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.

Writing about contemporary art

I have a book of Gilda Williams’ (correspondent for Artforum and lecturer at Goldsmiths College and Sotheby’s Institute of Art) called “How to write about contemporary art”.

I bought this during my art days before my umpteenth career change, but have rediscovered its relevance to my career now, not just in my writing, but in HR as well.

It promises (and delivers) a helpful, no-nonsense approach to structuring written pieces, avoiding common pitfalls, developing concrete research and close thinking, and positioning language effectively. It’s incredibly helpful for those who need to articulate their internal chatter concisely and accurately, and generally be a better communicator.

It never ceases to surprise me how often skills and supposedly-niche advice can transfer into other sectors, other roles, and complementing other skills.

Thinking back to your previous careers or fields, do you still find relevance for ‘specialist’ guidance?

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.

 

 

The importance of good customer service in HR

My first customer service role was at the age of 16 at a local shop/petrol station, and I quickly learned about the multi-characteristic nature of the customer demographic. I then started to work with customers over the phone in another company where I discovered a new set of characteristics to add to this customer scope. Then I started waiting on tables which broadened the demographic even further to unexpected heights (those in catering know what I’m talking about)!

All in all, I began to see all types of personalities the world has to offer. Some were a delight to serve, some not so. Some were easy to deal with, some not so. Some taught me patience, and did not so.

To me, the customer demographic is a snapshot of the broad spectrum of personalities, and in my opinion, dealing with customers early on in a career develops important people skills that HR professionals can take with them throughout their careers.

The majority of us work with people who come with their own personality (or personalities) and dealing with some of them in a professional capacity can be a struggle, even under the implied constraints of workplace etiquette.

Customers are not obliged to adhere to, or behave under the scope of HR policies, company etiquette, or even social expectation. Indeed, they can throw at you whatever personality they want and there is nothing you can do about it other than react with complete and utter servitude and diplomacy in order to resolve the situation on your toes.

Typically, HR rarely deals with ‘customers’. Those who we provide advice to are ‘colleagues’ – staff, managers, business managers, senior leaders – but at times it can be difficult to handle situations with objectivity and diplomacy as you would with a customer.

So why are good customer service skills important in HR? Here are just five out many skills that are important in both settings:

  1. Co-operation

Using good customer service skills encourages co-operation. Rather than a position of servitude, we must be able to co-operate with our colleagues for the best outcome, one which has the least negative impact by personality negotiation.

Defusing situations before tensions rise is a key skill in both customer service and dealing with colleagues, and by understanding the same principles of the server-customer relationship, we can aim to co-operate better.

  1. Respect

We each deserve respect, and in my opinion, good customer service is demonstrated when a customer is shown respect even when they themselves are being disrespectful. This shows a huge amount of integrity.

Showing respect for teams and colleagues means that you maintain professionalism even under extreme confrontations, and will find it quicker and easier to reach diplomatic resolutions. It also demonstrates general good character which is a trait that will help you organically progress in your career anyway.

  1. Listening

A good skill in general, listening – or more specifically, active listening – in customer service means you provide the customer ample opportunity to voice their objections and opinions in whichever way they feel is more productive (even when it isn’t).

Even when they’re screaming and shouting, actively listening to this in a responsive, rather than a defensive way, means you’re assessing the emotion and frustration from their vent, thus understanding the impact a situation has on them.

Hearing what is being said, and the undertones not said, you are then much more likely to be able to identify the root of the problem they have experienced. This can be applied when dealing with a frustrated or upset manager for example and use other skills as a HR professional to provide solutions to their problem.

Even if solutions cannot be found, or at least not in the manager’s favour, actively listening will assure the manager that you have taken the time to understand the issue to give the tailored solution.

  1. Process improvement

As a follow-up from the point on listening, working with customers and listening to their problems provides you first-hand opportunities to identify process flaws or gaps.

You’re at the firing line of the negative impact these gaps have on the customers, and by providing them with solutions to resolve the situation, you are in the position to address these gaps on a more permanent basis by suggesting longer-term process improvements.

In the HR environment, dealing with colleagues and other stakeholders, you act as the fixer between company’s goals and weaknesses via its people. You are in the position of having the business acumen and people skills of an HR professional, and applying these to the day-to-day issues managers and employees experience.

Process improvement is just one step for bigger successes HR can facilitate, for example improvements on culture, employer branding and the employee value proposition.

  1. Going the extra mile

Customer service roles can sometimes be incredibly satisfying, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes applying discretionary effort to helping customers.

When applying the effort on the frontline, appreciation and gratitude is (mostly) expressed immediately, and the satisfying feeling it gives you makes you want to do it again.

Applying this in HR gets the same results (if you work in that sort of company of course). Just like coming up with discretionary and one-off solutions for customers in exceptional circumstances, HR provides enough opportunities to provide the same for colleagues and stakeholders without expectation of reward or special treatment.

It begins to teach you a great sense of occupational pride, knowing that you have sometimes the capacity to go that extra mile in order for big results to have a positive impact.

So by treating those to which we provide advice as customers, we carry that mind set of pleasing the customer through the things we do at work.

The company’s customers

As an aside, HR does in fact have distant dealings with customers in that whatever we do in our daily role(s) ultimately has a knock-on effect on the customer or end user.

We guide and support managers to deal with staff who are essentially the face of the company to its customers. How this employee is managed and supported by their manager is determined by the support we can give in order for the customer to receive good service.

The benefit of understanding this, and the skills and aptitude needed for good customer service, is that we can better place ourselves in frontline staff’s shoes.

We can begin to empathise with what can be a challenging role, considering, as mentioned, there are very few restraints within which customers should conduct themselves, other than the prohibition of expletives and violence.

The stress that comes with is can be excruciating, and as HR professionals we must be conscious of this fact and factor it into our advice and strategies.

The benefit of understanding the importance of the skills needed for good customer service means we can also work better in the business with our colleagues and stakeholders in general.

Adopting a customer-pleasing approach in the things that we do ensures we go about our work with pride, respect and understanding.

If you are currently in a customer service role and aspire to become an HR professional, I hope this has demonstrated the close link between the two and encourages you to emphasise these great skills to bag your first role.

If you work in a call-centre and you want to move away from that environment, check out this article I wrote on the host of other skills you can transfer away from a call-centre environment that you might not have realised.

 

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.

 

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

Networking events for introverts

If you’ve never been to a networking event because you think it’s a little weird to strike up conversations with complete strangers, almost as if they’re the professional equivalent to chatting people up, then you’re right. It is weird for those who are introverted or shy. However, for HR professionals, or indeed any professional, these events can be so exciting, that help build working relationships, opening up new opportunities to learn, share good practices, and progress your career.

If you feel incredibly nervous about this idea of torture for the socially awkward, then please believe me it’s not as bad as it seems once you’ve dived in head first. Here are some key points and tips about surviving your first networking event.

Everyone’s a stranger – including you

First and foremost, remember that a good networking event is one where no one knows each other. When showing up to these things and seeing people talk with each other, it’s understandable to think that you’re the only one who doesn’t know anyone, almost like you’re back at school and see all the cliques around you that you’re not part of.

Remembering they are all strangers will in turn remind you of something else – they’re here for the same reason as you, to network with new people. It’s easy to forget this but reminding yourself of this before and during the event will begin to de-weird striking up a conversation with a stranger.

For introverts or shy people it can be uncomfortable to strike up a conversation with a stranger in any environment, but at networking events, it’s expected. You have a free pass to ‘be weird’ and say hello to someone you don’t know and asking their name.

Introductions

So how do you strike up a conversation with someone? Luckily, as mentioned, these strangers expect to have another stranger – i.e. you – come up and say hello and begin a conversation. Keeping a strong hold to this thought helped me with the first 5 seconds of a new conversation.

You take a dive into the abyss with your introduction, a simple ‘Hi, my name is Bob’, that’s all that’s needed to break the ice. Before the 5 seconds are up, the stranger responds similarly, providing their name and asking what you do.

Phew. That’s all it takes. Crisis over. This isn’t dating. They’re not going to look you up and down, roll their eyes, and walk off leaving you and your extended hand hanging. They’ll know what you’re doing; you want to start a conversation with them, get to know them and their work, and to discuss similar interests.

In terms of actually approaching people, I find three particular strategies help me the most:

  1. Saying hi to someone on their own – they’ll be relieved not to be seen on their own;
  2. Making a passing comment to someone nearby who is, for example, at the bar or pinching hors d’oeuvres, like ‘try the mushrooms, they’re delicious’ before saying ‘Hi, my name is…’;
  3. Or, well into the event, and you’re feeling a bit adventurous, joining into a group conversation that includes someone you already know from one of the first two approaches.

Keeping the conversation going

Make sure that once you have introduced yourself you have a mental list of questions you can ask the new person. (Most) People love talking about themselves, and the quickest way to make a conversation comfortable at the earliest point is to ask questions about them and really get to know them and their work.

Laying this foundation will make the conversation flow with little or no effort, and lead on to follow up questions and new topics naturally.

The questions I find help me lay this foundation are:

  • What do you do?
  • Where do you work?
  • Is this your first time at one of these events?
  • Did you travel up here today?
  • Are you staying up here in <insert city name> for much longer after the event?
  • How are you finding the event, discovered any exciting new contacts?

These all break the second layer of ice that all open up to more follow up questions based on the answer. The trick is, as with any networking event, is talk to them because you’re genuinely interested.

Your goal for the event might be to discover new contacts, what they can do for you, and what you can do for them, but this shouldn’t be the reason to start a conversation.

This sounds a bit contradictory, but I have always found the most interesting contacts I have built up were from friendly and interesting conversations that didn’t have a hidden agenda.

I believe rapport can authentically be developed by showing genuine interest in both the person you’re speaking to, and what they have to say, and it is this rapport that can lead onto fantastic working relationships.

Working the room to seek out only those of instant benefit is not the idea of these network events and the inauthenticity will eventually expose you as a network shark. Have interest in people first, enjoy a nice conversation with someone new, even if nothing comes of it. But if something does come of it, it will be built on authenticity.

Chemistry

Like any conversation between two people, there is going to be chemistry (not in the romantic sense obv). This was another thought I consciously held onto when speaking with new people. They are just that: people.

And some people gel, some people don’t. So when striking up a conversation, remind yourself it is 100% completely natural and acceptable if conversation doesn’t flow between you and them.

When this happens you must save your own confidence and mental stamina by cutting them off. Venturing outside your comfort zone is putting you in a vulnerable position which means any negative experience, like struggling to keep awkward conversation going, will impact you on a disproportionate scale. Once this happens, it in turn takes a disproportionately longer time to recover.

You needn’t be rude to them. It isn’t their fault, and it isn’t yours. For your own mental preservation, you can simply excuse yourself to the toilet or to the bar. Don’t say you need to make a call or talk to someone else because it suggests you want to talk to someone better than them.

If you were on the receiving end, it’ll hurt like hell. Like I said, it’s not their fault the conversation isn’t working, so be respectful of them but also to your confidence by leaving courteously.

Follow up

Following up on really interesting conversations is a must-do in order to maintain a new professional relationship.

If you would like to carry on a conversation, or follow them on social media to hear more of their thoughts on a particular specialism, or even introduce them to someone from your own network that they would find helpful, swapping business cards and connecting with them on social media are the two sure ways of doing this.

With business cards that are now cheap and easy to make, and the growing popularity of online presence through social media, these shouldn’t be too hard to do.

What’s crucial for the effectiveness of this however is making sure you’re quick to do it. A day or two after meeting is the ideal timescale you’re looking for.

A really useful tip that proves popular with anyone I share my business card with is to include a simple blank text box somewhere on the card with ‘Where/When did we meet?’ above it.

This way, they can quickly make a note of when and where they met you as a reminder for when it inevitably gets lost amongst the other business cards they’ve collected. Here’s how I did mine:

Card

 

Recovery

One last tip – make sure you recover after an event like this. Introverts need to be on their own and recharge after ‘peopling’ so it’s important to book a day or two in your schedule immediately afterwards to deflate.

As fun as these events are, they’re mentally exhausting, especially if you’re not used to being outside your comfort zone for so long.

My experience of my first networking event, like a lot of things outside my comfort zone, was way less scary than my imagination made them out to be.

Going head first into it – or the ripping-off-the-plaster technique – is, I find, the best way to avoid hesitation and procrastination, the two things that delay you getting to a point where you realise it’s not as bad as you thought.

I do hope that these coping mechanisms help you overcome your feeling of social awkwardness in what is a really fun and inspiring way of meeting like-minded professionals.

Just understand the key principles of why people are there (to network with people like you), what they expect (for people like you to say ‘hi’ out of the blue, literally as soon as eye contact is made), and what you can learn (the people, their work, and their thoughts on mutual areas of interest).

Good luck!

 

Establishing professional credibility

I’m lucky enough to be part of a tribe of fellow avid doers – HR professionals. We tend to be just as enthusiastic about practising as we are preaching, as well as having a professional drive to lead, manage and develop our careers in confidence. I see an HR professional as a person, regardless of their role, and not a person who has an HR role.

A lot of this is down to having professional credibility. For those who are striving to get into the HR industry, have just started, or need a boost to the next level, they need to establish this professional credibility.

Professional credibility sits at the core of any person, in any profession, and acts as your career’s reputation. This can be easy to establish for those who have years of experience and contacts, with a wall full of framed qualifications to match.

But for those who have little or no experience, proving your professional credibility is that little bit harder. Sometimes this can be down to:

  • age (due to less years of experience rather than an ageist assumption that younger workers are less professionally credible) – years of experience can only come with age, but only if we’re looking at it quantitively; those who have to wait for Father Time can rest assured knowing that the best experience, like a lot of things, relies on quality;
  • lack of confidence – lack of confidence correlates with lack of knowledge. We lose confidence when we’re unsure of things: the direction of a conversation; the specifics of a particular topic; the reactions of others;
  • lack of drive – sometimes it can be a result of just not having the get-up-and-go needed to develop credibility, having an expectancy of it rather than working at it.

So if you do have the get-up-and-go, and you want to work on the first two points, two steps to establish professional credibility are:

  1. Immersion
  2. Application

Immersion

Breaking into a new profession, finding your feet with it, or looking for ways to progress within it is no easy feat. Immersion is one really good way of making this a lot easier.

So what do I mean by immersion? Immersion looks at immersing yourself into the industry, any industry, by being a human sponge. Absorb everything and anything about it to the point of obsession by researching into everything about it. Books, magazines, social media conversations, blogs, contacts, short courses, long courses, podcasts, videos – anything you can get your teeth into.

A lot of industries have become saturated with the internet making it easy for everyone to have a platform (even simple dorks like me!). While some people might think this is a bad thing, I like to see it in a more positive light.

You see, when starting out, or building on your professional credibility, you feel like you need to know more than you currently do. But with anyone being able to talk about any old gobbledygook, who do you listen to?

I say: ‘everyone’. While you have a blank (or more blank than you would like) canvas, there is no telling who to listen to or who to ignore. By absorbing everything and immersing yourself into that world, you begin to form opinions of your own, to link multiple ideas together, to spot discrepancies in arguments. In time, you’ll then have all the information to hone in on the methodologies and ideas that make sense to you and that you believe in; you’re not excluding the left over bits, you’re actually using them to establish the grounding of your understanding of the topic.

You’re gathering everything you need to know to a point where you can start to reject and question findings based on your own knowledge you have suddenly developed and not on other people’s thought patterns.

And to think, if you had decided to ask someone else for their opinion on who to listen to and ignore, you would’ve only been given their ideas, their opinions, thus losing out on all the other information and the opportunity to form an opinion and way of thinking that’s uniquely you.

Having worked in a number of industries and made a go at a number of careers, I have always immersed myself in these (…well the interesting ones anyway) with this method. Accounting, holistic therapy, and health and safety? Courses, research, qualifications and industry-related media for all the above. And ditto for HR where the immersion exercise grabbed me, enthralled me and adopted me. Which takes me to the second step.

Application

After immersing yourself in the profession and you feel like you have a good understanding, even at a foundation level, so much so to form opinions, acceptance and rejections, all this knowledge you have needs to be used to establish your credibility.

By applying this knowledge, you’re demonstrating everything you have discovered; most of the time this can be done passively – you’ve immersed yourself so much into the field, it is second nature and can be applied by discretionary effort.

Being more active about it involves some creative thinking and understanding your intentions and goals so that these actions are aligned to them. Actively establishing your professional credibility takes a lot of effort and mental energy so you need to be aware of the direction your efforts are taking you and that they’re lined up to what you want in your career (have a look at this post on professional motivation if you need a hand with this).

Applying your new-found knowledge is essentially putting your understanding to practice, putting it out into the world in real life scenarios which in time gives a grounding to your credibility.

There are a vast array of ideas to apply your knowledge:

  • contribute your own opinions and findings to work conversations, debates and meetings (thereby proving that you are someone who knows their stuff and can contribute your own unique perspective to work matters)
  • putting yourself forward to lead projects, talks and meetings (thereby building your confidence in taking your knowledge a step further to ‘leader’ rather than just ‘thinker’)
  • allowing your own skills and knowledge to shine through your daily work, as well as supporting other teams and projects that may not necessarily fall under your remit (thereby demonstrating you can apply your professional know-how to your role, developing it into your own, as well as applying it in unfamiliar territory and other specialisms)
  • contribute to blog posts, articles and profession-related online forums (thereby developing a network and contributing your opinions and voice to a wider audience, outside of work)
  • finding your voice through a number of extracurricular activities outside of work, for example starting your own blog, actively managing your online presence and putting yourself forward to write, speak and facilitate on areas of interest (thereby establishing yourself as a professional dedicated to their specialism, strengthening your reputation, and forever developing your own skills, knowledge and confidence)

These are just a few examples of establishing your professional credibility both inside and outside of work. It’s a good idea to ensure you put yourself out there beyond your place of employment, even if you intend to stay there for the foreseeable future, as not only is it a great way to network, you get to learn from so many people who think differently to your organisation. And if you are thinking of leaving in the foreseeable future, this is a great way to progress in your career in your chosen area.

Building integrity

Applying your knowledge to establish your professional credibility can only work when you are trusted and have integrity. Establishing credibility and trust are logically synonymous but sometimes forgotten. If you are seen as someone who lacks integrity and trust, your knowledge, regardless of its ground-breaking qualities, will fall on deaf ears. People will just not believe you and not take the time to listen to what you have to say. As a side note, if for whatever reason you need to establish yourself as a trustworthy professional, work on this first before applying your knowledge.

Establishing your professional credibility can be good fun. Indeed, I’m having immense fun establishing my own professional credibility; writing this blog is just one way I’m doing this. It takes time and the end result is barely measurable but having patience, and trusting the process, the steps your making day by day to put yourself out there as a professional dedicated to the profession, will inevitably pay off.

 

Recording yourself to improve your verbal communication

I’m delivering this post, very aptly, as a video post today in which I talk about recording yourself to improve your verbal communication.

In this video, I cover:

  • The benefits of recording yourself, including getting over the ‘umms…’, getting used to your voice, and being conscious of your body language
  • How the recording set up is easier than you think
  • What to say when you’re recording yourself
  • And the things to avoid.

I’m hoping to do more of these video posts every now and then. Let me know what you think!

 

How to present HR data

Retrieving and disseminating HR management information is one thing but presenting this data to various audiences that engages and informs them, without sending them to sleep, is a different thing altogether. Understandably, the topic of statistics doesn’t tickle everyone’s interest even though we understand that they are crucial to inform decisions, measure impact, and project trends.

So how do we relay metrics to key decision makers and tell them what they mean without losing their attention span within the first 10 seconds?

The answer can be summed up in one word: illustration.

Illustration, in all manner of meanings, can help audiences understand not just what the stats are, but what they’re illustrating. This can be done literally through illustration, that is presenting the data in pictorial format with graphics and charts, or figuratively, that is illustrating the idea of what the stats are saying.

Death by PowerPoint

It’s almost customary to include some sort of PowerPoint-bashing in an article about presenting, and this one is no exception. Granted there are times when PowerPoint or other similar and just-as-useful programmes are appropriate and necessary, and indeed for presenting data in person. But I want to bash the generic, almost primal use of slides that present data in a cold and useless way. White background. Bullet points. Comic Sans. Word-for-Word reciting. Cringe.

Have you ever sat in a presentation when so much data is displayed in monotonous charts, accompanied with labels and figures, and then the presenter reads off each and every single piece of data that is already on there, one by one, as if it adds value to what is already on the screen? Don’t do this. This is a sure way to kill what little attention people might have had prepared themselves for, for a notoriously tedious topic.

What’s worse is that this way of presenting data is also a time killer. This style of presentation could be done by email – the presenter doesn’t need to be there as essentially they will only read off of it anyway. The audience’s attention will in fact be MORE engaged reading it from an email as they don’t have the robotic narration in the background.

So how can we illustrate data and metrics?

The first thing to ascertain is the purpose of this data; how is this data being used? You might have several answers for several audiences from the one set of data, so by determining context before illustrating your data, you as the presenter can add so much more value than reciting numbers and percentage points.

Understand the purpose of the data and you can paint them a picture. By way of example, let’s assume you are presenting on the effectiveness of training, beyond attendee feedback:

Instead of saying:

“15 staff went on line management training in the last quarter, compared to 7 in the previous quarter”

Say:

“The amount of managers developing themselves has rose by more than double in the last quarter than that of the previous.”

These sentences are very similar and I could be accused of being pedantic. But the second sentence explains the data in words that people understand. “More than double” is more easily comprehensible compared to hearing two lots of numbers. Of course 15 is more than double of 7 but the more you recite numbers, the more they lose meaning.

With the above example, you could take the stats a bit further, providing you have the information available:

“Formal grievances raised have reduced by 25% in the same time period suggesting that line managers are more confident in managing conflicts before they escalate.”

This adds relevance to your presentation and adds another measurable dynamic to your illustration. This illustrates the impact behind the figures; there is a possible correlation between the increased uptake in manager training and the decrease of grievances. Although it’s a number, including the figure “25%” adds a quantifiable impact that is easier to mentally digest than reciting numbers like “the number of grievances have reduced from 76 to 57.” When first hearing this, is that a lot, is that a little? They don’t need to know the numbers, just that the numbers have been reduced by 25% – that’s instantly quantifiable.

If they need to know the numbers

When illustrating your data, the objective isn’t to eliminate the numbers entirely – without these there is no presentation. All you’re doing is explaining what the figures mean so the audience is informed on what to do next or assess retrospectively. However keeping these numbers to hand during the presentation means that your presentation is backed up by cold hard statistics when challenged or questioned. They’re handy to have in the background but they’re not necessary to be shared. If the data is being presented through a report or paper, and in other words you’re not there to have these figures to hand, supplying this hard data as an appendix means it’s readily available for those who want to see this but is separate from the main body of the report.

Infographics 

I have written before about my love for infographics. They are the older, much cooler sibling of the pie and bar charts and take data presentation to a new level.

Using infographics to present your data contributes to the relevance of the figures, as touched on above. Depending on how the illustration is put together, it can be easy to instantly portray the impact and effect of figures on a number of variables and other metrics.

Infographics can also skip the unnecessary commentary and narrative as the pictures will speak for themselves in a way that the audience can immediately identify and put into a bigger picture context.

You need to think creatively when jazzing up a cold subject like data so using infographics to present the data gives the audience a break from seeing the same presentation-by-bullet-points they’ve grown to loathe. There are a number of sites that allow you to create infographics in a variety of styles and designs that require no payments, licenses and attributions. There are paid options available but they’re unnecessary for the likes of what you need them for.

Stop reciting!

I cannot emphasise this enough. This advice can be applied to presenting in person in general – do not recite word for word from the slide that is already in front of people if you are presenting the data verbally. If a visual representation of what you are speaking aloud is in front of someone, they are much more likely to read what is in front of them than hearing what you are saying. Worryingly, they are also reading ahead which means assumptions are already being made on something you have yet to say and you lose the impact. Similarly, resist the temptation of swapping or skipping words in an attempt to look like you’re not reading it word for word. Everyone knows what you’re doing and you’re more than likely to stumble over your words.

You can resolve this by using the slides purely to prompt and illustrate what you are saying. As mentioned, data can be a tedious subject to explain so keep the words to your commentary and keep the data on the slides.

Know your audience

After discovering the joys of creating infographics can bring to your life, you’ll be tempted to use infographics for every presentation. Although this can be informative and more useful, certain elements of infographics might not be appropriate for very serious and traditional audiences. Presenting data to a management board for example should be done in a slick and simple manner, almost to the point of being cold. They really want the cold hard facts and although you may want to illustrate the impact etc. in an innovative way, sometimes this can be done simply with a bar chart or diagram.

So now you know there is another way of presenting data, you should be able to add impact to your presentation or report without boring the audience or reader. As long as the illustration is appropriate, your cold data is made available, and the digestible data hasn’t been skewed in the process of making it easier to understand, your data and metrics can go far beyond than just numbers.