Helping / Living With The Unemployed


If you or someone you know is apathetic about finding employment; really not caring one way or the other if work is found or not, the only way to get them moving is to identify that one thing. “That one thing?”, you ask. Yes, that one thing that makes wanting to find work more meaningful than not caring.

For a family member, friend or professional working with an unemployed individual, this is a tremendous challenge. You are also likely to find that the longer a person has been unemployed, the greater the effort will be to shift their thinking sufficiently to get them started.

Be forewarned, you can’t motivate someone else. Oh you can help them, support them and encourage them, but you cannot motivate someone else to want something they don’t want themselves. All you’ll get if they don’t want it bad enough is a token effort, and the first time they run into a barrier, they’ll pack it in and go back to what was comfortable; not bothering to look. Unfortunately, they may reason that they can be unemployed and struggling to find work or unemployed and taking it easy. For many, a simple choice.

The frustrating part for those around the unemployed person is failing to understand why they’ve become so disinterested and why they seemingly won’t put in the effort to find work. It’s highly likely that there’s been a major shift in their values; and the values they currently hold differ from those around them to such an extent they’ve become difficult to be around. There may be an increase in friction and tension, more arguments, less things to talk about, or the conversation about work might be one they insist is off the table.

There are far too many factors that could be in play in any individual case for me to accurately know what’s behind a person’s apathy, but here’s one possibility that may be going on. After having become recently unemployed, the person took some time to self-heal mentally. This is especially true after having been fired, let go, or quit a job they found problematic. At this point, they wanted to find work, and planned on doing so soon. When they felt ready, they began to look. That period of time to, ‘get ready’ may have been anything from a week to over a year – hard as that might be for someone else to understand.

As this person started to look for a job, they found it harder to get one than they had in the past. Perhaps because of technology and having to use computers to apply online, or having a poor resume, they kept getting nowhere on their applications. Interviews weren’t happening, or when they did, no job offers came. From the person’s point of view, they’ve left a job on bad terms, can’t get interviews, aren’t sure really how to compete against so many other people now applying for the same jobs, and their psychological state is becoming increasingly fragile.

Without being able to articulate what they are experiencing and how they really feel, they retreat rather than engage, and withdraw into themselves. Socializing becomes a huge outpouring of effort and only having so much energy to get through a day, they choose to stay in the relative comfort and safety of their home or a room in their home. This isolation skews their thinking; they become anxious beyond their safety zone, perhaps more irritable and easily frustrated. Whereas they used to be happy and good to be around, they are now a constant source of worry for others and an ever-present and growing concern.

How they see themselves has changed dramatically. Once productive and self-reliant, they had dignity and a healthy view of their ability to provide. Now they feel dependent, reliant on family or friends – and when that dependency becomes too hard to live with, they remove themselves and turn to the broader society at large to support them. It’s sad, it’s unfortunate and it’s not uncommon.

Of course they – or you, never used to feel or be this way. Once purposeful and hopeful, things have changed. It’s understandable why so many might self-medicate with alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs. With the ever-present thoughts of failure, disappointment and regret, anything that takes that thinking away, even for a short time is appealing.

Suddenly, just telling someone to get a job and expecting them to respond accordingly doesn’t sound at all realistic. Getting a job is transferring our own value of employment onto this other person who doesn’t share our value system as they might once have done. Yes, they genuinely want work perhaps, but they haven’t the energy, focus, willpower and motivation to make any real progress on their own. None, until that is, they find that one thing that they want more than they want the way things are. And no, you can’t find it for them.

Conversations are good; talk that draws someone out once the trust is established that allows them to go deeper and unload the ‘big’ stuff. Some are never going to work again, some may and others will. All three types will need support however, and the nature of the support they receive will vary depending on the individual.

Sure it’s challenging for family, friends and those who work with this population. Do what you can; know your limitations.

Don’t Like Talking About Yourself?


Job interviews are often viewed with extreme negativity for many, and one key reason is a lack of comfort when it comes to talking about ourselves. To be successful, we have to come across as the very best applicant interviewed, and being the best means we did the best job at selling ourselves. Ironically, it’s this very idea of being not just really good but actually better than everyone else that most people can’t come to grips with.

I mean it’s just not in most people’s nature to believe we’re better than all the other’s we’re up against; not just for a job, but well, for anything. There’s great inner conflict you see, when we go about our lives with humility, believing that being our personal best is what we should strive for, rather than being better than all those around us. Then suddenly we walk into a job interview and we’re supposed to turn on some switch that transforms us into extolling ourselves as the best choice to hire; better than all the competition; the one, the only, the obvious choice. Then once we’re hired, feeling we’re better than all the nice people we’re to work with is going to be frowned on? Odd looking at things this way.

It’s not surprising as I’ve laid it out that many have this loathing of the interview process. It starts the moment you sit down and they ask if you wouldn’t mind just telling them a little about yourself. Right off the bat, there you are, expected to talk about yourself, emphasizing your strengths, highlighting your education, showcasing your experience, lauding your accomplishments; all in an effort to impress. But impressing people isn’t how you go about your daily living.

One person I had a conversation with not long ago told me that when they were asked the question, “Why are you the best person; the one I should hire?”, they had great conflict because they couldn’t be sure they were the best person. Without knowing who they were up against, they really didn’t know, Then they went further and said that there probably was at least one person who would be better in the job then they were. Who’s to say without meeting them?

Now as an Employment Counsellor I would hope you always come across as the best applicant to hire. This interview process is after all the employer’s opportunity to meet future potential employees and select from those expressing interest the one or one’s who will best contribute to the organization’s needs. That being said, I do understand this nervousness and great lack of comfort in what many see as bragging about one’s abilities.

As I’ve said many times before, so many influential people in our lives – in YOUR life – have sent you the clear message that bragging isn’t a very attractive quality. Parents, Teachers, characters in movies we felt drawn to and admired, all gave us the message over and over that we shouldn’t think of ourselves as better than others. These people, in positions of influence and authority kept giving us the same message so often we imbedded it, and so we act accordingly as we go about our lives. Funny then that Teachers gave us tests and told us who got the highest mark, those same movie characters were played by actors or actresses who came across the best at auditions, and even our parents likely told us we were, “simply the best little boy or girl.”

A question for you: would you feel comfortable telling someone about the excellent qualities you find in a co-worker or best friend? Likely you would. It stands to reason then that your co-workers and friends if asked, would also be comfortable telling an interviewer about your own good qualities and accomplishments. They might say how well you carry yourself, how you show up every day with a positive attitude and you’re always punctual. They’d likely be happy to say you’re trustworthy, dependable, good at what you do and well-liked by the customers who appreciate your service. Would you agree so far? Good.

Okay, with it settled that others around you would speak favourably about you just as you would speak favourably of them, let’s go back to the interview and the idea of presenting yourself. When asked why you’re the best, or even the question that typically starts the whole interview; the dreaded, “Tell me about yourself”, breathe, smile and begin. Begin with these words…

“Sure I’m happy to tell you about myself. My co-workers appreciate my positive attitude and willingness to lend a hand whenever asked. My supervisor has noted my ability to manage multiple tasks well, and customers often compliment me on my excellent service.”

Not once in the above are you actually speaking about yourself or bragging. You’re simply sharing what other’s have appreciated about your work habits and the results you achieve. The co-workers speak to your positive attitude, the boss to your multi-tasking and the customers to your service. While it’s all about you, there’s no, ‘me talking about me’ in there.

While you don’t know who you’re up against, you do know what you’re up against – it’s you and this opportunity. If you didn’t want it, you wouldn’t choose to be there. As you are there, it logically follows you want it enough, and want to be chosen. That means you do want to be seen as the best.

Would You Hire The Last Chocolate In The Box?


Today a question for those Hiring Managers, Recruiters, Headhunters, Interviewers and employers who are responsible for the selection and hiring of applicants.

First,  imagine a box of chocolates; you know, the ones that come with the pictures and descriptions of the contents. It’s a full box, none have been tampered with. Most people tend to look at the descriptions, match up what they read with what they want, reach in and choose one. That’s pretty much how companies hire when you think about it too. You know what you’d like, you do some research into your choices via resumes, social media and interviews, then make your selection based on which candidate which is most likely to fulfill your needs.

Over at the chocolate factories, every chocolate they produce has to appeal to at least some of their customers in order to continue profitable production. If the market shows a trend where consumers are consistently passing over a certain type of chocolate, it’s probable they’ll produce it in fewer quantities; perhaps dropping it entirely.

However, each one of those chocolates is in their own right, a quality produced piece. We might not like the coconut maroon, the fudge caramel or even the one with the maraschino cherry center, but they are in the variety packages because they’ll appeal to someone if not us. As for the last chocolate in the box, there’s nothing wrong with it; as soon as the first one is selected, one will inevitably be the last one remaining.

Ah, if they could only talk though. I’d guess that last piece would have started off feeling pretty good about itself; just as appealing as every other chocolate. As it’s neighbours get selected again and again, that chocolate’s self-worth might get shaky though. I can imagine it wondering aloud, “What’s wrong with me? Will I ever get taken? Give me a chance, you’ll see I’m pretty good; you’ll like me!”

If you think about it, the value of that last piece of chocolate might start off on equal footing compared to each other chocolate in the box, but as fewer and fewer remain, and ultimately it ends up being the last one, it’s value at that moment is higher than ever. For the right person, they’ll be thrilled to find the one they want most is the one remaining. For me, that last piece will always be the one that tastes like coffee. I’ll pass that one over every time. What’s that? That’d be one of the first ones you’d reach for? Point made.

So my question for you is whether or not you’d hire the last chocolate in the box. It’s unspoiled, unhandled. My guess in this scenario is that you wouldn’t. Probably because like me with the coffee tasting chocolate, no amount of time would have me take it. I’d go and get another box of chocolates; one which contains the kind I’m looking for. That coffee tasting chocolate will either go to a guest who drops in or out in the bin; even though there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.

And here my analogy of hiring and a box of chocolates breaks down and gets uncomfortably real. That last chocolate that nobody selects and gets trashed has no feelings; it’s a chocolate. Individually it’s under a dollar, maybe about 27 cents. So big deal. A person however? The one that gets rejected over and over, passed over time and again? The one that puts on their best face, extols their attributes and strengths as best they can and gets considered, evaluated and ultimately tossed aside; well, they’ve got feelings. That person’s value never truly diminishes, but the process – your process – can make them similarly feel undervalued.

The things you find unappealing as far as employment goes get in the way of taking a chance right? A decade of unemployment, lack of a car, poor credit history, lacking local experience, age, as examples. But every so often, you might take a nibble of a chocolate you’d otherwise pass on and in that moment, discover it actually has an appeal. Hmm… you might even take a second, larger piece, then in the end satisfyingly pop the remaining bit in and wonder why you didn’t try it earlier. You suddenly have a new favourite and want more.

Now suppose before you there was a woman with a 10 year gap on her resume. Prior to that gap she worked for 12 years with a single employer in the Financial Industry. The gap? No fault of hers; certainly not by choice. This was a time when her controlling, emotional and psychologically abusive spouse forbade her to work, relocated her away from her friends and family; manipulated her into isolation and full dependency on himself. He crushed and all but extinguished her self identity. Today, she’s left him, is rebuilding her fragile self-worth, still holding onto the belief there is good in the world and she’s deserving of a normal life.

Her resume is before you and she wants an interview to best make her case for hiring her. She’s got the education, past experience you said you wanted. It’s just that unexplained gap… Without a conversation, you’re never going to understand that 10 year gap. You could end up with a genuinely grateful employee; hardworking, trustworthy and trainable. Initially rusty yes, but will shine up nicely.

Come on…might surprise yourself and be glad you took a chance.

 

 

 

Focus On The Good; Not The Bad


It may have started at home as a child:

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

Then in school it was:

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

As a teenager dating:

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

Finally as an adult the boss says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that my reader, is pretty cool.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts


Let me ask you a simple question if I may. What’s holding you back?

Whether you’re not getting interviews, not getting job offers, getting passed over for promotions or not even looking seriously for work when you’ve no job at all, what’s holding you back?

Some of you know exactly what the answer is. You haven’t even paused as continue to read because you know yourself so well, the answer is constantly in your self-consciousness. For others, to really answer this question intelligently, you’d have to pause after reading the opening line and really think about it because honestly, you’re just not sure. Of course another possibility is the list is longer than you’d like.

So what are you thinking? Age? Outdated education? Expired certifications? A lack of experience? A growing gap on your resume? Uncertainty over what to pursue? Lack of drive and personal motivation? Weaker skills in some areas than those of your competitors? Having such a small circle of friends and contacts you don’t have anyone to provide you with leads, support, tips and advice? Low self-worth and/or self-perception? What’s holding you back?

Without sitting down together and having a personal conversation, let me nonetheless offer up a broad generalization; I’ll bet the true answer is more about what’s going on inside you than the world around you. How we see ourselves determines in large part how we interact with the world around us. How we are perceived by others is how we project ourselves when we interact with one another. When we see ourselves as qualified, assertive, prepared and competent, we move and talk with inner confidence that projects outward. Conversely, when doubt about our abilities and qualifications is on our minds, when we wonder if we could ever be prepared enough, worrying ourselves to the point of being nervous and full of anxiety, these inner feelings manifest themselves in our behaviour, come out in the language we use and the overall impression we leave on others is less appealing. In short, when we doubt ourselves, we give others reason to doubt us too.

So how is it that over years, some people developed inner self-confidence and others didn’t? Much more important is what can we do NOW to grow some confidence and belief in our core that we are competent; that we are qualified and more than just deserving of a shot at something? For if we could transform our self-perception deep down in our core, we’d move forward; we would no longer be held back, we’d reach our goals with increasingly regularity and feel entirely more confident. How does that sound to you?

No matter how long that process might seem before us, all progress – whether towards a short-term or long-term goal starts exactly the same way; taking a single step, then another, followed by more and before you know it, the distance grows from where you were to where you are now. So too does the distance shorten between where you were and where you’d like to be. A single step. Remember that…a single step. The journey might seem daunting or overwhelming if you look at the entire journey before you, but a single step is achievable.

Lest you wonder at where to start, what direction to take that single step in for fear of walking in the wrong direction etc., realize that even as you read this, you are mentally engaged in reading about the possibility of change. A seed is being planted that change is possible; that your future isn’t sealed based on your life choices up to now. Your past decisions and choices have led you to the present; but you must realize that your current choices and decisions can change, and changing these affects a change in where your headed in the future. Make the same choices as the past and yes, your future is similar. Make changes in your decisions and new choices and you shift your journey. You are therefore in more control of your destination than you might have realized.

I believe that acquiring skills and varying experiences is far more essential to a healthy future than fixating on a final destination and going all in to get that one job. You might envy the person who at 17 knows exactly what they want to be and by 24 has landed the job, but what’s the likelihood of that same job bringing the same degree of satisfaction when they are 50? Or even 29 for some? We evolve.

When you first begin to work on your inner view of yourself, you may not feel all that happy about how you see yourself. Expect this! When change is what you realize you want, assessing yourself now doesn’t mean this is you moving forward. This is just the starting inventory on the journey you are embarking on. Like any adventurer, you’ll acquire things moving forward, drop some excess baggage you no longer want or need. Your journey isn’t a quest taking you to far off lands necessarily; this quest is more for transforming your inner-self so that how you present yourself to others and therefore interact with others changes for the better.

If you’re hungry for this change; wanting to grow in confidence, to truly believe in yourself and feel better about who you are, you have already taken the first small step forward; expressing a private desire for change.

What’s holding you back?

 

 

Rebuilding The Damaged Psyche


My business card says my job title is Employment Counsellor, but in truth, I spend a vast amount of my work life providing emotional support, helping others to see the good in themselves and doing everything I can to help people rebuild their fragile self-confidence. Yes, there’s so much more going on in the course of my day than employment counselling alone.

I’m fortunate to be in such a position actually and it comes with tremendous responsibility. When I think of all the people I’ve come into contact with through the course of my work, it’s more humbling than anything to realize just how lucky I am to have met so many wonderful people. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that our lives always intersect when they are at a low point; unemployed and financially dependent on social services support.

I tell you though, some of the stories I’ve been fortunate enough to have shared with me give me tremendous hope for many of them. You would be amazed to see and hear the resiliency in their voices; the determination to improve themselves and make better lives for their children, their hopes for a better future. To see the impoverished and only assess them by their financial health would be a mistake. They are first and foremost people, and they are deserving of respect, care, support and service with integrity just as any other person.

But here’s what I find tragic and regrettable. The vast majority of the unemployed people I come into contact with all share a damaged psyche. How they view themselves in the present and their prospects for the future is skewed because of how they’ve been treated in the past. Now sometimes the treatment they’ve experienced is clearly abhorrent; mistreated physically, sexually, financially by an abusing partner for example. However, I’ve also come to believe that far more people are held back, put down and damaged by less overt sources.

Just yesterday I was assisting a young woman as she crafted a targeted resume for a job she’s interested in. I noted in the choice of words she used during our conversation that she was fixated on her lack of paid employment as a barrier to getting an interview. I pointed out how some of the phrases she was using communicated a lack of confidence and doubt about her suitability for the job, and that in an interview, she’d be better off changing her language. I said I’d like to work on changing how she marketed herself but that first she’d have to truly believe in herself. She replied that I had my work cut out for me then because in College, they were all told their biggest liability was their lack of paid work experience and until they were hired, there was nothing they could do about that.

!

Isn’t it interesting to hear how this comment resonated so deeply with this one student? She told me that her lack of paid work was her biggest worry now that she was done school. So just to be clear, what she has going for her is: 1) just graduated with a diploma 2) she’s early twenties and can make a long commitment of service to an employer 3) she has 4 non-paid, positive experiences on her resume in her field, 4) she’s got the right aptitude for the position she’s going for and 5) she’s determined to succeed. And yet, with these and other positives to celebrate, she’s held up and hung up on that message from a trusted and respected Teacher that her lack of paid employment is this huge barrier.

I only have her version to comment on of course, but I would hope that trusted Teacher would have focused not on the lack of paid employment itself, but on strategies to circumnavigate the problem of a lack of paid employment. For her resume, I suggested we ditch the words, “co-op placement” entirely. While true, what I know to be the case is that not every employer values volunteer, co-op, internships and seasonal positions as much as they value paid employment. So instead of a heading, “Work Experience” which implies paid work, I always use, “Relevant Experience”. Under this heading, an applicant can put all their non-paid work right alongside any paid jobs; it is collectively then,  a summary of the positions held that are relevant to the job being applied to.

When we were done, I pointed out how we were still faithful to the truth; there were no lies on her resume, but the lack of paid work was now entirely concealed. What I saw in her was a smile, her shoulders dropped and relaxed from the tense, stress feeling she presented with initially, and she said, “I like it!” What was really happening was a small shift in her self-perception. She could defend this resume, she felt better about how she represented herself, and this sparked a boost in self-perception.

I don’t always win and I sure don’t know everything. I do know there’s more I don’t know that what I do know and this has me keen to learn more and keep discovering new approaches, new strategies and new ways to improve. What I do know with certainty however is that there are a lot of people walking around, appearing to function, ‘normally’ who are suffering with a damaged psyche. Let’s be careful to help not hinder, mind our words, mind our actions.

Getting Past, “So What Do You Do?”


Within the first few minutes of meeting someone for the first time, you’re likely to be asked some version of the question about what it is you do. When you’ve got a job or career, it’s a comfortable question to answer, especially if you enjoy your job. However, when you’re out of work and can’t find a job, that question can be irritating because for many, it’s hard to answer and not feel some embarrassment or even shame. A solid answer and we feel good, a vague answer or stating we’re unemployed and we feel bad. Why? Because either way, we can feel that we’re setting ourselves up to be judged.

The work we do is of course only one aspect of who we are as a person, but it’s the one thing that keeps coming up early in those introductions when first impressions count so much. I suppose it’s asking about something that’s viewed as a social norm and not too invasive. However, if you’ve ever told someone you’re between jobs or out of work and had them quickly walk away and begin a conversation elsewhere, you know that feeling and isn’t a good one. You just know that you’ve been judged and deemed in some way not up to par.

Like I said though, our occupation is only one part of who we are as people. Some of our other pieces include the state of our finances, social life, housing, spiritual, emotional, physical or mental health. There’s our use of personal time, beliefs, personal philosophies, values, leadership styles, the way we interact with the natural world, places we’ve been, accomplishments, hobbies, intelligence IQ, However just imagine your reaction if someone introduced themselves and said, “Hi, I’m Dave. So generally speaking, how healthy is your investment portfolio?”

The curious thing is that people with what society might regard as a prestigious job – say a Family Law Lawyer, Chief Executive Officer, Coroner or even a Teacher, aren’t automatically better people than the rest of us. They have problem marriages, dysfunctional families, stresses, mental health issues and challenges just like you and me. But still we start those conversations with asking about what someone does for a living.

If you listen to people talk about themselves, you can clearly hear them share what they want you to know. If they keep bringing up their job and the work they do, they might be doing so because this is an area they feel comfortable and proud talking about. They believe that this aspect of their life is one you’ll judge them favourably by and walk away with a positive impression of them.

Now when you’re not working but would like to be, talking about your unemployment can have the reverse effect. This isn’t an area where you feel on solid ground in a conversation and your fear of being judged negatively and leaving a poor impression is heightened. We constantly hear how making good first impressions is important, and we know this ice-breaker topic is likely to come up, so consequently some people will avoid social situations completely to limit the number of bad first impressions they’ll make. This ‘feeling bad’ about not having an answer to share with confidence and pride just reinforces our feelings of not fitting in until we’ve found work once again.

There’s some irony however in that the percentage of adults who have at some time in their lives been out of work is quite high. Being laid off from your job is something typically beyond your own control. When a company moves or shrinks its workforce, it’s well beyond your ability to keep your job. Still, when at that social gathering, it would seem weird to say, “Hi, I’m Joan and I was let go 6 month’s ago for reasons beyond my control and I’m now unemployed.”

This is however, part of a great answer if you’re introducing yourself at a job fair for unemployed people looking for work. Imagine what a relief it would be to be in a room surrounded by others out of work, where everyone is in the same predicament. Asking, “What do you do for a living?” would be replaced with, “So what kind of work are you after?” The feeling is more positive – you’re after something – being proactive.

Wait a second…maybe we’re on to something here…

Just imagine you meet someone for the first time and they ask you, “So what do you do for a living?”, and you said, “At the moment I’m pursuing work as a _____. It’s a great fit for me personally and I’ve got the education and experience. If you have any connections or leads I’d appreciate being hearing about them.”

What do you think? Instead of feeling embarrassed or dreading the question because of a weak response, you’ve taken an assertive position. You’ve told them what you’re after and you’ve shifted their thoughts to whom they might know, how they might help you, and all it takes is one person to give you a name that could lead to that next interview that results in a job.

Why, you might even give them your contact information, or ask for theirs and follow-up in a couple of days with a call or an email. Try it once and it’s new and awkward. Twice and it’s easier; often and you’re an assertive networker.