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THE QUESTION

I am a 51-year-old woman who has worked as a secretary for 33 years.

I was badly bullied at a job almost three years ago and I was fired. It took me seven months to find another job, which I stayed at for three months. I then was offered a job working for an organization to end homelessness. It was, I thought, my dream job. I was also bullied out of that job.

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As a result, I have not been able to get another full-time job for almost three years. I work in Alberta and the drop in the price of oil has hit the province hard.

I have been barely hanging on, working very low-paying temp jobs. How do I move back into a job with reasonable pay that fits my experience?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Julie Labrie

President of BlueSky Personnel Solutions, Toronto

You can't change a bully's behaviour, and you cannot change what has already happened. You can, however, change your perspective on your position today. To move past your current obstacle, you must stop thinking of yourself as a bullying victim, and start thinking of yourself as a survivor.

Employers look for job candidates who have a winning attitude and confidence. If you come to an interview in a negative frame of mind, they will pick up on it immediately and interpret it as a "blaming" attitude. They will read it in your body language, tone of voice, vocabulary, and even small facial expressions – elements that come naturally to us and are difficult to control. Employers do not want to hire negative employees.

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To get that full-time job, concentrate on the positive side of your current situation. You are working hard to put food on the table, but beyond that, tell prospective employers that you have taken on some temporary opportunities to gain experience in different areas, as you look for the right fit. Remember, too, that temporary roles often turn into permanent jobs.

In regard to your work history, turn the termination into a positive – that is, it was better for both parties since things weren't working out. Avoid the word "bullying" and shine the spotlight on all of the great work experience you have amassed over 33 years.

When you focus positively on your accomplishments, employers will follow your lead, and that's what will make you most attractive to hiring managers.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner and talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

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Workplace bullying is a growing concern. Certainly the biggest opportunity to move forward is to focus on your growth from the experience.

I strongly encourage you, if you are faced with bullying in the future to ensure you document the occurrences and seek support to deal with the situation from the company's human resources department or your manager. There are mandated procedures in place to investigate such claims and provide you support.

To move forward, I recommend that you update your skills through continuing education programs to ensure your qualifications continue to meet market needs. Also reflect on transferable skills perhaps gained even outside of work. Many times we believe that since we have been in a certain role for many years, this is the only job we can do. This is often not the case.

Challenge yourself to gain new skills relative to where the jobs are, and don't lose hope. You may find new motivation and fulfilment from learning new skills, and in turn be more marketable where you live.

I would also encourage you to apply to positions outside Alberta, to expand your options.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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