Mar 24,2008
Interviews: Set the Stage
Janis Foord Kirk
Monday, January 21, 2008
So acute is the labour shortage in some parts of Western Canada that one Calgary area manager has changed his interview process.”People sometimes drop in with a resume,” says Slade King, CPGA Director of Golf with The Links of GlenEagles in Cochrane. “I used to take it and say I’d have a look at it and then call them for an interview. Now, I drop everything and interview them on-the-spot.” 

King often hires part-time and seasonal workers so on-the-spot interviews make perfect sense. He sometimes even hires on-the-spot, he says. “If I don’t the next employer they talk to will.”

As you move up the career ladder, this seldom if ever happens, of course. And yet, you can never be entirely sure so it’s prudent to be ready to present your case, whether you’re leaning up against a counter at a golf course, behind closed doors in a manager’s office or in a 10 minute telephone call.

Presenting your case is a bit like the making a sales presentation. You need to know as much as possible about the circumstances and needs of your customers (employers). You have to assess and analyse the various features of your product (that’s you). And you have to find a direct and persuasive way to tell people how your product can fulfill their needs (your presentation.)

It’s a subtle process that demands close attention on several different fronts.

Look the part

Like it or not, the way you look creates an impression. Even in these days of anything goes anything does not always go in most job interviews.

Objectivity is crucial. Stand back and assess your appearance. Is it too casual? Too formal? Is it dated? Should you wear your nose ring? Cover your tattoo? If you can’t be fully objective about such things, ask a friend or associate whose style you admire to help you.

The overriding aim is to ensure that your outward appearance is appropriate for the kind of employers you’re approaching and the job you’re going after. A sharp, polished look will speak volumes about you before you open your mouth.

Create a personal profile

This is more involved than a basic list of personal skills and abilities, although that’s part of it. You’re wise to list, as well, the jobs you’ve held (including volunteer and part-time work) and to review each one to identify what you actually achieved on the job and the skills you used to accomplish this.

Reflection of this kind is the essential foundation of a personal profile that clearly states who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and the unique mix of skill and abilities that you bring to the table.

A generic profile of this kind can be targeted to specific jobs, says Heather Stewart, of Sage Transitions, a leadership, coaching and consulting firm in Kelowna, B.C.

“Consider things that you particularly want to emphasize,” Steward advises. “It may be that you have a strong academic background, or a really strong background with experience, or that you feel you have some skills that are a good fit for this particular job.”

Once you’ve highlighted specifics from your profile as they relate to a particular job it’s far easier to get your message across during the interview, says Stewart.

Create an employer’s profile
“The expectation in most organizations is that job candidates will know something about the organization to which they’re applying,” Stewart says.

Research of this kind is fairly easy now, she adds, because many organizations have websites loaded with information such as annual reports, mission statements, current and past projects, executive teams and employment opportunities.

If they don’t, Stewart advises, “Ask for an annual report, or if it’s a smaller company, look for literature and brochures describing what the company does.”

If at all possible, talk to people who work there or who have in the past. Enquire about the needs and concerns of the hiring organization, the overall corporate culture, the company’s products or services.

Extend your research to the industry or field, as well. Review trade magazines and talk to industry experts. Look for information about technological advances, regulatory changes and problems common to the industry as a whole.

The employer’s profile is a backdrop against which you can assess your own profile and decide how to best showcase your strengths.

Manage your mindset

Interviews can be highly subjective. When the chemistry works, you know it; when it doesn’t, it’s obvious, as well.

Still, says executive consultant, Jonn Kares, there are ways to generate positive chemistry before and during an interview.

A mysterious, intuitive dimension, a “6th sense”, connects us in ways we don’t always recognize, Kares believes. And becoming aware of this can give you advantage during interviews.

“If you walk in to an interview concerned about the competition and think to yourself, ‘There might be someone better than me’, you might just as well tell the interviewer, ‘I’m not the one you want’. The person interviewing you can intuitively pick up on your silent self-assessment and agree, ‘You’re not the one we’re looking for’. ”

With a little effort you can control your inner monologue and use the “creative power of thought”, as Kares calls it, to produce a desirable perception of you.

“Thoughts that support and promote you, thoughts like – I make a valuable contribution, people enjoy working with me, I am the candidate being sought – can shape the interviewer’s perceptions,” he maintains.

Don’t worry about feeling nervous, he adds. It’s not your emotions, but rather your actual thoughts that create intuitive chemistry with others.  

“The first step it to hold steadfast to your thoughts about what you want your audience to perceive,” Kares advises. “The second step is to trust that this is what they perceive and what they will remember about you.”

Interview preparation is time consuming. Some people find it boring. And yet, successful job seekers take the time and make the effort. They dress for the job they want, take control of their thoughts and attitude and communicate clearly and well. They know who they are, what they have to offer and how they can meet the employer’s needs.


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Mar 24,2008

Lee-Anne Goodman

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No one seems to want to say the “R” word out loud, but there are irrefutable signs that a recession may be looming. And that means even the happily employed should get ready.

The U.S. economy is slumping, and some believe a recession may be inevitable despite damage-control measures enacted by the Bush administration. If growth slows south of the border, that could sound the death knell for jobs in Canada, particularly in the manufacturing and export sectors.

Recessions bring down-sizing as corporations struggle to cut costs, and with down-sizing comes genuine anxiety about prolonged unemployment, a lack of future job prospects and a serious depletion of savings. Even though some Canadian economists remain cautiously optimistic that a recession in Canada will be gentle compared to the mayhem that could unfold in the United States, it’s never too early to start recession-proofing your finances and your career.

“Nobody has a crystal ball,” says Toronto financial planner Andrew Rickard. “If I could predict which way the markets or the economy was going, I wouldn’t be here, I’d be controlling the world from my island villa. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start planning now. Don’t wait until there’s smoke pouring from both engines to strap on your parachute.”

It’s not as hopeless as you might assume, Rickard adds. A few simple and easy measures, taken before a possible recession hits, could make the difference between comfort and anguish during unemployment. It’s no fun scrimping for pennies as you search for a new job, he adds.

Some tips from Rickard:

Start saving now. Ease up on luxury spending, costly vacations, unnecessary big-ticket items, fancy new gadgets and appliances – now is not the time. Ideally, try to have an emergency savings fund equivalent to three or even six months worth of your after-tax earnings set aside.
Don’t even think about raiding your RRSPs to pay the bills. Your retirement savings are for just that, your retirement. They’re long-term investments, so let them do their job. If you cash them in while you’re out of work, especially during a recession when the markets are down anyway, you’ve not only crystallized your losses and triggered a tax bill, but that contribution room is also gone for good. You can’t put the money back in again when you’ve found another job. So don’t borrow from your old age to see you through the present.
Go back to school if you need to upgrade your skills. If you are accepted as a full time student at a university, college or other qualifying educational institution you can take $10,000 a year from your RRSPs (up to a lifetime maximum of $20,000) without penalty under the Lifelong Learning Plan. Your spouse or common-law partner can also participate, meaning one couple could withdraw up to $40,000. After you finish school, you have 10 years to pay the funds back into your RRSP.
No cash on hand? Start saving today by having money automatically transferred from your main chequing account and into a high-interest savings plan on the same day you get paid. Get it out of there so you’re not tempted to spend it. Ask your bank, or look on the Internet. There are lots of high-interest savings accounts available online from places like, HSBCDirect or ING.
Get some credit. If you are concerned about losing your job and don’t think you will be able to accumulate adequate savings quickly, you may have to consider tapping into your home equity – either through a second mortgage or a line of credit – to see you through the rough spots. Don’t wait until you’re out of a job to talk to your banker about a loan. The best time to borrow money is when you don’t need it.
Once you’ve got your finances in order, Rickard says, start making yourself indispensable to your employer. If you’re the type who’s in your supervisor’s office every day to complain about co-workers, the office temperature or the food in the cafeteria, be aware that could be setting yourself up to be the first on the chopping block no matter how many on-the-job strengths you possess. The squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease in times of recession – instead, it could simply earn itself top spot on any axe list being drawn up by already stressed-out managers.

Pull your weight – and then some. Happily take on extra work. Volunteer to work overtime, weekends and to take work home. Be positive; think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain. Companies remember the employees who made their lives easier during stressful times, and are less likely to lay off their stars in both the performance and attitude categories.
Figure out what challenges are facing your employer, and think of ways to come up with solutions. Come up with cost-cutting or revenue-generating ideas.
This is a tough one, and requires a more sacrificial bent than many of us might be able to stomach: offer to take a pay cut. Your employer won’t forget it, and will likely reward you once tough times have passed.

Get your resume updated long before the first hint of layoffs. Make sure it’s picture-perfect. And start looking around to see what’s out there. Talk to a head-hunter. Talk to people in your field about what companies are growing, not cutting. Talk to former colleagues, former bosses, about what’s going on in your industry and if there are any opportunities for you. If the time is right and you get some good leads about possible employment opportunities, consider making a move.

Lee-Anne Goodman


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Mar 24,2008

From AKDN to Google

Aleem Walji. Photo: Courtesy Aleem Walji.
Aleem Walji. Photo: Courtesy Aleem Walji.

Aleem Walji recently joined ( the philanthropic arm of Google, the world’s largest Internet search engine company, as part of the Global Development team. He brings to Google a broad range of insight in social development drawing on both, his education and his former role as Chief Executive Officer of the Aga Khan Foundation in Syria. The Foundation is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network ( ). Walji gives us his thoughts on the transition from the AKDN, a network of development agencies, to one that is just starting.

You must be enthusiastic about the prospect of being involved in the founding stages of a social development programme for a global organisation?

This is a very exciting opportunity which comes with enormous responsibility in helping set direction for Our challenge is to leverage Google’s strengths around information and building scalable platforms in ways that can help alleviate poverty in the developing world. Our greatest asset is our people, and their “healthy scepticism towards the impossible.”

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is something that many organisations have worked into their structure. Is Google’s approach different? 

Our approach goes beyond CSR. Our founders created because they had a vision to use the strengths of Google to help humanity and make the world a better place. They have honoured their commitment by devoting approximately 1% of Google’s yearly profits and equity, as well as significant employee time to philanthropy. is a hybrid philanthropy which means we can engage in grant-making like many other foundations, but in addition, can also invest in breakthrough ideas and technologies that may generate a positive financial return. We can also engage in policy and advocacy which gives us tremendous flexibility.

Farmers with Walji and other AKDN staff in a field in Salamieh, Syria. This farm uses drip irrigation to improve crop yield and save water. The AKDN Water Management Programme has scaled up to include hundreds of farmers since its inception in 2003. Photo: Courtesy Aleem Walji.
Farmers with Walji and other AKDN staff in a field in Salamieh, Syria. This farm uses drip irrigation to improve crop yield and save water. The AKDN Water Management Programme has scaled-up to include hundreds of farmers since its inception in 2003. Photo: Courtesy Aleem Walji.

Do you see some synergies in the future with AKDN, whose efforts in the development field are both wide ranging and deeply integrated in the areas they operate?

AKDN and are committed to empowering people to act and make decisions that will improve the quality of their lives. We are just ‘enablers’, we believe citizens drive social change. Both organisations share a belief in the power of entrepreneurship and we believe the private sector has a critical role to play in creating vibrant economies that ultimately sustain social and economic development. And our geographic interests overlap in Eastern Africa and South Asia.

Can you elaborate on the projects outlined under the Global Development team?

We want to increase the flow of capital to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the developing world because they drive economic growth and create jobs, which leads to a more equitable distribution of wealth. We want to demonstrate that SMEs can be profitable and that, in places like Africa and India there can be positive financial and economic returns on investment.

We will also focus on improving the reach and quality of essential public services (such as health, education, water and sanitation) given their disproportionate impact on the poor. We believe in the power of information in empowering citizens, governments, and civil society groups to hold one another to account and make better, more informed decisions.

In Syria,the Water Management Project of the Aga Khan Development Network used a variety of techniques including tunneling to conserve water and brings crops to market earlier in order to increase incomes to farmers. Photo: Courtesy Aleem Walji.
In Syria, the Water Management Programme of the Aga Khan Development Network uses a variety of techniques including tunnelling to conserve water and bring crops to market earlier as a way of increasing the income of farmers. Photo: Courtesy Aleem Walji.

Google has a global reach and a solid reputation. What can we expect from Google’s entry into the social development arena?

We have an opportunity to shine a light on a number of issues that affect our world and affect large numbers of people, particularly the poor. We take this responsibility very seriously. It is essential for us to figure out where and on what issues we can bring the greatest value given our strengths and resources as a company.

We will focus our efforts on five major initiatives: i) Predict and prevent emerging infectious diseases before they become local, regional, or global crises by identifying ‘hot spots’ and providing early warning; ii) Use information to empower citizens, [service] providers, and policy makers to improve the delivery of essential public services such as education, health, water, and sanitation; iii) Fuel the growth of small and medium enterprises by increasing the flow of risk capital to the developing world; iv) Create utility scale electricity from clean renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity from coal; and, v) Seed innovation, demonstrate technology, inform the debate, and stimulate market demand to foster mass commercialisation of plug-in vehicles. These are the initiatives in which we will invest our resources as we make our entry into the field of social development.Word

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