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!

No dramas – Resilience at work

There’s a lot of stuff out there on building resilience which suggests it’s an arduous step-by-step process of laying down the foundations before you can even begin to feel the benefits.

I much prefer the concept and practice of maintaining resilience. What is a simple language shift means that my perspective has shifted to my existing resilience and I just need to take the reins and follow it through.

I’ve read an excellent piece by Barry Winbolt – trainer, coach and psychotherapist – on resilience in the workplace, explaining that this is an active, not passive process. This means it requires ongoing effort and conscious decisions.

The article includes an eloquent quote from Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba’s book Resilience at work: How to succeed no matter what life throws at you (American Management Association, 2005) about the attitudes that come with resilience:

“Simply put, these attitudes are commitment, control, and challenge. As times get tough, if you hold these attitudes, you’ll believe that it is best to stay involved with the people and events around you (commitment) rather than to pull out, to keep trying to influence the outcomes in which you are involved (control) rather than to give up, and to try to discover how you can grow through the stress (challenge) rather than to bemoan your fate.”

What challenges are you avoiding or struggling with? Identify these challenges and, as Winbolt says, “develop the habit of using challenges as opportunities to acquire or master skills”.

The Avid Doer Revamp

I have often written about how important it is to assess your progress towards a professional goal in order to make sure you’re on track, or ascertain if the goal has developed into something new.

I’ve also written about how beneficial extracurricular activities can help you develop professionally, and how these help you learn in an environment outside of work, as well as proving your dedication to the field.

I’ve been assessing where I’m at with The Avid Doer for quite a while now, and how it’s helping me reach my professional goals. Doing this in my free time as an extracurricular activity means that time spent on it has to be the most efficient.

As such I’m excited to let you that the site is going to have a revamp.

The look, the content, the layout – all updated and refreshed.

I’m chuffed to bits with how far this has come and how it’s built a strong worldwide readership.

I just need to tweak the core message slightly in order to help those who visit the site, as well as help me learn and develop as an HR/L&D professional.

When the curtains have been lifted to reveal the revamp, I’ll tell you more about what its new aims are but rest assured it will still focus on skills, learning, development and career management.

Time wise, I’m not too sure how long it will take but there will be a slight pause for a bit with my weekly articles, just so I can get it right.

I’ll still be over on LinkedIn and Twitter in the meantime so hop on over there if you want to say hi.

Stay tuned and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

 

Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

Agile concepts for avid doers

Agile. It’s a term that’s being used quite a lot recently as industries, other than software programming from where it began, are beginning to adopt its methodologies. 

For those who are quite new to the concept, Agile is a methodology that was first created formally in software programming in the early noughties. From my passive understanding of it, it’s essentially an incremental delivery of a product that evolves as a living thing that can be adapted, revised and improved on, so to be produced on time and on budget.

Rather than wait for the T’s to be crossed and the I’s to be dotted, getting something workable out there on time and on budget means that work can continue on a manifested product and much more collaboratively.

This has many benefits, too many to go into, but I wanted to focus in on my particular favourites:

  1. There is a product produced on time. As someone incredibly impatient and more of a big thinker rather than a detail-delver, I like to just get things out there. No dillying. No dallying. No faffing with minute details that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t worth delaying a project for. Where things are produced that aren’t polished, the end users are of course made aware of this. Which leads me to my next favourite benefit…
  2. When the product isn’t polished, there’s room for improvement and collaboration. An idea looks great on paper but when it comes to life, you spot new flaws and gaps that couldn’t have otherwise been picked up. So if the end result was delayed drastically for the irrelevant finishing touches, it becomes absolutely superfluous if it’s not fit for purpose or the end user notices something that needs sorting. Having it out there means it is a live demonstration, one that can be adapted, amended and revised. It also means it can evolve in its natural habitat, ensuring it’s fit for purpose. The time spent on dallying can instead be spent on improving.

This can be seen as a sort of beta test, trying out an unfinished product to identify flaws and receive feedback.

The agile concept was formalised in the early noughties, as I’ve mentioned, but I’ve found a reference to the particular elements listed above many years before this.

In the book “Training needs analysis and evaluation” by Frances and Roland Bee (1994, Institute of Personnel and Development), there is a delightful analogy that demonstrates an agile approach to addressing an issue. This isn’t word for word but goes a little something like this:

The Town Planner

A town planner was given the task to place a park in the middle of the town that had a pathway and flowers. Previous designs involved paths being in pretty symmetrical patterns or where the skilled planners felt most appropriate. The problem with previous attempts though was that pesky walkers would ignore these carefully thought out paths and walk over the grass and flowers, creating their own shortcuts.

This town planner felt a bit rebellious though and tried a different approach. They placed the park in the centre of the town, as agreed, and then opened the park to the public. No flowers and no paths. 

With a bit of scepticism, they were left to it and after a couple of months the town planner returned to their park.

They discovered the walkers and town folk had worn down their own paths that they felt were the best way to get from A to B.

The town planner then proceeded to put down paths based on the town folk’s worn down paths.

This is a great example of getting something out there and seeing how it goes when producing something is far more important if not more beneficial than having it polished first.

It’s not a cop out; it needs to be sensible and able to improve itself by being ‘alive’ and out there. Off of paper and into the real world in order to learn the practicalities from living its purpose and evolve.

So what does this mean for you in the workplace?

I anticipate more organisations jumping onto the Agile bandwagon; it’s practical, it keeps momentum, and it contributes to delivering results.

If you were to start practising this methodology in the work that you do, you should be able to demonstrate the benefits it has to your team and your organisation if they haven’t already adopted it.

Figuring out when to apply the approach though is something you will need to assess per project or task. Weigh the positive and negative impact on producing what can be seen as a half-finished product on time, with producing a finished product out of time.

Sometimes it’s necessary to polish things off before producing it and the extra time that needs to be negotiated will make sense and be more beneficial.

However, make sure this isn’t an anti-Agile mindset. For those who like to take a disproportionately long time faffing with small details won’t like this new approach so you will need to pick the right tasks to demonstrate the benefits of Agile.

Start with baby steps and with products with minimal impact that are ‘semi completed’. It may be a new concept for you too so make sure you get comfortable with it and record the positive impact and benefits it has before spreading it wider.

Career management

You can also apply this mindset to your career planning and management. You might not necessarily know the specifics of your end goal (ideal career choice, the niche for your own business, progressing your career, leaving a job) but you can begin to take steps in the right direction.

A squeaky polished career plan can be edited, revamped or even completely trashed as you progress through it, and decide to change your end goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before. This is usually as a result of having taken those first baby steps into the plan, bringing it to life from just a sensible-sounding idea on paper.

Yes, you might change direction, but the skills and the things you have learnt during those initial stages not only set you up to the correct path (even as a process of elimination!) but they’re also transferrable to the correct path.

It’s essential to begin this evolution process. This can only begin with a half-finished product that has room to grow and developments without the restrictions of a polished final product.

Whether this is a project at work that seems to be stuck or your career plans that are putting your actions on hold, begin with the first few steps and see how they evolve to the final product.

 

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.

 

 

Persevere with perseverance

We avid doers aren’t afraid of doing things to get things done. We know what we want and we know what to do to get it. We roll up our sleeves and through grit and determination (and sometimes a bit of stubbornness) we do what is necessary to achieve our goals.

Nothing breaks our spirit…well, assuming it happens in the time we anticipate.

In our quest for managing our careers and developing our professional skills, the excitement of achieving our goals can sometimes be hampered by not managing our expectations. If the results aren’t as expected (whether it’s outcome, or time, or focus etc.) we lose perseverance, we have a change of heart and question whether to carry on or not.

Or is it just me?

Personal reflection

I am notoriously impatient; always have been, always will be. It has its advantages but in terms of perseverance, my impatience somethings gets the better of me and makes me question my efforts in relation to my goals.

The other weekend I had a good sort out of my, what-I-call ‘Cupboard of Broken Dreams’, a shame-filled pit of ex-passions and dropped-hobbies.

My painting easel. My photography equipment. My massage table. My Reiki books. My keyboard piano.

All the things that I once loved but struggled to conjure up enough perseverance to keep them going.

Don’t get me wrong; from each of these I have developed a number of useful transferable skills to my career.

There are a few I’m particularly proud of – my painting took me to exhibit in London’s Mall Galleries (and coming runner up), write and publish a book, and be the subject matter of someone’s GCSE project.

There are a few I still take up every now and then – I still enjoy playing the odd tune on the piano, and my friends and I still reap the benefits of a Reiki blast every now and then.

I also enjoy taking photos, and for those who follow my personal account on Instagram will see I love taking photos of homemade dishes and the countryside here in the Peak District.

Have you noticed my photographs in the last couple of posts as their featured image (the image that is displayed when it is shared on Twitter or LinkedIn)?

This was following a re-evaluation of The Avid Doer blog. The visitor count to this is good (and global!) but after nine months of it being up and running, I really want the audience to be wider, to help as many fellow go-get’em professionals as possible.

After doing some research it turns out that people like to share posts on social media that have a nice accompanying image – my posts came with generic and boring imagery that quite frankly wouldn’t encourage anyone to share at all.

So having a rethink, I’ve now combined my enjoyment of taking photos with my passion for professional development by using my photos as the featured image for each Avid Doer post.

Perseverance

This got me thinking about the importance of perseverance. Once you have a career end goal (or goals) in mind, and the right amount of professional motivation, you also need that perseverance.

Persevering with something is the difference between instant relief (letting go of something you’re struggling with, like job hunting) and knowing that you will one day be thankful for not giving up (like finding the perfect job following struggle).

Time is a constant. You can’t control it. It will happen whether or not you’re paying attention.

When you lack perseverance for achieving a professional goal, time doesn’t pause to let you try a different way. You don’t want to persevere because you feel you aren’t getting the results you have anticipated and planned for. So you give up.

But when you give up, time still carries on. That same time that you felt wasn’t going to come by when you wanted that instant assurance.

To give you example, perhaps you want to learn a specific skill like project management. You want to be seen as competent project manager and have a skill that will be higher in demand the more organisations continue to adopt the project management approach in conducting business.

Only the topic is quite tedious. There are three levels you need to complete before you even have a chance to be a full member of one of the project management bodies, APM. You can even self-study, which is still a lot of work and a lot of time.

Possibly in about 12 to 18 months of hard work and knowledge retention, you might achieve it. You start but slow down half way through because it’s just not going at the pace you thought it would.

Or you decide not to take the course because of the length of time.

Time carries on.

Eighteen months into the future, you’ll still be around (touch wood). The difference will be:

  • You have full membership and a set of useful and practical, transferable skills after successfully completing the required exams
  • You’re still studying but slowly understanding the concepts in order to reach your goal eventually
  • You had given up and settled for an easier life (if you started at all!)

This is where perseverance makes a world of difference to your professional development. You will eventually meet the end of those 18 months, and sure they’ll be hard, but will you have regret, or a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and pride?

Giving up

Is there any shame in giving up? Not at all, and this relies only on you. If you realise that the course of action you are taking isn’t going the way you planned, or is never going to lead you onto achieving your goal, then ‘giving up’ could be a smart move (this is, of course, after considering whether or not to change you goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before).

But without coming across too cheesy, persevering in the right circumstances lead you onto bigger things – whether that is by meeting your goal exactly or introducing you to new and exciting opportunities even when the goal isn’t what you expected.

So what are the right circumstances?

Below is a list of ideas you should consider whether or not to persevere:

  • Regardless of the effort needed, will you eventually meet your goal?
  • Are you just looking for an easy way out?
  • Are you jeopardising your career for the sake of an easier route?
  • Have you tried every alternative way of doing something before deciding to quit?
  • Will you regret giving up this time next year?
  • Will you regret not giving up this time next year?
  • What is the impact of giving up (positive and negative)?
  • What is the impact of persevering (positive and negative)?
  • Have you asked for help?

The final point is such an important one (as are most of my bulleted lists – I need some sort of segway into the next paragraph!).

Deciding to persevere or quit comes after a lot of thinking and mulling, and most times to a point of analysis paralysis, where you have thought of every scenario and outcome that now your thinking is just stunned into paralysis or caught in a thought circle.

The best way to prise yourself out of this is asking for help. Talk to someone – your other half, a friend, a close colleague, your mentor, your manager. Sounding out your thoughts to a fresh pair of ears not only helps you articulate your concerns so that you can hear them outside of your noisy head, you get to hear an outsider’s perspective and their thoughts on the matter.

Whether it’s a pep talk, a sympathetic ear, or a stiff (verbal) slap across the face, they might be able to help you see your situation from a different perspective.

If you’re like me and have a million ideas swirling around your head, delegate your thoughts. Offload your snippets of ideas and concerns to someone else who will help you piece them together in a logical and coherent way.

After considering all of these points and understanding the impact of giving up and persevering you should then begin to understand the next steps you need to take. Being an avid doer isn’t enough. We’re happy to slog our guts and get dirty to achieve what we want to achieve, but perseverance helps us through the tough bits and helps keep our avid doing focussed.

I’m definitely persevering with my blog (not that I thought about giving it up!). It makes me happy, it helps and teaches the readers and visitors it does attract, it develops me as a professional, and I’m confident that I will stumble upon more exciting professional opportunities in the future as it already has so far.

Persevere with perseverance – if all the signs point to success one way or another (and yes, even if it’s hard), then it can only be a good thing.

 

Personal branding for professionals

Did you know that 85% of people find new jobs through their existing contacts? It stands to reason that as working patterns and practices in general are changing with the modern world, so too are the methods in which people are finding these opportunities. One way to make sure you’re well thought of throughout your network is by having a strong personal brand.

Personal branding (the term is quite buzzwordy yet annoyingly apt) is how you present yourself in a professional capacity both in real life and online, and not only aids you in your job hunt, but also builds your professional persona throughout your HR career, or any career.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about building your professional credibility by immersing yourself into a wealth of information and applying it in real life, for example in the workplace or online discussions on the topic du jour.

It’s important to follow this through into building your personal brand and how other professionals perceive you. This isn’t about getting ‘Likes’ on your social media posts, or having your quippy insights retweeted – this isn’t a sign of approval.

In fact, you don’t need external approval. If you want to maximise what the online and real world have to offer, what you need is a strong personal brand.

This is no easy feat. You will quickly find you are potentially a mere whisper in an overcrowded stadium of loud ruckus , so it’s important to focus on the realisation that your intentions aren’t necessarily to be heard, but they are to be seen.

Seen and not heard

What is the difference between being seen and being heard? In a modern world where everyone has an opinion on everything, voicing this is nothing ground-breaking.

It is possible to be heard over all the social hubbub but before you can be heard, you need to be seen.

And to be seen – the unequivocal separation from being heard – you need to build up, or upon, your strong personal brand. Your personal brand is:

  • your core principles
  • your work ethic
  • your ethics
  • your opinions
  • your knowledge
  • your enthusiasm
  • your skills
  • your background
  • your career
  • your social decorum
  • your integrity
  • your aspirations
  • your professional motivation
  • your focus
  • your intentions
  • your connections

These are not exhaustive, but hopefully you’re getting an understanding of how deep this can go. It’s essentially who you are as a professional, what you stand for, and how you go about it.

Luckily (perspective-dependent) building your personal brand doesn’t involve excessive amounts of actionable exercises – the things that make up your personal branding aren’t really physical…things to fix or work on.

It does however take ongoing conscious effort (which becomes less effortful as time goes by) and self-awareness of your actions, and below, I touch on just a few small pointers that you can be thinking about.

Social media introductions

Introductions on social media are a funny thing and I’m slowly getting to grips with the correct netiquette myself. Luckily, the HR and L&D tribe are a friendly bunch so I’m fine-tuning my introductions on social media which takes me further than I expected, but this is of course true to many other ‘tribes’.

Whether it’s a response to recent followers of replying to a comment, the first impression you make on social media is open for all to see, not just the recipient.

Being helpful, insightful and genuinely interested are what you’re aiming for, but also showing your personality and what you’re professional purpose is.

Social interactions

Following on from the previous point, how you come across in your general conversations in your social interactions, online or IRL, will paint a picture of your professional persona to all those who observe it.

This will help them determine whether or not to trust you, converse with you, or become a key member of your network. All of your debates, opinions, views and debates are open for everyone to see, and I encourage you not to shy away from voicing your opinions on things you are passionate about.

This itself builds your personal brand and attracts other professionals that share the same view, or educates them on your own perspective. Your personality in general should shine through, so if you’re funny, serious, passionate or laid back, let this contribute to your personal brand.

Your social network

The members of your network also contribute to your personal brand. The people and companies you follow (on social media) show a different side to your brand – your interests, your colleagues, your role models, your supporters, your political preferences, your professional intrigue, companies and people you admire, potential employers, potential business partners – listed together on one block tells onlookers a lot about you.

Experience and professional history

Where you have worked and the experience you picked up along the way develops your personal brand. You have a very specific formula of your experiences by working at very specific companies, and with each of those came their organisational culture.

How you reacted and adapted to this has shaped your personality and work ethic and in turn your personal brand. You might have also developed your brand in a particular niche market by only working in a specific industry, or specialised roles.

Think about what these previous experiences tell onlookers should anyone look you up on, for example LinkedIn, and in a job-hunt capacity, what your brand can do for potential employers with these experiences.

Qualifications and training

Similar to the previous point, your select and specific set of skills and qualifications contribute to your personal brand. In a more evident, in-your-face way this is more apparent with any post-nominals you may have.

How you have approached your training also depicts your personal brand; self-funded or funded by work? Clear strategic escalation of levels or different qualifications at the same level? Relevant qualifications or seemingly irrelevant qualifications? Loads of qualifications or none?

Professional community contribution

You will also need to consider the activities you do outside of the day job and think about what extra-curricular activities you do and how this contributes to, and even strengthens your personal brand.

If you do any at all, this alone is enough to tell people something about your brand, specifically that you’re dedicated to the profession, or volunteering, or being more socially or environmentally responsible, for example.

Or if your activities are dedicated to researching various or specialist fields and topics and contributing your thoughts and views on these to the wider professional community.

Or if you do none of the above and contribute very little.

These just touch the surface of the number of question and considerations you can begin to think about when firstly being aware of your personal brand and then how this is perceived to other professionals.

Again, this really isn’t about seeking approval or making sure you show off all your best bits. Indeed showing some of your fails and struggles contribute massively and positively to your personal brand, demonstrating that you are learning along the way as is everybody else.

But this is generally to make you become more conscious of the areas of your professional persona can come across as, how it can steer you to greater opportunities, and how to identify potentially harmful turn-offs.

This is particularly important for HR professionals as I find the HR community are very keen to network and learn from their peers. As natural people-people (most of us anyhoo), we value community and the people that make up that community, and by having a strong and authentic professional brand, it can help you settle into the right sort of community that share your views and aspirations, as well as opening doors for new opportunities.

Professional development: Books or courses?

Professional development outside of work can come in many forms; some free, some not so free. Under the latter group falls books and courses, and sometimes most people aren’t aware of the subtle differences between the two, or the subtle similarities. Odds are, books are cheaper than courses but is this the only reason to choose them over courses? Or are courses more beneficial because they cost more?

Beyond the factor of cost, it’s important to weigh up the differences and similarities between these two popular options for furthering your career and professional development so that decisions aren’t made in haste or by assumptions.

Before going through these questions on books and courses, it helps if you have a topic or subject in mind, rather than a general enquiry; for example if you’re thinking of learning more about NLP.

Getting the most out of books for professional development

Books are awesome. I read a lot of them on my commute to and from work, or at home on a rainy Sunday.

It’s usually an equal mix of crime thrillers and career development books, and although I’d really enjoy telling you about the most recent whodunit I’ve just read (it was one of victims all along), I want to talk about how to figure out if an industry- or career-related book can sometimes be more beneficial than some courses.

Firstly, you need to really understand the key concepts of getting the best out of your potential book purchase:

  • What does the book promise to do? If this is not clear instantly, then it has no value to anyone
  • Will this provide me the knowledge that I’m looking for? Does this knowledge actually mean something to me, that I can use either now or in the future, or does it just explain what I might already know?
  • Will this level of knowledge suffice? For example, am I happy with the amount of information I’ll get out of it, realising it isn’t enough to warrant a qualification like I would get from a course?
  • Is the reading style to my liking? Grab a random page and read a bit. Is it too serious or does it make too many jokes? Is it poorly paced? Is the typeface too small to comfortably read on a commute for example?
  • Is the price proportionate to the advice I will get from it? It might be a useful book but does it provide £49.99 worth of solid advice, for example?
  • What do the book reviews say?
  • Will the book be handy to use for later referencing, and add to my own personal library? A good book adds meat to your knowledge toolkit (a.k.a. home library) for years to come.
  • Could I get this information from a blog for free? Usually a comprehensive subject or skill is better from a book; a quick bit of advice or ‘how to’ is best from a blog post

Now the last point might seem a low-blow to be written on a blog post but it is something that needs to be considered.

I like books as much as I like looking for information on the internet and sometimes it just makes more sense to read something up on a blog post, for example leading a brainstorming session (ahem, plug), than reading it in a book which I would use for understanding a concept or comprehensive skill, like brainstorming as a general topic but more in depth.

Getting the most out of courses for professional development

Signing up for a course is a big commitment; the benefits it can provide in terms of professional credibility (take a look at this post I wrote about the advantages of paying for your own training) need to be proportionate to the cost (in time, money and mental stamina).

Answering the questions below will help you begin to get an understanding of what the course can offer:

  • What will I be able to do when completing the course? Is this something I will need in furthering my career? Or is it something I only assume I need but isn’t necessary, ie experience is more essential than a qualification?
  • Are the course outcomes aligned to my career aspirations?
  • Is there a chance to test-drive a course – some training providers allow you to see an example of the training material. This gives you a chance to see if the material is any good or matches your expectations in terms of quality and difficulty.
  • Is the course certified ie will there be a recognised qualification at the end of it? Make sure you check that the awarding body is recognised by an awarding standards body like Ofqual or Edexel.
  • If there is a qualification, will this aid me in my career progression and take me to the next step? Or is it not really necessary?
  • Can I afford it? Am I in the position to commit to a finance/instalment plan? Is the price proportionate to the outcomes, and as expected?
  • How long will the course last? Is this a 2 or 3 month commitment or will I still be doing this for the next 2 years?
  • Will I get post-nominals as a result, or once I’ve gained membership to the relevant professional body?

Just to follow on the final point: it’s easy to be attracted to sparkly post-nominals so make sure you’re getting them for the right reasons. The biggest benefit of post-nominals, in my opinion, is that they’re an instant hook for recruiters.

Even if they only see your name in a sea of job applications, they get to see your post-nominals which immediately demonstrate your dedication and level of experience before even looking at the details of your CV.

Make sure that the post-nominals you’re going after will be able to do this, and that they’re relevant. Sparkly post-nominals are great ‘n’ all but not if they don’t contribute to your goals. Refrain from letting your ego make the decision.

MOOCs

It’s also important to explore shorter, free courses – or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These are mostly free online courses from a range of universities, colleges and vocational training providers.

I’ve used FutureLearn before and really enjoyed working through a couple of their courses so I suggest popping over there and having a look.

So, books or courses?

Once you have worked your way through the questions for both a book and a course, you should have the answers to compare the two together and begin to look at the crucial differences.

Usually as a rule of thumb if the course provides qualifications that you absolutely need then no amount of books can provide you with this. Books provide knowledge but not credentials. Which of the two is more important and aligned to your goals?

The added benefit of courses is that where there’s a course, there’s also tutor support. Books cannot provide further information or elaboration than what’s already provided. Courses on the other hand have tutor support at the end of phone or email.

They can also have an online student community to share ideas, thoughts and questions. The use and standard of these vary considerably and rely on the provider to encourage participation and engagement so don’t be thinking you’ll be making any new bezzie mates if the community isn’t strong.

If the qualification isn’t a necessity and something you don’t particularly fancy, try to not feel compelled to enrol. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge to better aid your decision making or improve your understanding of a particular topic, then the right books can provide a wealth of knowledge quite suitably.

No financial commitment beyond the initial purchase, no lengthy essays, no multiple choice questions. Books are great if you need to expand your know-how, and forking out a huge amount of money on a course isn’t entirely necessary if you aren’t looking to use those qualifications or if they don’t actually contribute to your progression.

Essentially whether you choose a course or a book, the goal is to develop and bring this back into the workplace and this can absolutely be accomplished through books.

And of course, if you’re not a book worm, course-alternatives can expand into podcasts, videos, shorter MOOCs, and other media that can provide you with just as much information.

Whichever route you choose, be aware of your motives and the level of knowledge you need. Not only will this help you make the right choice, it also means the amount of effort you put into developing your professional knowledge is proportionate to the outcome.

 

 

Finding time for CPD

By continuing your professional development, you’re not only maintaining your CPD requirements for a professional body (if you’re a member of one of course) but you’re also keeping your skills and expertise fresh. Continually expanding your breadth of knowledge, skills and abilities brings so much to your career, increases your chances to progress, and helps you learn and develop as a professional. 

But it can also be hard to factor it into your tight schedule. With work, commuting and generally having a life at home, CPD tends to fall by the wayside, something that can be picked up ‘when you get the time’. Trouble is, we all know that unless you proactively change something, that time will never come. Even when you get the time, will you remember to work on your CPD? Will you even be prepared to do it and have something in the pipeline, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice?

I’m sure we can all relate to this, even muggin’s, someone who is passionate about learning and development. With time though, I have got to a stage where I am confidently on top of CPD, and then some. This isn’t to brag (honest), this is to demonstrate the success of the one thing I changed with my schedule to make sure I got my game on when it comes to CPD.

This change is habit.

Each one of us has a different degree of habitual nature, that is some people can pick up a habit quite quickly and get comfort out of this (if it’s a healthy habit of course), while some people need more time than others to build up a habit. Understanding which category (or where along the imaginary habitual spectrum) you consider yourself to be in will really help manage your own expectations of the time it takes you to develop a new habit, including the habit of making CPD a part of your life.

This sounds a little drastic – I’m not suggesting CPD should be the be all and end all of your life. I am suggesting though that making some sort of regular recurrence of your CPD activities means it’ll always have a place in your schedule. This has worked very well for me and have incorporated into two aspects of my life: in work and outside of work.

Habitual CPD in work

The more obvious exposures to CPD are activities at work. You can be as creative or direct as you like when it comes to making CPD a habit at work (or a bit of both). Actively finding stretch pieces of work in addition to your usual duties can be easily done if it coincides with any particular performance objectives you might have, or if there are new areas of work you would like to get involved in. The stretch work expands your knowledge, develops new and existing skills, and grows your network at work. If you’re someone who is particularly interested in developing your social capital, this is a healthy perk of keeping on top of your CPD.

With a CPD mind set, and depending on how adventurous are willing to be, setting yourself with CPD activities that deliberately get you outside of your comfort zone will help build your confidence as well as skills. Signing yourself up to, for example, public speaking opportunities or coaching someone, will really pay off in the long run. Making this a habit then means they’re no longer scary to do, they’re no longer ‘that one time you did that scary thing and have never done again’. An unexpected payoff for habitual CPD!

Before explaining how to ensure this is done to a point of forming a habit, I’ll expand on habitual CPD outside of work.

Habitual CPD outside of work 

The CIPD website has heaps of information on the different types of CPD you can do outside of work so there isn’t any point in me regurgitating their information.

You can however use this information to inspire you to think differently in terms of your overall professional goals. Understanding your professional motivation provides you a sort of compass that lets you know if a type of activity you want to habitually take up is going to lead to that goal.

This is going to be a recurring item in your schedule; you need it to be worth it in the long run. It’s outside of work and therefore in your own time so it needs to be something you really want and need to do.

For example, have you considered developing your social media presence in a professional capacity? According to Time to Log Off, in March 2017 the average time spent online in the UK per person was 83 hours; more than three quarters of this was on smartphones alone. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness that time to something more productive than aimless scrolling? It’s already a habit you have formed but redirecting your focus on a professional capacity means that this time is spent on CPD.

It’s spent on following thought leaders, understanding hot topics in the world of HR that everyone’s talking about, taking part in debates and conversations, voicing your own opinions and thoughts so that other professionals will want to follow you. These are all fantastic CPD opportunities that lead onto MORE CPD opportunities- podcasts, books, videos, Ted Talks!

The point is that regardless of what you do (this isn’t a post that lists the types of CPD out there), you need to ensure it becomes a habit.

Making it a habit

Once you’ve established the sort of existing habits you have that can be refocused to CPD, like surfing the internet, you need to ensure the other activities you do form a habit.

Logically CPD is recorded in some sort of format. This logs all of your activities and is usually associated with being evidence to CIPD or other professional bodies that you have clocked up your CPD.

Getting the most out of this log however is part of making your CPD a habit.

Firstly, you can use the CPD log as a list of things you would like to do with completion dates.

Secondly, you can use these completion dates as entries in your work or home calendars (or both!), as well as time slots in between to remind you to work on them, so that there is a concrete commitment and reminder that this needs to be done. The additional benefit of this is that you begin associating activities as being CPD-eligible. Half the time, we forget what actually constitutes as a CPD activity, for example reading a topical article in a magazine. It all counts.

Then thirdly, you use the same log as a reflective log.

Reflective log

Please do not underestimate the benefit of reflection, and in turn a reflection log. Whether an activity taught you loads, or was complete and utter rubbish, going through the motions of recording your reflection makes you reflect on it – you need to come up with an entry after all. Putting pen to paper makes you start thinking how you intend to use what you have learned into the workplace or professional life, the very point of CPD.

How you structure this log is up to you – I split a spreadsheet in two sections. One on the left to record upcoming, past and ongoing CPD, explaining the reasons why I want to do these; and then one on the right as a reflection of the activity once completed.

Again though, this needs to be updated and worked on habitually, and like including completion dates in your calendar, having a infinitely recurring entry to ‘update CPD log’ means it becomes part of your schedule.

As mentioned, depending on where you sit on the habitual spectrum, it may take time for this to become a habit. Keep with it. Incorporate it into your schedule ensuring that CPD is an ongoing developmental aid, and not just something you need to produce evidence off at the last minute when requested to do so. It’s for you, after all; not them.