Category Archives: career transition

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. 

 

 

 

 

Interviews with H.R. are the gatekeeping process

Meaningless interviews with H.R. Really?

Why do so many underestimate interviews with H.R?

I’ve heard some comments recently from candidates or job search clients related to interviews with H.R. I’ve selected two, because the others carried the same message, they were just phrased differently.

  • Comment #1 – From a job seeking client:  “I’ve only attended a series of meaningless interviews with H.R.”
  • Comment #2 – From a candidate I was interviewing who was woefully unprepared: “Don’t worry, I will be better prepared for the decision-maker”   

Sadly for him, I was the decision maker. His process ended right there.

Gatekeepers

It is true that the calibre of some H.R. individuals, may not be high all the time. But regardless, they are the gate keepers to the process.  Candidates, this is your wake-up call. Interviews with H.R. are not meaningless, even if they seem that way. They are the first decision makers. If H.R. cut you, it rarely happens that the line or hiring managers go back and ask to see the thousands of CVs and telephone screening notes of unprocessed candidates. Many pundits encourage candidates to bypass H.R. totally and locate the hiring manager. That can work, but usually offers are made via H.R. so they can still nix your application. It is only very rarely you can leapfrog interviews with H.R.

And sometimes you don’t know you are encountering H.R., as one candidate found to his cost with #HRTechWorld colleague Matt Buckland

Attitude and aptitude

How you interact with H.R.,recruiters and anyone else in the process is measured, monitored and judged. You are then compared to other candidates or the benchmark  for the position for that company. An overview centred around cultural fit and expectations will be made. Your attitude matters as much as your hard skills. If you are rude and entitled then it’s factored in. I interviewed a senior manager for an executive role in a very conservative organisation.  Let’s be clear. It was not a junior coding role in a tech start-up.  He was not professionally attired.   I simply made a note of the facts and the company President commented on it as a sign of a certain attitude. He was processed further, but that same attitude surfaced in other ways further down the line. It was a red flag.

If the hiring manager trusts the H.R. Manager or the recruiter, he will rely on their judgement. She doesn’t have time to micro-manage the search process.  I can understand process fatigue setting in because candidates can go for many interviews. But somehow job seekers have to prepare and be courteous and remember everyone involved counts, especially those interactions and interviews with H.R.

That’s why the gentleman had so many “meaningless interviews with H.R.”  It’s the candidate who has to give those interviews meaning and make the right first impression. Because like the saying goes, there are rarely second chances.

Give those interviews with H.R. meaning:

  • be courteous and respond appropriately and in a timely way.
  • connect with the person on LinkedIn
  • prepare and research information about the company
  • prepare questions
  • thank them for their time
  • refer other candidates if you are not interested

If you have established a good rapport with the H.R. contact, you are more likely to be considered for another role if you are not successful and given performance feedback. That will help you reduce those meaningless interviews with H.R.

Do you want to improve your interview performance and job search strategy – contact me 

Presence culture barrier to women’s career success

A presence culture is the current barrier to keep women out of the corporate sandbox

One of the many challenges women face in the pursuit of their careers is the widespread existence of a “presence culture” in male-dominated corporate organisations.  Here, highly visible long working hours are rewarded and therefore encouraged, as employees feel they have to make themselves available for their employer. The arrival of the smart phone means that this is extended to 24/7 corporate on-call. The presence culture, or its cousin the availability culture,  is proving to be an effective barrier to women in a corporate setting.

It’s a “families are for wimps” philosophy.

Research from Harvard Business School Prof. Robin J. Ely, suggests that men in the early stages of their career, feel they need to sacrifice family life to advance their careers. Many women on the other hand are not willing to make that undertaking and either opt out, or take a break,  when family decisions become critical. This generally happens women hit the mid 30s mark. She notes that life and career goals in older survey participants were “remarkably aligned” and talked “giving back to society” and raising healthy families.

Over work is counter productive

Overwork is very much gender driven, and intrinsic to many male dominated corporate cultures. Time scarcity seems to have become a  corporate and cultural badge of success and an indicator of professional status. Yet this is set against a backdrop of a chronic fall in employee engagement. Reports of a reduction in productivity, decreases in creativity and corresponding increases in days lost because of health issues, are now commonplace.

Ironically there has been another shift. Three decades ago more highly qualified employees were less likely to work longer hours compared to lower paid and less qualified. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that 94% per cent worked 50 hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of 65 hours a week. Attributed to the Boomer work ethics  characterizing workplace culture, with their work centric focus on hierarchy, power and prestige, successful people now work longer hours than ever. But this doesn’t explain similar overwork cultures found in Silicon Valley populated by younger men.

So where does this originate?

fred flintstone

I have a theory, so please hear me out.

The amateur anthropologist in me believes that, deprived of lions, tigers and bears, the modern young male needs a way to prove his resilience and power, outward signs of maleness and masculinity. Gender based occupational roles became further embedded in agrarian times when upper body strength was important to maintain the food supply. Women were required to produce lots of children for free labour. Revenue generation was also associated with physical strength.

In a 21st century knowledge economy that is no longer necessary.  So how are we to show strength and resilience,  in an age where the modern up-market cave is 4 bed, 4 baths, and a spear is a smart phone?  Long hours and the subsequent success of a linear career, is one way to achieve this. Hours are an easily definable metric, even though they have no relationship with the reality of modern business. Some organizations base their business model on “billable hours” and use them as a tool to measure employee success and financially reward. Pulling all-nighters gives young male careerists, bragging rights.

The reality is today men and women can both use smart phones equally well, but we are still being driven by DNA from previous eras which is no longer necessary in high-tech, knowledge economies

They are losing interest. They don’t want to be them, or like them.

Melinda is a Director in a consulting firm. Her boss she says “must see very little of his family. Even on vacations he is on his Blackberry to the office all the time. He has missed almost every milestone in his children’s lives. That’s not for me.” 

In a study from Catalyst, there was compelling research that would indicate that that companies with the highest representation of women in top are better performing. Nevertheless the percentage of women in top leadership roles remains depressingly static and low.

Wouldn’t it make sense for everyone to change corporate thinking and norms?

Cultural change

What has to change is the cultural commitment to overwork imposed on anyone wishing to continue a corporate career. This penalizes anyone who wants to have some sort of family life. It particularly impacts women who leave organizations such as these in their droves, or opt to stay in lower level jobs.  HR conferences talk about putting the “humanity back into HR” yet continually fall short.  Some businesses compensate for this culture of overwork, by providing corporate mindfulness training, concierge services and even sleeping pods

But the question is, are they band aids which treat only the symptoms, rather than addressing the core cultural malaise? There is a reason the company does your laundry.

Initiatives to chip away at this regressive mind-set seem to be working. Employee engagement is a hot topic. Sweden is introducing 6 hour days to increase employee satisfaction and productivity. Goldman Sachs has even reported promoting a record number of women to Managing Director status, which might reflect a further sea change in thinking, as their senior echelons achieve greater gender balance.

What is needed is a corporate culture where men and women can thrive, both in the workplace and outside it. This is one area where gender balanced leadership teams would surely have an impact.

 

The rise of the Eat, Pray, Love-r

An increasing number of women are going on journeys of self-discovery 

Years ago, if a woman had a difficult time, she might call some friends and open a bottle of wine, cry over a chick flick (a marathon Colin Firth, Pride and Prejudice session is my mooch movie of choice) or eat her favourite comfort food.

Eat, Pray, Love

Inspired by the book and then the movie Eat, Pray, Love, an increasing number of women are now blazing a trail set by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her compelling tale of recovery from a painful divorce, recounts how she nurtures her body through food and cooking in Italy, mysticism in India and a new love and spirituality in Bali. Many places mentioned in the book reported an upturn in tourism as a result of her adventures.  

Today, it’s not necessarily the actual steps Elizabeth Gilbert took, but the wider message. We are seeing a whole new breed of women who are more financially secure and less risk averse who are willing to move out of their comfort zones to learn new things about themselves as part of a life and career transition.

I met Marianne in a tapas bar in Seville this summer. A financial advisor from New York, she and her long time boyfriend parted ways in January 2014. “It was nothing dramatic at the time. We were just stuck and not going anywhere.  I wanted children  – he didn’t know. Six months later, he married a mutual friend and she is now expecting their first child. That really hurt. We have the same friendship group and our professional lives overlap. I didn’t want to deal with it all  – the sympathy and understanding more than anything.  So I quit my job and am doing a tri-continent tour.”

Me: Was Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience an influence?

Yes!  I’m an Eat, Pray, Love-r!  Elizabeth Gilbert proved it can be done. She paved the way for lots of 30 something women who want to get away, but to make it a positive experience and moving forward. I have savings, so I’m learning Spanish in Spain, going to India to study Ayurvedic massage in Kerala. I’m actually passing on Bali, but spending time in New Zealand. Then I’ll go back to the U.S and maybe relocate to another city. This whole experience has made me feel really free and just opened up my eyes to limitless possibilities. If I could find my Javier Bardem  that would be the icing on the cake!” 

I ran into Millie in Zagreb airport today!  At 32, she was passed over for a promotion in London earlier this summer and the job given to one of her reports. “I felt humiliated. There was no way I could report to someone who had worked for me. I think my bosses wanted me to leave anyway.  

I negotiated a decent package, which involves 6 months gardening leave, so I hit booking.com and Expedia. I love diving, so I have just finished my Master Diver certificate. I sub-let my flat, and have spent a month in Croatia and now I’m headed for Dubai and after that the Maldives or any of the Pacific Islands or even Mexico. I feel re-energised and satisfied, healthy, emotionally and physically. I’ll probably have to go back when the money runs out – but until then I’m going to take each week as it comes.”  

Me: What were they key influences on you? 

Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love, for sure. She made it OK for women who had a set back, to take time out to explore other options. It was no longer labelled running away and cowardice, but about self-discovery.”

So for those women who take a knock and have money in the bank, facing the music and wagging tongues isn’t the only option to figure out a life and career transition.

 

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!

Repatriation: 8 causes of “re-entry shock”

Repatriation can be more stresful than the outward trip
Repatriation can be more stressful than the outward trip

I am a long term expat with two international moves under my belt. Three if you count the move from England to Wales. Both my children are “Third Culture Kids”  (TCK) having been born outside their passport country.  So I know first hand that a successful international experience can be an enriching one, personally and professionally, for both the expat and his/her family.

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. This is both financially and also in terms of transition supervision.

Why?

In theory, the expat is going back to a situation with which he/she is familiar and it is often incorrectly assumed that this process will be problem free.

Stressors tend to intensify in relation to the length of the international assignment.  Long term expats with multiple moves under their belt, with portable careers and skill sets, report additional difficulties.

8 causes of re-entry shock

Re-assimilation can take anything from six months to five years depending on the length of the overseas assignment and the degree of local integration experienced  in their expat lives.

If you need support with repatriation or an expat transfer check out the individual coaching programmes 

The are 8 expectations to manage:

  1.  The home environment will be the same – the expat has usually lived a life changing experience. There is a tendency to assume that practices in the workplace of origin will be unchanged and professional relationships can be picked up where they left off. This is almost always not the case. These too will have evolved, particularly any nuances in the balance of power and influence which may have developed and changed during the period away from base. It is very common for the expat to feel excluded or passed by, especially if the re-entry is to a central headquarters. Many expats make a decision to return to HQ for career development reasons because they perceive being away from headquarters reduces their visibility quite literally. When they get back they are considered to be out of touch.
  2. New skills will be appreciated and maximised: Feelings of frustration are commonplace if accompanied by few or no opportunities to maximize any new skills or experience. If the expat experience does not seem to be valued, disappointment will be intensified. Unmet expectations can even lead to depression and the employee leaving the company.
  3. Family and friends will be interested – the expat has usually had an exciting time, using professional opportunities to enhance their personal experiences via travel and other activities. Returning expats report that old friends show very little interest in their overseas lives to the point where they cease to talk about it. In some instances it is perceived as bragging.
  4. The returnee will feel at home  – many cultural changes will have taken place in the culture of origin during the international assignment which the expat will not have been part. The expat can feel like a “foreigner” in his or her own country and customs and practices that were once completely normal to them now seem alien. The expat location was their home.
  5.  Career Transition Coaching is not needed – to support this stage of career development is invaluable to engage all stakeholders to achieve successful re-integration and to maximize the return on what has been a significant corporate investment. The reality is that repatriation process should be positioned as part of an ongoing longer term career strategy to maintain motivation. Ideally it should start well in advance of the return to home base. Many companies do not do that to their detriment and are surprised to see transition issues with the employee on his/her return. They are even more surprised to see the employee leave with a 19% turnover reported. This is a poor ROI on talent management investment.
  6.  Family and Partners will be fine  – this is part of the thinking process that needs to be re-examined by many companies as the professional and personal continuum is blurred during the return to the country of origin. The expat not only has to manage his/her professional re-entry, but will be impacted by negative experiences to which the family is exposed. So if the trailing spouse and any children are struggling, especially those born outside their passport countries (TCK),  then the expat will be under even greater pressure professionally.
  7. Loss of expat perks – depending on the seniority of the assignment expats miss very often the financial perks of an international mission which could include company car, petrol allowance, school fees, flights home etc. On the return these benefits tend to cease.  In some regions (APAC, Eastern Europe) domestic support is provided and/or is very affordable.
  8. Expats will not miss their friends and overseas lives – international communities tend to be very open and welcoming, as well as offering a variety of cultural experiences, shopping, travel and  food items and so on.  Adjustments will need to be made  contributing to the feeling of homesickness.

So, for many the challenges of  “coming home”  can be just as significant  as  the transition of “going overseas.”

Metrics: If you can’t measure it – don’t mention it

The Peter Drucker phrase “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”  has been around in management training manuals for decades.  With some dissenting views, it is widely accepted if not as a business truism,  certainly as  a useful guideline and management tool.

I’m a big subscriber to that philosophy.

Why "if you can't measure it -don't mention it makes perfect sense".

Why “if you can’t measure it, don’t mention it” makes perfect sense.

Metrics

We are seeing a convergence between the marketing techniques usually associated with entrepreneurs and businesses with individual self promotion (in biz patois Personal Branding,)  with the the same measurable values starting to become applicable. Many balk  at this shift,  feeling that people are becoming commoditized.  But are they really? All this really involves is simply a move from a task and chronology mindset, to a result, achievement and skills focus.

Just as we don’t care about the detail of the business process for any organisation,  we are also starting to expect the same approach on individual resumes and profiles.  We don’t care how smart phones are made. We just want to know what they can do for us. When we  buy jars and tubes of emulsified chemicals from L’Oreal, we buy products that are hopefully going to  magically transform us – even if it’s only in our imagination. We are buying the added value. Why? Because we are worth it.

The management accountant who produces monthly reports and forecasts using Bex Analyser and Excel would be better placed telling us what he used that information for,  rather than describing the detail of the routine task.  If this can be followed with a metric and results so much the better.

If you are “young and dynamic”  I need to know what difference that will make to an organisation. If it means you have just graduated  at the top of your class with the most up to date mathematical models to support faster analysis of business processes at your finger tips. Tell me that.

These are just two conversations I had this week alone.

Need help identifying your transferable skills? Check out the individual coaching programmes

Forget cute, metrics matter!

Very often people are so focused on being cute, zany or idiosyncratic that their message becomes simply verbiage and we have no idea at all what they mean.  I am highly literate so always recognise the individual words,   but sometimes I have no clue what the person actually does in a joined up sentence. “Effective change agent,  crisis manager,  business turn around leader.”  A crisis could be a merger, takeover or a blocked loo.  What sorts of businesses, crises and changes? What were the outcomes? Can this person do that for us, is the over-riding question of any employer.  If it’s not clear and the question has to be asked,  the risk of losing the reader (me) has already increased. I have the attention span of a gnat. And I am slow!

Just as when we buy a lap- top we will want to have some information on the basic features (weight, operating system, colours, memory, hard drive etc)  the main questions will be centred around what value that lap- top can add,  how we can benefit from it and how we can best use it for our own purposes.

Job search processes are no different. If a computer had a “buy this computer”   sign on it, wouldn’t you ask “Why? What will it do for me?”

Candidates are no different.

Professional relationships that turn sour

What happens with professional relationships that turn sour?  

Do you think you can really be friends with your boss and colleagues?

When you get to a certain age we have all had any number of knocks, disappointments, bad experiences and betrayals. Sometimes the wounds are deep and take a while to heal leaving a build up of cumulative scar tissue.

Many try to cover it up, ignore it completely or have the psychological equivalent of laser surgery. But lumped together this becomes the well of experience we can tap into and learn from.  Getting these knocks early in your career can actually be a bonus. So to use that old bumper sticker phrase  “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Nowhere is this more sensitive, valuable  and variable than in the area of personal relationships in the workplace. Is it better to get burnt in your early career and learn some lasting lessons in the best school of all?  Life.

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Charmed life

I had lived a pretty charmed existence, with almost no scar tissue from my early career. My deepest wounds were to come later, for which I was completely unprepared.  At that point I was betrayed and duped by people close to me, or whom I had known both professionally and personally.  I thought I knew them, so I was completely thrown for six  when I found myself let down and even conned.

You see, I had built up no scar tissue.

Three years ago an encounter with a rogue recruiter  left me wiser and poorer.  He disappeared owing me a sum of money large enough to matter,  but not significant enough to make it economic to pursue him through the courts. This was his modus operandi. I  found I had been an easy  target.  My lesson was to be much tighter with my paperwork and my research and more contained about personal interaction. After a period of extensive cynicism where I viewed everyone with deep distrust, I am finding a balance, but I do remember to touch my professional scar tissue when in doubt .

Jeff is 27 and a Junior Consultant with a major international organisation. He was in two interview processes recently,  one with another similar organisation where the job content was less interesting,  but offered an excellent compensation package. The second was with an organisation where an old family friend would be his boss.  He had been made a verbal offer for what seemed like his dream job. He had instantly established a rapport with the hiring manager, a familiar face from his High School days. They had played squash a few times and a start date had been agreed.  Jeff turned down Job Offer 1,  but then sadly, Job Offer 2 failed to materialise.  An internal candidate was appointed.

Although Jeff hadn’t resigned from his present role (he nearly did) so he does still have a job, but a  more junior colleague was promoted over him. This in real terms is demotion by another name. He had discussed his job offer conundrum with his current boss and colleague with whom he is very good friends at their regular TGIF pub outings

The moral of these vignettes of professional relationships that turned sour:

  • Just because someone acts like your friend it doesn’t mean to say they are. I found that out to my cost. Your boss in particular will put organisational needs first. Your co-workers can be your competitors.
  • The blurring of professional and personal relationships can cause difficulties.  I was a victim of white-collar fraud which is more serious and intentional. But caution when confiding personal information in the workplace even with peers, is always advisable.
  • In any process you need to find the steps involved and who the decision makers are.  A line manager may want you on the team but may not know of other factors playing out in the background: budgets, internal HR policy etc. Try and get as much in writing as you can. People  make commitments in good faith and are over ruled. Others go beyond their authority level to impress.
  • A verbal offer is not binding.  Sort out contractual arrangements  before  rejecting other offers and especially discussing the situation with your employers.

Jeff is upset,  angry and frustrated. Is he wiser? I hope so!

Upside? He now has some career scar tissue!

10 tips for Career Changers

Career Changers

Career Changers-  Is your blanket in the drier?

Career Changers are often nervous and apologetic for being uncertain about not knowing exactly they want to do.

What they usually do know and are very certain about is what they don’t want to do.

As Marilyn Ferguson says ” . . It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”

Planning

Being in transition is fine, if it’s part of a strategic plan to research and review options. If there is no plan then that’s drifting and dreaming.  The possibility of ending up on a career path which is not right, is high. Many career changers expect a “eureka” moment of enlightenment, but mostly the right opportunities come about as a result of a high level of painstaking  methodical research and detailed planning towards a specific goal, or even goals. And then making a considered choice. This becomes more confusing when we are all exhorted to reach  for our passions. What if our passions don’t pay the bills?

Here are  10 things to consider

  • Create a strategy:   Recognising that you want to change is easy. Creating a structure to support that change is more challenging, particularly if there are time pressure issues of being in full-time employment. Set up step by step plan, allocating time to cover even small parts of the process.
  • Hating your current job:  Many career changers claim to hate their current jobs,  but care has to be taken to examine what that involves – exactly. Is it the company,  the team, the boss or the location that are irksome? Is it boring and if so why? Also examine not just the downsides,  but the positive aspects as well.
  • Research:   this is time-consuming but critical and it is vital to be thorough.  Talk to your network,  research online or set up informational interviews about new functions, sectors or companies. Make a generous time allocation for this exercise.
  •  SWOT analysis:  Identifying strengths and weakness and having a profound understanding of  transferable skills is essential to this process. This requires a high level of introspection and one which many struggle with. Get professional support if that would help.
  • Acquiring skills :  a direct outcome  of this exercise establishes if there is a skill set deficit. Identify what you are missing and establish if the gap can be filled with volunteering, temping, an internship, or even taking a training course before making a decision to resign.
  • Strategic positioning:   when was the last time you looked for a job?   The last 5 years have seen dramatic changes in the job search and recruitment sector. How up to date are you? Bring yourself up to speed.
  •  Feeling underpaid, under-valued and overworked. Many career changers feel the grass is greener elsewhere and are attracted by high salaries and super benefits.  Envy of friends or peers can also be a strong motivator.  The saying ” no such thing as a free lunch” very often  applies. There is a reason why the office has a taxi policy after 2100,  or showers and a gym on the premises.  It’s because they are used, usually frequently. Sometimes our friends don’t paint an accurate picture of their own situations.
  •  To please others:  partners, family  and friends can be hugely influential in determining career choice.  Consider their motives before deciding.  Do they want what’s best for you – or themselves?
  • Create a new network:   as well as tapping into your existing network reach out and make connections in your target sector, company or function. Alumni networks, professional groups, online platforms are all good sources to extend your network.
  • Find a mentor:  having someone who will support and offer neutral input can be hugely useful to career changers.
Transition is good - but you need a plan!

Transition is good – but you need a plan!

Why couples need a congruent career strategy not dual careers

The traditional notion of a successful dual career couple  seems to me to be outdated. Instead we should be looking at a congruent career strategy.

I’ve just led a workshop at the #JUMP13 Forum in Brussels on “How to be a successful dual career couple“.  The first thing that struck me was  how confusing this very concept is:

What is successful?  One couple’s perception of success and a dream life is another’s nightmare. We all have our own ideas of what it means to be successful.  Research carried out by LinkedIn  “What women want at work study”  suggests that for women the meaning of success has shifted from achieving a high salary, to establishing a balance between their professional and personal lives

The notion of career:  what does that mean  in today’s world when meteoric  linear careers are a thing of the past and portfolio careers are  more typical.

What does dual mean really? 

(Definition  – Consisting of two parts, elements, or aspects)  This can cover a number of set ups:

  • two individuals within a relationship pursuing their own goals.  This is characterised  usually by the woman being caught below the glass ceiling while her partner strides purposefully to the top.
  • both members of the partnership supporting one career:  The Obamas would be a good example of this, trailing spouses  or stay at home parents who then have to deal with a parenting gap.
  • One career/one job:  typical of this would be the man pursuing a traditional hierarchical career and the woman compromising to accommodate family needs. This could include accepting a job below her skill set and ability, or switching to working part-time – both common options for women.

So how can we manage the complexity of modern life coping with conflicting demands on our careers,  relationships and  of course ourselves?

Congruent Career Strategy

I believe we will be seeing more of what I call congruent career strategies  (meaning when careers are in harmony or alignment), where both careers are considered  jointly and equally. Not just that there are two separate elements. Focus might indeed switch between the two parts at different points.The main difference is that this would always be in line with consciously stated and discussed goals and a jointly agreed  harmonious vision, rather than a reliance on unconscious beliefs and objectives, which is what most of us tend to drift into.

This would allow the pool of educated women to reach their potential and  for there to be shared responsibility for both revenue generation and  family,  split equally between both partners. Men would be relieved of the stress of being the main breadwinners and allow them to be present rather than absent fathers and partners, leading richer and fuller lives. The possibility to pursue two careers within a couple is no longer a luxury for many, but economic necessity.

We all know that our professional and personal lives are very intertwined and problems on one side invariably spill over into the other. Yet they are continued to be viewed separately with unsettling consequences posing difficulties for couples trying to create successful career strategies.

Let’s look at recent  trends

Recent complex, over lapping and discordant trends tell us that developed economies face aging populations and declining birth rates, presenting a worrying future for today’s governments.  We  actually need couples to have children to support future economies. But there are some significant disconnects which indicate that trouble is on the horizon.

60% of European graduates are women and we make up 50% of the workforce, yet occupy very low levels of senior positions in most developed economies. We carry out 80% of household chores and take 80% of parental leave. We earn 20% on average less than our male counterparts. We are creating a demographic that is unfulfilled, dissatisfied, but above all under utilised.

 

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Choosing the right partner

Sheryl Sandberg suggests that choosing the right partner is the most important career choice that women make. Yet with between 33-50% of marriages ending in divorce, many of us are clearly not getting it right. Our choice of a partner is made at a time when we are least equipped to make sensible decisions:  madly in love and deeply in lust. Very often the failure to create jointly agreed common goals and to rely on unstated unconscious beliefs means many couples end up in relationships with people they eventually barely recognise, let alone would choose a second time round.   Susan found out that she and her husband had intrinsically divergent parenting values when their son was 14. This was after more than 10 years of frustration and tension resulting in their eventual divorce.

Challenges

Faced with the challenge of coping with family and professional life causes many women to opt to work at  levels lower than their capabilities, or to switch to part-time hours  as part of a dual career strategy  (one career/one job model). This reduces their pensionable earnings,  leaving them financially vulnerable in  later life, another general negative trend lurking on the horizon. Yet an additional reason why a  congruent career strategy would be advantageous to the dual career models. And of course all this begs the question that the divorce rate might be stemmed with a more conscious and joint approach to career planning in place.  In Belgium 33% of families are now run by single parents, an increase of 26% since 1991.

Feedback

In the workshop of about 50 women, it was clear that the burning issues were not just in the workplace.  The conversation focused on how to cope with the practical issues of:

  • corporate cultures and education systems that strongly favour the one career/one job,  or one career/two person models making it difficult for both men and women to find balance
  • the constant battle to avoid doing or managing it all.
  • finding the time to nurture both their relationships and themselves.
  • selling the concept to their partners

Many used professional  language for strategies to deal with issues in their non professional lives.  Low value work  ( a.k.a. ironing), time management,  prioritising, parent mentoring, unproductive and lost time (commuting) and outsourcing

The use of online technology to make communication more effective was clearly helping:  splitting grocery lists on-line, date nights scheduled into Outlook and a heartfelt plea for an app to manage family life,  not just those aimed at mothers!   Whoever does this will be a millionaire overnight.

Persuading men

Some alluded to the difficulty of persuading  their partners to engage in a more structured and participative approach to joint career management. Gen Y are exhibiting a desire for a greater balance between professional and personal life than they experienced with their Boomer parents. All research suggests that married men living with their wives and more involved with their families lead richer lives.  They live longer, are healthier, happier and enjoy better sex lives. It should be a no-brainer easy sell!

If the notion of dual career success is changing for both men and women, what we need to see now are the same changes reflected in our work places and government policies.

If you feel your career strategy is out of alignment with your partner’s, check out my programme:  Creating a Congruent Career Strategy. This programme is offered to couples on a face to face basis  (based in Brussels)  or for busy couples  via online webinar coaching with different locations possible!

Contact: dorothy.dalton@skynet.be