4 Simple Steps to Explaining “Gaps” on your Résumé

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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.   

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.

6 Important Considerations for Second Career Strategy Applications

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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.   

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

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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.   

 

7 Ways Employers Can Be Spoken of Warmly When Their Employees Go Home for Dinner

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Before owning a printing business (which reportedly had exceptional employee morale), my great grandfather assisted his father with his store in Hamilton, Ontario. That was when he wasn’t roll’n through ‘The Hammer’ in his buggy. In case you’re curious, this image dates all the way back to 1903 — and yes, it does relate to this article!

Employer and employee relationships are obviously reciprocal. There simply needs to be an equal back and forth of direction, respect and the modest understanding that you’re all “there to work.” While unlimited holidays, unlimited sick days, and giant bags of cash (ala Scrooge McDuck) would seem the obvious way to keep your employees happy, this is rarely a realistic option. But there are some insightful strategies to help employees feel happier and more productive in the workplace. Here are my top seven tips:

1. Promote a positive work place

Promote inclusiveness, smiles and compliments when possible. Grab some Sharpies and leave little notes for your team with simple messages like, “I thought how you handled that was great!” or “You rock! Thanks for giving it your all!” For every mistake or warranted criticism, try adding a positive comment as well. A number of small gestures will add up over time and that’s the point: demonstrating to your team that you believe each individual is an important asset to the entire organization.

2. See things from the employee’s point of view

This is easier said than done since you’ve got your work to do, too, and each person within an organization plays different roles. However, empathy is a widely accepted gesture, so you might as well try. Remember that your team or organization is only as strong as its weakest link, so there’s an incredible benefit to knowing what your team members require to fulfil their duties more effectively.

3. Listen and care

Active listening requires the listener (in this case the manger or owner) to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and finally remember what is being said. Engage, ask, remember and repeat. If you don’t fully understand, you’re not listening. It’s OK to not immediately understand what’s on the table, but it’s critical to ask the right questions for clarification. After all, employees are the front line between you and your profit so it makes sense that their ideas and concerns should be of paramount importance.

4. Add perks when possible

Yes, this is a cost. Gym memberships, employee lunches, gift certificates and unlimited onion rings would be an amazing start, but this isn’t always something that an employer can afford or an employee actually wants. However, a little extra now and again can go a long way. Coffee, donuts, or an extra lieu day are easy enough.

The managers at one business in Toronto routinely walk office-to-office during peak season to hand out $10 gift cards and thank their employees for their hard work and dedication. Want to flip a frown to a smile at light speed? Small, simple – and inexpensive – tokens of appreciation will help brighten anyone’s day.

5. End the micro-management ASAP

There’s a reason this is constantly voted as the most aggravating part of someone’s work life. It puts your team on the defensive and it’s an incredible misuse of time. Not sure if you agree? Check this out.

6. Always say “thank you

Your grandmother* was right when she reminded you to be courteous. Yes, you train and pay your employees and in theory this should be enough. However, a simple thank you is the most direct, personal way to build your employee’s self-esteem. Not only is the face-to-face interaction genuine, it’s also rewarding for employees who perceive their boss as a “power figure” – especially since this power figure (who can seemingly do whatever he or she wants) is choosing to be grateful and courteous.

*(I’ve never met your grandmother and there’s a possibility that you haven’t either. However, all grandmothers I’ve ever met have been absolutely lovely).

7. Paint the “big picture” with your workers in it

My great grandfather established and ran The Moore Printery in Hamilton, Ontario, at the start of the 20th century. It was a different era, when employees could often start and stay with an employer for their entire professional work life. When he passed, employees young and old came to his funeral. I was told there was a strong sense of internal community within that business, meaning the employees felt a sense of belonging.

With workers – let alone employers – currently changing career paths multiple times throughout their lives, “painting the big picture” may seem like a hard task to accomplish but perhaps makes this sentiment more important than ever. Think about it: If you choose to include your employees in the discussion of your organization, and choose language that involves their unique skills and characteristics combined with opportunities for professional development and the chance to creatively contribute to future plans, you’re establishing not only a direct future business plan for your organization, but an inclusive team that acts as a constant resource for your growth.

All human beings seem to crave a sense of belonging. We spend good portions of our lives away from home, so it makes perfect sense that employees who feel valued and part of a bigger picture would be more productive as a result.

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.