Book review: ‘Mind Flip’

As you may know I’m a feature writer for HR Zone, and doing this on a regular basis means that I don’t usually share a link to what I’ve written on here; instead, I have a link to a list of my articles on my ‘Publications’ page.

But, I’ve recently written a book a review for HR Zone which I think readers of The Avid Doer (like you!) would find interesting. The book is called Mind Flip, written by Zena Everett, and is a great resource for people looking to develop their professional persona, as well as for those who are looking for the next step in their career.

I’ve given the book 4.5/5 but I’ll let my review do the talking!

Check out the review here!

Clarifying your career’s direction through volunteering

I get frustrated with the tired advice of ‘what could you do for free?’, given to those who are seeking clarity on their career’s direction or specialism. With a lack of focus on money-making skills, and more attention on unrealistic daydreaming, this exercise can sometimes provide very few practical solutions.

Applying for a volunteering role takes this exercise a step or two further, and it’s interesting to see how this commitment can really help you be specific about the skills you want to offer.

Careers blog The Muse talks about how:

“[…]volunteering helps you find clarity about the things you love (or don’t) in your career[…] Long story short, the more experiences you give yourself, the better chance you have of learning about the type of work you love doing and the types of environments you excel in.”

This, to me, makes sense. When making your application to volunteer, you’re committing yourself to take on roles for free. You will be accountable to do those all…for free.

As such, you’ll put yourself forward for only the things you can do (your existing skills and experience), the things you will like to develop (a good understanding but having a desire to develop a skill) and within the environment you’re most comfortable (your preferred place of work).

So I’ve given this ago myself for my local CIPD branch – with absolute commitment – and was surprised to see the selected skills that made it through to the final cut in my pitch email.

Give it a go! Are you surprised by the skills that make it through to the final cut? Are there fewer/more than expected?

The neuroscience around change

“If someone is finding change hard, it’s not a sign of weakness, but their brain registering discomfort with something it is not designed to like” so says Hilary Scarlett in her article for HR Zone “The impact of organisational change on the brain.”

HR Zone is a good, trusty spot to read up on other HR professionals’ insights and advice (and I’m not just saying that because I write for them too!), and my latest fix is this beauty of an article. What hits me the most is that the concept of change on a neuroscience level, which is quite comprehensive, is explained so clearly and accurately, sans jargon.

Hilary says that while some parts of our brains have evolved, there are other parts that haven’t, and these are the areas triggered when there’s a change a-brewing at work. The brain actively seeks out threats that may or may not exist in order to convince yourself that change is dangerous, and it even impairs our memory. This is a scary time for the brain.

Focussing your efforts on explaining the change to employees at an early point, and on an ongoing basis, helps these thoughts become informed. Even if it’s bad news, Hilary says “To the brain, bad news is better than no news.”

If you’re starting to get an interest in neuroscience in the workplace, I think Hilary’s article is an excellent first port of call.

Professional development while unemployed

I’ve written a lot about what we as fellow avid doers can do to manage our careers and progress professionally, and while I’m a strong believer that with the right attitude anyone can manage their career with confidence, it struck me that there may be a group of people that feel as though this blog doesn’t apply to them – those who are currently out of work.

Now this post doesn’t go into the ins and outs of being in between jobs. The reasons for being out of work are specific to each individual.

Sometimes it’s voluntary, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s a happy experience, sometimes it’s not.

You may be on a career break or maternity leave; you might have been made redundant or left to pursue a career change; you might have decided to spend more time at home to look after your children or might not be well enough at the moment to be working.

So with the multiple reasons and viewpoints on unemployment, I couldn’t possibly begin to write about them.

What I can do though is remind you that if you are in between jobs at the moment, this blog is absolutely for you.

Granted there are a couple of posts that walk you through presentations or writing a business case that you may not be able to put into practice immediately but these are still soft skills that you can put in the bank if and when you return to work.

The majority of the posts can still benefit you. I want to dedicate this post specifically to those who are in between jobs at the moment to explain what you can do to manage your paused career.

Keeping up with the industry

If you are keen to get back to work whether in your current field or a new one, keeping up to date is absolutely essential.

Keeping your finger on the pulse and being kept in the loop with the industry keeps your interest fired which is at risk of dwindling if you’re out of work for too long. You’ll understand what the hot topic du jour is (which can change on a daily basis these days!) so that if you return to work you’re not out of touch either in the workplace or at the interview stage.

Community

Adjacent to the above point, surrounding yourself with the industry’s community while proactively maintaining your spot in it will help you combat the loneliness that comes with being out of work.

As social creatures we need to be surrounded by people, or in career terms, our ‘tribe’. Even us introverts need this (just in different quantities) so by maintaining a strong position within your career community and contributing to it via social media or networking events, you get to have this same social interaction as if you were at work.

As with being part of any ‘tribe’, doing this will also keep your perspective broadened as you hear people’s opinions and experiences on industry matters.

Volunteering

A step further from the previous point is keeping your skills and social interaction sharp by volunteering.

Now, when I heard ‘volunteering’, I used to immediately think of working in a charity shop which doesn’t really float my rubber duck. By no means am I saying this is a bad thing at all; I’m suggesting that many others out there may be thinking the same and feel as though that’s their only option.

It isn’t.

There may be many volunteering opportunities in your local area and the first port of call should be Do-It, the UK’s national volunteering database. You simply enter your postcode or town, the distance you’re willing to travel, and hey presto, you have a list of all your local volunteering opportunities.

I live out in the sticks and a 10-mile radius search for me brings up 238 results.

Don’t want to travel? No problem – select the ‘Do it from home’ option and you’ll usually find even more results.

Be sure that you don’t want to forego the opportunity for the social interaction volunteering provides though as this is something particularly important when you’re out of work. Missing out on socialising that you would normally find on a daily basis at work can lead to mental health issues like depression or low self-esteem.

The volunteering opportunities cover all sorts of skills, requirements and experience. For example, this can be from administration support to being on a board of directors.

There are other volunteering databases out there that focus specifically on the community and your local area, for example Volunteering Matters.

Volunteering is particularly great for those who lack certain experience, for example managing people, but have the correct aptitude for it; these opportunities may allow you to become a volunteer people manager (for a project, or wildlife excursion for example) and thus bring something new to your CV, skillset and future employer.

Being heard

If you enjoy writing, you may want to consider starting an industry-related blog, or if you’re a born entertainer, a vlog, or have a silky smooth radio voice, a podcaster, etc.

I’ve written about this before in my post on developing professional credibility – it’s such a boost to your professional development as you learn a lot about yourself and the industry.

You should have the intent of being heard as a profession contributor rather than looking for a money-maker.

Figuring out new and interesting content can be hard work but it’s also really rewarding. You’ll find yourself researching new topics to strengthen your content, learning heaps from the blogging/vlogging/podcasting/etc. community, as well as demonstrating to new employers your dedication to the profession and your career.

You can find LOADS of tips out there on YouTube and the like about starting any one of these up, but nowadays I’ve discovered that it’s important to remember 4 things:

  • You don’t need to be an expert – you’re perspective is uniquely your own
  • You don’t need fancy equipment – despite the shininess…
  • It’s incredibly easy to set up – technology today makes this ridiculously easy now
  • Procrastination is your enemy – just get it out there and stop faffing with the tiny details!

Courses

Enrolling in a course – whether it’s paid (local college course or distance learning), or free (check out MOOCs out there like FutureLearn) – is another way to keep your skills sharp, while also learning new ones.

If you haven’t already, check out my post on training courses here and here which explain this in more detail.

Re-assessing your career

Taking a breather from work from whatever circumstances gives you an opportunity to think with a clearer head.

In this new headspace you may want to consider a career change and decide which new direction you might want to take.

Transferring your existing skills into a new field is easier when you break the components down and clearly define any skill gaps that need filling.

Check out my 5-post series on discovering which career is right for you. Start with this one and then click ‘Next’ at the bottom of the post until you’ve worked your way through the 5 part series.

(Have you noticed this post has a lot of plugging for my own posts? Told you this blog was relevant to those out of work….#JustSaying)

Starting your own business or side hustle

Spending time out of work may be an opportunity for you to explore starting your own business. This could become a side hustle if you decide to return to work to fund the business until it’s providing enough income, or if you’re happy working on both within a portfolio career.

I realise I say this in such a blaze way – I understand it isn’t easy. I’ve made a go of it a couple of times and it can be demoralising when things don’t happen the way you want, whether that’s not enough money, not enough confidence or losing interest in doing something that sounds fun as a hobby but is torturous doing it all day every day.

I would recommend learning from people who have made a success of it and especially from those who made a number of failures beforehand. These can be found all over the internet and local bookshop.

How to take this forward

By this point hopefully you should be getting a clearer picture on how to keep your career wheels turning even when you’re out of work.

As an added bonus, these are all perfect examples of professional dedication and career management that you can demonstrate in interviews. There may come a point in the interview where you will have to respond to their questions on a job gap.

Usually, this can make people feel uncomfortable but by following the above suggestions, you’ll be able to give them the full itinerary of all the things you’ve been doing while in between jobs. They’ll see someone very self-aware, very busy and very determined.

I must add a huge disclaimer here though before you do anything: check with the appropriate people/officials that any of these activities do not contravene conditions set on your employer’s policies (if you’re on a type of leave) or those set within your receiving of benefits/jobseekers allowance. Please seek professional advice if you are in doubt of these conditions.

 

 

The most important question to ask in an interview

Ah, the interview. The one hour or so that compacts years of experience, future years of ambition, and only your best qualities on show while hiding your quirks that the interviewers just aren’t ready for yet. 

It’s a big ask for such a short amount of time. You have one shot for a first impression, one shot to make the right impression, and one chance to articulate your suitability in a concise way that covers all the good bits of your career and personality.

You can understand why some companies opt for the multiple setting interview: half hour phone interview, two hour group activity, one hour hypothetical case study/role play (who to chuck out of a hot air balloon is a fav’), and one hour face to face interview.

Although this draws out the painful experience of an interview, it at least provides more time for you to be able to demonstrate a number of soft- and people-skills while knowing you have another chance or two to really shine.

But what if you only have the traditional format of a one hour interview?

You have a lot to cover in such a short time; how do you know you can cover everything while also begin to understand what the panel think about you?

Before I get to the one question you need to ask at an interview (y’know, just for a bit of suspense), there are the usual pointers that you need to cover throughout the interview:

“I’ve nothing to wear!” – something that fits well and is comfortable but formal. Interviews are worrying enough as they are without having to worry about how your stomach looks in a particular shirt, for example.

Arrival – arrive waaaay too early. It’ll settle your nerves knowing you’ve arrived with ample time.

Intro – just go in for the hand shake, without hesitation; no awkward ‘right hand in, right hand out’ scenario, just be the one to make that decision of shaking hands.

The job spec – learn it inside out and make sure you can answer each of their requirements, even if you don’t meet them 100%. Tell them that and what you can already do to balance this. Keep a copy of this in front of you during the interview.

Your CV – bring this with you and highlight the good bits as prompts.

Your responses (STAR) – that is: what was the Situation you want to talk about that demonstrates your answer; the Tasks you identified to address it; the Action you took; and the Results that followed. Might be worth adding the potential negative consequences had you not reacted in the way you did.

Your questions – lots of questions about the company (using the information you already found out about them online as an opener to a question), about the team you’d be working with, and my favourite, what the interviewers like the most and least about working there.

And of course, THE BIG QUESTION

Capital letters for this one, it’s that important.

Everyone I have shared this question with have fed back to me how well it served them and their interview. And for every time I have used it myself, I have slept better that night.

I thought of this question following a job rejection about 5 or 6 years ago, a devastating blow at the time. The job sounded really interesting and could’ve been the first step to a promising career.

A couple of days after the interview, the interviewer rang me up and told me the bad news – I didn’t get it. She kindly met up with me to provide more detailed feedback:

Interviewer: “You did really, really well…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…you have really good experience…”

Me, to myself: Not helping

Interviewer: “…and your CV is really well put together…”

Me: “Thanks, I followed this awesome advice!

Interviewer: “…In the end, it was down to you and one other person…”

Me, to myself: REALLY not helping

Interviewer: “…and we decided to go with the other candidate.”

On a personal note – I would like each and every one of you to go out and spread the word so that one day, all interviewers can know that telling rejected candidates that “it was between you and someone else” is the least helpful piece of feedback. Just stop. It comes across as eeny-meanie-miney-mo-esque.

Anyhoo, when I asked the interviewer what made her decide the other person over me, she said that as it was so close she had to look at what one of us could do that the other couldn’t, and as the other candidate knew how to make and use Excel macros, they picked him.

“….but I can do macros”, I said, “you never asked me, nor was it listed in the job spec”.

She apologised profusely but admitted the deed was done, the offer letter was out and that was that.

And it was at that point I promised myself that I would ask the one Big Question at the end of each interview that I want to share with you:

“At this point of the interview, are there any concerns you might have that I can address now?”

It’s as simple as that, but it’s an effective question that provides you the opportunity to iron out any niggles they might have, that could potentially be the make-or-break decision maker.

Had I have asked that question, they would have asked “Yes, as a matter of fact, you haven’t mentioned if you can do macros – can you?”

Of course retrospectively I’m glad I never got the job as I wouldn’t have got to a position I’m in now.

I used the question in an interview a year or so afterwards, and there was indeed a niggle the interviewer had that they weren’t going to bring up but decided to, seeing as I had given them some sort of permission. Their concern, left unaddressed, was potentially a deal breaker, but from asking this question, I was able to put their mind at rest with some reassurance.

I got the job – perhaps not solely from asking that question but I thought about how different it may have turned out if I didn’t ask that question, and if it would have been a close call between me and one other person.

Side note: it was that very job that introduced me to the world of HR and literally changed my working life. There you have it folks, not just The Big Question, a life changing question!

I thoroughly recommend asking this simple question at the end of the interview. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking it, make a joke out of asking such ‘a cheeky question’.

Asking this will also help you sleep better at night following the interview. It really is a dreadful time between interview and hearing the outcome so although it won’t remove 100% of the worry, it will take the edge off of it.

If you’re looking for more tips on interviews, have a look at the great advice Clear Cut Selection provide on their blog. They also offer one-to-one interview mock and coaching sessions tailored to your needs. Not an affiliate, just pointing readers to awesome content.

Good luck with your interview(s) and don’t forget to ask this question!

 

 

Creating a CV with impact

A friend mine recently asked me to have a look at her CV for an amazing role she had seen, one that could offer them a huge opportunity and better job stability. Having seen hundreds of CVs in my working life, and being part of recruitment campaigns, I was more than happy to give her CV a once-over; changing things, adding things, getting rid of things, making suggestions.

I was thrilled to bits to hear that not only did she get invited to an interview (the biggest hurdle for any job search), she also got the job! I absolutely can’t take any credit for this in any way as she had all the qualities and skills needed for the role but the importance of portraying these skills in a way that has impact to those tediously looking at one CV after another inspired me to share with you how to re-format your CV to get recruiters’ attention.

Before I crack on, just a note on composing your CV in general: the best CVs are put together with a specific role in mind. This can either be your ideal role that you’re focussing all of your efforts on going for but haven’t seen yet and applying for no other type of roles other than this, or, even better, for a specific job in response to an advert you have seen. The extra hard work and effort will increase your odds and will be recognised by the recruiter.

If you’re going for the same sort of roles in specific niches like L&D, recruitment or HR advice, the changes you will have to make each time will be extremely minimal.

Job spec

Before embarking on CV feng shui, you need to have a look at the job spec on the advert. Really get to understand the sort of candidate they’re looking for by the way they compose the priority of skills – the crux of the role will be listed as the first lot of skills, any after that are still essential but just not the things they’re keeping a watchful eye out for.

Don’t forget, if you’re not 100% sure what they’re looking for, get in contact with them and find out. When you are sure what they want, begin to list the key skills, abilities and experience they’re looking for. If the spec is written well, you might find that this is just as useful instead of a hand written list.

Your key skills section

Now you know what they’re looking for, you can start creating a ‘key skills’ section. This is such an underused part of the CV but proves incredibly helpful for arousing intrigue.

Placed at the beginning of the CV, this section acts like a synopsis of you and your career. Like how readers look at the back of the book before going through the book, the key skills section of your CV gives the recruiters a taster of what’s to come, and why they should read on. You don’t need to worry too much about proving or demonstrating your skills as these will all be detailed in the specifics of your CV, like employment history.

For now, you can put together your key skills by ‘responding’ to the advert’s blueprint of the perfect candidate. For example, if they’re looking for someone who has experience in rolling out a new payroll platform, and you have that experience, brag about it as an item in the ‘key skills’ section. Don’t leave it until they get to the nitty-gritty of your employment history that might not even get looked at if you’ve already lost the recruiter’s interest.

And if they need someone to speak to all people at all levels, brag about how you are a strong communicator to all levels, appropriate to various audiences. Use each skill they’re looking for as a question that your skills can answer.

Putting together about eight to ten bullet points should be enough and must ALL be relevant to the job you are applying for. To halve the space this will take up, format this section as a double column.

Employment history

Like you did with your key skills, go back to your job spec and respond to it through the experience and skills you picked up with each employer. I would recommend putting these into bullet points which makes it easier to read, and start off with the doozies that will really carry the recruiter’s interest after such an intriguing ‘key skills’ section. Make it look as though this CV and your experience have led you up to this point that will not only meet the needs of the role, but demonstrate you can carry it so much further.

When listing your experience, the usual mechanics are the same:

  • Lots of strong verbs that resolve issues you expect to come across in the advertised role
  • Demonstrate these verbs by explaining the results you were responsible for, as well as the bad consequences that were avoided
  • Key metrics – ‘reduced queries by 40%’, ‘improved productivity by 50%’ etc.
  • Any new skills, development and ways of working you learned while being in the role that you can now bring to this role
  • One or two relevant key achievements per role that you’re personally proud of (…but really to make you look like the bee’s knees to the recruiter)

Qualifications

You might have guessed by now what I’m going to say next. Have a look at the job spec and see what qualifications they are looking for, and if you have these (or currently studying for them) put these at the top if it’s chronologically appropriate. If the key qualifications they’re looking for aren’t the most recent you have earned, you might want to have a small blurb at the beginning of this section about how you are ‘an X-qualified professional’, or the like, before listing all of your qualifications and relevant training.

If you haven’t already, have a look at the post I wrote on undergoing training for which work hasn’t paid. In it, I talk about how you can use seemingly irrelevant qualifications and training to your advantage by listing the skills you learned from it and suggest how these can be transferred over. Just be sensible about this and avoid any far-fetched crossovers just for the sake of including these.

In the same post, I also talk about how good it looks for recruiters who see candidates fund their own training. It shows dedication, initiative and forward-thinking, as well as taking the profession seriously. You have identified where you wanted to be and went ahead and made sure you got there by paying for your own training.

Just think of how omitting this fact is such a wasted opportunity – spell it out on your CV, even with ‘self-funded’ in brackets after the qualification. I paid for most of my professional qualifications and by heck will I brag about it on my CV!

References

Just to touch briefly on the last section of any CV, I wouldn’t worry about adding referees’ details on your CV, unless you need to fill up space. A usual ‘references available upon request’ would be enough, and odds are you will have to provide this information on a separate form again if you’re successful anyway.

What about interests and hobbies?

If you do relevant volunteer work, or do any industry-related extracurricular activities in your own time, this is what you should add in this section, but rename it as ‘Volunteering’ or ‘Additional work of relevance’. This again shows initiative and dedication to working hard in an industry you’re passionate about, and your CV is the perfect opportunity to be proud of these achievements.

I personally never see the relevance or the impact listing your hobbies can have on your CV. Not only do they take up space on your CV, they’re just not necessary. They’re nice to know about a candidate but you honestly can’t expect a recruiter to give you a shot if you lack all the important skills because you so happen to love needle craft too, can you?

More devastatingly, what if you struck all the right chords with the recruiter and you end on a really flat list of your love of ‘puppies, and kittens, and baking, and holidays with my friends’. What positive impact can this provide? What if the recruiter hates all of these things, is there a risk their unconscious bias might hold them back from inviting you to an interview? Personally, I don’t think hobbies and interests end on a professional note and should be kept out, and maybe used as an ice breaker in the interview.

Format

One last thing – save and send your CV in no other format than PDF. I can’t stress how much more of a professional impact this will have on the recruiters. In one of my previous roles, the recruiter had told me that my PDF CV immediately stood me out amongst the other applicants who had sent theirs as a Word document (as well as my general awesomeness, obv’).

Word documents can easily be edited, the formatting can easily be skewed if the recruiter has a different version, and it can potentially suggest that you like to put a lot of effort into a piece of work without doing the final flourish that finishes it off. Just on the safe side though, save a Word version too. Not only is this so that you can edit it later (and then save as a new PDF), but frustratingly some recruiting software doesn’t accept PDF documents.

How you put together the components in your CV, and how they’re laid out is up to you, only I thoroughly recommend using the ‘key skills’ section at the very beginning. I’ve included a very basic infographic at the end of this post as an example of a simple layout, and is quite similar to my own. No need to complicate the structure with graphics or clever design.

As mentioned, structuring your skills and experience in response to specific roles can seem tedious but it dramatically increases your chances for invites to interviews. Odds are the changes are very minimal if you know what sort of roles you’re going for.

Good luck with your job hunting!

 

CV format

Realign your efforts or your goals?

My recent posts were a 5-part series on reaching job satisfaction, one of which discussed the vital element of professional motivation. It touched on knowing what you want to be known for professionally, what you consider is the peak of your career. By getting a basic understanding of what motivates you professionally you have a better chance in lining your efforts and behaviours up with your career goals.

Have you all of a sudden become aware that what you set out to do to achieve your career goals is completely out of sync with what you’re doing now? Slowly but surely over time your efforts and actions have taken a natural life of their own and are set onto autopilot. Their trajectory is completely off course from your original plan and carrying on as you are means you’ll imminently miss the mark.

Before you beat yourself up about it, you might want to consider if your actions have gone off-piste for a reason, or in other words that they have organically steered you to a better path, one that you subconsciously decided is more in tune with what you want, rather than what you think you want.

How to decide if you need to realign your efforts or goals

You see, sometimes your subconscious provides its own nudges to guide you into what you should be doing, a bit like your ‘gut instinct’. It’s something that you can’t justify or even need to be aware of, it just knows what is best for you without actually articulating it to you. That would be too easy.

Therefore if you were to be all of a sudden startled at this suspected misalignment and try to readjust your efforts to get back on track to your original plan, you might be scuppering the subliminal message your mind has been trying to tell you all this time.

Deciding on whether you need to realign your efforts or your goals ties back to your true professional motivation, which may well have changed since you first considered it. You know more than you did before so it stands to reason that your motivation has evolved into something new, more complex, or more simple.

If what you’re doing now is taking you onto a different path, question yourself why this might be. Is there a hidden message your mind is trying to tell you, for example, leading you to a point that will give you more satisfaction and accomplishment or more in tune with how you are as a person? Or, are you avoiding the less that desirable but necessary steps to get to your goal and instead just directing yourself down the path of least resistance?

If you still want the goal you set out for but your actions are taking you on a different path, rather than try to change the things you’ve already done (note: impossible), are there ways of incorporating these into your realigned path? Are there new skills you’ve inadvertently picked up that can actually be really useful in your realignment? It’s still perfectly acceptable (not that you need acceptance!) to say no to both of these and decide to draw a line under what you’ve done and hop back onto your original path. Any concepts of quitting, flaking out and all that other negative rubbish should be immediately disregarded – it’s far better to get back on board to your original plan after acknowledging you’ve veered off course than to carry on the diversion to save face. If there’s no link to what you have done to your goals, these are the only two things you can do and the former gets you to where you want to be. So poo to the naysayers.

If you realised you want a different goal as a result of your recent actions, then changing your goal is a lot easier. This isn’t to say it’s the better option – it’s the option you should choose if you really want a new goal, not because it’s convenient and more easy than to get back on track to your original goal. The goal doesn’t necessarily need to be the consequence of your veered off actions but more times than not, the veerage is down to your mind realigning your behaviours for you.

Realigneffortsorgoalsinfog

Again, disregard the naysayers who think you hop from one goal to another. I touched on Emilie Wapnick’s widely recognised concept of Multipotenialism in my post about having too many interests – give this another read if you’re having doubts. Adjusting your end goal to meet your current needs and wants (or to anticipate future needs and wants) is your business and yours alone. Being self-aware enough to know when to change course is an underrated skill but sadly one that is misconceived by others at times.

So fret not that you have all of sudden become aware that you aren’t where you want to be, or thought you should be. Assess what actions you’ve taken and the behaviours you’ve shown and compare these to your original goal. Whether you decide to realign your goal to these actions, or realign your actions to your original goal, do what you think is right for you and try not to care how this will be perceived by others. At the end of the day, those around you who are satisfied with their careers will know that the path isn’t a straight line and requires changes of plan once in a while…

 

 

The job litmus paper test

In the first post of this 5 part series, I shared my thoughts on there not being a perfect career for everyone. So if there isn’t a perfect career out there for you, and therefore any job can be a step into a fulfilling career, how do you structure an approach that at least decreases the risks of falling into the wrong job, and increases the odds of finding a right one?

Although you don’t know which job or career will give you job satisfaction yet, you know that the end goal is job satisfaction itself; however the bridge that gets you there is still indistinguishable.

Job litmus paper test

Do you remember litmus paper tests back at school? That slip of paper the teacher dipped in random solutions to test its pH scale – if it turned pink, it was acidic; if it turned blue, is was alkaline. A job litmus paper test does the same sort of thing when it comes to testing out a potential job or career.

In essence the components that make the job litmus paper test are:

Coincidentally* I wrote about these 3 elements individually in the previous 3 posts. This concept is nothing new and I’m not claiming this to be the one best way. I am however suggesting that the job litmus paper test helps you decide your steps before you take them in an unconventional way compared to other advice out there.

You see, when you don’t know what you want to do but you want to build momentum towards job satisfaction, this job litmus paper test acts as a decision maker against unknown and indefinite variables increasing your chances to job satisfaction. It may not help in determining the right job for you but it will certain determine if a job is right for you.

Career Venn diagram

A sucker for a graph, I suggest using something like a Venn diagram, the idea being that a specific overlap of your unique formula, preferred working culture and professional motivation will bring to light a good career choice. There have been a number of theories that correlate to this concept but the issue I personally found with these is that they suggest the diagram is a sure way to pinpoint a career for you…

What happens if you aren’t aware of a specific career is in existence? If becoming a thermal fluid dynamicist is a perfect career for you, would you have been able to identify such an obscure and potentially unknown job from using the diagram?

Like a lot of people, my early working life consisted of being incredibly frustrated with the question ‘what career is for me!?’. It was only after I saw my current role advertised that I was able to compare it to my diagram; a combination here, and a combination there and lo and behold I saw a winning combo.

But, in my first post in this series, I poo-pooed the concept of the Venn diagram. What gives? Well, two things about the Venn diagram concept are:

  1. It only works in retrospect – it’s easy to fit specific skills, culture and goals (while conveniently disregarding the rest) into a fulfilling job;
  2. It only works when you stumble upon a job that meets the majority of the strongest elements within your diagram, and you can place these into the requirements of the role.

I could only see that my job was the manifestation of specific elements from my Venn diagram after I had seen the job description. I don’t think I could have easily concocted my job using the Venn diagram before I had seen it advertised.

Don’t get me wrong; when constructing your Venn diagram, you may well see a blatant career in front of you. By all means roll with it! That’s fantastic news! But this may be just one out of a few possible careers, some you’re not aware of or familiar with.

And this is why it helps those who haven’t any ideas on what they would like to do.

How to use the test

The biggest use of the job litmus test before finding a good career is that, although it might not highlight your choices, it will certainly narrow down your choices. For example if you want to work in a progressive field that allows some sort of movability across specialisms to do with numbers, all within a corporate environment, it would be safe to narrow your search towards banking, finance, accountancy or risk management, for example.

If you like to help people, to train and motivate them but in a relaxed environment and be seen as someone who independently chooses their career’s direction, you can narrow your choices to learning and development, freelance training (be it fitness, business, etc.), management consultancy or further education.

When you get to see a number of patterns of fields that take your fancy, you can then begin to make some enquiries. Begin to scope the fields you want to explore, to really get an understanding of what they entail. You can do this by:

  • Talking to people you know who are in similar fields
  • Reaching out to people you don’t know in similar fields via Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs
  • Researching job profiles through career websites like National Careers Service , Prospects, Target Jobs, Total Jobs, and My World of Work to name a few
  • Researching job profiles through good old fashioned books like The Book of Jobs, The A to Z of Careers and Jobs, Careers 2018 Directory and What Color is your Parachute. These aren’t affiliates, just hearty recommendations.
  • Watching video interviews of people who work in a number of sectors – a simple online search will bring up loads of these!
  • Contacting professional bodies and institutes that oversee their respective sectors to see what it entails and if they can get you in contact with their members
  • Searching courses related to potentially interesting sectors and understanding the module breakdown of topics
  • Contacting HR departments, specifically the recruitment teams, of companies that interest you or are related to potentially interesting roles. Making yourself known to these will also get you on their radar should any positions come up
  • Contacting recruitment agencies who can tell you more about specific roles and companies that pique your interest. Again, you’ll end up under their radar
  • Looking at job descriptions and what skills and attributes they are looking for
  • If you get the opportunity, job shadowing or taking up secondments to test out interesting jobs.

This step can and will seem tedious but it is worth the effort and time investment. When it becomes exciting and interesting, you know you’re onto something good.

Perseverance is key at this important stage and you might become obsessive if you don’t get any instant results. Just keep referring back to your diagram and make sure your efforts are in line with what you want.

When you do become more confident in the direction you want to go or specialising in a particular sector or way of working, begin your job search. The whole point of this concept though is always look back on your litmus paper test, really check to see if the job or career you’re looking at fits with your formula, preferred culture and professional motivation.

It is likely that although you might not be instantly ready to take up a perfect job or career when you see it, it will be the spark of inspiration you need to start developing the required skills and attributes, and if necessary the relevant qualifications. This process itself will eventually make your search more focussed on elements that haven’t been eliminated from previous litmus tests and you may end up, by process of elimination, getting a Eureka! moment on which sector you would fit well into.

Do keep in mind throughout the process that if you have an idea of what you want to do, and you know you’ll be really good at it, explore the option of a side-hustle or setting up your own business. They’re topics worthy enough of posts of their own, which I will be writing soon, but in the meantime spend some time on looking into the really interesting world of entrepreneurship.

I sincerely hope that the idea (and it is only that) of testing interesting roles, careers and sectors against your job litmus paper test has inspired you to realise there is another way of getting closer to finding job satisfaction. I also hope it has quashed any deflation after another idea that there isn’t a perfect career for everyone, but instead a spectrum of possibilities based on varying combinations of your Venn diagram.

This is the last of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. If you missed the first four, you can find them here: A secret about finding your perfect career; Too many interests to choose a career; 6 signs of toxic and healthy work cultures; and Professional motivation.

 

* Not coincidentally

 

Professional motivation

To determine your end goal when you don’t know what career or job to go for, you need to think about the sort of life you want at your career peak, or when you consider you’ve achieved what you have wanted with your career. The beauty of this exercise is that this can be done regardless of the sector, so you not knowing what sector you want to work in doesn’t need to play a part in this. Instead, you can assess what is your professional motivation.

This peak need not be retirement, nor the point at which you haven’t anything further to add. It is your own version of having really made it.

In the previous two posts, I talked about finding your own unique formula and how to spot the signs of a toxic and healthy work culture so that you can begin to understand the skills and experience you want to utilise and the working environment in which to use these. In my opinion, the third and final element of reaching job satisfaction is knowing your professional motivation.

What is professional motivation?

Professional motivation is the success you want to achieve in your career – no one can tell you what it is or what it should be, as it’s personal to you.

To one person, it might be having their own office (regardless of status, so either CEO or running a business from home for example).

To another it might be to do the best they can at work without jeopardising family life.

To another, it might be to be seen as thought leader.

To another it might be earning a substantial amount of money so he or she can retire early or work less hours.

To another it might be to get the right balance between work and home life by working flexible or part-time hours so they can regularly sing at weddings.

To another it might be to work across a number of interesting sectors over time, not specialising in anything in particular but satisfying his or her multiple interests.

It’s personal to you, it’s what you want out of your career, not what is ‘expected’ of you. Multiple promotions to more senior positions isn’t a success for a hobbyist boat modeller if he or she doesn’t have the time to make model boats if their career zaps all their time and money. As I mentioned in a post about the importance of having multiple interests, indulging in hobbies, the things you find enjoyable regardless of profit/loss, I believe plays a big part in professional motivation. These skills and extracurricular activities all contribute to your specific set of skills that you can bring to your whole life, including your career.

A very good book ‘Understanding Emotional Intelligence’ by Neilson Kite and Frances Kay defines motivation eloquently:

Motivation can be defined as an internal condition that triggers behaviour and gives it direction. It energises and directs goal-oriented behaviour.

This can be applied to all manners of motivation, whether it’s quitting a bad habit, starting to write a book, or working towards job satisfaction. Knowing what motivates you will help you align your actions and behaviours to what you really want.

How to find your professional motivation

Understanding other people’s successes will give you a first-hand perspective of what success feels like to them. This doesn’t mean you will feel the same, but learning what it took to get them where they are, the hurdles they had to jump, the very significant (but not at the time) small wins throughout their career, should begin to inspire you. I delve more into this in my next post, but for now, it’s important to ask yourself the right sort of questions to find out what stokes your fires, how do you want to be remembered, and what will make you satisfied with your career come the time you retire.

The questions below should begin to get the cogs moving:

  • Do you want to have helped people?
  • Do you want to have inspired people?
  • Do you want to be a thought leader? If so, why?
  • Do you want to be an expert in your industry?
  • Do you want to have made a big professional and/or interpersonal impact in every place you worked?
  • Do want to have membership to a professional body? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have improved how people work?
  • Do you want to have improved how the organisations you worked for carry out their work?
  • Do you want to have contributed your thoughts, opinions and skills to projects, or be part of the team that implemented the projects?
  • Do you want to have managed people? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have led or be given direction and serve?
  • Do you want to have included your work in your personal life for example enjoy activities outside of work that relates to your industry, or do you want to have a strict separation?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on your home life?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on your career’s sector? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on flexibility in terms of work pattern or types of organisations? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on your extracurricular activities and hobbies? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on the social aspect with your career, be it with customers and/or colleagues? If so, why?
  • Do you want to earn a lot of money? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have autonomy or work under clear instructions? Why?
  • Is status really important to you? If so, why? If not, why?

Make sure to really pay attention to this exercise and think hard yet instinctively to the questions, and any follow up questions you might ask yourself. The exercise only works if you answer truthfully, not in a way that you think you should answer, or if your answers are driven by your ego.

Do you break out into a cold sweat at the thought of responsibility but think you should be pushing yourself? That’s completely fine, responsibility isn’t your thang. Are you really motivated by making tonnes of money, even though you consider it greedy? Who cares, you’d like to financially secure while having the finer things in life.

There are no right or wrong answers…..well, the only wrong answer would be one that is based on something you think you ought to answer, not how you really want to answer.

Be sure to also do this exercise when you’re in a good mood and not thinking too negatively about work; negativity will skew your perception and a lot of the answers might end up being somewhere along the lines of ‘I don’t care as long as I get out of that hell hole!’.

Take your time and really dig deep into the depths of your true motivation. Having as much clarity on this, alongside your unique formula and preferred work culture, will give you everything you need to help direct you to job satisfaction.

And I will reveal how to go about this in my next post #Cliffhanger

This is the fourth of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I’ll be talking about how to use the three elements (interests, culture, and motivation) in an unconventional way to reaching job satisfaction.

 

Too many interests to choose a career?

Have you ever found it hard to choose a career because you just have so many interests? Or you’re frightened that you’ve gone from obsessive hobby to the next, you’re hesitant to commit to a single interest in case next month you would have moved onto something else? Have people often commented that you have an eclectic set of skills and ‘there’s no end to your talents’?

This can be frustrating for the fellow avid doer. We have the energy to devote our efforts into something that will build a flourishing career, but with so many interests, most seemingly completely unrelated, choosing one proves difficult. Moreover, the fear of choosing the wrong one is just as bad.

I spoke about how there is no perfect career for everyone in my last post so it’s important to remember that there is no right way about finding job satisfaction, or in other words, there will never be a perfect solution as it doesn’t exist so therefore mustn’t be ventured for.

So this should give you more room to play with your multiple interests, the number of potential jobs out there that will satisfy you.

Multipotentialites

What better way to begin than to explore the concept of Multipotentialites. For those who aren’t familiar, this is a term and way of thinking developed by Emilie Wapnick who founded the website Puttylike. The ‘Start here’ page, for obvious reasons, is a really good starting point for people with many interests to explore.

Multipotentialites, Emilie explains, are people with multiple interests and creative pursuits. They have no chosen career but instead like to explore as many of their interests as they please. They are also known to learn a new skill or interest, become obsessive about it (it literally takes over their life) and then some time later (a week, a month, a year…) the interest is no longer interesting and they move onto a new creative pursuit.

Now without knowing this concept and the basis that this sort of behaviour is OK, a lot of closeted Multipotentialites will be beating themselves up for flitting from one interest to the next, frustrating not just themselves, but family and friends around them who can’t keep up.

Knowing this inspiring concept has made my transitions from one interest to the next incredibly natural and guilt-free, so I thoroughly recommend hopping over to the website…after you’ve carried on reading this of course.

Indulging in multiple interests

There seems to be an apprehension for indulging your multiple interests especially when you’re determined to focus on your career, but by denying yourself to do this, and explore even more potential interests, you’re not honing the particular set of skills that are wholly unique to you.

Only you have the specific level of competence in a specific combination or related and unrelated skills and hobbies.

Your personal formula

I believe your personal set of skills and competence, or your personal ‘formula’, is the very thing that separates you from the rest when it comes to choosing, perfecting and advancing your career. I talk a lot about transferable skills, so it won’t come as a surprise to you if I said that transferable skills from each of your interests could have a place in devising the career that is uniquely you, plays to your strengths, your weaknesses, your interests, your motivation, your reason to get up in the morning…all of these things that help people love their jobs and in turn progress professionally. This unique formula is one element that creates job satisfaction.

To put it into context, Bob (fictitious) dawdles between a number of jobs that tickles his multiple interests that are seemingly unrelated. He had a try at accountancy, music engineering, law, decoupage, and internal communications. Some might think that Bob is fickle and that he just goes from one job to the next that caters to his multiple interests but doesn’t really help him build a solid foundation on which a fulfilling and progressive career can be built upon.

Sure, Bob is a bit lost and can’t seem to get an ‘A-ha!’ moment where he’s truly found job satisfaction.

But the thing about Bob is, he’s been creating his personal formula. It might be a hodgepodge of skills but come the time he knows what he wants in life, what he wants out of a career, and how to indulge in all of his interests, he has a unique formula that could give him a competitive edge at an interview.

Bob’s formula has profiled him as:

  • Accurate with numbers
  • Attention to detail
  • Creative and capable of thinking outside the box
  • Highly computer literate
  • Intelligent
  • Willing to learn new skills
  • A strong communicator
  • A strong collaborator
  • Eager
  • Not afraid to go for what he wants

Hopefully Bob will figure out what he wants to do with his career, and when he does, he can add qualifications to the formula he has already developed. There might come a time when his certain elements from his formula combine to make him a super-suitable candidate for the job that has seemingly been made for him.

Having multiple interests does not mean you have to pick your favourite and run with it, neglecting the others.

On the contrary, if you have a blatant favourite and you really want to take that off, then that is absolutely fine, but keep a finger on your other interests, even at pastime or hobby level. This helps keep your formula up to speed and keeps it unique. It also means you get more satisfaction out of life in general.

By doing something you enjoy in your spare time, it helps you separate work from home life, the mental or physical muscles you use at work and the ones you use at home. ‘Variety is the spice of life’ they say.

This reflects the danger of falling into the misconception that making money out of each and every interest leads to job satisfaction, or ‘following your bliss’. It’s important to remember that if you happen to enjoy doing something for free, there is no automatic assumption you’ll enjoy doing it for money. For example, as a foodie, I absolutely love to cook, but I couldn’t do it as a job. It’s something I do to unwind from work, an enjoyable hobby that doesn’t have any professional pressure.

I took this same approach when I realised I wanted to start a blog about career development. I’m an HR professional and love all things HR. I could’ve easily started an HR blog but I chose specifically career development because, as well as wanting to help people like me progress professionally, it’s also something I’m really interested in.

So while I develop my skills as an HR professional at work and through CPD (continuous professional development) I get to develop my skills as a blogger and sort of career coach-y person (is that what I am?), on top of the other interests I have. I’ve since gone on to find many elements of HR and career management overlap and one feeds into the other. Even if they didn’t overlap, indulging in my multiple facets that make me me, means I’m forever strengthening my unique formula.

But is there a way of making money from a number of your interests?

Portfolio career

Portfolio careers are essentially working a number of part-time roles, usually 2 or 3 at a time. Not only can this way of working mean you will never have a monotonous week, or ever have to choose one career aspiration to follow, it’s also considered to be a safer way of working in terms of job security. You lose a job? That’s fine, you have two others to fall back on.

Portfolio careers are a better way of networking than if you remained in one job, especially if each of the jobs were in different fields. Just think of what this social asset does to your personal formula!

It does have its pitfalls though, for example making sure schedules are synchronised and switching from one working culture to another all the time can be confusing, but it is an option to consider, a popular one at that.

So please do not worry if you have so many interests that they’re confusing you to the point of frustrated inertia. It’s such a good thing having so many interests and experiences, and it’s a case of deciding how to use these to build a career, and life in general, in the way that suits you.

This is the second of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about how working cultures can help you in your quest, and the signs to look out for.