Finally…an update!

It’s been over a month since my last post.  That’s really bad of me.

I’ve passed the one month mark in my new job and things are going well.  I’ve stopped making too many comparisons with my previous employer.  Each has its pros and cons.

After a wait of about six months, I received my Certificate of Canadian Citizenship in the mail late last week.  Today I sent away for my Canadian passport.  Exciting stuff.  Maybe I’ll vacation in Cuba for Christmas now that I can.

I’ll try not to wait a month between updates next time.

Get back to work!

The past week was very productive. I attended a second interview for a business analyst role and am happy to report that I did get the job. I start this upcoming Monday, August 9.  It will be nice to be finally be generating income again.

This success did not come without some hiccups. The biggest issue involved references. My previous employer has a policy that does not permit its current employees from providing professional references for current or former employees. Seeing that I was with the company for nearly 15 years, it’s safe to say that my valuable references would be from their employees. Through a little bit of scrambling and great help from friends, I was able to obtain references from former employees that were familiar with my work.

From a legal perspective, I can see why the reference policy is in effect. They don’t wish to be placed in a position where a former employer challenges the company for giving a less than stellar recommendation. However, in the spirit of competitive practicality, it just doesn’t work. If the tables were turned, what would they do if a perspective employee could not provide references from their previous peers and managers? Lack of that information creates a dilemma in the hiring process for all parties.

I now only have a few business days left to enjoy being home and having a relaxed schedule.  The first few days next week will be tough, but I no doubt will be in a new routine very quickly.

Cleared a hurdle

On Monday, I discussed the challenges I had with my résumé as uncovered by the consulting firm. With the new, improved résumé, I’ve landed an interview with a financial services company for this upcoming Monday.

The new résumé tells my story that begins with the following subjects.

  • Profile: Brief sales pitch of my value.
  • Skills Summary: List of skills that feature key words that HR managers are seeking out.
  • Major Accomplishments: As the title suggests, this is where my big stuff goes. List of accomplishments that are larger in scale or those for which I am most proud.

Only after these three areas are covered, do I then proceed with my Work Experience and Education. With the Work Experience and Education, I related the skills and accomplishments to specific experience.

It was an eye-opening experience to rewrite my résumé in this way. I needed to take a hard look at specific skills and accomplishments and quantify them. This is an exercise I encourage all professionals to do on a regular basis, whether or not you’re looking for a job or career change.

Here’s to progress!

I had my first interview today and it was quite productive. The interview was with a consulting firm that recruits professionals for business and technology positions. In my case, I am working with them for a process analyst (or business analyst) position with a financial services company here in Toronto.

Having the layer of the consulting firm is providing me with some necessary guidance to ensure my skills are properly showcased. My résumé was reviewed and its flaws quickly identified as it didn’t market me as much as it summarized my experience. That’s definitely a hold-over from old-school résumés I’m used to from about 15 years ago.

After today’s meeting, I revamped the résumé and it will be presented on my behalf for two opportunities in the next day or so.

Right now, for me, this is a win-win situation. I receive the help I need and the consulting firm receives their fee from the employer for the placement.

Here’s to progress! (Let’s hope I can remain this optimistic. It’s encouraging.)

Captain Employee: Office Superhero

It’s natural (and expected) that you should do everything within your control to be the best. However, there are right and wrong ways to do that.

A great goal to have is to be indispensable to your employer and your peers. It can be a lofty one, but it is achievable. Over the 14 years with my previous employer, I learned many things. Since it’s in my nature to help others, I did just that every chance I got. A lot of what I learned was how to navigate through the organization. This is not something you can learn any other way but by paying attention and acquiring this information over your tenure. In a large organization, this is a commendable skill even if it’s not recognized by the employer. Once you have this skill, you become the “go to” person, the human Google Maps of the team. It can be an honour to hold this position, but it can be a burden as well.

The burden comes when you are forced to turn people away because you simply don’t have the time to perform the tasks of the “go to” person. It could be because of an emergency issue you’re dealing with or just a shear volume of work that requires your full, uninterrupted attention. When this occurs, you feel like you’ve disappointed your peer and your stress level increases because the crush of the work seems that much heavier.

I’m too young to be nostalgic, but on this topic I am. In a more prosperous time, the administrative assistant would be the “go to” person and relieve this task from the rest of the staff. Now, the role of the administrative assistant has been elevated to the point that they don’t have time for this support either. This is typically due to budget squeezing where more tasks are placed on the assistant coupled with the fewer number of assistants on staff due to the same budget constraints.

Okay. So you’re out in the job market. How do you take these organizational navigation skills, for which I’ve coined the title, “Office Superhero”, and present them as valuable to the next employer? This can be narrowed down to one trait: attentiveness. That’s not a bad trait and, sadly, many people lack this necessary one. Employers expect all of their employees to be attentive. I could be verbose and speak about breaking down walls of bureaucracy and the efficiency of getting to the right person or department the first time. Again, employers don’t believe they have this type of bureaucracy but of course they do.

The point is that you should focus on transferrable skills first, and proprietary ones second. Be courteous to the your peers. Be a team player. However, remember that in a good team, all members are strong and the captain leads by example.

No regrets

It can be easy to be critical of ourselves. We only want to be the best and when we see an imperfection, the wave of criticism can overflow.

  • I wish I were taller.
  • I wish I were thinner.
  • I wish I had better hair.

Of course I wish all of those things for myself. Some things I have control over and others I simply don’t. I could diet and diet and get thinner, but only to a point. Would I be a better person then? Probably not.

We also fall into the “coulda woulda shoulda” trap.

  • What if I chose a different major in university?
  • What if I chose to enter the job market immediately after high school?
  • What if I chose a different career?

I’m at a time in my life where I’m taking a hard look at my skills. My résumé reveals a loyal employee with an impressive 14-year history, but does it reveal my skill? A new employer cares less about tenure (because it’s not with their organization anyway and demonstrates loyalty more than skill). They care more about what you’ll bring to them. Your personal and professional experience both create your list of skills. For this, you have to live with no regrets.

With skills trumping experience, I’m re-writing my résumé. The challenge here goes back to my previous post regarding automated application systems. If someone is reading the résumé as originally built, I can present the information in a meaningful way. In the land of automation, I’m reduced to placing information in digestible bullet points.

How do you balance skills with experience on your résumé? Please share your thoughts below in Comments.

Happy Canada Day 2010!

Canada, you turn 143 today. Despite the G20 anarchists, you don’t look a day over 80.

In June I celebrated my third anniversary in Canada. My move north could possibly be the single most life-changing event to date. I’ve never been in a position to regret the decision. Back in 2007 when I made my move a reality, I worried that I was running away from something instead of making an overall improvement. My personal life in Delaware was far from great. I had (and still have) a small circle of great friends there. Despite that I found myself alone more times than not. I lived for my work and satisfaction in that could only last so long. As the first weeks and months in Canada passed, I learned that I made the right decision — for the right reasons.

I am very comfortable here in Toronto. I’ve found that being in the city has presented lots of opportunities to enjoy the simple things in life, such as taking a long walk on a warm spring day. I’ve found someone special to share these opportunities with. I have just about everything I need at this point, except maybe an iPhone 4. (Apple: Will you bring it here already!)

The next step in this journey is to obtain Canadian citizenship. My application is in progress at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. I hope to have a response to my request by the end of the summer.

The short term may be a little shaky for me while I look for a new job, but I’m confident this chapter will close successfully and I can look forward to even better things to come.

Happy Canada Day! (ou Bonne fête du Canada !)

The value of service – Part two

This is essentially a continuation of my previous post. Service is big in our society and getting it right can be tough.

Today I present an interesting scenario. There is a sushi restaurant very close to our home, so close that you can actually see it looking out our window. (That’s actually not that uncommon here in midtown Toronto.) We’ve gone to this restaurant a couple of times in the past. The food quality was decent and the decor was fine, but the service was awful. The wait time to get the server’s attention was lengthy and when you got their attention they were hardly polite. The first time we experienced this, we wrote it off as a “bad day”. On a second trip, things didn’t improve so we just stopped going.

In the past month or so, the restaurant changed management. Sometimes that just means a change of name, other times it’s a complete change. We decided to give it a try last night. The staff appeared to be a complete turn-over so that was a good sign. They were much more courteous. The decor had some minor updates but it was good before so that didn’t need a lot of attention. The problem came in that the friendly staff had the same issues with attentiveness. We were in a position to hunt someone down when we needed them. It was quite sad. At the end of the meal, instead of waiting to flag down a server for our cheque, we simply went to the register to pay.

At the register, we were presented with a card. It represented their new loyalty program. After so many paid meals, the next one would be free. This is not an uncommon practice and commonly a nice gesture.

This brings us to today’s poll.

[polldaddy poll=3392970]

Canadian localization matters

Let me begin by stating that, those that know me well know I’m a grammar-snob. Take that to heart as you read.

This past week marked the third anniversary of me living in Canada. As time has gone by, I’ve become more and more sensitive to issues of Canadian grammar, more specifically spelling. I’ve taken note of when companies and individuals get it right and when they get it wrong. Thanks to a high literacy rate, my observation is typically focused on the misuse of American English for Canadian audiences.

First, there are the obvious things, such as “colour” vs. “color”,  “litre” vs. “liter”, and the like. More times than not those may be caused by folks not changing their language in Microsoft Word to English (Canada) from the default English (U.S.) and spell check kicks in.

Next, there are the less obvious things. These include things like “per cent” vs. “percent” and “instalment” vs. “installment”. The latter issue is one that I battled with quite often in my previous job. To this day, inconsistencies abound. These are harder to explain because spell check is hit or miss with them. In this paragraph alone, spell check picked up that “installment” was incorrect but missed “percent”.

There is another scary trend. This is where groups treat Canada and the U.S. equally with no effort to properly localize the content for Canada. This can be from simply using American terminology to ignoring bilingualism entirely. I visited the Ontario Science Centre this past week to view “Harry Potter: The Exhibition“. When you enter the Centre, you notice that they do a very good job of ensuring both Canadian English and Canadian French are used throughout signs and the permanent exhibits themselves. I applaud them for that.

When you enter “Harry Potter: The Exhibition”, all of that attention to detail is gone. This is most likely due to the fact that this is a travelling show and the majority of venues are in the U.S. I experienced the same issue with one of their previous travelling exhibits as well. Certainly the props themselves should never be altered for the audience. However, all the placards and accompanying information should be written to the specific audience. That means English and French. No French was present. With this exhibit, there was a key defect. In the U.S, the first Harry Potter book and subsequent movie were entitled, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. However, in the rest of the world, including Canada, it was entitled, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. This was not acknowledged in the exhibit. Finally, every good exhibit needs a gift shop, right? Of course. The gift shop here continued its U.S. focus in its souvenirs, including the U.S. version of the movies on DVD. That may actually be illegal in Canada because the packaging didn’t have the CHVRS rating listed.

What’s the point of all of this? These issues enforce that we need to preserve Canadian content in our society, including the media. It’s easy for the media companies to simply buy their content from the U.S., but what does that say about us? Canadians get mad at being referred to as the 52nd state. We need to demand Canadian content and ensure our legislators do so as well. I could do us some good to be free of Pauly D and Snooki.