Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Monday, January 28, 2008

Non-Traditional Self-Employment


A friend asked me whether I had any suggestions that she could pass on to a client who wants to work from home on odd jobs like walking dogs, stuffing envelopes, entering data, and so on. Not having much to offer I put the question on the Contact Point mailing list and on LinkedIn. I received some excellent ideas. This is a summary

Contact Point

  • Advertise on free sites such as Craig's List ( and kijiji (
  • Use informal word of mouth advertising and you might yield results sooner
  • Visiting business prospects with formal advertising (such as a brochure)
  • Apply for jobs and negotiate working at home
  • Leave flyers describing services in neighbourhood mailboxes
  • Read one of the highly recommended books about starting businesses and related topics
    • Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Levinson (
    • Denise Bisonnette, Beyond Traditional Job Development
  • Look at the Alberta Government document (pdf), "Self Employment is it for me?", on
  • Given that people who do this and services like this called "personal assistant" and "VIP services" respectively in California
    • Consider turning your business into a franchise at:
    • Consider JVS ( and other organisations that host information sessions, etc; Fran Banner, o/o, Guildwood Virtual Office Services did a session recently
Other points mentioned:
  • Denise Bissonnette, Terry Kelly and Alan Cuvelier will be presenting at "Rekindle the Flame" in Dartmouth, 6-8 February
  • There was an ffer to introduce my friend's client to people needing personal assistants


In some affluent areas residents 'hire horse walkers, dog walkers, house sitters, person shoppers as well as personal assistants.' In others residents may have tired of 'door hangers and ads pasted to the post box by people [the many people hoping to do business in] the same way.' Nonetheless, you can 'select an affluent area and post your services on [the 'net] for that area.' You can post notices in grocery stores in any area, affluent or not.

Approach companies that employ well-paid personnel to offer personal assistance service. (They would rather have these employees use your services than take time from work in which to handle personal business.) Useful services to mention: fetching dry cleaning back and forth (and don't forget to suggest to the dry cleaners that you can offer exclusive service to them if they post an advertisement for your services), buy tickets, walking dogs, taking children to classes and games, minding pets when their 'owners' are away.

More generally, partner 'with local business who offer related services and products.' Offer them your exclusive business in exchange for referrals and advertising. If you walk dogs then 'drop cards and flyers with small pet shops, groomers, and feed stores.'

Places to post free advertisements on the 'net: Craig's List, LinkedIn,, Add your profile to social networking sites such as, and Offer to meet people that you encounter on sites like and for coffee. When you post an advertisement or profile on the 'net make it link to your website or blog. Other places to advertise at little or no cost: local newspapers.

Start a simple blog (on, for instances, or where you can announce special prices and services. Make it possible for blog visitors to keep up to date by using to send them messages when you add a blog item. If you build a website consider including a form where you can gather contact information from visitors.

Don't ignore old-fashioned advertising. A handyman says, 'My best results were from a sign on my truck with the phone number.' Another says, "I'd also advise the person to read the emyth revisited." In other words, don't assume that the 'net is the best or only way.

When you network 'start with whom you know' and think of 'neighbors, church, [and] organizations [of which you are a member].' Network at meetings of chambers of commerce and home owners. '[H]anging around successful business owners ... and helping their causes and getting their perspective on your business are the foundation.' '[T]ell business owners you are introducing your business to the area and would like to get to know more about them.' Offer to send business to them. In fact, 'Create a list of everyone you know -- including services you use (doctors, etc) and send them notification that you're in business, what you're doing, what they'd hear your ideal client say and provide them with two discount certificates or a referral fee for referring you.'

'[M]eet local radio show hosts and offer to talk about something related to your area of expertise and offer their listeners some special deal.'

Be ready for networking with business cards that offer special prices to new customers--or anyone for that matter. Offer gifts or special offers to those who refer business to you.
Watch for business owners who are willing to co-operate. A pet shop owner says, 'We have a dog-centric store, and referring local service providers has been a real win-win for us. We've even provided some of these folks with custom sample packages of our products to use as customer appreciation gifts. One hand washes the other, and the business has come back to us many times over.' By all means, post your business cards on bulletin boards.

The handyman 'found that realtors prepping houses before sale or after purchase were [his] best customers. Many realtors also manage rental properties and need service between tenants. [After] I started working for a real estate agent, ... I picked up the rest of the agents in that office and [used them as references to get business from] other agencies.'

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Inducing Clients to Follow Through

Many group sessions in employment counselling focus on encouraging clients to network as part of their searching strategy. In a traditional job finding club this encouragement comes in the form of group pressure and operant conditioning from members of the group. In groups where these inducements are not working well it can be a challenge to get clients to network in the first place—let alone long enough to do them much good. With this in mind, I'm always on the lookout for ways of helping clients without necessarily relying on learning theory.

Method To Improve Self-Control provides a summary of a study suggesting that we might be more effective in helping clients to follow through if we make use of a knowledge of clients' orientation with respect to rewards and risks.

I would be very interested in hearing about other studies that examine ways of making clients more effective networkers.

[Pictures: view of central quads of UChicago from wikipedia.]

Sunday, January 20, 2008

10 Big Things

Howard Adamsky's recent blog entry for recruiters, "10 Things Recruiters Should Know About Every Candidate They Interview", implies good parallel advice for job seekers—in spite of the fact that he seems to be writing mainly about recruiting for higher echelons.

Here are his ten points, annotated by me for job seekers:
  1. Complete compensation details.
    Although Adamsky puts this first on his list we are usually well advised to avoid this topic until it becomes clear that the employer is making an offer. Even then, one tries to have them make the first move.
    This does not mean that you should wait for an offer before gathering your complete compensation information and considering it carefully. If you are in a job what is the complete compensation package that your employer provides? Can you explain any times when you might have taken a job that paid less than the preceding job?
  2. Type of commute.
    It's not just whether you will be able to afford large commuting expenses. It's also about whether you will be able to perform well if your commutes will be long and arduous.
  3. The "what they want vs. what they have" differential.
    The interviewer wants to know that the job being offered is considerably more valuable to you than what you have, perhaps especially if you are unemployed or significantly underemployed. In particular, if you plan to take the job just to become employed then there is the strong possibility that the job itself will not give you sufficient satisfaction.
  4. How they work best.
    Regrettably, many employers view this as "team workers" vs "loners." In my case, I find it best to have plenty of exposure to a variety of people and their problems, some "teamwork" and then some individual time in which to research questions and look for patterns. (Now you know one reason that I write this blog.)
  5. Overall strengths and weaknesses.
    A lot of interviewers are quite straightforward about these things: "What are your main weaknesses?" I don't know why they bother because job seekers who have done their homework usually follow the usual advice and what the interviewer is likely to learn most about are the applicants powers of quick recall. If you can, try to find ways of answering these questions so that the responses do not sound too stilted and rehearsed.
    More interestingly, some interviewers will ask, "What results or projects in the past year are you most proud of?" This seems better; however, learning about an applicants best results is not the same as learning about their usual results. If you're a job seeker then, like me, you might be hard pressed to think of anything all that astounding to mention. In such a case, offer your best as requested and then be sure to offer information that indicates your everyday results.
  6. What they want in a new position.
    Egad, when we ask some job seekers what they want they say, "I'll do anything at all." Promise me you'll never say that to an interviewer, won't you? The very first thing that many recruiters ask applicants is, "What do you want to do?" Be ready. A knowledge of what you really want to do with your life implies self-knowledge and breadth of knowledge of the world, and this knowledge is the bedrock upon which you erect your career planning. If you can't say what you want then it is immediately apparent to an interviewer that you are not ready for much of anything.
  7. Is the candidate interviewing elsewhere?
    You need to make it clear that other jobs for which you have applied imply a set of objectives that is consistent with those that led you to apply for the job for which you are being interviewed.
  8. What it will take to close the deal.
    Since you can be totally open and forthright with yourself (you are not negotiating with yourself) you can clarify what it is that the job offers against what you want. A recruiter might want to know all of this but remember that negotiating is not about revealing your own least acceptable offer to the 'other side.' Keep your cards close to your chest but know what they all are.
  9. Can the candidate do the job?
    Most of the commonest advice offered to job seekers concerns this point. You need to have identified all of your many skills and, if at all possible, to have learned enough about the job to verify that your skills are a fit. Since most recruiters and interviewers seem to find it easiest to deal with superlatives, be ready to discuss instances in which you have excelled.
  10. Will the candidate fit into the culture?
    It shocks me that interviewers believe that they can gauge this at all. But they do.
    When you are still trying to decide whether you actually want the job that is on offer do the best you can to resemble the people who are already employed in the organisation. Dress slightly better than they do, show (only) the qualifications that resemble those that they have (for instance, do not mention your B.A. in sociology if you want a job so that you can research dock worker politics), and try to affect the language and gestures of the interviewers.
    And be sure to consider carefully how long you will be able to continue your career in acting.
Remember: most of the people who conduct job interviews are not good and experienced interviewers. (Their fortés are in managing organisations and businesses.) In fact, in my own experience, your biggest problem as a job seeker is often in dealing with interviewers with meagre skills or who fail to cover all of these points adequately. It's up to the job seeker to build their own case. More about that, perhaps, in another of my blog items.

Adapting to Interviews

As all denizens of the web know, there are thousands of pages that list the most frequently asked interview questions. These are very valuable to job seekers—as far as they go. If you have little or no idea what interviewers might ask you then, by all means, prepare answers to as many of the questions listed on these sites as you can.

However, once you have begun a series of interviews with various potential employers be sure to start recording their questions after each session. The patterns that you discern in these questions are your best guide for preparing for subsequent interviews.

For example, in my own line of work there are still interviewers who ask about one's principal weaknesses (and you should certainly have answers for oldies like that) but almost all ask questions that relate to issues that include the following:
  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict with others? (I have yet to encounter anyone asking about how to handle conflict amongst others.)
  • What kinds of responsible judgments have you made about cases with which you have been involved?
  • How do you handle cases involving domestic violence or abuse?
In other words, interviewers want answers relating to issues that they perceive to be problematic in the places in which they have worked. In my job, it's mostly about social skills, and the emphasis appears to be on somewhat pathological situations.

Assuming that the credentials you indicate on your résumé were what got you the interview how can you demonstrate that you are able to handle yourself well in an actual job? My answer is to record interview questions and prepare honest, direct answers from your own experience.

Good luck.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Psychology Wiki

It's quite possible that a huge fraction of the world's population already knows about this.

But I was thrilled when I found it today.

As is true for the venerated wikipedia there are lots of articles that would be needed to make this a truly useful source for career developers.

I hope you will help to fill our occupation's need for well organised, authoritative sources on the 'net.