Older Job Seekers


Older…hmm… how old is old? Actually, it’s not necessary for us to agree on a shared definition of ‘older’ when it comes to looking for work. Hey, if YOU feel you’re old, it’s become your truth; your reality. In other words, if you think you’re old, you’ll easily find a lot of people to agree with you. It’s simple enough; if you feel old, you act old and when you act old, people perceive you as old.

I believe it isn’t the actual number of years those candles represent that defines us. Surely you’ve met people who look and act years beyond their chronological age and likewise you’ve met people with a ton of energy and vitality who look and act much younger than they actually are.

So when someone tells me that their age is a barrier to finding work, I know what they really mean is they believe employers are branding them too old to work. However, I feel these same job seekers are really betraying their own perception of their status as ‘old’. And guess what? When that self-perception is deep-rooted in a person’s psyche, it’s the single biggest obstacle to that individuals job search success. I know this to be factual. You see, I’ve had personal experience of working closely with a great number of people over the years, many of whom have felt too old. But of that number, there are those who have reprogrammed how they view themselves, and gone on to productively work for years.

Now think about why it is that some employers might view someone’s age as a barrier to hiring. Well, there’s retirement and leaving the organization. However isn’t it equally true that someone in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s might equally leave? The reasons are different but the result the same. Moving to a new community, deciding to stay home and start a family, taking a higher paying job elsewhere, changing their line of work altogether. There’s a myriad of reasons. People at all ages leave organizations with equal frequency and predictability.

Employers also see older people as having higher absenteeism for medical issues. They’ve bought into the fallacy that older bodies start breaking down and are in the repair shop longer than younger models when they do.  To combat and counter this myth, supply the employer with evidence of your reliability with documentation of your attendance record, either through awards and commendations or written testimonials on your public profiles to back you up. Oh and stop talking about your ailments; old people do that.

Older folks aren’t into technology and will kick and scream in the face of innovation and change is another assumption an employer might have. Well, what are you doing to defy this? If you don’t have a social media platform of your own, it seems to me you’re feeding right into that belief. Sit down, create yourself an online presence, do some online learning and put this on your resume with ONLINE LEARNING in caps. Here I am by the way with a personal blog, a LinkedIn presence, in a new job learning several new computer software programs and this past June I celebrated my 61st birthday.

Did you notice I said I ‘celebrated’ my birthday? I do every year. My age has become my asset and not a weakness. I’m not 39 or 49 every year, nor am I “none of your business”. I’m 61 and further, I’m now in my 62nd year! Yippee! How I see my age is that it’s a tremendous asset to bring to my workplace as I inspire older job seekers to achieve their own success. Initially older job seekers want me to commiserate with them, hunch my shoulders forward, hunch slightly and say, “I hear you.” Rubbish. I won’t do that.

Which brings me to appearance. Look in the mirror and see yourself as others see you. Baggy, ill-fitting clothes aren’t reserved only for the likes of some youth. If your pants are too tight or too loose, if you consistently miss one of the belt loops and never notice, if you’re still putting a pocket protector in your shirt pocket, it’s like you’re going out of your way to confirm their view as aged and outdated. Get in shape and get in fashion. Simple things. I’m not advocating putting on 30 pounds or dropping 40 pounds to regain your youthful physique. Just pay attention and don’t let yourself go, then expect others to see you as vibrant and having the necessary stamina to work long shifts with energy.

Look, I’ve witnessed people who felt their age a problem transform themselves and in so doing, change how others perceive them. Where it started for them and where it starts for you, is between the ears. What you believe is what you become.

There’s no magic pill. It starts with your thinking. Make some changes. Shoulders back, head up, a brisk pace to your walk, an authentic smile. Enthusiasm for who you are and believing that all your rich and diverse life experiences – work and personal – are your greatest strength. These you lay before an employer, and if you do it well, you change their perception of your value to them.

But remember, if say you’re old, well… they’ll agree.

 

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.

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.

 

Generally Speaking, Here’s THE Problem


It’s not failing to market yourself in a job interview, writing a poor cover letter that fails to grab their attention, fear of initiating a meeting with someone in the role you want or even agonizing over your career path that is the biggest problem for most people. Interestingly however, all these are tied to the fundamental one thing which holds back being successful. That one thing? Positive self-esteem.

Again and again I interact with people who question themselves, who see their abilities and skills as needing improvement. They often show their lack of self-esteem in the words they speak and write, often without even knowing that their choice of words reveals more about them then they realize. Their non-verbal communication also gives away their lack of belief in their abilities. Yes, “Believe In Yourself” is one of the best pieces of advice a person can be given. However, it’s one thing to know you should believe in yourself and quite another to actually do it.

Take the person who, upon sitting down in an interview, starts off by saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m really nervous, I’m going to try my best but…” Or the cover letter that says, “I believe I can do the job”, and not, “I know I can do the job”. Then the body language people use, often folding into themselves in trying to become invisible, or the doubt they reflect on their face as they speak, the weak handshakes, the lack of eye contact etc.

Poor or low self-esteem is robbing employer’s of great employees, and robbing people of wonderful opportunities in the workforce. It keeps people in entry-level jobs when they do get them, and can keep people from taking chances because their fear of failure outweighs their desire for success. It’s sad. It’s more than just sad actually and it’s got to change.

Now if you feel your self-esteem is low, it’s likely you’re not to blame. If you seldom got praised or supported as a child growing up – be it from parents, extended family and teachers etc., it naturally follows that these key authority figures in your early life did you a major disservice which now as an adult has you instinctively doubtful of yourself. Now as an adult, you might not believe others when they say you’re beautiful; being overly critical of minor flaws. You might not have the courage to stand up and tell your parents – even as an adult – that what you really want to do in life is ….

Here’s the good news. Just as years and years of never being complimented, encouraged and supported can do a great deal of damage to your self-esteem, the same can be said of the reverse. In other words, you can in fact improve your self-esteem. This is not something however that’s going to correct itself overnight. Just telling yourself that you’re going to believe in yourself isn’t going to undo decades of damage. Damage by the way might seem like a strong word to use, but honestly, if you’ve been put down or never even had words of encouragement from your parents and significant people in your life, they have in fact damaged you whether it was intentional or not.

Building your self-esteem and self-respect back up is something you can do however. When someone gives you a compliment, do yourself a favour and accept their assessment instead of automatically downplaying or disagreeing with their words. What someone has recognized in you as good and worthy of noting is a good thing. The choice is yours to say a simple thank you or deflect those words with your automatic, “What? This old thing?” or “I don’t see myself that way.”

The person you are now is a product of your past, and it’s equally true that the person you become in the future will be a product of both your present and your future. Yes, it takes time, but time alone won’t change things much. You really need a combination of time, surrounding yourself with positive people who recognize and voice the good in you, and a willingness on your part to be open to seeing yourself differently; a change in your attitude.

You deserve a positive future. You are worthy of the good things in life; the very things you want such as a good job, supportive and positive relationships, feeling good about who you are as a person and seeing yourself as a person of worth.

One thing you can consider is removing yourself from the constant influence of negative people; the one’s who tell you that you’ll never amount to much; that you should just settle in life and you’ll always be flawed. You’re so much better than how they see you! When these people happen to be in your family, you might consider telling them how hurtful their words are, and that they’ve got to get behind you or get out of your way. The person you’ve been is not the person you’re going to be.

Build on small successes. Sure it starts with being open to the, “Believe in Yourself” philosophy. When others say good things about you, accept that they see something in you that you yourself may not; and they just might be right, especially if you’ve heard this from others.

Self-esteem can be rebuilt and when it does, it’s a beautifully powerful thing.

Out Of Work And Feeling Down?


At the moment, I’m facilitating an employment workshop with 10 participants. I’ve had 1:1 conversations, ascertaining the reasons they believe they are unemployed. So here I am, now in possession of information from all of them, though I’d hazard I haven’t got all the barriers, just the ones they are open to sharing with me.

Many of their self-declared problems are shared problems; you know, the kind that one would expect to be associated with being out of work for an extended period. Now I’m not going to share who said what, as that would break confidentiality and trust if they identified themselves after reading this piece. However, if I gave them all slips of paper and asked them to write down their issues which they’d share, many of the participants would look at each other and say, “You too?”

Have you been out of work at some point in your life? Maybe you know some of what they have shared then. Should that unemployment period be protracted and become longer than you’d have hoped or expected, your departure from the world of work would result in additional barriers and problems wouldn’t it?

That’s the point really; what you’re feeling is probably exactly the same thing other people in your situation are feeling. You have a shared experience which is long unemployment, and therefore the feelings that go with that long unemployment are naturally the same for most people. It’s not hard to believe that if you started feeling unsure of yourself, some anxiety when it came to going for a job when you haven’t had an interview in a long time and finally, you were feeling somewhat sad or depressed about your plight, others might feel the same way.

Those general kind of feelings wouldn’t be unique to my 10 people. Those are generalities which are shared by a majority of out-of-work folks. It is comforting to know that because other people in your situation feel like you do, maybe you’re not so odd or broken. That phrase, “What’s wrong with me?”, that so many people end up asking themselves is being asked by an awful lot of people.

So? How does that help get you a job? I didn’t say or claim that it would – but keep reading. The benefit of this is that once you realize that other people also feel much the same as what you are feeling, you have to come to the conclusion that there really isn’t anything wrong with YOU. Those feelings you have are sure unwanted of course – but they are a shared normal experience by people in general in response to unemployment and a desire to be working.

There is a struggle going on inside you between what you want and perceive as normal (getting and holding down a job) and your reality (despite my efforts, I’m out of work). If you choose to look at things differently, that’s actually a good sign. Those feelings expressed as, “What’s wrong with me?”, are really internal signals you are sending to yourself, encouraging you to get back to what you perceive as normal; in this case, working.

Once you stop feeling that internal struggle and the brain ceases to say, “What’s wrong with me (that I can’t get a job)”, it may be because you’ve got a, ‘new normal’ which is unemployment and you are actually okay with that status. If you settle in to unemployment and don’t feel anymore stress or anxiety, that isn’t something I’d suggest is a good thing. Your inner self is struggling to change your present reality and knows that paid work will bring you back into balance; this in turn brings you out of sadness, raises your self-esteem and you say, “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Work can in fact, resolve many people’s inner imbalances. You’d expect to feel good when you get an employer who calls you up and offers you an interview. Why? Because that call is really validation from someone saying you are wanted and have desirable skills and qualifications sure – but actually it’s because you are hopeful of returning to what you perceive as normal.

Should you actually hear those words, “Welcome to the team, you’re hired”, you’ll feel a weight being lifted. That weight you currently feel is a mixed bag of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, insecurity, financial dependence, constant tension, isolation, etc. So no wonder then that just getting hired brings a smile to your face, your shoulders may physically drop, your forehead stress lines relax, and your self-confidence improves.

All those symptoms and labels we have for what is wrong with us and others is our mind and body’s way of signalling us that something is out of whack. To return to ‘normal’, something needs changing; and in this case it’s unemployment to employed. Okay getting a job doesn’t snap you out of clinical depression overnight anymore than you woke up one morning and went from everything perfect to clinically depressed.

Take faith though; just making an effort to get help with your unemployment is a mental signal which sows the seeds of, “I’m doing something to change my unemployed status and I anticipate success in the near future”. Every bit of improving your resume, cover letter, job searching techniques, interview skills, etc. repairs part of your ‘damaged goods’ mentality and tells you that you are on the road back to ‘normal’. Welcome back.

 

 

 

Afraid Of Job Interviews? Please Share


A common fear is the dreaded job interview. While there’s a lot of help out there on how to overcome this fear, fear still paralyzes some people from even applying for better jobs than they have. As you’ve found this post, maybe I can help you put this fear in its place a little, and increase your self-confidence in the process. Reading certainly won’t hurt.

Whether you are shy, introverted, nervous, unsure of yourself or any combination of these, you’re still deserving of a job that brings you satisfaction from the work you perform. Whether it’s a desire for a happier workplace, more income and benefits, a new challenge or just a desire for a fresh start, I suspect something has you wanting more.

Here’s a question for you: If you could send a company your resume, have them call your references, and then offer you a job bypassing the interview, would you be applying for jobs in the next day or two? If the answer is yes, than it’s important for you to realize that it is primarily or only your fear of the job interview that’s holding you back. By overcoming this fear, you’re on your way to the job you want.

First of all, it’s okay to be anxious even thinking about it. Take a few deep breaths. You’ll overcome your extreme anxiety in time, not immediately so give yourself permission to feel the way you do. Let’s look at getting a new job this way. You see an ad for a job so the employer has a need for someone. You want to explore the possibility of working there, so you start by finding out what you can about the company and the job. There’s a job description on their website maybe, and information about the organization. Good start.

If you look at the job posting, you’ll likely see the skills and qualifications the employer is looking for in the person they would like to hire. Do you have most or all of those skills and qualifications? If you do, feel good about that. Recognize right away that you’ve got what they say they want, because that’s important for your self-confidence as you think about speaking with them.

Here’s a very important thing to realize. Questions interviewers are likely to ask you are going to be centered on those very same skills and qualifications. So if you are going for a job as an Accountant, you’ll likely be asked questions related to your experience using specific accounting software the company uses. Going for a job as a Receptionist, you’d get questions asking about your experience providing good customer service and greeting people on the phone or in person.

One good thing to do is to think about your current and past jobs, and come up with a specific time when you provided great customer service or in the case of the Accountant, perhaps your track record of being audited at year-end and passing with flying colours. In other words, you can anticipate and make good guesses about the questions you’ll likely be asked, long before you sit down with someone from the company at an interview.

Let’s say the interviewer asks you to share a weakness. Have you considered saying that while you are a really good Accountant or Receptionist, you find job interviews are very stressful? While you might be worried that you are showing them a flaw and your chances are zero now, most of the time, that’s not what happens. The interviewer wants to picture you as an employee. So if you don’t tell them this isn’t your usual self, they are left wondering exactly that.

Everyone has one or a few areas that they are not strong in. If job interviews is one of yours, this isn’t going to be an issue once you are hired now is it? No. You’ll have first day nervousness which is normal, you’ll want to fit in and stress a little about that too maybe, but it passes.

Although you get all stressed out about interviews, the very thing you need to do is the very thing you are probably dreading having me suggest; do some practice interviews. Do yourself a favour though and please don’t ask your spouse, family or friend to help you. They may want to help, but they aren’t trained to do this. Get the help of an Employment Counsellor, Career Coach or Job Coach. You can start by calling an employment help centre in your community.

This column isn’t going to transform you or eliminate your fear of the job interview. It is a start though. The biggest hurdle you must overcome to doing well in a future job interview is wanting to improve and making the decision to do something about it. Without doing something, your anxiety will remain, results will likely be the same and your fears will be confirmed. Sadly, then you’ll believe as you do now, that you can’t change – but you can!

A job interview is really just a conversation. Employers are under pressure too. They need someone with your skills and qualifications. You can do that job. What you really want help with is marketing yourself, feeling good about your potential answers to their questions and seeing value in what you’ve accomplished. This is what professionals can help you believe.

You can do this.

 

 

 

 

Getting The Right Bra


At the moment, I’m facilitating a two-week workshop on self-employment and starting your own small business while in receipt of social assistance. As participants in this group are all exclusively on social assistance, it’s important for them to understand the rules that are in place that govern what they can and can not do as a small business owner until that day when they reach financial independence and can then do as they wish.

Now there are what I call the soft and technical skills that are required to be a successful small business owner. The technical skills are things like budgeting, writing a business plan, product production and money management. The soft skills are things like how dress, understanding what personal qualities are generally held by entrepreneurs etc. Very important and many would argue even more important than technical skills, as those can be sought out in others you could contract.

So there I was on day 2 of a 10 day class yesterday. The subject we were discussing is clothing, and how important it is to make a good first impression on investors, advisers, potential customers and business partners and colleagues. My audience was made up of people in ball caps, reflective sun glasses, t-shirts, jeans, etc. I was stressing the importance of taking pride in how you dress, and the fact that one never knows when you might attract or put off someone who might help grow your business.

With this target population, I assume nothing. We talked about everything from the length of skirts and dresses to the need for clean nails and teeth maintenance. Then the topic turned to underwear. You know, making sure your pants aren’t having your crotch at your knees, and 7 inches of your boxers exposed if you want to be taken seriously. And with respect to bra’s, not over exposing yourself, colour matching with your top etc. It was at this point a question was posed which I think is worthy of sharing here.

The question came from one of the females in the group who said that the cost of a bra for her – being heavy chested) was out of her price range. She pegged the right bra at about $80.00. We talked as a class for about 20 minutes on the subject of bras. Was it uncomfortable for me? No not really. I was impressed that the group on day 2 could have a serious conversation without the immature comments that might have come up from other groups, or the snickers.

Wearing the right bra really can make all the difference no matter what your bra size. But in the case of this woman and a few others in the room, it was an issue of needing the right one to provide support and reduce back pain. My suggestion to her was to put a funding request in writing for her Caseworker, and if she could obtain it, include a note from her physician that backed up her claim of experiencing back pain. Looking at things on a cost basis, what’s less expensive after all, two $80 bras or trips to Doctors and Chiropractors?

And as one of the woman in the class contributed, wearing no bra at all isn’t the answer as a small business owner. And she’s right on that account. And on the other end of things, another participant brought up the issue of being small chested and having to find one that fit her frame.

Finding the right fit; be it a bra, a dress, a pair of pants or a shirt is critical to both looking professional and feeling good about yourself and your level of self-confidence when addressing others. For tall or large people, some stores charge extra for plus sizes, and even those that don’t sometimes have limited selection of clothing. One of the men in the group said he has a waist size and inseam combination that isn’t easily found, and he has to sometimes settle for clothing that wouldn’t be his first choice due to availability.

You see the option of going to stores that cater to people who are taller, broader or heavier etc. isn’t always there for those on fixed incomes. Pay your rent, buy your groceries and there isn’t much left for what we might call basic necessities. And this is why I’ve made the suggestion to put a request for some clothing funds to the client’s worker who is in a position to provide it based on demonstrated need.

By the way, you might have already done a comfort check with yourself had you been in my position. You know, a guy talking with a mixed class about bras and underwear. Would you in my place be at ease discussing it or even think it appropriate. My feeling is this: if it’s important to the participants in the class to bring up, it’s important to discuss. Really effective adult education facilitators have to in my opinion, allow for discussions to occur where interest is sparked. Sure I’ve got my agenda, but adult participants have to be respected, allowed to contribute, and if it’s topic-related and relevant, discussion is to be encouraged. Looking at things the other way round, if she didn’t bring up her concern, she may not have found out that funds are available to help alleviate her problem and find a solution.

Like they say, there are no dumb questions. And if you’re thinking of a question, someone else likely is too whether it’s bra’s or some other subject.

No Job: No Identity…No Purpose


“Why do you want to work?”
“I need to do something and I’m getting frustrated.”

This is a question and answer that comes up relatively early in conversations that I have with people. While the question isn’t surprising, you might find that the answer is. Why? Because you might expect the answer to be about needing money to eat and pay rent. But those basic needs aren’t the crux of how the unemployed person sees their biggest challenges often.

And I suppose that’s why social assistance or employment insurance are so valuable in a society, in that they take care of the most basic needs if little else. So with rent and food addressed, even those on social assistance who are unemployed have identified that work is about so much more than making money. And you might have thought money was their paramount reason for seeking employment. But really, it’s about finding an identity and having a purpose in life.

It takes about 7 minutes I’ve found to get past the pleasantries and surface talk and have someone hone in on why they really want to work. I think it’s not too much of a stretch to agree that one of the early questions we have for people when we first meet them is, “So, what do you do for a living?” in some form. What do you DO? The second ‘do’ implies employment, work, contribution. Rephrase the question then to what’s implied: “So, what employment do you have that contributes to society in order to pay your bills and how does your life have purpose?”

To the above question, imagine yourself suddenly feeling inadequate with the answer, “I’m out of work at the moment”, in some version. Some might say they are between jobs, unemployed or such-and-such by trade. Any of these translate however to being currently unemployed and out of work. So the answer in long form to the question in the previous paragraph becomes, “I don’t have employment at the present, and don’t contribute to society, can’t pay my bills independently and no I’m don’t really have a purpose with respect to work at this point.” And now you’ve hit on the real issue of why it is so critical for many people to work.

We are often identified and validated by the name of the company we work for, and by the work we do. Some titles are very broad – like a Social Worker. Being a Social Worker could mean you work in a hospital, for the homeless, advocating for those with addictions, on welfare, even in schools or homes for victims of abuse. And that’s a short list. So the next thing is the provide context by naming the employer. “I’m a Social Worker with __________.”
When you fill in the blank, the listener who asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” now has two pieces of information, your job title and employer. With those two pieces of information, they will assign you some kind of credibility in their mind, much of that based on their own past experiences ultimately giving you a high or low value in their opinion.

An example? Okay so I say I’m a Mechanic with a well-known automotive manufacturer; a fast-food franchise owner, a Cashier in a grocery store, an Investment Banker with a top 5 bank. Your own perceptions of these companies and the role I’ve identified will either leave you feeling impressed or not, but you’ll put me in some kind of pecking order. If I have no job and no employer by association, I’m at the bottom of the list in your value system because I can’t be fit in to your mental list. And this is why some unemployed say, “I’m a Carpenter by trade” when they are unemployed because they are trying to get onto your list in a higher position and save face themselves even though they lack the second component – the name of an employer with which to gain credibility in your eyes.

It is this identity, and having a purpose, that the unemployed often tell me they need most of all. When they get rejected outright or ignored by companies to whom they apply, they try again with another employer. Get ignored or rejected again, and the message that they start to internalize is that they are no longer valued as whatever it is they used to do or are trained and educated to do. And now they have a loss of identity themselves. “If nobody sees me as a Carpenter and wants to hire me, what else can I do? I’ve got no idea.” And you now have a lost soul trying to re-identify themselves.

When employed, you’ve got a purpose when you roll out of bed. Think about it. You get dressed in your, “work” clothes don’t you? You drive or take the bus to “work”. Run in to someone at the coffee shop, and you can’t stop to talk too long because, “I’ve got to get to work”. Then you come home and someone says, “How was your day at work?” When your relatives call you on the phone they say, “How’s your job coming?” It all centers on your work which is really all about purpose and contributing.

Unemployed people don’t always just want to work as much as they NEED to work. What they really need and crave is the identity and purpose that goes with it. That’s why they get so ticked when ignored entirely by companies who don’t acknowledge their applications with even confirmation of an application. It hurts, and it hurts the ego bad.

Work is only part of who we are and how we define ourselves, but it’s a huge piece. Give a person a job and you’ll be giving someone a new identity and purpose. Watch for the change in ego, growing pride, but most of all relief.

The Unemployment / Self-Esteem Connection


Of the many things one loses with unemployment, perhaps there is no greater loss than that of self-esteem. I say this because there are many I know who are unemployed and have lost the ability to believe in themselves.

You see for many, the initial period following a loss of employment or commencing a job search after training can actually be euphoric; a period of optimism as the thought of working somewhere outweighs the current lack of work. The job search is new, there’s been no rejections, and they have a sense that they’ll be hired soon. For the person just getting out of school or moving into a new town, there can only be reason to be positive.

However, when the weeks of searching turn into months, and the months start mounting to the point where a year is fully in view, that optimism often turns to pessimism; and the frustration will often get a person looking inward. “What am I doing wrong?”, “What’s wrong with me?” These are two questions people will often ask. And you know it might be easy after seven months or so to look at the person and tell them that they aren’t going about it on a full-time basis anymore, putting in a seven hour daily job search, but realistically, how fair is it to expect someone out of work that long to maintain that level of enthusiasm for a job search that’s become a source of reinforced futility?

Think about it for a minute. Day after day, waking up and in those first few groggy minutes as you lie in bed, your unemployment snaps into sharp focus and your mind starts racing; filled with negative thoughts, self-doubts and depression. The link between unemployment and self-esteem isn’t so strange is it? After all, just see someone get a job and you’ll see a smile, a twinkle in the eye, quickness in their step, and you’ll hear relief and enthusiasm back in their voice.

Now maybe you might argue that a strong person should be able to intellectually separate unemployment from how they view themselves; after all, their unemployment may be impacted severely by factors beyond their control. This is true of course; the economic engine driving hiring cycles may be sputtering or running in high gear, but how often can you expect some job seeker to be ignored completely or rejected from not taking things personally?

Every now and then, when counselling someone out of work, I’ll encounter someone whose self-esteem has become so frayed, that they will literally break down. When those eyes become glossy, and the rapid blinking begins, its only seconds until a waterfall of tears cascades and rolls down their cheeks. There is a real injustice I think linking unemployment and self-image, but it’s there nonetheless. Why is this?

So much weight is placed on who we are as defined by what we do. As I’ve often said, it’s because we often ask, “So what do you do for a living?” when we meet someone. Can you imagine if we were sincerely able to turn that question into, “Hi. So what would you like me to know about you?” (Think about it; this is often a version of “Tell me about yourself”; the dreaded interview opener!)

This low self-esteem issue is tied inexplicably to one’s belief in their abilities and self-recognition of their positive qualities. It can be so low during unemployment, that when asked what they like about themselves, the unemployed often can’t name much. And the other group who generally can’t name much they like about themselves are victims of physical or sexual abuse. So are the unemployed seeing themselves as victims? That would be a study wouldn’t it; linking the connections between the unemployed and victims of abuse. And that doesn’t diminish I hope true victims of assault and abuse, but rather I hope emphasises the impact of long-term unemployment. In a way, people in both know they should ‘get out’ as it were, but feel powerless to bring about the change without help.

I myself have had periods in my own life where I’ve been out of work. I applied for a job in August one year, and after applying, writing a test, having two interviews and waiting, I got a letter telling me I was now in a pool to be selected from when hiring would occur. Eventually, I did start work – in March of the following year! All during that period I searched for other work, but my exertion ebbed and flowed, and it was isolating. I have never forgot that feeling, and each day bring that empathy – and sympathy if truth be told, to the workplace.

Tying our image to our employment is unhealthy in so many ways. How many times do you hear about someone who recently retired and was looking forward to it, suddenly finding themselves with little purpose, and needing to get out and do something? Why? Boredom and lack of purpose. When you go from being someone as defined by a job to being ‘just’ a person seen around town a lot, part of your identity is gone. For this reason people will often say to people they meet, “I USED to be a _______. In other words, they want you to recognize them not so much for who they are now, but who they used to be.

Remember, you’ve still got lots of good qualities. If you are having trouble believing that, it’s not you, it’s unemployment distorting your perception.