My Christmas Post


Merry Christmas!

Now yes I know that in our 2017 politically correct, full multi-cultural societies where we have people from all manner of faiths and religions; where tolerance and growing sensitivity to the needs of all those around us would have us drop the Christmas from Merry Christmas and have it replaced with, “Happy Holidays”, I say nonetheless, “Merry Christmas” to you just the same.

I am not insensitive or blissfully unaware that not everyone celebrates Christmas. I am not ignorant that some who acknowledge Christmas and believe in the child of Christ are in a financial or emotional state to find it hard to be merry for that matter. Some find the Christmas season decidedly isolating; a poignant reminder of whatever state they find themselves in which may not be what they’d want or have imagined for themselves. I get that.

Yes some would have the world drop the word, ‘Merry’ from our greetings as well as the ‘Christmas’. While we’re at it there are those who don’t like Christmas lights – a blatant waste of both energy and money they say. I light up the dark nights of winter with my Christmas lights all the same.

You can understand I think why some find this time of year particularly challenging to deal with. They may be unemployed, underemployed, homeless or living just above the poverty line. For people who have been disinherited from families, perhaps cut out of family gatherings and estranged from those they once called brother, sister, mom or dad, yes it can be a constant source of pain to see everyone around them going about with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on their lips.

Me? I go about with a jolly ‘Merry Christmas’ just the same. In fact, I went for a walk at noon just yesterday and made a conscious decision to say just that – “Merry Christmas!” to several people on that walk. There was the guy walking towards me with his head down, hoodie on and hands in his pockets. There was the fellow who had a cigarette in one hand and just walked across the street on a full red light when the traffic gave him an opening. There was the woman who was rushing to go somewhere and had a furrowed brow and look of concentration as she navigated the clearest path to accelerate her walk. And the reaction I got?

Each and every person I said, “Merry Christmas” to said exactly the same thing; “Merry Christmas to you.” Each person also did something else; they made eye contact for about 2 seconds and smiled as they said it. 2 seconds….and a smile. Hmm…. Big deal you say?

Well, if everyone I met felt visible and smiled while saying, “Merry”, perhaps – just perhaps I say – wishing others a “Merry Christmas” isn’t so bad. Now yes, I could have been more thoughtful and stopped these people in their tracks and first asked them, “Excuse me, might I know your religious beliefs and if in particular you believe in the Christ child? You see, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas but I also don’t want to impose any kind of religious doctrine on you in doing so should you practice another religion, believe but not practice or perhaps be an atheist. And also good sir/madam, I do hope its not delaying you in any way or causing you to feel singled out and vulnerable to have a stranger talk to you in this public space and use the words, ‘Merry’ and ‘Christmas’ in the same sentence? You see you might not wish to feel merry – for that of course is your right, and it would be terribly presumptuous of me to wish you to be merry when that may not be what you’d wish for yourself.”

Yes, I suppose I could have said something like that in order not to cause any offence to anyone. However, the good people I wished a ‘Merry Christmas’ to on the streets of downtown Oshawa Ontario didn’t seem to mind. Now I don’t imagine these folks are very different from others who might wander the streets of your city or town. For I’ve no reason to believe Oshawa residents are somehow singularly patrons of Christmas or unifyingly merry for that matter.

How nice then I think to have a stranger wish them a merry Christmas. I wish someone had first said that to me on my walk. I’ve noticed though that people generally walk and avoid eye contact period, let alone say a word of greeting. Yes, it’s eyes averted, down on the ground, straight ahead – anywhere other than meeting the eyes of people they meet. But me? I’m different. I walk and make a point of looking at the faces I pass. I note that people generally see me coming (they aren’t blind after all), and then they purposely avert their eyes. Oh and it’s not that they reserve this behaviour for me alone. I see them do it with everyone they pass.

And I’m open to a Happy Chinese New year, Happy Chanukah, etc. too. Feel free to give one to me when the time is right. I’d like that. So I will continue to go about on my daily walks, look for people who could use a little, ‘Merry Christmas’ and give it to them. Oh, and you out there? A very merry Christmas to you!

 

Think What Your Email Address Says About You


When applying for jobs, many people take great care to hide their age on their resumes, and for good reason. They’ll go out of their way to omit jobs pre-2000, decline to add the year they graduated from high school, College or even University if it’s going to make it easier for an employer to figure out how old they are by doing some simple addition. All that effort is lost however if their email addresses contain the year they were born.

I see this time and time again in my position as an Employment Counsellor. Just yesterday, I spoke at the tail-end of a workshop on interview skills about this. When I asked what her email address was, she told me her first and last name plus the number 60. “Are you 57 years old by any chance?” I asked her. To this she looked at me somewhat surprised and confirmed I was correct. “How did you guess that?” she asked. “You told me yourself by including your birth year in your email”, I replied, and then the light of realization switched on.

The thing is a lot of people include their age in their emails. They’ll either put the year of their birth or their actual age. Having several times watched people attempt to create their email using their name only, I know that computers will often suggest various email addresses which are available, and they almost always include a number. Don’t allow a computer to randomly suggest an email address for you that you’re then going to let represent you! That kind of random generation might be okay for your phone number, but not your email.

Unfortunately giving your age away isn’t the only problem I find in emails. There’s the inappropriate sexy ones, the childish ones, the nonsense ones, and downright insulting ones. None of these I’ll give examples of, so just use your imagination. It never ceases to make me wonder how serious a person is about their job search when they preface telling me what their email is with the statement, “I know it’s not very professional; I should change it probably, but I’ve had it for a long time.”

Okay so enough with making the case for what not to have, here’s suggestions for what it could or should be.

My first suggestion is to begin with either the word, “contact” or “call” followed by your first name and last. In my case it would be, contactkellymitchell@ or callkellymitchell@. If your full name is too long or is already taken, try a period between your first and last name, or your first initial and last name such as callkelly.mitchell@ or contactk.mitchell@

As the person at the receiving end silently reads your email address at the top of the résumé, they cannot help read the words, “contact” or “call”, and aren’t these the very actions you want them to take? You want to be called or contacted by the employer with the offer of an interview. Your suggesting the action to them just by reading your email address alone. Not too many have caught on to this strategy yet so get yours while the getting is good.

Another strategy I suggest is reserved exclusively for those people who are committed to looking for one career. So take me for example. I want to brand myself on those I meet as Kelly Mitchell Employment Counsellor. So my email address is employmentcounsellorkelly@gmail.com Yes it’s a little long, but easily remembered. The email address includes my job title and my name; the two are now linked together creating the lasting connection.

If a PSW, you could opt for PSWjillwhyte@ or j.whyteyourpsw@ Get the idea? The only drawback with this email address comes if you should then start applying for jobs that are similar in nature but use different titles. A Personal Support Worker might apply for jobs as a Health Care Aide, Personal Care Provider etc. and the like, and while having PSW in the email wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate, there are cases where you might want to switch things up entirely and look outside your typical field and your email wouldn’t work. So a PSW now applying for a job as an Office Receptionist might hurt rather than help her chances by using PSW as part of an email address.

The first suggestion I made, using the words, “contact” or “call” don’t present this problem. You could use these indefinitely and for a variety of employment applications across any sectors. So my overall suggestion is when applying for employment, turn exclusively to using an email that either prompts action on the part of the receiver or brands yourself with your occupation.

Continue to use your existing emails for friends and family; your social address. Create and use a professional email reserved only for employment applications, running your business, or professional networking. By keeping the two mutually exclusive and not using your job hunting email for anything but looking for work, you’ll also avoid cluttering up your inbox with spam and junk mail. This means you’ll likely never miss seeing some important reply from an employer and mistaking it for your horoscope, dating website or those large sums of money just waiting for you to claim from some lawyer representing a person in another country!

 

How To Make An Elevator Pitch


Your pitch is that brief introduction you give to someone when time is of the essence but you want to communicate nonetheless who you are and what you’re after. Some call this an elevator pitch; bringing to mind the 30 or so seconds you have someone to yourself who you wish to introduce yourself to.

For starters you have to know yourself. That sounds pretty obvious doesn’t it? Don’t think I’m being flippant; if you don’t know yourself intimately you can hardly expect someone else to get you. Hmmm….know myself….seems downright easy. But is it? More on this later.

Secondly, once you know yourself, you have to be able to take all the things you know and prioritize which of your many characteristics and skills you want to highlight in this pitch you’re forming. What you choose to include and by exclusion omit might even vary from situation to situation, from person to person depending on who you meet. So it’s not just having a single pitch all nice and neat but perhaps more than one.

It all sounds rather complicated! It’s stressful! What do I include? What do I leave out? What if I mix up my words and go blank half way through my pitch?

Relax….breathe….let’s not make this complicated at all.

It helps if you have a clear goal in mind with respect to your employment goal; be that a job or a career. How about I use myself as an example for the purpose of this piece? You can take what I share and modify the content but adhere to the process if that helps you out.

Okay so I’m an Employment Counsellor. Now while that’s what it says on my business card, I’m so much more than that. I want to differentiate myself from others immediately. So I’m not, “an” Employment Counsellor, I’m “your” Employment Counsellor. I’m in your service; more on that to come.  I said the first thing to start with is knowing yourself. So some things I know about myself are the following: I believe in…

  • the power of enthusiasm
  • empowering others
  • humour and fun as integral parts of learning and sharing
  • trust
  • demonstrating Servant Leadership principles

Now that’s obviously not an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get going. Next up I want to look at those items and choose what is most important to me as I introduce myself to others. What do I want them to know about me? What would be most advantageous not only to me, but to the other person to know about me? Why? Because it’s likely that if they are in a position to employ my services in some capacity, it would be in my own interests to come across as having something valuable to them.

Whether or not this person hires me or refers me to someone they know could use my services, this first 30 seconds or so is critical to creating that first impression; and I’ve got the advantage in having time now to craft this pitch so it comes across exactly as I want rather than winging it later and then saying to myself, “Why did I say that!” Ah, I blew it! Dumb, dumb, dumb…”

To my list then. Enthusiasm and empowering others are extremely important to me. I also make a large assumption that anyone I’m speaking with is going to similarly value engaging with someone they find enthusiastic as they go about their work. As I believe in empowering others, I’d think people would like to learn and be able to do things for themselves instead of being reliant on others. So I definitely want enthusiasm and empowerment in my pitch.

The service to others I mentioned earlier? Serving others is something that defines me and I’d like that to be one trait others come to see in me through my actions. As this is a first meeting with someone I’m prepping for, they can’t be expected to know this or have seen me in action, so it’s up to me to communicate this and if the person asks, provide examples that demonstrate my service to others.

So, I’ve got a beginning: “I’m your enthusiastic and empowering Employment Counsellor. I find great joy and satisfaction being of service to others; building and nurturing relationships founded on trust and mutual respect. I have a positive infectious attitude and deliver my services with passion and humour.”

The thing about a pitch is that you want it to roll off your tongue in such a way that your tone of voice, your facial expression and your body language support the words you choose to use. In my case, the pitch would be delivered with a smile (for warmth and friendliness suggesting the fun). The words enthusiastic, infectious and passion are all similar in meaning and reinforce what I want to be known as.

So what do you think? I’m not asking what you think of my pitch as much as I’m asking if you think you could take what I’ve shared and then apply it to your own situation? That after all, is of importance to you, my reader.

If I may make a suggestion, pass this piece on to others. Who couldn’t benefit from being able to articulate who they are, what they offer and how they deliver it in a brief 30 seconds or less?

So what’s your own pitch sound like?

Activity: Listen To Your Words


Pay attention to the words you speak in the coming day or two and see if the words and phrases you use in everyday speech are revealing more about you than you had thought.

For starters, you should be cautious of the word, “just”. This word suggests you have a poor opinion of yourself; that you have low self-esteem, and you aren’t living up to your potential. All that from one single word? How is that possible you ask? Look at these two sentences:

  1. I’m a Receptionist.
  2. I’m just a Receptionist.

The first three word sentence is an assertion or statement of fact; I am a Receptionist. The second sentence on the other hand, with the insertion of a single word four letters in length, ceases to become a statement of assertion and pride. Now you are implying that the position of Receptionist in your view is a lowly one, and it almost comes out like an apology; “I’m sorry but I’m just a Receptionist.”

By the way, don’t get hung up on the title of Receptionist. This has the same impact if you say, “I’m just a Line Cook”, I’m just a Manager”, “I’m just a Musician.” You can’t utter the sentence with the word, “just”, inserted and not have it sound like you are downgrading both the position and yourself.

Another word that creeps in silently but betrays you if you use it is the word, “if”. Suppose you are job searching. You might catch yourself saying, “If I get an interview…”, “If I get a job…” The far more assertive statement is, “When I get an interview…” When I get a job…” Removing the word, “if” and substituting it with the word, “when” changes your sentence from a possibility to a certainty. “When I get an interview”, communicates your belief that it’s not up for debate whether you will or won’t get an interview, it’s just a question of time. The word, “if” suggests you might get an interview but you might not – you’re not sure.

Another word I see many people use in their cover letters that betrays them is the word, “believe”. Now if that word stood alone, it’s a good word, and has been used successfully by many people as their creed or motto. It implies that if you believe, then what you want will come about. Fine. However, watch the word in action in the following sentence and tell me now how it changes your perception of someone’s self-confidence: “I believe I am the right candidate for this position.” The way this could be read is that you believe it but it may not be the case. Remove the first two words of that sentence and you get, “I am the right candidate for this position.” That’s assertiveness – not aggressiveness or boasting; it’s a claim you’re making and you then back it up with examples of that market yourself positively.

There is a slang word that has slipped into everyday language so frequently, a growing number of people don’t even know that using it reveals them when they speak. They continue to use it which can suggest a limited vocabulary which in turn could suggest a low education – possibly less than grade 12. The word is, “youse”. “Youse have a great company”, “I’d like to work with youse guys.” The word doesn’t exist; stop using it.

Did you notice in the last example I used the word, “guys”? I find it amusing and interesting that someone can speak to a group of men and women, or indeed a group of women exclusively, and then say, “I’ll see you guys later.” Save the word, “guys” for males. Consider using, “people”, or “all”, or even just remove the word, “guys”. “I’ll see you later.”

The use of the word, “guys” indicates a familiarity or friendship when used in the context above. You may not find that using it in all situations is appropriate or welcomed. “I’d like to work for you guys”, doesn’t communicate a professional respect for the employees you are speaking with. It detracts from your self-marketing and you may actually create the opposite impact on your listeners where they want to distance themselves from you and the assumption of casualness you are making. Next you’ll be telling the interview, “I’ll be waiting for your call pal.” DON’T DO IT! I’M KIDDING.

Finally, try to catch yourself using or forgetting to say the words, “please” and, “thank you”.  When someone does something for you – anything from opening a door, being your reference or granting you an interview, express your thanks. No gushing suggested, no boot-licking, just common personal and professional courtesy. If you request something of someone, use the word, “please.” “Would you please stand as a reference for me?” Could we move the meeting to Monday please?” “Is it possible to have an afternoon interview please?”

Language skills are vitally important to how others perceive you; they are a part of your brand. Your use of words can accelerate your career or hold you back, prompt a job interview or keep you from meeting with an interviewer.

Listen to yourself and listen to others around you. Language is a learned skill. Work on getting some words out of your vocabulary and other words in. Like anything else, you can improve on your language skills with practice.

Sharing Skills With Your Co-Workers


I sent an email out to my co-workers just yesterday, asking if they’d be interested in a lunch and learn session next week on the subject of social media and LinkedIn specifically. Lunch and learn for those of you that don’t already know is literally where you bring your lunch and eat while someone is making a presentation.

It is known to me that at least some of my co-workers are skeptical of social media, a little gun-shy about putting their personal information out there, and others who do get it might still have reservations about what it can do for our clientele; many of whom are not technologically savvy.

This kind of volunteerism, sharing a skill you have with your co-workers so that they personally and ultimately their clients can benefit has a huge upside. For starters, if you are trying to get noticed in your organization, standing up in front of your peers and facilitating a session gives others a chance to see you in what could be a new role. Speak well, answer questions with intelligence and provide a safe room for questions and you may get a few folks thinking of you in ways they didn’t before.

Another benefit is that in sharing your skills, you upgrade the knowledge and ultimately skills of others. With a shared understanding of the subject matter, you’ll be undermined less. Undermined? Definitely. Suppose for example I was in this case extolling the virtues of social media for a job seeker and one of my peers chirped in by saying that they personally don’t think it’s all that necessary and just a fad for upper level business professionals. Now they haven’t ever done this just to be clear, but as an example it works. All of a sudden the job seeker might not want to put forth the effort required to take my advice, and I sure wouldn’t appreciate having my suggestions cut out from beneath me. Intentional or unintentional, that remark may come out of ignorance of social media itself and how to best exploit it.

Another benefit is that the employer need not incur the cost of bringing in some social media guru who in the end might not be as effective as you. After all, you know your business and if you know social media, you know best how to utilize it. Without knowing your business, clientele and their capabilities, no one from outside is as best positioned to maximize this tool as maybe you yourself.

Now think about your own business whatever that is. Surely there are people on your staffing body who have expertise and skills in certain areas which exceed those skills had by most others. Is there a person who is up on the latest trends, seems to be the go-to person when it comes to technology itself, or just knows how to use the advanced features on the photocopiers!

Instead of doing nothing at all which has the impact of keeping knowledge from being shared, or paying someone to come in and share knowledge but at a price, why not initiate your own lunch and learn activity? Now not everyone is going to jump at the chance to get up in front of their peers and lead a session. I get that. Some people would rather sign up for root canal.

Surely however, there are at least a few people who would be willing to speak with some of their co-workers (a voluntary participation over lunch, not mandatory) about something of interest to their co-workers on a topic they themselves know something about.

Take me now. In doing a short presentation on social media in general, and LinkedIn specifically, I’m hoping to demonstrate to my peers how best to help them help our clients. After all, if someone has heard of LinkedIn but doesn’t really understand it, they are not going to be able to sell it as an effective tool to be used in networking and job searching.

As the business my colleagues and I are in is helping others gain and sustain employment, we should be looking for tools to use that give them a competitive advantage. With social media being so prevalent and common these days, using it actually levels the playing field somewhat rather than giving them an advantage. The advantage is already being enjoyed by their competition!

Suppose however you are a clerk who knows how to add your digital signature to documents produced by the printer or the digital photocopiers. I would think that more people in your office would like to know how to do this too. Why not set aside 20 minutes of your lunch and gather those interested so you can walk them through how to do this. 20 minutes…no formal teaching role just standing at the photocopier…showing them what you know…that might be possible?

Again, think of your role in your present job. What do you know that others would benefit from knowing? If you are in Management why not float the idea of your talented workers sharing their knowledge with each other – say once every two weeks. Then step back and let it morph and grow on its own. Book the room, then sit at the table just as one of the gang and see what you can learn. You might be enthusiastically impressed. Skills on the front-line don’t always need to come from those at the top.

Stay In Touch With Your Connections


One of the most serious mistakes you can make these days is made by numerous people on a daily basis; failing to stay in touch with those who they had previously reached out to, especially if it was initially for help.

Think about this for a moment. Suppose I contacted you personally for help as I was looking for employment. Maybe in this scenario I asked you to stand as a reference for me, help me with my resume, refer me to someone you know as a way to kick-start my next job etc. If you had helped me in my request for your help and then I stopped contacting you altogether once I got a job, how would you feel?

You might feel used, taken advantage of, you might even feel that you had me figured wrong; that instead of really knowing how to network and value people, instead you’re wondering if I just use and abuse my contacts for my own gain and don’t give back.

I have connections online like this. Based on my profession, I’ve had some people contact me for various kinds of help related to getting employment, who after a couple of weeks and several emails, thank me for the help and then the silence is deafening. Now there could be many reasons for that silence of course, I get that. Something to ponder though is how receptive others may be a second time to pleas for help if the helper feels the dialogue is useful one way only.

The best connections, conversations, networking and communicating is good for not just one person, but for both people involved. So should you be reaching out for help, (which is never a bad idea), what have you got to offer in return? Need ideas? Maybe you can share a resource, a valued connection of your own, a future offer of help when you’re in the right head space to lend it, make a recommendation on LinkedIn stating how helpful the person has been or maybe even just a genuine thanks for help.

Lest you wonder if I’m penning this because I recently got spurned or burned by someone or some people, the answer is no. I won’t deny in the past I’ve had connections do all the things I’ve mentioned here, but that’s long ago and not my motivation. Personally I don’t even mind. My mission through my connections is to serve, not self-serve. My motivation in writing this is to help you, my reader, help you both in the short and long-term.

Look at your LinkedIn connections for example. No doubt that if you are using it as intended, you’ve acquired some contacts that you may have never met face to face and / or have not communicated with in some time. It might not be such a bad idea to dash off a brief email to a few each day or so, just thanking them for being a connection of yours, telling them how things are going, and asking how they are faring.

If you only connect and speak with others when you need their help, you run a risk of being seen as a desperation connection; someone who only makes contact in times of crisis. There are some who like myself, don’t actually mind having some connections such as these, and it’s flattering in a way to be the go to person in others times of need. However, there are others who don’t like being in what they see as dependency relationships; needed and then discarded. You don’t want to run the risk of being viewed as self-absorbed, taking and never giving back.

And here’s a thought: How busy can your life truly be that you can’t find the time to dash off a short email asking how someone else is doing and bringing them up to date with your own situation? If you can find the time in times of need, find the time in other times too.

Ever been witness to someone who breezes by saying, “How are you?” but they don’t ever stop to hear the answer? They don’t have any real desire to know how you are but ask out of social convention. If you answered, “Well actually not so great really” they might reflexively answer, “That’s wonderful”, and keep walking having not really wanted an answer let alone listened.  Don’t be that person on social media. If you are going to sincerely ask, be prepared for an answer; maybe good maybe not.

It’s ironic really that in this age of technology we can stay in touch with people more than ever before, and we can expand our social and professional circles easier than ever before, meeting people we will never see in the flesh. We call them, ‘friends’ or ‘connections’, but by definition our term, ‘friends’ has to be different that what it once meant just a couple of generations ago.

Remember communication is a two-way thing; it requires dialogue both ways. Do your part to establish and nurture your connections and conversations so that they are productive for not just you but for those with whom you are communicating. Unsure of what to talk about, what help you could possible give or what you could possibly share in terms of resources or connections? Simple….ask them.

IF you want to be a valued connection, BE a valued connection.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Does Who You Hang Out With At Work Say?


Unless you have just started a job, you know those with whom you work alongside as you go about performing your job. Are you surrounding your free time (breaks, lunch, dinner) with the same people day after day or do you change it up all the time? What does who you spend your free time with say about you?

Interestingly, who you choose to socialize with and get support from could be advantageous or hurt your chances for advancement. Suppose for example you spend the majority of your own time at work joining those in the clerks department on their coffee runs most mornings. While some people might feel that this should have no bearing on anything work-related, many others might feel you could be better served spending time with your own team of workers. Why though, when after all you’re working with them throughout the day?

The main rationale is that when you work next to someone you are both focused on the work aspect of your time together. When the time comes for lunch or breaks, were you to continue to eat together, your conversations would likely move to personal things like your families, weekend plans, upcoming holidays, opinions on things in the news. There are all kinds of real life examples where people work in a group but have very little idea of the person themselves outside of the workplace.

You might find it advantageous for example to sit down for lunch with someone you know only by voice or name that you deal with over the phone or by email too. Getting to know the person can sometimes prompt them to help you out with advanced notice of a job posting, a discount on office supplies if you’re the one who orders them or possibly changes about to come down the line.

Another reason for chatting over a meal or beverage could be just so people know a little more how you tick. Suppose you have a reputation you aren’t even aware of as being distant and aloof. Through conversations, co-workers might realize they’ve judged you wrong, or that the rumours in the workplace about you just aren’t true. By getting to know you as a person as well as a co-worker, you might find they even talk better about you to management or customers too.

Now I entirely realize that breaks and meals are down time for many; a chance to literally take a mental break. Therefore one might not be best advised to be planning an Excel spreadsheet on whom to share this time with in the organization and beyond. How you spend those moments should really be spent in ways that rejuvenate you.

I know personally that from time to time I’ve mixed things up at work and departed from my usual routine which is to have lunch with my office co-worker. While most of the time I’m happy to talk sports, family, trips, etc., every now and then I also meet up with people from outside the organization altogether. Call it a working lunch if you will, but it’s just two people sitting down face-to-face who work close enough to meet in between at an arranged site.

The first time I’ve proposed meeting, there is the usual, “What do you want to meet for?” question. I suppose that’s because so many people these days are suspicious that something is wanted of them beyond getting to know a person. Even after having met and chatted about this and that, sometimes people still end conversations with a question about whether or not I might want something of them. The answer is truthfully that just by meeting, faces can be put to names, voices to faces and profiles, and the door is open wider to helping each other out at some point in the future.

Have you ever asked your immediate supervisor to share lunch with you? Not to buy it for them or anything, but perhaps sit down together and just chat over lunch? Conversations such as these can drift back and forth between the personal and the professional. Having them get to know you as a person outside of work can be good for both you and them.

There are many of course who are more than happy to keep their personal lives and work life completely separate. They don’t aim to make friends outside of work with their colleagues, don’t get together for pool or skating parties, etc. Nothing wrong with this whatsoever unless of course you work for one of those trendy companies that believe those that work together should also play together. Make sure you fit that culture if that’s the case or you could be let go as a poor fit.

There are also those with big aspirations who target senior staff to meet with both socially and professionally. They hope and are often successful at getting promotions because they are well-known at decision time, and will be a good fit with the chemistry the decision-makers. You can spot these people easily and again, nothing wrong with knowing what you want and how to achieve it best.

There is no right or wrong with whom you spend your free time. It might be you just like to jog and so does someone else or you like to read alone. Good to think about however and realize who you spend time with and what it might say about you to others.

 

 

Help Yourself; Read


We are increasingly moving towards living in a society where we get our information in short bursts; and whether by design or by choice people are reading less and needing to be stimulated more often. If War and Peace burst were to burst on the world stage in 2015 for the first time I have to wonder if the general populace would have the stomach to even do more than flip through it in a bookstore let alone read a few pages and certainly not the complete vast book it is.

We do however an injustice to ourselves if we fail to read and it hampers us unknowingly when we express ourselves either in writing or verbal communication. I’m afraid when it comes to writing cover letters, resumes and being able to effectively market ourselves in job interviews, many find themselves handcuffed and unable to express themselves to the extent they would like to do. Many have lamented, “I know what I want to say, I just can’t get it out.”

Now I am not perfect with respect to written communication, and while seldom at a loss to verbally express myself, there are times when my vocabulary is tested. Yet while I admit such shortcomings, I still assert my communication skills to be a strength of mine in most situations. But this piece is not about me; it is directed at any and all who have lost or never had much interest or love in reading.

Here is the thing; when you read on a regular basis you get introduced to new words and discover their meaning. New words and the order in which they are arranged spark new thoughts, some of which may challenge your beliefs, and from that we grow and learn new things. Reading can spark change, take us to places we otherwise would never go, and even in reading non-job related pieces for sheer pleasure, our own vocabulary expands. The consequence of reading on a regular basis then allows us to better communicate ourselves when in the company of others, and so you come to my point in including this appeal in an effort to help readers of this blog in their job searching and career advancement.

Look around you and you’ll see a generation texting in 140 characters or less using social media. Instead of descriptive words that build a strong vocabulary it is essential to minimize and reduce words to their smallest denominator that still communicate the intended meaning. So words like, ‘you’ become, ‘u’. Phrases such as, ‘laugh out loud’ become, ‘lol’ to use some of the more well-known examples. Rather than berating Twitter and texting in general, for I acknowledge their appeal in marketing to the desires of people who want to say as much by saying less, I applaud on the one hand the skill it takes to communicate thought in those 140 characters.

Ask anyone who enjoys reading to share one of their favourite titles with you. When you ask them why it appeals to them so much, you will likely be told that the writing is vivid, the text rich, the words depict pictures and images in their head which they grasp, and they come to care about the characters, the fate of the protagonist. If it’s a job-related book, they will tell you how it impacted on how they go about their work, gave them pause to re-think the way they did something, or introduced them to new ideas and best practices.

Putting books and the printed word aside for a moment, think too of people you find interesting to listen to or conversely grow weary of as they drone on and on and on in some tiring address. Those of interest capture the listener with stories and examples sprinkled in their talk. Their voices vary in pitch, intensity and volume. When making a speech they need not shout to be heard but hold everyone’s ears with their content, mixing in humourous antidotes, getting serious when needed, and they can evoke laughter and tears with equal acclaim.

I would caution you too that you are in danger of revealing much about yourself whether you intend it or not just in your own choice of words which can limit you or serve you well. It’s true, for our vocabulary often reflects our education level, and in an interview you might wonder why some interviewers will suddenly ask you the name of the most recent book you’ve read. This is not a harmless, random question. It is designed to gauge your interests, your level of comprehension, your literacy and your general commitment to your own development. If you say you aren’t reading anything at present or the last book you read you can’t even remember the title of, well that’s telling on you.

Start with anything that interests you – but read. Be it a fantasy novel, a short story, a daily read of newspapers, blogs, news articles on the web – whatever you find motivates you to read more. Re-introduce yourself to a library if you can’t afford to buy books and have no library of your own. The more you read, the more you may find your spelling improves, your grasp and understanding of words becomes.

You may find in reading more that you gain a stronger ability to communicate and express yourself both in the printed word and in speaking to others. And selling yourself to a potential employer is all about communicating your value!

What Is Effective Communication?


Ever had someone misunderstand something you’ve said either verbally or in writing, and you end up saying something like, “Sorry, that’s not what I meant at all!” You’ve just experienced miscommunication. And depending on how the message was misinterpreted, it could be something easily remedied with an explanation or clarification, or it could be so damaging no amount of explaining can repair the damage done.

Effective communication is when the message you send is received by the right person, and the content is fully understood in the manner you intended. So what does this have to do in a blog dispensing job advice? Plenty. Applying for work is all about communicating effectively; right from understanding the job posting and conducting research on an employer, through to the resume you craft and the interview(s) you have to secure the job. The entire process is essentially about communicating.

Yesterday I sat with a woman who asked for help with her resume. “It’s horrible” she said when we first sat down, and she was right. Lucky for me she felt that way, because it saved time having to tell her that and do so in a way that respected the fact she had done it herself. What it communicated in its original form were things she did not want to communicate but was nonetheless. It communicated poor attention to detail in its inconsistent use of punctuation, suggested literacy issues with its poor spelling, a lack of website research in the choice of font and overall design which flew in the face of what the employer requested.

Now the argument many people make for omitting the step of researching the employer to learn about how to submit a resume is that it takes too much time and they can’t be bothered. I’d argue the reverse – and strongly. All the time you spend firing off your resume is entirely a waste of precious time and will result in guaranteed failure if you send it in a style or method that is not in keeping with how the employer has specifically said they want to receive applications.

Case in point: If a retail employer says to apply online only and you show up with your resume and ask for the Manager, the Manager is going to tell you to apply online and send you away. Why? One good reason is that it’s not only you who would come into the store and take up their time dealing with job applicants instead of customers. And they may be using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to scan all resumes received. It doesn’t matter what your opinion is on this matter (or mine), as what does matter is showing the employer you can follow instructions when they are communicated to you right from the start. So go home and apply online.

Now suppose you’re given some instructions on what to do which when you begin, you don’t fully understand. What should you do? Some people will try to figure it out on their own, some will ask for clarification immediately, and others might even toss out the written instructions and do what they themselves think should be done. When instructions are not clearly communicated, it is usually sound advice to immediately ask for clarification. You can make sure you understand things as they were intended by paraphrasing; repeating the instructions back to the person delivering the message to make sure you fully grasp what it is they want done.

A good employer or Manager will appreciate it when you seek clarification if you are in doubt. It could save them money and time undoing what you’ve done later and missing targets and deadlines because of delays.

As many organizations now use computer software to evaluate applications received, many will put specific instructions on their websites under some heading like, “How to apply”. Right down to the size and choice of font, headings on your resume itself, length of pages allowed, they are communicating the format they will accept. You could be the perfect candidate for a job and never get a peep out of an employer if you can’t follow instructions given and submit your application as requested. And the cost of your unwillingness to take the time to research the application process? Multiply the yearly salary of the job itself times the number of years you’d like to have ideally worked for that company. So a $50,000.00 a year job times 5 years is a $250,000.00 error you’ve made because you couldn’t be bothered to communicate with them in the manner they want to receive your application.

And miscommunication can also happen by omission. Take the person who is out of work and feels embarrassed because of it. So they keep their unemployment status hidden from their friends and extended family as long as possible. Because they fail to communicate that they are looking for work, who knows how many opportunities are lost? It is much better to get your unemployment out in the open quickly, deal with the, “oh you poor thing” comments at once and move on to the stage where people are keeping their eyes and ears open for jobs you might be interested in.

When you communicate, be clear in your words. Check with people to make sure the message you intend is the message they received. Things will get done correctly the first time, and then you can add, “effective communication skills” to your resume!

So What Is, “Active Listening”?


Although the term, ‘active listening’ is not new, unless you are familiar with it, you may not really fully understand or appreciate in full what it is and more importantly why it’s so important.

Active listening is a technique used in communication, especially by Counsellors and those who excel in interpersonal communications. The general premise is that you as the listener check on what you hear to the speaker; doing this by re-stating or paraphrasing what you have heard in words of your own. This confirms the accuracy of what was both said and heard, so both you and the other person have a shared understanding.

The value in this is that for the speaker, they can clarify anything misunderstood or not made clear, and ultimately feel they’ve been accurately heard in full and fully understood. You as the listener also are 100% clear that what you THINK you hear and understand is in fact what was really communicated. And it doesn’t stop at just the words spoken. The very best communicator’s and active listener’s pick up on the non-verbal communication going on which is added to the words they hear. If someone is almost lying down in their chair and propping up their head in their hands but is talking about really being enthusiastic in a slow, monotonous voice, the words and the observable body language don’t support each other, and the active listener would point this out and seek clarity.

So what’s this have to do with you personally? Well like driving a Forklift, mopping a floor, teaching a class or cooking a meal, active listening is a skill. And like any skill, you can have it or not, develop it or not, and ultimately use it or not. But unlike the other examples I mentioned in this paragraph, this skill is transferable and can applied in all interactions with literally everyone you meet, be it at home or work, social or professional gatherings.

Now think of job postings you’ve seen where it says you have to work well with other people. Working well with other people does not mean, “you do your job and shut up and let me do mine.” That’s a direct quote from someone I was discussing the idea of working well with others with not long ago. And like any other skill, the more you use it, the more comfortable you get with it, and the more natural it becomes.

If it helps to illustrate the opposite, think how often you are talking to someone in your own life and pick up signs that they are really listening or they are but don’t really get what you’re saying at all. “Ugh, you don’t understand! You never listen!” is the kind of thing you may recall people saying to you personally, and what they are saying communicating is that you really aren’t actively engaged in listening and sincerely don’t understand. The result is the other person leaves in frustration, and the message they take away is that you either don’t care enough to give them your full attention, or you didn’t really listen.

When listening to someone, a good idea is to minimize distractions so that the only communication you are engaged in at that time is the person speaking. Think of a Counsellor who closes their door to others, turns their chair away from the computer, pulling it up to a comfortable distance sitting facing their client, and leans slightly in so they are fully focused on the person they are seeing. That client gets the message very clearly, “I’m giving you my full attention and ready to listen.” I was out for dinner with four other people last weekend and in noisy restaurant it was impossible to participate much in a conversation going on at the other end of the table. I knew I was only catching bits and pieces, and felt frustrated in not giving my full attention to others when they were speaking – it was hard work!

And here’s the most significant thing to be gained from the practice of active listening. When someone knows they have been heard correctly and understood, they say more, and what they say is usually deeper, more meaningful, and ultimately more beneficial because the layer of trust has been reached. When someone says, “Wow, she’s good, she really listens”, what they are really saying is that the person is an effective active listener. But who says that?

You hear effective active listeners clarify often. “So what I hear you say is…” or “What you’re saying is important and I want to make sure I’ve got it right. You’re saying…” Now of course good listeners don’t want to interrupt and sound like they have hearing issues by constantly saying, “If I hear you correctly…” And a no-no for many people who are openly up is to say, “What you’re really trying to say is…” That projects you as some all-knowing superior being, and suggests the person isn’t expressing themselves well, and you may be right or wrong.

The next time you are having a conversation, really listen to the other person, minimize interruptions and give them your full attention. Check on what you’ve heard, and avoid the temptation of naturally forming what you want to say as soon as the other person gives you an opening. When you check on what you are hearing, you’ll have a solid contribution to add to the conversation.