Tag Archives: Career Coaching Brussels

Concerned about a graduating student? Ask this key question

Around this time of the year I am frequently called by parents expressing concern about their offspring, particularly those about to graduate, or who maybe left university last year and are struggling to find a path.  I always enjoy working with this age group, but after extensive experience have added a new question to my intake process.

When was the last time you took cannabis?” followed by “how often do you take cannabis?” 

Notice I don’t ask “do you take cannabis?”  I don’t even ask about smoking. There are any number of ways to ingest the substance. Parents almost always respond in horror  “no, of course she/he doesn’t “  The young person will generally be more forthcoming and usually admit to trying it “but didn’t like it”  or like Bill Clinton “I didn’t inhale

I have come to understand that these responses may not be factually accurate.

Behaviour patterns

Parental concerns are usually centred around noticed changed behaviour patterns of their kids  who they report appear to be: lost, lacking in confidence, not knowing what to do, lacking energy and drive,  not following through, disengaged, having financial issues, moody, withdrawn, sleep and appetite issues, attention difficulties and reduced concentration.

There are of course a number of perfectly valid explanations to explain these patterns of behaviour.  Some of them are associated with normal young adult life.

They might also cover unidentified learning difficulties,  for example recently at least one student had undiagnosed ADD.  They can also cover depression.  44% of US college students report symptoms of depression.

In these cases for concern, I am talking about behaviours that are a barrier, which very often the young adult wants to change, but can’t.  The one area that I’ve learned in the past 12 months that cannot be ruled out is, marijuana usage and even dependency.  Before starting a coaching programme,  I separately ask both parents and students for input on substance use.

Widespread

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists  cannabis is the most widely used substance in the UK. Frequent use of cannabis is about twice as likely amongst young people, and nearly 5.3 million 16-24 year-olds have used it in the last year. Although there are strong  health warnings, the drug is perceived in many circles to be a relatively harmless substance that might even be good for physical and mental well-being, unlike its counterparts alcohol and cigarettes. Although in many geographies sale and possession is illegal, there are widespread movements to legalise the drug and some areas it has been. 

This post is not to make judgments about cannabis use, but to consider the potential risks to entry level job search. This may seem self evident to many (I hear an echo of why is she writing about this?) but the number of incidents I have encountered in the last 18 months, would suggest that it actually isn’t.  The discovery has left many parents shell shocked for not reading more into the patterns they have observed under their noses. Perhaps they are “just being kids”  – but for some it means significant long term danger.

If any of the following patterns are evident in the behaviours of a young adult in your life, either as a parent, friend or family member – it maybe time to ask some serious questions:

Here are some red flags

Underperformance

Marijuana usage can be  at the root of under performance or lack of productivity. Whether this is failing grades, failure to deliver projects or results, be on time, stay on task, embark on a job search, get a job or stay in one.  The right questions need to be asked.

Financial mismanagement   

Substances cost money. If your offspring is constantly asking for loans, whether large or small or you are missing re-saleable household items  – these are all warning signs. Combine this with an inability to get, or hold down even a basic job then again a conversation needs to happen

Time mismanagement

Cannabis users frequently are unable to manage their time effectively. They may be late for appointments, procrastinate on tasks they need to tackle, or lose focus once they have started. Perhaps they will prioritise activities which are less important.

Erratic sleep patterns

Sleeping patterns  are strongly impacted by cannabis usage in both ways – sleeping for long stretches, followed by bouts of insomnia. Very often users claim that marijuana helps them sleep, but it also increases heart rate which prevents it.

Memory impairment and problem solving skills impacted

Substance use or dependency has a profound effect on problem solving skills as well as short-term memory. If you see any signs of forgetfulness, these could be important indicators. You might find your child lying about certain things or making  weak excuses for not doing something.

Mental health issues

There is growing research which suggests to connect serious mental illness, including depression and psychosis, with cannabis usage.  Anxiety and even paranoia are reported with habitual cannabis use which worsen over time and  in extreme cases, even schizophrenia.

Eating patterns disrupted  

Clearly if you see your kitchen turning into a brownie production unit that should do it. But generally bursts of appetite, particularly for sweet products and drinks after consuming the drug is commonplace, as is loss of appetite in a withdrawal phase.

Friendship group changed

As with any behaviour pattern it’s no fun spending time with people who are not going to endorse the activity. You may observe your child hanging out with a different group of friends and perhaps being more secretive. If they live away from home this is of course difficult to monitor.

Change in relationships

Managing a young adult whether in your house or as part of your family is challenging anyway, but if there is a shift in your relationship,  you see locked doors, lack of engagement with the family, use of room fragrances, eye drops or cologne, temper outbursts and requests for privacy,  these can all be indicators that substance abuse is involved.

Drug equipment

If there is evidence of drug paraphernalia  – nothing could be clearer.

I’m not suggesting that all young people who struggle to find a path or a job, are necessarily cannabis users – but parents need to ask the right questions if these patterns of behaviour persist. 

Career Coaching

Career coaching, or any other coaching, can’t take place if the client is in an altered state. So if there is a strong feeling that cannabis usage  is part of your young adults lifestyle, then specialist help should be called in. 

Many employers also run drug tests and cannabis can stay in the system for as long as 60-90 days for habitual users. There is much online advice on how to get round these medical tests,  but if employers use behavioural interviews or psychometric testing, candidates under the influence of any substance, are likely to under perform.

One parent discovered his son indeed was an habitual cannabis user, which had negatively impacted his academic results, general behaviour as outlined above and outlook on life. We involved specialist help from the outset. He is now drug free and can start a proper career transition programme.

It’s always easy to avoid looking at the obvious, but sometimes it’s necessary.  What have your experiences been? Please share!

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!

Whatever happened to Jane?

One story on women and workplace bullying

A few months ago I wrote about a client who I called Jane. She sparked my interest in workplace bullying in the bullying of women by women. It was enlightening and eye-opening. I shared my discovery experience of the whole process via a series of posts, which hopefully you are familiar with. I examined the reasons why women bully, the methods they use, the differences compared to male bullying, how organisations deal with this phenomenon and finally what victims can do to deal with it.

However, in the intervening months many of you have been repeatedly asking “Whatever happened to Jane?” Jane, you will be pleased to hear, has quietly but effectively been doing what she felt she needed to do and asked me to wait before I shared her experiences until after she had completed her own healing process. She is now in a place where she is looking forward and has given me permission to share her story.

Facts

One of the first things I did as a coach was to research bullying, establish what it is and to decide if I felt there was a real issue of abuse in Jane’s case. I’m the eldest of 4, with an authoritarian father and my early career was spent in the steel industry, so personally, I have a reasonably high resistance to intimidating behaviour, so I have to factor that in. But after researching, there was no question in my mind – Jane was being systematically bullied and ground down. What was additionally painful for her was that her husband felt she needed to toughen up and assert herself which added to her feelings of isolation.

Here is a re-cap of her workplace bullying story. She was:

– singled out for public criticism about her work and appearance
– regularly called into her bosses office at 17.20 to be given additional work with tight deadlines
– excluded from email circulation lists and meetings
– only person in the department not invited to a social event at bosses house
– attempts to discuss had been dismissed with contempt
– The HR department would only get involved if a formal complaint was made

Benchmark the case

Jane’s first task was to carry out a health check on her own job performance. In the absence of official feedback, she felt satisfied that her own performance met expectation (surpassed it even). She noted all her major achievements during the previous 12 months and produced a list of metrics to support the contribution she had made to her department. Her second assignment was to make her own research project on general guidelines on bullying within her company and sector and to establish where she felt her own treatment lay on that spectrum. She produced concrete evidence which indicated fairly strongly that sector and workplace guidelines and recommendations were being contravened. This not only helped her trust her own instincts again, but also allowed her talk to her husband in a factual and neutral way about her own position. In her case, getting genuine support from him and dealing with the personal relationship issues which had arisen because of this bullying, was as significant as confronting the situation in the workplace.

Keep a log

She went back and tracked all the instances where she had felt bullied and began keeping a log of each new incident. She asked precise and specific questions relating to feedback on all the issues for which she had been publicly criticised, notably her appearance and work performance. Her emails received no response but the public criticism stopped as did private negative comments. In fact she was given no feedback at all. In just a year under her new manager, she received no formal professional goals or performance review, despite numerous requests.

She also carried out an audit of the emails where she had been omitted from the distribution list and made a list of the meetings from which she had been excluded. She let all her superiors in the hierarchy know that this was happening. She kept a tracking record of the times she was asked to work late and made suggestions for improving workplace through put. Those requests also stopped.

Resolution

I would love to say that Jane went on to talk constructively to her boss about her struggles with her managerial style, air kisses were exchanged, hands shaken and their difficulties eventually resolved as it might in a movie. But this is her story and that didn’t happen. She had lost all respect for her boss and just wanted to put the whole experience behind her. We had also worked simultaneously on job search strategies and at the end of June, Jane was approached by another organisation and has subsequently accepted their offer.

Happy ending

In her carefully crafted and fully annotated resignation letter and later in an exit interview with HR, Jane stated clearly that bullying was the reason for her leaving. This complaint was not processed previously because it had not been formally introduced. Her manager is now being investigated internally, although Jane, somewhat cynically, doesn’t think anything will come of it as the department produces excellent results. “She’s tough but she gets things done” is the comment made of her boss. She did hear from an ex-colleague that there was talk of introducing an intermediary (buffer) layer reporting into the departmental head, but so far that has not been made official. Perhaps creating a promotion opportunity was Jane’s legacy!

Jane consulted a lawyer regarding suing for constructive dismissal (that is being forced to resign). Her lawyer was doubtful about her chances of winning, although she felt she had a “reasonable” case given Jane’s excellent record keeping. Apparently it would have been stronger if Jane had been physically assaulted or yelled at publically. So interestingly, one moment of extreme physical abuse (male style) carries more legal weight than a year of covert intimidation (female style). Stealth bullying by women is very hard to audit and to prove. Additionally, her company is a global household name and the process could have taken years.

However, she was given the option of gardening leave during her notice period because of “untenable circumstances”. Combined with her annual vacation entitlement and an unpaid “gap period”, she is touring in Asia as we speak with her husband. She starts her new job in November.

Her final words are ” It will never happen again”.

That’s her happy ending.

If you would like coaching on mobbing or workplace bullying  don’t wait to get in touch  

 

Who to trust

Executive search and recruitment: Who to trust…!

How do you know who to trust in an executive search process?

Many job seekers are often perplexed about how to handle unexpected calls from executive search or recruitment consultants. This is understandable, because even in digital world, the process essentially involves releasing personal information over the phone to total strangers which is somehow more intimate! So how do you respond to those cryptic messages and conversations and know who to trust. They could indeed lead to a golden opportunity for the dream job, but could equally turn out to be pernicious scams.

Why so cryptic? Discretion is in everyone’s interest. It is important to understand that very often the consultant’s hands are tied by their client who want any executive searches or recruitment drives kept under the radar for operational and strategic business reasons. Many companies don’t want their competitors to know what their plans are. Also as a potential candidate you may not want the process broadcast either. One high flying C level executive was approached by an executive search company to join a competitor. Somewhere during the process, (at the client  end, not the search company I should add) confidentiality was breached and the exec was subsequently let go by his employer.

So how do you know who to trust? What is the best way to deal with consultants who might contact you? If you follow the basic guidelines you will be able to establish pretty easily who can best represent you and the sort of red flags you should be looking out for.

1. Establish the identity of the caller: Get all the contact information immediately. Ask for the name of the consultant and the company they represent. Verify spellings, web site details and phone numbers. If possible ask about the specific opening they are calling about, the job title or level, the client company and any other details. Do not be overly concerned if the consultant will only give a thumb nail sketch – it is quite normal to be very discreet at this stage. A good, experienced consultant should be able to outline a position succinctly in a matter of minutes. I would suggest that there is very little to be lost at this point other than some time to at least hearing more about the opportunity if you are open for a career move.

2. Schedule a call at a later date: preferably from, and to, a land line. Most ethical and professional recruiters are happy to oblige. If they are not prepared to do this, the chances are that they are working to meet daily targets. I would advise you to consider that thought seriously before continuing.

3. Environment: Arrange to speak in a quiet environment away from disturbances and interruptions. This could be that dream job we spoke about! Cars or kids combined with mobile phones are both high risk!

4. Research the caller: Check out the recruiters profile on LinkedIn or the company web site. Check if the company is a member of a professional body. If the consultant lacks experience in search (e.g. if he/she were selling real estate or shoes 3 months previously) and doesn’t have the necessary professional qualifications – be cautious. As someone who contacts candidates regularly I am happy to let anyone know how to check my credentials. My LinkedIn profile reference is included in my email address. All my qualifications and experience are listed in full on LinkedIn, together with professional recommendations. My email address also includes blog details which has an informative bio at the side. All this indicates to candidates that I am exactly who I say I am, so I never have credibility issues and am actually never even asked.

5. Research the opportunity: so you can present yourself in the best possible light and prepare appropriate questions. This call is part of the selection process and should be treated seriously. First impressions do count.

6. Verify the relationship with the client company: This is another way of asking if the consultant actually has the recruiting assignment. Some unethical recruiters go on fishing expeditions to harvest CVs to sell on later.

7. Is the arrangement for the search exclusive? This will let you know if they are a retained search company or if they are competing with other companies to present their candidates.

8. Query your suitability: Ask the consultant why he/she believes you might be suitable for the position. This opens a discussion that indicates if the consultant understands the job profile. It also tells you what you need to know so that you can orientate your CV if you decide to proceed.

9. Ask about the time frame and the process: If they are evasive – that is a red flag. This can present issues for consultants, but an ethical consultant should be able to outline the process with a broad brush time frame. Thorough searches generally take between 3 and 6 months.

10. Ask for a profile. Preferred suppliers usually have an outline of one as a basic minimum, or can make a profile available after the initial contact. Clients don’t want organisational details flying around cyber space until there is confirmed genuine interest. If there is any continued evasiveness, even at the client level about the job content, reporting arrangements, how performance will be measured – be very cautious

Take a look at these trusted executive search and research solutions!

What to look out for….

1. CV Harvesters : if a recruiter can’t specify a specific search or a company – be cautious. Sometimes, as I explained, the company name is confidential, which to be fair happens frequently. However, a consultant can say for example “ US, multi-national, Fortune 500, B2B electronics , based in xx” etc.)

2. Protect your contact information if you have any doubts: CV harvesters can pass on your resume to aggregators. These CVs are then used to cull contact information which is subsequently sold to the highest bidders. Don’t include your home address and do use a public email such as gmail.

3. Vague or unresponsive to your direct questions: usually indicates a lack of knowledge = competence and perhaps even integrity. See above

4. The Trojan horse: Occasionally recruiters contact companies with known preferred suppliers, but where they are aware of an open vacancy. The consultant will go through the motions of presenting you as a candidate, even though candidates from the preferred supplier will get priority consideration. There is a risk that your application will be associated with a disreputable recruiter, which may jeopardise future and genuine applications.

5. Sales Targets: Some recruiting companies have a resume quota for their recruiters. They have to make x calls per day and receive x CVs per day. This encourages new recruiters to get resumes with any story possible. The chances of your resume being used for anything positive are very slim.

6. Arbitrary circulation of your CV: Resumes are randomly sent to prospective employers, with the recruiter’s contact information, not yours. Most companies do not follow-up on unsolicited resumes submitted by unknown recruiters. At best it will disappear at worst it will be associated with a poor recruiter.

7. Beware of job boards: Some unethical companies submit CVs to job boards. There your name and contact information are deleted and substituted with the recruiter’s details. Companies interested in your credentials, then have to go through the recruiter and split fees. One photovoltaic expert looking for a candidate for her own department, found what could only have been her own doctored CV on a job board!

Most search companies especially at the higher end of the market have strong reputations and would not want to damage those with unprofessional conduct. They are bound by codes of ethics from their professional bodies. These are just words of caution to protect against the odd ” cowboys” that occasionally creep into any sector!

Good luck!

Small decisions can create BIG changes

How good is your best?

We all think we do absolutely the best we can to resolve issues that challenge us. Losing weight, getting fit, looking for a job. But do we really?

As a recruiter and coach I play an active part in professional networks and also LinkedIn discussion groups. I hear and see individual cries of frustration and anger every day: confused posts in group discussions or I take part in anxious telephone conversations or meetings. There is always the same underlying theme. Individuals are sending out their CVs to all and sundry, networking flat out, and are doing absolutely everything they possibly can to get a job. But something simply isn’t working. The economy, recruiters and HR are all working against them. Their pain is palpable.

There are a few that specifically catch my attention and I always check out their LinkedIn profiles or look at their web sites and when I do, I can immediately see, as most career transition coaches could, where some difficulties might be rooted. It can be any number of things, incomplete profiles, spelling mistakes, poor lay out on CVs and confusing web sites, a low number of connections and so on. So although these are tough times, there are still ways to improve those job searching odds of at least participating in the process.

It may just mean you have to do something different, something very small.  Do this before anything more serious such as depression kicks in. This is clearly going to lead to general health issues, as well as being a barrier to career  and general success. Activity produces results. So does being open to change.

You have to identify what big changes you want to see.

So I suggest looking at the following as a first step:disruptive_innovation-300x2251

1. Log your results: Keep a log of all your job search efforts by date and detail each part of the search process . Each call, each CV you send out. Each networking event. What were the results? Is there an underlying pattern? If you are not making it out of the CV reject pile then you should consider examining the early part of your search- what can you change there? If you are falling down after an interview, evaluate that part of the process. Sometimes people lose track of exactly what they’re doing and especially when we’re stressed, our memories play tricks. We also fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing things in a certain way, when we’re not. Keeping a log gives an incontestable factual record, where no one can be fooled, not even ourselves.

2.How well are you communicating your message? Make sure your message is clear and strong. We tend to think what we’re doing is perfectly obviously to everyone else, but sometimes it isn’t, especially if you have a hybrid or highly technical function. I frequently see documents where what the individual is doing or has achieved, is not really clear, or sometimes not even stated at all. I don’t have time to search through a rambling 3 page CV trying to figure it out. Ask someone neutral from outside your function to review your web site, CV or elevator speech. If it’s clear to them, then it should be clear to everyone else.

3. Is your message powerful enough? I recently coached someone who had trebled the turnover of his business unit in his last job,but that wasn’t even mentioned on his CV. Another guy had closed a $ 0.5 billion ( yes billion) deal at head of state level and he hadn’t stated that fact in those exact words. So use strong vocabulary to market your skills and qualify all achievements with numbers. Don’t worry about boasting. Stating a fact isn’t bragging. It’s all in the delivery and manner and it is possible to recount your achievements without seeming egotistical .

4. Networking: Are you effectively tapping into your direct network and maximising all your contacts? The more people who know about your job search efforts the better. If you struggle with this as many do because being in transition isn’t easy, take steps to build up your resilience and confidence.

5. Connectivity: How well connected are you? Look at the number of connections you have on LinkedIn. If you are not widely connected you will appear on a limited number of searches.  Remember this is a global database for recruiters and it’s all about the maths. Numbers count. If you pride yourself on only being connected to people you know – now might be a good time to re-think your strategy. People who don’t know you could be searching for you. But you don’t know that. I am not an open networker, but 26000 people joined my network in the past 3 days. Your direct network will of course be extremely useful – but it would still be very unwise to rule out indirect networking.

6. Visbility: Raise your professional visibility both on line and off. On your LinkedIn home page you can monitor the number of times you appear in searches – check that out on a regular basis. Change key words and see if that makes a difference. Join groups. Participate in discussions. Answer questions. All of these things help raise your profile. Off line, volunteer for any sort of activity that will raise your visibility in your community, sector or profession. Attend networking events, write professional articles, join professional associations. Once again anything to raise your profile. Do you have business cards? How many do you give out a week?

7. Ask for feedback: Ask for feedback from any or all of the players in the recruitment process. If that’s not possible, many say they can’t get past gatekeepers or only get indifferent and unhelpful neutral answers, brainstorm with a trusted friend, peer , coach or mentor who can communicate constructively possible areas needed for improvement.

If any of this fails consider enlisting professional help.

Socrates said that ” Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change

As all of us fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum – so give change a whirl.  Register for a Career Audit to take your career to the next level.