Yesterday I found myself scheduled to spend my day in our drop-in employment resource centre instead of running a workshop. These days are good mental breaks and diversions from planning, running and evaluating workshops and are a welcomed change from time-to-time.
Now I find you can do one of two things while you are scheduled to staff that area. You can on the one hand circulate around the room, engage visitors in conversation and spruce the place up a little by tidying up etc. On the other hand you can choose to sit at the staff desk and deal with people as they approach you. I generally opt for the engaging style myself, but on most days you’d find me doing a mix of both.
So it was when I was at the desk printing off some job postings that a woman came up asking to use the stapler. Rather than saying, “Help yourself” and returning to my task, I said, “Help yourself. Hey is that your resume? Would you like me to cast my eyes over it for you?”
That initiative; the decision to engage with the person, start a conversation and extend an offer of assistance is such a small thing. I point it out however as a tangible example of a decision to simply and effectively start a conversation, creating an opening where a user of your service can voluntarily choose to also engage or not.
Now in this instance, the woman handed her resume over and sat down. I was immediately conscious of trying to accomplish two very different tasks simultaneously. First and most obvious, I began to scan the resume, looking for ways to strengthen it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I started to size up the person sitting across from me. How open was this stranger to my feedback? To what degree was she able to grasp, understand and be receptive to the changes I was recommending?
Starting with a suggestion to not staple the two pages together that collectively made up her resume, we went through content, grammar and spelling, layout and format etc. All in all we spent about 15 minutes there together until she left to return to her computer and input the suggestions before leaving.
A chance encounter? Maybe. What if she hadn’t needed that stapler and had brought her own? What if someone else had been there instead of me, or I had been too caught up with something else and she came and left quickly just using the stapler without asking at all? Was it fate?
If you break things down, a lot of things go into that 15 minute engagement. She started things off by taking the initiative to approach me and had the manners to ask for use of the stapler which created the possibility of a conversation. I made a decision years ago to engage people where I can and find opportunities to start conversations so it was natural to initiate the offer of help and she was wise enough to accept feedback.
Furthermore, like peeling back layers on an onion, as things were pointed out on her resume to correct, improve, add to or re-format, she was patient and open enough to accept the comments made, making further and more meaningful suggestions possible. Had she been defensive, close-minded or downright impervious to new ideas and dismissed the ideas presented to her, I’d have been less helpful and would have hoped for a better reaction another day.
As someone else needed assistance after our 15 minutes together, she returned to her computer station. I made another decision to go ’round and saw she was in the process of already implementing the ideas I’d given her. That initiative on her part to implement the ideas presented also shows me her wisdom. Wisdom I say, but not because the ideas were mine, but because the ideas and suggestions are borne out of experience accumulated over many years, current best practices, and supported through evidence of job seekers getting interviews when using those ideas themselves.
I wanted to share this encounter with you precisely because it is such a small thing to accomplish. Whether you are the professional employee in a position assisting others, or you are a job seeker, you can interject yourself in either position and see how the engagement process works from both perspectives. What I find noteworthy is that unlike some interactions, this one started off spontaneously without any stress leading up to the conversation.
You might feel mounting stress for example were you to book an appointment with a resume professional or a career counsellor. You might agonize over having your work criticized, judged and by association being judged yourself. If you are a quieter, reserved or introverted person, you might not have the assertiveness to even initiate contact and seek help. These opportunities are in front of you everyday however. Instead of lamenting or beating yourself up over missed opportunities yesterday, jump in and risk a conversation today. You could start with, “Can I use your stapler? Would you mind looking this over?”
On my side of the desk, remember colleagues that there are opportunities before us each and everyday. They don’t always present themselves in scheduled appointments, and can often start as chance encounters. It’s about being in position, having the knowledge, looking and acting receptive to help and serving.
A pretty simple encounter broken down.