Category Archives: Career coaching

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. 

 

 

 

 

My top posts in 2014

A BIG thank you to all my readers.  Here are the posts you enjoyed most!

 CVs

Personal interests: 10 CV dos and don’ts:  There is always much conflicting advice from career experts on what to include on CVs. One of the areas  that has an opinion divide of Grand Canyon proportions,   is  whether  including your personal interests and hobbies on your resume can actually make a difference to the selection process.

The hard truth about soft skills: Five years ago it was normal to have a line at the top of a CV just stating a professional objective. What we are seeing now is a marked shift. Most companies are less interested, in the early stages of a hiring process at least, in what a candidate wants personally.

Personal Brand and Executive Presence 

How to rebuild a damaged reputation:   Reputation has been a topic covered by many thought leaders and philosophers from  Shakespeare, to Socrates and more recently Warren Buffet who says  ” It  takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think  about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Is there an executive presence hand book and if there is, what lessons can be learned?  It all sounds a bit like personal branding by another name to me.  Read on…

Workplace bullying

Accused on being a bully: Most organisations have guidelines for what constitutes bullying behaviour and ACAS certainly does. A critical self-analysis and audit is vital to check if firm management could have crossed the line into bullying. It is possibly best done with the support of a coach or other professional.  This can happen in organisations with a top-down, embedded bullying corporate culture. If the answer is no – go to the next step of analysis.

Mobbing is emotional abuse by stealth in an organisation or community”  Read how to deal with it.   

 As a “Titian blonde”,  I was surprised to learn that there is a growing move for redheads to become a  “protected minority” as a result of the increased incidence of bullying and discrimination. Read more…  

Career Transition

Repatriation  –   8 causes of  re-entry shock;  Increasingly there is a great deal of corporate support during the outward process to guarantee a seamless transition into an expat assignment.   But I know from any number of stories heard socially and professionally, that repatriation is quite often not supported as seriously as the outbound transfer and even neglected totally by many companies.

Frozen eggs don’t address the real issues:  I am all for family planning being openly discussed with both men and women equally.  I am all for career strategy. I can indeed see there could be some advantages in the egg freezing perk but I am also aware of the process being fraught with potential difficulties.

Communication

Over-communication  7 reasons to learn Mench  A recent article in the Harvard Business Review  suggested what happened to a senior woman in a meeting ” was like a snowball going down a hill and picking up stuff in its path”  and was a real barrier to being taken seriously  So what happens to people who over communicate and is this a gender issue?

Interview advice

6 ways to shine in a group interview: An increasing number of companies are now carrying out group interviews to reduce recruitment costs.  As an added benefit, this process also allows hiring managers to measure the performance of potential candidates simultaneously and to make behavioural and leadership assessments which they can rank.  Although this type of interview practise is carried out more frequently at junior levels,  I am starting to hear that this selection style  is being implemented for more senior roles.

Designer stubble and interviews:  For many years facial hair has almost considered a barrier to career progression for men. A 2003 University of Sao Paulo study showed 60% of personnel managers said they preferred clean-shaven men as a boss, compared to 15% who preferred a bearded boss. But is this changing with a younger generation coming through the ranks? The former CEO of Apple, the late Steve Jobs was well known for sporting signature, designer stubble.  Are these attitudes now out dated?

 What would you add?