Thursday, October 30, 2014

Do's and Don'ts for Wearing a Halloween Costume at Work

Halloween is one of the best holidays of the year and it can be a lot of fun to celebrate with your co-workers.  Many workplaces encourage their employees to wear their costumes to work but if you do, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

Keep it appropriate.  Even though it's Halloween, you are still at work.  Don't choose a costume that is sexy or offensive.

Make sure that everyone else is dressing up.  You never want to be the only one.

Don't choose a costume that makes it difficult for you to work.  Remember that you are there to do a job.

Don't go over the top.  This is not the best way to stand out at work. 

Put candy out on your desk.  You never know when you might encounter trick-or-treaters!

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Photos by: Stuart Miles and David Castillo Domonici/

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

How to Build Up a Social Network

To get any real benefit from social media, you need to build up a strong network of friends, followers or contacts (depending on which site you are using.)  It can feel a bit pointless when you first sign up and only have four followers, one of which is your mom.  Don't let that get you down.  If you are diligent and strategic, you may quickly find that you know more people on social media than you do in real life.  Here are some tips that will help you build up a strong following:

Friend other people.  This is the quickest way to get contacts.  Often if you follow someone they will return the favour which gives you access to a fresh new group of people.

Be consistent.  To capture interest, you need to regularly post new material.  If people often visit your site only to find that there are no new updates, they will quickly lose interest in you.  Make sure that you post on each of your social media sites at least a few times each week.

Interact.  The real value in social media is the relationships that you are able to form.  You are not supposed to use it as a pulpit to preach from.  Take the time to comment on other posts and to respond to the comments that you receive.  The spirit of reciprocity is key on social media.  If you support your contacts by retweeting and sharing their posts, they will likely do the same for you. 

Be relevant.  It's great that you went to the gym this morning, but the blunt truth is that nobody cares.  If you want people to invest their precious time into reading your posts then give them something that they actually want.  Think about who you would like to read your posts and find articles and quips that would appeal to them. 

Be interesting.  Have you ever scrolled down your wall on Facebook or Twitter only to see the same article fifteen times?  Don't post stuff that has already gone stale.  Do a bit of digging and try to find something that is new and interesting.  You will definitely attract people if you do something unexpected.

When using social media as a job search tool, you need to create a strategy.  You don't have to write out every post ahead of time, but you should have a rough idea of what type of content you will be posting.  Social media can either be a useful tool or a dangerous time trap; by having a plan in place you can ensure that you use it to your advantage.  

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Photo by:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Value of Youth

As a job seeker, you have a lot less experience than your more seasoned counterparts.  You may begin to wonder how you can possibly compete.  The fact is you are probably in a stronger position than you realize.  Many employers intentionally select younger candidates over those with more work experience.  Here's why:

Willingness to learn.  As a young person, you're used to playing the student role.  You are still in school (or have recently graduated) and everywhere you look, someone is trying to teach you something.  Many employers find that young people are easier to train and more willing to accept the employer's way of doing things.

Fresh perspective.  Your lack of experience can actually be considered an asset.  You don't have preconceived notions of what can and can't be done.  Young employees with fresh eyes are sometimes able to see problems and opportunities that are invisible to more experience employees.

High energy.  It's a fact of nature that young people tend to have more energy than older people.  This energy can translate into enthusiasm and increased productivity.  Managers love these employees because their enthusiasm is contagious.

Technologically savvy.  You have been looking at computer screens since you were a baby.  Unlike older candidates, you grew up with this technology and are able to manipulate it in ways that they couldn't even conceive.  As our world becomes increasingly connected, the demand for these skills will grow.

Not afraid of change.  Younger employees are often more willing to try something new.  Youth are generally less risk averse and are not as invested in the status quo.  This perspective can be attractive to an employer who is trying to make a change to their business.  Younger employees also tend to be more comfortable in a multicultural workplace because they grew up with this diversity.

Breaking into the job market is tough.  There are not a lot of jobs and the competition is fierce but don't give up.  Just by being young you bring certain assets that are attractive to employers.  The key is to figure out what they want and to show them that you've got it!

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Photo by: Stock Images/

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What's Stopping You From Networking?

Networking is probably the most effective way to find a job.  Unfortunately, many job seekers do not take advantage of this strategy.  If you are not actively networking, then you are significantly limiting how successful you can be with your job search.  Here are some common reasons that job seekers neglect networking and why you shouldn't let them stand in your way.

Too shy.  There's no doubt about it; networking can be intimidating, particularly if you are a quieter type of person.  However, it may feel less scary if you remember that networking is just talking to people.  It is hard to take the first step, but once you initiate contact the conversation takes on a life of its own.

Not enough time.  We're all busy and if you're like most people, you are not magically going to have time to network; you need to make time.  Building a vibrant network is one of the best things that you can do for your career, so it is important that you make it a priority.

Already have a job.  Most people are less motivated to network when they are already working.  If you are happy in your job, it doesn't feel as important to get out there and make connections.  It seems to make more sense to wait until you're actually looking for work.  However, it is often said that the best time to build a well is when you're not thirsty.  The same is true for networking.  The best time to grow your network is when you don't need anything from it.

Don't know how.  The concept of networking can feel overwhelming, but the reality is that it's quite simple.  You need to meet people and build relationships with them.  To get started, make a plan of who you would like to meet.  Next find networking events and other opportunities to meet people in your industry.  Once you start making connections, follow up on them so that you truly allow your relationships to grow.

Networking is not just another tool in your job search tool box.  It is an approach that will stay with you as your career grows.  If you embrace it and build it into your routine, you will be surprised by the places it takes you.

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of:

Friday, October 17, 2014

What Does Your Manager Expect From You?

When you accept a job, it is not enough for you to just show up each day.  Even if your manager doesn't clearly state it, they do have certain expectations of you.  If you fail to meet them you could quickly find yourself out of a job.  Here are some expectations that most managers will have of every employee:

That you conduct yourself professionally.  It is important that you look and behave professionally at all times.  This means that you are well groomed and that your attire is appropriate for the workplace.  It also means that you show up on time and that you treat everyone you encounter with respect. 

That your performance meets expectations.  Your manager will hold you accountable for meeting your targets and deadlines.  You are expected to be focused while you are at work and if your performance is insufficient, you could be let go. 

That you demonstrate a positive attitude.  Managers always value employees with a positive attitude.  Enthusiasm is contagious and can improve workplace morale.  Additionally, you are expected to show support for the company's overall goals.  Your manager wants to see that you care about the company's success. 

That you work with integrity.  Dishonesty is rarely tolerated by employers.  Managers know that employees who are dishonest about the small things will also be dishonest about the big things.  If you wouldn't want your manager to find out about it, then don't do it. 

These expectations are just the beginning.  If you want to progress in your career, you will certainly have to exceed them.  Try to find ways to solve your manager's problems and you will become a valued employee in no time.

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Photo by: Stock Images)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Create a Portfolio that Makes an Impression

Your resume and cover letter are excellent tools that you can use to show the employer that you are the right fit for the job, but sometimes you need to stand out a little bit more.  A professional portfolio actually shows the employer what you can do.  Your portfolio is a document that includes work samples, certificates, publications, and anything else that you feel would effectively showcase your skills and expertise.

How to Create a Portfolio

The most effective way to present your portfolio is in a 1 to 1.5 inch binder.  Fill it with report covers to protect your documents.  Make it a conservative colour like black or navy blue because you don't want the binder to pull the focus from what's inside it.

What to Include in Your Portfolio

Include anything that you feel would help demonstrate that you are a good fit for the job.  Here are some examples of documents that are commonly found in portfolios:

  • Work samples
  • Certificates
  • Transcripts
  • Publications
  • Brochures
  • Company descriptions
  • Reports
  • Charts/Graphs
  • Letters of Appreciation
  • Conferences you attended
  • Training sessions
  • Photos
After you put everything in, make sure that it looks neat and professional.  Include a table of contents so that you can quickly flip to the page that you need.

How to Introduce Your Portfolio to the Employer

Even though your portfolio is perfect, you don't want to be the candidate who is thrusting it into the employer's face.  It is important that you wait for the right moment.  The key is to refer to one of the documents in your portfolio and ask the employer if you can show it to them.  They may then continue to flip through it.  Try to be casual about it and let them take the lead.

In this competitive job market, you need to stand out from the crowd.  By creating a professional portfolio, you distinguish yourself as someone who is passionate about their career and you give the employer a clear picture of what you have to offer. 

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Photo by:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Survive Your Performance Appraisal

How do you feel when your manager lets you know that it's performance appraisal time?  If you are like many employees, the thought of being formally evaluated gives you cold chills.  Here are some tips that will help you get through the process and maybe even benefit from it:

Be prepared.  Before your appraisal meeting, reflect on your performance over the past year (or whatever term is being evaluated).  What did you do well?  Where do you need to improve?  Writing down specific examples of your accomplishments and challenges makes it easier for you to have a meaningful conversation with your manager about your performance.

Listen carefully.  Since some managers rarely provide feedback, your performance appraisal is a valuable opportunity to get a sense of your manager's perception of your strengths and weaknesses.  Pay attention to what they are saying and take note of areas where there is room for improvement.

Be positive.  During your performance appraisal, you will be talking about both your performance and your work goals for the next six months to a year.  Accept any criticism that you receive gracefully and demonstrate enthusiasm about your work.  Managers value employees who are serious about their career. 

Take action.  It is important that you act on the feedback you receive at your performance appraisal.  Take concrete steps to address any weaknesses that were mentioned and regularly review your work plan to ensure that you successfully meet all of your goals and deadlines. 

While performance appraisals can be stressful, they are an excellent opportunity to make an impression on your manager.  If you take some time to prepare for the meeting and actively engage in the process, you will stand out above employees who just go through the motions.

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Photo by: Ambro/