Awkward Or Weak First Impression? Relax!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Employment And The Age Paradox

One’s age is an interesting factor when it comes to finding employment. It can help you or hurt you; disqualify you or land you in the running.  Ironically, it’s something that’s never supposed to be revealed or inquired about in an interview – unless of course age is a legal requirement such as a position serving alcohol.

While age isn’t supposed to be raised verbally, it sure is taken into consideration by the person or people conducting interviews. I mean, it has to be doesn’t it? As soon as you come into visual contact with a representative of the company you are about to interview with, you’re being assessed. That brief look as you move towards each other is taking in all kinds of information; hair colour, skin tone, muscle/fat proportions, walking gait, how hard or easy it seems for you to stand, the speed of your walk, the purity or blotches of your skin, your smile, the health of your teeth, bags or lack thereof under your eyes, thickness or thinning hair, stooping or straight up posture. Whew! That’s a lot to take in over the course of 10 seconds!

Notice how all the above are observations made based completely on non-verbal signals you’ve put out there to the interviewer. Once you open your mouth and speak, more information is available such as the tone, power and volume of your voice, the clarity or not of your words, your vocabulary; your overall energy.

In another 10 seconds, all this information – and more – is sent by you and picked up on by the interviewer. At this point, you’ve now given them enough information – and it’s been about 20 seconds mind – that they’ve formed an opinion of you and compared that to what they’ve settled on as the kind of person they are after. That opening impression if good is something for you to build upon. If that opening impression is a miss, you’ve got the rest of your time together to alter it, and believe me, altering someone’s first impression of you when you only have one meeting with them is much harder than you’d like it to be.

There are many people both young and old who lament the age discrimination. Some who are young feel their age suggests a total lack of work experience, immaturity, little life experience, and a future full of mistakes, errors, poor judgement, lack of responsibility and commitment to a solid work ethic. Older workers worry they are discriminated against because they are judged as set in their ways, slowing down, drawing on health benefits to the extreme, out of date with developments and not interested in any personal development. Oh and let’s not even talk about technology.

The paradox re. age is that younger people sometimes wish they came across as more mature while older workers wish they presented as 10 or 15 years younger. Both groups recognize the advantages of the other. Younger people if we buy in to the stereotypes, are healthier, more energetic, technologically tuned in, are open vessels to teach and they look more vibrant and enthusiastic. Older workers have experience the young lack; both life and work. Older workers also have the benefit of having learned from their mistakes and they make less of them.

Here’s the thing though…we are who we are. If you’re 22, you’re 22. If you’re 56, you’re 56; it’s a given. However, as we all know, there are some 22 year olds who act like their 17 and some who act like they are 28. There are some 56 year olds with the energy and vitality of those in their mid-forties and some 56 year olds who move as if they are picking out their coffins on the weekend. Age alone then, isn’t the definitive factor that we might at first believe it to be. What is essential to recognize what we can control which will in turn help create the first impression we want others to formulate when meeting us.

The clothes we choose to wear send signals. Do the clothes fit properly and are they right for the conversation we are about to have. While it might not be flattering to think about, we have to also take a good look at our bodies because others will. Are you willing to lose or gain weight if you’d appear healthier or your clothes would fit better? Or would maintaining your weight but shifting some fat to muscles create a more vibrant you? If you’re an older fellow with a scruffy beard maybe shaving everyday would immediately take off 5 years? Maybe, maybe not.

This isn’t about pretending to be someone you’re not. This is about projecting a desirable image so that you become attractive to the interviewer – professionally attractive; so they can visualize you as a positive addition to the organization. Lest you think you are somehow selling out to change-up who you are just to impress someone, think again. You’d likely put some effort into your appearance if you knew you were having a date with someone, and if it was at the end of the month, you might do all you could between now and then to come across in the best possible way.

Of course you can ignore all of this advice and just say, “I am who I am and if they don’t like me that’s their problem.” But then again, you’re not investing yourself in this potential relationship now are you?

Swearing And Social Media

In the fall of 2017 I joined with some other community members to put on a production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Amateur theatre you understand; something I’ve done in neighbouring communities with several theatrical groups for some 25 years.

More and more often, the cast stays in communication with each other via social media, with the Directors typically setting up a private Facebook group and inviting all the members to join to be kept up-to-date with rehearsals and other related information. This then sparks a number of people to then go ahead and send out friend requests to other cast members. It’s likely that even if you are not involved in a community theatre group, you’ve had a similar experience perhaps with some other group centred around your hobbies or interests.

Now with us being in the middle of winter and 2018, the show is long over and yet the online friendships remain. Sometimes I’ve gone ahead and deleted people immediately who I will have no further interaction with unless a future show brings us together again. This time around however, I let things remain largely unchanged after the show and of consequence I’m ‘friends’ with people I wouldn’t really give that title to in any other context – referring to them more commonly as an acquaintance.

I’ve got a problem though. It’s easily remedied on my end, but I fear it’s damaging for another. The issue as the title suggests is this person’s frequent use of swearing in his posts. It’s, ‘f’ this and ‘f’ that, and ‘f-ing’ something else…

The easy thing to do is unfriend the person, who quite honestly I’d never met before and am not likely to act with again but yes, it is conceivable. He’s not quite 20, I’m 58, he’s in another city than I am, and I’m not so unsure of my self that I have a problem just doing so.

Yet, there’s part of me that wanted to reach out to him and if he’s open to hearing it, let him know that I find his choice to include such language offensive. Not only is this my point of view, he could well be hurting his future chances of employment; acting or otherwise, by his frequent use of such language. Call me a prude if you will, old-fashioned, etc. I really don’t mind. I know what I enjoy reading and what I don’t.

Now it’s his right as it is anyone’s right, to speak ones mind, and part of that freedom comes with the right to say it HOW you’d like to do so. But, there are consequences to our choices, and there’s a responsibility that comes with those same rights. Not everybody gets this. Seems to me a lot of people go about claiming they know their rights, but few go about toting that they know their responsibilities.

In any event, I opted this time to do something different; I’ve taken the approach of reaching out to him via a private message and let him know how his frequent use of foul language has our tenuous friendship at risk of being ‘unfriended’ on Facebook. I’ve also advised him if he’s open to hearing it, that his posts are there in the public domain for future employers, Directors etc. to read and in so doing, form their opinions of him as suitable for their places of employment or shows.

No I’m not trying to be more saintly, or holier than thou as it were. I’m simply taking a more caring way of helping him along and not the easy way out of just unfriending him with no explanation. I’m sure this happens all the time and I’ve done it myself. Maybe this once though, something good could come of it. Even if he chooses to ignore my suggestion or advice, he is at least aware of the impact his writing has on one person and that alone could be helpful.

You see, he’s young, troubled, and – well yes – overly dramatic. However, being a young under 20, it’s not uncommon that one’s problems seem like the only problems in the universe. With maturity comes the realization that ones problems are not so unique, and everyone has things they deal with; some of us better or more privately than others. I hope he’ll get that over time and in fact I’m sure of it.

The thing I’d point out is would he, (or you) talk to your boss, your mom or dad, your friends etc. using the same language you use online? That is of course exactly what happens when all those people see what you write and how you choose to say it online. If you wouldn’t talk a certain way in-person, why talk that way online? If of course that’s who you are whether online or in-person, that’s your choice and your free to be authentically you. Just think about it.

So there it is. Feel free to give me your thoughts on the use or excessive use of swearing in social media public posts. Okay or not okay in your opinion? Helpful in expressing yourself or hurtful and self-damaging to getting on in the world? Feel free to agree or disagree as is of course your own right. This could be good people; where do you stand? Would you talk this way face-to-face with your friends; with your boss?


Job Interview First Impressions

In my experience as an Employment Counsellor, I’ve come to note that those who make good, positive first impressions don’t mind for a minute accepting that other people form opinions of them spanning the first 30 seconds to a minute when they meet. Equally, those who tend to make poor first impressions feel that its entirely unfair that others judge them in such a short time. Well, honestly, whether you like or dislike it when others form first impressions in such short timelines, the reality is, that’s…well…reality.

It’s not just employers and interviewers that form these quick first impressions, and quite frankly, as a species, humans have done it for centuries. It’s survival 101 you know; this innate ability we have to quickly take in whatever sensory information that’s available to us and then in mere seconds, assimilate all that data and form an immediate impression that then guides if or how we interact with others.

Walking on a sidewalk we look ahead and see a stranger approaching us. Based on extremely limited information, we might continue on with a smile and nod as we pass, or we might see a swagger in their walk, a scowl on their face, see their eyes set on us and with all this we choose to duck into a store or cross the street. We judged the situation to be uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worse, and best to be safe and not sorry. Were our actions justified?

Similarly in a subway if every time we look up we notice a person looking at us with a smile and fleeting eyes that look away and we see them bite their lips, we might interpret this as a shy, embarrassed, “you caught me looking at you, and I’d like to meet you but I’m too shy to start a conversation” look. Maybe we’re right and maybe we’re not; maybe we introduce ourselves on the off-chance they are interested in us, or maybe we bury our heads in a book because we might be wrong.

It’s in these everyday interactions with others that we form impressions of others while they of course are doing the same thing with respect to us. The data we take in might include someone’s choice of clothing, it’s cleanliness, their grooming, body odour or fragrance/cologne, their height, weight, shape, health of their teeth, colour of their eyes, posture etc. All in mere seconds mind you – our brains process all this data and we form opinions from which we judge them to be safe to approach, intimidating and to be avoided, etc.

In a job interview situation, take heart! For starters, always remember that this first meeting you’re about to have with some company representative is one you know is going to happen. In fact, you’ve got the time and place as two knowns, so it’s not going to catch you off guard. If you ask the right questions when offered the interview, you also know how many will be interviewing you, their names and their titles. This information can be of comfort, especially if you use social media to look them up and get a visual on their appearance and read their bios in advance of meeting them face-to-face.

You have the further advantage of choosing your outfit for this first encounter, deciding which clothing will be likely to make the best impression on them; be it formal, business casual, etc. The things in your control continue as you can make sure your hair is clean and brushed, your deodorant working, your teeth brushed and a swig of mouthwash will ensure any lingering offensive smells are absent. You can shine your shoes, choose your accessories with care as well.

In addition, when you arrive is in your control. Sure you might run into unexpected delays – that’s why their called unexpected! – but, you can almost guarantee your arrival time will be appreciated by leaving early and planning your route. A dry run on another day will likely give you a good measure of the time you’ll need.

Whether you bow, shake hands or not, smile or not, maintain eye contact or not when actually meeting during the first 2 seconds; again in your control. Even the way you sit or pace back and forth in reception, your posture as you wait and then your body language as you get up to introduce yourself to the interviewer(s); all this within your control and therefore up to you to choose how you wish to act.

These first few seconds are critical as those you meet form first impressions of you just as you are of them. The thing is though that you might be feeling so much pressure on yourself to do well and get a job offer that in the moment you aren’t thinking a great deal about them – being so worried about yourself and what you’re communicating.

Positive or negative, that first impression is the initial point from which all further interaction either reinforces or works to change one’s first impression. The more you put some effort into ensuring the first two minutes shows you as you’d like, the more you can feel confident done your best to get off on a good note. A poor start and you’ll feel the pressure to alter their view of you.

First impressions; vitally important and worth paying attention to. Oh and on the subway? Just go up and introduce yourself!

Job Interviews And Facial Expressions

When we flex our facial muscles in various combinations and degrees, we produce different expressions, and it’s these expressions that give those who see us clues as to our emotional state. Facial gestures and expressions can communicate our sense of well-being, our mood and personality.

It’s these facial expressions that make us approachable or send the message we’d rather be left alone. We can communicate happiness, excitement, fear, loathing, pride, acceptance, ignorance and any number of other feelings just by changing our facial expressions; sometimes with small subtle movements or conversely with wild animated exaggerations.

This much you probably know already. How aware are you however of your facial expression at any one time? Most of us are pretty good at putting on the right face at the right moment. We get some bad news for example but put on a courageous face when the kids enter the room because we don’t want them to pick up that something is wrong. Or we roll our eyes when someone is boring us with a story but the second they make contact with us again we snap back to a look that communicates deep interest.

You can look at any number of faces and more often than not approximate the right mood or message that person is communicating without them saying a single word. Whether its pain, sadness, despair, anger, joy, elation, surprise, gratitude or longing, we can identify the message because facial expressions are universal.

When you’re looking for work, it is as you know a pretty frustrating experience much of the time. The stress of applying and hearing nothing at all in return or being rejected over and over can start to take over our general mood more often than we’d like. If our unemployment period is extensive, there is a very real danger that the smiling face we used to present to the world becomes replaced with furrowed brows, stress lines and more often a neutral or negative norm.

So this is what we should be aware of and fight back against; the danger of losing our generally friendly disposition and smile. After all, when job searching, we want to encourage contact with people, we need those connections to increase our odds of being viewed favourably by others as a positive addition to their workforce. The last thing we want to come across as is brooding and oppressive just by the look on our face. That kind of message received by those around us would cause many to refrain from approaching or wanting to be around us; at a time of course when we need those very people to give us tips, leads and open doors to opportunities.

It is a real testament to the strength of a person who can go about their job search and sustain a positive attitude when it’s so easy and tempting to share the setbacks and disappointments. Keeping a positive outlook, and a look on our faces as we look for work that looks out on all who see us is a big plus. After all, if you can stay positive, look enthusiastic and communicate this with your face, you should be able to convince an interviewer that you’ll bring the same attitude to the workplace and work with the same positivity when things get tough there.

Throughout your interview, you’ve got a lot to consider and thinking on your feet as questions get asked of you can be challenging for some people. Your face will communicate many different messages to the employer. You will want to communicate pleasure in answering questions about the job because you’re fired up about it. You’ll also communicate being thoughtful as you consider questions and search your memories for the best way to answer. What you want to avoid is looking perplexed, out of your league, intimidated, confused or unsure.

Of course the first impression you make on the people you meet the day of the interview is critical. A genuine smile and giving people your full attention by looking directly at them will communicate strength, assertiveness, friendly and confident. All of these are desirable impressions to make on those you meet. Whatever you do, don’t give the Receptionist a bland or negative face and then instantly turn on the charm for the person who comes out to greet you for the interview. The Receptionist may be asked for their assessment of you, or they could in fact not be the Receptionist at all, but just covering for the Receptionist until they return, and you’re facing the Interviewer all along!

If you wish, a good exercise you can do in private is to size yourself up in front  of the mirror. Get dressed and stand there. Extend your hand as if you were shaking the hand of the interview and smile. In order to see the impact you’re having, you HAVE to look at yourself in the mirror and this will force you to look where you should be looking. If you’re typically shy and look down or off to the left etc. you’ll correct yourself without knowing it just to see yourself.

As an amateur actor, I have spent many a time in front of mirror looking sad, elated, crying, joyous etc. to see what I’m communicating.

Make sure the messages you send with your face are the ones you want to share!



Reassessing A First Impression

To look at him, he certainly didn’t make a positive first impression. He needed a haircut, needed to trim that attempt at a beard, and the clothes he had on didn’t fit properly, nor were they clean. The resume he asked me to look at and help him improve was even worse. Spelling errors, terrible grammar, irregular spacing – it was just plain awful.

However, I look back on my encounter with this young fellow and find I like him.

He had walked in with his girlfriend a little uncertain, approached me at the staff desk with hesitation, and as I said, asked if he could get some help making his resume better. Didn’t ask me to do it you understand, asked me to help him.  I give a lot of credit to people who recognize their weaknesses and seek out help. And make no mistake; I knew I could help long before he showed me the resume. I had the same feeling as the folks at home improvement stores must have when I approach the counter for help. It’s not that I look completely helpless, but I’m convinced they can tell I’m not a renovation expert just the same.

Now the thing about working in a drop-in Resource Centre is that when it’s your turn to work there, you deal with whatever and whoever walks in the door. Other times I might be conducting a workshop or working 1:1 with a client, but in the drop-in area, you can be run off your feet or continuously busy helping others – both sometimes on the same day too.

I could have told him the same thing a colleague apparently told him previously; that he should show up at our Resume Writing workshop on Fridays. In other words, leave now and come back Friday. Why would I do that though? Sorry if you disagree but I believe it is incumbent on me to help the guy standing right in front of me in the here and now. I had the time, so provide the help the guy was asking for – especially when it’s what I’m paid to do! Isn’t that putting the person’s needs front and center? What ‘lesson’ would I be teaching him otherwise?

So I looked at it and there wasn’t a single thing – not a single thing – that didn’t need changing. Multiple spelling errors, poor grammar, irregular spacing, varying fonts and dates and bullets didn’t line up correctly. The woman at his side complimented him well; they made a nice couple; she very quiet, paid complete attention to the changes and suggestions I made, held his hand and both of them slowly started to grasp some of the basics of putting together a stronger resume.

This is the single thing I liked about them above all else; they listened, they were focused, and they made a genuine effort to comprehend ideas that were new to them. I checked twice giving them the perfect opportunity to have me just do it instead of going through the long but educational process they were sitting through. Each time however, the fellow asked me to keep going, keep explaining the things I was doing, and he showed evidence of comprehending what was new to him and sometimes made comments that proved some new ideas were sticking. The more engaged they were in the process of learning; the more I wanted to give them.

You see the two of them had thought I’d just fix up the spelling and give them a generic resume which he could hand out to any employer. The idea of targeting the resume to meet the specific requirements of a specific job posting had never occurred to either of them. With every key word or job requirement found on the posting which I replicated on his resume, he saw how the overall impact was a stronger resume with a better chance of getting him an interview.

Only once were we interrupted while I provided help to another client. When I returned to the resume after a two minute absence, there they both were, talking about the resume, how I was creating it and how it made sense to them. When I sat down, he said, “Thanks a lot; I really appreciate your help.” He may not have a great education, he may have a learning disability for all I know and literacy issues, but the man has good manners. Turns out the fellow has his grade 12, 2 jobs in the past and 4 years’ as an Army Cadet. That time as an Army Cadet no doubt provided him with some discipline, some structure, some respect for authority and those qualities might just appeal to employers to bolster his chances.

Reserve final judgement when you interact or work with people; sometimes they can surprise you; impress you; if you give them the chance. As in my experience here, check your first impression of others as you interact and confirm or alter your original thoughts.

We should strive to be open, be willing to meet people where they are, speak with them using their words but most importantly listen. Hearing others is essential. One of the biggest frustrations people often express is not being heard, not being acknowledged, not being listened to.

The weaknesses we see in others should not inhibit our abilities to see strengths in the same people.

How You Write Becomes You

Many of the people I deal with on a daily basis are decidedly against the practice of including a cover letter with their employment applications. While they may give various reasons at the outset for their reluctance or outright refusal to use them, what it really comes down to eventually is their inability to communicate in words what they wish to express.

This inability to effectively communicate in writing is often because of weak grammatical skills, a minimal vocabulary and a low education. Despite their lack of grade 12 education, many have a strong history of employment where the work they have performed has been largely devoid of communicating using the written word. Some have even been extremely successful, coping and hiding their poor literacy skills. Their specific jobs are where their expertise exists, and different skill sets are required.

So it is not a surprise then that when the time comes to apply for work, some are uncomfortable if and when it is suggested to them that their chances of gaining an interview would be enhanced with the inclusion of a cover letter. I’ve personally witnessed some of these people sitting before a keyboard. Their heads are bowed down not looking at the monitor as they make error upon error, looking up only to find their mistakes. They tap or pound the keys with one finger – sometimes one from each hand. What they communicate often has punctuation and grammar issues, spelling mistakes and doesn’t express well what they intended.

Left on their own, they might actually be better off sending out their resumes without a cover letter at all so that they are not revealed as a weak communicator. It might be useful for those who struggle with written communication skills to take courses in basic literacy and an introduction to the computers. However, while such courses would benefit them, they are often happy to have the cover letter made for them in the belief that when they get their next job, they won’t be needing those skills again for a long time if indeed at all.

On the other hand, some people can communicate most effectively in their writing. Their words engage the reader, prompt an emotional response, readers can’t get enough, look for other publications by the same author because they like the style etc. Such people are gifted to be sure, but that gift didn’t come by birth. They’ve worked extensively in their writing, practice it daily or on a regular basis, maybe write blogs or daily journals.

What is important no matter what your skill level when it comes to the written word, is that you fully understand what’s happening in the mind of the reader as they go over your work. A representative of a company for example who has received your resume, cover letter, manual or on-line application, and perhaps an email can’t help but form an impression about you as a person based on what they’d received.

The general thinking is that when you have responded to a job posting, or are sending an unsolicited request for a meeting etc.,this sample they’ve received is likely you at your very best. If the document they are looking at is mistake-free and gets to the point the overall impression is positive, and by association, they feel positively towards you. On the other hand if they notice spelling and grammar mistakes and the overall quality is poor, then by association so is their impression of you.

Communicating effectively is a transferable skill; it moves with you from job to job, can be useful in a volunteer position, your personal life, even when filling out your yearly performance evaluation at work. Because it’s a transferable skill that can help you both personally and professionally, investing in yourself by taking a writing class in the evenings might be an excellent use of both your time and your money.

One of the most often cited frustrations for many of those out of work is when they know they have the skills to perform the work they are applying for, but their hand writing and spelling is so weak they can’t even fill out an application form. These are the kind of people who long for the old days when they could just ask to demonstrate their skills on the job site and get hired on the spot. Those days are largely gone.

Being able to confidently communicate both verbally and in writing are prerequisites which will make other skills easier to master such as using technology. Whether it’s using MS Word instead of a pad of paper to write a letter, or delivering a message to a group of co-workers, communication skills can limit or accelerate your career and open or close off future promotion considerations.

This idea of communicating effectively, mastering spelling and expanding your vocabulary should also be of major interest to people who now regularly communicate in abbreviations, brief text messages and acronyms. While it may be perfectly acceptable in some communications, it has yet to become mainstream in the professional world of employment.

You are who your writing skills reveals you to be. Good advice is to take some time, make the effort to improve, proofread and communicate clearly what you intend.


How One Man Landed A Job

This blog is all about how one person ended up successfully obtaining employment. Funny thing is he doesn’t deserve all the credit, nor do I, nor in fact does one of my colleagues yet…but I’m getting ahead of the story. Let me tell it to you in the sequence it happened. You can benefit from reading this whether you are looking for a job or you are someone who helps others with their employment. There’s something here for everyone.

It starts three weeks ago on day one of a Career Exploration class. Initially 60 people received a letter in the mail inviting them to this class. Of the 60 invited, on day one 24 people showed up. Of the 24 who showed up on that first day, 1 left after 10 minutes due to her high anxiety. Of the 23, 1 failed to return after the first mid-morning break and provided no explanation – just didn’t return. Of the 22 who completed the first day, 3 failed to come back on day 2. The 19 remaining after that first day completed the entire week.

As I facilitated the class, guiding each participant through numerous self-assessments, helping them to both complete and understand the results, I observed the people. I also got to know each person a little, how much they participated, did they show up on time, come early or arrive late. I saw too how well or poorly they interacted with others, and respected others views. Essentially yes, I sized each person up over the week, shaping my opinion of them with each comment they’d make, each behaviour I witnessed.

The two-weeks following the actual class itself, I met each person 1:1 for over an hour and discussed what they learned, what occupation(s) they might now want to pursue and got to know them even more. Each person was told the same thing; it was now up to them to take all that good information they found out about themselves, and research the jobs or careers their interests suggested might be a good fit. I knew even as I said those words to each person, only a small percentage would actually do the necessary work. Some had the interest and some didn’t. Some had the skills and others didn’t.

So now we are up to this week, and the schedule has me facilitating an Introduction to Computers class. At one point I called a break for 15 minutes and made the decision to leave the classroom for a stroll. Normally I’d turn right when leaving the class and head out of the Resource Centre and make my way back to my own office. On this day, I turned left however, and made a decision to look around the drop-in part of our Resource Centre and see if there was anyone there to say hello to. And that’s when I spied him.

There he was sitting at a computer job searching. When I asked what jobs he was looking for, he said he had decided on warehouse work, shipping and receiving – that sort of thing. And just then I recalled getting an email 1 day prior from a Job Developer whose office is next to mine about a company hiring people for such work. “Don’t go anywhere”, I said to him and went to see her.

“I’ve got a guy you should meet”, I told Finuzza the Job Developer. He’s here and I think he’d be good for that job. Can you meet with him?” So Finuzza met with him right away interrupting her work, told him of the job and sent him back out with the details to put together his resume and send it out – and he did just that.

Yesterday I was told by Finuzza that not only did he apply, but he had an interview and was hired on the spot. Oh yes, people do get hired in December this close to Christmas. So let me summarize the what had to happen to get a job in his case.

Finuzza: 1) Met an employer 2) shared an email advertising the job 3) met a client unscheduled interrupting her work 4) assessed him as I did as a good candidate 5) provided him the details 6) reported on his success to me.

My role: 1) Met him in a Career Exploration class and liked the impression he made 2) made a random decision to take a break and chance took me left instead of right 3) saw him and opted to initiate contact 4) was impressed he was job searching and that sparked my memory of the email Finuzza had sent 5) used my break to initiate contact with Finuzza and introduce him to her.

And him: 1) Took a Career Exploration class and made a good impression 2) came to job search independently showing further self-commitment 3) took advantage of an opportunity to look into a job 4) met with Finuzza unexpectedly and made another good impression 5) took the posting and the initiative to target and send his resume 6) went for an interview and made a 3rd good impression 7) accepted the job offer on the spot.

This guy put himself in a position to succeed by a series of good choices. When luck came along, he was prepared to seize the opportunity. We all played a part in his success but it all started with him and he deserves the bulk of the credit.

By the way, 1 of those people who took that Career Exploration class is now in my Computer class – continuing to make a good impression as she commits to her future success.

“Judging” Others Isn’t Bad, It’s Essential

Do you find it troubling or disturbing if I tell you that I’m positive you go about your daily life judging other people? If you do, what is it about the word, ‘judging’ that puts you on the defensive? Judging others is not only something you do all the time, its a critical part of your self-defence system that has got you this far in life.

Okay so you’re walking in a strange neighbourhood – wait – it’s not strange to the people who live there and frequent it all the time. No, the neighbourhood is just unfamiliar to you, and yet you chose to think of it as strange instead of new or unfamiliar. Moving on though, you see this large, imposing figure come out of nowhere and who is now walking toward you with their head held high, shoulders square, and your senses tell you to be on your guard. You furtively look for an open store to dash into until they pass, or cross the street to avoid meeting them altogether. Your survival instincts kicked in based on your past experiences; real and vicariously lived through television, movies and books.

Yes we make judgements about people based on how they dress, walk, act, their tattoo’s or body piercings, their vocabulary and where they live. If we meet them and strike up a conversation, we ask what they do for a living, where they went to school, who’s in their social circle, what they’ve read lately, what they do in their spare time, and we form opinions and judge them based on every little piece of information that we gather. And those people are instinctively doing the same thing about us.

Employers are no different. When they get our cover letters or resumes, they start assessing whether or not we might be a good fit to work for and with them. Spelling and grammatical errors might cause them to judge us as poorly educated, having little regard for proofreading and attention to details, illiterate or worse. Written work that is error free and grammatically correct may cause them to judge us as well-educated, professional, desirable and having a strong attention to detail.

Now follow this pattern to a first meeting, and in seconds, you’ll find yourself looked up and down, and an initial first impression is made by them about you. Presumably you chose your clothing when dressing, so that says something about you and how you see yourself. Did you dress conventionally to fit in with those who work there currently or did you decide to express your individuality and go with the reindeer socks for the big interview?

Yes judging others is something we all do. Think back on some of the more notable people in your past. A favourite teacher, a kind neighbour, your favourite grandparent or Aunt. Think now of some of those whom you didn’t really get on with too; the bully in the playground, the stern teacher, an abusive partner, a boss who treated you unfairly. Got some images for the good and bad folks of the past or possibly even the present? Good.

As you now go about your daily life, you’re running into people all the time. There’s the cashier at the grocery store, the bank teller, the person who makes your coffee, the person your best friend introduces you to etc. And of course there are job interviewers, workshop facilitator’s, mental health counsellors and even Employment Counsellors. All of these people are no different. Meet any of them for the first time and you’ll immediately form some reaction.

So what’s going on in those first 1 – 10 seconds when you meet? Your brain takes in all the visual and auditory information it can gather and immediately starts comparing what you are now experiencing with all the data it’s collected and stored about similar people you may have encountered in the past. If the person in front of you fits with the good experiences you’ve had, your impression is a positive one. If however the data you are feeding to your brain via your senses of sight, sound, smell and possibly touch match up with people from your past with whom you’ve had bad experiences, you’ll have a negative reaction.

This explains why you and your best friend have a different impression of someone you both just met for the first time. And it also is why some organizations have panel interviews; to get two or more people’s assessment of you the job applicant and see if they can agree on who would be the best fit.

After that first impression, there may be many more interactions. These subsequent interactions either confirm our initial first impressions, or they provide additional data to our brains that cause us to re-think and re-evaluate our initial thoughts, and our judgement of others may shift slightly or completely. However, in the case of a job interview, we may only get a single shot at the job. Those first 1 – 10 seconds are vital then to making a positive impression. The next 11 seconds – 1 hour will either confirm for the interviewer that they had you sized up properly right at the start, or may change their opinion of you based on your answers and your non-verbal communication.

So you do it, they do it, we all do it; we judge; and it’s a good thing. You’re judging me right now based on what you’ve read. I’m hoping I’ve made a good impression!

Using Time In Reception Prior To An Interview

When you get a job interview you are no doubt excited and nervous about your opportunity and the possibilities that the job presents. So when you get to the location and introduce yourself to the Receptionist, there are a number of options you have once the Receptionist says, “I’ll let them know you are here, please have a seat.” What do YOU do with this time?

Different people will do different things with this period of time. While one person just sits there, someone else might actually stand up and read framed certificates or mission statements on the walls. And perhaps one candidate might be cramming reading their notes while another is pondering their weekend plans at the cottage.

While there are few absolute right or wrong ways to spend your time in the Reception area, you should expect to wait a little upon your arrival. My advice to any job seeker is to realize that the interview may have already begun the moment you open the door to the building, and in some cases, the moment you are spotted parking your car or walking up the sidewalk if you can be seen from an office. And by realizing the interview may have already begun, I mean your approach is being watched, and your time in Reception is being observed and evaluated.

Many Receptionists share their opinions of candidates with Interviewers after candidates leave. If you were rude, loud, polite, said something offensive, or transformed yourself in the washroom etc., all of this can be reported and taken into consideration affecting an interviewers ultimate decision. And while it happens in smaller companies more than large ones, the person conducting the interview may be relieving the Receptionist for a quick washroom break when you arrive. Make the mistake of having a dismissive attitude with the person behind the desk because they are, “just the Receptionist after all”, and you may have just revealed much more or yourself than you ever intended and given the interviewer a glimpse of the real you. Strike one!

You’ll often hear the advice about arriving early for the interview, and that’s because it’s good advice. You should allow for delays you cannot control such as traffic. Arriving 45 minutes early isn’t a good idea, but 10 – 15 minutes is sufficient. The best time to walk in an announce your arrival depends largely on how well you wait. I myself have in the past arrived at a company 30 minutes early when it was 120 kilometers away and what I did was first find the location of the company, and then have a drive around the town I was in just absorbing information like how many vacate stores were on the main street, and picking up some local atmosphere.

But back to the actual Reception area. For some people, just sitting there quietly, concentrating on breathing and exhaling, calming one’s nerves is a good idea. If you prepared well, this time to just collect your thoughts and relax may be exactly what you need to mentally prepare yourself for the interview to come.

At one job I had in the past, I went into the washroom to find a man naked from the waist up. He was sloshing water around in the sink, washing his face and torso, while his white shirt and tie were hung on a hook nearby. Laid out was his toothbrush and deodorant and I gave him a wide berth as the water in the sink was going everywhere. 10 minutes later I observed this fellow sitting very calmly in our Reception area, looking polished, calm and collected. Outside the heat was unbearable, and being a larger fellow, I imagine he had planned this all in advance to avoid sweating and being conscious of this. Hey if it works why not?

You can use this time to make a good impression if you choose. Engaging in some positive conversation if the situation permits this with employees in the Reception area is a good way to make an impression. Done correctly, you may appear to be natural, but it’s a well-orchestrated manoeuver or strategy to position yourself for what you hope is positive feedback provided to a decision-maker.

One thing you should avoid is any activity that can undermine your confidence. This isn’t for example, the right time to mentally go over all the things you wanted to bring to the interview. IF you realize that you have left something at home, what good would that do you in the here and now except to cause you to fret.

Reminding yourself to smile, shake hands, walk confidently and use your manners is never a bad idea ever if these things don’t come naturally. If you are an older person or maybe out of shape, small things like straightening your shoulders, walking upright not bent over and maybe even pulling in your stomach a little may be good for you too in crafting the image that will help you most. And it’s a good time to check all your buttons are done up as well as your zipper, blow your nose, check your breath etc. Checking all these little things now lets you focus on the interview content better.

Breathe deeply, be self-confident, do your best to enjoy the interview to come and see it as your first chance to make a good impression. Now go get that job offer!