Monday, April 30, 2012

Back to the Future

I left off on Friday with a technique to envision what might be what a perfect work day would be like. 

Returning to Zen and the Art of Making a Living, the next exercise is remembering when work has been "perfect".  This might provide hints, actually proof, of what kind of work you really enjoy - looking back to see the future...Back to the Future...get it now.

As an added plus, it can help you with some great answers to behaviourally-based interview questions and supply some great info for your resume!

1.  What was the most important contribution you feel you have made in your career?

2.  What has been the most exciting aspect of your work?

3.  What has been the most difficult work challenge in your career, but one that you met face on and worked through the obstacles?

4.  What, in your career, are you the most proud of?

5.  What has been a creative highlight?

6.  What skills have you perfected in your career that you have incorporated into your day-to-day life?

7. What have you enjoyed the least?

8.  What have you been formally rewarded for in your career?

9. What have you been the most committed to in your career, where you were deeply involved, emotionally committed, and determined to succeed?

10. What have you done that someone said that you couldn't and shouldn't but you knew was right?

11.  What have been some times when you were absorbed in your work, when you hardly noticed the time (or the bad pay)?

(L Boldt, Zen and the Art of Making a Living)

I have a follow-up interview tonight for a job that still has a lot of question marks for me.  I will ask these questions of myself this afternoon and into tonight, trying to figure out if it can give me the same satisfaction as some of my past highlights.

Blog again with you tomorrow.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Day in the Life

Most of us have books that have a profound effect on our lives - Catcher in the Rye, the Bible, the Twilight Saga.  In February of 1998 I bought a book called Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt.  Over the next two years, I read and worked through it.  It helped my clarify my values, linked my values to a profession, and helped me chart my career course.  There is a lot of new age crap in it, but the essence of the arguments and the very effective worksheets were worth it.

Boldt’s main point is that we need to be fulfilled – to do the work we love.

One worksheet in the book is called A Day in the Life.  It helps you discover what a perfect work day would be like.  Print off this post and answer the questions for yourself.  See if you are living the perfect life already Or see if a new job will bring you closer to your ideal. 

Your Ideal Day in the Life

1.  What time do wake up for work?

2.  What do you wear to work?

3.  Where do you go to work?

4.  Who is the first person you greet, if any?

5.  At what time do you begin your work day?

6.  Are you working for yourself, a small firm, a large firm, or a branch of government?

7.  What are the tools you work with?

8.  Do you have a boss?  What kind of rapport do you have?  Do you have subordinates or employees? What do they do?  How do you interact?

9.  How do you spend the lion share of the day (in meetings? alone? with a team? on the telephone?  Making presentations?)

10.  Do you work primarily with people inside or outside of your organization?

11.  Where do you have lunch?  With whom?

12.  As what time do you complete your work day?

13.  Do you take your work home with you?  If yes, what kind of work?

14.  How much money will you earn at this job?

You can visit the author's web-site at

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reflect, Engage, Review

I am in a celebratory mood - I have another interview lined-up for later this week & this blog, as of yesterday, has over 1000 hits.  Now that I have hit this milestone , I would like to take the time reflect, engage & review.

REFLECT - Simon Sinek @simonsinek said that we all want people to watch out for our back, stemming from cave people being eaten by sabre tooth tigers.  We long to belong, to have people take care of us. My motivation for this blog is to let you all know that I have your back. You might need advice and some encouragement when facing problems and forced to make decisions (I know I do).  I am happy to share my passion for matching talent with jobs, which I hope can help you not be causality.  Hey, I got your back.

ENGAGE - I have been telling you what I want to so far.  Does anyone have any specific needs?  I would like to start fielding questions and handling specific scenarios.  So send me your ideas and issues to or post them in the comments section.

REVIEW - I have about 15 posts now, on topics such as decision making, career development, networking, job searching, cover letters, resumes, reference checks, and negotiation.  In the coming weeks, I hope to organize them to help you navigate them in a more linear, clear way.  For now though, please take a peek at some past blogs.

Thank-you all and good luck managing your career and finding the right opportunity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Simple Cover Letters

It is proper job seeker etiquette to preface your application to an advertised job posting with a cover letter. 

Some advertisements contain explicit instructions on what should be contained in the cover letter.  If so, ensure you follow their instructions or you run the risk of your resume being automatically dismissed.

If there are no instructions, here are my recommendations for a cover letter:

1.  Clearly (often bold or as a header) identify the job you are applying on. 

Use the advertised job title, a reference number, and any other detail that links your application to an actual job.  A busy recruiter receives hundreds of applications a day & if she can not link a resume with a job, the resume may sit idle.

2.  In the first short paragraph, indicate how you became aware of the job.  Say where you found the job advertisement or who referred you to the job. 

3.  In the second paragraph, use your "elevator talk".  Concisely, summarize your potential value to the company.  A previous post provides some pointers on creating your quick value proposition.

4.  In the third paragraph, address advertised duties with some detailed past actions and results.  Here, I recommend a bullet list of about 3-5 facts that prove you can do the job.  Be specific, use industry jargon and business names.  This all helps a reader link trust what you are saying more since your sentences tell specific stories.  If a job advertisement indicates that you will manage the corporate blog, in my cover letter a bullet of mine would be: Utilizing, run a blog for career transition which has over 800 hits from 5 countries in its first two weeks.

5.  In the concluding paragraph, actively ask for a meeting.  Possibilities include asking for a phone conversation (please call me at 780.... as I would love to talk to you about this opportunity), an in person meeting (I am free next week and work very close to your office.  If you have some free time, send me a quick email and I can meet you). Provide any contact information that may not be in your header and/or clarify the best way to contact you.

After all, a great cover letter will not get you the job.  A good to great cover letter will just get your application read, which may get you and interview, which may lead to them checking your references and credentials, which then may get you the job!  Good luck

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Occupational profiles

One of the best resources I use for my career and profession is occupational profiles.

Occupational profiles, in Alberta can be found at

The profiles list the duties, the personal characteristics, the educational requirements, employment and enhancement, and salary information. As an HR professional, I use the site to create job ads, interview questions, and to negotiate salaries.

But, as a job-seeker, it can be more useful. It can help you define:

1. What areas of experience have that match with the career. You can use the phrases on your resume or your on-line profile.

2. What areas of experience you don't have. You can try to stretch in your current job and/or seek opportunities to gain this expertise.

3. What job-specific personal characteristics you have and focus your cover letter, resume, and interview responses to focus on your job specific strengths.

4. Conversely, identify personal characteristics that you are week on and mitigate them.

5. Evaluate educational programs that could accredit you in the profession.

6. Identify key employers.

7. Negotiate salaries or determine your income earning potential in certain sectors.

Try to search for your current job, jobs close to yours that might be attainable, and some of your dream jobs.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The elevator talk

I can't recall who proposed this, but there is a job-seeker technique called "the elevator talk". 

Let me paint a scenario:

One day, I am visiting my colleagues on the 34th floor of Manulife Place here in Edmonton.  As I leave I see Patrick Laforge, President and CEO of the Edmonton Oilers.  He is waiting for the elevator to go down.  The door opens and we both step in......

What conversation do I have with Mr. Laforge to get a dream job with the Oilers?

Envisioning this can be useful since, as job seekers, we need to engage the people around us to discover opportunities and clearly, concisely express our value to an organization.  It also can help your on-line profile, your resume, and even your interview (more on that later).

Back to the elevator....before Mr. Laforge can grab his blackberry, I say "Patrick Laforge, I'm Jayson Lavergne.  You have some very talent people working for you right now, including some fantastic skaters.  I have always wanted to ask you how does your organization attract and assess talent? I attract and assess talent for the Federal Government of Canada and I love to hear unique perspectives on the issue".

Now, hopefully, Mr. Lafarge hears me. After he hears me, I hope that he compliments my question & gives me a quick response.  If he answers anything like a player, I am sure he will tell me they give 110% and it is a team effort. Once he is done, I would then say, "That's great.  Is there anyone I call follow-up with (as I grab my blackberry)."

Now hopefully, he gives me a name in his organization that I can call, follow-up with, or find on linked-in.  As the doors open, I wish him god luck bringing the cup back to Edmonton and we go our separate ways.

If he asks more about what I do, I then I tell him that I advise managers to support about 17,000 positions in Alberta by sourcing, recruiting, and assessing talent.  My clients include DND, Correctional Services, RCMP, Health Canada and 43 other organizations.

Why is this useful to work through the elevator conversation?

1.  You can establish how, when faced with an influential person, you can establish a professional conversation.  A casual conversation will typically not create a career opportunity.  And yes, everyone is an influential person.

2.  You can create a career summary for yourself.   This summary can then be used in social media & as an introductory section of your cover letter or resume.

Have fun on your elevator ride! I will be trying "elevator talk" out as I attend a 2-day HR conference in Calgary and meet influential HR professionals.  Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Decisions, decisions

For those who have been following me from the beginning, this blog is part advice to people wanting/needing to change jobs & part a story of my own transition as my office is closing so my job is disappearing.  Yesterday, I got the dreaded call that, although I performed well on my recent interview, they had decided to go with another candidate.  There was some disappointment and some relief. 

With some time to reflect and research, it seems that what I was facing is called Bounded Rationality.  This is where:

a. the minimum criteria for the decision is clear. Check - I need a new job since my current lack of wealth forces me to earn an income.

b.  You don't have or are unwilling to invest much effort into making the decision. Ahhh - this could of happened if in week 2 of my current state I were to be offered a great job.

c. you are not trying to maximize the outcome. Bingo! That is why I am relieved to not get the job. I see this as one of finest opportunities ever afford to me to make the next years better than the first 40.
Among many decision making techniques, I self-identify most with the creative style **the author would like to ensure readers understand that many of his personal decisions have not been great or lead to immense wealth and happiness.  So, the author will take no blame for decisions you make with this technique***

This also led me discovering other decision making styles.  I really identified with Creative Decision Making.  The claim is that this style is effective when the solutions to the problem is not clear, when new solutions need to be generated, and when you have some time to immerse yourself in the issues (

The steps to making a decision creatively are:

1.  Problem recognition.  Like, hmmm, my job has been eliminated and I have a time limit to choose what I want to do. Check.

2.  Immersion.  Jump right in a live in the problem.  Check

3.  Incubation.  During incubation, you are supposed to set aside the problem and not think about it.  Sorry, the daily blogging, meetings, peer support is not a sign of incubation. 

4.  Illumination. This is when subconsciously you arrive at the answer.  Hasn't happened yet

5.  Verification & Decision.  This is when the "illuminated" decision is checked against the facts & the opinions of others.

Shirts with "I'm not procrastinating, I'm incubating"  will be for sale shortly. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I will post other decision making styles, pitfalls, worksheets, et cetera, to help myself and my friends.  Friends, thanks for the over 500 hits on my blog.  The rewards are immeasurable.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Help them grow or watch them go

A short post today but an important one.

Watch the third video on this link  called What Employees Want From Their Careers.

Ask your boss some of those questions next time you see them.   Analyse your current job in this context.  Seek workplaces that can answer these questions.  Answer  these questions for your subordinates and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Preparing your references

One often under-developed part of getting a new job by a job seeker is references.  Typically, a job seeker gets all the contact information of someone who will say nice things about them.  They may even go so far as asking permission from the references to us their name.

Again, the Government of Canada has a great (free) resource  Here are the recommendations made that are suitable for any job seeker:

1.  Your references should have had an adequate opportunity to observe you in job-relevant situations. Therefore, the referee should have an in-depth and direct knowledge of your work and be able to answer specific questions pertaining to your achievements and strengths.  Too often, job seekers use references that have superficial knowledge of their work behaviours.  Focus on people that you deal with on a day-to-day basis.  Also, a good practice is to "refresh" your references memory about what great things you accomplished. If someone asks me to be their reference, I ask them to email 10 things they are proud of doing while working with me/for me (I can choose whether I agree or not but at least it gives me a starting point).

2.  Your references should have worked with you recently and generally for at least six months within the last five years.  Trust me, many references can't remember what you did last week, forget about 7 years ago.

3.  Your references should be open and candid in communicating relevant information about your work performance. If a reference is going to be brief and not provide details, they will not give the hiring manager the information they are looking for. 

4.  You references should be available.  I know this is obvious, but in my experience, some references are impossible to track down and some never return phone calls.  If possible, use a reference's mobile contact information so they can be reached away from their desk or home.

5.  Consider providing your referees with a copy of your résumé that you submitted, a copy of the job advertisement and any other relevant information.  This can give them the context of the job and they might give examples that "fit" with the job requirements.

Spend as much time managing your references as you do rewriting your resume.  Your resume gets you the interview; your references likely will get you the job offer

Monday, April 16, 2012

Becoming a professional

Last week I blogged about the 9 essential skills for ANY job.  But it is not that simple.  For self-fulfillment and recognition (income-earning potential), I became a professional.  I took the required education, joined the accepted professional association, gained the required experiences, and built the skills to be a professional.  This can be done for most any job out there & can help position yourself on the top of everyone's hiring list.

Here is how;

1.  Use an occupational profile site, typically run by your provincial government.  In Alberta, the site is called ALIS and can be found at  Under each job title are the duties, personal characteristics, educational requirements, and associations.   This can be used as a professional roadmap for education (including post-graduate), subject matters you may want to get experience in, and abilities that you may want to focus on.

2.  Use the professional association’s web-site for required capabilities. My association, CHRP, has 187 knowledge, concepts, skills, abilities and other attributes required for demonstrating success as an effective human resources professional. 

3.  As always, when in doubt, Google.  I found a great information source on HR Consulting from Alan Weiss   He has tonnes of free articles on his web-site about consulting best-practices  I have adopted many of them to the public sector with great success.

Best of luck becoming and presenting yourself as the consumate professional in whatever you do!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Getting ready for the job interview

So, I found out late on Friday that I have an interview outside of the Government of Canada on Monday. The first thoughts were joyous and after that it was all work...

Here are some effective steps to get ready for a job interview:

1. Use your networks. First thing I did was call a friend I knew worked there. We chatted about what he knows, who he knows, what his interview experience was like. He helped focus me - he told me the organization typically probes knowledge of the organization, they use situational questioning, and they prefer to hire within, amongst other things

2. Do your research. I went to the organization's hiring page and clicked on every link and read everything. I read the union agreements, the leadership competencies, and the learning program. I looked for their brand - which often is simple statements that show the more lengthy corporate vision, mission, and value statements.

3. Read and re-read the job advertisement that you applied to. Focus in on key sentences & look for repetition. In the first paragraph there is "showcase your ability to manage multiple priorities". In the bullet list, there is "prioritize workload requirements and create and utilize tools and practices to support efficiencies". In the qualifications section, there is “demonstrated ability to effectively manage large work volumes". This leads me to believe there will be a question on this factor.

There are two ways a skilled interviewer will ask about a skill or personal quality - behavioural (your past) or situational (hypothetically). So, for this factor I will think of 2 or 3 great stories in my past where I have handled large workloads AND I will consider what key steps to successfully managing lots of work are.

4. When in doubt, Google. Some organizations have jargon and you are best to figure out what they mean. In my job as, there was the phrase “Performance-based recruitment". My Google search led me to Lou Adler's book Hire with your Head - Using Performance-Based Hiring to Build Great Teams. Google books had a preview of the book on-line so I read a few pages, including the table of contents. Now I know what is it and can prepare.

5. Check over your resume and understand your stories. My resume has "Advises Government of Canada Executives, Senior Managers, and Middle Managers, HR professionals on HR issues including HR planning, organizational design, recruitment, assessment, and on-boarding.” So this afternoon I will spend recalling in detail my advisory success stories that displayed good judgment, good passion, or good leadership.

6. Create a binder. I like to hole punch and organize all my work. I stick in the job advertisement that I have been carrying in my pocket for the last 3 days, the copy of the resume I submitted, all my hand-written notes on the organization, the key competencies, my dissection of the job advertisement, the questions I have for the interview board, and the stories from my past on the key concepts. I use this prepare and I bring it into the interview in case it is acceptable to refer to my notes.

7. Chill out. Unclutter your brain, find perspective and balance. A job seeker often assumes success or failure resulting in over-confidence or under-confidence. Find the mid-point and take control of what you can. The organization is investing in an interview with you so that is a sign they think you could be the right person.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Winning Negotiations

When the job seeker and the employer are ready to make a commitment to each other, then the fun begins - the negotiations.  Most public servants have not developed these skills in these situations since all the conditions of employment are collectively bargained and published, including salaries & benefits. 

Here are some critical behaviours needed to "win" a negotiation:

1.  Plan carefully, do your homework
2.  Be committed to yourself and your position
3.  Understand Human Behaviour
4.  Communicate well
5.  Be creative and flexible
6.  Be patient and persistent
7.  Be self-aware and confident
8.  Know when to stop
9.  Remain Objective
10.  Have a win-win orientation
11.  Enjoy the negotiation
12.  Be aware of tactics

Stress can hijack your mind and lead you into negative negotiation behaviours.  Here is a tip - USE YOUR PCV Valve.

P- pause for 3 seconds
C - control you body including your face, and voice
V - value what they just said by showing understanding. 

I will keep you posted - it is so easy to give out advice or to research what the experts tell you but to actually live and practice all of these good job seeker strategies is not so easy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The 9 Essential Skills for Any Job

Working for the Government of Canada for the past 8 years has opened my eyes to so many free resources.  Well, are they actually free or did we all pay for them....

One resource I keep going back to is a 2007 HRSDC (Human Resource and Skills Development Canada) Essential Skills project.  The gist of the project was to identify skills that are universal, skills that in some way every job requires.

This can be an excellent tool for employers for the standardization of hiring.  If every job requires these skills, then every assessment of a job seeker (resumes, interviews, reference checks) should include all the essentials.

For a job seeker, this can be an equally powerful tool.  When crafting a linked-in profile or an untargeted resume, a job seeker should ensure that all the 9 Essential skills are addressed.  These "portable" skills will increase your chances of looking like a fit for any job.

The 9 Essential Skills are:

1. Reading Text
2. Use of Documents
3. Writing
4.  Numeracy
5. Oral Communication
6. Thinking Skills including problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, job task planning and organizing, significant use of memory, finding information
7. Working with Others
8. Computer Use
9. Continuous Learning

To integrate these skills into your on-line profile or untargeted resume, focus on past situations that exemplify your skills (known to HR professionals as behavioural-based assessment).  You will need to:

A.  Describe the situation (be specific as it make the situation more real)
B.  Talk about the actions you took (additionally, you can show why you chose those actions)
C.  Describe the results of your actions (most organizations are results-based so don't leave this out).

Here is my example for Essential Skill #5:

- developed and delivered presentations on the internal government job board to employees and managers.  This increased usage of the tool by both parties and has resulted in 300 users and over 10 staffing solutions in the last year.

To access the entire guide, visit:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Attending a job fair

In Saturday's paper was an insert for a Career Fair today at the Mayfield Trade Centre.  Usually, I attend these in order to recruit students and graduates to Federal Government Jobs.  Now, I think I will go as a job seeker.

The goal of attending a job fair should be to enlarge your network.  The challenge is that will have a very short time in a busy environment to make a connection with a recruiter.  How to succeed is to be prepared, focus on the initial conversation, secure a secondary conversation, and then initiate a follow-up conversation after the job fair.

Here are some tips for success at a job fair:


1.  Do your research.  Which companies will be represented?  Which jobs are active on their job boards right now? 

2.  Prepare your material, including copies of your resume and business cards. Put the materials in a bag that is well organized and professional

3.  Consider creating cards that feature your on-line presence, including your linked-in profile

4.  Dress professionally.  However, be careful to not let your appearance detract from you.  For instance, wear a suit without a tie or ensure your skirt sits close to your knees. 

5.  Schedule enough time to attend.  You will want to carefully look at each booth and have some meaningful conversations at the fair.


1.  Get a business card if you can with a personal email address.  This will allow you to follow-up & allow you to contact them directly when you are interested in a job with their organization.  You may also see if you can add them to you linked-in connections.

2.  Only take material that you are interested in.  I have seen many people take everything that they can from my table, take a handful of pens, and take brochures only to throw them out in the nearest garbage can.

3.  Engage the recruiters.  Introduce yourself and ask at least one question that you have prepared. Nearly all the material on the table is on the web-site.

4.  Do not monopolize the recruiter.  If a conversation is developing or you have a great interest in the organization, see if the recruiter can step away from the booth at some time and have a coffee with them.

5.  Listen carefully.  There are many distractions at fairs.  You are there to create networks that you can use later.

6.  Consider talking with other attendees.  You never know what kind of networks you can make with other who attends.  They might be invaluable.


1.  Follow-up with whatever you promised you would do.  If you said you would apply on a job, do it.  If you said you would email them, do it.  I have been so frustrated when I meet a great, potential hire then they never send me their resume.

2.  Consider giving something back to the recruiter. You have gained a contact and valuable information but what have they gained?    Can you connect them with someone or share with them an important web-site?

3.  Be respectful.  You should initiate short, brief, and infrequent follow-up conversations.  I have had instances when I could only help someone so much but they kept calling, and calling, and calling, and calling....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Questions to see if the opportunity is right for you

I spend a lot of time creating questions to ask applicants to see if they are the right fit for a job. On the other side, I often see job seekers not asking the right questions to determine if the job is the right fit for them.

Here are some questions you may or may not need answered. Find the answers by researching the company, googling the company, looking at other job ads posted by the company, interviewing friends/family that will know, or asking the interview panel.

Please do not bombard the interview panel with these questions. Two or three during each meeting with them is recommended. Ask only the questions that make a difference to you; that will determine if you will accept the job if offered to you. If you continue to have questions, you are best to research and to see if the answers naturally appear.

The organization

What are some of the challenges that your organization faces?

What are the company’s five year projections? What needs to be done to get there?

What are the company/department's major strengths and weaknesses?

What is the company's competitive advantage?

Who do you identify as major competitors?

How has the firm grown in the last 3 years?

The location

What other offices do you have in the city? In the province?

Where is the regional office? The Head Office?

What is the commute like? How much will parking cost?

What parking arrangements are there?

The job

Do you have a written job description for this job?

How had the job been performed in the past?

Why is the job vacant?

What are the major responsibilities?

What authority would I have? How would you define its scope?

What kind of budget does this job have to meet its objectives?

The boss

What can you tell me about the person I would report to?

What can you tell me about the other persons in key positions?

How would you define your management philosophy?

Employee Fit

Who "fit" in your organization?

What is your vision for this job? What do you hope the right hire will accomplish?

What is the first problem that needs the attention of the person you hire?

What are you looking for in the person to fill this job?

Why is the job open? Is this because of growth or attrition the job is open?

What did the last person accomplish? Why did they leave?

What fun things does this office do?


How is good performance recognized in the organization?

How do you manage performance?

Are there core hours for this job?

What are peak busy times for this job?

Does this job belong to a union? If so, which one?

How much travel is normal for this position?

What is the overall compensation for this position? (Holidays, benefits, salary, bonuses, tax-free allowances, use of vehicle, educational allowances, use of technology...)

Will I need to use my own vehicle for the job?

Are employees afforded an opportunity for continuing education?

Feel free to add...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Creating Favorites

One of my early morning tasks today was to link myself with Major Employers in Edmonton. I went to all the respective job boards and created a long list of favorites so I can monitor activity and learn about the respective organizations.

Here is my list:

Public Service

Government of Alberta

The City of Edmonton

The City of Leduc

The City of St. Albert

Strathcona County

Public Institutions

Alberta Health Services

Edmonton Public Schools

The University of Alberta


Grant MacEwan University

Edmonton Airports

Major Alberta Companies (HQ Edmonton)



Capital Power

Alberta Blue Cross

The Brick


ATB Financial

Canadian Western Bank

Service Credit Union

Clark Builders

SMS Equipment

Major Alberta Companies (HQ Calgary - with significant operations in Edmonton)

Canada Safeway



The Sky is the Limit

I got word on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 my office will close. Strangely, I have been preparing to support other affected Government of Canada employees through Workforce Adjustment. Equally strange is that I have been interested in pursuing another job/career, turning 40 last week and all.

So, now it is time for me to act. I hope that by sharing this blog, I can help myself and others navigate career transition.