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.