Advice When Starting A New Job

I’d like you to think back to some point in your past when you heard the words, “Congratulations! I’d like to offer you the job.” Whether it was 2 month’s ago, 2 years ago, or over a decade or two ago, you’re probably able to recapture some of the feelings that came with those words. Relief, joy, pride, happiness etc. Likely a combination of many things all jumbled together. With the success you’ve just achieved, you emerged from a stressful job search, and the satisfaction you feel at the moment feels good.

It was important back then – as it always is – to celebrate your success and share the news with people who were most invested in your search, because like you, they felt stress and worry along with you to a lesser but equally real degree.

Know however, that the stress of the job search has been replaced with the stress of now living up to those expectations of your new employer. Your goal in the short-term is to successfully pass your probation period. Actually, while it’s important to pass probation which could mean month’s from now, you’ll have shorter goals, which if achieved, will go a long way to taking care of performing well enough to pass probation.

So let’s look at some of your short-term objectives. For starters, there’s your very first day, so don’t look past it. You’ll want to choose clothes that fit in with others who perform the same work as you will. Presume that your co-workers are all past probation and may have relaxed some of their clothing choices and behaviour, so don’t pick the most casual employee to model either after. For all you know, someone you take as a role model could be a poor choice. If you’re really unsure, you could ask your supervisor for guidance with respect to who provides a good example to follow.

Something as simple as what to do for lunches might stress you out. Eat out or pack it? If you can’t find out in advance, pack a lunch but be financially ready to accept an invitation to join a few people on your team and eat out on day 1 if the offer comes. Your goal is establishing connections and relationships with the people you’ll be working with closely here in your new role. When people are at lunch, they are likely relaxed, more at ease and friendlier too. Take care you mind your manners, pass on ordering alcohol (you have to return to work remember), and engage in conversation so you all get to know each other.

Remembering names is a challenge for a lot of people in the first few days on a new job. The more people you get introduced to, the harder it becomes. Everyone understands this, so don’t put undo pressure on yourself to memorize them all. Look out for nametags on uniforms, name plaques on desks or cubicles, or onĀ  employee ID/swipe cards if they are easily spotted. You’ll eventually get there, just take it slowly and learn one at a time.

One of the best things you can do when you first start is learn what you’re expected to know and by when. In other words, how are you going to be evaluated when it comes to making a decision on whether you stick around? You’ll likely have some orientation to undergo too. During this time you might have manuals to read, agreements and contracts to sign, additional people to meet such as in Human Resources and Finances. There could be off-site training to undergo with other new hires, someone assigned for you to job shadow, or a person you’re told is your ‘go to’ person when you have questions. Employers may do any or all of these things in an effort to give you every chance at being successful.

Of course many times, you simply learn on the job and one person does all the above. This is true in small organizations, and your goal above all else at these times is to find positive chemistry with the one, two or three people you’ll be spending 7 to 12 hours a day with for the foreseeable future. When employers talk about finding a good fit, what they are referring to are your soft skills; your people skills. You may know their product inside and out at hiring, but if you don’t gel with the existing workforce, you could be viewed as disruptive to the harmony the company is looking for and find yourself again unemployed. “It’s just not a good fit; I’m sorry it didn’t work out”, is what you might hear.

In the simplest of terms, keep your professional guard up and don’t suddenly become so comfortable and self-assured in your new job that you leave early, show up late, take long breaks, or cause friction with your co-workers. Because it’s assumed you’re on your best behaviour, they’ll assume things will get worse not better.

The painful stress of a job search has been replaced with the good stress that comes with fitting in with a new employer and possibly in a new role. It’s a good stress of course, but stress nonetheless. It’s normal, so be prepared for it.

And if you did indeed recently begin a new job, a sincere congratulations!


An Exercise In Career Exploration

One of my favourite workshops that I facilitate centers on the topic of career exploration. It’s designed for people who either haven’t got a clue what they’d like to do or be well suited to do, and as well for those who need to change careers and are stuck.

Just as sitting down to write a resume without knowing what job you are applying to is a bad decision, it’s equally a poor decision to think about jobs and careers without first really knowing who you are. In other words, until you know your skills, strengths, areas needing improvement and think about what matters to you, it’s going to be difficult to find a good match. Is it any wonder then why so many people who think this first step is a waste of time end up continually taking jobs that are poor fits and go through the job searching process frequently?

One exercise or activity I do with my clients gives them a chance to think about careers and jobs which they would otherwise entirely dismiss. For the person or people who will tell you they’ll do anything, it’s a great exercise in showing them that,’anything’ perhaps needs a re-think.

Now my workshop happens to be five days in length, and it follows a typical pattern of doing 16 self-assessments essentially taking a self-inventory of who you are right now in 2014. It’s more than just defining strengths and weakness, it also includes work values, the kind of supervisor you’d perform best under, your problem-solving style, transferable skills, preferred learning style etc. By first learning really more about yourself, you can then in the latter half of the week turn to examining careers and jobs where people with your general characteristics are best suited to thrive.

Can you already see the difference in this approach instead of just running to a job board, throwing a dart and applying for a job with a generalized resume?

But to the activity I mentioned. On the morning of the second day, participants walk in the room to find 40 large envelopes on the 4 walls all around them. Some are quite close to where people sit, and others naturally on the other side of the room. Some right at eye level, and some near the floor or the ceiling. In other words, randomly placed. There is no rhyme or reason to this placement, but participants definitely notice them and start talking among themselves and guessing what they are all about.

In each envelope is large colour photograph of a person with a career. They are dressed in their work clothes, sometimes photographed in their surroundings performing their job, and above each photograph is the name of the occupation. However, I say nothing whatsoever about what’s inside the envelopes, only saying that we’ll be using them later and please don’t peek inside any of them.

Well, nothing more happens with them on day 2. Usually what happens at some point someone asks when we are going to use them, or if no one says anything, I’ll bring it up perhaps just after lunch. “No one has looked in the envelopes I hope.” And that’s it. During the next day, the middle day of the week, I finally announce we are going to use the envelopes. Funny how a little anticipation gets them to buy-in, pay attention, get their curiosity answered, and as a facilitator, that’s exactly what I want.

One by one, each person is selected to reach inside and pick a career. They have to announce it to the group, show the picture, and they’ve got a career. Some are glad with their choice, some disappointed, some shrug and have little reaction and some – like the Pest Control Technician holding the dead rats are revolted and shudder. (But they laugh too!)

When everyone has a profession or job, I hand them a sheet of paper with a number of questions on it. Some relate to annual salary, educational requirements, required training, what is appealing and unappealing about the job, potential growth, the skills required. Also included is a section for the person to then say what skills the job requires that they themselves have. Listening skills, communication skills and other transferable skills in addition to job – specific skills.

Once the sheet is filled out, a discussion ensues. It’s interesting to ask how many randomly selected the perfect job; one they’d actually be happy in and have the requirements for. And of course the next question is how many are dissatisfied and have a job or career that isn’t of interest to them or they are totally unqualified for. By in large, some are happy, most are not. And this reflects the reality of picking a job without first doing much research. Suddenly most get what they’ve been doing and why the results have been less than satisfactory.

After this I fire everybody. I collect all the pictures and give them a second blank sheet to fill in and they repeat the random picking. We talk about how some jobs appear lofty (top of the ceiling), some are easier to get than others (right behind their seat), and some seem beneath us (nearest the floor). However, all jobs have merit and are perfect for some people. The real key is to find the job you are most happy with because it fits your interests and abilities.

Or, they could continue to just choose anything.

FYI: A Job Search Program I Facilitate

As I pen this blog, it is 7 p.m. on a Sunday night. Tomorrow is Monday, and with the dawn twelve unemployed people will make their way to a classroom for 9 a.m. sharp where I’ll be awaiting them. All of them share certain characteristics: they are recipients of social service, they are unemployed at present, they have been making attempts at improving their chances of employment and in the process of doing so, have been identified as an individual who has a good shot at securing employment.

This group will be attending a workshop which I initially created with the assistance of a colleague. We both facilitate a number of workshops on resume writing, interviewing, basic computer skills, how to conduct employer research, career decision-making etc., and we both felt the need to create a workshop where all those skills get put to use actually doing the job of job searching. Now some years later and as the sole facilitator of this program, it has stayed true to its original purpose which is to move clients forward with support and corrective instruction, obtaining interviews and offers of employment.

So each time the program runs, I scour the list of people my colleagues have referred to me, review their files, note their barriers and progress, and see what they’ve been up to since the initial referral. They have to be self-motivated, self-disciplined, have some basic computer skills, a resume, know the work they are looking for, come dressed for an interview for ten straight days, and more than anything, want it more than I want it for them. That’s why a phone call to them is such a good idea. I can measure their suitability, level of interest, and make sure they know I’m no miracle worker and not promising to do anything they couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing on their own. But I do offer a structured setting.

I also offer them a full-time Employment Counsellor who is enthusiastically committed to them in a 1:12 setting for two weeks. Going from person to person, I can help with cover letters, targeting resumes, employer research, phone scripts and interviews, communicating their value, mock interviews, emotional and financial support for travel, grooming and clothing, and above all, keeping them focused. Not bad when you consider for them my services are 100% free. Of course, you’d have to be on social assistance in the first place to be offered this opportunity so it isn’t something I’d wish on someone.

What is interesting to me however is the level of hope and renewal that a phone call can often bring them. Just imagine you are a job seeker yourself and the level of frustration you’d be feeling with little to show for all your efforts. The year is ending and with it your hope for employment in 2013. Then, you get a call out-of-the-blue giving you a chance to get some help. It is something I try to listen for and gauge their reaction to when I call.

So here’s how it is set up in case you are interested as a colleague in the field. I’m happy to share this with you in case you are in a position to possibly duplicate this or morph it into something that better addresses your client’s needs. Oh and you may already be doing something like this so I don’t promise it’s anything totally unique! That would be conceit!

Each day for two weeks, participants come into a classroom at 9:00 a.m. sharp and no later. (It’s like the real world) Each is assigned a work desk as they’d find on their first day of a job. I provide paper, pen, highlighter, a plastic file organizer for paper copies of job search material. They also get a daily agenda, my business cards for support, and a USB flash stick. The stick has spreadsheets for job search tracking, references, networking contacts, monthly budgeting, tips on interviews, dealing with the subject of age, background articles on support while job searching and both resume and cover letter advice.

The day commences with a 30 minute group presentation on some topic of mutual interest to job seekers. Then it’s time to get busy. Each person has access to a PC and a phone. Each person decides for themselves how best to be productive. Some will pick up the phone and do cold calls, or research a company, revise a resume, write a cover letter, go knock on some businesses, sit down 1:1 for a mock interview; and I go from person to person non-stop for the 10 days. At day’s end, we debrief for 30 minutes on what is frustrating them or to share some good news. If they get an interview, they go, and if they get a job, they are done with me. It may be that at the end of the two weeks some are left, because job offers don’t always come up in a short period of time. The success rate for a group of 12 on average in my groups is 5 of 12 hired with the best being 9 of 11.

The name of the program is WORKSMART. Job searching is work after all, and going about it in a smarter way can be more effective, less frustrating, and ultimately more successful than going it alone. It’s a chance to receive support, identify and correct some issues, feel connected again, network, and of course, hopefully land a job in the near future.

My intent in sharing is just to provide something you might find of interest.

1st Vs. 3rd Person On Your Resume

Somebody out there may have strong objections with my opinion about today’s blog. However I also know there are some people who will see themselves in the topic and perhaps considering changing their habit of framing resumes in the 3rd person.

For those who might be wondering what I’m even talking about with 1st and 3rd person, what it means is are you writing about yourself, (1st person) or does your resume appear to be done by someone else talking about you, (3rd person).

Here’s a concrete example pulled from a resume so you can see the point I’m making:

1st person: “Work well with others”
3rd person: “Works well with others”

The only difference in the two lines is the addition of the letter, ‘s’ in the first word in the sentence. In grammatical terms, there’s two implied words – one in each sentence that make all the difference. In the first sentence, “I” is implied, as in the statement, “I work well with others.” In the second sentence, “I” won’t sound right, but the word, “He” or “She” does, thus becoming, “He/She works well with others.”

So what’s the big deal? Well to a trained professional at the employers end, they are often looking at the resume as an example of what YOU can produce. If it is stated in the 3rd person, it becomes apparent you didn’t write your resume, and therefore you’re presenting yourself as marketed by someone other than yourself. And then there’s a leap some employers will make from this to seeing you as disingenuous, false, misrepresentative, and your credibility comes into question. All this from the addition of the letter, “s”?

As tough as that sounds, and maybe even as unfair as that sounds, there’s only one thing worse, and that’s flip-flopping back and forth between 1st and 3rd person on your resume; and your resume is your own personal marketing document. What you are now communicating with this error, is that you a) don’t realize you are doing this, or b) know you are doing this and couldn’t care less about fixing it. And if you are this sloppy on something important to you like your own resume, imagine how sloppy you’ll be in you come and work for me!

This error, which is a red flag to a trained resume expert, betrays the intervention therefore of a third-party. Now I’d argue that getting the help of a professional resume writer should perhaps be viewed as a smart thing on your part, where you’ve recognized that someone could do a better job of representing you on paper and you’ve taken them up on this. And were this always the case, you wouldn’t see this glaring error often.

But you see when people seek out help from someone else with their resume, they often don’t go to a resume professional. Too often it’s their mom, sibling, daughter, brother-in-law, friend, neighbour etc. Just because that person; whoever they are, is good at whatever it is they do for a living, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have the skills necessary to compose a strong resume. Their errors and shortcomings will become yours.

And if you can barely use a computer, or you have trouble with keyboards and it would take you days to type your resume, I can see the attraction in getting someone; anyone, to do the thing up for you, especially if it’s free. But is it free? How much will it really cost you in the long run if you aren’t getting interviews with your poor resume? Jobs you may well be entirely qualified for may not be offered to you because on paper, you don’t come across as well as you could.

Now not everybody must pay for a resume done by a professional who does them for a living. So this isn’t a commercial pushing you to pay for a resume professional. This is about a single resume-issue that you can benefit from knowing about. There are many resume issues both big and small that mark the difference between a poor resume, a good resume, and a winning resume. If this is truly only one very small but important part of a resume and you didn’t even know the difference before reading about it, imagine the other things on a resume that might send messages to an employer you never intended!

Need another quick example of something small that you might want to look at on your resume if you got someone else to do it for you or used some old out-of-date template? Okay, look at your contact information way up at the top of the resume. Just before your phone number, do you have the word, “Phone”, as in “Phone (786) 663-9112”? Do you have the word, “Email” just before your email address? Get rid of these. Any employer can tell a phone number or email without you tipping them off.

Just a couple of very small but important items that will help you craft a stronger resume that better presents yourself.


Energy Conservation

So you are working like a dog to get your next job and getting nowhere fast. Dropping off resumes, knocking on doors, making phone calls, reading up on employers, researching companies, networking with anyone and everyone, following the advice of people you come across, practicing your interview skills, revising your resume, making cover letters, getting your police check done, trying to work out a little, contacting your references, going to workshops, checking the job bank, speaking to headhunters, checking out Monster, Linkedin, registering with temporary agenceis and sleeping fitfully at night. No wonder you’re exhausted!

Not only would ANYBODY be frustrated with a lack of results if they were doing all of the above, but eventually, even the healthiest would start to find their energy for maintaining a full-time job search would become depleted. Throwing yourself into a mad all-consuming job search may not actually be the best way to land the right job. Hear me out.

Think of your body like a doctor or scientist would, as a machine. Like any machine, it requires nutrients to replace the energy that is consumed and used by the body on a daily basis. The more the body loses energy, the more it needs to find ways to replenish this energy. Aside from eating well balanced meals and indulging in moderation, there is a toll on the mental energy and this is much harder to gauge because of course it’s not readily visible. The signs of mental fatigue might be stress on the face, feeling run down and exhausted more often than normal. Maybe even an inability to sleep even when you are clearly tired, and waking up feeling tired. Both your physical and mental batteries need to recharge from time to time.

It is for this reason that it’s important in a job search that you prioritize where and how you will expend your energy in order to maximize results and get some production from the time you invest. Rather than running here and there and trying to do everything (and by consequence doing very few things well), take the time to plan out your job search. Planning your job search might mean first taking stock of your resources and assets before you do anything. I’m not talking about making a list of your CD’s and Books either. Make a list of your skills, your likes and dislikes, your values as they pertain to work, your preference for working with people, things or information, working with others or alone.

Once you have this inventory completed, determine if you even want a job alike the one you most recently had, or are you interested in seeking a whole new direction? If so, begin your job search by investing some time with a professional who can guide you through this process. What jobs for example are out there that would be a good fit for someone with your skills and interests? Only once you have a sense of the direction in which you wish to head does it make sense to even start looking at jobs and revamp the old resume. After all, why start revising your resume and then realize the new resume won’t get a sniff at jobs you really want because it doesn’t fit what those employers are looking for?

As stated in previous blogs, you’ll get answers to what to put on your resume from examining job postings. All the things the employer wants are there – and check out the website of the employer to craft your resume too.

This systemic approach to job searching means while others are out there running around working hard at getting their next job, you’ll be taking your time working SMARTER to get your next job. It may appear that you are slower off the mark and not working as hard to get employed. Don’t worry about what the other guy is doing. Plan your jobsearch and take control of it, instead of allowing the job search to control your behaviour. When you realize you are in control, your mental state improves; you’re proactive instead of reactive.

You get to decide how much energy you put into your jobsearch, and where that energy goes. Everyone only has so much energy, and while it varies from person to person, for EACH person, energy is finite and limited. Eat well, sleep well, do some things that you find enjoyable, put honest effort into your jobsearch and you’ll find your mental and physical health will support you while you jobsearch. By conserving the energy you have, directing it where it will yield the best returns and replenishing it, you’ll be employed in the RIGHT job sooner!