Thursday, December 23, 2010

Revitalizing Your Job Search for the New Year

As we approach 2011 I’ve already seen dozens of articles on how to make the new a year a prosperous one, how to find your true love in 2011 and of course the myriad of weight loss and exercise regimes that realistically I should be taking advantage of.

The New Year though is a time when people’s minds turn to fresh starts and reassessing where they stand in life. And if you’ve been out of work for some time either for several months or even years it is always a good idea to regularly take a look at your current position and ask yourself some of the following questions:

-          Is my job search producing results?
-          Am I still fresh and focused, or have I become bored and complacent?
-          Are there any opportunities available to me that I have not taken advantage of?
-          Is it time to look at other types of employment?

Depending on your answers to these simple questions, it may be time to examine what you are doing and explore how you can change things in time for the New Year.

1.     Make a List of Goals.

Making a list of long as well as short term goals is essential in planning your career path and continued professional growth. And at this time of year we don’t even need to call them goals, you can call them New Year’s Resolutions instead.

Now a simple ‘get a job’ won’t suffice as a resolution, we need to be slightly more specific and include details for example:  

-          Have my resume checked by a professional at an Employment Resource Centre
-          Make a connection with Mr. X at Joe Blogs Ltd.
-          Complete my grade 12 equivalency

Also don’t restrict your resolutions to just job search goals, achieving something in one area of our life inspires us and gives us confidence in the other areas. So if working out, losing weight or starting a new hobby will help motivate you in other areas of your life, go for it.

2.     Update your Resume

Your resume is your main sales document; it tells the employer what you can do and how good you are. Of course in order for it to do that your resume needs to stand out from the rest of the pile and catch the employers eye, the first thing that an employer reads on your resume can either put them off you or entice them to read on.

It is always a good idea to review all your accomplishments over the past 6 – 12 months and add them to your resume. So take a look over the past year, what have you accomplished? Maybe you went back to school and got a new certificate, or you completed some volunteer work and gained some new skills and experiences. No matter what it is, look at it and the information that is currently on your resume and ask the question will this benefit my application with a company? If it does, great put it on your resume; if not just leave it off. Regularly looking at your resume this way will help updating the resume to be less of a daunting task in the future.

3.     Be ready to adapt your plan

Things change and your job search plan needs to change accordingly. You may have intended to take one straight route however; sometimes veering off the course can lead to some great opportunities. For example some job seekers decide to change careers and try new lines of work, this often requires the individual to learn new skills or gain new qualifications. This can take time and effort but adds to your job search by introducing you to new networking contacts and job opportunities.

4.     Brush up on your skills and/or acquire new ones

Colleges and training organizations offer an array of continuing education classes to help you further develop your professional skills. However, no knowledge is ever wasted. If you've always been interested in languages, take a French or Spanish class for example. It may not help you in your immediate position, but it will expand your marketability or come in handy for future jobs. For instance, if your background is customer service, your newly acquired language skills could land you a job in call center that specializes in bi-lingual tele-sales.

5.     Keep Your Network Alive

When was the last time you connected with people in your network? Last week, last month, last year maybe? We all have these amazing connections; the problem is we often forget they exist. Now is the perfect time of year to reconnect, so whatever medium you like to use cards, letters, emails start making contact with the people in your network and wish them a Merry Christmas

You’ll notice I didn’t say “Can you get me a job for Christmas” because let’s be honest if that’s the message you received what would you think? So instead just be nice wish them happy holidays and that you look forward to connecting with them in the New Year and then make that a New Year’s resolution.

6.     Relax

It's important to keep your job search active, but not at the expense of your own sanity. I always encourage my clients to take breaks to keep their spirits and energy level high. Unchecked stress can feed on itself, so make time for enjoyable pursuits. And while Christmas can be especially stressful at time, it is also the perfect time (because most employers aren’t going to hire around this time) to put the job search aside and spend some time with friends and family. Then in the New Year you'll come back to your job search with some fresh perspective and energy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I'm continually impressed and amazed by some the focus and determination of my Second Career clients. Some of them are going or have been through situations that most people couldn't dream of, let alone function in. Yet my clients are focused on a goal, they believe that the training they are applying for will help better them and establish them in a long-term sustainable career and if they place the same amount of passion into completing the course as they have applying to it, I can see them succeeding.

This along with two births in the family has left me feeling very optimistic this week and so I will share one of my favorite happy songs by Alanis Morissette - Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some Thoughts on Mature Workers

By now I think we are all aware that Canada as a nation is getting older, according to the 2006 Census, 13.7% of the population is made up of those over the age of 65 and this trend is not slowing down either. Fuelled by an increase in life expectancy, quality of life and health care, it is predicted to accelerate throughout the country when the leading edge of the baby-boomers cohort (those born between 1946 – 1966) turns 65 in 2011.
Now while it used to be that retirement was the norm with relatively few individuals participating in the workforce beyond the age of 65 this no longer appears to be the case.  As an Employment Counsellor and now with working on the Second Career program, I consistently work with mature and retired individuals who are looking at returning to school and the labour force. There are a few reasons why they wish to do:
1.      Finances: the income they receive from pension plans and government supports is not enough to meet their expenses
2.      The initial appeal of retirement has lost its allure
3.      They are looking for something to make them feel useful again
This is something that The Conference Board of Canada has also recognised. In their Executive Action Report on Canada’s Demographic Revolution; their recommendation was to encourage individuals to take later retirement. This meant not forcing older workers to stay in the work place but instead to make it easier for those that wished to work beyond the ages of 60 or 65 to do so. One of the biggest changes in recent years across Canada to help facilitate this solution was the removal of mandatory retirement laws, which has allowed many individuals to keep working.
Now there are many people who disagree with this stance and say that these ‘old folk’ should leave the workforce and let others take their place. What these people have failed to realise though is that if all these mature workers retired, the labour gap it would produce cannot be filled at present even with the high levels of immigration that Canada has. The fact is that we need these mature workers in order to maintain our workforce as well as assist with the training of replacement workers.
Canadian seniors and mature workers today in general are in a better physical and mental condition than the generation before them. The stereotypes of aging being an unpleasant and lonely experience, of seniors having poor health and being less educated and unproductive is no longer the case due to changing perceptions by seniors and society about life and health. This has enabled many older individuals to remain active well into retirement and beyond, not only within paid employment but in a volunteer capacity as well, as the drive to be useful and give back to society increases.
This spirit of independence also serves as an example for future generations to start preparing for retirement at an earlier stage so that they will not be solely dependent on government supports that may not adequately provide for them or their families in the future.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Identifying and Selling Strengths Part 2

So now that we've identified where your strengths lie, now you need to look at how you present those strengths to employers.

Assess the need – An employer is not going to hire you because you want them to. They hire you once you have convinced them that you have the skills and abilities to help them solve problems or improve their bottom line. What we need to do is to carefully define the potential marketplace for our specific skills and abilities.

One of the main ways we have of determining what an employer is looking for is through job descriptions and job advertisements. Using these you can relate your skills to the job including those valuable transferable skills we gain from teamwork and leadership experiences to volunteer work and training. 

The second method of assessing need, particularly if you are in the midst of a career change, is through information interviews with employers in the industry you are aiming for. Through these meetings you can determine how your skills and abilities can fit into the industry, what areas you need to improve in and also gain an understanding of how the industry is changing and the pressures reshaping it.

Work to build an understanding of the "needs" in your targeted industry. This insight will help you position yourself as someone who can meet those needs.

The Sales Pitch

Let’s be honest, job search resembles a marketing campaign in a lot of different ways and every marketing campaign has a sales pitch. This means that you need to create one as well, one which you can use with employers when you drop off resumes or cold call them. But that can also be used with other networking contacts like friends and colleagues. The sales pitch in effect needs to be a thumbnail sketch of the skills and talents that makes you, you. The key thing you have to remember though is to keep it short, you don’t want to bore people with your life story and one to two minutes in length is perfect for this kind of introduction.

Resume and Cover letter

Your resume and cover letter are your primary marketing documents. On their own they won't land you a job, but they can open doors. Your resume needs to be proactive, instead of just listing duties and responsibilities under each job, highlight accomplishments from your background, especially those that illustrate the skills and abilities you feel are needed in your field. Employers respond positively to resumes that are short, direct and easy to read. They want to know what's in it for them, should they hire you.

As for your cover letter; this is not just a piece of paper to introduce you to the company. It can be used to specifically tailor your application to the position by demonstrating how you met the employer’s criteria but also how you can be an asset to them.

The Interview

A cover letter and resume only go so far when it comes to marketing your skills. At some point though someone is going to have to stand up and say how great you are and as you know yourself better than anyone else, who better to let others know how good you are and what you have to offer than you.

Interview questions such as ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses?’, ‘why do want to work for this company?’, ‘how would your friends describe you?’ are all opportunities to sell your strengths to the employer. Remember not only to use the strengths and accomplishments from your resume but to give examples from your experience. This not only gives an employer the details they are looking for but gives them another insight into your character and work ethic.

Follow Up

Following up on an interview with a thank you letter is an often overlooked part of people’s job search. In addition to being polite, a thank you letter provides you with an opportunity to sell your strengths to the interviewer. Most interviewers see and speak with a number of candidates and can sometimes have difficulty recalling each one. Your thank you letter is the perfect time to provide a reminder of who you are and why you are the best candidate.

One Last Step

There are many negative connotations that come to mind when people think of selling and promoting themselves, the main ones being egotistical and bragging. However if you're not comfortable claiming your achievements and promoting yourself, it'll be difficult, if not impossible, to get ahead in your job search.

However, not everyone is comfortable selling themselves and that lack of confidence can put employers off. So how do you get around this problem? Simply by practicing, once you know what it is that you're selling– and why it's such a special product – practice saying it over and over; practice writing it too. The more you say it and the more you practice it, the more confident you'll feel about delivering your strengths and remember no one can sell yourself like you can.

One of the things I have noticed is that job seekers who make an effort to tell people (not just employers) that they are looking for work not only increases the size of their networking circle but also uncover more job leads than those who stick to the sidelines. And the more they talk about their skills and experiences, the more comfortable they are in interviews.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Identifying and Selling Strengths Part 1

The following is one of my favourite quotes from the TV series Blackadder, where Blackadder is trying to get out of the trenches by trying to win an art competition.

[George is asked why he didn't reveal his ability at painting before]
Lieutenant George: I don't like blowing my own trumpet.
Captain Blackadder: You might at least told us you had a trumpet
"Blackadder Goes Forth"

Today, Job Search is all about competition, competing to get an employer’s attention, competing to get an interview, competing to get the job. The problem is, if the employer has no idea that you can paint, or ‘do the job’, why they should hire you?

When it comes to competing for jobs, you need to let the employer know just what it is you can do, the excuse of not wanting to blow your own trumpet, just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Unfortunately a lot of people either they don’t know how to sell themselves successfully or only do half the job and then stop for fear of appearing overqualified for a position. So how do we go about effectively selling our strengths to an employer or the world at large?

Well the first thing we need to do is to get to know ourselves. Start by determining what strengths and experiences you have that would be of benefit to a company. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

-          Carry out a skills inventory – make use of online assessments such as or to name but a couple to get a picture of where your skills, interests and strengths lie. (These sites are also great for pointing those that have no clue what they want to do when they grow up in the right direction).  

-          Create a list of accomplishments - Include everything you can think of, from the things you did to increase revenue to helping to organize the company's Christmas party

-          Examine your attitude – Write, in some detail, a personal profile. Note personal preferences i.e. working independently; also list your strengths and weaknesses. Prepare to discuss both, and in terms of your weaknesses, how you have overcome them and don’t forget to let your character shine through

-          Volunteer Work: Volunteering shows to employers and recruiters that you’ve got character, initiative and in looking for a job, it can give you an edge. It also has the benefit of raising your visibility and expanding your networking contacts.

-          Ask your network: I know how hard it is to try and think of good things to say about yourself, so instead turn to your network which is made up of friends, family, colleagues and ex-employers or coworkers. Ask those that know you at work or at play what they think your strengths are, you might be surprised by their answers.

-         Ignore dates: Sometimes people will ignore the contributions they made to previous employers or even communities, they either forget or believe them to be irrelevant because they happened a long time ago. That's not true any accomplishment is important.  

Once you have developed this list of strengths and skills, allow me to ask what can be a hard question for some people. Do you believe in the product that you’re selling? If you go into your job search, not believing in what it is you have to offer to an employer, than they won’t believe it either and your job search will quickly falter.

One of the best ways to build a sense of your own value is to look at your own accomplishments. Start your own personal accomplishment file, include special events, projects or moments that gave you a sense of achievement and then remind yourself of them. The more comfortable we are with talking about what we have done and accomplished the more self-confidence we display to employers.

In part 2, which I will post on Monday, I'll discuss just how and where we need to sell our strengths to get the most impact.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Presenting a Professional Face with Social Media

Below is an excert of my article in the Fall 2010 edition of The Bulletin produced by the Contact Point website. This issues theme is Social Media and the Career Development field and there are several excellent articles regarding social media and job search. Feel free to check them out here

Presenting a Professional Face with Social Media

As an employment consultant one of the fun parts of my job is to introduce people to this new world called social media and something that I continue to stress is the importance of appearing professional.

Just as we would advise a client to pay attention to how they look when dropping off resumes or going to an interview, the same attention needs to be paid on how they -- and we -- present ourselves online.

We are aware that employers are actively using social media to look up clients. What people don’t realize is how easy and common it is to make mistakes. Just a few minutes looking at the popular hashtag #resume on Twitter will give you plenty of examples of what not to do.

Another factor is that technology has made it easier for us to make mistakes. Right now from the desktop app that I currently use, I can upload status content to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn all with one click. And while this can make it easier to stay up-to-date on the different sites, there is a down side: unfinished or unprofessional content can be shared across these sites with one click.

While assisting clients with their immersion into tweets, blogs, forums and networking sites there are three things I remind them of to make their experience enjoyable and yet maintains a professional appearance in the eyes of any employers they may meet.

Follow the link to discover just what those 3 things are:

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Habits of a Successful Job Seeker

Who are They

Over the years working in Employment Counselling I have see many people find work, for some it has taken time, some have had to take risks and others have started work in areas they never thought possible to begin with. No matter what type of work they were looking for there are some things that all of them had in common.

·         Get a Plan Together – Making a list of long as well as short term goals is essential in planning your career path and continuing your professional growth. A simple ‘get a job’ won’t suffice.  These are your goals that you are aiming for so include details for example:

List 10 things that you are looking for in a job/career
Have my resume checked by a professional
Identify what my skills and strengths are

Also don’t restrict your goals just to Job Search, achieving a goal in one area of our lives inspires us and gives us confidence in the other areas.

Always be Prepared – The majority of job opportunities are rarely handed to you in advance and we need to be prepared for the surprises that may come up during the day. Successful job seekers are prepared, they have their day planned out and know who and where they have applied to recently so if someone does call they are ready to discuss business.

·         Be Open-Minded – A lot of job seekers today search with blinders on. They are so focused on one particular set job title or career that they dismiss out of hand other potentially viable careers. In today’s job market however we cannot afford to set ourselves strict boundaries like that. Different companies will use different titles for the same job, or job sites will list some kinds of work by category not title so searches for them became redundant. 

·         Bypass Human Resources – Human resources representatives are also known as "screeners." Their job is to review resumes and match your experience with a checklist of requirements set forth by the employer / hiring manager. If there are enough matches, the human resources representative forwards the resume to the decision maker. Unfortunately, this is now more and more common in the workplace it is also why most opportunities are lost - because the screener doesn't have the luxury of making a decision based on instinct; he or she is instructed to follow the lead of the hiring manager or they simply do not know enough about the job at hand to make an informed decision.

Since the decision makers (e.g., Supervisors, Department heads, CEO’s) are the ones who determine who is ultimately hired, it is advisable that you attempt to apply directly to them. One way of doing this is particularly if you are not applying to an advertised position is to research or contact the company to find out the contact details of the person in charge and address your resume / cover letter to them. Not only does this bypass Human resources but if handled properly there is also the possibility of meeting someone who can successfully expand your network as well. 

Keeping Your Network Alive - We all have contacts; the question is how effectively we utilize them. For most, the idea of networking simply involves contacting everyone they know and asking for a job.

Effective networking takes this concept one step further. Instead of just contacting everyone that you know instead focus on those that work (or have worked) in the industry that you are interested in. Then start calling and setting up a time to grab a coffee or something equally brief (which helps keep the cost down). Then when you do meet, don't just ask, "Do you know of any jobs?" Instead keep it light, say that you're looking for a place in the industry and in the meantime, you're making an effort to stay informed of what's happening. Your goal is not just to find a job but to develop new contacts and get your name spread around, so when positions do come up in your line of work you get to hear about them.

Follow-Up – Well-written follow up letters can make a difference to whether you get hired. A follow-up letter is more than a simple note thanking the interviewer for his or her time. It should be a sophisticated letter that re-affirms your interest in the position and can serve as an opportunity to mention an important point you neglected to bring up, and/or provides an opportunity to offer new insight on a topic that was discussed during the interview.

            Be Good to Yourself - There are two types of job seekers. One, which has a laid back approach and the other that always feels "there aren't enough hours in the day" and compulsively searches for a job without taking a breather.

It's important to keep your job search active, but not at the expense of your own sanity. Take breaks to keep your spirits and energy level high. Unchecked stress can feed on itself, so make time for enjoyable pursuits. Go away with your family for a couple of days, treat yourself to a nice meal or simply place all applications aside for one weekend. You'll come back to your job search with new perspectives and strategies.

Take Charge of your Attitude – While last in our list, the most effective habit of all our successful job seekers has been maintaining a positive attitude. There are many things we can’t change during our job search for example, the number of available vacancies The one thing we do have control over and can change is our attitude

One example regarding attitude is how we look at previous successes and failures. In reality it does not matter what we did or did not do in our last position, in our last interview, on our last resume. In all likelihood, we did not fail and you have no reason to feel guilty for anything you have done up to this point. If, however in some way you did fail or make a mistake, learn from it, and put your new knowledge to work for you. Remember if you focus on the positive, you will find the positive. If you let the little things drag you down, (especially the things you cannot do anything about) you will take yourself out of the game before it begins.


Looking over this list of effective habits the one thing that should strike you is that they are all habits which we have control over. Most job seekers don’t feel like they have any control of the situation they are in. But what we can change is how we look at our job search, how we go about searching and how we maintain our own well being.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Short and Sweet Enlightement

In a world of information that is constantly vying for our attention it can be easy to miss things or get so far behind that it is no longer worth the effort to keep with it. And I admit I hate reading overly long articles and blog posts where the wrtier takes forever to make their point, which is a probably  a result of having reviewed so many 4/5 page resumes. Over the past couple of months though I have fallen in love with the video's from TED ( and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts ( These short video presentations from some of the top minds in the world in their subject are engaging, interesting and did I mention short. I've found that these 2 sites alone have replaced a number of the websites and blogs that I used to visit as the information is more easily digested here.

Below I have included a sample video from RSAnimate where Matthew Taylor explores the meaning of 21st century enlightenment, how the idea might help us meet the challenges we face today.

Welcome to my new blog

Welcome friends and soon to be friends to my first foray into the world of Blogging. I'm not entirely sure where this journey will take us but I fully intend to enjoy myself as we go along.

For those that are interested, I have been working for over 10 years in both the UK and Canada as an Employment Counsellor / Facilitator providing counselling, training and mentoring to  individuals from a wide range of ages, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. I graduated in 2009 for the Career Development Practitioner Diploma program at Conestoga College in Kitchener and now have the privilege of assisting people as they seek to enter a new stage in their life via Employment Ontario’s Second Career Strategy.

For those that were not interested in all that, expect to see in the coming weeks postings on Job Searching, Second Careers, Social Media and other issues that relate to the process of discovering and empowering your career.

I would also encourage you to visit my LinkedIn profile at