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Operant conditioning theory describes how individuals learn productive behaviours in an organization. The theory explains that an individual is encouraged to behave productively and discouraged to behave unproductively, based on the introduction or removal of conditions, according to the University of Central Florida.

Positive Reinforcement — When an employee receives an email from their manager praising their work in solving a problem, it is a form of positive reinforcement. Receiving the email is a good stimulus intended to encourage productive behaviour. In this example, positive refers to the introduction or addition of a pleasant stimulus (i.e., the praise-filled email.)

Negative Reinforcement — When an employee starts a new job, their work may need to be reviewed by another person. Once the employee has become proficient at their job, the review process can be removed by the manager. Eliminating the review process encourages the employee to continue working proficiently. In this scenario, negative refers to the removal or subtraction of an unpleasant stimulus (i.e., work being reviewed by another employee.)

Punishment — When an employee demonstrates unproductive behaviour, managers can apply positive or negative punishment to discourage the bad behaviour. Positive punishment refers to adding something unpleasant — like having to work extra time to make up for being late — whereas negative punishment describes the removal of something pleasant, like removing the option to work remotely in order to monitor performance. There is also the option to do nothing while expecting the bad behaviour to stop. While this alternative (also called extinction) may be effective, it is often problematic to leave bad behaviour left unchecked.

Applying Operant Conditioning

The effectiveness of using operant conditioning can be increased by intentionally (instead of casually) applying these approaches and tailoring the reinforcement or punishment based on individual preferences.

When an employee is behaving productively, a typical reaction may be to reward that employee with praise or a monetary incentive. However, before acting, managers should consider if there are aspects of the job that may be considered unpleasant and could be removed instead. Using negative reinforcement could be equally effective as rewarding a good employee with a bonus. There is the option to use both positive and negative reinforcement. By using an intentional approach, managers will have a broader range of options to encourage productive behaviours.

It is important to understand how the reinforcement or punishment will be perceived by the employee. An employee that appreciates money instead of praise will not respond as strongly to an email praising their work. The employee may believe their work is not valued and start to disengage from work. An employee who is not bothered by working extra time will not be discouraged from being late if working extra time is used as a form of punishment.

Managers can lead employees to demonstrate productive behaviours and achieve higher levels of performance by taking a more intentional and personalized approach to managing employee behaviour.

Nigel Taklalsingh | Contributing Writer

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Blog

Whether we recognize it or not, giving and receiving feedback is a daily part of life. From our partners, children, coworkers, or bosses, negative and positive feedback is reinforced on us for whatever actions we take. How we respond to the feedback is an incredibly critical part of our jobs and relationships. 

Despite this, over a quarter of employees feel that their opinions and ideas go unheard. When you’re working as a team, undervaluing your teammates can be just as devastating to efficiency as an absentee boss. It might sound like an annoyance, but 60 per cent of employees actually want feedback on a daily basis. 

Here are the steps to responding to professional feedback — positive or negative — from anyone at the office. 

Listen First

This should be fairly obvious as no one is going to feel heard if you’re fiddling with your phone while they’re talking. Listen attentively.

Often, if what you hear is negative, you will most likely want to defend your actions. However, try to consider what someone is saying and recognize that whatever advice they are giving you is meant to guide you. This might be advice about how to conduct yourself effectively at work in the future.

It helps to realize that the feedback you receive can come from a place of good intentions. Constructive criticism is helpful in making improvements at work. Harmony is the goal of any office, and feedback is one way to attain it.

Ask Questions

After receiving feedback, it’s important to ensure you’ve fully comprehended what someone was trying to get across. If what was said was unclear, try turning to them for more clarity and ask if they have solutions to issues.

Even if you understood what was said, you should still get more insight on the situation. Once you’ve clarified the information, briefly summarize it back to the other person to ensure you both agree on what has been exchanged. 

Take a Moment

Once you get a good sense of what they were trying to explain to you, you may need a moment to think about it — particularly if it’s negative. Thank them and ask for a bit of time to gather your thoughts. This will help prevent any emotional reactions to the information and allow you time to draw up a thoughtful response.

Always Follow Up

This isn’t a situation in which saying, “Thank you,” and then quickly forgetting about the feedback will suffice. If you’re genuine about the process, then you should always circle back to the person who gave you the feedback after a few days. Your actions are always going to speak louder than words, so it’s also important to demonstrate to others that you’ve taken their suggestions seriously. 

Feedback is a little give and take, useful only if both sides are participating, so always give it a fair bit of consideration.

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Interview Skills

According to Glassdoor, recruiters on average sort through 250 applications for a job and then narrow down the selection to four to six candidates and review them to select one person for the role — a lot of work on the recruiters’ part! On the candidates’ part, this means far more work. They need to position themselves distinctly to stand out. And after the application, with a lot of luck, they have reached the make-or-break stage of interviews. This first point of contact with recruiters is where applicants need to make the right impression. Here are some tips to remember when facing your recruiter in-person or on the phone for a screening interview.

Look (or Sound) the Part

Get dressed to mean business. Your clothes must reflect the job you are applying for and be pressed to perfection. Shoes must be polished, and your attire should fit you smartly (avoid overly baggy or extremely tight fits). For a phone interview, sounding smart and confident are almost a replacement for your attire. Make sure to have your answers prepared in advance, but while answering, do not make it sound too rote. 

Reach Out to the Recruiter

Reaching out to the recruiter is not as bad as it appears. A career coach recommends doing so because it offers the recruiters a chance to take a shine to you and further consider your candidacy. LinkedIn is a good way to search for the recruiter’s managers and send them messages to connect. Personalized messages are always better than generic ones.

Perform Good Research

Make sure to research the company thoroughly. Scour the website, mission statements, social media accounts, and be prepared to talk about how you can fit in with the company’s goals and culture. Your response to the “five-year plan” question should be relevant to the company’s objectives down the line.

Use the STAR Method

When the interviewer asks the behavioural questions, use the situation, task, action and result format to answer. Describe a situation where you had to solve some problem or achieve something specific. Elaborate on how you achieved the task at hand using particular steps and procedures to attain the result. Try and show how your input brought about some crucial change to the way the company does business.

Ask Questions

Asking the right questions shows that you are serious about working in the company and the role. Not asking any questions shows the opposite. Ask about things like day-to-day tasks in the role, the training and support options, the most challenging aspects of the job, and how you could prove your worth quickly in the company.

Thank You and Follow-Up Emails

An email to say thank you is a must the next day of the interview. In it, reiterate your interest in the position and how you meet the requirements. Moreover, there is no harm in sending a follow-up email after a week or so to ask the recruiter whether they have made a decision, and if they have any feedback on the interview.

Arslan Ahmed | Staff Writer

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Blog

Working at an office is never just about showing up and doing your job. If it were, television wouldn’t be dedicated to milking office culture for both comedy and drama. The Office and Mad Men exist because going to work involves interacting with other people. 

If you’ve been in an office for months and still don’t feel you fit in, it’s not necessarily time to quit — but it could be. Office culture can be tricky to navigate, and 73 per cent of people opt to quit rather than address the issue. 

Confronting your office’s work culture is an understandably daunting task. However, sitting in an office in which you genuinely feel uncomfortable for years isn’t your only option. 

Find Out What’s Wrong

Office culture has a lot more subtleties than people initially realize. Whenever the words “toxic work environment” are uttered, they can conjure images of keggers and casual harassment. If that’s the problem, it might be better just to find a new job. 

It’s much more complicated than that, as anyone who has worked in an office knows. Understanding the nuances in your workplace’s values and beliefs may take time. 

It’s important to question whether or not you’ve put in the work to fit in, as well. It’s not easy to make friends and being forced to work next to someone for 8 hours a day doesn’t mean you’re required to like them.

This self-reflection can help identify the problem: is it you or them? If you don’t fit in, can you do anything to fix it?

Talking to Coworkers

Putting yourself out there at work, especially when you’ve just arrived, can be scary. Doing so, though, could save you the trouble of having to start sending out applications again. Often, companies have social events for coworkers to interact, but the break room — or whatever the equivalent of the watercooler is — gives you perfect opportunities to connect. 

Casual interactions can increase your comfort, as well as help form bonds and even friendships that’ll make the job more enjoyable.

Taking to the Boss

If you’ve interacted with your coworkers, you should have some understanding of the workplace environment at the very least. If you still feel uneasy, it might be time to take it one step further and talk to your boss.

Often, quitting sounds less imposing. More than half of employees have opted for bowing out as talking to your boss about your discomfort can be detrimental to both the workplace and your mental health.

A good way to break the ice, if you’re nervous, might be to request a performance review, then bring up the issues you’ve been having. 

The Final Solution

If it’s been several months and you still feel you haven’t made any headway, it might just be that, despite your seemingly perfect resume, you don’t fit in. Sometimes, it’s okay to start searching for something new. 

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Resumes

Long before many people reading this were actively seeking work, the process of applying was much simpler. One résumé and a cover letter were enough to land you where you wanted to be — or at least get you through the door. The digital age requires a lot more from job seekers.

One of the keys to getting your application even noticed by an employer is to master the use of keywords in your résumé and cover letter. Thanks to Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), job candidates are often screened through software before a human being gets involved.

Keywords are phrases or terms related to the position that any human resources officer would likely look for. Without certain keywords in your job application, you might be screened out early.

Types of Keywords

The first set of keywords that should always be included is a list of required skills, experience, and previous employers they are looking for. Some of these may come to you naturally.

Candidates for a marketing position should always include words like “marketing,” “brand management,” and “public relations.” A customer service position should include “customer service” and “computer skills.”

How to Find Keywords

Finding the right keywords may take some guesswork, though there are easy signals and light research that can guide you. Your first option is to review the job posting as well as similar postings to find repeated phrases and incorporate them into your application.

The company’s website may also be useful in finding the right keywords. Particularly in your cover letter, using words to describe yourself that match those on the company profile may sound too on the nose, but AI favours preciseness over ambiguity.

Your final guide in the search for the correct keywords is Google. The internet is overloaded with helpful lists of ATS keywords. It should be stressed, however, that the first two methods should be attempted first. Companies are unique, and the words they look for may not always be what you expect.

How to Use Them

Be Exact: Always be precise with your keywords to ensure that they are as closely tied to the specific position as possible. Being focused in your language not only makes the writing punchier but also improves your chances of being seen as a good match.

Use as Many as Possible: Once you have figured out what keywords would be appropriate, be sure to use them all at some point. Some keywords may not apply to your level of experience or skill, so you obviously can’t include them.

Mix It Up: It’s always wise to deploy different kinds of keywords in your résumé. Your skills should always be there, but you can differentiate between soft and hard skills required for the position. Look for multiple versions of different terms in postings and on a company’s website. If they used “real estate agent” and “real estate broker” on both, you should too.

The more keywords for the position, the more likely you’ll land an interview.  

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Interview Skills

Thomas Edison’s prodigious legacy as an inventor is unparalleled. Although, favour has fallen to his “current war” rival Nikola Tesla in recent years, Edison’s impact on modern innovation is still felt today, often in ways we hardly consider. One such invention was not comprised of wires and coils, but a much more human process: he invented the job interview. 

Getting Hired Before Edison’s Time

Before Edison’s day, getting a job was a family business. To better understand why a job interview was such a novel idea, remember that the first “job” was to find food and shelter.

In ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt, assigning professions to certain members of society came through apprenticeship, most commonly through family. This tradition continued until the 1800s. If your father was a fletcher, you were likely in training to be one as well. 

During the industrial revolution, when factories were springing up, jobs were plentiful, requiring little more of the applicant than being present. By the 1920s, the workforce had enough college-educated potential employees that those hiring were able to be a little more selective.  

Edison’s Interview

Though scientists may quibble about alternating versus direct current, there’s no question that Edison’s famous invention factory in Menlo Park, New Jersey — where the phonograph was created — was instrumental in modernizing the West. Famous even in his day, Edison would get applications from hundreds of college graduates eager to work in the lab.

Edison, though he had a reputation for being slovenly, had incredibly high standards — most geniuses do. So, he set about composing a list of questions for each potential hire. Some would be skill-oriented, ensuring they had the requisites. Other questions were more arcane — often involving literature or geography (take the test here).

Edison’s test was likely much more difficult than what applicants would face today. Only about seven percent of candidates would pass. 

The Edison Test Makes Headlines

It wasn’t long before newspapers ran with the story. The headline of a 1921 New York Times paper read, “Edison questions stir up a storm.” The interviewees were described as “victims.” The Times was sure to include as many of the questions that a single candidate could remember being asked — all 141 of them.

The test, however, wasn’t derided everywhere. Other captains of industry began composing lists of their own, and of course those who were lucky enough to pass spoke highly of it.

Edison’s test wasn’t the first time someone had ever been asked questions before getting a position — the Woolworth Psychoneurotic Inventory was introduced to the military four years earlier in World War I — it was the first time a job interview was ever considered a trial.

Edison’s demeanour didn’t help. Candidates reported that he paced around the room while firing off the questions, before being quickly told to “leave the air” (go away).

Interestingly, apart from Edison’s gruffness, the complaints from candidates are not dissimilar to objections raised to more esoteric questions today. Larry Page’s brain-twisting, Barbara Walters-esque questions over at Google have often gotten the same negative feedback. Regardless, those curve-ball questions have become part of the norm. Thank, or blame, Edison.

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Interview Skills

The lives of the most fascinating people you know are never straight, logical narratives; often, they’re full of cul-de-sacs, random loops, and odd holes. They make for a life well-lived, but they don’t always translate well on a resume.

Gaps in employment can lead an interviewer to assume the worst. If you don’t have an adequate explanation, their minds could turn towards personality problems or illegal activity. With COVID-19 destroying more than 22 million jobs, it’s likely that you’ll have some explaining to do. Here are some ways to address employment gaps on a CV.

Be Aware of Employment Gaps

It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with your own work history before going into the interview — you’d be surprised what you can forget. If there was a period of unemployment in the last ten years that lasted more than six months, that could be viewed as an employment gap. 

Shorter gaps are usually ignored. Employers understand that the market can be difficult, but you should have an explanation ready for anything longer. 

It’s also important that you never try to hide or cover up an employment gap when composing a CV. Employers are used to people trying to hide things and are typically good at spotting them.

Be Honest

Potential employers know, especially in this day and age, that very few people graduate from university and immediately start working. It’s possible the hiring manager had a bit of a strange journey themselves. 

If you’ve gotten to the interview stage, it means that something you included on or with your resume made them interested to meet you. You likely won’t lose the opportunity due to an employment gap, provided you know how to explain it.

Make Explicit What Kind of Gap It Was

There are two kinds of employment gaps: voluntary and involuntary. An involuntary gap could be related to a health crisis, a recession, or anything else beyond your control. Obviously, these are more easily explained. No one would penalize you for having to go in for surgery or taking care of an infirm relative — so long as it is the truth.

Voluntary gaps may seem like they’re harder to explain. This depends often on how much you tell them. Just as you want involuntary gaps to sound empathetic, make the voluntary ones sound empowering. 

Just saying that you chose to leave a position (rather than you were asked to) to focus on an attainable goal (you don’t want to lead them to think you have delusions of grandeur) is an acceptable answer. It also suggests a level of confidence that might impress.

Make the Gap a Non-Issue

If you don’t have an adequate explanation, make it immaterial — “yes, but” in your otherwise impressive life. Yes, you weren’t employed, but you were busy improving and adding skills that make you all that more desirable.

Although the pandemic has made employment gaps more common, the art of dealing with them is still largely unchanged.

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Resumes

It can be exceptionally hard for some people to talk about themselves during a job interview. Conversely, being a braggart doesn’t exactly do you any favours either — after all, you’re walking a fine line between modesty and underselling. 

When the potential employer inevitably asks you to talk about your greatest strengths and assets, though, you can’t exactly sit there and stare blankly. A little bragging is almost required, but it matters most what you brag about. 

Here are the best ways to talk yourself up during a job interview. 

Know What They’re Looking For

If you’re being interviewed, chances are you’re not the first or last of the day. There’s a reason the questions are so uniform: they help the interviewer cross off certain mental checklists. 

As such, there are some keywords you might want to include. Often, the job posting includes what you need — words like creativity, trustworthiness, discipline, patience, and dedication.

People, however, are not search engines. You may benefit from not actually saying the words but demonstrating them. 

Show, Don’t Tell

The principles of storytelling apply just as well to job interviews as they do screenplays and novels. This can be a little complicated for those who aren’t natural-born storytellers, but it helps to think in those terms. If your life was a movie or book, what character arc would you use to explain your goals?

This can help you avoid using keywords that make you sound a little too practiced. Instead of saying you’re dedicated, try telling an anecdote that exemplifies your dedication. 

Remember that it’s important how you brag about your work. The stories you tell at a job interview should always have a purpose. In this case, it helps not to bury the lede. An example may be:

”I’d say one of my greatest strengths is bringing order to hectic environments. At my last job, I [anecdote about leadership].”

Keep It Brief

Just as important as what you brag about is how long you think a potential employer is willing to listen to you drone on about yourself. Have some consideration for the interviewer — they likely have a lot of meetings to get through. 

Particularly when it comes to any questions related to personal past accomplishments or pride, you want to limit yourself to no more than 90 seconds. Any longer and you may notice the interviewer make notes in their margins you would probably not want to read. 

Be Memorable

Making an impression while keeping things short sounds like a contradiction, but there’s a fine art to such answers. Fortunately, being memorable doesn’t require you to tell any jokes, though many try anyway. 

Typically, joking is not recommended. Even if you have a previous relationship with the interviewer, it could go wrong in many ways.

A better way to be memorable is to focus on a skill or asset that’s rarely covered in job interviews, something genuinely unique about you that they may have never heard before. 

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Personal Development

No one said searching for a job was simple, but social networks like LinkedIn make it a lot easier. So, you set up your LinkedIn profile, but you’re not landing the interviews and opportunities you were hoping for — don’t worry, you are not alone. 

Similar to a resume, your LinkedIn profile is an opportunity to showcase yourself and all of the incredible skills you have to offer. That being said, simply setting up a profile is not enough. Self-marketing can sometimes feel egotistical. However, by neglecting personal branding, you may be passing up opportunities to grow. Building a perfect LinkedIn profile is the first step to ensure no opportunity is missed. 

To build up your LinkedIn profile, follow these simple steps: 

Add Your Headshot

Choosing the right photo builds credibility. A high-quality headshot is recommended, with your face taking up about 60 per cent of the photo. Dress as if you were attending an interview, and, of course, be sure to smile! iPhones and Androids take high-resolution pictures, so no need to spend a small fortune on professional headshots. 

The Headline

Following your photo, your headline is the first thing profile visitors will notice. The default settings will automatically fill this field with your current title, which is okay for newcomers, but with 120 characters available to you, why not use the space for advertising yourself? Consider mentioning your specialty to show how you can benefit a company or client. 

Craft a Summary

Think of a summary as a longer version of your headline. Here you have 2,000 characters; however, attention spans are shorter these days, so try and keep it to around half that number. Focus less on past experiences and more on how you can benefit a prospective employer. Keywords are crucial here, so use words relevant to your field. 

Highlight Your Experience

Unlike a resume, your experience displayed on LinkedIn is not confined to the one-page rule. However, keeping in mind those short attention spans, determine which jobs and experiences are most relevant to your targeted field. Use two to four interesting bullet points to outline what you accomplished in each position — don’t be afraid to brag a little! 

Start Making Connections

This one may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget. LinkedIn is meant to help you continually grow your network through its system of first-, second-, and third-degree connections. Try and keep it to people you know. However, if you want to connect with someone you have never met personally, send a note along with the request stating why you’d like to connect. 

Be Active 

LinkedIn is the number one online social networking platform — take advantage of it! Check out what others in your field post and engage their interest with reflective comments to show your interest. When it is time to share your work, engaging with others will increase the likelihood for reciprocation from your connections. 

Check Your LinkedIn Profile Strength

If you feel as though you missed a step, look at your current profile. You will see a gauge on the right-hand side titled “Profile Strength.” This tool will show how much progress you have made and what else you must complete in order to boost your profile. 

Brooke Parker | Contributing Writer

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Blog, Interview Skills

What are creative personality questions, and why are they valuable to employers looking to find the best applicants? As a candidate, you will encounter multiple lines of questioning during interviews, but with the proper preparation, you can learn the formula for a well-structured answer. However, personality-based questions allow interviewees to be fully candid, giving employers the opportunity to bypass rehearsed answers and gauge a more accurate reading of their candidate’s character. 

Traditional interview questions can be problematic for several reasons. They often promote a contrived and overly formal environment, making finding the balance between letting the employer know who you are and upholding a base level of professionalism difficult. Moreover, competency-based questions — a type of questioning designed to test how you would behave in certain workplace scenarios — aren’t always the best indicators of who you are because you can learn how to respond in a standard way. As an example, a question like, “Tell me about yourself,” is actually interview-speak for, “Please reel off a quick summary of your resume so we can see how effectively you condense and relay relevant information.” Personality-based questions aren’t designed to see how well you can navigate interview jargon, but rather they permit you to be honest. 

As the job market is saturated and competitive, creative personality questions have inherited a more significant role. While it may feel next to impossible to make yourself stand out on paper, especially when you’re up against competition that exists predominantly online, early-stage personality-based questions are an opportunity to make yourself heard and help employers pick viable candidates from high volumes of applications. Thus, in many ways, personality-related questions are a candidate and employer’s only shared ally.

Furthermore, personality-based questions create space for interviewers to put a positive spin on a high-pressure scenario. Instead of leading the interviewee down a path of negatively spun questioning like, “Why are you leaving your current position?” which is likely to kick-start a slew of complaints, they might ask, “What are you going to miss about your old job?” Just a simple re-wording, and the candidate is encouraged to be honest and therefore much more likely to reveal valuable information that can be used to judge whether they are a good fit for the company culture. 

Finally, as a candidate, it’s easy to forget you’re not the only one feeling the pressure and that interviews are a two-way street. When the time comes, utilise the opportunity to ask questions. The interviewers have taken the time to get to know you, so it’s mutually beneficial to do the same. Inquire about the company culture and your interviewer’s personal experience with it. Probe into the upward mobility of the role you’re interviewing for and let it be known that your motives for asking such questions are personal and professional growth. After all, it’s just as much about getting to know them as it is them getting to know you.

Rachel Goodman | Contributing Writer

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