MICHAELA FENGSTAD

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

Tag: Career Planning

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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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

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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Will Résumés Become Mini-Bilboards Any Time Soon?

It is no secret that these days, more and more,  we notice a clear transition to a new high tech era. It is hard to believe, for example that only a few years ago everybody was using a fax machine, from individuals to small businesses and large corporations. Today, I need a second to even remember how it looked like. All you need is internet connection (or a nice coffee shop with free wi-fi) and a laptop or tablet and you have your own office! Notice that I said a laptop because even the PC is fast becoming a thing of the past.

But where do we stand with our résumé in this new high tech era?  Well, a new type has emerged and despite of the controversy it has created, more and more visual résumés appear on the Internet. The question remains whether or not they are successful. It is still to be determined!

What is a resume? Why do we write resumes? According to Wikipedia, “A résumé […] is a document used by individuals to present their background and skillsets. Résumés can be used for a variety of reasons but most often to secure new employment.” This is the key we need to focus on when writing such a document: it helps secure employment! There are 3 conditions visual or not, to get us an interview:
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The Minimalist Approach in How to Chose a Font for Your Resume

Since Steve Job’s love for simple design I have been reevaluating  the minimalist theories; a minimalist life, minimalist principles, minimalist aesthetics are just a few topics I am following in various articles and blogs.

I should first say that I am not a big fan of the minimalist art. I can stare as long as I physically can into Malevich’ Black Square and there is no emotion or artistic vision revealed to me. I might as well stare at a painted wall. The idea that there should be no needless lines or strokes on a drawing is taken to the extreme where all the lines have been deemed unnecessary. I am therefore left with nothing to dream about, to be moved by or simply to smile at.

And yet I enjoy minimalist writing. Hemingway was the first such novelist I fell in love with. Maybe because it happened to discover him right after finishing Dickens’ The Bleak House or just because I fell in love with his direct, naked style: no fluff, no unnecessary adornments and some cussing here and there. Reading him I understood that the flowery Victorian style is not the only one that can move and inspire. But I digress when all I wanted was to write about the boring but so powerful resumes.

A well written resume should be the best minimalist work: few intentionally used words painting a lifetime. Something similar to what Hemingway created when challenged to write a story in 6 words: “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” With this in mind, I decided to apply the same concept: nothing should just land on a resume. From the fonts to the meanings should be thought about, and decided on only after thoughtful consideration.

How many times have you even considered what font to use? If you happened to give it a thought you probably chose it based on how appealing the font was to you. Surprise! The only opinion that matters is the one of the hiring manager. And out of experience, all they care about is how legible it is.

There are so many fonts available and it is quite easy to spend long minutes trying them all just to end up selecting one of the two most popular fonts: Arial and Times New Roman  because of their qualities:

  • Very easy to read
  • Don’t have any unnecessary swirls, windings and tails
  • The spacing between the letters in words and sentences is just right
  • When they are in bold or italics they preserve the same clean, easy to read characteristics even in a smaller font
  • They make the best use of the page space
  • They look best in both hard copy printing and on the Internet (with some preferring Arial over Times New Roman)

Their usability and friendliness have been proven over and over again but haven’t these two fonts lived their lives? Shouldn’t they retire and make room for newer, bolder fonts?  There is no simple answer but my choice in using them over and over again for resumes is that they remain the preferred font for the corporate world. Remember, their opinion matter when we are writing our resumes!

In choosing the right font for your resume,  keep in mind a few rules:
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Why I Say “No, Thank You” To a “Thank You Card”

One of the questions that keeps popping up lately is about Thank You Cards versus Thank You Notes (or emails). I have never sent a Thank You Card since email communication has taken the lead over snail mail. I don’t believe in cards anymore. Don’t get me wrong,  I encourage everybody to make sure and send a sincere, personalized thank you note after each interview. People like to be acknowledged, people like to feel good and valued. Your Thank You Note will do just that: it will bring a smile on a face or a minute of “feel good about myself” attitude and you will be remembered. I just don’t believe in traditional cards. And here is why:

There was a time when I would race my husband to collect the mail. The excitement of opening that small box and being the first one to touch the letter from my parents or the birthday cards from pretty much around the world was something I was looking forward to.  There was magic and excitement and surprise and yes, the occasional heartache when the taxman would send his bills in. But I enjoyed every bit of it. In time, the excitement has faded away. Now I get happy and excited every time I open the mailbox and it is empty! I gave up the daily trip to pick up my mail a while ago. I don’t get letters from my parents anymore. My dad has a laptop and an email account. We talk almost daily via Skype or iChat. I am exchanging recipes and having girls-talks with my mom any time I need to and they are not sleeping (considering we live on different continents). I laugh and share jokes and play the big sister in real time now, for my brother. So, I don’t check my mailbox anymore …
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