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.

Regretting The Words Left Unspoken

Remember that special person you never told how you really felt? Of course you do because after all this time you just can’t get them out of your head for very long. You wish now you could go back and tell them how much they had an impact on you, how much you loved them perhaps, and you wonder if/how things might have worked out differently if you had.

It’s wondering, ‘what if’ that tantalizes; because it ignites possibilities of what might have happened had shared your thoughts openly. Ah, but you were scared, nervous and afraid of blurting something out you’d come to later regret. Ironically, after all these years, here you are now regretting the words you left unspoken.

It’s very much like that in other situations too; although the people we neglect to say what’s on our mind to aren’t just potential sweethearts. No, sometimes we find we lose job opportunities to others and later wish we had said a few more things at the job interview. This is often especially the case if we sincerely wanted a job bad. It would have been perfect and you have wanted a job like that in a long time, so when the news came that they went with someone else, it hit like a truck. If only you had said what you were feeling, things might have worked out differently.

Or perhaps there was someone you really valued in your past; that person who made a big impact on you. Perhaps it was their influence that set you on the path you later took or are taking now. A teacher, a father or mother, a mentor or some person who inspired you to think differently, perceive things in a new light. You never said how much you appreciated them and now their gone. Whether they passed on, moved away, have dementia and don’t recognize you, or you moved away yourself, the opportunity to tell them how you feel is lost.

Now the only thing worse would be finding yourself in this situation here in the present. You know, feeling so strongly about someone you see in the here and now daily, but feeling timid, awkward, embarrassed or anxious about sharing how you feel. You’re so worried about ruining things or spoiling your chances that you go on being around them in silence. You wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just open my mouth, pour out how I feel? Tell them?” Of course in your mind you worry about creating a wide divide, making things weird, learning that your feelings aren’t reciprocated and as long as you don’t do anything…you’ll at least have what you have now – which is something.

Opportunities to step up and voice your true feelings pop up every day; but not forever. Take your work environment. You really value the support of a co-worker; they’ve passed on knowledge to you, covered for you when you weren’t at your best, listened to you share your frustrations, applauded your accomplishments and even motivated you when you needed it. There they are beside you every day, and having a real heart-to-heart with genuine sincerity, telling them how much they mean to you sounds both the right thing to do but maybe the weird thing to do.

Really though, what’s so weird? How long have you worked together? All those years and the hours you’ve spent in each other’s company? Why should it be weird to shut the door and say, “Hey listen, I want to tell you how much you mean to me, and I’m being serious.” You’ll likely catch them off guard, and they might use humour to deflect their real feelings, but they’ll likely also be grateful. What they feel in any event is up to them. You’ll feel better knowing you expressed your feelings and took that chance instead of regretting saying nothing. Then they retire, take another job, move or have an unexpected long-term medical leave etc. and you lose touch; opportunity lost.

I mentioned the job interview earlier. How many times have you walked out of an interview and suddenly said in your mind, “Oh, why didn’t I just say _____?Should I walk back in? Should I follow-up with an email or phone call? I really want that job! I’d LOVE working there so why did I find it so hard to tell them how bad I really want it!

Sometimes its convention and decorum that gets in the way. It seems somehow inappropriate to tell someone how we really feel. On the other hand we also hear that employers want people who are passionate about the work they do. So when you do find something you’re passionate about; a job or company you’re sincerely excited to work for and will invest yourself with fully, why not just open your mouth and express that.

Just like that mentor, potential love interest, teacher, co-worker etc., you’ve got a limited window to risk expressing how you feel. They won’t stick around forever, and the time will never be any better than it is now – today. If you’ve waited for a sign, this is it.

Look, hearing someone tell you how much they appreciate your support, your love, your encouragement, the opportunity to work with them etc.; it’s all good. We need to get better at telling others just how much they mean to us. Few things are better.


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.

“Sorry, We Just Don’t Think You’ll Stay”

When you’re out of work and experiencing the frustrations of applying and being rejected only to apply and be rejected again, it’s tough to keep positive. One thing that can really be upsetting is when you’re told by a potential employer that you’ve been rejected because in their opinion, you won’t stay long because you won’t be happy to stay in the job they might have offered you.

The most annoying part of this message you receive is that the company has essentially ruled you out by thinking for you. Rather than believing you when you say you’ll stay and sincerely believe you’ll be content with the job they are offering you for the foreseeable future, they reject you based on what they themselves believe.

Ah but they aren’t unemployed are they? They don’t experience the ups and downs of unemployment; hopes raised and hopes dashed. They don’t therefore know the point you’ve reached where you will be truly grateful for the opportunity to work for them in the position you applied to. Given that you put all your previous work and academic qualifications on your resume and they were good enough to get you the interview, what changed between the offer of the interview and being removed from the hiring process? Did you somehow oversell yourself?

At this point many job seekers become confused. On the one hand the job seeker wants to put down all their experience and qualifications that match the job they are going for and certainly want to show a passion for the work they’d be doing. On the other hand, the job seeker now feels they have to conceal or downplay some of their long-term plans or additional skills so they don’t market themselves out of the running and end up rejected; again.

When you’re in this situation don’t you just want the opportunity to tell them flat-out that you’d like them to respect your honesty and yes thank you very much you’d appreciate being believed when you say that you’re making a commitment to them and won’t depart in weeks for something better? If that was honestly the case, wouldn’t you have just waited the few weeks and accepted that better job? They don’t know though that you’ve been out of work and searching unsuccessfully for such a long time that you have in fact re-evaluated how important work is and you’ve a new appreciation for whatever organization will hire you.

The company of course knows none of this. From their standpoint they see an applicant who has held positions with greater responsibility and salary than what they are offering, and they’re fully convinced despite your assurance that you’re going to jump at the first opportunity that pays more and uses more of your skills and experience than their own company can at the moment. They do not want to be re-advertising and re-interviewing applicants in a very short time or in the position of calling back people they’ve previously rejected to offer them the job.

Of course the other thing going through the head of small-minded employers or interviewers is that you could possibly not only do this job exceptionally well; you may actually come up in discussions as a suitable replacement for their own jobs with your wealth of experience. The last thing these small-minded folks want to do is be responsible for their own demise by hiring you!

Ah, but what’s a job applicant to do? Some people give the advice of, “dumbing down your resume” and in an interview, avoiding coming across as passionate, intelligent and highly self-motivated. I think this is terrible advice. After all, even if hired, you’d have to carry on this charade until your probationary period is over. Are you going to be happy or even capable pretending to be someone you’re not for 3, 6 or 9 months? Are you going to go in each day trying to remember what you’ve told or not told co-workers and your boss about your past experiences?

No stay true to yourself I think. Be genuine and authentic. If an interviewer or Manager rejects you out of hand – not because you can’t do the job but because you are more than capable of doing the job with skill and expertise and they believe you’ll depart soon, you probably wouldn’t thrive in the culture.

One strategy I have employed myself and I’ve recommended with success to others in this situation is to state your position at the conclusion of the interview in lieu of asking a question. Before you shake hands and walk away leaving the decision entirely in their hands, make your best pitch summarizing how hiring you will benefit them. There’s no harm adding how truly appreciative you are for the opportunity of working on their behalf and representing their business. Tell them straight out if they’ve communicated doubt about your commitment that you are a person of integrity and character; that if you are offered the position and accept you can be relied upon to honour their confidence in you with a reciprocal period of employment that will reward their decision in hiring you.

You do get to accept or reject a job offer and the employer gets to offer you a job or not.  If you’ve done all you can to communicate an honest intention to repay a job offer with your own commitment, it truly is out of your hands.

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.

And Then I Told Her To Put Her Career On Hold

Yesterday I met with a woman following a two-week intensive job search with her. During that time I determined what she wanted, which is this case was a career as a Librarian Technician, Librarian Assistant, Information Specialist, Social Media Mentor, Information Researcher or Archivist.

Now with the exception of Social Media Mentor, she has recent education to support her career goal which would be working in the library system, but not in the role of a Librarian as that would require additional education. So you may find it curious then that I told her near the end of our conversation that in my opinion, she should delay going after her career goal which at this time she is likely to fail miserably at. Ouch! And I did use those words. You would have to be there of course to understand why I’d choose to use those words, but in the end, as an Employment Counsellor, they are the ones which I felt she needed most to hear.

You see at the moment, other events in her life are taking priority. One of the biggest of these is a prolonged effort to regain having her children which in the past were removed by a social services agency. She’s been working hard, (to her credit) to demonstrate to the agency that she is a fit parent, taking classes in good parenting, anger management and has been regularly meeting her children both on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Those are now two days a week when she puts visiting with them above working and all else.

So right off the bat, she essentially is saying to an employer that she wants to work, but isn’t available on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Now in addition to the above, she’s taken on some individual tutoring and has a few clients of her own which bring in some cash each month, but only a couple of hundred dollars. And then there are other things going on like an entire lack of family support and few friends upon which to gain any kind of emotional support.

Now the number of careers out there doing what she wants are few and far between. There just aren’t that many institutions and most aren’t hiring. She’s also limited by the geography in which she is willing to travel to again primarily due to the restrictions on seeing her children. So in essence, she wants a career in a field where jobs are few, is limiting herself in both the area she can work in and the days she can work, and is closed to considering employment outside her field.

This last point is interesting. I suggested to her strongly that at the moment, she would be wise to go after a job with a large retail chain that sells books and magazines. I pointed out that she’d get current experience on her resume to fill a void, be surrounded by books, use cataloging skills and research skills to find the right ones for people, and in so doing also have to learn their computerized database, another transferable skill. She dismissed this job before I’d even stopped talking – and that is something that always tells me the other person isn’t even listening.

Her point of few is that a job in retail is a failure. Apparently any job doing anything other than what she went to school for is a failure; utter and absolute with no middle ground. My argument was that in addition to the benefits I’d pointed out, a retailer might be more open to working around someone’s schedule, especially in the case of a part-time employee, than a Library where there were fewer employees and the position would be full-time.

It took a lot of doing, but eventually I may have got through when I pointed out that if the job at a national bookstore chain didn’t work out and she quit or was let go, that reputation wouldn’t likely follow her in her career. However, get fired for poor attendance and an inability to focus entirely while at work on the job in her career role, and that reputation could follow her and hamper other positions because the field is small, and those that hire network as a tight group.

I found it disturbing too as I mentioned that sees any work on the planet other than in those few positions listed earlier an utter failure. Can you imagine the self-pressure she’s put herself under than to see herself as a success? It’s like a scale from 1 – 100 where 100 is her career job, and 1 – 99 is a total failure. There is no room for any progression. You fail or you win. Period. I think many of us would have low self-esteem with such self-pressure to succeed under such self-imposed limitations.

And so, I told her in my opinion to put her career on hold and sort out the other priorities she has first so she can focus 100% on an employer’s needs in the future. In the meantime get a job; hopefully one with some transferable skills that she could use in the future at the interview for the career of her dreams.

Sometimes, the best advice; the words you need to hear, are words that might be the hardest to hear and the hardest to swallow. It’s not fun to tell someone they are their biggest barrier to employment, but is always helpful to be honest.

A Look At What Honesty Means

On many resumes or imbedded somewhere in a cover letter, I’ll often see a person indicate that they are honest when communicating their qualifications. (Is honesty not really more of an attribute than a qualification in the first place?) So I thought it time to look at this word, “honesty” and pick it apart a little.

Rather than start off with some dictionary description, I’m going to relate rather what I’ve gleamed over the years through talking with employers, hearing stories from workers – some by the way who have been entirely devious and dishonest if truth be told – and finally from my own musings.

Well one thing about being honest is that you’ll be upfront and tell the truth when dealing with your employer. So right off the bat, think of all those days you may wake up and just not feel like going in to work for some reason. You know, it’s -31 degrees, cold and dark; little Johnny is in a school play at 11:00a.m. right in the middle of your work day, you had a big night out last evening and are feeling it as you rise. So will you be one of the people who gets up and gets going or one of the people who calls in ill when really you’re not?

Employers need to feel you can be counted on to be present and do the job you were hired to do. When you are absent, it’s not as simple as just paying someone else in your place and therefore not costing the employer any money. Oh no. The employer has to scramble and use time to find your replacement. They may need to call around to a few people before finding someone to come in at all in your stead. The person replacing you might be on time or maybe a tad late due to when they get the call and can get in. Then your co-workers have to adjust and slow their work to accommodate your replacement, do the usual introductions and chit-chat etc. all of which take time. If no replacement is coming, existing workers have to take on more, spread out duties which impede on overall performance.

Theft is another issue for employers that they actually have to calculate into their projections. Sadly true, some employees don’t see the big deal in stealing pens, scotch tape, paper, staplers, even furniture! “No big deal, they can afford it.” Actually, this theft results in higher costs for consumers, tighter budgets, perhaps less pay for employees even. The number one item employees steal? Toilet paper. Yep, toilet paper. I don’t know about you, but the toilet paper in my workplace isn’t the kind I’d want, but there it is, the number one item of choice to steal.

And some things employees steal aren’t immediately detected because they appear invisible at first. No security guard scanning employees as they leave at the end of a shift is going to catch someone darting home with information and ideas in their head. Many employees have to sign documents saying that the information they come into contact with (intellectual property) will not be shared or divulged outside the workplace to anyone. If this weren’t the case, by now we’d all know how they get that creamy centre inside a Cadbury bar!

Honesty and integrity go hand-in-hand for many people. When you have integrity, you do the right thing even when no one is watching. You put in an ‘honest days work’, you go home having given it all you’ve got. From time-to-time, I suppose it’s not unreasonable for someone to not be at their very best on a given day. Too many distractions in one’s personal life, a sleepless night for unknown reasons etc. can contribute to a person not performing up to their usual standard. While this is understandable, no employee would be willing to accept lower pay on that day for work performed. “Now see here Johnson, we caught you dogging it today, so we’re only paying you 78% of your salary”. Who would say okay to that?

Honesty therefore has to do with being able, willing and prepared to perform work at the level determined by the employer. Exceed that level of production and you stand out. Perform the work expected of you and you become reliable and build a reputation for putting in an honest days work. Fall below the standard set by an employer and you either your best isn’t good enough and you’ll be released, or you may be given a chance to improve if the employer knows you’re capable through observation of your past performance.

Holding yourself accountable however; being honest with yourself, this is the most important kind of honesty you can tout as an attribute to be desired. What is your personal standard of work? Do you strive to just do the minimum or be your best? Who in the organization do you measure yourself with, if anyone at all?

At the end of a shift or a day, you are probably the only one who really knows if you gave it 100% or not. If you do give it your best on a daily basis, you can look yourself in the mirror and defend your record of performance and effort expended. If on the other hand you know you aren’t giving it 100%, why aren’t you putting in an honest effort on a regular basis? That question might be worth exploring.

Is ‘Honest’ Overused On A Resume?

All too many times I see people who are working on their resumes insert some line on their resume under the heading, “Qualifications”, that refers to them as an honest person. This I suppose is to differentiate themselves from all those other candidates out there who are dishonest! Really? And does plunking this word – honest – confirm for the reader that you are honest just because you say you are?

I’m not sure why people overuse this word, but I suspect it is because they really aren’t reading the actual posting and matching up what they offer with the expressed needs of the employer. Of course, let me assert that if the employer has actually listed honesty as a trait they are looking for, then by all means it should go on your resume. However, isn’t it assumed by every employer that they want honest people? I mean isn’t it a given?

True, it would be nice to see, “honesty required’ on some job postings; say politicians for example! Ah but why dream and hope of things that will never be. But I digress. By now, there is a fair consensus that in order to pass the resume stage and move into the interview stage, your resume has to communicate that you match up well with what the employer is looking for. Honesty however, is like the quality of showing up for work; you’ll be expected to do that too.

Okay so let’s look at what honesty might really mean, even though it might appear to be obvious. For one thing, you’ll be expected to not steal from the employer. Yes, the Retail sector comes to mind for most people when they think of stealing; the old, ‘hand in the register’ cliché is best avoided. But cash isn’t the number one thing stolen from employers, even though it’s the first thing that usually comes to mind. The number one object removed from companies by employees intent on stealing is…believe it or not…toilet paper. Wipe that grin off your face, because to the employer this is apparently quite the bummer.

However if you look beyond objects you could drop into your bag, purse or coat pocket, the number one thing stolen from employers is time. Be it coming in late, leaving early, extending lunch and breaks, surfing the internet, answering personal emails, making personal calls, reading, talking etc., it all adds up. The same employees who don’t really agree they are stealing time from an employer, might feel wronged if the employer short-changed them on their paycheques for time not spent productively doing what they were hired to do.

Oh and me? I’m guilty of this too from time to time. By the way, I’d wager you are too. And you hiding in the corner over there, yes you. We all steal time be it in any of the ways described above. While we might argue that checking an email from our children, or taking a personal call from them to let us know they are home safely each day after school allows us to concentrate better on our work at hand, it still means we aren’t doing the job we were hired to do at that time.

When a supervisor comes in to your cubicle and sees you on the web looking for the best price to come and do some lawn maintenance at your home, how are they to know how long you’ve been doing this for, whether you are on a break, or stealing time from the employer? Should they bring it up and ask or would that appear to be lacking trust in you? How would you feel if they questioned your use of work computers for personal business? What impact does that surfing have if multiplied by every worker in your workplace over the course of a day?

And then there are pens. When a company that produces pens makes an ad on television, I hear them talk about how nice it writes, how easy it is to grip etc., but I’ve yet to hear them talk about how long the ink actually lasts. After all, don’t most pens disappear long before the ink in them does? Home they go in pockets, briefcases, purses, with clients; all most inadvertently, but if there were security guards posted at the exits each day, I suspect a number of pens would turn up to be returned.

Most employers though focus on productivity. You were hired to do a job, so do it. Invest and apply yourself to the work you’ve been hired to do and put in an honest days work. Punch out and go home honestly telling yourself that you gave it your best and put in an honest days work. That’s where the phrase comes from.

Floaters are those that roam around the office, chit-chatting and being social butterflies, but who accomplish less than they might if they focused on completing their work. Put in an honest days work, and your chances of keeping the job you have and moving up increase. Finding the balance between social networking in your workplace and consistent high productivity is a good mix to aim for.

Don’t Force Yourself On Others

I always find it entirely amazing that some people who don’t know the first thing about writing a resume seem to think that nonetheless they are an expert in this area. It floors me that they disregard any critical advice if it doesn’t align with their own point of view.

A few days back, a woman approached me and asked if she could be shown how to use the photocopier. (She can’t use a photocopier but is an expert in resume writing mind). The document she wanted copied was a two page resume. I asked if she was planning on making a single copy or if she wanted more. She said 10 would be good enough. Okay so from my perspective, without even seeing the resume we’re about to waste 20 sheets of paper. I asked if I could see the resume first and her reply was, “Whatever”.

A quick glance of the resume showed me at least 10 outright mistakes and several other things that while I wouldn’t personally recommend, I know other people in my line of work would agree with. I pointed out for example, that there were some spelling errors, and asked if she would first like to make some changes or improvements. What I got was an exasperated huff, and then this statement: “I don’t want to listen to anything, I’ve worked really hard on this and I just want the copies. Just show me how to copy.” Who knows how long or how hard it was for this woman to make this resume? Has she done it all alone or did someone already give her help?

I could have stood there and tried to reason with her, however I also might have just kept annoying her to the point where she would make a scene or leave etc. I decided to photocopy the 10 resumes she had – mistakes and all – and told her that if she was interested in making any changes I’d be happy to help in the future. What I got was some obvious distain and lack of appreciation for providing advice when none was asked for. I asked if she would like an envelope to put all those resumes in and got a very terse, “No just leave me alone”.

I really think her reaction was a realization that her resume wasn’t as strong as she thought or hoped it would be, and being out of work, she might have put a lot of hope into getting a job with it that was now being questioned. I mean, fanning out the same resume everywhere used to work didn’t it? Sure, about 10 years ago. Now resumes need to be tailored or targeted to a single posting, then revised and targeted to the next job, even when the job you are applying for is the same one but at two different places.

I truly wish I could have helped that woman better; and maybe in days to come I will be able to. Not that day however. Maybe she’ll come to see the offer of help as just that. After all, I’m no expert when it comes to electrical work, automotive repairs or farming, but I sure know a thing or two about resumes and job searching.

Important too for me to learn from that encounter, not just the client. It’s knowing when to back off, to extend the offer of help and withdraw sometimes that allows the client the opportunity to return and seek out help and not have to lose face in the process. Sometimes not pushing other peoples buttons is critical. After all, it’s not such a disaster to allow someone to leave with a resume that is weak. It would have been preferable to have had a receptive ear to the advice I could have provided, but forcing any advice on someone who isn’t open to receiving it seems a waste of energy.

So as you go about your work, whatever your job entails, bear in mind that although you may have the specific knowledge that would help someone else, it may or may not be welcomed. All any of us can do in the end is make an offer of help, and determine if the offer is received positively or not. Know when to leave things be, and sometimes when people fail they might return for help if they can still save face. There is the possibility that they’ll succeed – however unlikely with what they have. Who knows? That woman may have already fanned out those resumes and have a interview lined up!