Category Archives: Career Coaching Brussels

Career advice needs context

Why career advice is meaningless without context

There is no shortage of career advice, with any number of people giving tips on what and not what to do. There is even advice on what career advice to ignore. Everyone has careers, so we all believe we know what everyone else should do. But as with anything, these bumper sticker type homilies are much more nuanced than we ever imagined. Times and workplaces change. Circumstances change. Heaven forbid – you change. These golden tips and nuggets of wisdom need to be revisited and always put into context. Context is everything when it comes to career advice. Without that – any career advice is meaningless.

4 common pieces of career advice without context

#1 You have to follow your passion

This is the most regularly doled out of all career tips. If it was a movie or a song it would get an award. Of course you should all be advised to do something you love and which satisfies you. Otherwise you will be condemned to a life of frustration and misery. But there are some caveats. The first is to be strategic. Do you have the skills or can you acquire them? The next question is will that passion pay the bills? At the age of 14, I was passionate about tennis, but there was no way I could make a living at it. Or had the skills. That is something that very often people misunderstand. I know one woman who was an excellent home cook and passionate about food. But she was unable to turn that passion into something that paid her bills. Some things like my tennis, are best kept as hobbies.

The other thing is that your passion can change over the years. So something that you might be passionate about in your 20s,  can be the source of unremitting boredom in later life.

You can also develop new passions. It’s not inconceivable that you might find two or even more passions in a working life which is extending all the time.

Core advice: maintain a path of life-long learning. Be open to possibilities and be sure to do your inner work regularly. Assess and prioritize your goals.  In our careers we will be passionate about many things at various times. At different stages of our lives we have a range of commitments and constraints. There is nothing wrong with having to defer to those in the short-term. As life goes on compromises are made as we factor other people’s needs into our planning. The question is do you feel compromised? If you do, then it’s time for a re-evaulation. The pace of change is also so great in our workplaces, that we have no idea what jobs will exist in 10 years that we may become passionate about.

Passion isn’t static for most people. It’s misleading to suggest it might be.

Read: Knowing yourself in the beginning of all wisdom 

#2. You should have a dream

Martin Luther King had a dream.  Some athletes, movie-stars, musicians have dreams. Other more regular people also have them. But unless that vision is backed up by a strategy, goals and a plan then it is worthless.  Relate this to your passion. The same criteria apply.

Core advice: See above

#3. There is no substitute for hard work

Actually there is. I prefer the advice to work smart. In an era of 24/7 availability the pressure to work incredibly long hours is high. In some sectors it’s a badge of honour and status symbol, particularly for men.  Burnout, breakdowns and depression are now normal. There are times when hard work is necessary. But it’s not just about the hours clocked  – it’s about the quality of those hours and their strategic value.

A bedfellow to this piece of advice is that you are judged by your work, so you should allow that work “to speak for itself.” That isn’t necessarily true. People tend to be judged by their results and they need to be able to develop a message that people are aware of. Find a mentor or a sponsor to help you share that message. This is a very female trap to wait for recognition. It frequently doesn’t call. We all have poor, lazy colleagues who still manage to do well.

Core advice: work smart and strategically, have a plan. Network effectively, work with a sponsor who will act as your door opener and find balance. Don’t be afraid to communicate your achievements. Done properly, with some humility, it is not bragging.

Read; Overwhelmed by a culture of overwork

#4. Get as many qualifications as you can 

Today with the cost of education sky rocketing and many graduates leaving university to depressed job markets with huge debts, the further education argument is now under discussion. It is no longer the golden conveyor to career success. So the career advice in this area should be tempered. Clearly there are certain professions which require higher education. In medicine, engineering, architecture and so on, minimum academic professional standards are not optional. But a number of organisations are starting to drop the focus on degree qualifications and look at other skills. The accounting firm Ernst and Young says that there is

‘No evidence’ that success at university is linked to achievement in professional assessments”

The World Economic Forum list the following as vital skills in the future of work:  literacy,  numeracy,  financial knowledge, technology, soft skills (see list below)

wef -skills

 Core advice: The workplace is changing at a terrific pace and currently there is a massive disconnect with our education systems. There is no doubt that the value of traditional educational paths is coming under question. I would definitely think long and hard before taking a liberal arts or soft degree and relate that carefully to longer term career projections. This brings us back again to life long learning. No one can afford not to update their skills on an ongoing basis. Failure to do so will be a problem. So you can have as many qualifications as you like, but if they are out of date, or redundant – they are of no value

Success means different things to each of us. The important element is to be clear what it means to you and to check regularly if those factors are consistent and constant. Career advice is not a one of one size fits all. The advice we need, will evolve as we and our circumstances do.

For career advice, context is not just critical, it’s everything.

Make sure you contact me for any career advice and coaching!

Managing your career in times of uncertainty

How to manage your career in times of uncertainty

My email box has been flooded over the weekend with enquiries from clients asking how “Brexshit” as I call it, will impact them. The answer is noone knows at this point, but eventually some type of calm and compromise will emerge as it always does. Official statements will be made about any impact this will have on the free movement of labour and employee rights. There are unlikely to be any significant changes in the short term. Already some players have made statements to project calm. But there is always collateral damage and it’s important in times of uncertainty to be prepared and in the best position to face whatever may hit us. There can also be opportunity.

Collateral damage 

It is clear that uncertainty and panic damages business confidence which impacts stability. Those two elements feed off each other. This situation may cause hiring and investment freezes, as companies wait for guidance from government departments head offices and even lawyers.

in 2012 I wrote a post called  “Are you ready for a professional emergency landing“. The main criteria are still valid today. It’s all about being prepared and setting up some best practises to cope with any potential emergencies.

Unwelcome change is a hall-mark of our workplaces, whatever the circumstances. We have all seen many excellent people blindsided and ill-equipped to make an emergency landing which causes us to flail around in search of life-vests and oxygen masks.  Under normal circumstances,  this can be because of redundancy, a merger, a take- over or any other unforeseen business circumstance. The fallout from Brexshit had been predicted by most main economic and business experts, but sadly not taken seriously.

So now will be a good time to make sure you are prepared for that emergency professional landing because these times of uncertainty are going to be around for a while. They can be corrosiveand damaging

Here are tips that you can apply immediately while the dust settles:  

  1. Update your online presence and CV: if you do not do this routinely, and keep a copy ready to send off immediately, now is a good time to do that. Start straight away.
  2. Audit your professional skills – it’s important to be current in this area. Many people take their feet off the pedal in terms of professional development , quite often in mid-career and find themselves lacking particularly in relation to newer (read cheaper) employees. It’s important not to become complacent and to view education as an ongoing exercise.  Book a  career audit  Check that you can deliver your elevator soundbites and you have your A game at your finger tips.
  3.  Work on your network – many job seekers tap into their networks only when they have a need, by which time it’s too late.  Strategic networking should be an ongoing effort. Make sure you are doing this now. If you are in a job and don’t think you need to network  – re-examine that thought. Read: Do you have a Go-To Top 10
  4. Pay it forward – the more you can do for other people when you are in a position to do so makes it easier to ask for reciprocation at a critical time.
  5. Monitor your budget –  the last thing Economists want to hear is people being advised not to spend, as this boosts the economy. It’s hard to define in precise terms how long it could take to find another job. You could be lucky – but generally executive searches take about 3-6 months. Today the suggestion is that it can be as much as 9 months. So although it is hard in today’s economic climate, sound advice would be for all of us to have a reserve  “disaster fund“ of a minimum of 6 months to cover critical expenses. One of the most terrifying aspects of job loss is the gnawing anxiety of how to meet fixed overheads.  It’s a good idea to make sure that key financial contact details are in your address book.  How well do you know your bank manager?
  6. Invest in professional support – many individuals seek career support when they are desperate: it might be when they have already lost their jobs or are facing any other sort of career blip. It is important to treat a career with the same strategic analysis as one might any other housekeeping exercise. In the words of John  F. Kennedy “ The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. 
  7. Look after you –  It’s normal to worry about your family and your ability to support your nearest and dearest.  But just as a cabin attendant will exhort  passengers to put on their own life jackets and oxygen masks first and then look after their dependents, the same is true for you. Putting your own needs first, will ultimately be in the best interests of the people who rely on you.
  8. Leave your luggage behind  – this is always one I imagine I might struggle with if tested,  but the logic resonates nevertheless. Sometimes our baggage gets in the way and we have to let it go and take that step into the unknown to protect ourselves. This is another area where professional help can be a good idea. Make sure you understand fully what is holding you back.

If you need support to protect your career in times of uncertainty – contact me. 

 

 

 

 

Career path is dead

Career Path replaced by Cluster Career

What’s happening to the career path?

We all know the concept of  having a career path has shifted. Initially this was almost imperceptible, but in the last few years, it is well.. dying, some would say already dead. We saw the arrival of the portfolio career and now I’m seeing the start something else.  What I’m calling a cluster career.

That is a series of diversified professional activities. Not be confused with a career cluster which is quite different.

Linear Career on the wane

The notion of a vertically linear career path, is disappearing, at the same pace as agile and lean are commonplace. The expansion of the “gig”, on demand or collaborative economy is a key part of that shift. It is estimated that 25% of the total workforce will be working on demand.

In certain traditional professions, linear promotion may still apply for a while longer: law and, medicine, come to mind. But even those knowledge based professions will face change, as they are replaced by artificial intelligence.

Portfolio careers

We then saw the arrival of  “Portfolio Careers,” where career management was based on the identification of transferable skills, which could be used in a range of sectors and functions. This was based on strengths and interests, to create a career strategy which met identified goals and allowed people to manage their own careers.

This approach was blocked by older school hiring managers with traditional mind sets, struggling to cope with a model that doesn’t fit a “copy paste” recruitment mode, which facilitates filling openings with “Mini-Mes”

Cluster Career

This concept has been taken a step further by the Cluster Career, with even further diversification, to include multiple, activities in seemingly unrelated fields.

It can be one activity at a time, in rotation. Pete (The Feet)  is a marine engineer, who is also a chiropodist. Isabella is an auditor who responded to a recent call for graduates to retrain as maths and science teachers in the U.K. Elinor, trained as a lawyer, worked as a journalist, then as a media consultant. Olivia is an environmental scientist, turned tree surgeon.

Or it can be multiple activities simultaneously to suit demand: Martin, works in Instructional Design and as a chef and a hairdresser and switches between all to suit the market. Janice does ad hoc editorial and content marketing, plus beauty therapy (mani-pedi and massage.) Dylan, an events manager, works in a bar, as well as gigging as photographer.

What they have in common is fast and continuous learning skills, an ability to change direction, open mindedness and mental agility. They also have acute trend spotting skills.

Strategic diversification

For this type of career management to be effective, some key concepts have to be applied to take a strategic global overview of a career and then project long term. There has to be clear answers to the following two questions:

  •  Will my knowledge be needed by anyone? Ever?

Demand and supply for skills comes and goes. Technical skills gained in university are out of date before someone has graduated. The list of Jobs being automated gets longer every day. Knowledge and access to skill training is becoming easier, pushing down the earning power of certain skills, as competition increases because of over supply. We have seen that with the glut of life coaches on the market and social media “experts.”  Pete-The-Feet is targeting the 65+ demographic, which after 2025 according to W.H.O. will represent  63% of the global population. Pete’s logic is “we all need feet”

  • Will anyone want to pay for what I know?

The trick will be to position yourself on the right side of demand/supply curve, so that any professional activity you pursue, will generate enough revenue to pay your bills. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still out there. The talent will be to identify long term skill gaps, where certain competencies are in short supply and take the necessary steps to up-skill. This is a difficult one and why we have seen so many unemployed graduates, because high numbers are studying topics that will soon be obsolete. Any profession involved with the aging population will be in demand. The skills will presumably be anything that can’t be automated or robotized. Ironically, many seem to involve manual work.

Career Planning Today

Previously we have talked about pursuing a passion and finding the ideal career, as if it were one single object or objective. Most people embarking on a career will change jobs every 2-3 years. They are now more likely to be pursuing multiple professional activities, in sequence or concurrently. These activities may, or may not, have compatible transferable skills.

That will make career planning today more challenging. Having an open mind and being a life long learner will be critical. People are going to have more options than ever, which is going to make positioning and pitching, to what will eventually be a new breed of recruiters and hiring managers,  who should be trained to assess diverse skills, across multiple disciplines.  Currently at their core many are still conservative, but they will retire eventually.

The need to be self-aware, self-advocating, self-reliant, self- sufficient, self managing and self- promoting, maybe even self- taught and adaptable is going to increase.

The days when anyone took care of your career are over.

For all career coaching needs contact me NOW

 

 

 

The return of the office Christmas party

The festive period is now upon us. After several years consigned to the doldrums by diminished, recession ravaged budgets, I have it on good authority that this year, with the green shoots of recovery the good old office Christmas party is back in full force.

With an optimistic outlook about an upturn,  many organisations are going back to hosting their annual office Christmas knees-up.   A simple Google search on the topic produces almost one million results in 57 seconds would testify to this hearsay.  The physical reminders are all around us. Tacky earrings, seasonal ties and notices about Secret Santa gifts. The office Christmas party is firmly on the calendar.

Post recession

For most companies the lavish budgets of yester year, with no expense spared events at restaurants or hotels are still history. I’ve only ever read about  the ones featuring ice sculptures, flowing Veuve Clicquot and cabaret artists that people have actually heard of.  My experiences, especially in my early career,  have been more centred around parties characterised by Micawber like frugality: a few mince pies thrown together in the staff cafeteria, accompanied by a solitary glass of something singularly and poisonously unpleasant.

My first ever boss invited me  for Christmas lunch,  ordered two cheese and onion sandwiches, before knocking back five double G & Ts and then going on to eat my leftover onion to take away the smell of the gin.

But for a great number, these renewed office festivities are a return to the dread that they faced prior to the economic crisis. This is synonymous with being forced to make small talk with the boss (or worse still his/her partner) eating limp canapés and drinking inferior plonk with co-workers they would prefer to spend less time with, not more.

Super party-ers 

However,  there are always the super office party goers who regardless of the economic climate subscribe to the theory that if the drinks are on the house they are most definitely going to make the most of it.  These are the ones whose drunken aberrations (which  they don’t remember happening and have no wish to recall … ever)  provide the high-octane fuel of office gossip, well after the half-year results have been published.

Opportunity

For the savvy networker they can represent a great and unique opportunity to raise internal visibility and make strategic alliances. On what other occasion is the whole company brought together under the one roof,  at the same time?

By that I don’t mean chasing the co-worker who figures in their sexual fantasies around the photo copy machine with a sprig of mistletoe. Or slurring to a senior executive that a box of cereal contains more strategic elements than the latest sales plan. That is a true story.  Nor obsequiously trying to ingratiate themselves with executive Board Members who wouldn’t recognise them in a line- up thirty minutes later.

The office party can be a great opportunity to look into your own organisation to simply identify the people whom it would be great and useful to know.

Research them.  Introduce yourself and tell them exactly that!

Have a great time!

Radio Interview with Mary van de Wiel – The Art of Career Transition

Mary van de Wiel alias "Van"

Mary van de Wiel alias “Van”

This is yet another illustration of the power of social media with an introduction from long time Twitter connection @CareerSherpa  Hannah Morgan to   Mary van de Wiel, Brand Anthropologist,  creator of NY Brand Lab & Brand Audits and  of Zing Your Brand.  .

As CEO, Brand Anthropologist at The NY Brand Lab and ZingYourBrand.com, a NY-based consultancy, workspace & lab, Van helps entrepreneurs, start-up CEOs and business leaders recognize themselves so others can.   With a strong background in advertising as a high-profile Creative Director she has  many corporate successful campaigns under her belt.

Van invited me to an intercontinental radio interview yesterday!  She is a skilled interviewer and the time flew.  We had great fun and lots of useful tips emerged from our dialogue.

So  what does Personal Branding mean to the job seeker or a person in transition?  I wondered if  I dare tell  Mary, a noted Brand Anthropologist,  that I hate the phrase and the first thing I do in my coaching programme is de-mystify it and make the process accessible !

I did! Listen to find out!

Listen to internet radio with NY Brand Lab Radio on BlogTalkRadio

Most important  takeaways:

  • Set goals! Make career management part of your ongoing annual routine and career strategy . Your brand, visibility and online and digital presence should always be in line with those goals.
  • Brand  YOU marketing will vary from one person to another. Be authentic.
  • Recruiters are time bound  – use the top half of your LinkedIn profile wisely with easy to digest but punchy text  with key words included.
  • An online presence is only a tool to get you to interview and meetings.
  • Don’t wait until you have a problem to take care of your career.
  • Network, network AND then network!.

My two dares:

  • Find 6 new powerful words to describe yourself. Think of a new way of telling your story . Use your transferable skills. Create a dialogue.
  • Invite 2 new people from your organisation or network to lunch before the end of the year. Why only two?  I want it to be achievable!

Enjoy! Let me know if you make your dares!

Portfolio careers: What are your tent-pole skills?

tent poleOne of the buzz words reverberating around the job search market is the need to identify our tent- pole skills or skill.. This is rooted in company jargon which according to Bruce Watson means:  “the tent pole  is  a term that refers to a company’s most promising or prominent product. Generally, a tent pole generates most of an organization’s income, making it possible for workers to make products that may be less profitable.”    

Believe it or not there are people who are so multi-talented and have such an amazing combination of left and right hand brain competencies that they excel in every activity they turn their hand to. They have a wide range of interests, passions and skills and have built up excellent portfolio careers.  Hard to imagine that this could present difficulties – but it does.

How can these individuals make informed decisions on which  tent-pole skills or skill to anchor their careers, when they need or want to make a change ?

One story

Jonas has had a glittering portfolio career. Multi-lingual and multi-cultural, qualifying as a lawyer in a Magic Circle law firm, he then pursued an opportunity in corporate law where at the same time he gained an MBA from a top-tier business school. A two-year stint in Marketing for a boutique law firm followed, where his creative marketing strategies attracted the attention of a major international player resulting in a successful acquisition. He then decided to  launch a landscape gardening business going on to employ a team of 16. This was eventually sold to allow him to pursue his passion for film, and he succeeded in winning a much coveted international prize for corporate video production.

Now at age 45 with an expensive divorce and child care responsibilities every second week, he is looking to refocus. He is despondent about this failure to return to the workplace as a corporate employee and is somewhat baffled by the response. Jonas stated his needs briefly “Put simply  my requirements are to identify which of my skills can make me revenue rich (or richer) without making me time poor.

Now that sounds like a universal goal most job searchers would put at the  very top of their wish lists.  Ironically,  Jonas has gone from feeling generally unique with high levels of recognition, to becoming simply one of the crowd. Words which have never been applied to him  before, he now hears regularly “flight risk” and “job hopper,” plus “lack of long-term commitment” to name but a few, with a demoralising effect.

Do you need help identifying your tent-pole skills? Check out the individual coaching programmes.

Key skills

Generally speaking the identification of  skills, tent pole or otherwise, has to be done with a dose of realism.   Strong soft skills without up to date hard skills can be high risk currency for many organisations. A law degree acquired 20 years ago would almost certainly need some updating and would be valueless today as a stand alone qualification. But it does tell part of Jonas’ story which needs to be re-created not just  in terms of the chronology, but in light of his  achievements. These soft skills, more tent poles if you like, are also more effective and powerful in clusters. They allow the canvas of a career story to be erected across a number of poles, rather than relying on one solitary support.

Cluster skills

What Jonas does bring to the table is a strong combination of a legally trained mind, combined with analytical business skills, commercial and entrepreneurial acumen, plus leadership competencies. He has gained experience in building diverse activities into successful enterprises attractive for acquisition, and pursuing personal projects to achieve international recognition. It’s not so much the time he has spent at anything, but the result. Not forgetting of course he has always achieved excellence.

Jonas is currently in negotiation with a consulting firm which has been fully appraised of his domestic circumstances.

The Cover Letter Debate

The cover letter debate

The cover letter debate

The cover letter debate rages endlessly. But do you ever wonder about  these lists issued by career pundits?

I do!

We seem to like lists. You must have seen them. 10 ways to write a perfect CV. 20 job search tips. 10 things not to do in an interview. 15 things to do in an interview. 12 ways to stay positive. They seem to give our lives structure in so many different ways and help us feel in control. Of course, when we feel in control – we feel secure.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m no different! I love lists.

We stop trusting our instincts and fail to respond creatively.

The rules are gone

One of my observations about job search strategies over recent years is that there are no long term hard and fast rules and procedures any more. Any structures and systems seem to exist for a short time only, before we need another set of rules to deal with them.

This is just one example. I read an article the other day, about sending cover letters with CVs. A small thing. STOP using them it exhorted in Tahoma 42. Never send them. Waste of time and energy. This communication went out globally. There was a strong implication that life, as it was known to that point, would be positively overturned by a flood of interview opportunities.

My immediate thought was – yes! Great advice. Totally true! Of course, it will get peeled away by some word recognition recruitment software, the second your CV is downloaded by an HR assistant or hits an internet job site.  Hiring managers claim they rarely see cover letters. If you’re applying for a job, say, as a Product Manager with an international conglomerate, headquartered in London, New York, Paris, or Sydney with highly automated recruitment processes, the chances of that happening are almost 100%. So, absolutely right, save your time and energy for other things. Enjoy your great, new, interview filled life.

Wait..

But then I thought. Hang on! Wait a minute! What if you are approaching a small or medium sized business, perhaps in your home town, which might be Stratford (US or UK), Grenoble or Gannons Creek? You might know several key managers, which actually gives you some leverage. So would it still be wise to do that?

What if you’re contacting a CEO, or senior manager, of any organisation, anywhere at all and had been referred by a mutual connection? Would ditching a cover letter under those circumstances be good advice? What if your CV is in English and the reader might not be Anglophone? Could including a cover letter in another langauge help?

What if a cover letter is requested – would it be wise to ignore the instruction?

Cover letters can be key

My answer in these cases is categorically, a cover letter might turn out to be key. You have connections. You might be/are in the same network, professional or social. You might have a qualified referral. They might know your current employer, your aunt, a teacher, a golf buddy – or even you! So not to send a cover letter might not only be construed as being rude, but it would definitely be under utilising the opportunity to maximise your personal connections, to sell yourself and your obvious talents and experience. You might be able to demonstrate foreign language skills.  You need to show you can follow a basic process.

So what do we learn? Yes, there are indeed some, perhaps many, occasions where not to use a cover letter will save you time and energy. But there are also times when a cover letter will be extremely helpful. You will still need to customize your CV and in case it does get peeled away or not passed on to the hiring manager, never put any information in your cover letter that isn’t in your resume.

Each opportunity is unique

So although there might be broad underlying patterns and trends in some areas, each opportunity and relationship is unique and should be considered as such. Circumstances vary and each job application requires a flexible and different approach. So you need to be prepared to tweak your basic CV and orientate it towards each opportunity, with or without, a cover letter. Only you can decide.Does that make your life easier? No, of course not. That would be too simple. It means you have to assess each organisation and opportunity, research them and make a judgement call!

Isn’t that control?