Category Archives: coaching

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 The workplace is changing at a phenomenal pace and skills become  quickly outdated.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.?

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Moving on from bullying: leave a legacy


This post was orignally a guest post for Ann Lewis author of “Recover your balance: How to bounce back from bad times at work”

Take a stand
In my research for my series on the bullying of women in the work place by women, I was contacted by a huge number of women and somewhat surprisingly men too. Most of this communication was private.

Two messages
This sent me two messages: the first was that bullying is still a shame based experience leaving many unable to openly admit that it had happened. The other was that individuals who had been targets, even years later, went to considerable lengths not only to protect the identity of the perpetrators, but also the organisations where they worked. In many cases little or nothing had been done to support them. In essence, the bullied had become part of an enabling process which allowed repeat offenders to continue abusive behaviour.

Could I say they these victims had moved on?
No, not really. Many had simply resigned and left organisational life to become corporate refugees by working freelance or starting their own business. Some went onto be bullied in subsequent jobs. Others had abandoned their careers totally. Most were scarred, still bewildered and angry. Many had had such horrific experiences, which in my naivety I had previously only associated with movie story lines.

Premeditated sabotage strategies aside, on a daily basis many accused bullies (especially women) have no idea that their behaviour is perceived as « bullying « and are quite shocked or even distressed when finally challenged. So it seems that the bullying process can be viewed as a breakdown, or absence of, constructive communication, with each party needing to assume responsibility for their own role in the dysfunctional dynamic.

Tri-partite responsibility
• The responsibility of the “ target” is to communicate his/her perception of the situation and follow through as required . Failure to do this can mean staying stuck in a negative position, which is tantamount to handing over personal power to both the bully and the organisation.
• The responsibility of the bully is to change his/her behaviour and communication style to acceptable norms.
• The responsibility of the organisation is to ensure that it is carried out.

What would I suggest to anyone who feels that they are being bullied?

• Research corporate and sector guidelines. Most countries have no legislation to deal with bullying, although that is changing. Benchmark your experience against those checklists.
• Seek professional help early in the process. This is good investment. You are experiencing a trauma! If you were suffering a wound to your leg, would you try and treat it yourself? No! You’d see a doctor!
• Work on strategies to self advocate and heal. Focus on becoming “unstuck” and taking responsibility for retreiving your own position .
• In tandem set up an audit trail of abusive treatment. Document and note each incident. This will be useful in any internal inquires or even eventual legal action.
• Find a mentor. Someone who can support and validate you professionally.

Strategic challenge
Walking away from a bad experience maybe sufficient for some to heal and I agree that in a number of instances, “letting go” will do it. However, the individuals who seemed be in the best place, were the very few who had found the courage to challenge the bully in a constructive and strategic way, as well as tenaciously dealing with the organisations where the bullying had occurred, even to the point of legal action.

Cultural contribution
This is not about revenge, although I’m sure for some individuals that might play a satisfying part. Stepping up in this way is also about contributing to the cultural change of what is acceptable workplace behaviour. It will raise public awareness to prevent the same thing happening to others. This transparency also obliges organisations to enforce (rather than pay lip service to) workplace protocols instead of intervening only when the bottom line is negatively impacted. Think of the significant advances that have happened over the last 40 years in the areas of discrimination against women, minorities or the physically impaired. This has been the cumulative result of individual as well as group action.

So somehow, and easier said than done I know, the targets of bullying need to dig deep to find the courage to step up and take a stand, not just for their own recovery, but for the protection of our future working environments. To quote Martin Luther King “Justice denied anywhere, diminishes justice everywhere

That is when personal moving on also leaves a legacy.

What do you think?

Normalising the salary expectation question

Why this question should not be stressful
I came across a discussion on LinkedIn recently posted by J. Paige Freedland about how to handle the salary expectation question. There were almost 400 responses covering a wide range of viewpoints from all participants, some of them conflicting and contradictory. It became very clear that what is a straightforward and routine question for recruiters and hiring managers, is in fact a huge challenge for many candidates and causes considerable confusion and anxiety, especially if they have been on the job market for some time.

In her learning curve from the discussion Paige distilled and collated those 400 responses and identified 3 areas which candidates should focus on: research and preparation, knowing your own worth and understanding your bottom line! You can see her thoughts on that discussion around about the 400th response mark. Her summary marks her own journey through the process and is really worth reading.

Transparency
Generally speaking, the best response is openness. “I earn(ed) x and would expect something on the range of x to y , but would be happy to be flexible for the right position” If candidates have a sense of their own market value and follow trends, then delivering this response should not be problematic. Research can be done on line , and via network contacts either actual or other professional platforms. This is essential. No one would sell their house without knowing its market value. Why do it to yourself? This gives the recruiter or hiring manager the information they need to know immediately and sends out a message about being open to negotiate.

Gay Charles, Senior Consultant & Head of Equal Talent Practice , Belux at Odgers Berndtson, with over 25 years experience in the business told me that ” I rarely find candidates reluctant to discuss salary and when that happens it is usually a fair indication of lack of confidence and self belief “. If confidence is an issue , it is really worth investing in professional support to learn skills in this process.

Some points are worth noting:
Salary negotiation is simply a business process which is a key component of any recruitment procedure. Clare Ireland, Senior Partner , Hansar Internationalthe more experienced and mature people understand that it is a hygiene question that needs to be covered and is no less or more important than any other subject covered in an interview.”

It’s not a trick question: it’s useful to have some broad indication of what a candidate would be looking for to make a move. The easiest and simplest way to deal with this is to give a realistic range related to current earnings. Normally this is covered in the early screening processes and any attempts at evasiveness or lack of transparency, tend to raise doubts about the candidate. Personally, I would give an interesting candidate some time to think about it and allow them to get back to me before the next stage of the process. Clare adds ” In our experience we find few candidates who are evasive about being questioned about their salary. In general, hiring companies will pay what is considered fair, reasonable and fits within their salary banding system ….it is rare to find clients trying to “cheat” candidates though of course what is considered fair to them, may not be the same for the candidate” Candidates should also be advised to take into account the total package including benefits and future opportunities.

Good candidates are rarely ruled out on salary grounds alone. Salary tends to be the market indicator of seniority or experience, which translates into a potentially possible lack of fit for the position ( too senior or junior) with all that implies. There might be internal repercussions on the existing team for example, but candidates could also be re-approached regarding their flexibility.

If a candidate is interesting but has a higher salary then the employer’s budget and if they are selected, negotiation begins. He/she can always decline to engage at this point. Clare elaborates ” The deal will only be closed if both sides are in agreement.” I have participated in those discussions on numerous occasions, when candidates should employ all the usual negotiating strategies. Some companies will have salary scales and for executive positions the salary will be what you are able to negotiate. Counter offers are almost always made, estimated at 10 -15% on initial offers, but similarly candidates do decide to withdraw. It is important to have calculated your ” floor” beforehand.

Under selling oneself can also be perceived as a negative factor. There is a certain belief that a lower than market level salary is an indication of an unwillingness to negotiate, prompting the question, if candidates can’t negotiate for themselves, then how can they negotiate for the company? This is particularly true for women, who step up to the negotiation table 6 times less than their male counter parts. Ladies see my post ” Let’s go girls… negotiate

Transparency is beneficial – it contributes to good working relationships within the hiring process and if one occasion doesn’t work out, the next one might. Good contacts have been established for the future.

However, in these uncertain times when organisations are examining any additional costs and salary deflation exists, it is really important to emphasise the value that can be added in the future. That involves solid interview and career transition preparation. Companies will pay what their budget will allow, but they do want the best candidate .

Paige told me she had learned that ” there is no perfect answer. In fact there are numerous effective answers. But I’m convinced that doing your homework and having a plan is essential in giving you confidence during the interview and being sincere in your responses. You need to be true to yourself and you need to feel comfortable with your responses. You want the job, but not at the expense of your long-term satisfaction and future opportunities. Only you can determine what is going to work for you. If you are sincere, honest and earnest, your chances for success grow exponentially

That is excellent advice.

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Is coaching elitist?

Why I don’t think so

Over the past  few months, I have received a number of emails from individuals who believe that coaches in general (and that includes me) are aiming the content of their blogs, articles and programmes at people who are already successful, but are somehow just temporarily, and somewhat inconveniently, experiencing a little glitch on the golden conveyor to the dizzy heights of their professional pyramid. They feel that these ideas don’t reach or apply to the average person stuck in their jobs,  the ones  who feel that they are living in “quiet desperation”  to quote Thoreau. They believe coaching is elitist.

Feedback

Janie B,  says “Dorothy, I love your blog it is filled with humor and good tips and really accessible. But I think you are talking about high-flying,  talented people who can afford coaches. What do ordinary people like me do who can’t?  I’m stuck in a job I hate…. I don’t excel at anything  and there’s no way out.” 

 I have to consider those comments seriously. What Janie B  and others are suggesting is that coaching principles cannot be equally applied and are therefore undemocratic.

How green is your grass?

Let’s give this a global perspective. We should take into account that the message writers (including Janie B)  are literate, highly educated and clearly have internet access ( 80% of Americans have broadband access,  Japanese 75%), then they are probably already in global terms,  better positioned than a large percentage of the  world population, who do not.  Nigeria for example has 7.4%  internet penetration. So to that extent, some modern coaching channels  blogs, web sites, webinars etc) can appear to be elitist and focus on people living in advanced industrial economies who can tap into modern communication methods. Janie and the other message writers, despite what they think, are already in a global elite. That is something often forgotten when examining other people’s grass.

But real coaching is not related to modern technology, or for a select, wealthy few. Some of the greatest philosophers and thinkers from Seneca, Plato to  Gandhi and Einstein not just in our time, but throughout history, have eschewed material goods on their path to personal development and spiritual enlightenment. Neither did they have internet connections. Nor were they on Twitter or YouTube. Would they have in different times used these media?  Strong possibility  – they were all communicators. However, their legacy is time-honoured thoughts,  that are applicable in all our lives and have nothing to do with  technological advancement and superficial successes, whether economically or professionally. In fact many  certainly rejected the latter.

So although working with a coach can be hugely beneficial,  do I think that most coaching techniques are democratic and can be universally applied and available, regardless of where we are financially, professionally, in our relationships or lives?

Yes I do.

 “If you think the grass is greener on the other side,  try watering your lawn” 

When people feel trapped in their jobs, there is a tendency to offer bumper sticker type solutions. But no plastering your office wall or refrigerator with ‘post its’  or magnets containing the latest positive thoughts will help make your grass greener long-term. They are of limited short-term value, like tending your lawn with a water pistol. I’m not suggesting a water cannon would do – but just  more of a garden sprinkler type of activity.  Timely, systematic and measured.

So what can you do if you have the privilege of living in an advanced economy and feel stuck in your job or your life?  How do you achieve something  you feel passionate about – for free?

Here are just a very few suggestions:

  • Check out your life and professional goals. Are they aligned?  Usually I have found that this is the root of the problem.  If you could change your life what would it look like? How do you look?  Is it really the job that bothers you or something else? Be honest, tough if you have to.
  • Manage your negative thoughts
  • List the challenges you’ve had in your life. What skills did you use to deal with them? What were your success stories? These are your transferable skills .
  • What don’t you like about your job? Why? Is there anything about your job you like?  List those points. What skills do the good points require?
  • Make a mission statement. You know from a previous post  that even CEOs struggle with this.
  • Set yourself some goals and objectives. They need to be  specific, measurable,  achievable, realistic and time bound ( SMART)
  • Take courses: on-line, night school,  open university, start a blog , join Twitter or LinkedIn. There are so many ways these days to add to your personal development  and they cost very little. If you don’t have  internet access  go to your local public library.
  • Volunteer. There are  also different ways to achieve goals outside a professional arena.
  • Set up a job search or life plan with lots of small  incremental steps to achievement.  Reward yourself when you succeed.
  • Cherish yourself  and those near to you!  Ask for their support and feedback
  •  Look after your health and exercise. Walk every day.

Cost to date….  ZERO.

Who can you add to the list?

Career reflection: Could you get your own job?

What would happen if you had to apply for your own job?
In the past year I have been conscious of, and written extensively about, the pace of change in my particular field which seems to be greater than ever before. It’s hard to keep up!  Every time I learn something new, I have to get to grips with something  even newer. I cannot imagine I am alone in this position! I also coach people in transition in various professions and sectors and advise them always of the need to stay up dated in their fields. But what about  people not looking for jobs or directly at risk in any way? Could you get your own job if you had to apply for it?

Could they successfully apply for their own jobs?

Could you?

One of the cruellest spin offs of any organisational re-structuring is that sometimes employees are invited to re-apply for their own jobs. This happens frequently when they have been in post for many years and have considerable seniority and experience. But does this mean that they are necessarily the best candidate for the job as it exists now in the current environment and climate? Regrettably not always.

There are a number of counter arguments to this thesis.

Organisational responsibility

Many will say it’s the  responsibility of the organisation to ensure than their employees are trained and up to date in any developments in their field and are performing to the best of their abilities. To  some extent this could be true.

Any switched-on company committed to employee development  will do this, seeing  peak employee performance and talent management  as  intrinsic to bottom line success. But in times of economic stringency and turbulence,  when training budgets have been slashed, updating employees and keeping them up to speed may not be their top priority. This is set against a background of quite often incomplete, inadequate,and irregular performance appraisal which limits meaningful feedback from any manager to his/her reports. Essentially many employees have no real idea of how they are actually doing, or where their strengths and weaknesses lie on the ideal candidate spectrum.

Avoid complacency

Many of you will also say that it’s no way to live, or work, in a state of permanent insecurity always worrying about someone coming in to take over your job. That’s also true. But complacency isn’t a good state either. One of the things we have all learned in this current economic crisis is that there are no certainties in life. So perhaps it would be foolish to sit and wait for someone else to take responsibility for your career and ultimately your life. Many people who are moved sideways, demoted, have promotion disappointments or who get fired,  very often don’t see it coming. Many of us are wedded to our tried and trusted ways of operating. Even though we might acknowledge a need to do things differently at one level (mainly intellectual), we still struggle to implement  practical change. It doesn’t matter if it’s C-suite level of Fortune 500 companies  or middle managers in SMEs, taking that step to honestly and brutally self appraise is never easy.

It’s also not just about the arrogance of captains of industry such as Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, or the senior executives of General Motors or Lehman Brothers who failed miserably to understand the limitations of their own performance, until of course it was too late. It’s important for us all to consciously examine our own roles in relation to the market and be aware and take care of any short fall.

So start asking yourself the following questions:

  •  How qualified am I for this position, not necessarily always  in  terms of educational certificates, but in experience?
  • Is my knowledge current?
  • What improvements could/should I make to may own skill set and performance to achieve better results?
  • What other changes would I make ?
  • What is my mission statement?
  • Can my contribution be measured?
  • Do I look for, process and act on constructive feedback?
  • What value do I add?
  • Do I know my own worth? Do my bosses, peers, and reports?
  • Who could replace me?

So… would you hire …you?

Could you get your own job?

Coaching: The Susan Boyle Effect

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Susan Boyle’s audition on  the show “Britain’s Got Talent” is apparently the most watched with 280 million hits in the first 6 weeks. We’ve all seen it – some of us multiple times ( .. me !)

We rejoiced and delighted at so many myths and stereotypes being debunked in just a few minutes right in front of our eyes. Ageism, look-ism ( is that a word?), economic demographics, personality types, educational backgrounds, academic ability. This wasn’t some bo-toxed, surgically enhanced, pelvis gyrating, cleavage heaving, teenage fashionista making it  – but  someone we could all relate to. A neighbour, an aunt,  a friend… our mothers . Despite the slick editing and the clever stage management of the event  (the producers had to know surely of the potential talent,) we all felt the sheer joy of the establishment having the wind taken out of its  smug, self important, arrogant sails. Someone unexpectedly was defying all odds and achieving their dream right there on our HD flat screen or lap tops. And ironically of course, that was the name of the song.

Core talent 

But there was one thing that was very different about Susan Boyle. She really could sing. I believe wholeheartedly that we are all good at something. Does this mean overnight  stardom or success is guaranteed, no matter how hard we work or try?  Regrettably – no  it doesn’t!

The celebrity obsession

We live in an era where  for many, being famous or a celebrity has now become a goal in itself . According to USA Today 51% of 18- 24 year olds want to be famous  – but they are not quite sure how or why. This culture of celebrity envy and worship, changes our expectations. But the reality is that most of us every day people have to content ourselves with what Napoleon Hill sums up:

If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way

Keep it real

As coaches we support clients in identifying their passions and pursuing their dreams. But at the same  time we also have to introduce a  reality check. It’s not easy to fly in the face of the culture of wholesale, bumper sticker type positive thinking slogans. Although I love the fairy story element of success stories such as Susan Boyle’s, or anyone else fulfilling life long dreams – goals need to be as realistic and achievable as possible.  Otherwise we are set up to fail.

Keep it achievable

I know this is  going to be percieved  in some circles as more of an equatorial downpour  than rain on the general parade.  But sorry,  if  you don’t have a good voice – you will probably never be a great singer. But that doesn’t mean to say you can’t still enjoy singing or improve.   In the words of Albert Einstein, somewhat cleverer than myself,

“ Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”

Look at other avenues

There is also no law that says all personal satisfaction and recognition should come from your job or pursuing a career. There are lots of other avenues for personal development that can be equally rewarding.  If you like working with numbers you can  volunteer as Treasurer for your church, a local club or your kid’s school.  If you have a good, but not amazing voice, you can join a choir or attend Karaoke events.

Don’t forget the hard yards

So if your current job is blue-collar or staff level the chances of you becoming CFO any time soon are pretty slim, unless you take steps to make that happen. You will have to graduate from high school, go to university and take professional qualifications. Like Susan Boyle or any other amazing success story, their achievements may seem instantaneous, but there are usually many years of hard yards behind the scenes.

If you have dreams of being an Olympic athlete but need to lose 20 pounds and smoke a pack a  day,  then that too will remain a fantasy.  Kriss Akabusi, author of “Success comes in Cans” and himself a record breaking athlete makes the following comment

Yes, the overnight success syndrome is a real misnomer.  It took me 15 yrs to become European Champion. Of course it is appealing to just show up, be accepted for a gushing testimonial and people’s good feel factor, but in reality lasting success comes with determination, discipline, dedication to a course over time where one hews success out of failure and the core talent is sculptured from inside out”.

I can’t add to that !

Let’s go girls … negotiate!

Why do women earn less than men for doing similar jobs?

Why women should negotiate. This post became the first in a trilogy on women and salary negotiation.  See the sequelsDon’t be afraid of “Noand “Cave in… or leave the cave” 

I’ve  come across a few  things in the past two weeks which have left me unfortunately,  pretty sad ,  frustrated and frankly in a state of confused wonderment.  It’s all centred around  the issue of gender  divide and salary. Or to put it less esoterically –  why do women earn less than men for doing similar jobs?

I’m not even talking about glass ceilings, women on boards or any other more complex and contentious  issues that are perplexing a generation of management gurus, where  there are whole biz school courses  and grad theses  devoted to the topic.  No, all I’m talking about is basics:

These might include education,  qualifications, experience and age being the same

Background

I started my early career  as a Corporate HR  trainee in the steel industry  when  the ability to legally  advertise lower rates  of pay for women was sadly a pretty recent memory. At that time trades-union officials would  even ask why there was a  woman at the meeting! True! In any negotiations  it was not uncommon for all the men  (large numbers) to exit the  meeting room en masse,   leaving me with the metaphoric handbags, gasping in a Dickensian fug  (smoking  in buildings was legal too)  to go to the gent’s bathroom. They would come back with  a resolution agreement which  bore only  minimal resemblance to the previous two hour discussion which I had religiously minuted on my crisp trainee notepad. I was left  bemused and bewildered. These were the days when feeling a hand on your bum in the  photocopy room  was par for the course and the term sexual harassment  hadn’t even been invented.

Has anything changed?

So imagine my distress when I found out that despite the passage of time (…. not saying how much) this sort of unequal treatment  seems to be ongoing. Today, according to Janez Potočnik European Commissioner for Science and Research 60% of European graduates are female,  so in real terms women should indeed be a force to be reckoned with on  any job market. However,    I read a few days ago,  that I am living in a country which now holds 60th placing in the  World Economic Forum  table on the  Global Gender Gap rankings  sub index,  relating to economic participation and job opportunity.

Marcus Buckingham in the Huffington Post  tells us that  it is the failure of women to  actually step up  and negotiate which is at the root of the problem : “according to a study at G.E., men return to the negotiating table on average six times, while women average between zero and two” . Cumulatively over a career he estimates that this shortfall could mean as much as  $o.5m  loss of earnings in a female employee’s bank account.

In their book  Women Don’t Ask:  Negotiation and the Gender Divide,  Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever give some further worrying statistics about the context and long-term economic  implications of this passivity.

In Belgium, Isabella Lenarduzzi — founded  Jump,  an initiative  to  support women in the workplace  in Belgium,  which has achieved incredible success in providing a secure environment for women to pursue personal development.

Negotiation is a learned skill

But despite these efforts, unfortunately, as a recruiter I come across this discrepancy all the time with monotonous and disheartening regularity.   I do  believe that negotiation is a skill that can be learned and as a coach I have a segment  in my programme covering salary negotiation,   but  as divorce rates rise and single parenthood households are also increasing, the need for women  to work rapidly towards economic parity  is more signficant than ever before.

 So ladies,  consider this:

  • If a person cannot successfully negotiate for themselves it  can bring into doubt their ability to effectively negotiate for their company.
  • Ineffective or inconsistent negotiation practises leads to general vulnerability- not just in the work place .
  • To be consistently paid less than the market rate  can indicate a lack of  lack of self worth  – as above,  leads to vulnerability.
  • Good fair negotiators are respected. Self respect fosters confidence
  • Despite what you think , there should be nothing you eventually can’t walk away from.

So what do you have to do to get to this happy place?:

  • Understand and be able to articulate all your areas of added value. This enhances self respect and confidence and increases your expectations, because you now believe in yourself.
  • Salary research  –  be aware of your own market place and know your value in it. Calculate any shortfall. Facts talk!
  • Don’t take any discussions personally –  get into business neutral.  Negotiation is only a process, nothing else.
  • Build a business case
  • Look at fringe benefits as well as financial incentives. Benefits can eventually have a high monetary value and also play an important role in work/life balance issues. There is a caveat in the sense that  generally benefits do not count toward pensionable earnings if there is a  scheme.  Factor this in fully.
  • Evaluate any rejection neutrally  – the question should be not be ” do you want to stay in this job?” – but  “when would be a good time to leave? My employer doesn’t value me”.

If you discover that you are paid below the market rate , need to negotiate a salary to start a new job only to  find yourself struggling with that process you have 2 options only:  find yourself a career coach a.s.a.p.  or  find yourself another employer.

Boomerang Kids – The New Executive Stress

The main challenge is to find a balance between supporting and enabling

A number of executives have listed in recent coaching sessions one of the major sources of stress in their lives as the return to their previously wonderfully empty nest, of unemployed adult offspring.

In the vernacular Boomerang Kids.

This is not my area of expertise at all,  other than having a newly graduated son facing a desperate career market and either unemployment or unpaidemployment (aka internships). The reality is that the thought of any part of his life (or person) being centred on or close to my sofa, actually fills us both  equally with horror. But it might happen yet if his best efforts fail.

After multiple mentions in coaching sessions and friends talking endlessly about the same topic, it was clear that some  in-depth  research was required.

This is what I found.

The kids
In 2007, 55% of men and 48% of women aged 18-to-24, lived with their parents, and certainly those numbers have only grown since the recession hit. In the UK, the most recent labour market survey shows unemployment growing fastest in this age group with employment prospects for the class of 2009 the worst in over 25 years. In the US The Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders under age 27 has is at an all time high since 1983. In addition to a difficult job market, students are graduating with higher debt levels than ever before, with the cost of living outstripping entry-level starting salaries, which have been driven downward (happily for employers) by excess demand they are unable to make their rent money.

Not unsurprisingly kids are returning home to reduce costs. This is damaging to their self-confidence and threatening their budding sense of independence. Young people with high achieving parents are stressed by their inability to meet their parents even unstated expectations. They struggle with the notion that they may have to downgrade their own ambitions and take lower level jobs, as companies have their pick of top graduates from elite universities. In some cases depression kicks in. Factor in  that the kids of baby boomers have been sheltered from hard times and this is possibly the first serious recession which has impacted them. During the last one in the early 90s most of them were less than 10 so can’t be blamed.

My observation  from personal experience, is that they feel anxious, overwhelmed and vulnerable about their long-term abilities to support themselves in the way they had hoped to  ( i.e. have been used to) and with some there is also a certain sense of righteous entitlement. They now exhibit all the usual symptoms of stress. I hear stories of web loafing, Laurent Brouat’s great phrase for sitting at the computer, doing nothing productive and busy-ness, my less great word for being busy when you’re  really not being productive at all; erratic schedules (late mornings and even later nights) TV marathons, erratic eating and so on.

The parents
So what is going on for Mum and Dad at this point, my beleaguered executives, as Junior heads home? Any one or all of a number of things.

For the most part this is one of the most stressful period of their lives. If they still have a job they are under severe pressure, or possibly at risk. Otherwise they are unemployed with everything that implies. Pension pots are reduced, their property has decreased in value. Costs are rising. Any plans to downsize and travel in retirement are looking like pipe dreams and the future has become a black hole of anxiety. They might even now have to defer retirement. When in more buoyant times they could have funded their returning child to some degree, that will now put a strain on the family budget. A young adult is now living, or even taking over, their home and creating tension which is percolating into their professional and even marital lives.

For the most part this is one of the most stressful period of the executive lives.

For senior executives used to managing teams and being in control, they now have a “team member” who somewhat inconsiderately is not responding at all, or if they are, it’s in a non business fashion.  My C level execs are contending with door slamming, feet on coffee tables, pouting and petulance without being able to call HR to fire the kid. Sensitive issues they would deal with correctly and constructively in the office escalate in the family environment. Two executives reported serious stand offs with their child as tensions rise. Tendencies to helicopter manage the young person’s job search efforts or activities intensify as does the stress.

Managing transition
The bottom line is that Gen Y and the Boomers are both in transition – but just not the ones they hoped for. Mum and Dad had planned to move effortlessly into their well deserved golden years and Junior was all set to blaze a glowing trail along the career path of choice. Instead, both generations are dealing with stress and anxiety not just about their present lives but their futures too. Result = massive tension and discord.

So is there a solution?
Of course – but the ideal way according to the experts if not always easy and centres on not reverting to the traditional roles  as the carer and cared for, which is what we tend to do in our role as parents. It actually does involve a more business style approach ,including negotiating and agreeing clearly defined ground rules and boundaries.  Pretty much like in the office – but easier said than done at  home for many. It obviously also varies between cultures – in some countries young adults traditionally stay at home longer. So the litmus test is presumably is it a problem?

The main factor according to Diane Viere  a specialist in setting boundaries for adult children, is to learn to make a distinction between “enabling”, doing something for young adults that they could do themselves and ” helping”  them,  i.e.-supporting them constructively on their road to independence. She also advises us parents to beware of the need to control – something we are used to doing in our professional lives.

 

How to do that?

Close the bank of Mum and Dad:  It may be tempting to bail your kid out financially and protect them with all the luxuries and security of the family home, but this will not help them in the long run. It fails to teach financial responsibility and as most actually want to be independent will end up damaging their self esteem. The best solution is to support them re-structuring their debts thus giving them life skills. It is inadvisable for parents to co-sign credit cards, leases or other loans. If your child misses payments, your credit rating could be damaged. Make a formal contract with them if you need to.

Don’t sacrifice your own financial future. Decide how much you want and can afford to help. Some parents provide more financial support than they can actually afford. One executive I deal with who was the guarantor on her young  adult’s rental agreement found that her son had defaulted on his payment for 6 months. It was Mum and Dad who scrambled around to find the cash, cutting into the pension fund to prevent legal action. Young adults have many years to build their financial security, while you may be only a few years away from your retirement date. Ironically, if you are not careful, you could end up depending on your children for help in your old age.

Home does not = hotel: Insist on responsibilities, which may include paying rent and/or payment in kind, such as taking on household chores. This can often be negotiated. One method is to ask the returning child what he or she believes would be reasonable rent. This is also the area, when not clearly laid out, that can result in the most misunderstandings, as adult children return to old habits of expecting to be taken care of.  If the returning adult is old enough to stay out late, drive a car ( possibly yours) and have adult relationships – they are old enough to take out the trash and cook dinner.

Home does not = hotel  – make sure you set out guidelines and boundaries

Set out guidelines: covering curfews (I am no stranger to the young adult clock and trust me,  it’s not like mine!) visitors (ditto – or like me you may find kids in your kitchen having breakfast at 3 in the afternoon ), smoking  (it is perfectly acceptable to have a house rule) vehicle usage. Another professional runs a tight ship in the office and was frustrated because her graduate sat in front of the TV all day and refused to do tasks that he considered demeaning (cutting the grass or washing the car). Mum however did this when she got in from a 10 hour day in the office.

Agree a schedule: one young grad I recently coached started his day at 0930 and  seriously,  was genuinely taken aback when I expressed surprise at what  looked very much to me like a lie-in. After coffee, his day kicked off at 1000. This is not the real world. They need to be up, dressed and good to go in job searching mode for 0900. Looking for a job is their job. It’s about self-discipline and structure. Not only  does it help with getting a job, but structure and action do reduce anxiety. This is  all hard to monitor if parents work, but a goal I urge entry-level coachees to strive for.

Encourage goal setting: encourage the grad to set him or herself realistic and achievable goals (remember all those SMART/SOLVE workshops you attended as a manager) . Recognise achievements without being indulgent. They are not in kindergarten. Getting out of bed and making coffee does not count!  Encourage physical exercise, volunteering,  plus social and professional networking.  Gen Y are light years ahead of us in technology, but are sometimes reluctant and inexperienced when it comes to physical actual networking.

Set a deadline: Kids should not be given an open-ended invitation to move back home. A deadline is important; it enables you and your child to measure the progress he/she is making towards becoming independent. If your boomerang kid has a job, perhaps the deadline could be based on a date: After X number of months, he or she will have saved enough to meet X, Y, and Z financial goals and then can move out. If your child is unemployed, perhaps the deadline is based on finding a job or paying off a certain percentage of debt.

Charge rent: Even a nominal amount is advised by the experts, so the young adult feels he or she is contributing something. It’s a good idea to write up a rental agreement and stick to the payments on a regular basis. Whether you do this on a scientific basis of a percentage of actual bills or on a felt fair basis is up to you, or simply operate a barter economy. Chores for cash.

If your Boomerang Kids are unemployed over a long period without success in their job search, then seeking professional support is a must. Most countries operate programmes for young people within the community. If they are graduates they may still may be eligible for support from their alma mater colleges.

With all these strategies firmly in place, the executives should then be able to get on with their own lives… right? .

Watch this space!

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

When should elevator speeches be grounded?

Create soundbites
Quite often I am asked to coach people through their elevator pitches and  actually even have a section in my own coaching programme entitled just that. But I’ve decided only  today to change it all. I’m not sure if I think it’s an outdated concept and perhaps in today’s climate calling it  “elevator phrases” might be better.

Crass is out
Elevator speeches are supposed to be the pitch you make  in a 60 second ride in an elevator. It’s all your USPs, CARS and all sorts of other acronyms rolled into a zingy speed presentation that is supposed to  nail that opportunity for  a further meeting, leading to a golden future.   But realistically how many opportunities do we get in every day life to have our 60 second moment of glory other than at a formal job interview,  a business presentation or convincing someone to lend us money? Today especially, there is less tolerance in these tougher times of a hard, crass sell.

In recent more egocentric times  it was OK to talk about yourself for a whole minute, whether in an elevator or anywhere else for that matter, so that sort of routine could  have worked.  I’m not sure how  well it would go down in the current economic climate.    I suspect that if someone started now  to spout about themselves in a crowded lift for 60 seconds straight,  they’re likely  to find  themselves wearing their pod-mate’s latte by the time they reach their floor.

I have a very good friend, a successful business man who always, no matter where he was, would introduce himself with a warm friendly smile, a firm handshake and his senior level job title and what he was currently working on. In business situations that was fine,  lines are drawn in the sand and everyone knows where everyone stands. But it did tend to bemuse French waiters, his wife’s book club and his kids’ friends. That only took 15 seconds – can you imagine what would have happened if he’d gone on for a whole minute?

Value is in
So what might work today when the mood favours subtlety and where we are now expected to give before  we sell? Yet the hurdle still remains that we still  only have one main chance to make a great first impression. So what we need now is a more flexible approach, something that conveys the key points without sounding like a self -absorbed, narcissistic bore: who you are, what have you done and can you do it for whoever you’re talking to and why should they give you their time  

What is the aim?
The aim of  any “elevator speech” is to get the person to engage with you. So think  long term. At some point you have to establish what your primary objective is from the conversation, but also to have in mind a secondary goal, (fallback position) if the first option doesn’t work out.   Sometimes you might only have a few seconds to figure that out at a chance encounter. What do you do when the person  you really want to connect with professionally,  is having her highlights done in the next hairdresser’s chair. True story!  As her head is pasted with chemicals does she care that I’m an international executive search specialist with 20 years experience –  well frankly no, she doesn’t.  Is she totally interested in my thoughts on soft beige or dark blonde and Kim Clijsters winning the US Open. Absolutely.

So the key ingredients are empathy and flexibility.

Empathy
So you  clearly will not say the same things to the CEO of a company standing next to you at your daughter’s soccer game as you would if he was at a networking event. Your USPs and CARS therefore need to be organic and in your DNA and to come out in different formats. I think they are actually best in dialogue form – and can be initiated by you asking questions – not delivering a pitch. It is always good to find out about the person you’re talking to by asking questions. People generally like to be asked about themselves and they like you more for being the one to ask .

Be strategic
You have to accept the fact that  rarely is anyone offered  a job or opportunity on the spot, so make your  primary goal, realistic and achievable. It might be to arrange a meeting, an interview,  another opportunity to develop some points or simply a networking contact. Sometimes you have to be strategic.

Set in place your  mental secondary goal, a  contingency plan if your primary goal is not successful. It might be to exchange business cards  with a suggestion for contact at some future date ( the hairdresser situation)  or to ask for a referral. It’s always good to come away with something from a networking situation – however small. Most importantly it should sound effortless, conversational and natural.

Be flexible
There are also times when it is important not to make your pitch – that sounds like pretty poor coaching but you have to weigh up  if making a pitch at the wrong time will have greater collateral damage than not making it all.  This is not to be confused with chickening out through nerves!   Recently I  ran into my local deli  on the way back from  a gym session. No details required. You can imagine  how I looked.    Covert ops like this   are always a high risk activity, but a vital ingredient was needed for dinner. Who did I see perusing the gourmet gateaux , but someone I had wanted to set up a meeting with for a long time visiting his sister, my neighbour.  I promptly ducked behind the asparagus tips and fresh red berries. That was  strictly strategic, not chicken. I did refer to it in a later email and got my meeting.

So how  do you know what to do?

  •  Understand well your own success stories and  learn how to articulate them succinctly.
  • Choose your vocabulary wisely, using every day language. Saying you are a ” seasoned executive” is fine on a CV, in person people will think BBQ not Boardroom
  • Break it down into short stand alone concepts that can be introduced freely and casually
  • Make your pitch memorable  positive and sincere. It should reflect you.
  • Practise  – mirror, pets, partners, kids – doesn’t matter. Anything that won’t  laugh.
  • Think of it as part of a dialogue, so create a list of  Socratic questions that will  prompt your listener to ask you questions in return to keep the conversation going. This is not just about you!
  • Listen attentively ( para-phrasing) . You can drip feed your USPs drop by drop!
  • Elevator speeches must be flexible.  Don’t get into auto-pilot mode regardless of the circumstances.
  • Don’t let your speech sound robotically rehearsed.
  • Maintain eye contact with your listener. If their eyes glaze over you’re doing a bad job.
  • Smile.  Try to be warm, friendly, confident, and enthusiastic.Take it slowly.
  • Don’t ramble. Rambling is boring!
  • Avoid industry jargon, or acronyms that your listener may not understand unless you are in a professional setting.
  • End with an action request, such as asking for a business card,  interview appointment or possibility to call.
  • Update your speech ideas as your situation changes.
  • Practise your telephone technique by leaving a message on your own answer machine. How do you sound?  Awful?  Then you probably  are!  Try again!

I am not saying bin your power elevator speech all together, what I am suggesting is break it down into component parts that can be interchangeable  and learn to use each of them flexibly,  with discretion.

Sometimes  six, ten second comments will get it done too. Short can definitely be sweet!

Some recruitment myths debunked

In 2009 this post became the first in a trilogy dealing with the recruitment processes and experiences taken from all parts of the spectrum. In 2013 the  story is unchanged.

 Read the sequels:  Job Search: The Blame Game and  Executive Search and Recruitment: Who to Trust   

Today, not only are there fewer job opportunities, but many individuals come away feeling disillusioned, depressed, inadequate and somehow short-changed after their dealings with recruiters. A recent survey conducted by FPC Workplace Web Poll Data between March and July 2009, indicates that having no response at all to resume submissions is actually the greatest challenge to job seeking in this economy ( cited by 42% of the poll) .

In the last months I have talked to many job seekers who complain about poor experiences with recruitment and search companies, and a number have asked for support to explain how to negotiate what at times can actually be a more disheartening process than being out of work.

 At the root of all of these issues seems to be mismatched expectations by potential candidates of the people, the process and the organisations involved in job search. It might be helpful to map out what you can realistically expect from any recruitment or search organisation. What can you do differently to avoid disappointment?

The recruiting process in a business context

  •   Talent Management / Human Capital / HR, whatever you want to call it, can be very much the poor relation in many organisations ( why is a whole other topic). Sometimes the function is not even represented at executive board level. This can weaken the strategic voice within a company.· During the downturn, as a service function, HR professionals have seen their teams cut and many are simply overworked, under supported and beleaguered. They are caught between demanding executive committees and angry, confused employees. You may have read about demonstrations and actions taken against HR professionals as the “company voice” in many parts of the world, which is even called “ Boss Snapping” in France.
  •  Any pressure HR professionals are under to reduce their hiring costs, are then passed onto search and recruitment organisations. Sometimes companies will give the same assignment to multiple recruitment companies who will compete against each other to place candidates. The unsuccessful organisations will have invested resources in good faith in this process and will not receive a fee.
  •  At the same time recruiting companies themselves have been hit by the downturn and have laid off large numbers of staff , so many are also operating on reduced budgets and manpower. Some work on contingency (no placement = no fee) and it is not economically viable to invest time in candidates that are not on target. Additionally they are dealing with huge numbers of unsolicited CVs during this recession with lower staffing levels.
  • W hen there is a drive to reduce costs in whatever sector you are in – this can impact the quality of the final product and service.

Anders Borg, President of Hansar International and current global Chairman of the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants) comments: ” A retained executive search firm is in the Leadership consulting business and helps client corporations achieve their strategic goals. Talent acquisition is one of the activities, the goal of which is to give the client company an optimal return on investment. The global spend on recruitment is currently down by a considerable number, even in the retained executive search talent base. With an overall drop between 30-50% , hundreds of consultants are now leaving the profession”.

Who do recruiters work for? Not you!
This is the first job search myth that needs to be dispelled. The recruiter works for the hiring company not you. Hoisting that one simple fact on board will help enormously in managing your expectations of the outcome of any contact.

There are a number of ways career opportunities come to the market but whether the company is a retained executive search company or a recruitment company working on contingency, in all cases the client is the hiring organisation – not you.

How do I find a high calibre recruiter?
There are large numbers of highly qualified, skilled and committed search professionals throughout the world. But clearly, as in any profession there are cowboys and there will always be degrees of excellence, or lack of it with the people you encounter.

The AESC is the professional body overseeing executive search and recruitment organisations and their members adhere to a globally agreed code of professional ethics and conduct. It is best to select organisations that are members of this body, or other similar local or regional groups. Nevertheless still a word of caution from Anders: “Beware though that it is not the firm’s brand name that is the key attraction. It is still the individual consultant that counts”.

In many countries there are no professional barriers to entry which allows anyone with limited or no relevant academic qualifications or even functional experience to set themselves up in this arena and claim to be a recruitment professional. If your consultant was selling real estate 3 months earlier – be cautious. It is perfectly OK to check them out as individuals before finally committing and to shop around until you find someone with the type of experience you are looking for. LinkedIn or the company web site would be a good place to start any verification process.

Anders advises ” As in all professions, some are excellent, a few are abysmal and the rest are somewhere in between. Try to seek out the excellent ones.”

Why won’t recruiters give me career advice?
While many recruitment consultants are also certified coaches (as I am) most are not. They are not your personal coach and their role is not to motivate you or help you map out your career path. Many will be helpful, but others may have little understanding that even throw away phrases can have a very negative impact on anxious job seekers. There is no ill will usually involved in this, they simply don’t know any better and have their own stresses to deal with.

Why do I get no response to my job applications?
The worst experience job seekers claim they have, is no response at all. Uploading your CV and it disappearing into the ether of cyber space and having no idea what, or if anything at all will happen to it is very disheartening. You should understand well that indeed nothing is happening to it. 97% of CVs are not identified by ATS systems.

Why do recruiters never follow through?
Many recruiters are working on contingency – sometimes multiple companies working on the same assignment competing against each other. If they don‘t place a candidate they don’t get paid. Consultants are working to targets and focus on candidates they can be sure of placing. Many will take the time to develop candidate contacts but others do not have time or resources for professional courtesies and admin, so their dealings can be transactional. It is up to you if you decide to work with such organisations – but at least you know now in advance that this is what is going on.

Generally it is better to have a few solid trusted contacts than sending out your resume to every search company on the internet. Focus your time energy on raising your general visibility and connectivity and making your job search strategic.

What can you do?
Don’t let your desire to spread your job search net as wide as possible cloud your judgement about which recruiter to use. Cherry pick. Job search strategies are just that – strategic !When you contact search or recruitment companies Anders suggests “Focus on transferable skills and spell out how they would be of value in different environments. Leadership qualities and change management experience are often the key factors in this context”.

  •  Research the company beforehand. Check if it is a member of the AESC or perhaps a similar regional or local professional body. Very often the names of practise heads are published on the web site. Assess the experience levels of the consultants who are usually listed.
  •   Check if there is an open assignment section and see if anything is appropriate to your skill set.
  • Sign up for alerts
  •  Upload your CV via their web site or by email using strong vocabulary, mirroring techniques (as appropriate) and keywords to make sure your CV comes to the top 3% that get past keyword recognition software. If your CV is regularly disappearing into the job search ether – you need to do something different and change your key words or personal branding presentation
  •  Understand that consultants are unlikely to contact you unless they have a specific opening. It’s a fine line to tread between being tenacious and a nuisance, requiring empathy and marketing skills when you contact these organisations.
  •  Absolutely do not pay any fees – If a recruiter asks for a fee just to receive your CV , they are not a recruiter. By definition, no recruiter should ever charge the candidate. If they have a search, the company pays. Just let that go. That process should not be confused with an outplacement or career coaching where a tangible service is provided and YOU become the client. Very often the company that has made you redundant will pay that fee and you should look into that too.

What to do when you find a recruitment or company to trust :

  •  Develop a relationship with the recruiter: People work with those that they like and trust.
  •  Be correct, courteous and efficient in all your dealings – remember first impressions count
  •  Add value : Source colleagues, friends or even competitors who might be suitable if you are not. Recruiters appreciate and will remember that courtesy.
  •  Develop a reputation as an industry or sector source or technical specialist. If you gain a reputation in this area then the chances are that the recruiter will come back to you.
     
    Coming next! Tips on :
    – Inside recruitment and search companies
    – how to handle recruiters and search professionals when they contact you
 
With Special thanks to Anders Borg: President Hansar International and Chairman of AESC http://www.hansar.com/