Category Archives: Training and Development

Job interview advice – especially for Gen Y

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the importance of not judging job applicants, especially Gen Yers, by initial outward appearances or perceptions.  I still believe that is important.  However, that blog inspired some healthy discussion with colleagues and business leaders about how difficult it is to change perception, and inspired me to write about tips for job applicants as well.

Written and electronic contact tips

Make sure your resume is free of spelling and grammatical errors, and please don’t use text lingo like LOL or TIA (“thanks in advance” for Gen Xers like myself) on your cover letter or email.  Recruiters and Managers want to know that you can fit into the business world, and unless you’re applying for a role that communicates strictly through text, you’ll need to demonstrate proper use of the english language.

What’s your email address?  If it’s something like “”, create a more professional email address for business use.

Customize your cover letter to the job.  A very common mistake that I’ve seen is applicants who send a cover letter or a cut-and-pasted email that makes reference to the wrong company.  Take the extra time to mention specific things about the company or job that you’re applying for and why you would be ideal.

What will a recruiter find if they google you, or look you up on Facebook or Twitter?  It may be too late to undo those drunken photos, but get busy un-tagging yourself, and remember that everything you post online will exist in cyber-space forever.  So
think twice before you tweet.

Prepping for the interview

Think about situations that you have handled in a positive way, that you would be proud to tell someone about.  You may not have had a ton of working experience, but there are likely conflicts you’ve been in, problems you’ve solved, and people you have helped, through school, sports, or other associations or experiences, that have given you the opportunity to practice skills that will be useful in the business world.  Log the situations and include details such as:

  • How the situation was caused or came about
  • What you did personally (vs your team or others)
  • What you were thinking and feeling at the time
  • What the outcome was
  • What you learned from it or would do differently next time

This type of log will help you to think of positive situations that you can use when asked behavioural interview questions.  

Research the company and think about what else you would want to know about the organization and the role itself.  Remember, the interview is your chance to evaluate the company just as much as it’s their chance to evaluate you.

The day of the interview – what to wear and bring

The general rule that I was always taught was to dress a step up from the job you want.  If the company you’re applying to dresses business casual, wear a suit.  If they wear jeans, wear dress pants or khakis.

Hair, makeup and jewelry.  Again, think of the company you’re applying to.  A retailer like skateboard shop West 49 will be much more accepting of piercings and funky hairstyles than most office jobs.  In any case, though, make sure that you’ve done your hair and make up that day, and you aren’t sporting the look from last night’s party (I don’t mean to be insulting – I’ve seen this).

Bring a pen and notebook, with the questions you would like to ask prepared already.

At the interview

Smile and be friendly.  Regardless of how nervous you are, this will help to portray confidence.  And remember to be friendly even to the receptionist or clerk who you speak to on your way in.  You never know what that person’s involvement might be in the hiring process or providing feedback to the recruiter.

Watch your language.  Never swear, even if the recruiter does.  Try not to speak negatively about past companies or bosses.

Answer the questions.  Seems to go without saying, doesn’t it?  But in truth, sometimes it’s more difficult that it seems.  Think about your answer before you start talking.  If you need to stall, repeat the question as you think.  Then answer, and watch out for babbling or getting off track.  Check that you’ve answered the questions adequately when you’re done.

Be yourself

If you feel like you have to be someone you’re not when you apply for a certain job, chances are it’s not right for you.  You don’t want to find a job where you will be uncomfortable or have to act in ways that are contrary to your own beliefs.  In the same breath, though, you will learn and grow the most when you are challenged to change.  It’s up to you what level of accommodation you can make – whether it’s removing a nose ring, covering a tattoo, or simply behaving in a professional way.

What other tips might you offer to job seekers, especially Gen Y?  Add your comments or tweet them to me!

Pic via freedigitalphotos user Dundee Photographic


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Engaging Orientation

When a new employee starts at your company, do they feel like you’ve rolled out the welcome mat or like they’re just another number?

A new employee’s first few days can be critical to their longterm success and engagement.  They are gauging whether they’ve made the right decision to come and work for you and probably feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information they’re taking in.  Here are some tips to help make your orientation program effective and engaging.

Paperwork, Policies and Purpose!

On your employee’s first day, of course you need to make sure they’ve completed all necessary paperwork and that you’ve covered critical policies and legislated information with your new employee, such as safety information and WHMIS training.  But Orientation should be about more than just policies and paperwork.

New employees should be introduced to the mission and purpose of the organization.  Do you have a culture video or a vision presentation that you can share with them?  Hopefully your organization’s values were shared in the interview process to help ensure a good fit, but review them again.  Discuss what the new employee’s role in helping the organization achieve its goals are.  Provide purpose for them.  Feeling as though you are making valuable contributions and that your work has purpose is a key driver of engagement.

The Grand Tour

An employee’s should get a tour of the location early on during their first day.  Again, there are some basic legislated things to cover including health and safety information, but make sure your tour also helps them to feel at home.  Cover things like where to put their coat/lunch/personal items, what door to come in, where to park,  where washrooms are.  Introduce them to key people outside your department, like mailroom personnel, the receptionist, IT support people.  This will help them to know who to speak to when they need help with something.

Buddy Up

It can be lonely joining a new company, where everyone already has their network of “work-friends”.  Invite your new team member for lunch, stop by their cubicle or office just to say hello, continue to introduce them to people outside their immediate work group.  A “Buddy” system is a great way to make sure new employees aren’t left out.  Appoint various friendly peers who live your company’s values to act as “buddies” for new employees.  Give them a budget for lunch out once in a while as a perquisite.  You’ll gain the money back tenfold in engagement and productivity levels as your new employees feel comfortable and confident more quickly.

Wow them

We tend to do a great job making people feel like appreciated when they tell us they’re leaving.  Have you ever been to a “send off” party for someone who has gotten another job, or have you been the recipient of one of those parties?  I know how it feels to be blown away by the kind words and gifts from bosses and coworkers when I was leaving to go to another job.  I have always thought how much more effective those gestures would have been while I was working there, or when I joined the company.  Do what you can to wow your new employee.  The basics are to make sure their business cards are ready and their nameplate printed and hanging.  If there are other things you can do, like take them to lunch with the team in their first week, or present them with a company coffee mug or piece of swag to welcome them, they will be wowed.  Don’t save these things for the next time someone leaves!

How do you make new employees feel welcomed and appreciated?  Share your best practices in the comments.

Pic via Flickr user Joelk75.


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Customer Complaint Resolution – all about attitude

After years of working in hospitality and seeing good and bad problem resolution skills (and practicing both myself), I’ve learned some best practices in dealing with angry customers.  I have to say the most important first step is to face customer complaints positively.

Think of complaints as a way to improve your business. Many companies spend thousands of dollars on research, focus groups, and studies on their business.  If you simply spend time understanding what your own customers are loving and disliking about your business, you can save money and boost your success.  I remember working with Restaurant Managers who, when a waiter told them they had an unhappy customer, would get angry themselves, immediately.  Before long, wait staff were afraid to go to these Managers with an issue.   Many people don’t complain – at least not to the company… but they do tell family and acquaintances, and in the world of Twitter and Facebook, followers and friends.  Businesses such as restaurants are extremely lucky to have a captive customer for a period of about an hour, during which they can resolve any issues if they just react quickly and positively.  So when an employee comes to you with a complaint from a customer, thank them for bringing it to them and then work with them to resolve it.

If you have an intense desire to be right, customer service may not be for you.  It is essential that you believe the customer.  This may be difficult, because although we’ve all heard the adage that “the customer is always right”, we know it’s not always true.  However, you are dealing with the customer’s perception of what has happened, and that is absolutely true and important.  No matter whether you know that the customer actually caused some of the problem themselves (by ordering the wrong thing / not following instructions, etc), or if you know that they are exaggerating or simply being untruthful, it’s not important to prove them wrong.  In fact, that will only make matters worse.  Go into any customer complaint with the belief that the customer’s perception is reality, and find out what will make them happy.

Angry customers don’t want an explanation. I have seen letters written to customers explaining why things had happened the way they had, or even blaming others for what had happened to the customer.  None of these excuses make any difference to the customer.  To them, you have ruined their experience, they have had the respect and courage to tell you about it, and they simply want you to fix it.  Swallow your pride, apologize for what went wrong, and do what it takes to make the customer happy.

Act quickly and proactively! The longer you wait to deal with a customer complaint, the less likely they will ever deal with your business again, and the more likely they will tell more people.  In fact, in some businesses, you may recognize a problem before it is a major one.  This is often the case in restaurants, hotels, and even retail delivery operations.  Timing or slow service is a very common complaint – from waiting for a table or food in a restaurant, to not having rooms available and ready upon check-in, to delivering furniture or retail items within the timeline promised.  These are some complaints that you can get ahead of if you are somewhat proactive.  Watch the timing of promised items in your company.  If you are nearing a deadline, call or speak with the customer before they realize it.  Often times, they simply appreciate the fact that you haven’t forgotten them, and that you cared enough to follow up, and it will not bother them when the timeline is long.  However, many managers make the mistake of ignoring these sorts of issues, and hoping that the customer will not notice or not complain.  I would guess that 9 times out of 10 the customer does notice, and that although not all of them complain, all of those tell at least 2 people.

At the end of the day, if you watch for issues proactively, approach them in a positive way and always think of the customer as telling the truth, you are well on your way to being able to turn customer complaints around.

What’s the worst customer service you’ve ever had?  How many people did you tell about it?  Have you ever dealt with a company that resolved a problem and wowed you with their reaction?  Tell me about it in the comments below or tweet to me.


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Is your Receptionist turning away customers?

Is your receptionist helping or hindering your business? Lately, I have run into several that were doing a great job turning away my business.

The first situation was with my veterinarian. My family and I have been loyal clients, bringing our pets to this particular vet for 30 years. Recently, I moved to a town which is a half hour away.  Regardless of this, I continued to drive to the same vet for more than a year. Until my last appointment a few months ago.  I ran into unexpected traffic on the highway on a Saturday morning, arrived 10 minutes late, rushed in the door and immediately apologized. The receptionist’s reply? “You’ll have to reschedule.”  No questions asked, no apology for not being able to fit me in, ultimately no attempt to help the business. After I told her where I live and that I wasn’t sure when I could get there again, she shrugged. When I said I would find another vet, she ignored me and answered the phone. So I did just that. I will not go back to that vet, and neither will my family.

More recently, I needed to have my hair done. I called my salon, where I’ve been a client for 10 years and where I’ve referred countless friends. When I asked for an appointment with my regular stylist, I was told she was booked for the date I requested, so I asked about a 2nd stylist, then a 3rd. All were either off or too busy to see me that day. I then said “I guess I’ll try to find another salon.” The receptionist said “okay”, and hung up.  Now, a woman will make a lot of allowances for a great hairsylist, but this was the 3rd time this type of thing had happened with this salon. 

So I did find another salon. I got a great cut and colour, and I’ll likely go back there.

My thoughts… These receptionists were apathetic rather than empathetic, and they displayed no problem solving skills. Training for this position likely consisted of an explanation of how to use the phone and computer, and how to bill people. The softer skills are what is missing. They should be taught to find solutions if they can’t satisfy the initial request a customer has. In my salon example, I was obviously open to seeing other stylists, and if the receptionist had offered that or another nearby date, I would have likely taken her up on the offer.

Ultimately, both of these receptionists likely think that their job is to answer the phones and book appointments.  They should be taught that their role is to build loyal customers and ensure that your business is as profitable as possible.  From a “hearts and minds” point of view, these people were taught the rational side of their job, the basic tasks. But they were not taught to engage the hearts of their customers. Teach your receptionists that their role is critical to your business. They are the ones who actually come into contact with every single customer that deals with you, and their role is to do what they can to build positive relationships and your business.


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Tell your employees what you want

All too often, we expect that people must know what we expect because it is obvious to us. Guess what?  In the world of setting expectations, nothing is obvious.  I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage about what “ass-uming” does… that rule certainly applies when you want your employee to change their behaviour.

Don't just say "do it" but tell them what to do.

The first thing I ask a Manager when they come to me for advice on a disciplinary situation is “Do they know that what they did was wrong?”  As simple as it may seem, all to often the answer is “of course, how could they not”, or “they have to know, it’s obvious”.  Unfortunately, as much as you might think they ought to know, unless you’ve clearly explained what you expect, you may be running into a problem that you’ve created.

Start with any relevant policies.  Make sure that your employees have read and understood them.  Don’t simply get them to sign the policy, but discuss them and clarify the expectation, then have them sign.

Ensure that they are properly trained.  Basic steps of training that generally work in all disciplines are Tell, Show, Do, and Review.  Start with telling them what you expect and why.  Then show them how to do it, and what success looks like.  Thirdly, have them do the task and show that they can do so.  Finally, review.  Ask questions, provide feedback, and have them do it until they get it right.  Until you have seen them do what you expect correctly and followed up to affirm that this was right, don’t assume they know how to behave or perform.

Sometimes the behaviour you want to correct has nothing to do with actual tasks, policies or training.  I recently coached a friend through a situation where someone who worked for her was always arriving to work later than the rest of our team.  In a flexible environment, this ordinarily wouldn’t be much of an issue, but a few times, during bad weather or traffic, she actually arrived late to meetings, and the leadership team’s perception of the employee was starting to be that she lacked drive.  My friend had made hints such as asking why she didn’t come in earlier so she could leave earlier, or mentioning how effective she found her first half hour at the office because she could organize her day, but these hints weren’t working.  My suggestion – tell her how her timing is affecting the perception of her and of your department, and ask her if she can come in earlier.  You can probably guess the outcome of the story.  She talked to the employee, who immediately offered to come in a half hour early, and has ever since.

Situations vary in their seriousness, but in all cases, stating clear expectations is necessary.  Not only will it resolve the problem in many cases, but it must be done as a first step, if you ever need to prove later (in court or with the Ministry of Labour) that the employee clearly knew that their behaviour was wrong.


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