Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Kind Gesture ... A Free Coffee ... Reminded Me to 'Pay it Forward'.

Last weekend, I was waiting for a group from London to pick me up so I could join in on canvassing relative to the Kitchener-Waterloo By-election.  I got to the nearby truck stop a little early and had not yet gulped down my morning java.  I decided to grab one from the nearby coffee machine.  I did stress a little as I had to resort to the little 'plastic thingies' full of cream, generally a no no in my life as it is a 'one time use' item.  But I figured it was a concession I would make to ensure my brain was remotely functional for the door to door knocking that would ensue over the next several hours.  

Sometimes, it is the little gestures that become the golden moments of our day.  And this one of which I will speak became a light bulb moment for a blog topic.   After humming and hawing about whether to break down and get a coffee at all and then carefully considering my selection options (decisions, decisions), I finally settled on one and hit the pour button.  After putting on the finishing touches, I walked over to the Counter Attendant and asked how much 'the damage' would be.  

The commentary that follows is somewhat paraphrased as I DO NOT have a photographic memory, but I do have a good memory for friendly service experiences.  She looked at me without blinking an eye and said, "Oh don't worry about it; no charge."   I was pleasantly surprised but couldn't let it go at first.  It just didn't feel 'right' somehow.  I said, "I owe you something!" as I got out my wallet.  After all, she must have known I did not purchase gas, and I expressed my worry she could get in trouble.  After all, what is free in this day and age?  Maybe a smile, if we are lucky?   

I was not sure if this was a store custom or just a 'moment in time', but either way, I was impressed and it did leave a positive mark upon me.  She still declined payment, but I ended up shoving five dimes at her (a tip) just for being so danged nice and to make myself feel better.  I walked out into the sun, at which time an idea struck me and I walked back in and asked her if it was okay to write a blog post and use her name and association. (Remember, I did not want to get the gal in trouble.) She said, "No problem.".  So, 'Thank you, Shelby.  This one is for you!"  

As I am a Career Consultant, the moment reminded me that it is often the small courtesies offered 'along with standard service' that bring people back as repeat clientele.  This positive 'moment in time' will definitely ensure they receive my business in future.  Shelby is a great 'window to their services'. 

Have you watched the movie 'Pay it Forward'?  It is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching movie about the power of showing kindness to others, including strangers.  I warn you, it has a sad but powerful ending.  

I have already ensured I 'Paid it Forward' to others following my free coffee.  After being asked to run a job search readiness workshop for co-op students at a local high school and realizing there might be an easier strategy to prepare the students to write their resumes within a required short time-frame, I created and forwarded a workable template with the desired formatting in place, and loaded it with lots of tips for students.  Yes it was on my own time and dime, but it felt good and I suspected it would make life easier for both students and teachers.  I think it may be adopted, if the original email response is an indication.  Either way though, I am glad I made the effort.

Now I ask of each of you ... think of the times when others have offered a kindness to you.  Have you returned the favour by extending a courtesy or kindness to others?   It is an ongoing and synergistic opportunity that can be continually perpetuated amongst those in society, making society a better place overall. 

I think I will create a nice thank you letter or card for Shelby.  The impulsive monetary tip was okay, but she really did leave a very positive impression on me and I want her to know that.  To REALLY know that, I mean.  And again, thinking as a Career Consultant ...Shelby can add a thank you letter or card to her portfolio, whereas five dimes may be a bit harder to explain!   Mind you, if the loose change was accompanied by a letter or card which supports the existence of the coins within a portfolio (as well as this post!), it might become a great story for an interview. 

"Thank you Shelby for 'making my day'." 

Do check out my other blog topics while on here!  I love writing about people and what inspires them.  I also discuss various career and employee development topics, usually with a dash of humour or a grain of salt! I welcome you to join me, and to leave a comment!

Catherine Stewart-Mott; Forward Momentum Services

Friday, September 7, 2012

Go Glendale Co-op Students ... Go!

I spent a couple of days at Glendale High School (as a representative of a local agency) in an attempt to help students understand how to prepare resumes and cover letters for their upcoming co-op placements.  I remember a placement I experienced years ago (and I do mean years ago!) at the Ingersoll Times.  I was a student at Ingersoll District Collegiate Institute.  I was very shy so it was a bit of an ordeal; I apparently survived although memories are somewhat faint.  Could that possibly mean I subconsciously blocked out a whack of traumatic memories?  Nah!  I think I just took the experience for granted like so many students have done over the years!  I mostly remember that I was asked to write an article for the local paper.  Oddly, I can't recall the topic yet remember being fascinated to see it in print.  Apparently I also did not think it was an important enough experience to retain a keepsake copy.  Hmm, maybe there is an old microfiche version out there I could scrounge up. 
It is regretful the things we take for granted.  Students ... put your utmost into landing a placement, and do your best while there.  In the two classes to which I was assigned, there was a lot of diversity.  First, there was a wide range of interest relative to desired job placements, but there was also a range of interest in terms of the topics covered, namely resumes and cover letters.  The energy level was also diverse.  Some had serious and at times entertaining 'get up and go'.  I occasionally looked at the ceiling in case I had to scrape someone off.  Others perhaps needed a bit of a fuel boost to generate some much needed 'get up and go'.  I hope the chocolate bars helped! 
I can sympathize with the low fuel crew.  After all, it was only the second and third day of the new school year.  I can imagine the excruciating physical and emotional pain you endured as a shrill alarm clock or (shrill) parent woke you from a sound sleep, bringing you back to reality after a blissful but woefully short summer hiatus. Life is not fair, is it?
Double-check your materials before sending!
But ... we must shake it off and get down to business!  Or at least that is the implied message to the students.  As I write this ... which is one day following the two day session ... each student should have submitted a rough resume draft for teacher feedback and had it returned once or maybe even twice.  In the aftermath, are you smiling the happy face or kicking yourself in the proverbial butt?
I hope each of you remembered the importance of assuring your 'Highlight' section is targeted to your desired goal, and that it is a blend of hard and soft skills.  And even if some of you did not feel that active yourselves, you should know to use 'active verbs' when describing your job duties!   And my goodness, the incessant verbal warnings you endured from both myself and your teachers.
"Absolutely no typos, no grammatical errors, and no spelling errors allowed!  None, Nilch, Not-a-One!"  : ) 
I fear this may have led to some of you having terribly traumatic nightmares.  Who could blame you?  My sincere apologies.
Hopefully you created a new email address if yours looked something like this:, or this:  Let's face it; such emails are not the wisest move when job searching.  Stick with your name!  Yes, it is bit boring but go with formality here, even if you have to add a number or two after your name to have the address 'stick'!  Keep this email address specifically for job search purposes.
And you should of course recall that a cover letter is considered an important step.  Don't forget that little tidbit your teacher said regarding cover letters ... two spaces after a period and one after a comma!  Crafting a well written thank you letter following an interview can also help seal the deal, or at least it can help tip the scales in your favour when all else is equal with other candidates!  (And notice 'favour' has a 'u' in it!)  Are you in the habit of using Canadian spelling or American spelling?  "Maybe you should stick to Canadian, eh?" 
Once you land in your respective placements, embrace, enjoy and 'remember' the moment.  I wish I had better recollection.  Maybe have some photos snapped so you can develop or enhance your portfolio.  Don't forget to see if an employer will oblige you with a letter of reference.  Don't count in it, but it never hurts to ask!  Keep in mind though, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, "Will you deserve a letter of reference?"  In other words, try your utmost to demonstrate a great work ethic as to performing your duties and when interacting with those around you. 

It was great chatting with your respective classes.  Sorry for revving up the speed of the sessions, but given a fog day delay, a welcome assembly, placement updates, intercom announcements, etc. were tossed into the mix, well ... one must go with the flow!  Such is life. 
Do not hesitate to keep me posted as to how your placements are coming along.  I would love to be a fly on the wall but since that is not feasible, feel free to buzz on down to my blog!  Best of luck to each and every one of you!
Do check out my other blog topics while on here!  I love writing about people and what inspires them.  I also discuss various career and employee development topics, usually with a dash of humour or a grain of salt! I welcome you to join me, and to leave a comment!

P.S ... There is a new one for Glendale School, from Feb, 2014.  You can find it here:

Catherine Stewart-Mott; Forward Momentum Services

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pushing Beyond Our Perceived Limits

Saturday was an interesting day for me, and what I suspect was an exhausting albeit satisfying day for others.  I saw a mix of sheer determination and for many, the rewarding outcome of their conscientious and careful planning.  People emerged from open water and regained their footing on a sandy incline.  In what seemed like a never-ending stream of arms and legs, people trekked towards a transition station where the organized chaos of hundreds of bikes awaited.  Wet suits were shucked and shoes slipped on. Off they went yet again, only to emerge somewhat later to abandon their bikes and put foot to pavement.  

These swimmers ... turned bikers ... turned runners are part of the growing triathlon phenomenon.  In this case, a ‘Try a Tri’ which involved 375 metres of swimming, 10 kms of biking, and 2.5 kms of running.  These folks chose to embark upon a new experience; many wanted to test or expand their limits.  And most achieved their goals. 

What impressed me perhaps the most was the amazing diversity of those involved.  I saw rather young participants, perhaps preteens, and I learned one contestant was over 80.  All age groups were liberally represented, as were a mix of male and female participants. People came in all shapes and sizes, including tall and short, as well as some whose physiques were finely chiselled and some whose flesh jiggled. 
The camaraderie or 'network of support' that apparently develops among those within the sport is also notable, as many undertake training programs to better understand and more effectively and efficiently undertake this unique cross-training sport.  Or even if they prepare on their own or with a friend or two, they make new friends along the way! 
As I watched or chatted with some of them before or after their races, I realized many wanted to push what they may have assumed were their previous limits.  Many expressed interest in growing within the sport by taking on longer triathlons in future. I got rather pumped at what I saw, and envisioned myself in my first ‘Try a Tri’.  I was a good runner in my day and I still bike regularly.  But then a little naysayer on my shoulder whispered in my ear, “I bet I am not a good enough swimmer, especially since it is in open water!"  I get a little nervous in open water, to be honest.  Right away, I sensed myself constructing a barrier, a ‘limit’, you might say.  This is something many of us do. Time to give myself a gentle kick in the butt!
And as it is not always easy to separate recreation and work, it occurred to me on my way home that I tell job seekers and transitioners to push beyond their own comfort limits.  How??? By testing the hidden job market through strategies such as informational interviews, social media networking, and putting foot to pavement to meet new people.  I even describe such efforts as creating a ‘wave effect’, meaning that if you cast a stone in water, the impact will create ripples or waves of influence beyond the point of contact.  The larger the stone, the more notable are the waves formed. But are we afraid of the waves?
In this challenging job search market, we need to do more than simply tread water in a stationary position, meaning a reliance upon traditional job search approaches.  We need to create and embracfe a wave effect!  I always figured I could swim ‘okay’ as I swam many lengths in an inground pool, but when hitting open waters, I admittedly learned it was not quite the same experience!  So I too will need to ‘test and push my perceived limits’ if I decide to ‘Try a Tri’, by embracing those waves head on! 

Have you ‘tested the limits’ relative to your job search in past or present, or figuratively speaking, have you been one to simply tread water or rely on the cement boundaries of a swimming pool?  Or perhaps you are fearful of water altogether.  It is a very similar concept relative to job searching.  We need to test new waters and push our limits. 
My challenge to you?  Embark upon a ‘Try-a-Tri' theme project, but think job search initiatives instead of swimming, biking and running.  Perhaps you could start by establishing a wider network of contacts, then transitioning to a another challenge such as joining a Toastmasters' group in your area to hone your communication and presentation skills.  Then top it off with a third leg within your journey.  Perhaps set up a few informational interviews to further test the waters.   What you are doing is proactively and consciously creating a ripple or wave effect in your job search journey; you are indeed being asked to test the waters and push your limits. Too often we act randomly rather than with conscious purpose.  We need to do the latter!

Just like the ‘Try a Tri’ athletes, you too can feel the intrinsic reward of your planned efforts culminating in success.

Do check out my other blog topics while on here!  I love writing about people and what inspires them.  I also discuss various career and employee development topics, usually with a dash of humour or a grain of salt! I welcome you to join me, and to leave a comment!

Catherine Stewart-Mott; Forward Momentum Services