Category Archives: Career management and transition

When to ask for flexible working in the hiring process

There is much confusion about when to ask for flexible working in the hiring process. Karen Mattison MBE Joint CEO of Timewise writing about requests for flexible hours in the Guardian complains about the lack of transparency in recruitment processes and how asking for flex conditions as a candidate is “like playing poker.” She maintains that frequently the only jobs open for flexible or part-time working are more junior ones.

“Because there is a fundamental problem with how jobs are designed and how modern businesses recruit and retain talent. This growing mismatch between what candidates want and need and how businesses recruit is leaving skilled people trapped in roles they are overqualified for and navigating a jobs market where they don’t know the rules.”

She then goes on to say:

“Nine out of 10 managers say they would consider offering flexible working to hire the best person, yet none of them say that at the recruitment stage. Why?”

Can you afford not to?

Need vs want 

I am someone who genuinely believes that with today’s advanced  technology there is no reason why flexible conditions can’t be offered more widely.  Richard Branson tweeted:

“Give people the freedom of where to work & they will excel.”

Although flexible working conditions are on the increase, many companies don’t offer flexible conditions openly, but do give consideration to flex requests from successful candidates. This is challenging for the job seeker. When they are applying for a job they have to make a clear distinction between “needing” to ask for flexible working and “wanting” those conditions. Very often the way this works is a function of the individual, not the function of the role.

Flex business models

An increasing number of companies are shifting to different business models to accommodate the demands of a 21st century workforce. These companies will state clearly that flexible working, part-time working, and job sharing are possibilities and are part of their company culture. This could be in the ad itself or on the web site. Lists of such companies are being widely collated particularly in the press. There are also social proofing sites such as Glassdoor, Fairy Godboss and InherSight which give employee evaluations of working conditions, including flexible conditions.

So it makes sense if a job seeker “needs” flexible working, then they should target companies which meet that specific requirement. This has to be distinguished from candidates who “want” flexible working as a life style choice.


flexible working

Jobs are usually created to be full-time and if they are not, then they  will be clearly assigned a part-time status. They will often be stand alone or project type roles and rarely senior ones vital to the bottom line of any organisation.  Very often these are offered to freelancers which minimises the exposure for the employer. Long term part-time working at reduced rates can have a negative long-term financial impact on the worker. Women who make up the majority of this demographic are hardest hit. Many would advise women to negotiate flexible working before a part-time contract, me included.

Understanding how to process a request for flexible working, requires some insight into the system. It is very often more nuanced than it seems. Trying to shoe horn a full-time job into 80% time isn’t always feasible. If it was, it would be advertised as such and reduce the salary bill by 20%. Some organisations maybe willing for someone to work 4 x 10 hour days, but they may not always agree to that before the hiring process is completed.

Flexible working can depend on the individual not the role

# Flex and organisational structure

In the U.K. 73% of flexible working is by informal arrangement. In large organisations flexible conditions usually require a well oiled and functioning structure. This could involve remote server access, sophisticated IT systems and intranet, call forward systems, best practise guidelines, home office support, core hour commitments, hot desk facilities and so on. It is a  lot more than simply working with your lap top from home. If companies are well set up for flexible working, they will advertise that. It is a great benefit to attract top talent. I work for a number of companies with a presence culture, which is stated early in the hiring process to avoid wasting anyone’s time.  There is no doubt that this reduces the number of potential candidates, although so far is not at issue for my clients.

# The nature of the role

Some roles do not support part-time, reduced or flexible working on a wide scale. These are mainly operational roles (manufacturing, engineering come to mind) which involve a hands-on physical presence, perhaps involving leading teams. There could be elements of those jobs which are not directly involved in delivery (admin, report writing for example) and most organisations are flexible with people they know and trust. In customer facing roles, service could be impacted unless there is a sophisticated scheduling system.

# They don’t know you (yet)


Most companies set up an onboarding process during which the new hire is evaluated. For this to be effective the person usually has to experience a full role life-cycle.  During this time the new hire will be assessed, relationships will have developed and the level of discretionary effort observed. Flex requests are almost always granted to people who are valued and trusted. Much will depend on the skills they bring to the team and how that entity gels with the new hire. This takes time to evaluate.

# It depends on your value

If you have a specifically unique and valuable skill set, then employers will usually go to great lengths to attract and hire you. An extreme example is when Megyn Kelly left Fox News for NBC, they asked her what it would take to make her change. She wanted a day time show and a later start.  She got it. I have known companies accommodate all kinds of flexible working benefits for their top pick candidates. If they are not responsive to your flex request, then sadly it means they can find someone like you easily, elsewhere, who will fit into their system.

# Negative Impact on Communication

Scheduling meetings, and getting prompt answers to calls and emails can suffer when employees are on varying work hours. This can slow down the progress on important projects. It can also lengthen the communication and decision-making process of having to mail or call someone who could be on a different schedule.

# Damages Company Culture

Company culture can take a hit if leaders are perceived to be absent or unavailable.The problems is accentuated if the senior manager travels as part of the job. Face time with staff is reduced with the risk of missing collision points or moments of creativity, which can come from informal exchanges commonly found in any workplace.

mindfulness in recruitment

Morgan, a Strategy and Innovation Director at an international NGO said

“Our CEO works between 1000-1600 and two days a week from home. Combined with her travel and off-site commitments we struggled to see her. It makes life difficult and slows down the decision-making as she still wants to be consulted even though she isn’t widely available”

# System abuse

There are always bad apples in any barrel who game the system. They do so deliberately, or they get distracted and are not as productive.

# Poor time managers

Many employees are not great time managers and find that working outside a structured environment impacts their personal productivity.

# Increases isolation

In functions where team interaction is important having employees working remotely or on different schedule can increase a sense of isolation which impacts team motivation. Frequently employees prefer to be office based;

So when to pitch? 

For a job in an organisation which has no official flex policy, any job seekers who want flexible conditions would be best advised to make their flex requests after they have received the job offer. Then it can be part of  any negotiation process, although I have known companies withdraw offers from candidates who have asked for flex conditions at this point.  If it is turned down, depending if it is a deal breaker, try to get it incorporated after successfully onboarding when the company knows you and the value you can add. Stepping up with a well-thought out proposal within an organisation that trusts you, will carry more weight than a petulant candidate stating a requirement with no inside knowledge of the company, its structure or the people involved.

The alternatives are to become a freelance, self-employed contractor which is not without downsides. Or target companies with a published flex policy. When companies start missing out on the level talent they need, market-forces will kick in and they will be obliged to respond to flex requests more generously. That is already happening, but possibly not fast enough for some candidates.

If your organisation wants to attract and retain the right talent contact me now! 


How to cultivate gravitas

You can cultivate gravitas with inside out work

Many think it is not is possible to cultivate gravitas, central to executive presence, that elusive quality said to contribute by 25% towards career success.  It can be acquired by anyone, at any age. It’s about presenting your best self, all the time, even when you may not be prepared. Gravitas and charisma are not necessarily the domain of the older and usually more experienced, male, professional.

For lazy managers the lack of executive presence, has become a catch all phrase to avoid constructive and thoughtful feedback and emphasizes an inability to create a strong coaching environment. It lets the manager easily off the leadership hook. This sloppy opt-out, helps fuel a lack of diversity at senior levels, as those not fitting a cultural template based on age, gender or ethnicity, are excluded. It is a failure to understand that it is possible to cultivate gravitas and therefore executive presence.

More people believe they have these characteristics than actually do. The reality is that gravitas is both bestowed and earned. So there is both a self-perception and self-assessment problem, which can lie at the heart of the issue.

The 3 pillars of Executive Presence: gravitas, communication and appearance.

3 pillars of executive presence

3 pillars of executive presence

According to more than two-thirds of the executives (268) surveyed, in the Center for Talent Innovation research, gravitas seems to be the core quality of executive presence. This is a word that is less used today, but it is perceived to be a combination of behaviours and characteristics that convey confidence.

The Latin root of gravitas suggests “weight” and the word gravitate, its cousin, means moving towards. So gravitas conveys a depth of personality, reliability, respect, and trust, which draws people.

Think of the leaders you are drawn to. Why is that?

Add to those mentioned qualities, gravitas also requires a demonstration of moral integrity, a burnishing reputation, vision, an ability to show poise under pressure (bringing your best self to every situation) and credibility. People with gravitas are able to lead and develop relationships more effectively, are promoted earlier and are believed to get better results. This concept is especially confusing when so many of our leaders today do not seem to possess some, or all of these qualities.

Yet many people are uncertain how they can cultivate gravitas that and think there’s some magic formula.

There isn’t.

Self awareness needed

Executive Presence essentially starts with an inside out process. Anyone who bypasses this key element (and many try) will de facto not have achieved it, unless you are in the tiny minority for whom gravitas is a totally innate gift and you know instinctively when to present your best self. Developing gravitas is highly individual and everyone will have a different journey and response. Read: 10 Executive Presence Rules

It is difficult to standardise a learning process to cultivate gravitas. Yet many organisations try, with a one size fits all coaching or training programmes. Group exercises with prescribed prompts relating to values or personal qualities are often carried out. In a like and click internet culture, these can be less effective than they were in the 50s when Jahari’s Window  for example was originally designed. They can interfere with the real work you need to present your best self. Thinking. Not clicking. This inner work can be really challenging.

Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.  J.F. Kennedy

I would suggest only using these exercises if you are really stuck.

Ask the right questions

if you wrote your own speech for your leaving party what would you say? Ask yourself the questions: what do you want to be known for? What do you regularly achieve? Are you the person who respects people’s time, communicates courteously and effectively, asks the right questions, listens attentively and smiles hello in the corridor?  Do people come to you to ask for your opinion or feedback? Are you open to feedback?

Or are you always late, poor at listening and responding, or bring your stress to the office?  Distracted or unwilling to engage. In many ways some of this is common sense and old school courtesy. Like many things, executive presence can be built up by small daily habits built upon from self- insight, that eventually become who you are. Trust is rooted in a reliability to make the right choices and decisions.

“We become what we repeatedly do.” Sean Covey

I ran a training programme for an international company last year, where for some reason 70% of the group had not done the pre-course work, despite the best efforts of the organiser. The group clearly under performed and their lack of innate skills was exposed and they were vulnerable.  Some embraced the learning experience. Others became defensive.

Executive Presence is an “E” concept, so preparation is critical for introverts. Without it they will get left behind in the promotion process. This is the group which is more frequently told they have no EP or charisma.

Inside Out Work

Charisma checklist

How does the inside out process work? It’s about:

  • Knowing yourself, your values and passions and what you stand for and against.
  • Creating  a powerful, passionate, impactful message, preferably  with humour. People love to smile. This can be a major stumbling block for many, but can be learned.
  • Sharing your great message whenever you can. The ability to weave your story into any situation in an appropriate way, conveying a benefit, shows mental agility and flexibility.
  • Developing strong people skills. Treating everyone with warmth, respect and consideration. Every day. Asking questions, listening and being present.
  • Making a great first impression. Make sure people remember you. Presenting your best self whenever you can. Pay attention to your professional image and finding the right balance between compliance and authenticity. Remember women are judged more harshly than men in this area.
  • Getting comfortable with the right kind of discomfort – by that I mean a willingness to step out of your comfort zone. Anyone who displays that kind of openness, is able to embrace change and will stop trying to control the conditions that make them feel secure. Whatever they are. This allows you to step up when you might have held back. If you hold back on something because you are nervous  – this means you need training or coaching. Make sure you get it.

When you have completed your inside out work you will have the skills and tools that will give you mental agility to present your best self even under pressure. You will have the presence of mind to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities to advance your career. It also makes you a great brand ambassador for your company.

Outside-In Work

This is about how you present yourself to the world. It is about trainable skills around communication and appearance.  It covers professional image, voice, smile, eye contact, and posture. This comes easily to people who have done their inside out work and is the easy part. Many great leaders have had coaching for presentation skills or voice.

Gravitas is not necessarily about age, as you can see from the video below. Malala Yousafzai was only 16 when she addressed the United Nations.

Companies encouraging employees to do their inside out work early on, will have a greater chance of grooming higher numbers for senior management  roles and strengthening their talent pipeline much earlier. Quite often this is left to leadership training when for some it can already be too late.

For any information on executive search, coaching and training services contact me here.



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




How to show poise under pressure


Tessie is a 35-year-old Project Manager in a small Design Agency. Resources are tight and deadlines even tighter. At times, especially on a Friday, as everyone rushes to meet client demands and set targets for the following week, there is a pressure cooker atmosphere. It’s part of the creative buzz, but the downside is tempers become frayed.

Tessie believed she was being mobbed. This is serious accusation and not to be taken lightly. But in every situation I always check the exact circumstances. As I listened, it was clear that two of the issues were just standard vying for limited resources, with at worst an impolite exchange. The third case was where a man made a sexist comment about her bum, in a language he didn’t think she understood. This was clearly out-of-order, but does not constitute mobbing.

As she recounted the situation which led to her taking a sick day and leaving the office early, I had to ask her what if anything had she said or done at the time to make it obvious that the behaviour was unacceptable to her? How had she made her boundaries clear? The answer was she had done nothing.  A quick retort in that language, probably would have been enough – or even a translation in English would have embarrassed the guy out of making any further comments about her derrière in front of her colleagues.

She was not able to show poise under pressure and didn’t think on her feet.

Tessie reported that after our discussion, a short, direct and constructive communication type conversation with the culprit, was sufficient to do the trick.


Véronique, a marketing manager was taken to task by a new Director for the way she had handled a certain issue. When addressed, she was so affronted and upset, she was unable to speak and ran out of the room and cried in the bathroom. She did nothing at the time.  She apologised afterwards and although she thought she had resolved the situation, some weeks later her fixed term contract was not renewed.

She was not able to show poise under pressure and didn’t think on her feet.

Leadership skills

Having poise under pressure is a vital leadership skill and a key part to creating what is known as executive presence. This is a combination of behaviours and characteristics which convey confidence.

When there is danger, or we are facing  challenging situations, our minds and bodies go into the ‘fight, freeze or flight’ mode.

But despite what you think, being able to think on your feet and showing poise under pressure are learned skills and can be dealt with by the right kind of preparation. People don’t want to work with colleagues and especially bosses who can’t cope with difficult situations.

Those two incidents were stress situations to the people involved.

6 tips to show poise under pressure

  1. Know yourself and what you know. Self-belief, knowing you have the skills to deal with any situation inspires confidence. If your values are clear, people may not always respect them, but it is easier for you to create boundaries. It also helps to de-personalize a situation to move into business neutral (see below).
  2. Share your message: when your message is strong and is shared in an assertive way, your limits are clear.
  3. Have authoritative body language: standing tall, with good eye contact sends another strong message. Breathe deeply to calm any nerves and to deal with the panic signals that let your body know you feel under threat. Concave body language puts you psychologically in a weaker position.
  4. Deal with the challenge: go directly into business neutral and don’t personalise it (even if it is your bum). More breathing if necessary
  5. Close graciously: to ensure good working relations, to pave the way for the future.
  6. Communicate constructively: it may not be appropriate to deal with a situation immediately, but at a suitable time after, make an appointment for a meeting and raise the issue using blame free language. “When x happened, I experienced this as ..”

How do you show poise under pressure and weather the storms?

Need help with your executive presence – check out my programme and contact me

Why understanding our values is important

What are values?

Values represent what matters and what is important to us. They are the underlying principles, motivations and attitudes that are personally significant.  They guide our behaviour, both in and outside work. How contented and motivated we feel,  is underpinned by they way in which what we do, complements or coincides with our values.

They are the reason we get up in the morning, they motivate our choices and impact our behaviour.

When our choices are in sync with our values, the more likely we are to feel satisfied, motivated and engaged. If there is a gap between our values and our actions, the likelihood of feelings of frustration and demotivation increases.

It is therefore really important to spend some time reflecting on our key core values and checking that our goals and actions are in line with them, especially when making career decisions.

Examples of core values might be health, integrity, intellectual stimulation, community, diversity or being a good parent.  Understanding the reasons we select certain values leads to greater understanding of our motivators.


To gain any clarity around what is important to us so that we can lead a life that is satisfying and successful (according to our individual definitions of both of those words, of course) understanding our values is vital.  This allows us to prioritise and make consistent decisions. They also provide a benchmark that acts as our compass, to let us know when we are off centre.

Respectful behaviour is very important to Simon. He joined a new, cutting edge brand management team, where verbal teasing banter and “blue” jokes were the norm for the group, and he often felt excluded and uncomfortable. He realised afterwards, that in the interview process there had been a number of tells, but he had quashed his doubts because the job content was so attractive and he badly wanted the brand name on his CV. He waited an appropriate amount of time and applied for a transfer.


Time is a finite resource. One of the things we all struggle with is the amount of time we have available to us.  Understanding our values allows us to:

  • Prioritise: Understanding our values allows us to put the important things first. This helps us achieve better time management, because we don’t waste time on activities we know have less meaning to us. This leads to conscious priority setting.
  • Be consistent: Our decisions also become more consistent, which leads to faster and more effective progress. We are no longer filled with doubts, because we know well what counts and where  our priorities lie.
  • Benchmark:  It also helps us avoid taking decisions which are not in line with our longer term goals. The greater the clarity around our values, the easier it is to identify the reason for any non – alignment.

The root of any career problem can often be tracked to professional and personal goals being out of alignment, not just with each other, but our core values as well. Issues with career choices very often spill into our personal lives and sadly can cause damage there too, impacting our closest relationships.

There is no substitute for reflecting on what matters most to you. Many people don’t make the time, or don’t know how to, carry out this most basic exercise.

Do you understand your core values?



How to leverage a gap year for your resume

  5 tips to leverage a gap year for your resume

As  students the world over, but particularly in developed economies, finish the last of their exams, we are seeing the start of the Gap Year season. This is a growing phenomenon where generally relatively well off students head off for far flung destinations to travel, gain life experiences and have fun.

Years ago this was the privilege of the very affluent, but now it is routinely a part of a growing number of young people’s lives, when they leave both school and university. For some they can be formative life experiences. For others they are simply staying in their comfort zones in different places.

Safe in familiar company, if not territory, they move between international hostels and Starbucks, on the now notorious “gap yah” track.

Some even recall the iconic gap year movie Before Sunrise making the notion even more romantically enticing.


There are benefits. Many people who go to university from school regret their choice of course within the first two years. Taking a gap year can help those who are unsure gain self insight and focus, but can also provide a renewed commitment for academic study and a more focused approach to learning.

Having said that, I have seen many instances where a gap year added no value at all, other than a great international holiday.

We have also observed the same time, a veritable explosion of professional gap year organisers, so the notion of a truly intrepid traveller, is becoming a distant twentieth century memory, as the process becomes commercialized, not to mention, costly. It can cost four figure sums to dig wells in Africa. There is almost a ranking of increasingly obscure and expensive gap year activities, as companies compete for this growing market which is creating a certain amount of gap year snobbery.

One concerned parent asked me how can her daughter leverage a gap year for her resume?

Different levels

I have to be honest and say I have never met a single person who has not enjoyed a gap year. What’s not to like?  But as a recruiter and coach I have observed different levels of benefit.  For some, the very process of independently managing travel arrangements, meeting new people and seeing new sights and scenes, can be character building. At one time, a gap year was a stand out feature, which recruiters paid attention to in the interview processes.  Now, as growing numbers recount generic experiences, it’s getting increasingly hard to feign genuine interest.

Today, when so many entry-level students take gap years, they are becoming less impactful and their contribution to developing a CV has been diluted.

So how can you change that to showcase your experience?  

Here are 5 tips to leverage a gap year:

Finance it yourself

It really isn’t that big an achievement if the bank of Mum and Dad buys you a round the world ticket and gives you a monthly allowance to drift from one temple, beach or watering hole to another. 

  This can be either by working, or other creative means.

Have goals

Reflect about what you want to achieve out of the experience and make sure you do. So many students don’t really think what they want to learn from their time away. They want to drift around and have fun. In some ways that is the lure and beauty of it, especially as going into a structured workplace will come soon enough. But it is still important to set objectives. It might be to learn a language, see specific sights, volunteer or undertake a special challenge.


The press has been filled recently with stories of  Eleanor Hawkins, who has just completed a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering and gained international notoriety when she, together with a group of other travellers,  posed naked for photographs on the country’s highest peaks in Malaysia, considered by local tribes to be sacred ground. She was imprisoned, fined and unceremoniously deported in front of the worlds’ press. The question has to be asked:

What was she thinking?

An intelligent woman, simply failed to research and be empathetic to the culture of the country she was in. She has to be wondering how this “foolish” behaviour might impact her career. It has certainly tarnished her reputation and brought into question her judgement. Although the public collective memory tends to be short, the incident will show up in any online research on her – forever.

Keep a journal  

It’s really important to be mindful of all the experiences. Journaling is an important tool to record all the key and maybe pivotal moments. There are so many ways to do this, blogging or a visual diary is a good way.  I have interviewed many entry-level candidates who really have either had no ah-ah moment at all, or if they did were unable to articulate it.  And when you do try to come up with something original.

Understand which skills you have acquired

Acquiring new skills or enhancing existing ones is really important so it’s really important to know what they are. They might be: time management, negotiating, budgeting, planning and risk management.

Discovering new cultures and customs; improving language skills and become more globally aware are also helpful.

They should be understood well and conveyed in an impactful way in your CV. 



How to develop a lifelong learning habit

Never let schooling get in the way of your education – Mark Twain

Hard and technical skills we are told become outdated as fast as we obtain them, making a commitment to lifelong learning even more important than ever. Content learned in the first year of an engineering degree is said to be out of date before the end of the final year. It has become vital to stay committed to lifelong learning habits. This isn’t about keeping your end up in dinner party conversation.

As professional careers or working lives become extended, workplaces become more age and culturally diverse, staying in touch with the zeitgeist will assume a new significance for all. On top of this many hard skills will need updating. A marketing expert can no longer survive with traditional marketing knowledge alone, but will need digital marketing skills and know how. A lawyer might need business training or soft skill training,  a chef will need financial skills, nutritional and legal knowledge. This has possibly always been the case to some degree, but today, with an unprecedented pace of change and individuals having to assume greater responsibility for investment in their careers,  it is more important than ever.

Today, with the demands made on us from every angle and attention spans decreasing,  even those who understand well the need for lifelong learning, can find it challenging to stay the course.

Here are 12 tips for developing a lifelong learning habit:

1.  Have career goals and strategy

Understand your life long career goals and create a career strategy to achieve them, starting with the current year ahead. Carry out a career audit.  What are your strengths and personal development needs? Are they in line with your goals? Do a skill set assessment for this year. What do you need to work on for the next step in your plan? Create that plan and stick to it. If you are thinking of a career gap for any reason – parenting leave is one, make sure that you have a strategy for staying up to date and lifelong learning. Many women are shocked at how fast the work place moves on, as they have busied themselves with their domestic roles. Re-entry can be a struggle. During periods of unemployment it is also important to stay focused on lifelong learning.

2. Select a career that challenges you

If you are not in a career or role that stimulates you most of the time (most jobs have some boring elements) now is the time to change. This might be a new profession all together or a new role.

If you need support on this check out my career coaching programmes

3. Prioritise learning

Very often, especially those who have had lengthy and rigorous training, take their foot off the gas once they have qualified, or reached a certain level of seniority.

You don’t want to go there – especially mid-career.  Make learning a priority.

4. Make a business case

You company might not be enthused about your interest in wine, but where applicable commit to making a business case for your personal development for corporate sponsorship every year. Even though organisations are tending to invest less in employee training, the worst thing that can happen is your boss can say no.

5. Stay up to date

Create a habit of reading and understanding what’s going on in the world and your sector. Whether this is via a newspaper, online sources, Twitter or Facebook or following influencers and thought leaders on LinkedIn. Create alerts for the topics that interest you and keep an eye open for those that don’t currently – but might in the future. Understanding  how world events impact those not directly involved, is important to anticipating trends.

6. Cultivate the right network    

Add people to your network who can enrich your skill set, knowledge and experience. Meet and or interact with them regularly if possible.

7. Look for a mentor

Find someone who has walked in your shoes to be your mentor. What wisdom can they share from their own experiences? What would they advise in your position?

8. Be your own brain storming buddy.

Albert Einstein said, “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”   Start keeping a record of ideas and projects and a journal of your own thoughts. They might come in handy.

 9. Put your hand up

Volunteer or position yourself for stretch assignments so you can put into practise the skills that you have learned or develop new ones. It might be a negotiation skill, handling a difficult conversation or even a new hard skill. Make sure you gain maximum use out of it before that too becomes obsolete.

10. Become a mentor

Pay it forward. Share what you’ve learned with someone junior, or even act as a reverse mentor with an older or more senior colleague to consolidate the knowledge you have acquired.

11. De-clutter

Just like your computers, your network, mental hard drive, address book and feed alerts need to be defragged and cleaned up to be at peak performance.  De-clutter.

Perhaps you have advanced and are in a position to outsource some of the low value work, or a niche specialist for the more specific technical elements. Let go of people in your network who hold you back.

12. Daily routine

Making lifelong learning part of your daily routine will eventually become a habit. Allocate to begin with 10 minutes a day of “you” time to implement your strategy and achieve your goals so that your future is the one you have planned.  

What else would you add?

How to combine career disruption with strategy

As a career coach, who is a strong advocate for both men and women to create strategic plans for their careers,  I listened attentively to Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream Do  at a recent 3Plus Mini-Coaching session “Dare to Disrupt.” Career disruption comes in many forms:  mergers, takeovers, bad bosses, new bosses, downsizing, up-scaling,  marriage, parenthood, re-location, health issues, transfers,  job loss to name some. What is important is how these changes can be harnessed positively. Although, sometimes we want to disrupt ourselves,  simply because we want change.

So how can we combine disruption and planning?

Whitney said ” When you are disrupting, you are discovery-driven, searching for a yet-to-be-defined market. Having a strategic plan implies that you know where you want to go, which presumably you can plot on a map. Your approach when you are disrupting must be discovery-driven; learning, gathering feedback, adapting.”

Krista has been disrupted. Changes on the political landscape following the recent European Parliament elections where the existing candidate was not voted back,  means that she has career disruption with a new boss. Political relationships are based on personal chemistry and she worries her services will no longer be retained in the new order. As a fall back position she has approached her previous employer who could offer her a role at a much lower level. She is at a crossroads: carry on with the disruption with the new boss or go back to a comfort zone? Clearly she should approach the new incumbent with a concrete strategy on how she can make the situation work, but with a Plan B in place in case it doesn’t. Preferably this will not involve back-sliding into an old, more junior position.

Need help with disruption, career strategy or Plan B  – Check out these career transition programmes

Olivier has disrupted himself  Feeling restricted in his last role in the art world he wanted to broaden his horizons. Leveraging his artistic background he is studying an MBA with a focus on innovation. After some months of systematic research, a high number of informational interviews, coaching and networking,  he is now positioning himself in the design sector.

Jeff has been disrupted. A new boss and a re-organisation made him reflect on his work/life priorities. He decided to take his entitlement to three months paternity leave and use the time to change direction. Creating a plan for the year he accepted a redundancy package to work on his position and re-brand himself in a role in a new sector. He started his new job some months ago. Whitney adds  “it’s important that you have a plan for what you hope to learn and discover about the market that you are pursuing, and perhaps more importantly that you have a “why” for doing this, so that you stay the course rather than slipping back into the safety of the known”. So although it’s important to have an idea of your overall long-term goals both personal and professional, the fact that there is disruption just means that another type of plan is required to make that disruption effective and work for you.

So to quote Whitney again:

With thanks to Whitney Johnson. Check out her other thoughts on the 3Plus LinkedIn Group

10 Barriers to successful promotion

I see many people in transition who struggle to advance in their careers  internally within their own organisations, in almost the same way as if they were involved in an external job search.

Today,  many companies have very rigorous internal promotion processes which can be as daunting as looking for a position outside a current organisation.

However,  there are many common elements and they require the same structured approach to achieve success. Just like an external  job search,  the process can take up to a year, further complicated by competition against colleagues, some of whom may have become friends. Some companies even go to the expense of conducting external executive searches to benchmark the quality of their internal talent pipeline.

Over the years I’ve noticed what has become an all too familiar pattern with ten barriers to success:

  1. Lack of expertise in self-promotion:  many are unused to dealing with this type of process and are simply confused. This is compounded by a refusal to ask for help. Many in established positions have no idea how neutral input can make a difference to the outcome. Very often organisations will fund transition coaching especially at a senior level. Ask, and if they say “no”,  don’t hesitate invest in yourself.
  2. Lack of self-awareness: most people make very little time to think about themselves – their skills, goals, achievements, vision and passions. Those who are still employed are equally as guilty as  job seekers of this, perhaps more so because they know the organisation and the players. They think they can ” wing it ” on the day.  A thorough inventory of achievements and skills should always be made as part of any on going career strategy. Internal candidates quite frequently have less interview exposure than externals so their self presentation skills can be more rusty.
  3. Stuck in “yes / but” :  Many want to make a change and explore new methodologies but get stuck in self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. They are unable to make that paradigm shift to get there.  As Einstein pointed out “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different  results.”
  4. Avoidance strategies:  transitioning professionally takes a lot of work and many are not prepared to run the hard yards. They get caught up in the cyber black  hole of “busyness” , unproductive work on computers of all sizes,  convincing themselves they are working effectively, when they are clearly not. Business plans have to be prepared, strategic value to market statements must be created, plus whatever other activities organisations demands  (personality and psychological testing for example.) All of this is time-consuming.
  5. Low self-esteem and or anxiety:  these two psychological states are frequent bed fellows which feed on each other to produce the  “busyness” above. Fear of failure maybe at the root of these dangerous emotions or perhaps there have been some missed  or failed opportunities in the past. Falling into the low self-esteem cycle undermines productivity and ultimately success. Find a coach, a mentor or a neutral friend or colleague to support you.
  6. Poor time management: whether in employment or on a job search a structured approach to time management is critical. Goals should be set, plans made and implemented and time planned.
  7. Failure to set goals: internal candidates are well-known to their management which has  both negatives and positives. It’s not enough to pitch up, suited and booted to give a brilliantly polished performance on the day. Strategic preparation over an extended period is critical, including professional image management. If your appearance looks like a sack of spanners most days in the office,  a one day transformation for the interview will not be enough.
  8.  Lack of both mentors and sponsors: for the necessary support. Implement some visibility raising strategies to  raise your profile within your company. It is really easy to neglect an internal network. Create some strategic alliances.
  9. Failure to evaluate the competition. Is your manager sponsoring you? If so, is he/she also sponsoring others for the position? Find out what you need to do to get full and unqualified support. Be aware of who the other candidates might be and their relative strengths and weaknesses.
  10. No Plan B: in very  competitive internal processes which might have long-term career impact, as part of the planning process ask yourself what you want to do if you are not successful. Having a “Plan B” is key – will you stay on and try again? Does this mean your career will have stalled? It’s important to understand what your next steps will be and create a plan in advance. Knowing that a potential key resource may leave an organisation can be a factor.  Make sure your external network is in place too,  as your ” just in case” safety net.

Stuck getting to the next level? Check out the individual career coaching programmes.

So whether an external or internal candidate, the career transition process carries many common elements! What would you add?

Good luck!

Do you have a career P.L.A.N.?

Do you have a career plan?

The likelihood of most of us sitting down every year with a professional career coach to create an annual career strategy is about as great as chocolate cream cake becoming a zero calorie dessert any time soon.  No one would think of having a medical with an unqualified doctor or getting their cars serviced at an unauthorised garage. Yet many casually stick their heads out of their pods and ask their colleagues, spouses,  pub buddies,  friends or family members for definitive input on what are potentially important career questions.

Do you go with the flow?

Most of us have a very  casual, laissez -faire, “trust in the moment” attitude to our careers, especially if we enjoy our jobs and  are professionally  satisfied.  Careers quite often move along at their own pace with perhaps some superficial input at an annual performance appraisal.  But few organisations are progressive enough to have meaningful  appraisal  systems that they actually implement.

In our lives we maintain our cars, our gardens, our health and our homes,  yet we rarely maintain our careers.

Do you have a career P.L.A.N.?

Do you have a career P.L.A.N.?

Until of course there is a problem or we get stuck.

Then, in response to a glitch or unexpected situation we frantically update our CVs, reach into our network to call “what’s his name”  and desperately try to set up some sort of online presence.   So even if we are sublimely happy (and perhaps even more so)  every one of us should have a career or professional plan.

There is a fine line between complacency and contentment.

Here is my helpful acronym that illustrates why:

P is for  PURPOSE  –   Create goals  “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible”  said Tony Robbins.  If you go through this process with a professional career coach so much the better.

L is for LEARN  – learn and understand your transferable skills and strengths. They will thread through your careers like a string of pearls and will become invaluable confidence builders and key to your overall plan. The workplace is changing at a phenomenal pace and skills become  quickly outdated.  Ongoing life and professional learning should be a key component in our career plans. .

A is for ANALYSIS –  in any S.W.O.T. analysis identifying opportunities and development needs will be very significant.   People who know what they are good at and have identified any skill shortfall are almost always excellent managers and leaders.  Set up training programmes and create strategic alliances and network contacts in line with your longer term goals.    Ask what can you do for those connections before an issue arises.  If any crisis does occur “what’s his name” will be someone you can contact without embarrassment and  who will be happy to return your call.

N is for NAME –  naming and articulating your success stories and goals and creating a plan boosts a dream or a wish into a reality. In today’s complex workplace even the most successful, competent and content among us have set- backs.    Knowing the steps that underpin a career plan make it so much easier to be flexible and re-evaluate in the light of new circumstances and change direction if we need to. Having the skills and experience to create and implement a plan will help you get beyond any negative situation.

So do you have a career P.L.A.N.?