Am I entitled to severance if my hours are reduced?

Nine To Five: Special to The Globe and Mail, Published October 22, 2017


I have worked as a technician for a medical company for more than 25 years. Over the past three years, my hours have been steadily reduced and I now get maybe 10 hours every couple of weeks. When I ask, they say the work will pick up soon. My total years worked have been a mix of full- and part-time periods. I am frustrated because, had they laid me off while I was full time I could have applied for employment insurance benefits. Am I entitled to severance?


Waiting for the other shoe to drop is common behaviour when workplace practices change over time.

Each party waits for the other to make the next move. The cutbacks in your hours occurred gradually and you accepted them, now the hours are few and you are highly underemployed.

If you need to work, waiting for them to dismiss you altogether is holding you back from career satisfaction and moving forward with your life.

Apply to other companies for 25- to 30-hours/week positions and you could gradually ease this company out of your life, albeit without a severance. Or you can get another full-time job and quit.

With such long service it is very unfortunate to have to leave under such duress, but it is important to take care of yourself at this point and move forward psychologically and physically.

The writing has been on the wall for three years. Now, it is your move.

Interviews Are Telling Not Selling

“Interviews are broken and many candidates take broken interviews and break them even more.” Eric Kramer, ‘Active Interviewing’

When Pierre was asked to explain why he was fired from his last job, he blamed the company for his inappropriate behavior. A caller phoned in to a radio show I was guesting on to ask if he needed to tell an interviewer he’d had cancer 10 years prior. Figuring out what is appropriate to do and say in an interview can be challenging.

It is said that one is interviewed for one’s skills and hired because of “fit.” At the same time, it is essential to be extremely well prepared before setting out on a job interview. With more and more people being professionally coached on interviewing techniques, you can count on the competition being up on their game as well.

Instead of thinking of yourself as an employee, think of yourself as someone who provides a service and benefit. Follow these tips to prepare and perform like a star performer in any interview situation:

1. When you are called for an interview, ask: the names and titles of the interviewers, how long the interview will be and confirm the style of interview, more than likely it will be behavioral based. If you have a choice, choose an interview time when you are at your best. The time of day isn’t as important as when you shine most brightly.

2. Research the company. Use the internet, annual reports and media. Ask employees, or ex-employees, about the ins and outs of the company and about the people you are slated to meet with.

3. Write out answers to speculated questions. Identify 8-10 skills that you anticipate will be targeted and write out your Situation, Action and Result (SAR) stories for each one. Make each story no more than three minutes with the emphasis on your actions and the benefit/result that ensued.

4. Call the interviewers voice mail after hours and listen to their voice to get an idea of how they present themselves. Notice the tone of voice, the pace at which they speak and the cadence; do they exude confidence, timidity, authority, even boredom. Emulate their volume and pace once in the interview. Like begets like.

5. Keep the same daily routine, follow your regular pattern of sleep and activity before the interview. Do deep breathing exercises if you are nervous. Be aware of what you eat the night before and be sure to freshen your mouth before you arrive. Never smoke before and if you are chewing gum, dump it before you enter the building.

6. Don’t watch or listen to the news or read emotional sections of the paper, the morning of. Stay focused on the interview, not on upsetting world or local events. Stay positive and upbeat any which way you can, which includes a peaceful home front as well.

7. Dress for success. Even casual day should find you in a suit or as professionally attired as your industry dictates. No scents, high, high heels or loud ties or jewelry. Nothing less than a collared shirt, gentlemen.

8. Make eye contact with each interviewer as you answer a question. With a panel, go around the table and end up back at the person who asked you the question. Smile intermittently.

9. Memorize your 3 Minute Presentation in answer to the question, Tell Me About Yourself.

10. Have your own personal agenda. Ask questions. Interview the interviewer. Be prepared to discuss up to date issues related to their industry and payroll initiatives. Show them you have done your homework and that you have something to offer from a knowledge and skill perspective.

11. Illustrate strategic thinking, be creative, outline what you imagine doing in the position and/or company 30, 60 and 90 days down the road. TELL about yourself in relationship to company needs.

12. Always turn your weakness answer into a positive. Do not mention a weak or unacquired skill that is pertinent to the position. Do not mention a character flaw.

13. Never bring up salary or benefits.

14. The Best Interview Question of All Time. Before an interview is over you want to find out how well you did. You want to know about any objections there are to hiring you. The question to ask is:

“Based on my background, experience, and skills, what do you think would be the greatest challenges for me in this position?”

15. The Last Must Ask Question. Leaving an interview without knowing the next step is frustrating and nerve wracking. Before you stand up to leave, ask,

“How and when should I follow up with you?”

16. Send a thank you letter or card within 36 hours after the interview, an email is not enough . People delete emails, out of sight, out of mind. Cards stay on desks in sight of the recipient and others.

17. Prepare a form that allows you to jot down your thoughts and feelings about each interview for review purposes. Detail what took place and what you could do better next time.

As interview coaches will tell you, “practice, practice, practice.”

Colleen Clarke
Author of Networking How to Build Relationships That Count &
Get a Job and Keep It

Colleen Clarke is a career specialist, corporate trainer, author and workplace coach. Her edu-taining style inspires audiences and individuals to take ownership and action.

How can I find a qualified, reputable career coach?

Nine To Five: Special to The Globe and Mail, Published July 16, 2017


From my online searches, it doesn’t seem that career coaching is a regulated, professional designation. How do you know if they are reputable and qualified to provide advice? Is there a registry or a rating system, as with financial services? What are customary fees and duration of service? Is it worth the investment?


Career counselling is not regulated, though there is Canadian certification available. In Ontario, for one, check the Ontario Association of Career Management website for a listing of members. There are also graduates with career-management diplomas from a few colleges across Canada.

The best way to find a professional career coach is through referral. Considerations when selecting a counsellor:

  • Check out their website, read testimonials, ask for references;
  • You can book a package of multiple visits, or one-offs — the number often depends on where clients are in their life, in their job search and what their goals and needs are;
  • A counsellor need not have experience in your industry though that can be a plus in certain occupations/industries and levels of employment;
  • Chemistry is important if working together for longer than one visit;
  • Availability, location and accessibility: Independent coaches might be available seven days a week;
  • Rates vary from $100 to $200 an hour for an independent; a retail consultant at an outplacement firm may be much higher;
  • Professional resume services should start at $500, depending on varying factors. Plan to sit in on the session or be available for consultation, around three hours plus edit time.

Every professional athlete has a coach; any job seeker would be fortunate to likewise have a guiding light.

How do I become an adviser for studying abroad?

Published June 4, 2017: Globe and Mail: Nine to Five


I’m very interested in entering the field of study abroad as an adviser/program co-ordinator at a university, but have no direct advising experience (though plenty of other relevant experience). I am thinking that a valuable way to gain experience and know-how in the field would be by volunteering in a study-abroad office. Would it be presumptuous to send an e-mail to the most appropriate person with a compelling cover letter and résumé offering to volunteer a few hours a week? Or is it more appropriate to ask for an informational interview first?


Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and principal,, Toronto

You are certainly on the right track in making inroads into your new career. It isn’t about appropriateness whether you send an e-mail or set up a meeting first, but an advice call is more direct with less wasted time and back-and-forthing with e-mails.

Approach a local university study-abroad department and ask for an advice call with the director explaining why you want to meet. You needn’t hide the fact you want to volunteer.

Nothing is more effective than a face-to-face meeting with a decision maker. With an advice call you will have a dialogue and can present ideas they may not have considered. You can dazzle and charm, show passion and explain the benefits of having you as a volunteer.

Be prepared to talk 30 per cent of the time, and listen 70 per cent. Have questions prepared so you only take 25 to 30 minutes of their time, and mention that timing in the phone call when you call to set the appointment.

Prepare a 90-second presentation about yourself with an example or two of your professional wonderment! Then ask, what would you suggest? Somewhere in the meeting talk about what you can do for them – the benefits they would derive in having you on board. Follow up with a thank-you card or letter.

A Toronto Resume Writer Shares Insights: Tip #3

A resume is a MARKETING TOOL that presents you in the best possible light for the purpose of getting invited to a job interview. The resume is written for the reader be it an H.R. professional or a hiring manager. If you know who is receiving your resume, write it accordingly.

When an HR professional reads your resume, they are generally reading it to screen you out. An advertised position may attract 200-400 applicants so HR is looking to eliminate all but 5-10 potential candidates. HR does not know the intimacies of the position like a hiring manager does, they rely on what they are told as to which resumes attract them and which ones do not.

A hiring manager knows more specifically what type of person they are looking for to fill the job and are hoping with every resume they read that YOURS is one to be short listed.

A Toronto Resume Writer Shares Insights: Tip #2

Tip #2

There are certain words on a resume that are totally useless, that do not evoke any visuals in the reader’s mind. Replace them with an actual action verb the reader can see or imagine you doing.

Stay away from words like:

  • Handled
  • Worked
  • Assisted
  • Responsible for
  • Ability to

Replace them with:

  • Handled: Counted, liaised, problem solved
  • Worked: collaborated, created, team led
  • Assisted: start with the verb you assisted someone in doing
  • Responsible for: same thing, start with the verb
  • Ability to: this means you could do the job if asked but do not necessarily have the experience. If you can do the required task, use the skill to start the sentence.

A Toronto Resume Writer Shares Insights: Tip #1

Put your present or past tense action verb, at the beginning of each of your accomplishments. Adjectives and adverbs that proceed an action verb take the oomph out of the verb and can be redundant, usually unnecessary.

Example NO: Assisted the project manager to create, develop and implement…
Example YES: Created, developed and implemented…in collaboration with the P.M. of the project.

Example NO: Successfully negotiated…
Example YES: Negotiated… if it wasn’t successful you probably wouldn’t be putting it in your resume.

Example NO: Annually processed 10, 000 accounting documents…
Example YES: Processed 10,000 accounting documents yearly, including… OR on an annual basis OR annually.

Your resume is a marketing tool, your resume is a legal document

Your resume is a well crafted, precise and articulate document intended to interest a hiring manager who will invite you to an interview.

A client once told me he had spent 12 hours crafting his initial resume. That is a huge chunk of time away from one’s job search. A professional resume writer can write a resume in one third the time and guarantee a saleable piece of work.

Whether you are employed or in transition, your preference should be for a professional resume.
When looking to have a resume written, you want someone who can:

  • delve deeply within the foundation of your skill set and accomplishments
  • pull out your “professional wonderment”
  • find your magic and
  • convincingly so hiring managers can see instantly what you can do for them.

Only a Career Specialist and a Writer can achieve the level of excellence you require.

A well scripted resume gives you confidence and a sense of pride. It highlights your true self and makes you proud to market yourself. A well scripted resume gets you the interview.

When you or someone you hear of wants to update or create a new resume, I would appreciate your recommendation:

Colleen Clarke, at 416-686-3079

colleen clarke, your resume pro
Colleen Clarke has been writing resumes for middle to senior managers for over 20 years and has assisted over 7500 people through their time of career transition as a Career Specialist. She has written hundreds of resumes and proofed and edited hundreds more, from every walk of life, at every level within organizations, associations, Not for Profit, and for government, media and the trades.

Colleen is an author, a columnist and an ESL instructor. She writes for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, as a workplace advisor for the column ‘Nine to Five.’ She has prolifically written articles and columns for numerous job search sites, commuter newspapers and magazines. She is a best selling author of Networking How To Build Relationships That Count and has an e-book, How To Get a Job and Keep It.

Colleen Clarke is “your resume pro.”

Helpful Action Phrases

In the hundreds of resumes I have critiqued and rewrote over the past 20+ years, a major short coming I encounter is an ineffective past or present tense action verb starting the accomplishment: such as help, assist or worked with. Each of your accomplishment based statements/ bullet points, must have a definitive, descriptive, strong action verb describing your skill. Where possible, use skills that are out of the norm, that stand out, that are very visual.

  • Use design, develop and deliver or execute, all in one statement. It is perfectly acceptable to use two or three skills to describe the action taken.
  • Conducted needs analysis….., or an orchestra, lol
  • Pioneered the first….. When you initiated it
  • Spearheaded a team of…. Sure beats ‘Led’
  • Trail blazed our company into social media… when breaking new ground, similar to pioneering
  • Facilitated strategic meetings… instead of ‘held’
  • Utilized a full range of services… instead of used
  • Developed and implemented…if you did more than manage something tell what you got your hands dirty doing
  • Revamped outdated training materials…
  • Orchestrated the United Way campaign…think of yourself as a maestro, coordinating various departments then use orchestrate
  • Negotiated 15 labor contracts… use numbers where you can
  • Divested five subsidiary companies from…use your thesaurus

Though most resumes are written from an Action + Result perspective, it is also acceptable to start a bullet point with the verb that defines the RESULT.

  • Reduced/Increased
  • Reversed
  • Divested
  • Strengthened
  • Recovered, etc

Stay away from these weak, say nothing verbs:

  • Handled – too vague, use a more definitive verb. You don’t handle people which is where one usually sees this and if you handled money what did you do with the money?
  • Worked – is too generic and doesn’t evoke any vision of the action you actually did to accomplish the task. Eg) Worked with the team…doing what?
  • Assisted – isn’t the accomplishment or action verb, it belongs at the end of the sentence Eg) Did ABC and D, as part of a team or assisting the VP of HR.
  • Helped – what did you actually help do? what more specific action verb would be more definitive? Managed? Directed? Collated? Fine tuned?

After determining what powerful action verb to use you need to add in a strong result. After the action ask the questions HOW? or SO WHAT? to get the result.

Eg) ‘Managed a team of eight sales reps…..’

HOW? doesn’t work here so use SO WHAT.

“Coached and managed a team of eight sales reps SO WHAT? who trail blazed 10 new territories in eight months, acquiring 150 new clients and increasing revenues 80%.”

None knows better than you what you really did from day to day, so help the reader out and blow your own horn.

Colleen Clarke

Downplaying Your Experience on a Resumé

When the job market is really tight and there is plenty of competition for advertised positions, job seekers may start thinking of down grading their education, experience and knowledge. Sometimes that is a prudent decision. Leaving data off your resume is not lying, whereas adding untruths is.

Applying for positions of a lower level than you have achieved in your career is not something anyone takes pleasure in having to do. You worked hard to acquire your education and experience and now to get the job to feed the family and to survive, you have decided to down play your accomplishments.

How you present yourself is as important as what you decide to hold back.


  • The most common omission is to leave out post graduate education, especially a Masters or PhD.
  • If you were an honor student in high school or university and you are in your early 20’s, keep your Honor
  • Keep in courses you have taken within the last two years. Courses show you are up to date with training though not over educated and therefore an affordable and bright candidate.


  • If the role is not one of leadership and you have been a leader or manager, downplay words like Manage, Supervise, Oversee, Direct, Lead. (and these words in the past tense)
  • Normally I would not condone starting a sentence with “Assisting someone…” and then stating the action verb, but to down play your involvement and ability start with those words and then state what you did, rather than the other way around.
  • When 5 years is required and you have over 10, use Honed or Developed to describe your experience, rather than the number of years.
  • With more than 15-20 years of experience, say: Extensive experience with……to mask your superiority.
  • If you speak more languages than are required, omit the ones you know you won’t need to use.
  • If global experience isn’t a benefit and you have worked internationally, take all the cities off your resume that would normally go next to the company name, even the local city you live in now.
  • Quantitative information is essential in a resume and you don’t want to lie. Use about or approximately, under or over in front of an amount to lower the number of dollars or people from your responsibility.


  • There is a difference between knowledge of, ability to and Doing It. If you are too advanced for a skill or aptitude, say you have knowledge of… or the ability to…. rather than Do it everyday and am a wiz bang at it.
  • Don’t down play what you do know or what you need to know to get the job done. How well you can do something with the knowledge is a tad different.

When you hold back information on a resume you may have to alter the interview as well. Stay focused on what the job requires in the first interview at least, not what you could do over and above. Certainly you can use intuition and speculation of what you would do if… to describe desired outcomes.

You get the interview. Now you have to convince the interviewer that you are not going to run out on them when a more lucrative job comes along, which is one of the biggest concerns a hiring manager has, ergo, altering your resume.

Colleen Clarke