Questions and Answers with Career Expert Sharon Brown
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Sharon Brown is career advisor with Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Career and Counselling Services, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||You wrote an article about how to “create positive surprise during the interview and on the job.” Can you elaborate on that idea?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I recently spoke with a friend of mine who had just hired a new staff member. She mentioned that by the time the interview was over, this person felt so right for the job that my friend wanted to hug her. The conversation got me to thinking about what made this person feel so “right” over the others interviewed. My friend told me that a large part of this feeling was because of how often the prospective employee kept positively surprising her during the interview. So how does one go about giving the employer positive surprises during the interview and, after you snag the gold ring, continuing to do so on the job?
Just what does a positive surprise entail? Well, what’s the first thing someone usually says when surprised? Something like, “I wasn’t expecting…” or “I can’t believe you…” or “You’ve just made my day!” So surprise seems to be based on going beyond a person’s expectations, exceeding the norm, or going that extra mile for someone. Think back to the times when you’ve been surprised. How did you feel? Did you receive a gift of some sort? Was it something concrete or as simple as an unexpected act of kindness? Did it make you feel energized, open to new possibilities, and filled with warm feelings for the person who surprised you? What was involved when you were planning a surprise for someone else? It seems to me that to create a great surprise, you also need to have put some thought into it. It has to be a genuine and sincere effort based on your knowledge of the other person’s needs and expectations.
So, what kinds of expectations does an employer have when interviewing people for a position? Here are some ideas I’ve come up with based on my own experience, talking with several other colleagues here in the office, and on a survey we do every year with employers who have hired through our institute. Well, we know if you were picked for the interview that they’re pretty sure you have the technical skills for the job. What they’re really trying to learn about, and assess in more detail, is your level of commitment, credibility, and interest; how well do you get along with others, and will you fit in with the rest of the crew; and how open you are to change and learning new things. Based on these expectations, here are some ways to go about creating positive surprise in your interview:
Let’s move on now to what kinds of expectations employers have of you on the job. They’re actually pretty similar to interview expectations but taken one step further and involve more than just showing up each day and “doing” your job. They expect you to be an effective part of the team. They expect a sincerely committed professional who is competent in what is required, enjoys the work, and who is also actively open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Positive surprise based on these expectations involves excellence taken one step further toward the concept of uncompromising customer service. A customer can be internal or external: the person who sits across from you, a client on the phone, someone who walks in the door, your boss or even yourself. Uncompromising service means giving the gift of your time, effort, initiative, and compassion to these customers. It means going the extra mile even when you are tired, having a hard day, or the clock is almost at quitting time. It means being open to new learning opportunities and showing a sincere interest in other people’s lives. Actually, it’s kind of exciting to have this philosophy as the cornerstone of your professional life because of the payback involved. Remember how much fun, excitement and satisfaction you got out of the last surprise you gave someone? Wouldn’t it be great to feel this way about the work you are doing and the people you deal with? Have you ever worked with anyone who works in this way? Isn’t it great being in that kind of a working environment?
No one can be perfect in every way in an interview or on the job, but it can sure be a lot of fun to put some surprise back into your life and others’ lives by taking advantage of the opportunities around you. Really, in the end, creating positive surprise for an employer is all about creating your own job satisfaction and about getting enjoyment and personal fulfillment out of your career and your life. Give it a try; I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the one job-hunting secret you share with students but that may not be widely known?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I often work with graduates who are having trouble with their job search and have booked an appointment with me to critique their resume content/format and troubleshoot their job-search strategies. The secret ingredient I share with them is simple. When an employer reads a cover letter/resume or sees you in an interview; the question at the front of their minds is “Why should I interview/hire you?” If you want the job, answer this question. To answer it successfully, you must know the following three things: What are the employer’s needs? How do your training, education, experience, skills and personal qualities meet those needs? What is your edge over the competition? If you have done your research and are clearly focused on addressing the employer’s concerns, you will achieve your goal. Make the employer’s job of deciding that you are the right person for the company as easy as possible.
Research how to’s: Target companies offering the kind of career opportunities you really want. Read ads carefully and circle key concepts and words. Make notes on how you fit the bill. Refer to the company Web site for further details on the job, company philosophy, and operating information. Think about what is important to the company. Take some time to stop by in person and get a feel for the place. Consider what makes you special. How can you make that uniqueness into your edge over the competition? What key industry vocabulary should you be incorporating into your descriptions of yourself? Be sure to make use of this research in your interview preparation.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest “reality check” your students face once they successfully make it into the workplace? What surprises them the most?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| During your first week on the job you may feel overwhelmed by the realization of what the job really requires besides the diploma. You realize that you’re not as prepared as you thought you were. In college you were the expert, and now you’re back at the beginner level. It’s school-smarts versus life-skills-smarts. How does it all go in the world of work? Ways to deal with your angst:
Often, the biggest surprise in the first few months is that the learning never stops. How many times have we heard someone say, “I’ll never have to take another course again!” Then you get your first job in your field and realize that lifelong learning is the cornerstone of professional success. Use it or lose it! The people who get laid off first are usually the ones who didn’t take this philosophy to heart! Keep trying to make yourself more valuable. Continue to grow professionally by upgrading your skills, taking on new challenges, and staying open to change. Make sure this process involves staying current with industry changes and innovations. Enhance your job performance by maintaining a varied personal and professional life.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest mistake job-seekers make that your advice could correct or prevent?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| The biggest mistake they make is in not having the right attitude about their job search. You have to treat looking for a job as a job in itself and not underestimate the power of personal contact. A lot of students I have worked with have forgotten to take the time to research every aspect of what’s involved with getting that perfect job. Or they know what’s involved but don’t really believe the process will work for them or that they need to put in the effort. They’ve assumed that because they have the diploma/degree, they will have a lock on any interview. Then after three months, they’re wondering why they don’t have a job! Attitude is everything in job search. If you don’t make a sincere effort based on a combination of your research and marketing yourself to employers, you won’t get anywhere.
Once the research is done, you have to actually apply what you’ve learned to your job search to make it really effective. Marketing success means knowing what you want and knowing what the employer wants and how you meet the company’s needs over the competition. Many students think their job is done once they’ve established some contacts or sent out their resume. They are often surprised when I ask them what they have done to follow up. Follow-up is where the personal touch comes in. As an employer, who are you going to remember? Probably the person who took the time to research the company, remember your name, follow up after applying, knows what you want and how they fit the bill, and who sent you a thank you note after the interview. Take the time to personalize your job search. Demonstrate that you are sincere and have thought about what’s needed to succeed, and the job offers will come. Remember that every job has something valuable to offer; use it as a steppingstone toward achieving your future career goals.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Are there any significant differences between the Canadian career development/career counseling field and the American one? Are there issues and concerns that are big in Canada but not in the U.S. and vice versa?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I guess the main difference would be the same as the one key difference between the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (where I work as a career advisor) and most of the other colleges/universities in Alberta. Our focus is on career training, where hands-on learning and technology connect to produce graduates who have the job-ready skills and training to make an immediate impact on any organization they join. Because of this focus, the type of career advising we do is also focused on assisting students with their career training goals and with graduate placement.
I think the issues and concerns are really the same for both Canadians and Americans. Everyone wants the same thing — a career that will allow meaningful contributions and the opportunity to live the kind of life that emphasizes personal values — which means finding out what career path is the right one for you and finding the right learning institution to provide education and training in a format that works for you. It also means talking with people like career advisors to arm yourself with as much information as possible to enable you to make the right choice. I think everyone involved with career advising on both sides of the border does the best they can within their spheres of influence to assist people in making the best choice possible. In the end though, people have to step up to the plate and hit their own home runs. And we get to cheer from the stands as they take off for first base!
Sharon Brown is career advisor with Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Career and Counselling Services, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her office’s focus is on career training, where hands-on learning and technology connect to produce graduates who have the job-ready skills and training to make an immediate impact on any organization they join. Sharon has worked in the education field for 20 years, specializing in adult education and career planning/job search for the last 10 years. She often writes articles on job search and employment for the student newspaper, the NAIT Nugget. Sharon invites readers to visit the NAIT Career Services website, which she calls, “an absolutely fabulous site filled with information about educational/career planning and job search. Students will find it very user-friendly, and it will help them greatly in making the right career choice for them, ven if that doesn’t include attending NAIT. Although, of course, it ould be grea i you did decide hat N IT is right for you!”
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