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.