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What not to do when looking for a job

Posted by Joanne on September 29, 2011 Comments (1)

Over the years, I’ve helped talented people find new jobs and clients hire the best talent for their organizations.  I’ve coached clients on job search techniques and managers on how to hire the best. Here are a few tips on …

what not to do when looking for a job


1. Drunk man Send a cover letter or email message with Twitter text. OMG, it will put u @ the #bottom of the candidate list.

2.  Talk as if you are bored or have no energy when you get a phone call from the recruiter.

3.  Forget what company and position you applied for. 

4.  Answer a cell phone call from a recruiter after work hours when you are out drinking. 

5.  Tweet about how much you had to drink the night before and that everyone else is F*@Ked UP.

6.  Pass up an offer from someone willing to review your resume for free or connect you with their contacts, and then complain you can’t find a job.

7.  Accept time and expertise from someone willing to coach you but then keep doing the same things you’ve always done.

8.  Argue that having to cut and paste your cover letter and resume into an email or applicant tracking system doesn’t allow you to be creative.

9.  Talk too much during the interview but somehow not answer the questions asked. 

10.  Ignore what’s important in the job, the workplace, and to the person hiring (who may be a different generation with different expectations).

If you have any other tips for “what not to do when looking for a job,” please share them.

Next week stay tuned for what not to do when trying to hire talent

Best regards, Joanne Royce

When references are BAD

Posted by Joanne on September 23, 2011 Comments Off

Conducting reference checks is a very important part of the recruiting process. But it is also crucial for the candidate to ensure the best references are selected. When references are BAD, it is BAD for the candidate. And yes, bad references do occur and it is astounding when that happens. Consider the following scenario:

Jim Smith was outstanding at all his interviews. He came prepared with a professional error-free resume. He was knowledgeable, shared his experience, and had great interpersonal skills. He had a portfolio with samples of work and achievements accomplished during part-time and summer jobs, volunteer positions, and university. He answered behavioural based questions with specific well thought answers. Jim appeared to be a “star” and everyone on the interview team, including the hiring manager and human resources manager were excited to extend an offer. But wait …. references needed to be checked.

The candidate provided four references. Three out of the four references raved about Jim, giving specific examples about his accomplishments, but the fourth reference tore him to bits. He didn’t have one nice thing to say about Jim. The HR Manager was astounded and blurted out, “I can’t believe Jim used your name as a reference.”

What should the HR Manager do?

Are references confidential?  If they are does confidentiality mean the HR Manager can’t tell the candidate to take the bad reference off the list? Does that breach confidentiality? Is there a privacy issue here?

I asked several of my HR and legal colleagues what they would do about bad references and here are some comments:

1. If the bad reference was “over the top” and the other three were great, I would think that was something very strange about the bad reference. I wouldn’t think it was a reliable description of the candidate.

2. I wouldn’t tell the candidate that they received a bad reference and I wouldn’t extend an offer. One bad reference spoils the batch.

3. I would proceed with the offer. Three awesome references negate a sour grapes sounding bad reference.

4. I would tell the candidate directly that “Mr. Reference gave you a bad reference.” and then ask the candidate to explain why.

5. While I do not profess to be an expert in privacy laws, I have been told by those who specialize in the area that references can be considered personal information, and therefore under certain privacy legislation, the subject of the references (the candidate) has a right to know the content. Even if they do not have a legal right to see or hear them, unless there are other factors in play, references are not “confidential” in the sense that they cannot be shared with the subject.  (See a different opinion in 7, 8, and 9).

6. I know of many HR practitioners that will ask a candidate specifically about negative references, to give them the opportunity to explain.

7. As a general practice, a company should obtain the consent of job candidate before contacting any references. That is as far as the obligation to obtain consent goes. There is always a risk that the comments made by a reference may be negative. Most companies hope that the person giving the reference will be honest. That will only happen if the information provided by the person giving the reference is maintained in confidence.

8. If a company intended on disclosing the details of the reference to the candidate, then the person giving the reference should have been warned about that prior to providing a reference (ie. “that the information you disclose during our phone call today may be provided to the candidate”). If information from the reference is disclosed, that does not necessarily mean there has been a breach of privacy or confidentiality unless specific assurances were made to the person giving the reference. However, that type of practice may undermine the reference process.

9. There have been a number of lawsuits that involve negative references. The company that disclosed the information may end up involved in that lawsuit as a witness or even named as a party depending on the situation. While any potential risk of the company having a decision against it may be minimal, it would still be a hassle to be involved in a lawsuit.

So there you have it. Here is the approach I take:

  • References are confidential and won’t be disclosed to the candidate.
  • References are not kept in an employee’s file, which infers that the contents are confidential and not to be viewed or disclosed to the employee.
  • Ask the candidate additional behavioural based interview questions framed specifically to get to the root cause of the bad reference.
  • Ask for and conduct additional references.
  • Assessments might be considered to provide more information.
  • Discuss references with the hiring manager so warning signs can be caught early.
  • Take a balanced approach and ask the hiring manager to base the final decision on the additional answers, all the references, the ratings made from structured interviews, and the comments and assessments from the interview team. 

Thank you to my colleagues who took the time to share their thoughts! What would you do in a similar situation? 

Best regards, Joanne  

P.S. Are you looking to be hired? Before adding a reference name to a list, contact the reference directly and ask “What will you say about me?” It doesn’t hurt to ask, and hopefully the reference will be honest enough to say, “I can’t be a reference” or use the standard “Company policy prohibits me from providing a reference.” instead of giving a BAD reference.

Photo credit: SXC – Derek Kimball

A leadership lesson from a horse and more

Posted by Joanne on September 15, 2011 Comments (4)

Paul Bates, Strategy Advisor to the President of McMaster University and former Dean and Industry Professor in Financial Management at DeGroote School of Business spoke at our HRPA Halton Chapter event last night. The topic was “What can HR leaders take away as insights into leadership challenges today.” It was an interesting topic and he related it to lessons from his recent book “What I have learned so far and how it can help you.” He started out with:

a leadership lesson from a horse

Before a rider gets on a horse, the horse always wants  to know “Am I safe with you?” and “Are you fit to be my leader?” If the answer is “Yes,” you will have a fine ride together. If the answer is “No” the horse takes over and you are out of the saddle and on the ground. This lesson can be applied to the workplace;  if you create a safe environment and if you are fit to be a leader, your relationship with your people will thrive.

Other leadership lessons included:  

1. Don’t let fear of making a mistake keep you from living life to the fullest.

  • In my view, this means sometimes taking a leap of faith and reframing fear to another emotion like excitement. Tell yourself, “ Yes, I’m about to try something new. Isn’t that exciting.” and then go for it.  As Paul stated, “Sometimes you have to let go of the life you are living now to get the life you are looking for.”

2. Stand up for what you believe in.

  • I find that HR professionals often get a bad rap as the “yes” people. To ensure that doesn’t happen, as leaders we need to find our voice and stand up for what is right. We need to point out the people impact of business decisions when it’s sometimes forgotten. We need to advocate for creating happy, healthy, and productive workplaces that allow people to develop and contribute to their full potential. 

3. Do what you love.

  • I hear this often; do what you love and the rest will follow.  I believe in the power of doing what you love. It brings happiness and success. But sometimes before you get to do what you love, you have to do the not so great stuff (with a smile on your face). You still have to do the paper work before you get to train people, and you have to take the garbage out if you want to enjoy a nice home. It doesn’t mean skipping over that stuff in the quest to doing only what you love.

4. Your workplace should bring you up not down.

  • As HR professionals one of our roles is to help the company get to the point where it’s a great place to work; a place that brings people up instead of dragging them down. Our role is to try to make that change. Of course, you can only work for an organization that brings you down and isn’t willing to change, for so long. If your value system is not in-sync eventually you will have to move on to preserve yourself and what you believe in.

Those are my thoughts on some of the leaders lessons and challenges mentioned. What are your thoughts?

Best regards, Joanne

Make performance reviews more than an Annual Piece of Paper!

Posted by Joanne on September 9, 2011 Comments (2)


10 Tips for Positive Impactful Performance Reviews!

Performance reviews, the formal part of a Performance Management Process, are often looked upon with dread by managers and employees alike. Sometimes cynicism creeps in with the thought that the review is as useful as an annual piece of paper (APOP)!

1. Make the content of the performance review relevant to the position, performance standards, and aligned to company culture and goals. If one of the key performance indicators is customer focus, for example, explain what that means and what it takes to achieve each level of performance.

2. Measure each key performance indicator individually. Don’t let a stellar achievement or development issue in one area sway your measurement in other areas. For example, if someone is spectacular with the technical aspects of the job, but needs development with building customer relationships, don’t let that influence the ratings in the other area by making it higher or lower than you should.

3. Keep the paper work and approval process to a reasonable level or the administration of the performance reviews can become a nightmare. Automate if you can!

4. Keep a journal to document achievements and areas for improvement throughout the year. Remember to provide immediate feedback so there are no surprizes during the review period.

5. Follow up on performance issues and goals. Don’t file the review away until the next year. It should be reviewed often or it just becomes an APOP (Annual Piece of Paper) worth nothing.

6. Keep on schedule. If reviews are to be completed by a certain date, then work backwards from that date, being careful to allow time for vacations or other commitment that might delay the review.

7. Know why you are conducting the review. Understand and communicate the importance of the review with respect to employee development, continuous improvement, succession planning, changes in company strategy, and connection with pay increase and bonus.

8. Train your managers and employees on the performance management process including giving and receiving constructive feedback, setting goals, and accurately measuring performance against standards.

9. Make the process 360. Allow employees to communicate and document what the manager can do to help them perform better and what the company can do to improve processes. Compile input from multiple sources.

10. Tie your review process to pay increases and bonuses if you would like to foster a pay for performance work environment. The performance review process should help elevate performance standards throughout the company not discourage your high performers.

You can automate the process so the workflow, documentation, communication, and deadlines are easier to manage. Automation allows for ongoing easy access to reviews, development plans, and goals and objectives.  There are many options to automate the process. Check out SuccessFactors and Canadian-based companies like TribeHR and Rypple.

How is the performance review process at your company? Does it fill you with dread? Is it relevant to what you do or is it just an APOP? Give us a call if you need help making your performance review more than an APOP! 

Best regards, Joanne

A formula for balance and success

Posted by Joanne on September 2, 2011 Comments (2)

With my daughter going off to her first year of university and my son finishing his last year at university, I wanted to share the concept of “balance” with them. In any setting, whether it is at work, at school, or at life we need to achieve balance to be mentally and physically healthy. When we are in balance, we are happy and successful. To be in balance we need equal doses of three spheres or circles of influence – self-care, leisure and productivity.



So what does each circle mean?

Self-Care includes taking care of our physical and mental wellbeing. It consists of activities such as exercising, meditating, and eating well. Everything in moderation helps balance.

Leisure involves socializing with friends, family, and new acquaintances. It means participating in activities that bring us joy. It might include going to the movies or social functions with friends. It doesn’t include becoming a “couch potato” watching hours of mindless television or obsessively playing video games.

Productivity means “doing” things like working at paid jobs, completing school work, studying for exams, volunteering, doing housework, and maintaining our homes. When we do this, we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves and it provides a sense of accomplishment.

When all three circles are in balance, we are happy, healthy, and productive individuals. It’s natural at various times to be out of balance, when one of the circles is larger than the rest (i.e. exam time, budget time), but if this situation continues too long, not so nice things start to happen. When we spend too much time in one circle while neglecting the others, we suffer.

During the first year of university, sometimes too much time might be spent on leisure activities, such as socializing and partying, and not enough time spent on self-care and productivity. This could result in what is called the “Freshman 15″ (plus 15 pounds and minus 15 percent)! But sometimes too much time might be spent on studying. In The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor tells the story of two students who entered university with the same overall average. One balanced her school work with socializing and taking care of herself. The other student spent all her time studying and completing school work. The student with balance became more vibrant and happier as the school year progressed, and the other one became so depressed and sad she didn’t return.

To ensure we are happy, healthy, and productive, 
we need to be in balance with equal doses of
self-care, leisure, and productivity.

Are you in balance, or do you spend too much time in one circle? What can you do today to make sure you have work-life balance? Please share this blog post with anyone you feel might benefit from it.

May balance be with you, Joanne Royce

 Joanne Royce

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Use our insider tips on human resources, training, and interpersonal relationships to create your own happy, healthy, and productive workplace. We'll also comment on life in general and share info and highlights from books.

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