MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Category: Work (page 1 of 3)

3 Questions You Should Be Prepared for When Going to an Interview

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Interviews! I don’t think there is a more conflicted time in the job search process than the time you are invited to interview for a position! Your heart is pounding, the desire to hug everyone you meet, from the friendly postman to the nasty old lady across the street is unbearable, you smile, and jump and cry with joy! For a second only, because out of the blue, the image of a cold office with a suited up, aloof but polite interrogator quickly pops up in your mind and that’s it! Tears start rolling down your cheeks, the smile has changed into a panicked grimace and you start hyperventilating. Where is that paper bag?

Yes, interviews are nerve racking. Yes, interviews can be scary and uncomfortable but we all have a dentist, don’t we? There is not much we can do when we visit their office other than ask for more pain killers. Fortunately there is whole lot that we can and should do before going to an interview.

There is no escape of the behavioural questions. HR people love them because they say the answers help them predict future behaviour. I tend to think that mostly because while you are busy telling the story, they have time to analyze your body language, your communication style, your English level, and how comfortable you are taking the front row. The more prepared to answer them, the more positive impression you will leave. Let’s have a look at the three most often used questions:

  • What is your strength? It sounds easy but don’t be fooled! This is a tricky question that deserves as much attention as any other. When you have a good answer, you score points on more than just one level: you demonstrate your maturity and level of self awareness, you show a glimpse into your personality: too modest versus too boastful, reveal  clues about your communication skills and it is another opportunity for you to explain why you are the best candidate!  Be specific, be relevant and be prepared to give an example! Go for specific skills you identified (awards, specific training, employee of the month for…, special recognitions by your supervisor, colleagues or friends…). Make sure they are relevant to the position you are applying for. Carrying 5 plates without a spill from your part time as a waiter might not be of much relevance for the security officer job you are interviewing but your ability to quickly connect and communicate  with any patron proven by the number of repeat clients that ask to be waited by you might give you the edge. What if they don’t ask the question? Find a way to push in your well thought answer. Chances are, there will be some other questions you might use it: “What do you think you can bring to the company?” “Why should we hire you?” “If I call your supervisor, what will they say about you?” As a last thought, everyone should have about five to ten strengths prepared with good stories as examples. In this way, the only thing to do before the interview is to match the strength with the job description.
  • What is your weakness? “I tend to become the most devoted employee and the company becomes my family. Very frustrating for my other family! That is why I invite my wife and kids over once or twice a year to have dinner at my desk and to make them feel included.” Awesome answer you might think! Every company wants a devoted employee. And yet, this will not score you any points. Who wants an entire family dropping soup and sauce all over desks and documents? Joke aside, try to find something you are really struggling with but it is not the core requirement for the job you want. For example, your weakness cannot be creativity if you want to become a PR specialist, or attention to detail for a watch repairmen. The key to this question is that no matter what you choose to talk about, don’t dwell on it. State the weakness then move on and spend most of the time talking about what you have been doing to improve it. Companies look for people that show initiative especially when it is about self improvement. Possible weaknesses:
    • fear of public speaking; possible solution: attending Toastmasters;
    • too direct of an approach in communication; possible solution: reading on cross cultural communication, conflict management; practising different ways of phrasing ideas with friends
    • obsessed with technology/social media – customized the notifications from all social media accounts, messages and emails, only those from my family will show, the rest I learnt not to think about until later in the day.
    • lack of focus in a noisy environment that can be addressed by learning how to manage tasks: early in the morning dealing with the ones that require the most attention
    • lack of experience in a certain area but being excited at the opportunity to learn and grow your expertise                    Other questions you might use this answer for: What would your former team members/former supervisor say your weakness is? If you could, what would be the one thing you’d change about yourself? What goals have you set for yourself this year? What do people criticize the most about you? 
  • Are you a leader or a follower? I find this question quite tricky as you can easily be fooled into giving a black or white answer or an as damaging quick answer. Both words have negative connotations: leaders are usually difficult to control and don’t really follow directions while followers prefer to … follow, have little to no initiative and even if they see a better way, they will not take charge to improve the process. So, how do you answer then? You will show the interviewer your ability to be a follower and a leader depending on the company and team’s needs. Talk about a time you took an initiative (leader) and solved a problem then take about a time when you were part of a team, following directions and working together with your colleagues to complete a project. And this is how we have identified two other questions might pop up in the interview: Tell me of a time you took initiative! Tell me of a time you worked in a team! Do you work well with other people? 

Yes, interviews are nerve wracking but a couple of hours of preparation will smooth the edges and give you the confidence and right attitude to win the interviewer. After all, the successful candidate is not the one that has the best match of experience, education and skills but the one that proves to have the best attitude! 

Drawing on Closed Doors

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There are only a few times in my life as a nomad citizen when I can honestly say I could clearly see the road ahead of me. Most of the times the fog was so deep that all I could do was to pray before taking my next step and hope I won’t fall too deep. The path ahead was a mystery with no direction I was aware of. It was a slow movement to nowhere.

I knew I loved being in front of people, leading them to a calm, serene future from a past life that I kept hanging on with both my hands. I just did not know where to start living again. Finding the CDP program and having gone through most of it, I not only see the path ahead, but I have such a clear vision of the rest of my journey.

An article I read during one of the courses was telling the story of this young man who went through a tough interview process for a prestigious company downtown. He was the lucky applicant who got the job and became the object of envy for many friends. On his first day, he presented himself at the door of the company, smartly dressed, coffee in hands and dreams in pockets just to find the doors locked and a big sign on the door: “The company went bankrupt… Sorry for any inconvenience!”

Well, life is unpredictable, he thought. He pulled the phone out of the pocket, called his case manager and started the process of looking for a job… again… Actually this is what I thought the story would go. Instead, he rolled his sleeves, put a smile on his face and knocked at the doors of every office in the building, presenting himself, his skills and his unusual situation. By the end of the business day, he had another job.

Why this story? Because this is the piece I was missing and is still missing for so many other people like myself: looking for a job is not a straight, one way road anymore. Closed doors are not the end. They are blank canvas for us to paint on, using that creativity that lives deep inside and manifests in different ways.

My job as a career practitioner is to make sure each of my clients finds their right colour and the right crayon and starts drawing on their closed door.

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New Home, New Life, New Style – How to Approach Your New Life

There are times in life when  we are left baffled by events, actions or people. To make some sense out of these, our brain tries to match them with something in the past. People are more often left confused when they first meet individuals from outside of their community  (cultural, professional, geographical, etc.) or when they take themselves out of their comfort zone. Deciding to live abroad for example, provides an endless number of opportunities to feel just like this. The first week after I arrived in Vancouver, I felt confused and unsure of what to expect and also of what was expected from me.

It is a challenging and conflicting time for a newcomer: on one hand, the wish to start your new life and become independent is getting stronger every day but the normal reluctance in front of a foreign society and its yet unknown rules and regulations forces you to stick close to your community, the people you know and trust by association to your former life.  There was a certain protocol in my community: neighbours of the same nationality, friends and acquaintances would visit and give the advice they considered necessary to help you start making sense of the new land. Imagine every evening having anywhere between two to seven people coming over with drinks and a heart full of good intentions. Once the wine started flowing, the advice would begin on where to find certain foods, on how to find a good job or where to find a nice a park to relax. The problem was always towards the end when we were forced to take sides on who had the better choice. But this is a different story!  Although contradictory and most of the times subjective, one piece of advice seemed to be consistent: as a newcomer you have to renounce your former life,  give up everything you know and start from scratch. Change had happened, now you have to manage the transition from the  former life to the new, unknown future laying ahead.

In his book Transitions, William Bridges deals exactly with this: change and transition as two different concepts. Change is sudden and situational while the transition process is psychological and happens over time. All transitions, he says, are composed of an ending, a neutral zone and a new beginning. The problem I had experienced and I am sure most of you will agree is that it is easier said than done. Theoretically we all know that as a newcomer we need to let go of our old life in order to move on into the neutral zone of the transition. In a time when you have lost your trusted network of friends and relatives, and when even the way you see yourself  is changing, letting go or ending the connection with “life as you knew it” is the most difficult. “[…] ending is making us fearful. They break our connection with the setting in which we have come to know ourselves [..]” says Bridges. How can one overcome this fear?

I think that the most important thing is to reach out of your community. Get out of your community and ask the help of professionals. Most of the people within your community are  extremely nice and willing to share their settlement experience. But their opinions are biased and emotional based on their subjective, unique experiences. By reaching out to a newcomer settlement service you will be able to polish your language skills, learn reliable information about Canada and the specific area you live in, and most important of all, gain confidence and start understanding the Canadian way.

Experience and have fun with something new every day. Except for few basic things, nothing will ever be the same. From the way you used to drive back home to the way the bed sheet is designed, from the way people interact on the streets to the way people address each other, everything needs to be re-wired. Such a process of replacing habits and common knowledge with new habits and concepts can be overwhelming. In the classic action-reaction model, our minds will go into that resistance mode and will fight back as hard as possible to change. Trick your mind!  Be open and instead of criticizing or comparing with what you used to know start having fun with change. Begin with small steps: what about a new way of setting the table?  Find a new park or a new place to discover at the end of the week! Try to use the very Canadian “eh” at the end of a sentence and join into the smiles that will follow, eh? It is not necessarily about what you do but about the attitude that in time will change, and you will become more accepting of the new ways.

Develop a new habit: asking for help! Well, what do you do when you are lost in the middle of a new city and have no idea how to go back to your hotel? Ask for help! When you are new to Canada, or any other country, city, place, there will be more times when you have no clue how to do things or where to find things. From not being able to find the right word when you need it the most to not knowing how to change the colour at the pedestrian crossing, life in a new country will provide a huge number of opportunities to get upset and lost. Ask for help! Instead of wasting time trying to solve something or to find certain information by yourself, develop this very healthy habit of asking for help!

Stop talking and start listening more! We all have been there. There are times when we get frustrated in the process of settling. Maybe because we are lacking the understanding of how things are done and why things are done in a certain way. Or just because we got hit with a not so rare moment of nostalgia and instead of breaking down and crying, we go on the offensive and start explaining how things are done much better in the old country. Sometimes we remember similar situations that happened back in the old life and we feel compelled to tell the story out loud! Well, not only that it makes us sound very pretentious but for most Canadians is boring as there are usually cultural references and jokes specific to our mother language that are difficult to translate. When nostalgia hits, I have learnt to bite my tongue and start asking questions! Showing interest in the way things are done, in people I meet or  places I visit, not only engages them but also provides a very good way of learning new and interesting things about the Canadian way that otherwise would take time and effort to discover.

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About Foreign Credentials in Canada

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Every year our Canadian government aims to attract a high number of immigrants to help grow Canada’s economy. For 2015, according to CIC News, the target was set somewhere between 260,000 to 285,000 new residents. Among these, more than 65% of the total number are expected to be economic immigrants, looking for better working and living conditions. Canada has a very specific way of deciding who will be accepted based mainly on 3 factors: language proficiency, education and work experience. There is no surprise then, that over 69% of the new residents hold a post secondary credential: Bachelor Degrees , post secondary certificates and even Masters or PhD’s and between five to ten+ years of work experience. British Columbia is the province with the highest percentage of Bachelor Degrees among new residents. Among those an overwhelming 31% are underemployed, as per Stats Canada, as the immigrants with Bachelor Degrees are the segment of population that struggle the most either with unemployment or in under qualified jobs.

Before January 2015, the applications were processed on a first come, first served base while now, courtesy of the newly launched Express Entry system, the approval process will be faster for those with good and very good language skills, higher education and of course some work experience. It is good to see that the government recognizes that Canada needs good immigration policies to maintain and grow its economy. It is refreshing to see that more than ever the government is trying to find and recruit talented and very talented professionals in a timelier fashion. What I don’t see is any money or effort put in helping them get established and employed in jobs for which they are qualified and certified. Little has changed in the last 15 years since I experienced all these fun times, heartbreaks and joys of establishing myself in a new country. The way I see it, all the money and effort the government is putting in creating all these sustainable immigration policies will be only as effective in accessing the maximum out of the new incoming talent as the immigrant settlement policies in place at the time. In other words, unless the government starts looking seriously into ways of removing some of the barriers, especially the credentials barrier, all the tax payers money and effort put into recruiting talent will have only a minimum return, if ever.

Canada already has a pool of intelligent and highly trained professionals that are wasting their knowledge and experience in jobs that do nothing to use their skills and talent. The old joke that the best place to have a heart attack is in a cab as most of the cab drivers are doctors is still a reality. While attending an information session at SFU, I happened to start a conversation with a very nice lady. It turned out she had two master degrees from a university in Delhi, had been in Canada for 7 years and was still working in a restaurant. The mighty Internet is also full of such stories; we all know at least a person who has lived through or is experiencing the transition or have friends that threaten to leave this country and go back to their native land every time you ask an innocent “How are you?” It is one of those realities that have become so common and it’s been around for so long that the only reaction you ever have is a quick rolling of the eyes and a swift change of subject! We have become immune to it and to the heartache it usually brings.

My story is just another immigrant story. I came to Canada in 1999 and followed blindly the unwritten script of the well-educated immigrant who after struggling to understand why his/her education is not recognized, sadly realized that without re-qualifying would have no access to her profession. A few blows to a small budget and a family that came apart moved the timeline for going back to school further and further away and made my frustrations with jobs that under-utilized my skills grow exponentially. In the meantime, the adorable five year old that got off the plane at YVR in that cold June of 1999 had grown into this smart handsome young man that was ready for University. It was his time to shine and I happily experienced the Canadian student life through him. For me, it’s been 15 years of dreaming that I will be teaching again one day. I am still in love with the profession I once practiced successfully but I have to resentfully let it go and move on. Why? Well, it’s complicated but let me try explaining.

  1. Money. After adding all the costs associated with a full 12-month program and several other mandatory courses required by SFU and the Ministry of Education, the total bill comes close to $30,000. If I were an optimistic I would definitely say not a big deal! Heck, if I were my husband, would definitely say: honey, we can handle. Unfortunately, I am me and any price higher than $10,000 gives me vertigo and nausea.
  2. Prospects for future. I could invest the $30,000 into my future thinking I will recover the costs within a couple of years of full time employment. The reality is different. According to an article published in Oct 2014 in The Tyee, “there are roughly 3,300 certified teachers for 900 teaching jobs in the province every year. That’s about three teachers for every job” with the biggest oversupply in teachers specialized in arts, humanities, and English.
  3. Time. I am not in my twenties anymore. I feel that time is running faster than I can grasp it and I have to take that into consideration. I need 3 years to complete all the courses I am asked to in order to be admitted into SFU, meet the BC Teacher Regulation Board and then complete the full 12 month long PD Program. Next, the first step in getting a full time job as a teacher is to apply for a TOC position (teacher on call) with the district. There are no guarantees that you will be accepted as a TOC and there are no guarantees that you will be on that list for a year or two only. I don’t have time to play around anymore and I have a family and responsibilities here. At the end of the program, if I am not hired in a district of my choice, I cannot pack up my family and relocate in a smaller remote community just to follow my dream.

Resentfully I will let go of my dream and continue on a different path. I feel discriminated against though. Had my degree been recognized faster, easier and less expensive, I would have taken all these chances to be licensed as a teacher here. I wonder whether in a multicultural country such as Canada, these barriers are kept and reinforced as a way of imposing a hierarchy of power as oppose to a hierarchy of competency. There is nothing more degrading for an immigrant that has worked hard for their degrees to be told that here their credentials mean nothing without their skills and knowledge being tested. Different cultures perceive education in different ways but what I have noticed to be the same is the higher social and economic status that comes with a well-earned degree in most of the non-Western countries. Once you trivialize and take away that status, it damages not only the ego but it immediately places the immigrant into a different social class. The real issue from the immigrant’s point of view is that he/she is devalued based on their background, based on a document and the native country issuing that document, not based on their real skills, knowledge and education.

A Statistics Canada (2004) census study provides a conspectus of the characteristics and experiences of recent immigrants residing in Canada’s metropolitan areas in terms of the settlement patterns and the labour market experiences and earnings. The research shows that virtually all immigrants coming to Canada in the 1990s — about 1.8 million — have settled in one of Canada’s 27 census metropolitan areas. These immigrants also have higher levels of educational attainment than people born in Canada. Yet, in virtually every urban region, a far higher proportion of recent immigrants were employed in jobs with lower skill requirements than the Canadian-born. In addition, recent immigrants were less likely to be employed in occupations typically requiring a university degree. In fact, recent immigrants with a university degree were much more likely than their Canadian-born counterparts to be working in occupations that typically require no formal education. Finally, in most urban centres, recent immigrants were at least twice as likely as Canadian-born workers to earn less than $20,000 a year. They were also much less likely to have high earnings, that is, more than $100,000 a year. This reinforces the findings of previous labour force studies showing that recent immigrants were much more likely to work for low wages, were less likely to be high-wage earners and had higher unemployment rates. The result is a drain on social programs and public transportation in the country’s largest cities (Statistics Canada, August 2004). (Foster, Lorne. 2006. “Foreign Credentials in Canada’s Multicultural Society.” In Merle Jacobs and Stephen E. Bosanac (Eds.). The Professionalization of Work. Toronto: de Sitter Publications. Chapter 10. P287)

In a way, I feel that the same wasteful tendencies of the modern society are in full display when looking at the talent existent in Canada. There is a large pool of untapped talent that lays dormant because of the credentials barrier while Canada continues to recruit young, educated individuals whose skills are mostly going to be discarded in the same old pool just because they were born and educated in the wrong part of the world. Maybe it is time to start thinking about a government run body that will facilitate this transition and will look into removing the credentials barrier by working as a bridge between the new immigrant and the employer and remind all professional associations their mandate should be that of “facilitator” not “barrier” and their attitude should change from “tolerance” to “acceptance”.

 

Picture courtesy of johannes.jannson/norden.org

 

 

 

English for Personal Branding

2011-trends-4There was a time, not too long ago, when men and women were putting a lot more effort in the way they looked. Men used to wear suits and ties almost everywhere and women preferred skirts and beautiful dresses. Times have changed, and we are way more laid back and casual in the way we present ourselves. Formal appearance is not that much of a concern and I have witnessed teachers wearing yoga and track suit pants, clients that think there is nothing wrong with wearing jeans to interviews and colleagues that wear flip flops and shorts to meetings. There is nothing wrong with this casual approach to clothes other than the fact that not much has changed in the way people judge and form a first opinion when meeting new people.

Image consultants and career experts agree that it takes an interviewer about 30 seconds to make a first impression about a candidate. Dressing appropriately and wearing the outfit with confidence increase your chances of getting hired. The most controversial piece of clothing for men tends to be the mighty tie. Steve Jobs never wore one and Sir Richard Branson thinks that ties kill creativity while the editors of GQ magazine, stated “when you’re sporting a tie, you can pretty much stroll in anywhere you want; it’s like an Admirals Club card that you wear on the outside. Whether you’re suiting up for the office or laying out a look for the evening, a tie allows you to pull together the disparate elements of your wardrobe with a touch of texture or complementary color.”

At this point you are wondering what would appearance have to do with English and personal branding? Proper English with correct grammar and punctuation is the outfit for your “on paper” persona. The recruiters, the hiring managers will make that 30 seconds judgment based on your resume and LinkedIn profile. The best way to get noticed, or for your name to be kept in the potential winning candidates bag is to wrap your profile in the best outfit possible. The Internet abounds with articles on the most common grammar mistakes and typos that you need to avoid at all costs. I will not dwell on them. I will touch only on the TIE you might want to pay extra attention to when writing your profile.

Tautology is a figure of speech and the way of expressing the same thing using two or more different words with the same or almost same meaning. It can be used to emphasize a concept but more often than not it is used in the wrong way and becomes a needless and annoying repetition of the same fact or thing. Very close to pleonasms, tautologies are a real turn off for any hiring manager. Before even getting to your skills and experience, their first impression is that you lack the basic ability to write and edit your work. In a global workplace, where business is often conducted through emails, having strong English skills has become a basic requirement for any job. The examples below were gathered from LinkedIn profiles:

  • Internal Intranet (Intranet is an internal network)
  • I saved $10,000 dollars on the project
  • A brief summary of achievements
  • A necessary requirement of the job
  • Drafted wills and testaments
  • Absolutely necessary
  • And etc.
  • CAD design (Computer-Aided Design design)
  • Helped the parties enter into a contract
  • Sills previously listed above

Have you ever heard of the term illeism?  Do you remember The Jimmy episode of Seinfeld? “Hands off Jimmy!” “Don’t touch Jimmy!”, says Jimmy. “Illeism is another figure of speech, and it denotes the habit of referring to oneself in the third person. In an interview with The Guardian, Pelé, the famous soccer player said: “I think of Pelé as a gift of God. We have billions of billions of people in the world, and we have one Beethoven, one Bach, one Michelangelo, one Pelé. That is the gift of God.” You get the idea now! We all, at times, have fallen in the habit of using it: “Give mommy a good night kiss!” or  “Daddy’s busy now, go play with your brothers!”   I would like to think we all grew out of it. I think that once you move on from watching Elmo, you should stop talking about yourself in the 3rd person. In psychology, illeism has been linked to narcissistic behaviours and in a business environment narcissists don’t make good team players.  Psychology aside, let’s just say it rubs people the wrong way. My first question when I read a resume or a LinkedIn profile written in the 3rd person is who actually wrote this document? Was it the owner or a third party? It confuses me in regards to whom I should address my questions to and it creates an unnecessary barrier in the communication flow.  One of the important objectives when writing a resume or a LinkedIn profile is a direct, honest approach that attracts recruiters and hiring managers.

The use of ellipsis on resumes baffles me. I am killing it today with all these smug words! Ellipsis is nothing else but the nerdy word for those three dots that we use but not sure where and why. It is very simple: they can be used in two instances. First and most common use is to replace text in a quote. Let’s consider this full quote from Arthur Miller Biography by Rachel Galvin:  “In his writing and in his role in public life, Miller articulates his profound political and moral convictions.”  I find the sentence a bit too long and having too many distractions from the simple idea I need to convey. I will use the ellipsis to simplify it and yet keep the integrity of the quote. “In his writing … Miller articulates his … convictions.” The second use of these three dots is in creative writing to express hesitation, a long pause, uncertainty or even a change of moods. (See also The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus) For example: I… don’t know… I think… I … must have… turned off the stove. A resume is or should be unique presenting your skills, your experience, and your knowledge.  Unless you are quoting from your work, you should never use an ellipsis. As for the second use, I don’t need to explain anything anymore! Managers need employees that can take decisions in a timely manner, with little to no hesitation and pretty stable from an emotional point of view.

The devil is in the details! The same way a tie can ruin or enhance a perfectly tailored suit, paying attention to the proper use of grammar concepts like T(tautology), I(lleism) and E(llipsis) can ruin your chances to an interview or advance your career with little effort. There are no short cuts or easy ways in writing for career advancement. The better you become, the closer you get to your dreams!

 

Photo courtesy of MyInfoToGo Magazine  http://www.myinfotogo.com

50 Shades of Friendship

funny-friend-vs-best-friendI was bored the other day and to amuse myself I googled friendship and friends. I got approximately  312,000,000 results varying from friendship bracelets to speeches to organizations, definitions, messages, articles, quotes and so much more. It must be a very popular subject and one that does not need specialists to help you define or understand the notions, you might think.  I spent about one hour reading and browsing through the articles and comparing their insightful theories with my own believes, values and experiences. I learnt, yet again, that one’s culture and basic, elementary education shape their future values and beliefs. I can see you rolling your eyes, thinking: “Of course they do, no breakthrough theory here!”. Reality is yelling otherwise: too often we forget that people come from different backgrounds and their values are not always aligned with ours and what we hold the highest might not even make their list of must have’s.

My favourite quote on friendship is Steven J. Daniels: “A good friend will help you move, but a true friend will help you move a body.” It defines in very simple words how much I value friendship. No, I have not killed anybody yet but hey, I am hopefully only half way through my life! I need to cover all my basis. Joke aside, I grew up divinizing the friendship Athos, Portos and Aramis shared in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. Later on, after reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Darcy and Bingley were an odd couple first I could not understand, but then I fell in love with their relationship. Bingley is just a nice guy that likes everything and everybody, easy going and docile, always listening and following Darcy’s advice. On the other hand, Darcy is a rich landowner who doesn’t understand why he should be nice with people that are neither as rich, nor as educated and sophisticated as he is. And yet, Bingley is his most devoted friend, constantly putting up with his negative attitude and rude behaviour.

I read somewhere that real life friendships are not that easy to  find as most of them are either short lived and easily breakable or they take place only in your head. History, on the other hand, provides us with examples of real, quirky, long lasting friendships. Take the friendship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway for example. Their love for writing and literature brought them together but their friendship went far beyond this, although not the conventional or the overly loving type. When Hemingway sent Fitzgerald a draft of A Farewell to Arms, Fitzgerald sent it back with 10 pages of edits, to which Hemingway wrote back: “Kiss my ass.” When Fitzgerald confessed that Zelda, his wife, complained about the size of his penis, Hemingway took him to the washroom to analyze it and reassured his friend that everything was normally developed.

Al their lives, my parents had just a couple of friends and a lot of acquaintances. This was due partly to the fact that we were very close to our large family that provided enough drama to keep us busy, and enough support in time of need.  They were left with little to no time or emotional support to give to friends. Things were also simpler and categories very well defined: there were acquaintances, friends and close friends. The difference between friends and close friends was the amount of trust involved in the relationship. If you needed to move, for examples, you would call your friends to help you. If you needed to cry and expose your vulnerable naked soul you would call your close friend. It was easy, without confusions and everybody knew which category they belonged to. The status of close friend was not something that could be bargained, bought or negotiated. Being friends with somebody would not give you the status of close friend by default. This was something that was earned through trials and challenges along the years. But what a rewarding feeling knowing not wondering whether somebody has your back!

Moving from the old continent to North America, among so many other differences I’ve had to accustom myself with, the redefining of the notion of friendship proves to be one of the most challenging. I don’t like too many people to begin with. I don’t believe in the networking idea promoted and so highly talked about by the North Americans. I view it as an expression of the narcissistic side of a society infatuated with high school behaviour where the absolute dream is to be the most popular kid.

The main difference might come from the fact that I come from a “saver” society and live now in a “consumer” society. Back home we tend to keep few quality things/people for a longer time while on the new continent, the Dollar Store philosophy guides all our decisions: everything and everybody comes in cheap and is replaceable.  To me, all relationships here are governed by cordiality: the dialogue is informal and friendly and usually goes around the area of interest that brought the group together without going deeper or wider than just that. The term “friend” is used quite loosely to name  golf friends, riding friends, work friends, shopping friends, travel friends and so on… each and every compartment of our lives here comes with a set of “friends” but the connection is superficial and with no expectations of durability or depth. Once the golf season ends, the friendship goes into the hibernation until spring.

It makes sense if you put it in the context of life in North America: mobile and transient. People move at a drop of a hat for a better position, more money, a better opportunity, a better lifestyle therefor they are reluctant to invest more in human relationships. Friends tend to fulfil the need of pure socializing as for the times in need when sickness strikes or divorce, depression or just blue moods settle in, we turn to professional services who make good money for providing the “friend in need” support. I understand the logics behind it, but will it be enough for me?

Some time ago I read Hedrick Smith’s book The Russians. A journalist who spent time in Russia in the early 70’s, and wrote this beautiful book that provides so much insight into the culture and mindset of the Russians behind the Iron Curtain. Some or most of what he wrote applies to all of us that have grown up and formed our characters during those times. I will leave you with this paragraph about how we define friendship. I could not have written as accurate and beautiful as he did:

“Their [the Russians] social circles are usually narrower than those of Westerners, especially Americans, who put that much stock on popularity, but relationships between Russians are usually more intense, more demanding, more enduring, and often more rewarding.

I knew a couple sent off to Cuba for  two-year assignment, and another family put up their teenage son in an already crowded two-room apartment. When Bela Akhmadulina, the poet, married the third time, she and her husband were broke and their friends bought them an entire apartment full of furniture. Let a dissident intellectual get in trouble and real friends will loyally take the terrible political risk of going to his rescue…

They commit themselves to only a few, but cherish those. Within the trusted circle there is an intensity in relationships that Westerners find both exhilarating and exhausting. When they finally open up, Russians are looking for a soul brother, not  mere conversational partner. […] Russians want a total commitment from a friend.”

My best friend and the bravest man of all is my husband. He has been firmly by my side, never put off by my temper tantrums, by my deepest fears and depressions, by the storms that I continuously create and the never ending curve balls I throw his way in my struggle to keep my core values and my Romanian heart while carving my place into the Canadian world. The easiest way would be to drop the Romanian heart and dive deep into the Canadian culture but this would not be me and I am so grateful for him never asking from me to do just that.

 

Being Straightforward: Flaw or Quality?

tumblr_n0n1o3uNSm1rwn2euo1_400Growing up on one continent and living my mature life on a different continent has been challenging at times. The best way to describe it would be: being trained to run a marathon but competing in a triathlon now. As a marathon runner, your focus is on building your strength, your endurance because you want to be able to run for a longer period of time effortlessly. As a triathlon athlete, you need to swim, ride a bicycle and run fast. Your training has to be now divided among the three segments, with a focus on speed, not necessarily endurance. Sure, you can build on the skills and fitness level acquired as a marathon runner to become a very good triathlon athlete but the transition needs time and a shift in focus that is not happening over the night.

A few years ago, I attended a training session as I started volunteering for ISS of BC as a Settlement Mentor. In the group there were a few born Canadians, a couple of new Canadians like myself and about 4 new Immigrants that were working with ISS to improve their communication skills and to gain that mandatory Canadian experience without which their resumes were worthless. During those 4 hours I found myself quite a few times bursting out with laughter at the shocked faces of the born Canadians every time one of these new people would express an opinion or pass a judgement. It was quick, witty, refreshingly sincere and horrifyingly (for some of us) direct. I had a good time as I clearly understood where they were coming from, their tongue in the cheek remarks at times and their direct approach. There was no time wasted dancing around issues, there was no political correctness in anything they said only their truth and their perception of the reality. I found it comforting and refreshing to hear somebody’s sincere opinions after  years of trying to solve puzzles and understand what exactly was the truth hidden behind so many smiles and standard phraseology.

One of the biggest differences between North Americans and Europeans, especially Eastern and North Europeans is the degree of straightforwardness we allow in our relations. Eastern Europeans don’t believe in playing games or in beating around bushes which make things easier and less rigid. There is no script that we need to follow when trying to connect one with the other in any kind of relationship: friendship, love interest, business or just casual dating. In North America relationships are much more defined. They need to follow a script and  they rarely go deeper than two inches  from the surface. At least this is my perception of reality. Friendship or love is as deep as the depth of your knowledge and involvement in each other’s lives. When you follow a guided script with no comment areas or subjects, when you are allowed in only one compartment of one’s life, how well do you really know that somebody?

My tongue is blistered most of the times because instead of just blurting out what I really think, I am biting it.  To the every day Canadian I may sound rude and too blunt, but the Eastern European will appreciate and value my sincerity and honesty.  I am yet to learn to shut up if your new hair style sucks or what you have just done is kind of stupid and immature. I have learned not to talk about money or religion partly because I have never thought they really mattered but I am still judging people based on the number and quality of books they have been reading, their views on education and politics. Yes, politics! I don’t really care what party you vote for as long as you pick one! No voice or opinion on politics means that you are one of the many that likes the state of status- quo.

Most probably that if you are a Canadian reading my rant, you will value “strategy” and “political correctness” over the Eastern European bluntness or their  inconsiderate way of dealing with people. The Eastern Europeans view strategy and political correctness as insincerity and hypocrisy. In North America as well as in Eastern Europe being direct can and usually does create anger, frustration and hurt feelings which, in turn, prompt people to take action and change. The loss of frustration and anger or even hurt feelings that political correctness is promoting, creates a passiveness, an acceptance of the things as they are that to me equals with regress, an undesirable acceptance of the default as a personal choice. What do you think? Is straightforwardness a flaw or a quality?

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Why Using Big Words and Acronyms Won’t Do You Any Good

Remember the times when you started your first job in the corporate world? Everybody seemed to talk a different language although they all were swearing it is old, plain English. The COB’s and LPR’s and the PLT’s and DRSPB’s and all these other acronyms that meant nothing and got you even more confused and wondering if you’ll ever be able to learn everything and succeed in the job. And then, there were the town meetings, where the senior executives were trying to impress everybody with the quarterly or mid year productivity numbers and the company’s direction and vision in a language so difficult to understand that most of us were just dozing off or making mental shopping lists for the upcoming birthday party.

As a job seeker, your objective must be quite the opposite: you want the reader to be excited about meeting you, about learning new things regarding your work experience and over all, you want them to be engaged. You have to use crisp statements, a plain English language and create a document that exudes action and engagement.

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Info Graphics – or How To Get Noticed!

I found a few creative resumes that will for sure attract all the attention! Do I recommend them for all the jobs? Definitely not! But if you are in a creative field, go bold! Show your personality and grab that job! Although most of the examples below refer to designers or illustrators, if you are looking for a job as a hair stylist, a painter, a server or even a constructor, go for it! Whenever you need to show your artistic side, instead of words, which sometimes betray us, go bold!

Anna Yenina – Graphic Designer


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I Think I Exist… or So I Think

How many of you start a sentence with the very common phrase “I think…”? Every time I need to buy some time in a conversation I use this phrase. Sometimes I am not sure whether I am really invited to open up about an idea or to make a judgement. Some other times, I hope something else will come up and I will not have to speak up. Or some other times, I am still looking for the proper words to lay out unpleasant facts without getting too personal. The fact is, every time we use the “I think” phrase we annoy the interlocutor and we give the impression of being less assertive, less decided and a lot apologetic.

Let me give you an examples. One of the most frequently used question in interviews is:
Why would we hire you?

And these would be the two potential answers:

Answer A: I am motivated, I am determined to succeed and my work experience perfectly matches your job description.
Answer B: I think I am motivated and determined and I believe my experience matches your job description.

Do you feel the difference? The first answer is powerful and direct and demonstrates self-esteem – a trait that employers are more and more looking for in their employees. Studies have suggested that employees who possess a high self esteem are more successful in their jobs. They view challenges as opportunities to progress and benefit from, and, they have a more positive view on life.

The second answer is not as determined. It actually leaves the impression that you are doubting yourself. I could very well have answered: “I am not sure if I am motivated and determined but I hope my experience matches your job description…” Not something that the hiring manager wants to hear.  Plus, if the question is addressed to you, clearly the answer needs to come from you and to reflect what you think! No need at all to start the answer with a redundant “I think…”

 

 

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