Focus On The Good; Not The Bad

It may have started at home as a child:

“You brushed your hair nicely and I’m glad you brushed your teeth, but your room is a mess.”

Then in school it was:

“Gets along with others, does excellent in Math but could be better in History.”

As a teenager dating:

“You’re kind and thoughtful, but I wish you were taller.”

Finally as an adult the boss says:

“You’re hitting your targets and I’m pleased with your energy, but you could participate more in team meetings.”

Many people will identify with having heard comments such as the above. When you look back at each of them, there’s two positives and one to work on; two good and one bad, two strengths and a weakness. Depends how you hear it, interpret it and understand it.

These comments and their impact divides people into two groups: those that heard the positives and are uplifted and feel good about themselves, and those who zeroed in on the one thing that they aren’t doing well and need to improve upon. Which type are you generally?

For the last two weeks, I’ve been instructing a class of a dozen people who are just learning to use the computer. It’s computer basics, starting pretty much with how to turn it on. We’ve covered terminology, creating and using email, crafting a resume using MS Word, exploring the internet, using job search skills, working with a USB Flashstick, navigating employment websites, and applied for jobs. For absolute beginners, we’ve accomplished a great deal.

Yesterday I gave each person a 13 step assignment which would give them a chance to independently use their skills. Everyone found they could do more than half of the assignment entirely unaided. I’d guess it was around step 8 or 9 where the majority had to pause and ask for help from someone. No shame in that by the way; asking for help with the computer is something I see all the time in workplaces. Eventually the whole class did complete the assigned work, and I made sure to remind them to focus not on what they failed to remember and needed help with, but focus rather on all the things they did correctly and did remember on their own. What each accomplished far outweighed where they struggled.

You see, I believe that people don’t hear the good in themselves as much as they need to. Some in fact, have gone long stretches of time without hearing much at all from anyone when it comes to positive feedback. I think successful people hear and internalize the good when they get mixed feedback, whereas those who tend to only hear the suggestions for improvement tend to have a lower self-image of themselves. Sure we can all improve, but my goodness, there’s so much I see to praise in people.

But surely some of you are thinking, we can’t go around telling people how awesome they are and how great they are doing when in fact they aren’t! If we don’t point out their shortcomings and their faults how are they to improve? I had a boss like that once. He told me it was his job to point out all the little things I was doing wrong when doing one of my yearly performance appraisals. Yet on a daily basis he was happy with my performance. That comment he made during a 3 hour (yep, he thought a 3 hour appraisal was how best to motivate people) meeting where he did nothing but point out little things I could do better resonated with me then and still does 25 years later. His words were, “It’s not my job to point out what you’re doing right, but to point out all the things you’re doing wrong so you can improve.” I started job searching the next day and soon got a better job, more income, and worked at a higher level in the new organization. Oh he motivated me alright.

Perhaps it is the consistent memory of that bad experience that has given me great empathy for people I lead, partner with and instruct. If like me, you are in a position of some authority or influence in your job, it is a responsibility of ours to build up rather than beat down. It’s far too easy to point out what others are doing wrong, where they can improve, how to be better. It’s just as easy to point out successes, achievements, label and reinforce accomplishments. Why not choose to emphasize the good?

The thing is, you and I; we really don’t intimately know the past of many people we interact with daily. We can read notes in a file, but the person is so much more rich and layered than some file. We don’t know how many times they’ve had people they trusted and respected tell them they could do better, BE better. Could be they honestly feel they’ll never measure up; they’ll never be good enough.

Imagine then – and it’s not too hard really – how impactful you and I might be if we built people up with genuine positives. Genuine of course, not invented, but positive comments and praise. Then imagine if that same person heard some good from someone else, then a third person. Why we might actually see people believe more in themselves, like themselves better and build successfully on their successes.

And that my reader, is pretty cool.

We Don’t All Have The Same Agenda

Whenever you work with people, it’s inevitable that you’ll find varying levels of commitment, investment and purpose. It is precisely because of this reality that you’d be wise to make no assumptions; assuming that they all come before you with the same goals, the same drive, the same motivation that matches your hopes and expectations. They don’t.

Imagine a couple planning out their future together. While they both want a home and to live well in their retirement years, each has a different comfort level with the amount of their mortgage payments, the amount they are happy setting aside each pay day to invest. Then in walks another couple, and like the first, they aren’t unified in their investment strategies, and as a couple, they don’t mirror the first either. And so it goes.

So when you’re standing in front of a group making a presentation on any given subject matter, it’s presumptuous to assume that everyone before you has the same motives for attending; that everyone wants to get the same things out of your talk. Some might be there entirely because they want to hear and learn, while others are there out of compulsion. Some are curious and hang on every word while others are wondering how they can cut your time together short.

What becomes of critical importance therefore is the need to ask your audience what they want, what they hope for; their motives, even their reservations and their doubts. If you set the right atmosphere where they can openly share their truths with you, you have a better opportunity of connecting with your audience at their level. They listen more attentively, they invest with more interest and commitment, and in the end, they leave feeling valued, having spent their time wisely and they’ll be back. If there’s no trust established, no benefit perceived or derived, they may or may not come back, they may go elsewhere where they perceive better experiences to be had.

What separates a novice from someone seasoned and experienced, is their ability to respond in the moment and on the fly with their audience. When you’re just starting out in your field, you tend to come to situations with your own agenda; I’ll start with this, I’ll move to this, I’ll conclude with this and everyone will leave happy. If it goes well, you feel you’re on to something and you present the next time using the same formula. When it inevitably doesn’t run as smoothly, you sense the disconnect with your audience and you finish feeling a disconnect with your audience, you wonder what went astray.

If you’re just starting out, you might even wonder what was wrong with that audience. If you’ve been around long enough, you have the wisdom to turn and look at yourself, evaluating your own performance first. Did you take the time to connect with your audience? Did you respond to their needs? Did you take the time to even find out what their needs were or did you start with some assumptions and actually get off on the wrong foot right from the start?

Whether you’re a Musician on a stage, a Financial Advisor, a Motivational Speaker, a Politician addressing a townhall or a Social Services Caseworker, you would be wise to never assume your audience is always before you with the same level of motivation; has the same goals for your time together. Your own agenda is known to you of course. But what of theirs? Do you take the time to determine what they want out of the time spent together? All it takes is an ask.

“What are your hopes for our time together?” “What are your expectations?” “Why are you here?” “What do you want to hear?” “How will you measure success and whether or time together was well spent?” These are some questions you might consider – and there are many more of course – asking of your audience.

As I alluded to a few paragraphs earlier, one difference between the novice and the seasoned veteran is the ability to adjust on the fly. The novice, out of necessity is often less comfortable with the idea of gathering expectations of their audience because they don’t have the extensive knowledge yet to truly make adjustments to their own agenda. Those with greater experience have more resources to draw on and can think on their feet with greater mastery.

The major thing you want to avoid is spending time believing you’re delivering on what your audience wants, only to find out too late you didn’t. This leaves your audience feeling disappointed, and as their expectations were not met, they may even spread that disappointment to their friends, personal and professional contacts, etc. As goes their experience, so then goes your reputation.

Testimonials of great experiences had by your audience are then as no surprise, valued highly and you’ll see these on LinkedIn profiles, websites in a, “What our customers are saying” section, and in marketing and public relations pieces.

When both your agenda and your audiences agenda come together, you have a much higher probability of a mutually positive outcome. One note of caution however; if and when you ask your audience for their expectations, the worse thing you can do is make no adjustments to your personal agenda, and fail to deliver.

Something to think about today as you go forward.

Essential Skill: Self-Awareness

How you think you are perceived by others and how you are actually perceived by others. If you’ve never given this much thought, or don’t really care how others see you, this might be the single most important piece you read this year if in reality, the difference in the two is great.

So why should you care? After all, aren’t the opinions of others exactly that; their opinions? And aren’t there all kinds of quotes out there advising you to not let the opinions of others change who you are? That sounds like something you’d take as good advice. It is good advice. Isn’t it?

Actually, how you are perceived by others is of tremendous importance and if you’ve never sought out honest feedback, I suggest you make a point of doing so. You may find that others see you pretty close to the way you present yourself. If this is the case, give yourself credit for projecting your self-image through your actions and words accurately. This then, is the best you can hope for; that you’re happy with how you perceive yourself and you’re being assessed by others in a similarly positive way. When this occurs, you can go on being truly yourself, not having to work on anything in particular.

However, even when how you perceive yourself is a shared perception with others, it could still mean you aren’t entirely satisfied. For example, if you think you come across as uninspired and lacking in confidence and others tell you that yes, in fact they see you the same way, your self-awareness may be accurate but you may still wish to work on changing that perception. In this example, you would move to determining how to go about altering that shared perception, and then taking steps to actually do so.

A different scenario however – and one of a much greater concern – is when how you perceive yourself is in stark contrast to others see you and yours is positive while theirs is not. Ask yourself this: would you want to know the truth about how you are truly perceived by others if the feedback you received was less than flattering? Imagine that you are blissfully unaware of how your powerful voice just shuts down all other conversations around you. While not intentional, people don’t feel like competing for airspace, so they politely listen but inside, they think, “My goodness he/she should use their inside voice! Why do they have to dominate every conversation!”

Could you take that feedback? Or as an alternative situation, everyone in the staff lunchroom is constantly amazed at how unattractive you are when eating. Somehow, chewing with your mouth closed isn’t something you learned. While you’re perfectly well-mannered in every other area, it’s absolutely a turn-off to see all that food you’re consuming. Again, would you be grateful for being told or would you be defensive and feel others should mind their own business?

Not many people talk about self-perception vs the perception of others. In the long list of skills to work on and strengths and weaknesses, it’s low down on many people’s list or not even on it – until it becomes an issue. Your career can be capped, your advancement halted, your opportunity for more responsibility and the accompanying compensation that goes with it dead in the water if you don’t pay attention to this.

If you’re fortunate, you work with others who both know you well enough to have an informed opinion and who will share that opinion with you out of concern for your welfare. It’s up to you to create the climate in which they feel safe enough to share honestly. This feedback is something you’ll either get delivered bluntly and straight-forward for the asking, or you may find people start off gently, checking to see how you receive mild criticism before they lay something larger on you – if there’s something they believe you really should know and may not want to hear. For the third time, would you want to know?

Now, it could be that you get a lot of positive feedback; four or five nice things that make you feel good about yourself. That is validation and everyone likes to feel good and appreciated. It’s that one thing however, that habit or behaviour your hearing someone speak of that you’ll likely focus on. Remember the good. It’s good to remind yourself that being perceived 100% positively by everyone you come into contact with is actually unrealistic. Don’t we all have areas we could improve on? Sure we do.

Checking out how you come across to others and asking for feedback with sincerity and appreciation is the only way you’re going to really check on how accurately you see yourself and assume you are seen by others. Management will have their impressions, and those might work in your favour or not depending on how they perceive you’ll be to work with at the next level. Do you have the skills, experience, attitude, personality and chemistry to fit in? Will you represent the organization well in social or professional networking situations?

Of course when you get feedback from others, aside from checking that feedback against how you see yourself, you then need to decide if you are motivated to alter your behaviour, in order to change the perception of others to be more aligned with how you wish to be perceived.

Have You Got What It Takes To Say What Needs To Be Said?

“I can’t say that! It would hurt their feelings. I don’t know how to tell them. Can you do it for me? You’re so good at that. They listen to you.”

I didn’t make up the above. This is what I get told every so often by some of my professional colleagues who shy away from telling job seekers the things they’ve observed which the job seeker needs to hear. So you’d wonder wouldn’t you, at the inability of the Employment / Job Consultant, Job Coach, etc. who has a problem telling someone they are working with, the very information that person needs to hear.

Well don’t be too critical. After all, it’s not pleasant or enjoyable to tell someone something personal that is getting in the way of them being successful. I mean it’s easier to tell someone that their résumé is a complete disaster than it is to tell someone they have body odour issues, point out their bad teeth need attention, or their disposition is constantly negative, brooding, or downright intimidating.

I understand the moral dilemma in pointing out another person’s flaws; after all, who are any of us to tell someone else what are in the end our personal opinions? Well, I for one think that it’s our responsibility in the role of Job Counsellors, Coaches and Consultants to be honest with those we work with and point out areas for improvement that will if addressed, improve one’s employability.

So here’s how to go about it from my point of view.

First of all, it’s important to set up the framework of the relationship. Before I get down to working with a job seeker, I tell them that they must be open and receptive to honest feedback. I acknowledge that anything I might tell them is only one man’s opinion, but they need to be open to hearing what I’ve got to say and only then decide what to do with the information I pass on. This could mean anything from ignoring it altogether to taking it in and making some changes. I tell them right from the start that it could be some critique of their résumé (external and easy to hear) or it could be something personal (internal and harder to hear).

The one thing I do stress is that any feedback I’ll offer will be delivered with sincerity and sensitivity; never meant to embarrass but rather always meant to be helpful, even if, awkward to both say and more so to hear and receive.

Having set up this agreement or verbal contract, it’s important then to get the person’s permission to give them what could be valuable information. A person who is blissfully unaware that they have a major problem sometimes needs to have this information shared with them. It’s not something to look forward to with glee, but it is a necessary service to offer, if one truly respects the person and their intent on reaching their employment goals.

Yet, we don’t want to hurt their feelings do we? Perhaps we know only too well our own shortcomings and we know ourselves how it feels when others point them out. So we want to avoid hurting this person we’re working with; we don’t want to endanger the professional relationship we’ve got or that we’re building on. Completely understandable…no reason to justify going on ignoring the elephant in the room mind…but yes, understandable.

Passing on this information should be done privately; one on one, apart from others so the person receiving the information isn’t shamed or embarrassed. The technique I use myself is to share what needs to be said, listening and watching for indications the person has indeed accurately heard what I’ve said. Then, having passed on that information, there is no need to go on and on drilling it home. The next thing to do is move on and talk about possible solutions or strategies to drop the problem. These can be quick fixes or longer term solutions.

It is a disservice to work on getting a great resume and working on improving a person’s confidence in job interview skills, sending them out with brimming new-found self-assurance only to continue to be frustrated and rejected because of a well-known flaw of a personal nature. This is not helpful.

The key is to get over our own embarrassment and level of discomfort. So it may be that we actually say, “You know, I’m having a personal problem myself. I want to help you find and keep employment as you know, and together we’ve made some progress. However, I’m struggling to share with you something that might be hard to hear but I feel would be really helpful for you. Is it okay to share this with you?”

In delivering whatever needs to be said, don’t minimize it. You’ve now got the green light to pass on what needs to be said so do so. Offer some solutions only after giving them a chance to share their own ideas. Praise their reaction in taking it in, agreeing to think about it and any positive steps to change. It’s also important to point out the benefits of change to get some agreement.

Honest feedback can save someone a lot of time continuing to be frustrated and rejected. Saying what needs to be said may actually get you greatly respected in the end.

Two Women With Differing Priorities

Yesterday I had two significant conversations with two different women; both unemployed, both looking for work, both going about it however with different strategies.

The first woman I spoke with and listened to, is a woman who attended a resume writing workshop a couple of weeks ago which I facilitated and then later worked with 1:1. She’s a single mom with a girl on the cusp of becoming a teenager. On top of all the usual anxieties, the child is also dealing with the fallout from an abusive father which has caused some separation anxiety, and that’s translated into several calls to mom a day from school or from home when she’s there without mom for short periods.

The state of affairs has made it difficult for this woman to look for employment. Nonetheless, there she was in the drop-in resource centre yesterday, pulling up job postings she was qualified and interested in, writing cover letters and tweaking her resume for each job posting. She smiled the whole time she and I were together, and while her teeth could use some cleaning, that was the least of her worries at the moment, so I left that discussion for another time and took the smile as gifted to me.

Seems to me that before she can really look seriously at taking a job – any job – she’d have to first get some reliable support systems in place for her daughter in addition to the counselling she’s had. Without these supports, no employer is going to tolerate or allow the high frequency of personal phone calls she currently gets from her daughter to be assured everything is okay. To this she was receptive and agreed, and she took down in writing the few suggestions I gave her for help in her local community. By concentrating first on eliminating the need for constant phone contact from her daughter, she could then concentrate herself on finding employment. To do otherwise would be to take work and then be fired in short order for the interrupting phone calls taking her away from her job.  What struck me most about her were her positive attitude, gratefulness for help received and her words of thanks for the suggestions.

The 2nd woman I had a conversation with was actually over the phone. This individual had previously agreed to attend an intensive job finding group I run but didn’t attend stating she had the flu on day 1 and then on day 2 she said her 5 year relationship had just ended and she couldn’t attend. As I’m putting together another of these groups, I called her offering her a 2nd chance to participate in May. Everybody deserves a 2nd chance. When I called, some of the first words out of her mouth were that if the program I was running was in May, she couldn’t attend. Well that ended the offer, but I was curious to know what was going on in May that made attendance impossible.

This woman told me that she was taking some time in May to spend with some friends who were going to Europe for a year, and she was spending some time with her dad which she doesn’t get a lot of. Later she also mentioned a move sometime in May complicating things. I mentioned to her that I would remove her from the waiting list I keep as job searching wasn’t her top priority at the moment. I went on to tell her that she could possibly be re-referred in the future if and when looking for work became her prime focus; and then she told me she was offended by my comments.

Now I was taken by her words. Clearly she’s made a decision to focus on spending time with both her friends and her father; throw in relocating from one place to another and job searching is moving down on the list of her priorities. I pointed that out to her, and that she wasn’t being judged in any way by me, but the program I ran was for people who were 100% focused on getting work, and to include her at this time would be setting her up for failure. I honestly think she just didn’t like me putting it so clearly; she values friends and family at this time above finding employment.

I contrast these two women and the efforts they are taking to find work. The first woman is looking for a general labour position in a factory, has a grade 12 education but understands the value of work. The second is University educated and looking for a career in the legal profession. Would you have guessed this or would you have switched the education and job goals around?

Look, Life happens to everyone; priorities for some people remain fixed and for others priorities are fluid and change. Some put the emphasis on family and friends above all else, while some prioritize employment and financial independence.  It’s really all about the choices people make; and in both situations I neither judged their actions, nor insisted on a change in their behaviour or priorities.

The behaviour and words of both these women made very different impressions on me. Think on your own choices and the values you hold that guide those choices. The values you hold will determine which of these two you identify with and whether or not you take offence or not.

Asking For Workshop Feedback

If you facilitate employment workshops like I do, are you in the habit of getting feedback from your audience in order to improve how people receive what it is you deliver? If you don’t ask for such feedback, how else will you know if you’re message is getting through the way you intended it?

Most facilitators I’ve witnessed first-hand either don’t ask for feedback from their audiences at all; or they ask for feedback at the end of the session. The people who don’t ask for feedback in any form, aren’t really committed in my opinion to modifying their presentations, tweaking something that is important but was miscommunicated, or removing entirely something that just isn’t being understood.

When you don’t give groups the chance to provide you with feedback at all, you run the risk of not only missing an opportunity with the group at hand, but repeating again and again the same mistake with future groups; something to which you may be blissfully unaware.

Likewise, if you are in the habit of having a group evaluate the content and your delivery only at the end of your workshop, you can’t really make any adjustments for that particular group; your presentation has ended. I think too you run the risk of getting poor feedback at the end of a workshop because many people want to leave and give you surface feedback at best. So you may find they’ll check boxes on a form, but any sentences with meaningful feedback will be left blank.

Now yes it depends on the length of time you are spending together with the same people to some degree. People in a two or three week workshop are going to know you better and may feel they owe you something meaningful in return for your time, giving you more detailed feedback. While this is true when compared to a 2 hour workshop let’s say, getting feedback can really help you improve on your overall performance, technique and clarify any areas in your workshop where you are consistently murky.

To be an effective communicator, it’s a good idea to never lose your audience. You can have the most wonderful content out there, but if you fail to establish a connection with your audience, or lose it once you establish it, you’re going to be ineffective. Ever been to a workshop yourself where your brain wasn’t able to take in the content as much as you liked because the presenter failed to make some kind of an emotional connection with you? I went to a workshop myself years ago on the topic of LinkedIn. The presenter started off by telling us she was a social recluse and loved LinkedIn because she could use it to network without really meeting anyone at all in person. She spent the workshop avoiding eye contact with the audience 90% of her time, and I found it one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. I was distracted from the content because I was dumfounded at how poor a presenter she was.

Now on the other hand, I attended a workshop where the presenter was speaking right after a rather heavy luncheon. Anticipating that many in his audience would be sluggish, he used a technique that was cheap but extremely effective. He asked the audience a question in the first two minutes and when the first person volunteered an answer, he flicked them a dollar coin from his pocket. That got some sitting up. During his presentation he flicked out 7 dollar coins in total to the audience when they volunteered an answer. For seven dollars, this well –paid speaker had everyone sitting on the edge of their seat and hanging on every word. It was comical and magical to see everyone – myself included – totally engaged in the content of his presentation.

As for the timing of getting your feedback, the end of a presentation is a good time to get feedback because the audience can comment on everything they’ve experienced. However, for a workshop that lasted two or three weeks, it’s difficult for some people to remember all the content and how they experienced each segment. There is merit therefore in asking some groups for feedback all the way through your presentation. Consider therefore mini evaluations at the end of each day, or at a minimum at the mid-way point. The great thing about seeking out feedback in the middle of a presentation is that you have time to adjust your style by adding more group work for example if the people are really responding to that delivery method. If anything is fuzzy and unclear to most of your group, you can also go back and clarify things.

One question I like to ask my groups when I’ve got a couple of days left with them is whether they have anything in particular they are hoping I’ll get to before wrapping up. If they have some burning issue they hope I am going to cover, I can look at my intended content and see if there is a place I can add in what they want me to cover, or possibly remove something I was going to share, replacing it with their topic of need.

Workshop feedback is also good for gauging your own effectiveness. Being receptive to what you read can help you be a better presenter; and that helps everyone.

Sharing What I Received On Writing Resumes

Last month I put out an open request for input on the content and design of resumes. This was prompted when my fellow Employment Counsellors and I decided that it would be prudent to look at how others were constructing resumes, and feedback from other resume professionals, job hunters and employers would ensure we were using best practices.

Those that responded provided resume samples and comments, shared the reasons behind their suggestions and ideas, and I really appreciated the time and effort they put into what I received from them. Many also asked to be advised of what we came up with in the end too.

We decided that there has to be some room for variations and exceptions to any format as there is no, ‘one-size-fits-all’ resume. Here then, in the interest of networking and sharing, is some of what we arrived at:

  • Consistent use of Ariel font size 12 (Name only up to 20 pt.)
  • Email and phone number mandatory when available; drop headings, “Email” and “Phone No.”
  • Address optional – explain pros and cons and leave the decision to the person to include or not. Generally left out if punctuality and attendance could be a red flag based on distance of commute
  • Link to a LinkedIn profile included if the profile is fully developed
  • “Objective” or “Employment Objective” dropped
  • Profile (2-3 sentences) used immediately below contact information, written to self-brand and market concisely a person’s value offer; designed to motivate a full read of the document
  • “Qualifications” as a heading instead of “Highlights of Qualifications”
  • Qualifications should be in the present and mirror both the order and the words in the advertised posting rather than be buried in the 4th bullet
  • “Relevant Experience” used as a heading to capture both paid and non-paid experience that is pertinent to the job being applied to
  • “Additional Experience” used as a 2nd heading to capture both paid and non-paid experience a person has done but is not directly related to the job being applied to
  • Each experience formatted as Job Title Organization  Date in a single line with date to the extreme right
  • Months omitted from dates to avoid making positions appear brief
  • Locations omitted from each position (i.e. name of town, community, country) to avoid any opportunity of being discriminated against
  • Verbs used to describe actions in present jobs should be present; past used in the case of past jobs: “Manage” vs. “Managed etc.
  • Bullets should be round black dots in size 12 (like I’m using here)
  • Bulleted lines should not be concluded with periods, but if they are opted for, use them all the time or never; but not mixed
  • Include all internships, apprenticeships, volunteer work, co-ops and placements but do not identify them as such, as some employers place a reduced value on these vs. paid work
  • “Education and Professional Development” used a heading to capture a mix of both instead of two sections
  • Following the same format as experience, start with what the person obtained (Diploma, Degree, Certificate name) in bold, then the name of the organization to the right in regular font
  • Avoid any reference to an alternative, on-line or adult education experience as again some employers may de-value these and infer negative connotations; name the school board instead of the actual school attended
  • 8 ½” x 11” white paper stock
  • No italics, page borders, pictures, underlines, tables or templates
  • Do not cut and paste the job qualifications into the resume
  • Omit “References Available Upon Request” as this is a standard entity; use “Exceptional References Upon Request” if warranted and desired
  • Ensure grammar and spelling are correct
  • Ensure email is professional; it could be developed to self-brand or prompt action (mary.smith.psw@, callmary.psw.smith@)

One creative idea I received was the idea of inserting a few endorsements or recommendations from others, embedded right in the resume. Presumably, the reader would view these as external validation of the person’s impact and performance, and say, “If they’ve had such an impact while working elsewhere, I’d like to have them making that same impact working for me. Let’s offer them an interview.” I’d be interested in a follow up to see if this strategy works or not.

Where the biggest split in opinion seems to be is in the formatting of a current or previous positon on the resume. Some opted to put the name of the company first and bold, followed by the title of the position held on the following line in regular font. Others, (my peers and I included) came down on the side of putting the positon held first and in bold, with the organization in regular font.

The position we embraced as a group is that the resume is a person’s personal marketing document and as such, the employer first and foremost wants to know what positions an applicant has held, rather than the companies they’ve been employed by.

As I said earlier, I am happy to share these summations with you, and this was a good example of what networking and sharing is all about. We can learn so much from each other. I’d encourage you to actively engage when the opportunities to do so present themselves. You learn if you’re open and in the case of resumes, I could well offer a Job Seeker an alternative format I’d not previously considered.

Hope you found something here of value; a new idea or reinforcing your own style.

An Exercise In Feedback For The Brave

If you are brave enough, I have an interesting suggestion for you that could be extremely beneficial to you both personally and professionally. It has the potential to reveal your character and enlighten you to how you are perceived by others. Knowing how you come across to others; how they see you, can either confirm the impressions you wish to create, or give you the information you need which could form the basis of making some changes so you come across as you would like.

How we are perceived by others can help us professionally when it comes time to apply for promotions as one example. If the job we want calls for someone with tact, leadership abilities or sound decision-making skills, it would be essential that those in our workplace see those qualities in us on a day-to-day basis. If they don’t see these qualities in us as we go about our work, how could we realistically expect them to see us these ways in another position? When the time comes that we are being evaluated for a promotion, those who interview us are not only going to go on what we tell them in an interview, they are going to look at our performance in the workplace. Our presents jobs therefore; or more accurately how we act and behave in our current jobs, are going to have a big influence in the future job interview we undertake.

The suggestion I have to make is this: Consider asking your colleagues to give you some honest feedback. The thing about honest feedback is that it’s easy to both give and hear when it’s all good isn’t it? Sure it is. When someone says you’re compassionate, understanding, positive and sincere it can’t help but make you feel pretty good. On the other hand, if you were told you are unreliable, inconsistent, and rigid in your thinking or overbearing – that might be harder to take. In fact, you might feel the urge to defend yourself, question and probe for specific examples, maybe even dismiss the feedback altogether as just wrong.

When seeking personal feedback on how you come across to others, the best always comes from identified sources; where people take ownership for their comments. Anonymous comments can be useful of course in freeing up people to tell you things they couldn’t bring themselves to say to your face, but they also free up people to be unintentionally hurtful and overly blunt. Most importantly, if you took your feedback to heart and made some changes, you wouldn’t know the person who made a certain comment so you could ask them if they’ve noticed a change in you in the future.

If you undertake such an exercise, it is essential to come across as genuinely interested in your colleagues valued opinion. Comments like, “You’re amazing”, “Awesome”, “You’re beautiful” are nice but entirely of no help. These comments are so vague they provide no tangible feedback on what makes you perceived as amazing or awesome. The same is true were you to be told, “You’re difficult”, “Hard” or “Intolerable”.  It is important therefore that if you seek out feedback from your peers, you do so with some thought put into how you ask, and what you ask for.

This is no low-risk activity to be done at some team meeting where people come in ill-prepared and write a comment or two on a slip of paper and slid it over the person concerned. That feedback will have little if any long-term impact and people will be inclined to write down things they believe will make you feel good and avoid real feedback you can muse over.

The best way to get the feedback that will ultimately be of greatest value is to ask a colleague if they’d be willing to sit down with you in private and give you some honest feedback because you value their opinion. It’s not about them, it’s about you wanting to check in on how others perceive you, to see if how you think you are coming across matches the reality for others or not. They will be suspicious no doubt; wondering why them, and if you targeted them specifically or are speaking with everyone. It’s essential to give them some time to gather their thoughts even if they agree immediately; and to tell them you want sincere and honest feedback.

In such an exercise, you will have to prepare yourself to record what they say without reaction or judgement. If your body language or words communicate anger, annoyance, defiance etc. at the slightest negative comment they make, the person will shut down and likely not tell you what you most need to hear. Best to record, be appreciative and hold all your comments for another time, so they have the freedom to share uninterrupted.

If you do this exercise every so often with a few different people, you’ll get valuable insight into how you are characterized and viewed by others. This valuable information can lead you to work on flaws, reinforce qualities you see as desired, and most importantly help you identify jobs that might be best suited to someone like yourself.

There are electronic tools on the net that you can use to get others impressions of you, but the face-to-face interview works best to draw out insights, observations and honest feedback.

Something to consider.

Be Genuine With Your Feedback

When we observe someone going about their job search; talking on the phone, writing a resume or cover letter, how they dress, etc., the jobs we hold often place us in an excellent position to provide that person with feedback. Some of us are reluctant however to share those observations with our clients; especially so if the things we want to pass along are of a negative nature.

In my workplace, I am known as the guy in the office who will tell it like it is when it comes to providing a client with feedback. Sometimes that feedback is positive; overhearing a phone conversation and complimenting the caller when they terminate the call on the way they conducted themselves on the phone. Most of us can do this with relative comfort.

On the other hand, sometimes the most valuable feedback a person can receive has more to do with an under-developed skill, a weakness, something lacking that needs improvement. While positive feedback is something many people are at ease both giving and receiving, the same is not true when the feedback is decidedly less than positive. Then many people back off lest they offend the person; they don’t want to, “start something”, “make them feel bad”, and so they pass up the opportunity. The result is that the person continues to struggle in achieving their goal, either consciously or unknowingly going about their job search. That’s not really doing the client any favour and is more about our discomfort than it is about really being helpful.

Now while it is fairly safe to say that no one likes having their shortcomings pointed out to them, it is in my opinion essential to do exactly this if we truly care enough about the person; to help them move forward and approach their desired goals. The real stickler is not then whether to provide the feedback, but how to do so in such a way that maintains and strengthens our relationship with the client, while still delivering honest feedback.

Some people will appreciate a touch of humour; this approach can keep things light and is a strategy I often apply when first approaching someone. As an example I once pointed out the incorrect spelling of a word in both a cover letter and resume a job seeker had used that changed the entire realm of their experience. They meant to say they had extensive warehouse experience but it actually read as extensive whorehouse experience. Once pointed out, it was a shared moment of hilarity but it opened the door to talk about their weak spelling skills and where they could access help in the community to develop those skills.

With some people, they will not appreciate the use of humour; they will misinterpret this as making fun of them personally and in such a case, it’s important to recognize the warning indicators, quickly shift your approach, and either back off completely or switch to another approach. This is one of the advantages of experience; the longer you work with various people, the better you get at reading them, adapting your approach and finding whatever will allow you to connect with them.

No matter what approach you use however, most people can tell when your feedback is genuine and when it is contrived, phony or exaggerated. Compliment someone for having strong skills in an area they know they don’t, and your feedback is less valued; both now and in general. In short, you lose credibility. It is wise to present feedback on weak areas with sincerity and sensitivity; you are after all sharing information that is meant to benefit them. What you say may not be what they want to hear, but is what they need to hear.

I’ll be honest with you and say that while I’ve got this reputation for providing honest feedback, due to the sheer number of people I share that feedback with, I’m not always successful in my attempt to come across as helpful. l may for example volunteer my opinion on someone’s resume; someone who didn’t approach me or ask for the feedback. I’ll initiate contact, ask if they’d like some feedback, and give them the benefit of my knowledge. Some folks get defensive and I usually read correctly those I should back off from and leave alone, but, well….you know. Like I say, sometimes I make mistakes too!

Providing honest feedback however, is my way of respecting the client. I believe that I’m not helping as much as I’m able if I only tell them what they want to hear. Saying, “Wow, your mock interview was fantastic!”, when they know it wasn’t doesn’t really help them. Sure, point out what they’ve done well, however they can benefit as well from things they need to do to improve their chances of success. That real interview for a job they really want isn’t going to end well if they don’t address some glaring weakness.

So my advice is to be genuine in your feedback; tell it like it is. It isn’t about your own comfort level, it’s about caring enough for your client that you want them to ultimately be successful and if you’re in possession of some information which will benefit them, passing this on is the right thing to do. Like any other skill, the more you practice it, the better you get.

“You’re Not What We Want. Next!”

Rats! Rejected again. Whether it’s your dream job or a survival job, that rejection can sting; especially if you’re hearing, “Sorry”, just a little bit too often.

Now there are many reasons why you might not be what a company is looking for. Not all rejections should be seen as negative. Some are beyond your control, and surprisingly, some of those rejections might just be the best thing that could have happened to you if you are smart enough to think about the reasons behind the rejection.

Suppose for example you are up for a job as an actor in a play. You prepare for your audition and it goes extremely well, but you don’t land the part. Until the Director cast the leading characters, they couldn’t determine the supporting cast, and that being done, you’re just too tall for the part. That news is no reflection on your acting, dancing or singing skills; they just don’t want the person playing the younger brother to be taller than the older brother. While that happens in real life all the time, on the stage they want the oldest to be tallest as viewed by the audience.

The above example is one where although the outcome is disappointing, again it’s no reflection on your skill or performance. Pick up your ego with your 8″ x 10″ photo’s and move on. What’s important for your mental stability is to know you auditioned (or interviewed for the part) having prepared and given it your best.

A second situation where you can re-frame rejection into a positive is when you apply for a job you ultimately don’t get, but it would have been a bad personal fit. Suppose you are a Civil Engineer, complete with degree and working on a Masters. That phone call you just got saying you are far too qualified to work at the café might have been a blessing in disguise. Who knows…you could have successfully worked there for the next few years and all the while your up-to-date skills aged with every espresso you frothed. By the time you got serious about applying for a job in your educational field, you’d be old news and then really frustrated!

And that’s one of the pitfalls of applying for numerous jobs when you feel like, “I just need to work!” It’s a real Catch-22. I mean, you start broadening out in your mind the kind of work you will apply for, and run the risk of expanding too fast and lose all your focus on what you should be doing most – applying for the jobs that best make use of your education, skills and experience. Yet, if you don’t look outside of a narrow niche, you run the risk of missing good opportunities while your skills rust.

Finding out the reasons behind your rejections can sound frustrating in itself to a job seeker. It’s bad enough they don’t want you, now you’re being told to find out why. Sounds like a bad replaying of your high school experience in trying to land a date with someone you had a crush on. “Go out with you? Uh, no thanks.” And then you ask, “Why? Don’t you like me?”

Funny enough in an odd kind of way, the reason for getting an explanation for being rejected as a date and as a job candidate are the same; you want to learn from the experience so you can make changes and increase the odds of success with the next attempt. The real challenge is to get honesty in the answer. Having an employer tell you there was another candidate just a little more qualified is about as much help as having that high school guy or girl tell you, “It just wouldn’t work out that’s all.” It’s too vague.

As a general rule, I think it’s a wise move to contact an employer after you’ve been rejected. Be professional in your approach and in a non-threatening tone ask for some concrete feedback, assuring them that the reason you are asking is because you continue to be interested in the position and would like to address any concerns the employer might have in a future application.

Almost all job seekers these days just chalk up a rejection as a permanent rejection and never contact the employer. While it’s true employers are very busy and can’t give every rejected applicant all the feedback they might otherwise, only a very few ever seek it anymore. Many applicants tell me, “I’ve already lost the job so why bother further humiliating myself? I’ve got other jobs to apply to.”

Here’s why: 1) Not all people who are hired actually work out. 2) You’ll stand apart from any other applicant who got rejected in the final decision and did nothing. 3) It shows you REALLY want the job. 4) It shows you want to improve and learn from the experience – and you can share this in future interviews demonstrating how you deal with challenges, are persistent and work on your goals.

Reframing rejection is a skill just like any other. It’s really not about the rejection but how you choose to react to it and what if anything, you do to minimize the odds in the future of being rejected that’s the key. We all get rejected be it in relationships, jobs, an offer on a house or a loan at the bank. How we react is what defines us.