Unemployed And Running Into Old Friends

When out of work, there is a tendency among many people to go into isolation. This behaviour is understandable because the hope is that a job will be found relatively soon, and an announcement can be made about a change in jobs, by-passing the entire, “I’m out of work at the moment” discussion.

It’s actually counter-productive to withhold one’s unemployed status however, for the very reason that your network of friends may be able to source out your next employment opportunity. If they don’t know you are looking for work however, you don’t come to mind if and when the boss says, “We’re hiring. Know anyone?”

But what I really want to focus on for this blog is the inevitable chance meeting that occurs when an old friend and you connect by chance and the conversation turns to where you are working. It’s usually not one of those great moments, and I’d go so far as to say it’s likely to be a source of anxiety and maybe even shame and embarrassment. Maybe it’s an old high school friend and you had big ambitions back then, so this chance meeting and the question of what you are doing now is some kind of measuring stick. “So what have you been up to?”, translates into, “You had big dreams Jimmy boy, are you a success or a failure?”

Now you may never run into that person for another 40 years, or they may have moved back into the neighbourhood and you’ll see them weekly. So without knowing for sure, it may not be the best advice to make up some lie just to save face. On the other hand, pride is real and it can’t be denied that we all want to look and sound successful and our lack of employment for many is a raw open wound they’d rather not expose for view and commentary. What’s beyond our control as well is the news possibly spreading about our unemployment when one friend tells another etc.

Remember that the work we do and the companies we work for are not the sum of what defines us. You can be entirely out of work and a success by many other standards. You could for example have a wonderful marriage, great kids, a comfortable home or your car is paid off. Perhaps you are a needed volunteer in the community in which you live, counted on and appreciated by those for whom you volunteer. You could have a number of skills around the house such as renovation, decorating, housecleaning, budgeting or landscaping skills. And while you may not want to put these skills to use in your next job search, it is these skills and others that you can cite as parts of your life where you are doing quite well indeed.

And maybe you’re one of those people who others come to when they’ve got problems and challenges. Your sympathetic and non-judgemental ear is always there for your closest friends and family. Your advice is sought out and it’s amazing how better people feel after talking with you about their issues. If this is the case, how wise those people are for sharing their problems with you. So in turn by the way, if they are so wise for doing so, why aren’t you sharing your unemployment and the problems it’s raising for you with them? Follow your own advice and share rather than conceal your real feelings. After all, you are human and entitled to a bit of counselling advice yourself.

Have you ever heard of someone throwing themselves an unemployment party? I have. It’s where all your friends, family, old co-workers, and acquaintances receive an invitation to a party you throw yourself. Not a sombre affair, it’s merry, complete with good food and beverages, and everyone gets a goody bag at the party including your up to date resume, portfolio, contact information and an idea of exactly the kind of work you are looking for. Instead of running all over and networking with these people at 14 different locations requiring transportation on your part and various time commitments, you do it with all of them at one location: your house.

Ah but it’s when you’re sitting down at the local coffee shop alone having a quiet moment that you might get taken by surprise hearing someone say, “Julia? It is you! It’s me, Gloria…gosh it’s been ages, can I join you?” And so instead of sitting down quietly alone and reassembling your mental armour, you find yourself exposed and vulnerable talking when clearly you weren’t ready for this. Suddenly you wonder about your hair, your makeup, the clothes you chose to wear, and either feel reassured or apologetic. And why? Because the dreaded question of employment as stated earlier comes up within the first two minutes. Bet on it.

And we want a good answer to that question to show them (and ourselves) that against this person we measure up well. That’s natural and normal. You are more than defined by your job however. Never miss the chance to be honest and market yourself. After all, you never know who may provide the job lead you need to get that next job. If it’s true that it’s who you know, not what you know, you’ve got to make sure they know. So even if you don’t have your resume with you, get their number or address and send them a package!

A Poor Customer Service Experience

On Sunday my wife and I got in our car and it being a nice sunny day, we decided to try to an outlet mall we pass by once or twice a year but have never stopped in at for one reason or another. It’s about an hour and a half away from where we live, and we didn’t really have any purchases in mind but it was an excursion.

As we pulled out of Lindsay, it was cold outside but the winds were non-existent; and so I did something I came to regret upon our arrival. Yes dear readers, I got the car washed. I know, I know, but I reasoned we’d be warming up the car for the entire drive and it was so dirty! Sure enough, when we got to our destination, my door opened, but it wouldn’t shut as the mechanism was seized up in the door.

As it turns out, I was without extra windshield fluid, a heat source, or WD-40 (a lubricant you spray). Even asking 5 fellow motorists in the parking lot of the mall came up empty. And do you think just one of the stores might have any of those items? I did, but they didn’t carry any such items. (There’s a business opportunity for someone.)

So after getting back in the car and driving for fifteen minutes holding the door shut with one hand while keeping the other on the wheel, I pulled into a gas station in the middle of nowhere. All there was there was a single-person kiosk, from which a fellow emerged. And here begins my poor customer service experience from which I think we all could learn from.

I was looking at a three shelf unit outside the kiosk on which were windshield anti-freeze, gas line anti-freeze, engine coolant, and motor oil. The attendant opened his door and walked the two steps to watch me. No, “Hi can I help?” or, “Whew it’s cold”, know what you’re after?” Nothing. But I could see as I inspected the product descriptions the man standing just off to my right.

Now I understand the man is working on a Sunday, in a gas kiosk, and the job is not probably a high-paying position. In fact, I’d go so far as to guess it’s minimum wage, unless of course you make another assumption, and he owns the entire franchised location. Either way, if I was the owner, I’d want someone manning that location who represented both the franchise name and the specific station well. So here’s what transpired next.

“Do you have any WD-40?” I asked?
“DW-40”, he said in reply but it wasn’t so much a clarification or question, just repeating my statement.
“No, WD-40. You know, a spray lubricant.”
“No, just here.” English wasn’t this fellow’s first language but he spoke well enough to get by.
“My car door is frozen and I need something to loosen it up. I don’t suppose you have anything inside like that?”
And with that he took the two steps inside and held up a bottle of hand moisturizer with a pump on the top.

I paid $5.00 flat for a bottle of windshield fluid and passed on the hand moisturizer. In two minutes I had splashed some inside the locking mechanism and the door worked perfectly and we were on our way. No receipt for my purchase offered, no verbal exchange to even tell me how much the fluid cost, nor any attempt to return change. He just took my five dollars and that was that.

And as I drove away and related this experience to my wife, I thought how little invested that fellow was in his job. I’ve held minimum wage jobs before in my lifetime, and my own philosophy was to work as if I owned the business myself. After all, every customer was an opportunity for me to shine, and aside from the fact I had no idea who I might be talking to, it just seemed right to be as pleasant and helpful as I could no matter the job.

You see I know that in other gas stations there are many people working for no more money who would have taken on a motorist in need as an opportunity to be helpful, demonstrate some problem-solving skills, and have the customer drive away impressed with their help and happy. Why you never know, they may even contact the company directly and mention the great help they got or the person might get a tip from a grateful motorist.

This gentleman however was entirely un-invested in his job. He was and always will be if he carries on, someone who does the same as his salary: the bare minimum. Now sure I don’t know his whole life story. But I imagine he’s aware drivers sometimes need more than just filled up with gas. He made no effort to be helpful, suggest any solution, or even feign interest. At 40 – 50 years of age, they’d be better to have hired a high school student thankful they’ve got a job during the school year.

So what’s to learn? No matter the job description or the pay, work with pride in what you do and be as helpful to people who are your customers. You can never go wrong by being friendly and showing some interest in what you do.

Do You Celebrate Success At Work? You Should!

On Wednesday of this week, the team I’m a part of had our monthly meeting. It’s the one chance we get to sit down all at the same time and look around the room at each other. In our case, we’ve got a Supervisor, Receptionist, Team Clerk, Mental Health Counsellor and 12 Employment Counsellors.

Our meetings are generally light on content, primarily because our Supervisor keeps us informed on a daily basis of changes and information that will impact on us. This saves us from having heavy content to digest at these meetings, and gives us whatever we need to know on an ongoing basis which I for one greatly appreciate. The meetings still hold a lot of value however, because there’s always updates from various committees and what’s going on in other offices that may impact on us.

Into this meeting I take you then, and toward the end of the meeting I had the floor and was finishing up with my item on the agenda when I decided all of a sudden to share some good news. 5 jobs offers have come about in the last couple of weeks to a group of 9 people I was working intensively with for a couple of weeks. And then I quickly told the story of one woman who didn’t get the job she was applying to, because she so impressed them with her interview skills and qualifications that she was given a much better job supervising an entire administrative team at a new office they were opening.

Now while I work with some pretty good people, it seemed to get a subdued reaction. I wasn’t looking for accolades myself, but sure thought the reaction would have been a little more enthusiastic for the woman’s success. And my immediate thought was, “Do they think I’m tooting my own horn?” So yesterday I was chatting off-hand with my Supervisor in passing and said that I think sharing a client success or an, “a-ha!” moment should be something we do regularly. Not with every staff person coming with a story, but opening up the floor to the opportunity. And she to her credit allowed that possibility to take seed.

You see my reasoning is this: We do such good jobs as Employment Counsellors and Social Workers advising all our clients to take pride in THEIR success and have pride in THEIR work, why don’t we do what we preach? When I shared that woman’s story, I did feel pretty good not only for her of course, but I also felt good in the telling, knowing that I’d had a part in coaching her and helping her realize her goals. And why therefore wouldn’t I want my co-workers to feel that same pride by celebrating and sharing their own successes?

Now you can’t mandate or make someone share their success. Some people are naturally more reserved, and some mistake sharing the pride in their accomplishments as self-promotion and boasting. Giving ourselves permission to relate our positive influence on others is not only a good idea I think, it’s downright healthy. Some will say, “I know I did a good job with so-and-so, and that’s all that’s important to me.” However when we don’t share that success with our team, I think we rob the collective group as a whole of the opportunity to celebrate that intervention and recognize our collective strength.

And think of the Clerk, the Receptionist, why even the Supervisor; they may be one step removed from the direct contact with the client in a workshop they may never hear about the individual stories of triumph and the part we played unless that’s shared with them. When successes are shared, they get robbed of the news, and we can all later say to our office mates later on, “That was a pretty cool story so-and-so shared eh?” and what’s wrong with that?

Celebrating our strengths and successes also has a ripple effect. In my job we all interact quite often with shared clientele. Someone in a workshop today will be in and out of the Resource Centre in which we work together, and imagine how nice it would be for a client struggling with self-esteem issues to have one of the staff see them, come on over and in passing say, “Hey congratulations are in order. Well done in landing that part-time job, or resolving that problem, etc.”

For the record, I’m not talking about sharing at a team meeting information that was relayed in trust and breaking confidentiality with a client and then telling a client about how it was shared publicly. But sharing some positive news that we’ve learned – even getting advanced permission if that makes it all transparent, still serves a useful process. I’m having an update meeting today with the woman among others that I spoke about in the team meeting, and I plan to tell her how I related her story in brief. I know she’ll be pleasantly impacted.

Celebrating success at work can crate a culture of building more successes. Take pride in what you do and share that joy in being responsible in part for the success of others. You’ll feel good not only about yourself, but about being part of a team that makes a difference.

Enjoy your Friday!

I Told Him The Truth And Called Him Out

Yesterday I found myself on one side of the desk, and an older, unemployed man on the other. However, before I tell you what happened next, you need some background to this scenario.

A couple of months ago, another Employment Counsellor with whom I share an office and I were talking. He said he had this guy in his class with a first and last name that really rolled off the tongue in his opinion and sounded really stately and impressive. I’d love to share it here so you’d understand but that would break confidentiality and I love my job!

More than a guy with a cool name, he presented well too.He dressed himself very neat and tidy, was well-groomed and really engaged in conversation and participated fully in the workshop. I had a few interactions myself with him in passing, and I concurred with my colleagues assessment.

Last week in our Resource Centre, I was sitting down helping another client when he walked past. I looked up and said hello without really saying anything else as I was helping this other client. What struck me in a five second look however was that he appeared rough however.

So I was surprised to learn that this man who appeared to have it all together and was on the surface quite confident about gaining employment was now enrolled in a life-skills workshop for the next three weeks that focuses not on job searching, but self-esteem, setting goals and getting one’s self together. I was even more surprised when the Facilitator of that workshop and my office colleague were discussing him and his poor behaviour. In fact, they were discussing removing him possibly, as he was being disruptive, talking out of turn, making remarks at inappropriate times etc. He apparently keeps sharing his age with everyone in the group and often.

I shared my brief assessment, and told them that in my opinion, something has happened that’s prompted a negative change. I suggested talking to him privately and finding out what’s going on because it could be anything from being rejected for a job due to age or a health scare. Who knows until you ask and kicking him out wouldn’t really do anything for him.

Ah so you can imagine my surprise when at lunch break, he plunks himself down in front of me in our Resource Centre just to say hello. So when opportunity walks in and sits down….and not being one to shy away from saying it like it is….

He told me within 30 seconds that he was 62 and didn’t think there was much left for him to do. So I asked him if I could be honest and frank with him and once receiving his permission, launched right in. I told him that when we first met, how impressed I had been and others with him. There had been pride in his appearance, a positive attitude and today he was sitting here in jeans and a sweat top, unshaven, hair unbrushed, and looking defeated. He told me that, ‘defeated’ was a good word, ‘deflated’ would be good too. “So what’s up?” I asked.

Sure enough, he was rejected from a job competition he had been in, and suspects his age might have played a factor. On top of this, he was told a month ago that his age wasn’t a problem by one person he respected, but then told he was too old and should just stop looking for work by someone else he also respected. Now I know both of the people he is referring to, and I suspect what he heard was not the message actually sent, but that’s how he’s interpreted it. How powerful an influence someone can have on another.

Interestingly, he told be that I was right when I told him that although he can’t change his age, he can change his own attitude and how he brands himself to an interviewer. In other words, talk about his life experience, maturity, a wealth of work experience, stability, freedom from child care commitments, networking and interpersonal skills.

This one little chat that lasted all of 4 or 5 minutes before I was pulled away with another client request for help, may or may not have a lasting impact. He did say however, that he’d be back to his former appearance when he arrives later today. I for one am going to make a point of hunting him down both to check for myself and if possible, to praise him in front of the class he’s in so he gets that boost of praise and public recognition.

This is more than just a nice story to read and move on. There are lessons here whichever side of the desk you sit on if you think for a few moments. From the job seekers point of view, take some pride in yourself all the time, act on suggestions for self-improvement, seek out multiple opinions and remember people are always watching you and you never know when an opportunity will be presented or you’ll be passed over because you make a poor impression.

As a professional, be reminded of the impact off-hand comments can make for good or bad. Your ability to influence is often in direct proportion to the fragility of the person you are interacting with.