4 Simple Steps to Explaining “Gaps” on your Résumé

Mind_the_Gap_TCF

There is no “right way” to explain a gap between positions on your résumé. It’s a roll-of-the-dice how an employer perceives that gap when they first see your résumé, and is as likely to be scrutinized and judged when they ask you about it in an interview. The key to surviving this “red flag” is keeping your answer honest, positive, and without reason for further discussion – which is ultimately more scrutiny.

1.  Start with a skills-based functional résumé!

These résumés can’t hide a gap, but they do lead with pertinent skills before revealing when and where you have worked.  The intent is to win the heart and mind of an employer by directly answering why the employer should hire you within the first half of the first page. With the emphasis on what you know and what you’ve done, the hope is that this is where your interview is focused. However, be prepared to deal with the gap in the interview.

2.  Positive and complementary activities between positions

Don’t pretend to be Superman undertaking Superman things unless you actually did save the world. Beware trying to over-compensate with larger-than-life illustrations as it may not convince the interviewer. Simple and real examples (if they are in fact real) are the easiest way to explain how you’ve been keeping busy while unemployed. Training and certifications are best. Volunteer initiatives or projects in the arts are great. Being a “Home Coordinator” is good. Travel is cool, too!

3.  If you’ve moved or recently immigrated, then welcome! (And use this to your advantage).

This is the best-case scenario. If you’ve relocated then use that. Complement it with positive experiences in your new location, the energy you’ve put into understanding and adapting to the local labour market, and your enthusiasm to be where you are now.

4.  Honesty with heroic doses of genuine sincerity

Some have used humour and some have simply said nothing, and the latter is as bad as chattering at great length on any topic not relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you must indicate the reason you were let go, then do so in the most positive way. This could entail referring to changes to the labour market and company restructuring; and while these aren’t necessarily positive, they can be communicated in a tone that demonstrates your genuine appreciation for your previous role and employer.

Keep your answer short and DO NOT provide any additional information that might raise suspicion from the employer. This leads to additional questions – none of which will be focused on what you could do for that company. Add a sincere “I’ve been actively job searching, and in a labour market as competitive as ours is, I trust you’ll understand why I’m so excited to be meeting with you today.”

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for Provincially funded retraining. When not working, this self-professed Futurist can often be found reading, writing, and barbecuing in his native Burlington.   

The ‘Power Stance’ (And What to Wear in That Stance)

Some of The Career Foundation's very own staff show off their 'Power Stance'.
Some of The Career Foundation’s very own staff show off their ‘Power Stance’.

Outside of Martial Arts and the Sears Catalogue, a “Power Stance” can be a great tool for a job seeker. It is both a method of warming up before an interview by increasing your self-confidence and a way to express and maintain that confidence during an interview. It’s also great for sales people, public speakers, and superheroes.

While sitting, keep your back straight with arms either folded or with your arms at your sides with hands on hips. Legs can be angled in any direction so long and your head is aimed at the central audience. Add a bit of style if your whole body is aimed at the audience and cross a leg – but do so in a way that suggests you have the power. Project confidence with an open posture. To avoid projecting entitlement or arrogance, add a smile. Be serious if you must, but tilt your head ever so slightly so as to add a sense of fluid humanity – and always dress the right way!

What to Wear (For Men): 

Professional male holding out hand for a handshake

The golden rule is that dressing conservatively with formal attire is an approach that never loses. Always dress a little bit better than you might while working in the position you’re applying for. See the graphic below!

How to Dress for a Job Interview infographic

What to Wear (For Women): 

Women have a little bit more leeway when it comes to clothing and style options for interviews. Skirts, dresses, pant suits, blazers, heels, flats – there’s a plethora of choices to navigate, so as a woman dressing yourself for a job interview tends to be overwhelming. Here are some helpful hints to get you ready for the big interview.

Business casual attire versus professional attire for women

As with men, conservative and formal is usually the way to go. Wondering if something is appropriate to wear to an interview? Think “high school dress code” – no exposed shoulders, no short skirts, no midriff (please).

If you wear makeup or nail polish, ensure you go for a poised and natural look. Dress in a soft, neutral colour palette. You may want to add one coloured piece to your outfit, to make it pop and ensure the interviewer remembers you. Keep any accessories simple and understated.

Our Summery Summary:

As summer approaches and the hiring season ramps up, knowing what to wear to your interview is vital. Make sure you wear temperature-appropriate clothing (AKA, avoid wool suits in the summertime) and remember to keep it professional and conservative.

We know it’s 2017 and our society is a lot more tolerant and encouraging of individuality than it once was, but you may want to remove any facial piercings and other loud jewellery as well as cover any visible tattoos for your interview. You don’t want to draw focus away from your qualifications and experience, and interviewers can find such things distracting. It’s good to give off a neutral appearance until you can get a sense of the company’s corporate culture.

On top of developing a strong power stance, it may be wise to develop a power ensemble: your go-to outfit for a successful interview. Above all else, make sure you wear something you’re comfortable in. Comfort is the key to confidence and confidence is the key to nailing your interview!

Put your ‘Power Stance’ to the test by entering our #MyPotential2017 Instagram Contest! It’s super easy, and you could win a $100 Pre-paid Gift Card! Click here for full details.

This blog post was produced and contributed by Kaily Schell and Jason D. Smith of The Career Foundation. 


T.M. Lewin, based in the U.K., also shared with us an informative infographic to help you crack the office dress code. Check it out below!

What to Wear to Work infographic by T.M. Lewin

Don’t Leave Money on the Table: 7 Negotiation Tips to Help You Increase Your Salary

Pocket change scattered around a table

For most of us, salary negotiations are uncomfortable and intimidating. We fear losing an opportunity, appearing greedy, or over-assessing our professional value. Thankfully, negotiations don’t need to be so difficult. Integrate these seven simple tips during your next salary negotiation and reap the benefits!

Tip 1: Perfect Your Pitch

Don’t try to improvise your salary negotiation. Have a plan in place and practise it! Before you get to the interview, do your research, know your bottom line, and make a case for your request based on your strengths and achievements. Consider multiple negotiation scenarios and develop an action plan for each.

Tip 2: Determine Your Value

Research the average salary for professionals with similar skills and experience to yourself. If your salary expectation is too high (or too low) you may risk elimination. Use sites like Indeed, Payscale and Glassdoor to research industry salary standards and to pinpoint the target company’s (or its competitor’s) salary ranges. Also, be sure to consider your qualifications and employment history when evaluating your worth. When you reach the negotiation stage, you should have a clearly defined salary range and a bottom line in mind.

Tip 3: Focus on What You Can Offer, Not on What You Need

Potential employers don’t care about your mortgage payments or the costs associated with maintaining your current lifestyle – they care about how much value you can bring to the organization. Justify your salary request by providing evidence of your professional achievements and by emphasizing the specific benefits that you can offer to the employer. One of the greatest mistakes that people make while negotiating their salary is failing to support their request with evidence of their value. “Show them the money” and watch your bank balance blossom.

Tip 4: Ask for Extras

More money is great, but so is more free time or more education. If an employer is offering a salary that is workable, but not ideal (and won’t budge) consider asking for additional vacation days, flex-time, tuition reimbursement, or other benefits that may sweeten the deal.

Tip 5:  Avoid Discussing Money Too Early

If possible, leave compensation out of the conversation until you are the last candidate standing. Many employers will inquire about your salary expectations early in the hiring process. If your expectation falls outside of their target range, you may get screened out before having a real opportunity to wow them. Do your best to delay money discussions until the last phase of the interview. If asked about compensation early in the interview process, politely advise the employer that you prefer to have a solid understanding of exactly what the position entails before discussing compensation.

Tip 6: Allow the Employer to Present the First Offer

Allowing the interviewer to advance their offer first helps you to avoid presenting a high figure that may lose you the job or a low figure that could leave money on the table. Additionally, many employers do not lead with their best offer so the employer’s proposal can provide you with a starting point for negotiations. Just how much bargaining room you have is tough to say, so be sure to consider your estimated value and remember that the sky is not the limit – avoid countering with an unrealistic figure that can’t be backed by market research and your professional experience.

 Tip 7: Know When Not to Negotiate

If an employer delivers a generous offer right off the bat, consider accepting (with a smile). You don’t have to negotiate simply for the sake of negotiating. Alternatively, if a salary figure or range was defined in a job advertisement, or if the employer assures you that they are presenting their best offer, there really may not be any room for movement – if you do decide to attempt negotiation, proceed wisely.

The Bottom Line: While salary negotiations may push us outside of our comfort zone, research shows that salary negotiators tend to make significantly more money over the span of their careers and are also perceived as stronger candidates than those who do not negotiate. Perfect your pitch and give it a try!

The author, Terra Blunt, is an Employment Specialist with The Career Foundation.

Creating a HEROES GROUP: A Creative Way to Make Decisions When You Don’t Want To

Which Way

“Nowadays you have to think like a hero in order to behave like a merely decent human being.”

 – From John LeCarre’s masterpiece, The Russia House

The above quote is used in both the novel by famed espionage author John LeCarre and the movie starring Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. The story takes place at the end of the Cold War amidst the tension, the unknown, and the incoming challenges of détente. It might initially seem negative, but with most things that seem dark at the beginning – like your job search – it’s merely the absence of light, not the opposite of light, that unsettles us.

Is this becoming too philosophical for an employment-related piece? Good. It’s time to get Freudian!

Whether at work or in your personal life, there are times when multiple paths sit right before you, and you’re on that metaphorical fence where the grass appears green on both sides. When decision-making, you’ve probably made lists of pros and cons, spoken to others, and even flipped a coin – to which you continually then say, “OK. Best 2 out of 3” … You still can’t decide.

A HEROES GROUP is another tool to assist you in making choices. It’s a philosophical decision-making strategy that finds answers you truly, if unconsciously, want to make. It’s rumoured that both Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs have created and used HEROES GROUPs. And needless to say, they both did well for themselves.

Think of the people whom you consider your most personal heroes; whose actions and character are the most meaningful to you. They could be anyone. ANYONE. They could be family members, friends, historical figures living or dead, fictional characters, celebrities, athletes, and anyone in between, including detractors. These are private lists and no matter how quirky or disconnected on the surface as they may seem, it isn’t important. What is important is how these heroes speak to you. This is the one area where (as an example) General Chuck Yeager, Leon Trotsky, Leonard Cohen, Helen Keller, Optimus Prime, Terry Fox, your Uncle Ed, and Wicket of The Ewoks are allowed to freely congregate.

But then again, why would you do this seemingly ridiculous activity in the first place?

The commonalities in your choices are actually the characteristics that you most admire, and these characteristics can unconsciously aid you in the decisions you make –even in your search for employment. Is it determination, endurance, originality, perseverance, wit, wisdom, or being wily that you crave and or admire? It stands to reason that if they are your heroes, then you can emulate those stronger characteristics more sharply when thinking as they do.

If you’re on the fence and you need to make a decision, ask yourself, “What would my hero(es) do in this situation?” Play and think creative. The answer you imagine your heroes choosing is actually your inner conscience telling you what it thinks is best. Hence, it’s most likely the best answer to your particular challenge. Truthfully, that answer came from within – you just needed a little inspiration!

Steve Jobs once said, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.” And what true Canadian wouldn’t name Wayne Gretzky as one of their all-time heroes?

Don’t just think like a job seeker, think like a job seeking hero! Why? “Nowadays, you have to.”

 

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for Provincially funded retraining. When not working, this self-professed Futurist can often be found reading, writing, and barbecuing in his native Burlington.   

6 Important Considerations for Second Career Strategy Applications

business-1370952_1920

Second Career Strategy is an Employment Ontario (EO) skills enhancement program in which EO Service Providers, such as The Career Foundation, assist clients in organizing their applications to The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (formerly MTCU) should the clients be both eligible and suitable. The objective of the Second Career program is to provide laid-off, unemployed individuals with skills training to help them find employment in occupations with demonstrated labour market prospects in Ontario that are vocational in nature.

Unfortunately, the name of this program is often taken out of context. Applicants need to understand that this program is based on a need, not a want. Furthermore, this particular program has more than its fair share of urban myths surrounding it. Applicants need to be able to demonstrate – to both the EO Service Provider and to the Ministry – that without training they are unable to re-enter the labour market. Often, applicants state that they simply want to do something different in their careers; and unfortunately this program is not designed for that purpose. Clients need to demonstrate that their current skill set is now obsolete. It’s important to note that the application process is extensive and time-consuming, and that the Second Career program is intended to be one option among many EO services and programs.

If Second Career is the right option for you, here are a few very important guidelines to remember as you put your application together. Hopefully a few urban myths will be dispelled along the way.

1.) Employment Ontario Service Providers (like The Career Foundation) will assist in providing interested clients all relevant information pertaining to eligibility, suitability, and mandatory application requirements. This includes a myriad of application forms, some of which are used for all applicants and some of which are used in specific circumstances (such as a need for child care or transportation) during the skills training.

2.) It is highly recommended that clients understand why an honest and full disclosure of an applicant’s financial situation and job search are required. An active job search is part of the application process. The Ministry has the right to scrutinize each and any part of the application upon receiving it. Applications can be rejected at the Ministry’s discretion should they feel that any part of it is incorrect.

3.) The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD) created this program and designed its parameters. EO Service Providers are NOT able to change the rules and requirements, and they do not make the final decision on acceptance into the program.

4.) The client will need to complete the application themselves, and be able to demonstrate that they in fact completed the entire application without interference from a third party. There are training institutions that provide interested applicants with completed applications, including falsified job logs, school research, informational interviews, and labour market research. This is fraud and it is against the law.

The downside for a prospective applicant is that it is the applicant’s signature that goes on the fraudulent application. The Career Foundation can ardently recognize falsified documents, but those documents can still find their way to the Ministry. And yes, they too know how to spot falsified documents. If a client’s application is to be approved, the client will be expected to meet with the Ministry to demonstrate that their application is accurate, authentic, and was completed independently. Honesty truly is the best policy.

5.) Choose a school that is reputable and a career that speaks to your heart. When your counsellor indicates that Second Career is an option, research what public and private colleges have to offer. Speak to real employers and ask them which training institutions they respect the most. Ask them which schools and which qualifications they are more likely to consider when a resumé comes across their desk or screen.

6.) While there are strict parameters for limiting what you can study through Second Career, you also need to imagine how employers view these qualifications. DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING A SCHOOL TELLS YOU! REMEMBER THAT THEY ARE THERE TO MAKE MONEY. THIS IS YOUR FUTURE – TAKE YOUR RESEARCH SERIOUSLY!

If you think you may be eligible for skills enhancement and training through the Second Career Strategy, please connect with your Employment Specialist and/or visit your nearest The Career Foundation hub for more information and an assessment.

Lastly, if ineligible for Second Career Strategy or uninterested in a vocational position, the good news is that OSAP (the Ontario Student Assistance Program) has dramatically changed its own parameters in 2017. There is now increased incentive for lower income families. OSAP offers two kinds of funding for post-secondary education: (1) Student Loans you need to repay and (2) Student Grants, which are financial supports you don’t have to pay back. Please connect with OSAP directly for more information.

To quote author, educator, and Chariots of Fire producer David Puttnam, “There’s always a miasma of misinformation emerging from the higher education sector as to which are the ‘best’ courses to take. My advice would always be to ignore the perceived wisdom and look for the most reliable evidence on the ground.

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for retraining for those in need of skills enhancement. When not doing this, he can often be found reading, writing and barbecuing in his native Burlington.   

5 Benefits of Seasonal Contracts

Contract

With hiring season around the corner, the job market is booming with temporary and seasonal opportunities (particularly in manufacturing and production positions). Here at The Career Foundation, we’ve seen an ever-growing number of temporary positions cropping up as we roll into spring. In light of this, we decided it might be time to evaluate the many benefits of temporary and seasonal employment opportunities.

Let’s start with the most obvious benefit of seasonal contracts: The income.
Temp assignments can provide a good source of supplementary income alongside your primary job, or they can simply provide income while you search for opportunities more in line with your career goals. Either way, money is never a bad thing.

Temporary contracts can allow you to “test drive” a position without having to make any long-term commitments.
Perhaps you were thinking a certain field or job is right for you, but you wanted to try it out before committing to a full time, permanent position. If this is the case, a seasonal contract might be the right fit for you.

So, your test drive went well and you’d be interested in a longer-term commitment to the company?  You have a shot!
Well, consider it a good thing that a lot of companies offer temp-to-perm opportunities to their successful seasonal employees. In many cases, companies will offer permanent positions to employees who stood out (positively) during a seasonal contract. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re the only one doing a little test-driving – always be sure to go that “extra mile” so employers will want to keep you just as much as you want to stay!

Seasonal contracts can also be a good opportunity to update your skill set, while preventing any questionable gaps from popping up in your resume.
Even if the seasonal opportunity isn’t your ideal, more work experience ultimately leads to a robust resumé and – so long as you’re not crowding it with an abundance of three-month stints – this can be beneficial to your future job search endeavours. If you find you have way too many short-term jobs listed on your resumé, bulk them strategically under a separate “Freelance” or “Contract Work” section.

Temporary contracts give you an opportunity to network and make new contacts. Developing a broad range of professional contacts can be very important, so even in a temporary contract it’s important to conduct yourself in a professional and friendly manner. You never know when you might need someone to be a reference – or if you’re going to have to work with someone again. Thus, it’s always good to leave a positive impression, even if your working relationship is a short one.

Next time you’re considering passing up a job opportunity due to its seasonal nature, you might want to reconsider. Seasonal contracts can have all the perks of permanent positions (including good pay rates and sometimes even benefits packages – ooh la-la!), as well as some benefits that you just don’t get from a permanent gig. So don’t shy away from giving some of those seasonal roles you glazed over a second gander.

Kaily Schell is an Office Administrator and Customer Service Specialist with The Career Foundation. When she’s not streamlining agency records or supporting just about all of the foundation’s committees, she can be found nibbling rice cakes at her desk or chasing her colleagues for last-minute reports.

4 Funny (But Actually Un-Funny) Ways You Are Self-Sabotaging Your Job Search

Going Nowhere Slowly
Be sure you’re not racing against your own good efforts in your job search… Or in life!

Face it: Everyone, including you, makes a few common blunders when first starting a job search. But when the hunt extends beyond the six-month mark and you haven’t gotten so much as a “Thank you for applying” e-mail, something must be awry – right? Let’s take a look at a few ways you could be unintentionally sabotaging your job search (at least, let’s hope it’s unintentional!)

1.) Using multiple names

  • You have a nickname that everyone else in your home uses, but sadly they never use or simply don’t remember your actual name. “Oh, are you looking for Sleazy Sue?” your brother asks a potential employer over the phone… “Phone’s for you, sis.”
  • Your resumé uses your middle name first, but your cover letter is signed with your legal first name. How do you spell “confusion?”
  • Your e-mail address contains no name whatsoever, and you have used two different spellings for your family name between your cover letter and resumé. This works against you because it makes you look disorganized. It can also make things complicated for employers who may not know whether to refer to a candidate as Eddie, Kurt or Chris, for example (I’m looking at you, Edward Christopher Kurtswood).
  • Advice: Use a first and last name only. Try to integrate them both into your e-mail address and be sure to always spell your full name the same way. (You’d be surprised the number of times I’ve seen this simple task go sour!) Use that name consistently on everything related to your job search.

2.) Your voicemail message is ……….. 

Answering machines really took flight in the late 1980s, and one would think they are fairly easy to use today given the technological advancements we’ve had since Back to the Future was released. However, voicemail messages can actually be the bane of your job search. For job search purposes you need a simple, short, clear and friendly voicemail message with your name in it. Many companies – banks in particular – have privacy policies that forbid them from leaving messages when the person’s name is not indicated in the voicemail greeting.

Also, be sure your message isn’t the dreaded “dead air” … No one likes an awkward silence. Finally, remove any music, movie references, puns/idioms and strange sounds. The employer will question what the heck is going on if they hear mysterious ruffling noises or the echoes of clanging pots and pans.

  • Advice 1: Keep it simple. “Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail of Fred Hale! Please leave a message and I will return your call shortly. Thank you, and have a great day!” Seriously – how hard was that?
  • Advice 2: When calling an employer or business, prepare a message in advance should you be re-directed to an employer’s voicemail. Employers absolutely detest (as most people do) watching the same number call repeatedly while not leaving a message. Either the employer is unable or unwilling to answer at the time. In either case, you present yourself as annoying and unprofessional. This hurts your chances of success.
  • Advice 3: Listen to your messages as soon as possible and ensure your voicemail is not full; otherwise employers cannot leave a message and may be too busy to call back. Listen to the message in full before you call that number back. You’ll look silly if you call a company with 200+ employees and simply say, “Someone from there called me.”

3.) Mislabeled file names / attached documents

When attaching your resumé and cover letter to an e-mail, follow the directions as specified in the posting. Be sure to include a short, professional introduction with the attachments. Use reference numbers and codes in the subject heading if asked. If the company wants your cover letter and resumé as a single attachment, combine them. If they do not ask for that, do not combine them.

In most cases, it’s best to save the file(s) as a pdf, unless otherwise indicated. Be aware that when a position is posted, employers can potentially receive hundreds of applications. You need to make their hiring process easier by following specific instructions.

  • Advice: Give each attachment (file) a clear name and do not send your resumé as “resume” or “my resume” or “new resume (2).” They should look like this: Fred Hale – Resume – Ikea or Fred Hale – Resume – Floor Associate. The same applies to cover letters, reference lists, and anything else that an employer is asking you to send: Fred Hale – Cover Letter – Ikea, et cetera.

4.) Incorrect contact information

A true story of a failed job search: A client, whose voicemail was full, (as in never emptied or deleted over a period of three months), also had a completely wrong e-mail address on her resumé. I would have liked to inform her of this, but I had no way of reaching her and my current position does not warrant my knocking on doors or using passenger pigeons. I’ll say it again: You need to make the hiring process easy for an employer. They will NOT knock on your door; nor will they spend three months trying to contact you.

  • Advice: Listen, reply, and then delete your voicemail messages. Check your e-mail address. Does it end in .org, .com, or .ca? Is your e-mail active? Is it professional and easy to read? Once you know all of these answers, you should be ready to proceed. Just be sure to check your e-mail account (including your Spam folder) a few times each day as some employers measure the time it takes for you to reply.

 

Jason Douglas Smith is a Training Application Coordinator with The Career Foundation, and has successfully directed clients in not only developing personalized job search strategy plans, but in circumnavigating the rigorous demands of applications for retraining for those in need of skills enhancement. When not doing this, he can often be found reading, writing and barbecuing in his native Burlington.