Reassessing A First Impression


To look at him, he certainly didn’t make a positive first impression. He needed a haircut, needed to trim that attempt at a beard, and the clothes he had on didn’t fit properly, nor were they clean. The resume he asked me to look at and help him improve was even worse. Spelling errors, terrible grammar, irregular spacing – it was just plain awful.

However, I look back on my encounter with this young fellow and find I like him.

He had walked in with his girlfriend a little uncertain, approached me at the staff desk with hesitation, and as I said, asked if he could get some help making his resume better. Didn’t ask me to do it you understand, asked me to help him.  I give a lot of credit to people who recognize their weaknesses and seek out help. And make no mistake; I knew I could help long before he showed me the resume. I had the same feeling as the folks at home improvement stores must have when I approach the counter for help. It’s not that I look completely helpless, but I’m convinced they can tell I’m not a renovation expert just the same.

Now the thing about working in a drop-in Resource Centre is that when it’s your turn to work there, you deal with whatever and whoever walks in the door. Other times I might be conducting a workshop or working 1:1 with a client, but in the drop-in area, you can be run off your feet or continuously busy helping others – both sometimes on the same day too.

I could have told him the same thing a colleague apparently told him previously; that he should show up at our Resume Writing workshop on Fridays. In other words, leave now and come back Friday. Why would I do that though? Sorry if you disagree but I believe it is incumbent on me to help the guy standing right in front of me in the here and now. I had the time, so provide the help the guy was asking for – especially when it’s what I’m paid to do! Isn’t that putting the person’s needs front and center? What ‘lesson’ would I be teaching him otherwise?

So I looked at it and there wasn’t a single thing – not a single thing – that didn’t need changing. Multiple spelling errors, poor grammar, irregular spacing, varying fonts and dates and bullets didn’t line up correctly. The woman at his side complimented him well; they made a nice couple; she very quiet, paid complete attention to the changes and suggestions I made, held his hand and both of them slowly started to grasp some of the basics of putting together a stronger resume.

This is the single thing I liked about them above all else; they listened, they were focused, and they made a genuine effort to comprehend ideas that were new to them. I checked twice giving them the perfect opportunity to have me just do it instead of going through the long but educational process they were sitting through. Each time however, the fellow asked me to keep going, keep explaining the things I was doing, and he showed evidence of comprehending what was new to him and sometimes made comments that proved some new ideas were sticking. The more engaged they were in the process of learning; the more I wanted to give them.

You see the two of them had thought I’d just fix up the spelling and give them a generic resume which he could hand out to any employer. The idea of targeting the resume to meet the specific requirements of a specific job posting had never occurred to either of them. With every key word or job requirement found on the posting which I replicated on his resume, he saw how the overall impact was a stronger resume with a better chance of getting him an interview.

Only once were we interrupted while I provided help to another client. When I returned to the resume after a two minute absence, there they both were, talking about the resume, how I was creating it and how it made sense to them. When I sat down, he said, “Thanks a lot; I really appreciate your help.” He may not have a great education, he may have a learning disability for all I know and literacy issues, but the man has good manners. Turns out the fellow has his grade 12, 2 jobs in the past and 4 years’ as an Army Cadet. That time as an Army Cadet no doubt provided him with some discipline, some structure, some respect for authority and those qualities might just appeal to employers to bolster his chances.

Reserve final judgement when you interact or work with people; sometimes they can surprise you; impress you; if you give them the chance. As in my experience here, check your first impression of others as you interact and confirm or alter your original thoughts.

We should strive to be open, be willing to meet people where they are, speak with them using their words but most importantly listen. Hearing others is essential. One of the biggest frustrations people often express is not being heard, not being acknowledged, not being listened to.

The weaknesses we see in others should not inhibit our abilities to see strengths in the same people.

The Secret Fax Machine Feature


Have a fax machine in your place of employment? Can you do anything other than fax documents with yours? Maybe your fortunate to have a large photocopier that has the capability to fax, scan, email, add digital signatures and re-size documents as well. Is that it? If that’s all your fax machine does, trade it in.

I have found a feature on the fax machine where I work that ironically is also available on the photocopier too. I’ve been using this secret and most amazing feature for years and figure it’s about time I share it with those of you who may have yet to discover it.

There’s a feature on all the technology equipment in my client-shared workspace and it’s the Empowerment and Conversation Starter feature. Now not everybody knows how to use these commands. So when someone says, “I need to fax something to my Caseworker”, some folks will just take the item from them and go fax it for them and be done with it. That’s fast, moves the client along, provides the quickest way to accomplish the intended action – and completely misses an opportunity to teach and share a skill, empower them with independence and start a conversation!

Now me, I’m different. (My co-workers say that all the time; “Kelly, you’re different!”) What I like to do is take them over to the fax machine, show them the instructions on how to fax which are right at eye level and simple to both read and follow. Then show them the fax cover sheets and have THEM fill it out. Then I show them the other sheet at eye level which has the fax numbers for the 4 offices where our Caseworkers work out of as the number they want is usually one of the 4.

At this point I ask them if this is their first time faxing. Then as they get ready to fax and go to hand things to me, I make no movement to take it from them and tell them I like to watch. So directing them again to the simple instructions, they cautiously start to do things themselves. Put the papers in the top of the machine face up, dial 9, then the area code and fax number, then press the start key. Then I usually say, “Tell me when you get to the hard part.” Almost without fail, they’ll say, “That’s it? That was easy.” And then I conclude by saying, “Congratulations, you are no longer a faxing virgin.”

I have yet to have a single person not smile and chuckle. But I’m not done. For the fax to go through to those busy offices, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to 10 minutes. While the client is standing there waiting, I move past this task-oriented conversation on how to fax, to the more meaningful relationship-building chat with this captive client.

“So are you in school or looking for work maybe?” Something like that to get the ball rolling. Depending on the answer, I might gleam a little about their career or job interests, problems, challenges, family life, criminal record or any number of things depending on how much they share. What we talk about isn’t as important as just talking.

I point out before they leave that not only have they themselves faxed their documents wherever they needed to go, but the next time they need this done, they’ll perhaps be able to do this themselves without needing help. That’s empowerment people. Now some of you might be thinking, “Big deal!”

Ah but you’d be surprised to look at things as they do. Some of the people I assist and serve have very little self-esteem, accomplish very little in their eyes and feel entirely dependent on others. They depend on social services for their rent and food money, bus fare or gas money, help with their bills, help with their childcare, resumes, job search skills, help with dealing with their stress, anger, self-esteem etc. So learning something they didn’t know previously and can now do on their own IS a big deal. It’s a start.

And not to sound overly dramatic, but I have also had more than 1 person say to me later, “You actually talked to me and didn’t want anything; I’m not used to that.” Isn’t that sad? The person is used to people only talking to them when other people want something from them and so for someone to just want to chat with them and take a genuine interest in what they are up to is remarkable.

Simple opportunities to engage and connect with people present themselves all the time if you have your eyes open to the possibilities and seize them. Showing people how to fax can be frustrating if you have to do it 15 times a day when the instructions are so clearly visible and simple. But to just sit at a desk, not move and say, “Help yourself, the instructions are on the wall over there”,  is an opportunity missed.

So do you have this secret feature on your fax machine, photocopiers, computer or even the simple telephone where your clients meet and mingle? Empowering clients, using some humour to lighten someone’s moment, taking an interest in the person standing before you, it’s pretty simple stuff. Maybe not remarkable, maybe just obvious and mundane.

On the other hand, maybe the first small step in starting something bigger.

 

 

 

 

Starting Dialogue: An Example


Yesterday I found myself scheduled to spend my day in our drop-in employment resource centre instead of running a workshop. These days are good mental breaks and diversions from planning, running and evaluating workshops and are a welcomed change from time-to-time.

Now I find you can do one of two things while you are scheduled to staff that area. You can on the one hand circulate around the room, engage visitors in conversation and spruce the place up a little by tidying up etc. On the other hand you can choose to sit at the staff desk and deal with people as they approach you. I generally opt for the engaging style myself, but on most days you’d find me doing a mix of both.

So it was when I was at the desk printing off some job postings that a woman came up asking to use the stapler. Rather than saying, “Help yourself” and returning to my task, I said, “Help yourself. Hey is that your resume? Would you like me to cast my eyes over it for you?”

That initiative; the decision to engage with the person, start a conversation and extend an offer of assistance is such a small thing. I point it out however as a tangible example of a decision to simply and effectively start a conversation, creating an opening where a user of your service can voluntarily choose to also engage or not.

Now in this instance, the woman handed her resume over and sat down. I was immediately conscious of trying to accomplish two very different tasks simultaneously. First and most obvious, I began to scan the resume, looking for ways to strengthen it. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I started to size up the person sitting across from me. How open was this stranger to my feedback? To what degree was she able to grasp, understand and be receptive to the changes I was recommending?

Starting with a suggestion to not staple the two pages together that collectively made up her resume, we went through content, grammar and spelling, layout and format etc. All in all we spent about 15 minutes there together until she left to return to her computer and input the suggestions before leaving.

A chance encounter? Maybe. What if she hadn’t needed that stapler and had brought her own? What if someone else had been there instead of me, or I had been too caught up with something else and she came and left quickly just using the stapler without asking at all? Was it fate?

If you break things down, a lot of things go into that 15 minute engagement. She started things off by taking the initiative to approach me and had the manners to ask for use of the stapler which created the possibility of a conversation. I made a decision years ago to engage people where I can and find opportunities to start conversations so it was natural to initiate the offer of help and she was wise enough to accept feedback.

Furthermore, like peeling back layers on an onion, as things were pointed out on her resume to correct, improve, add to or re-format, she was patient and open enough to accept the comments made, making further and more meaningful suggestions possible. Had she been defensive, close-minded or downright impervious to new ideas and dismissed the ideas presented to her, I’d have been less helpful and would have hoped for a better reaction another day.

As someone else needed assistance after our 15 minutes together, she returned to her computer station. I made another decision to go ’round and saw she was in the process of already implementing the ideas I’d given her. That initiative on her part to implement the ideas presented also shows me her wisdom. Wisdom I say, but not because the ideas were mine, but because the ideas and suggestions are borne out of experience accumulated over many years, current best practices, and supported through evidence of job seekers getting interviews when using those ideas themselves.

I wanted to share this encounter with you precisely because it is such a small thing to accomplish. Whether you are the professional employee in a position assisting others, or you are a job seeker, you can interject yourself in either position and see how the engagement process works from both perspectives. What I find noteworthy is that unlike some interactions, this one started off spontaneously without any stress leading up to the conversation.

You might feel mounting stress for example were you to book an appointment with a resume professional or a career counsellor. You might agonize over having your work criticized, judged and by association being judged yourself. If you are a quieter, reserved or introverted person, you might not have the assertiveness to even initiate contact and seek help. These opportunities are in front of you everyday however. Instead of lamenting or beating yourself up over missed opportunities yesterday, jump in and risk a conversation today. You could start with, “Can I use your stapler? Would you mind looking this over?”

On my side of the desk, remember colleagues that there are opportunities before us each and everyday. They don’t always present themselves in scheduled appointments, and can often start as chance encounters. It’s about being in position, having the knowledge, looking and acting receptive to help and serving.

A pretty simple encounter broken down.