The new year’s Tickle Trunk

New year’s resolutions aren’t really my thing (because I, like 90-something per cent of the population, don’t follow through and I think it’s bad karma to start the year feeling like a failure), but since everyone else talks about them as one year creaks to a close and a freshly-diapered baby year appears, I think about what I’d resolve if I were making a resolution, and I started thinking this year about Mr. Dressup.

My favourite part of Mr. Dressup was the Tickle Trunk. (For non-Canadians, or whatever comes after millennials, it was a Canadian children’s show on CBC featuring Mr. Dressup and two puppets, Casey and his dog Finnigan.) Mr. Dressup liked to play music and do crafts and when they were at a loss for things to do, there was always the Tickle Trunk, which had cool costumes and other things needed for imaginary adventures. Just like Mr. Dressup’s magical craft supplies, there was always just what they needed in just the right amount. (To be honest, I was a kid terminally in need of proper craft supplies so that probably impressed me more than anything.)

I had a Tickle Trunk moment a few weeks ago when I was filing something away in a file drawer that is equal parts junk and file folders filled with mystery materials. I moved a box containing an old modem and found a book called It’s Your Move, by career consultant Marge Watters. Billed as “A Guide to Career Transition and Job Search for Canadian Managers, Professionals and Executives,” the book is chock-full of career advice and comes from a far more authoritative source than I’ll ever be. My work here is pretty much done if you read it.

I laughed when I riffled through it because I’ve spent the last month looking in vain for examples of worksheets geared for adult learning for a project I proposed at work, and this book has all kinds of them.

I had no memory of the book, don’t know how or when I came by my copy, but since I have the 4th edition, published in 2012 (it doesn’t look like there was a later one), a time when I was writing for a weekly workplace issues package, it’s possible that it was sent to me for review.

It might be five years old, but from what I’ve seen of it so far, the information in it is timeless — stuff I’ve been writing about, and have planned to write about, and stuff I hadn’t thought about but am glad to have brought to my attention. You’ll likely find numerous references to the book in this blog in the future. But if you want to see more for yourself, it’s available in some stores and online at Chapters, and also at

Marge’s website doesn’t look active, neither does her LinkedIn profile. But I’m going to try to get in touch with her and maybe do an interview for a future blog.

It’s not my new year’s resolution to find a job – I don’t make resolutions, remember? But since I have no guarantee that I’ll have a job after September — and since there’s a 50/50 possibility that I won’t like the job that’s available for me if there is one, I think it’s irresponsible of me not to get my ducks in a row. So I think I’m going to snuggle inside during this cold snap and start 2018 off by reading a book on how to line them up.

I wish you all the happiest — and most successful — of new years.


The job seeker is a lonely hunter

Jobs are tricksy bastards —  hard-to-get at the best of times and seemingly even more adept at melding into the wallpaper the more desperate you are to find them.

I mean, think of the contradictory truisms that accompany talk of a job search: it’s easier to find a job if you already have one — but the job search should be your full-time job. I guess the takeaway from that is if you’re going to be laid off, use the time while you’re still employed to find a new job, while doing just enough work to ensure you still get a good reference.

And it all becomes even more true whe you start looking for a job outside your geographic area. Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk’s advice for the long-distance job search is: don’t do it. Or at least, only do it if you’ve got something really special to offer and a support network on the ground.

That said, a layoff is a good time to relocate, if that’s what you’ve been wanting to do, especially if you have a severance package to cover some of your inevitable startup costs. But if you’re like me, you won’t want to move and then start looking for work; you won’t commit to the move until an employer has committed to you. I’m not saying that’s the best way to go — if I’d had less of a security fetish I’d probably be somewhere in Montreal right now, living the boho, louche life of a francophone intellectual. Woulda coulda shoulda…

Site for a Montreal French conversation meet-up group called Le Bistrot.

The long-distance job search is a tough slog but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In the end, it’s not all that different, in its essentials, from the at-home search. You identify your preferred geographical location (in a perfect world), research the current job market, identify potential employers there, do your homework on the companies, find a contact and introduce yourself to them, via letter or email. And then follow up with a call.

Ideally, you’d have contacts in the place where you want to go, so tap your networks, because you never know — someone might know someone there. And again, ideally, you’d move somewhere that you already had contacts, that makes life in general, and not just the job search, a lot easier.

In a perfect world, a prospective employer will be blown away by your CV and cover letter, will want you on the spot and will pay for you to come out in order to give you the hard sell on the job. That’s unlikely to happen, just so’s you know. More likely, you’ll have to decide when to make the trip to your chosen city and pay for it yourself. One way to go about it is to send out your cold-call letters, follow up with a phone call and say you’re planning to be in town on such-and-such a date, could you come by for a chat? It shows a willingness on your part to make the move. And face-to-face is the best way to sell yourself.

Going on your own dime has its benefits too — you get an opportunity to explore the city your way, to see if it’s a place that you could live in or if maybe it’s best admired from a distance, or as a tourist. Some great tourist towns are less attractive to the locals.

As always, research, research, research, know what you want and then go get it.


Playing 20 (or so) questions

Nobody tells you this, but there’s a quiz.

The questions ebb and flow depending on the circumstances of your layoff, and there’s no one with a master answer sheet saying whether you got it right or wrong. But the way you answer the questions will have a direct impact on your job search.

Here are some starter questions:

1. Did I like what I was doing?

2. Do I want to find a job in the same field?

3. Are there jobs locally in this field?

4. Do I have the qualifications for jobs in this field?

5. Do I have contacts to help me find jobs locally in this field?

Depending on the answers to this question, some of the next questions would be:

6. Are there good jobs in my field somewhere else?

7. Do I want to move?

8. Can I move if I have to?

9. Do I have the contacts/skills to find a job somewhere else?

10. Does it make sense to take a lesser job and stay because my spouse has a good job?

Seriously, this question of moving/not moving is an important one, especially if your spouse is employed, your children are in a good school program, or you own a house in a slow housing market. And even if you’re single and don’t own your home, leaving behind your social safety net — family, good friends, places you’re familiar with — can be traumatic and empowering in equal measure, depending on where and why and how you go. If you were holding on to a bad job because you were afraid to step outside your geographic or social comfort zone, you could be pleasantly surprised if you land in a friendly spot with good money and the opportunity for new experiences. Or you could be homesick and never really fit in, I’m not going to lie. I’ve done both and you never know what you’ve got until you get there.

If you decide you can move, and you start applying for jobs outside your area, here are some other questions:

11. Where would I go? (This website can give you an idea of what kind of jobs would be available in other parts of Canada, and here’s one for Ontario).

12. Do I want to look from here, or can I move there and look on-site?

13. Do I need to upgrade my skills before I start looking elsewhere?

14. Is there some place I’ve always wanted to live and are there jobs available there in my field?

15. Do I know anyone there?

There are some other questions the homeowner has to answer:

16. If I sold my house, would I lose money?

17. Is my house ready to sell? (Does it need paint/repairs?) — A married couple I used to work with bought paint almost immediately after hearing about our layoff, on the assumption they’d have to move. And it’s a good thing — they did move out of the province and were able to sell their house fairly quickly for a good price.

18. Do I know a realtor?

19. Am I prepared to pack and leave?

20. Can I afford to pay my mortgage and keep the house going if I stay here and take a pay cut?

You will not be graded on this quiz, but it will be counted against your final mark…

Thank you, thank you very much

It’s a long-lost art, the thank you note. I regret its passing even as I acknowledge that I’m not particularly good at writing them myself, despite my best-laid plans at Christmas and birthdays. Particularly in the age of email — even though I love getting mail that doesn’t have a bill or request for me to otherwise spend money attached, I’m far more likely to fire off a thank-you email than a note, if I send one at all.

If you’re like me, it’s time to smarten up, particularly if you’re on the hunt for a job. Because a well-written thank you note could be your key to job-finding success.

Thank-you notes don’t need to be long or effusive, no need to be obsequious or ingratiating, or to use $10 words when a 50-cent word will do.

There are a few key reasons to send a thank-you note: First of all, to say thank you. Some busy people thought enough of you to invite you to come in and talk to them. Secondly, you want to remind them why they did that, hit the high points of why you’re perfect for the job. Maybe add a thought that came up after the interview — but be brief, you don’t want to look like  twit. Keep it short and simple, error-free and polite. It’s a courtesy, but it’s also a sign of character that you’re aware of the requirements of etiquette and can fulfil them.

An email thank-you letter is sufficient, but if there’s time, you may want to send a short letter (avoid flowery thank-you cards, send those to your grandmother).  There are a number of websites, including this one, where you can find samples if you’re looking for a little guidance.

And remember, you can always practice your thank-you note technique by formally recognizing people who give you gifts at various times during the year. Can’t hurt.