as the spouse of an employee, or you’re attending a community Christmas party. All these dances, parties, and get-togethers, whether at someone’s home or a restaurant rented for the occasion are opportunities to kick-start your career or get to know someone who might pass your name on to someone else who is hiring. Be on your best behaviour, have a good time, but act in a way that you have nothing to regret when it’s over.

And a word if you are attending a function of your significant others too. Just because you don’t know more than one or two people at a party, doesn’t mean your partner’s reputation is completely isolated from your behaviour. Avoid arguments tomorrow when you’ve got a bad hangover and can’t remember doing or saying things that hurt their career, make their job uncomfortable moving forward, and limit their career.

Here’s to you!

Risky Behaviour On The Job

Think about the people you see each and everyday who engage in high-risk behaviour. Is it the person zooming along at 130km or more on a local highway? Or the driver changing lanes in rapid succession who thinks they are driving a Formula One racing car on a closed track? Or is it the co-worker whose job is in jeopardy and they don’t even know it because of their behaviour on the job site? What if that employee is really you?

I observed a man recently speeding on a major highway who was passing cars without much thought to safety both for himself and the drivers and passengers in other vehicles. The level of trust that he put in his driving skills was obviously apparent, but so too was his trust in the people who built his car, the mechanic who serviced it, the level of expertise and predictable driving behaviours of other people on the road, and of course, the person who did the quality control inspection of his seat belt and airbag system. That’s a lot of trust in people he’s likely never even met.

One slip of a tire, a decision made by another driver on the road that he didn’t anticipate, and people are going to have their lives changed forever, or possibly ended altogether. Of course I was hoping that around the next corner, or hidden in a group of cars, there was a police officer who would pull that driver over and revoke a licence and get him off the road. No such luck. However, equally nowhere to be found was the wreckage of his car, major bodily organs and fluids strewn about, and the wail of some mother whose child was killed by this mans’ selfish act. I’m glad for that.

At work, you may see others or be the person yourself who engages in high-risk behaviour. You might be the construction worker who isn’t tied off, the window washer who thinks a safety harness is for babies, or the person just too lazy to go read the Material Safety Data Sheet before you start working with some volatile gas under pressure. These are the kind of people who say, “I’ve been working this way for 14 years – never had a problem yet.”

Too often, it’s not the person engaged in risky behaviour who ultimately pays the price. Somebody gets killed by the driver with too much alcohol in their bloodstream but the drunk driver is sitting physically unharmed on the curb crying only to re-offend several more times because after all, it’s his right in his opinion. Should a gas cylinder explode and a raging fire ensue, often everybody escapes but the company owner is left financially ruined and can’t re-build putting many people out of work.

In my own town, an employee at a restaurant went outside to have a cigarette on his break and decided he couldn’t be bothered walking the distance required from the door, only to make another decision not to extinguish his butt when he returned to work. Too much effort apparently. Well, that building is now leveled by bulldozers, and nine people have no employment, and I wonder what guilt if any he feels.

Risky behaviour on the job doesn’t isn’t always confined to the person engaged in it alone. Your actions impact on those around you including your co-workers, customers, clients, and Management. The reasons so many firms have Health and Safety committees is to keep everyone safe, and minimize the risks on-the-job. It doesn’t do much good to have these committees if the whole process gets circumvented at the worker on the front line.

Of course all of this impacts on you as an employee, how far or fast you advance in a company, and may obviously impact on you if you are fired for putting yourself and others at unnecessary risk. When you go for job interviews, you might be asked the question, “So why did you leave your last job?” What will you say to that? Even if you find a way to answer the question pretty well, you might find that your previous employer is contacted by an Interviewer to get feedback on you and is told the truth about your departure.

Some positions involve risk; managed calculated risk with as much safety built-in as possible to keep everyone safe. If you interview clients in your office, do you position yourself closest to the door so you can make a swift exit if needed? Do you know where your first-aid materials are kept in the case of an injury?

If you have an excellent record of safety and understand fully the importance of working productively but adhering to best practices, extol these virtues in a job interview. Bring out and talk about your experience and your understanding of following guidelines. You might find that your past behaviour serves you well in answering some of those interview questions you’ve previously found difficult.

You’ve Got A Job Interview Today!

I can pretty much guarantee that my statement is absolutely true in your case! (Sure hope you came prepared!).

One of the most fundamental principles of getting ahead, be it in a promotion or obtaining an entirely new job in a different company, is that how YOU conduct yourself on a daily basis is in fact, interviewing for your future. Not only therefore do you have a job interview today, you have one everyday….and it lasts for hours on end!

Consider this: An interview is in my opinion, simply a conversation between two or more people. Not a job interview mind, just an interview. You have interviews therefore all day long. You may for example have a discussion with your son or daughter before you leave in the morning about being ready when you get home so you can have a bite and still make it to their swim meet or their vocal lessons. You ask some questions, they answer. You get asked some questions in return by them and you answer. This dialogue is a fairly low-key, low stress event that is necessary to obtain information, ensure you and them are in agreement about what will happen and who will do what. It’s an interview people.

Now, a job interview? Well that in its simplicity is simply a conversation between two or more people about an employment opportunity. So the discussion is framed about a companies needs and your needs but it’s at its heart, still a conversation – albeit a focused one with more on the line for you. So how can you prepare to enter that interview with confidence and get that job? Easy.

Every day you are at work, remind yourself that you are being observed constantly. Act with responsibility and integrity and apply yourself to the tasks that need doing whether you believe other people are noticing or not. Think about HOW you are communicating with others around you. Be friendly, helpful, creative, open to change and always on the lookout for an opportunity to pitch in. Why? Well if you can’t do these things  just because it’s the right thing to do, do it because your future is at stake. Without exaggeration, I’m telling you it’s the truth.

As many people have come to realize, interviewers have shifted for some time now to BEHAVIOURAL EVENT INTERVIEWING; in other words, what you’ve done and how you’ve acted in the past is essentially how you will behave and interact in the future. Go for an interview, and you’ll be asked to talk about what you’ve done elsewhere, what you accomplished, how you got along, asked to describe situations and how you reacted. All these questions have specifically to do with how you acted. Now if the interview is in the future, you’ll be describing how you acting, thinking, communicating and getting along with people here and now in your present.

In other words, the stories and examples you will use in a future interview to describe yourself and hopefully lead to getting your next job, will be from your present actions. Even your references may well come from your Supervisor, your co-workers and your subordinates. Do you really think if you ignore them now, you’ll be able to count on a glowing recommendation in the future when you really need it? I wouldn’t count on that.

So good advice is to do a little crystal-ball gazing. What kind of skills do you want to use in your next job? What kind of personality will it take to fit in with others in that role? Do you have the necessary training to compete for that future job and if not, what if anything are you doing about it NOW? So you really do have a job interview everyday.

Even when you are unemployed, HOW you conduct yourself may have a huge impact on your ability to compete in a future job interview. What would you say to a question in 4 months time that goes, “What have you done since you left your last job?” Well if you’ve networked tirelessly, invested in some training at your own personal cost, updated some certifications, done some intense research, some self-exploration…that’s going to count for a great deal. If you’ve done the laundry, watched a lot of television and painted the living room, not so much.

So think about how you are dressed, how you speak, how you listen, how you treat others, and how you use your time. If you had someone in a supervisory capacity watching your every move and getting into your thoughts, would you react differently? Think about why. All those people who interview well, and have solid answers to tough interview questions get their material from the world around them here and now in the present. Raise your level of consciousness and actively participate in and interact with those around you.

All the very best in your interview today!