Friday Professional Group

first impressions

Seasons May Change, Winter to Spring...

As I’m sitting here writing this, the temperature in Calgary is still -17, and it’s hard to believe winter is ever going to be over. Happily, however, I have access to a long-range weather forecast and know that as early as this weekend, we could be getting right into spring.

The cliché about spring is that it’s a time for new beginnings and it’s a cliché for a reason – both in the world and for you personally, as the days get longer and warmer and the hibernation mindset of winter moves aside to make way for the energy and focus on the “clean sweep” mentality of spring. We here in Calgary know better than almost anyone that the transition period between the two can be interesting, however, as the temperature fluctuates and the snow squalls roll in. I thought today would be a good day to talk about both winter – spring food and winter – spring workwear as we all prepare to get through what promises to be a tumultuous March and April and into real, sustained spring.

According to this article from February 2012, now is a good time to be eating citrus, cauliflower and sweet shrimp – all lighter-tasting alternatives to the root vegetables and stews that pop to mind when one thinks about ‘winter’ food. I love the look of this Dijon yogurt cauliflower recipe as a side dish – it’s healthier than smothering the cauliflower in cheese and still is tasty and hearty enough to feel like an appropriate side dish on a cold almost-spring day. suggests strawberries, mushrooms, eggs and mixed greens as foods which help to promote natural weight loss, which may be beneficial if you’ve picked up a few extra pounds to keep warm over the winter! (Sounds like the ingredients to a pretty good make-ahead salad!) According to, we in Alberta are now on the tail end of the availability of locally-grown produce until May, but with the use of greenhouses by local farmers it is possible to get all kinds of locally-grown vegetables and fruits all year round.

As we move into spring eating, we’re also moving into spring clothing, and it can be so hard to know how to dress for the Calgary weather in these early spring months. (I, for one, still have my fleece-lined tights in heavy rotation). Winter clothes are getting boring and tired, but it’s nowhere near warm enough to move into a full-on spring wardrobe. This is where layering comes into heavy play – instead of a black blazer, consider one like this beauty. Bright colours and florals help to enliven your spring look as you phase out the winter clothes, but can still be worn underneath cardigans and blazers as necessary to keep warm and professional. I think scarves have a big place in layering, as well as wearing long-sleeved shirts under dresses (like in this slideshow, which also has some other interesting ideas! It is for “transitioning into winter”, but the points work just as well in reverse). A lot of the articles I read while researching this post also recommended booties, cropped pants and adding lots of colour and prints as we move into spring.

 I would love to hear some male opinions on changing the wardrobe from winter to spring. Is this as big of a concern as it is for women, or do you find that weather-wise, your wardrobes hold up pan-seasonally? Email me at or visit our Facebook or Twitter accounts to weigh in! I also am still always looking for recipes and breakfast or lunch ideas to share with our followers, if you have a particular favourite. I hope everyone is staying warm and toasty as we get through this one (hopefully last!) cold week! (I see that it’s supposed to warm up on Monday – maybe I’ll get to retire the fleece-lined tights!)


            -Rae, First Impressions Coordinator

Photo Credit:

This is Your Brain on Lunch

Shabana, our social media expert, passed along some interesting articles to me last week as I was writing about finishing up my Meals Challenge and starting to look at other ways food impacts workers and the workplace – so today, referring to Brain Food: The Ultimate Lunch for a Productivity Boost by Abigail Tracy and Seven Foods That Reduce Stress & Seven Foods That Boost Your Brainpower, both by Barbara Mendez, let’s talk about clear heads and workplace productivity!

In last week’s blog, I talked about  how eating breakfast and lunch on a more regular basis had helped me feel happier and more focused throughout the day – and this week, where I’m regrettably back on the two-cups-of-coffee-and-no-protein-for-breakfast bandwagon, it’s interesting to read these thoughts about why that is.

I am a big egg fan and relied on them near-exclusively to complete my Meals Challenge breakfasts – eggs, it turns out, provide a ‘necessary building block’ to one of the neurotransmitters in the brain which allows for increased concentration and better recall of information. Even when we’re going off the admittedly limited evidentiary proof of my Meals Challenge – especially when compared to today, as I’m having more trouble staying completely focused on just writing this piece – I would feel confident in saying that breakfast in general and eggs in particular helped me keep sharp and focused last week without near as much of the caffeine that’s been a mainstay for this one. I did grab a gluten-free oatmeal cereal for Tuesday, which is said to contain elements which aid in boosting serotonin production and calming anxiety, but I hadn’t had a lot of sleep Monday night and didn’t notice much help brain-wise. I don’t feel like my work has suffered by not eating breakfast, or that eating breakfast made me Super-Employee, but the level of mental effort I am expending helped along by caffeine is definitely higher this week. (I will be getting back on the eggs as of tomorrow, with a firm dedication to the Egg Cause).

One thing I have remained on top of this week has been bringing a lunch for every day except Monday! Even with skipping breakfast, having a well-balanced lunch has made a noticeable difference in my brain in the afternoons. I’ve been bringing leftovers from dinner the night before, which means lean meat, vegetables, and fruit; and I find it really nice to get through an afternoon without being hungry or feeling unsatisfied or greasy (like one can feel after, say, Mexi-Fries and a small Jugo Juice…) That being said, I like the ‘seven’ lists above for reducing stress and increasing brainpower – turkey in a dark-green salad with chickpeas, blueberries and orange segments? That sounds delicious, and easy to throw together the night before so that I can grab it as ‘leftovers’ in the morning and go. I said in my blog last week that I was hoping to spend some time putting together lunches that were easy to grab in the morning, and I am still holding to that – I think salads are really the perfect idea for this if there aren’t leftovers ready to grab. I have a great little Tupperware container that is the perfect size for holding a lunch-size salad’s worth of dressing and fits perfectly in my lunchbox, too!

I feel like the best part about all the pieces we’ve looked at today is that they give you solid reasons to make these healthy choices and tell you why they work. There is no ‘superfood’ to help reduce stress or improve brainpower, but there are lots of little 'great foods' you can eat to give your brain what it needs. I like all the suggestions on both lists of foods to help with brainpower/reduce stress, and I find the idea of the 10-minute lunch to boost productivity intriguing even though I don’t care for green tea. (Our service team, however, drinks it like it’s going out of style – maybe that’s how they’re so amazing!)

Check out this delicious-looking (and adorable!) turkey and orange salad recipe from the BBC if you, too, are planning to bring some brain food for lunch next week; and as always, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to chat about recipes, food or anything else!

-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator 

Photo: Sara Asnaghi, "What have you got in your head?"

The Rae Makes Meals Challenge (plus Rae Organizes Her Desk update!)

Besides some very dedicated, healthy individuals, I’m sure we all have days where we don’t have time for breakfast, pick the wrong choices for lunch, and are so tired when we get home that dinner just falls by the wayside into the takeout menu. With the advent of resources like Pinterest and lifestyle blogs it seems like a no-brainer to make healthier – and, often, easier - choices (oftentimes the recipes look delectable and uncomplicated, AND are pleasingly illustrated with pictures of them adorably presented in mason jars! Who could resist, I ask you?). And yet – sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Actually, for me, it rarely works out that way.

One of the things our fantastic Employment Solutions Specialist and all-around social media expert Shabana does, as you’ll know if you frequent our Facebook or Twitter accounts, is round up and share awesome tips and information on everything from resumes to interview attire to make-ahead dinners. As I looked through some of the ideas on the meal spectrum we’re going to be sharing with you in the upcoming weeks and months, I had a thought – why don’t I take a look at the week I just had, meal-wise, and see if I can do better this week using some of these ideas?

Last week, I actually did better at breakfast than I usually do – I almost never eat breakfast, as I am a devotee of my alarm’s snooze button. I had a cold glass of water, two boiled eggs with a little bit of buffalo wing hot sauce, and tea on Wednesday and Friday. (Friday, though, I also ate three sour soothers. Breakfast of champions!) The other days, I had a cold glass of water and a cup of tea or coffee. So, my goal for this week is to make some truly grab-and-go ideas for breakfast. I started this week with my good old two boiled eggs and hot sauce option, followed by a cold glass of water and some coffee when I got to work this morning. This slideshow has some great ideas for breakfast options – because of a medical condition, though, I can’t eat anything containing gluten, so I’ll be modifying recipes from there and using this site for more ideas and reference for the rest of the week.

As for lunch, last week was also a good week for me. I’ve picked, apparently, one of my best food weeks ever to start this experiment - I brought my lunch (usually a small sandwich and a piece of fruit) every day except for Friday! Usually I run across the street for a salad or a Jugo Juice with protein powder. This probably sounds healthier than it is – it’s sometimes too easy to choose creamy dressings or too much cheese on a salad, and I’ll admit to being honestly unsure how much better a choice a fruit smoothie with protein powder really is for lunch than some of the ideas I want to be trying this week. I’m lucky enough to live right now with my parents and my fiancé, who usually packs my lunch for me while I am racing around in the morning trying to get ready in time to leave, so this week: I’ll be making my lunches the night before! I didn’t manage to get my lunch packed last night, but I did pack some turkey, feta and cranberry burgers, an apple, an orange and a Coke Zero for today’s lunch this morning. Since gluten-free sandwich bread is reaaallly expensive, I was thrilled to come across this website which suggests sixteen sandwich-free lunch ideas, which is perfect for me! I’m also looking at ideas to use or modify from places like this and this.

Dinners? Well, I humbly admit that for dinners, I’m usually off the hook – as I mentioned, my fiancé and I live with my family, and my father is a wonderful and enthusiastic cook. Since two of my other family members are also celiac, that means we’re privileged enough to have safe and delicious dinners usually prepared for us. However! In the spirit of this challenge, I’ll be perusing this to make one dinner (at least – I might aim for two) for me and my family next week. I found, for example, this good-looking delight – that’s probably not the healthiest salad ever concocted, but boy, is it ever up my alley.

I’m actually really excited to take this on! It will involve a good deal of list-making, which is my specialty, and as I look over the plan I’ve got going for the week, I can see exactly where and how this is going to save me lots of time and money in the long run. It gets expensive to eat out for four or five lunches a week! Plus, eating breakfast (my number-one most skipped meal) has been shown to have major benefits. I’ll be back in this space on Friday or Monday to share with you what I made and how the week went in general. Cross your fingers for me! Bon appétit!

-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator

PS: Shabana suggested I share how my desk organization was coming along! She also graciously told me I had been doing a pretty good job. In my opinion, desk organization is still a work in progress. I am doing really well at keeping the pen caddy cleaned out and having only what I need to hand; I am still working on tidying up at the end of the day and not having too much paper everywhere! 


Photo: My unpopular lunchbox in our work fridge. 

The Winter Interview Wonderland

A friend of mine buried neck-deep in snow up in Edmonton and getting ready for an interview sent me a text message yesterday saying “why don’t you do a blog about interviewing in the winter?!” Thanks for the great idea, Stephanie, and I hope your interview was wonderful!

Interviews can be stressful at the best of times and nasty weather just adds one more variable into your preparations – but as long as you do factor the weather into your interview prep, there should be no reason to let some Alberta snowstorm get in the way of you getting there and giving a great interview.

Let’s face it – the getting there can be the most daunting part of that “getting to an interview in inclement weather” proposition, especially if you are interviewing in an unfamiliar part of town. A standard interviewing tip is to know where you’re going and to plan to be there 5-10 minutes early – I would propose that this is doubly important when the weather is frightful. If you’re driving, I’d recommend leaving double the time you would normally allot to travel – and inform yourself about the parking situation! Especially when the snow flies, parking in some parts of Calgary can be difficult to find and expensive. You’ll want to leave enough room in your travel time for parking and possibly walking to the interview location. I am an ardent fan of the 660 News Traffic Twitter feed (@660NewsTraffic) for checking up-to-the-minute traffic information before I leave the house, and radio stations in Calgary announce frequent traffic updates especially during rush hours. Also, Google Maps’ Street View service ( lets you get a peek at the area around an unfamiliar address if you’re not able to drive down in advance to get a feel for the location – it can give you some good hints on parking. The Calgary Parking Authority ( also lists lot locations around the city. 

We all appreciate Calgary Transit’s hard work moving people around our big city; and it’s understandable that bad weather can snarl traffic and transit alike. The Calgary Transit Twitter feed (@calgarytransit) is one of the best I’ve ever seen for keeping customers up to date on delays and for responding to queries quickly and accurately. The Calgary Transit website ( offers a great trip-planning service – but remember that when it snows, delays on busses and C-trains can occur, and leave yourself even more extra time. Again, we usually recommend that you arrive 5-10 minutes early for an interview, but I think a few minutes even earlier than that is completely understandable and even a good sign when the weather is bad – it gives a good impression that you planned ahead.

Are bad roads ever an excuse for arriving at an interview late? Well…I talked to one of our recruiters, and while she wouldn’t come out and say “no, they’re not ever an excuse,” she agrees with me that if you’re leaving yourself extra time and planning ahead, chances are good you can take “bad roads making you late” out of the equation altogether. As with any unexpected delay, though, always call as soon as you realize you’ll be delayed and offer to reschedule.

So, you’re going to be on time – fantastic! But what will you wear? Even if you’re fortunate enough to be driving to an interview, that pesky Calgary parking situation means you’ll likely want to be bundled up and especially wearing puddle-and-ice-proof footwear! You’ll still want to look polished and professional, however – wool overcoats are preferable to down jackets for a sharper look, and you can’t go wrong with sensible black boots for a professional image. I’ve heard of people covering their boots with plastic bags to get from the car to the door – as long as those plastic bags are hidden away in a coat pocket before coming into the office, I say “whatever works.”  Some experts also advise, especially for people who aren’t driving to their interview, wearing winter boots and then changing them in the washroom; bringing along a bag to keep them with their overcoat. This would work out at our office – we have a spot where I keep my winter boots, in fact – but I’d hesitate to recommend it for an interview at other offices where I wasn’t sure of their coat-closet situation. It isn’t quite as professional as choosing footwear which can hold up to both the outdoors and the interview setting. (Bringing shoes to change into is preferable, though, to wearing clunky snow boots into an interview). A nice, warm, solid-colored scarf, gloves (not ski gloves!), and a pair of earmuffs completes your on-my-way-to-an-interview-in-the-winter look. Plus, while you’re planning all that extra time – add on a couple of minutes for a washroom break to make sure the elements haven’t gotten to your hair!

I really believe there are enough things to worry about when you land an interview, so winter wreaking havoc on your plans doesn’t have to be one of them. Remember to leave yourself lots of extra time (more than usual), know exactly where you’re going, and be confident in what you’re wearing to arrive there warm and safe!


-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator



Photo credit: The New York Post

Rae Organizes Her Desk

I’m the person with probably the messiest desk at our office – which maybe makes me the most qualified to look for desk organization tips! I’ve been trying to find new ways that work for my sometimes-scattered brain (does it count as chaos if I know where everything is?) to keep my things tidier and hopefully easier for other people to understand if they need to step into my zone!

My organizational problems tend to come from having a lot of paper and feeling like I don’t have a lot of places to put them (this is because I’m a big note-taker), so I started looking for cute, compact and functional ideas to hold my papers and pens and make my space a little neater.

I started out thinking I could use some of the ideas on Martha Stewart’s website, like her framed bulletin board or covered clipboards – but I don’t have the wall space where I could hang something like that up, since I sit at the very front of our office. Plus, I get the feeling that someone with some crafty skills would make things that looked a little nicer! As much as I loved the neat ideas like paint-can-canisters for holding mail, what turned out to be more important for my desk was tips like “get rid of pens and pencils you don’t need.” I took one look at my pen holder on my desk and realized this was me! Mark Shead’s 12 Tips For an Organized Desk was my lifeline here. I latched onto the idea of “organization by proximity” – keeping the things I need most often closest to me, like my favourite pen, my bright-blue Post-its, and my rack of everybody’s business cards that I put into interview folders – and putting away things I don’t use much. This meant finding a home for things like the building’s fire warden manual, which I think everyone else in the office has forgotten even exists! I also designated a scratch pad for notes and tidied up all the random paperclips strewn about my desktop, cleaned out my file holder, and even took a stab at the pen caddy. (I am not a kindergarten teacher and do not need three pairs of scissors at my desk).

So has any of this helped yet? Well, we’ll see – but I think I’ve made a pretty good start at no longer being the office slob. I did, at the very least, clean up things that should have never found a home on my desk to start with, since I am not the fire warden - this should make the whole ‘organize-as-you-go’ process run a little more smoothly.  And I did get to keep some cute and fun things on my desk, like the mirror Shabana bought me and a paperweight our summer student, Emily, brought me from Vegas. Even in the short time since I started to tidy up my desk, I’ve noticed it helps me think more clearly and feel more focused. Hopefully organizing-as-I-go and keeping the most important things near to me can be the key to happier, tidier working! (Then I'll just need to get started on my desk at home!) 


-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator

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