Category Archives: Interviews

Creating Winning Resumes – Video Sneak Peak

Below is a sneak peak of the interview I conducted with Pauline Bennett from the City of Whitehorse on Creating Winning Resumes.

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Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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How to leverage part time and volunteer work

Holiday seasons are terrific for many reasons. None the least is the opportunity to catch up with friends and family as well as the opportunity to relax. For many people, especially students, holiday season means that you have the chance to earn some money. If you aren’t taking extra classes over your break, then the opportunity to work and earn some extra dollars is huge. Many students relish in the opportunity to work not only because of the money but because of the social side of work life too, depending of course on the industry that you are working in.

Unfortunately, many students don’t take full advantage of their holiday work. Oh, by the way, when I say work, I also mean volunteer work. Of course this means that no extra money will be earnt, but something far more valuable than money (unless you are starving!) can be learnt! Yes, that’s right, learnt!

Too often I hear students say that they are ‘just a check-out chick’, or “I just work at a cafe”, or “I just provide meals to homeless people.”. There is no such thing as “Just a part time job”! Not if you are prepared to consider the employability skills that you are developing while doing your work. Below is a short list of ten skills that part time / volunteer work develops:

1. Communication skills
2. Problem solving skills
3. Initiative
4. Teamwork
5. Using various forms of technology
6. Planning and organising skills
7. Service excellence skills
8. Leadership skills
9. Learning skills
10. Self management skills

Let’s look briefly at some examples of how you might develop these skills in practice:

1. Communication skills
If you have to communicate with your boss, other team members and/or the general public, then you have the opportunity to develop communication skills. It doesn’t matter whether the predominant form of communication is via a telephone (as in a contact centre) or face to face (as in a cafe). You still have the opportunity to test whether you are communicating effectively. Here’s a tip – good communicators are good listeners, which also means that you are good at asking questions. So, develop your questioning skills and your communication skills will skyrocket!

2. Problem solving skills
Problems occur all the time. In every job. A computer won’t work. The electric doors are stuck shut. Another staff member didn’t turn up for their shift. The delivery that was meant to come in hasn’t arrived yet and customers are waiting for their orders. The list goes on. Each of these examples is a wonderful opportunity for you to consciously practice your problem solving skills. Not only that, you have a wonderful opportunity to create a bank of stories about how you solve problems. Can you imagine any of your future employers not wanting a problem solver? Neither can I!

3. Initiative skills
Showing initiative is when you do something that is helpful without having been asked to do it. Every time a problem arises at work you have an opportunity to show initiative. Every time you see that something could go wrong (like someone slipping on a banana peel) and you take action to stop that from happening (like picking up the banana peel) you are showing initiative. Opportunities to demonstrate initiative are everywhere. Keep your eye out for them and grasp them with both hands when they pop up. They also create great stories that can be used in interviews.

4. Teamwork
There is hardly a job that exists that does not involve teamwork. Even if you work alone, you are probably still part of a team. A night shift worker at a convenience store is part of a team with their manager and other staff, even if they rarely see each other. How? What is your response when another team member rings you and asks you to cover their shift? One of the reasons why you might say yes is because you are in a team and when you are in a team sometimes you have to cover for each other. Imagine the interview when you are asked about your experience of working in teams. It may be your stories that relate to covering for teammates (notice the deliberate use of language!) that you use to answer such a question. The beauty is that your answer would be both true and genuine. Perfect!

5. Using technology
Technology is everywhere, but it isn’t just using electronic devices such as computers, scanners, point-of-sale and other devices. It can be writing on whiteboards, driving forklifts (providing you have a license) and whatever else you have to use to do your job. You may be a volunteer who plants trees along freeways or in parks. The shovels, picks and other tools that you use are all forms of technology. The purpose of having a range of stories about your capacity to use different types of technology is to demonstrate that you are a fast learner and can quickly adapt to a range of technologies. Most students don’t even think about these things as being relevant to their future. But, they are!

6. Planning and organising skills
In whatever work you are doing be on time. Full stop. Employers like it and they expect it. Full stop. Practice it and practice it now. Full stop. Get it?

7. Leadership skills
For those of you who have responsibility for a team or other staff, then you have the opportunity to develop your leadership skills. How do you treat the people who you lead? What are your mental models about leadership? How are your personal values reflected in how you treat the people you are leading? Conscious thought about these questions can create wonderful leadership experiences for you as well as the opportunity to make relatively ‘safe’ mistakes. Think about your personal theory about formal leadership. Try it out. See if it works. Most of all, learn how to lead by doing it when the opportunity arises.

8. Learning skills
Part time and volunteer work always involves learning some of the following:
• a new set of technical skills
• policies and procedures
• cash management processes
• customer service procedures
• people’s names
• how to work in a team
• how to communicate the ‘company way’ (e.g. contact centres often have their ‘formula’ that you are expected to follow)
• how to make food and drinks (e.g. cafes and fast food outlets)

This list could go on and on but I think you get the picture. The point is, notice what you have to learn to do your job. Imagine if you were ever asked (in an interview), “How do you learn outside of university?”. You’ll have a mountain of examples from which to draw your answer!

9. Service excellence skills
No job is worth its salt if you aren’t able to practice developing your service excellence skills. Quite simply service excellence is like oxygen. While we don’t exist for it, we can’t live without it. It is a basic requirement for any job. So, you must understand it and consciously practice it. The simplest and best practice to adopt is, “Everyone is my customer; my boss, my colleagues and my customers” (and if you don’t have ‘customers’ just insert whatever word works for you). If you wouldn’t choose to be a customer of yourself, then you need to improve whatever it is that you are doing. It’s a smart practice to develop this skill because while it is like oxygen it is surprising just how many people are ‘suffocating’ themselves (in a career sense!) because they haven’t developed it.

10. Self management skills
In order to consciously practice the above skills you have to practice self-management skills. For example, you will have all had a ‘first day on the job’ experience. How did you handle it? What happened? How did you overcome any ‘bad’ experiences? A ‘first day on the job’ can also mean performing a new role at work. Often these types of days require a significant amount of positive self-talk, time management, problem solving and communication skills. Self-management is, in many ways, a reflection of all the skills above. Oh, by the way, self-management skills in this context can also considered self-leadership skills. So, if you don’t have a job where you formally ‘lead’ other people, your self-management skills can provide examples of self-leadership, which is critical for building the capacity to lead others.

Part time and volunteer work are goldfields as far as developing your employability skills are concerned. However, just like walking through a goldfield and not stopping to ‘mine for gold’ will produce nothing of any great value, not consciously developing your employability skills while working part time or volunteering is crazy! Don’t be crazy. Take full advantage of your opportunities. The gold in this sense will come in the future when you get the job that you really want. So, enjoy your holiday season and enjoy developing yourself even more!

Please feel free to make a comment or to ask a question about this article.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

How to Use Stories to Leverage Employability Skills for Employment Success

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Employability skills are a range of generic skills that, irrespective of your technical expertise are considered by employers to be critical skills for high level performance. Employability skills are also known as ‘transferable skills’, ’employee attributes’ and/or ‘key competencies’. The level of expertise that you are expected to have in relation to these skills is related to the level of the job for which you are applying or striving to achieve. As an example the level of communication skills expected of a prospective CEO are different to those of a part time supermarket check-out operator. Yet both roles require some proficiency with regard to communication.

The ten specific employability skills to which we are referring include:
1) The capacity to work in a team;
2) The capacity to effectively communicate with a wide variety of people;
3) The capacity to solve problems both individually and in the context of a team;
4) The capacity to positively influence and lead other people in the achievement of organisational objectives;
5) The capacity to effectively manage your time and the resources that are available to you;
6) The capacity to demonstrate on the job learning and your approach to life-long learning;
7) Having a personal vision and understanding how your work integrates with the achievement of your vision;
8) The capacity to understand and use numbers for business purposes;
9) The capacity for self-management across a wide variety of life activities; and
10) The capacity to provide high levels of service in the way that you perform your work.

With more and more people throughout the world gaining academic qualifications, the point for differentiation and individual competitive advantage stems from how a person has continued to develop their employability skills. Some people believe that it is important to develop your employability skills so that you can obtain a job. Once you have a job then you no longer have to worry about developing these skills. This thinking is flawed. Jobs are no longer guaranteed for life and employees must continue to develop their employability skills if they wish to remain employable (hence the term, ’employability skills’). Seeking opportunities through on-the-job learning or through training and development experiences are critical to maintaining high employability while you have a job.
The benefit of maintaining a high level of employability while having a job is critical from the perspective of increasing your chances for promotion. Also, a high level of employability correlates with high performance. High performance is one of the most valid job security strategies that an employee can implement. While there are no guarantees in this world, an assumption that I am comfortable making is that if an organisation has an equal choice between letting a poor performer or a high performer go, the poor performer will nearly always be asked to leave first.

Consciously developing employability skills is an important process that many people forget to do. In our work with students we often hear them refer to their part time experiences like this, “I’m just an administration assistant”, or, “I just work at a gas station.” Having performed many menial jobs throughout my youth and undergraduate studies I have formed a view that there is never a situation where what you are doing is ‘just a job’. All jobs create the opportunity in some way, even if only small, to develop employability skills. The same is true for full time employment.

Capturing your employability skill development experiences, in the form of stories then becomes another critical step in the process of being able to demonstrate your experience in an interview. If you haven’t consciously developed your employability skills then you are unlikely to be able to re-tell your stories in an interview that demonstrates how you have used those skills in practice. As over 95% of interview questions are behaviourally based (that is, you are asked to provide evidence of having developed a skill, as opposed to making up an answer for a ‘what if’ style question) it is critical to be able to have a range of stories at your disposal to share in an interview.

For each employability skill we recommend the STAR technique for capturing your stories. The technique works as follows:
S = Situation – what was the high level situation that you were involved in?
T = Task – what was the task that you (usually in a team context) were trying to achieve?
A = Actions – what actions did you personally take to achieve the desired outcomes of the task?
R = Result – what was the result of your efforts?

Once you have captured your stories all you have to do is listen carefully in an interview to the questions being asked, and then tell the most appropriate story for that question. A significant benefit from recording your stories is that many stories contain a range of employability skills. For example, a leadership story may also include aspects of teamwork, communication, problem solving etc. Once you have your leadership story prepared you also have the capacity to tell the same story from the perspective of those other skills. In the context of an interview you may be asked a question about teamwork that, for one reason or another the teamwork story that you have prepared may not be the best story or example for use in response to that specific question. Your leadership story, on the other hand may be a better story to tell, but from a teamwork perspective.

In this way the ten stories that you prepare (one for each of the employability skills listed above) can turn into 40 or 50 stories when you walk into an interview. How confident do you think you would be if you walked into an interview with 40 or 50 genuine stories? Most people say, “I’d be very confident!”. The key is to follow the flow of the interview and to select the most appropriate story for the question that has been asked.

In this context what are your employability stories and how have they helped you in an interview to be successful in being offered the job that you wanted? Alternatively, if you have been involved in employing people, how important are employability skills in the context of your recruitment strategies?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at