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.