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Ensure you put your past experiences in a positive light.

The question

I am looking for new work in a new province where my husband is employed. I have a solid work history in administrative functions, mostly within the private, but also in the public sector. Four years ago on the eve of the economic meltdown I was laid off just before Christmas, but was working again by the end of January.

My new job was temporary part time in a public university. I spent two years in various positions in the same department, and eventually gained a "regular" position. I will be applying to private sector employers again, and want to point out to them that although I have been working in the public sector, I work in a fully cost-recovered area and am responsible for maintaining approximately $80,000 to $100,000 of sales per month.

At the point of becoming a regular employee, I felt that I should start paying attention to the fact that I was now in a union and started attending meetings. I wasn't active in any way, but many people whom I respected requested that I let my name stand for nomination for a position on the executive. I became president and four months later the university's faculty association went on strike. We took 300 members out for a total of 32 days with 100-per-cent compliance, and I was speaking to more than 200 people at meetings on a weekly basis. The new executive gained a lot of support during that period.

As well, since becoming a regular employee, I have sat on the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee, and was voted onto the Senate, where I am on the Award and Honours Committee, Senate Evaluation Working Group, and Governance Policy and Procedure Committee.

The question is – I have been advised in both directions – should I leave the union involvement off the résumé, or keep it? I lean towards keeping it but I don't want to scare employers away. I have learned an amazing amount about labour relations, negotiations, contract and collective agreements, and can gain the respect of diverse stake holders.

I would like to tailor all of this new experience and my past work history into something palatable and not too scary for a new employer. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot trying to get a new job in a city.

The answer

You obviously are a highly motivated individual who has some excellent job, union and committee experience. You also have leadership, team work, and committee experience. You are wondering how to package this in your written and verbal presentations or interviews with prospective employers. I understand that you want to find a job in the same city as your husband. I read that you do not want to appear too scary to a new employer when going for a new position. I am curious why you think you might be too scary for a prospective employer and why you think you might shoot yourself in the foot. Have you received feedback about your presentation style and are you aware of any self-sabotaging behaviours that may support these fears of securing a position with a new employer?

The first step is to shift your perspective from a fear of appearing as a scary or intimidating, potentially self-sabotaging individual to someone who has a great deal to offer a prospective employer in terms of leadership, management union relations, marketing, bargaining, organizational, and committee experience. You will want to perceive and portray yourself as being a confident, calm and self-assured individual who can contribute significantly to a new organization as opposed to an insecure individual with an excellent background who figures that they have to oversell themselves to a potential employer. Working with a career counsellor, coach, mentor or friends will help you hone your presentation skills, learn to manage your fears, and read and respond effectively to clues in interview and relationship building situations.

Be clear on what you want in your career and your next position. Take time to vision what type of positions you are interested in and what type of businesses/organizations and employers you would like to work for.

Highlight your strengths, skills, leadership and experience in your cover letters, résumés and in interviews. Present these as positive attributes and benefits to prospective employers. Do not hide your union involvement. Indicate how this will be a benefit to employers – e.g. for building better teams and strengthening labour relations. Know that the recruiters or HR officials will find out about your union experience when doing the reference checks any ways. You want to be honest, direct and upfront with prospective employers.

Do your research on prospective employers – check websites, reports, etc.

Keep your eye on job postings through the organization websites, career websites, job boards

Update your résumé and post it on appropriate job and social media career sites.

Hone your interview skills through practice with family, friends or a career counsellor or coach

Look for the hidden job market. Most positions are filled through word of mouth connections.

Set up information interviews with key officials in the companies that you are interested in.

With your strong union and postsecondary education management connections to find prospective jobs in organizations that have a positive labour climate. Tell people that you are looking for a new position in the same province as your husband. Tell them the type of positions that you are looking for. Ask them if they know of any appropriate contacts in the new province.

Be clear on where you would like to end up in your career. This will inform you of the type of positions and experiences that you will need. Look at what educational upgrading or retraining you may need to assume the positions that you desire. With your natural leadership abilities you may want to consider a business or labour relations degree. Look for the educational pathways such as workshops, part-time and distance learning that will allow you to upgrade your skills, earn a degree, diploma or certificate while allowing you to continue to work full-time.

Envision developing a professional résumé and interviewing with an organization that will embrace your skills, talents, abilities and experience. Remember to put yourself in a prospective employer's shoes. Think of why an employer would want to hire you and why they would want to hire you over other candidates. Be clear and concise in your written and verbal communication. Patience, perseverance, practice, positive perceptions and confident actions will allow you to land your next job, even in this challenging economy.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

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