Leading brainstorms in 5 easy steps

Last week I shared 3 easy steps for preparing a brainstorming session and explained that putting in the effort and hard work into these steps will make leading the session a lot easier, as well as maximising its effectiveness.

As a recap, the 3 steps to prepare a session were:

  1. Identifying the objective – why is there a need for a brainstorm, what are the desired outcomes, how will these be presented to the end user
  2. Additional information – what information will you need to give you and the group some background knowledge to put the session into context
  3. Format – which approach will you take?

Now you have prepared the session, you should hopefully know feel more confident in leading the session. These 5 steps should help you:

Step 1 – Introduction

It’s crucial to set some basic ground rules for any type of brainstorm session. This should always include the likes of:

  • No belittling or dismissing ideas – all ideas, no matter how far-fetched or ridiculous, are allowed
  • No interruptions
  • Respect other people’s views and communication style
  • If the group wanders into a tangent, explain that the idea will be noted separately (so not to lose any good ideas) and that the group should come back to the main topic in the time they have.

The introduction should also include a brief summary to the group about why they’re in the group, the reasoning behind the session, the objectives, and how the findings will be used.

Step 2 – Leading the session

At this point, most of the hard work has already been done. You’ve prepared, you’ve told everyone why they’re here and what you expect of them. Your main job throughout the session is to make sure people stick to the ground rules and that each attendee has their chance to participate.

You will also need to make sure the input is balanced, for example, if someone is doing most of the talking, thank them for their input and tactfully ask if someone would like to add to their point or come up with a new idea. This opens the floor to everyone else, briefly but professionally silences the person doing all the talking and subconsciously gives permission to those who feel they need it to speak up. If there is someone who seems disengaged or just doesn’t provide any input, use this time to single them out by asking for their specific view.

Just don’t single out too many people – if a lot of people are disengaged or not participating, it might be appropriate to ask the group why this is. Word it in a way that isn’t accusatory but more inquisitive for example “The group isn’t coming up with a lot of collective ideas, do you think we’re missing something? Do you feel this approach isn’t the right one for idea generation? Do we need to work on this individually and reconvene at a later date equipped with more information? If so, let’s discuss what this information should be and decide how we will find it.”

But what happens if there’s a lot of enthusiasm and participation? Keeping an eye on the time is essential. If there a number of sections or topics you need to get through, you must make sure you stick to the allotted times. Going over time on one topic will have a knock-on effect for ALL following topics. However, enthusiasm shouldn’t be killed purely because an agenda you have created states the group needs to move on to the next topic.

Over time you will be able to figure out a way of allowing the time to go a bit over and shuffling the timings for the other topics. This of course is more restrictive the less time you have, but if you choose to do this, make sure you inform the group so they are confident the time is being looked after. If push comes to shove and it’s evident a lot more time is needed, you can always look into the option of having a follow up meeting at a later point.

Step 3 – Collating and relaying the information

About 10 minutes before the session comes to an end, you will need to start to discuss as a group which ideas are going to be taken forward. So that no ideas are lost (for example they might not be appropriate for one particular issue but is a good enough idea to not waste) you might find it helpful in categorising the ideas. Below are some examples of categorising your ideas:

  • Immediate action/Non-immediate but important action/Park for another project
  • Action within a month/Action within 6 months/Action within a year/No immediate action
  • Actioned by Team A/Actioned by Team B/Actioned by Team C
  • Needs approving/No approval but needs referring to/No approval or reference needed
  • It’s worth have a separate category for any ideas that weren’t related to this topic

Once the ideas have been categorised, relay the information by category to the group. This helps everyone structure the ideas in a logical pattern, but also highlights how ideas will be acted upon.

Step 4 – Formatting the outcomes

After the session, begin to format the ideas in the best suitable way, which should have already been determined in step 1 (third bullet point). Usually you could summarise the ideas by both category and as a whole. In some instances, you might find highlighting key themes in the ideas, or starting off with the big ideas that then feed into the ones with less impact. As with any presentation of data, it is all about the audience. How do they want to use the information? What do they really need to know? What would constitute as being too much information? Can the data be presented visually, for example with a word cloud to highlight common themes, or with a graph, or even infographic?

Step 5 – Follow up

Be sure to keep the brainstorm group updated with how the information is being used. It can sometimes be disheartening when you take part in a session and you hear nothing from the lead again, especially after having put the effort into the session. Even if the ideas haven’t gone any further, for example with management, let the group know this, ending it with a general “I will continue to chase and will contact you if there is any progress”. This means you won’t have to keep updating them on a regular basis if there is nothing to update them on.

It is also important to follow up with the end user. If the findings have been presented to the end user (see the post for tips on presentations) it is useful for them to also receive the same or more information by a follow up email for them to peruse in their own time. It’s always courteous too to remind them that should they need any more information or more work done on this (eg to include you and/or the group in any follow up actions) for them to get in touch.

I’ve taken these 5 steps on leading a brainstorm, and the 3 steps we looked over when preparing for brainstorms, and combined them in an awesome infographic which I’ll share on The Avid Doer’s social media accounts, and put at the end of this post.

Brainstorms are a great way not only to collect and formalise ideas, but to also bring different teams and people together whose differing perspectives can really add a fresh light on an issue. Essentially the success of a brainstorm lies within the solutions that are generated; making sure the preparation, format and facilitation of the session only makes the generation of solutions more time effective.

It’s also important to remember that as long as the solutions are found, the group have a say in how they are found. If you have a certain way in which you wish them to reach the end goal, but the group are veering to a more productive or innovative approach, it’s OK to take their lead and ‘roll with it’ – granted that the desired outcomes will be met in the same (if not less) amount of time.

Now, of course leading any sort of group, including brainstorms, involves an element of public speaking but as avid doers, we recognise this is something we need to work on to succeed in our careers. Even if your dream career doesn’t involve any public speaking, it’s a skill worth developing, especially if you consider yourself as an introvert or shy (please note these are two completely different things).

Over time, I will share ways that have helped me overcome these jitters, as well as inviting guest writers to share their tips on confidence. In the meantime the post I wrote on presentations offers a few pointers on how to handle speaking to a group of people.

 

Preparing and leading brainstorms

Preparing brainstorms in 3 easy steps

Brainstorming, blue skying, thought showers, idea mills…call them what you will and find least offensive, they are a powerful tool and I’m a huge fan. As a bubble of productive creativity, they are a safe hub of generating ideas that tackle a particular problem, decide how to get a particular outcome or direction for a particular project, plan a particular event – I could go on.

In short, it’s a dedicated session to dump ideas and provoke discussion and debate on feasibility, practicality and follow-up concepts.

If you have been asked to lead or facilitate a brainstorming session, you may be wondering how to go about it. Without resorting to brainstorming the ways in which to facilitate brainstorming sessions (although this is do-able), here are 3 steps to help prepare your session.

Step 1 – The objective

The first thing you need to be clear on is the brainstorm’s objective. Without being absolutely clear on this, you cannot effectively steer the session to the desired outcome. The three questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • What events have taken place to warrant the brainstorm – understanding what has happened for there to be a need for a brainstorm, as opposed to a meeting, round-robin email etc., will give you some background to the reasoning behind this. This should be included in the introduction to the session (look out for next week’s post on leading brainstorms) as it sets the scene for the attendees.
  • What are the desired outcomes from the brainstorm – ideally you should have been given a clear outcome for the brainstorm. If you can answer the first question, the outcome should be in context with the reason for the session.
  • How will the outcomes be presented after the session – how do the end users (this could be the person asking you to do the brainstorm or for another team who will take the actions away) want the information to be presented. Rarely will you be able to get away with presenting the crude pieces of paper the group dumped their ideas on, so you will need to determine before collecting the ideas how they will be cleaned up and summarised smartly to the end user. This should still be done at discretionary effort if the end user is happy to see the crude pieces of paper.

Step 2 – Additional information

Once you know the objective of the brainstorm, decide what additional information you will need. Being prepared will increase the effectiveness of the session, as well as avoiding any embarrassing questions you cannot answer in a room full of people, making you feel a little more confident. Additional information could include: the background; statistics or figures that help illustrate a problem; information from other people or teams that are not part of the session but will help with how the attendees come up with ideas; an agenda, explaining how much time will be spent on introductions and each topic; or case studies from other teams, departments or external organisations on how they approached a similar issue.

You’ll especially need to know who the attendees will be (or decide who they should be if you can) and what their experience, background and potential perspective will be. If you know them personally, it would be helpful to know if there are too many strong/weak vocalists. This will also help you to decide how to format the session.

Step 3 – Format

Now you know why the brainstorming session is needed, what its purpose is and all other additional information including who is attending, you will need to decide the format of the brainstorm. This needs to be appropriate to the audience, the objective and the time you have to conduct the session. You’ll also need to consider the strong/weak vocalists, for example, if there are more loud people than quiet, a big group session might not be the best option as the quiet’ns might not feel comfortable competing to be heard. As long as you can create and develop productive and usable ideas, there is no wrong way about it, but there usually is two or three ways that work the best. There are more and more ideas on different types of brainstorming – far too many to list and link to (but I’ve listed my favourites below) – so have a search on the number of formats and pick the best one that caters for the audience, objective and time. A few to mention are:

  • Old-fashioned brainstorm – a group of people giving the objective and begin to create, challenge, develop, imagine, and (hopefully) applaud ideas.
  • Individual and group think – similar to above but the objective and additional information is provided to the attendees well in advance. They all then individually start generating ideas before the session. They then take it in turns to share their ideas to the group on the day of the session. Not only does this really help for time-sensitive meetings, it also allows the attendees to do their own homework and gather their own additional information that would help the session.
  • Sticky notes – this is particularly helpful for ideas that aren’t too lengthy or complex and normally consist of 1- to 5-worded answers. The attendees are each given a sticky-note pad and use one note per idea (they can work on their own or in separated groups) and then stick these on a big board at the front. The group then discuss the ideas and can rearrange the positioning of the notes if there are a sequence of events. This is usually called storyboarding.
  • Stepladder brainstorm (1992 Rogelberg et al) – this is a new one for me and have only recently heard about it but it’s an interesting concept. Essentially the attendees are asked to leave the room bar two people. These two are then given the objective and so begin to create and discuss ideas. Then one person from the group that left is brought in to join the two people and given the objective. The one person tells the two people their ideas before the two people tell them what they came up with. Then another person joins the 3 people and so on. It’s a great way to steer away from ‘groupthink’ yet allows each person to have their say while also benefitting from the group’s thoughts.
  • Talking stick – this is a method where each member of the group provides an idea and the thoughts around it individually and in turn. The name comes from schools when children could only speak with they held the talking stick (my school had a wooden spoon). Props are optional…

So, preparing the brainstorm session is half the battle. But making the effort into this side of the process will make the other side, ie leading the session, a lot easier. Next week I share 5 easy steps for leading and facilitating a brainstorm session.

 

15 productive things to do on your commute

Getting the most out of your commute is something we could all get to grips with, considering that the UK’s average commute is 58 minutes according to City AM. And if you live in London, that commute is increased to 81 minutes to and from work. Most commuters dread this part of their working life, especially in the winter when the heater’s broken, the seats are wet from coats and umbrellas, and everybody seems to have a cold that seemingly prevents them from covering their mouths when they sneeze.

Most have also developed a number of coping mechanisms to include their commute time to their daily productivity. Commutes can be a nice way to separate work from home, a transition period, a defined punctuation of time that helps shift our mindset.

Today I am going to share 15 ways to make the most out of your commute and maximise its productivity potential. These are listed in a way that assumes most commutes are driving, cycling, walking, and catching public transport, and I note which way of commute is most appropriate to each activity using D, C, W and PT respectively (in case you assume knitting is perfectly acceptable while driving, which, just to note, IT IS NOT).

Now I’m hooked on making them, I’ve put these into an infographic at the end of the post.

  1. Listen to podcasts (D/C/W/PT)

I am a recent convert to podcasts and, quite frankly, I cannot get enough of them. Using the commute time to absorb information is not only a great way to pass the time, or to learn more about a particular topic, or catch up with the latest episode of a serial drama, but it’s also a very passive and relaxing way to absorb the information. If you haven’t given them a go, please try them out! There’s a podcast for nearly every subject from business to confidence, cooking to music, comedy sketches to serial dramas.

  1. Listen to music (D/C/W/PT)

With a multitude of pocket-sized devices, I don’t need to remind you that anyone can listen to music on the go now. Using your commute to pump yourself up before work, or deflate after a day of work (music styles should vary, unless you like relaxing to Metallica) is another passive activity that fills the time, but also can have huge mental health benefits.

  1. Listen to…nothing (D/C/W/PT)

Precisely that. Nothing. Listen to, or do, nothing. Much like listening to music, when you just sit in silence, either being present in the moment or shutting out all external noises, it helps massively to prepare you for the day ahead, or deflates you after a stressful day. This is particularly good for days which are information-heavy, or, as other introverts can relate, very people-y.

  1. Learn a new language (D/C/W/PT)

Strictly speaking, you could do this as a driver, cyclist or walker, however it’s probably easier if you learn a new language with the writing in front of you. But fitting this often overlooked skill into your commute will really broaden your general linguistic skills, open you to new culture, and look fancy amongst those around you.

  1. Socialise (D/C/W/PT)

With work and daily life taking up a lot of our time, we are all guilty of not socialising as much as we used to. Using this dead time between work and home gives you the opportunity to call a friend, start a group chat or FaceTime a family member, without it encroaching on your time at home. You could even socialise in person (a novel idea!) by car-pooling, walking with a friend or catching a train home with a colleague. I know someone who has even developed a ‘train family’ who celebrate birthdays and Christmas together by throwing catered and decorated parties…on the train. Mix it up a bit. If you’re an introvert, you’re time at home is not only precious, but essential to recuperate from peopling at work and sometimes visiting friends immediately after work might be mentally exhausting.

  1. Organise your day ahead (D/W/PT)

Having a dedicated time to your day to make sure future deadlines and appointments are sorted really helps in the long run to avoid time management related stress. Even drivers can organise their diaries by speaking to Siri, or the like. You can do this going home from work too and organise tomorrow’s appointments, especially if you’re one to dwell on upcoming meetings in the evenings.

  1. Listening to a mindfulness app (W/PT)

Mindfulness apps are forever becoming more and more popular as people begin to realise there’s more to them than airy fairy flute music but proper backed-up science that proves the benefits of mindfulness. Again, this is just another way to ease yourself to and from a day of work, and something to try out that you might not feel compelled to do when you’re at home with distractions. I haven’t included drivers in this activity, as although most exercises can be done with your eyes open, it’s probably not the safest to zone out while driving.

  1. Exercise (C/W/PT)

Who doesn’t love a bit of exercise? Only a selected few unfortunately. For those who can’t seem to find time to fit exercise into their day (or actively find ways of not fitting it in…), incorporating it into your commute is a great start. As your commute is a necessary evil and there is no way of avoiding it, making exercise as part of your commute makes it routine and more easy to commit. The type of exercise is limited to walking, cycling (either the whole or part of the commute), power-walking and jogging but it can be really enjoyable…on a dry day. Even if you catch a train or bus, getting off a stop or two (or more) earlier and walking the rest of the way, it still counts.

  1. Read a blog (PT)

Catching up on your favourite blog (like this one!), or blogs, is another great way to absorb information. If you like to read anyway, then you find this way of absorbing information is just as easy and passive as listening to a podcast. Be it a blog on a personal interest of yours or something related to work, anything goes.

  1. Write a blog (PT)

Nothing out there doing it for you? Write a blog that you feel the blogosphere is missing. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be missing it; if writing a blog is something you already do, or something you think you will enjoy doing, then using your commute as a time to write for it is a perfect time. It also encourages a daily habit of it, one of the most important aspect to a successful blog. About 75% of my posts are written on the train going to and from work – I type it out on my phones notepad and paste it into an email to myself, so you don’t even need to drag your laptop around.

  1. Read a book (PT)

Similar to number 7, only in book format. Again, it can be your favourite genre (I like a grisly whodunit), something to do with work, or something entirely new.

  1. Write a book (PT)

Similar to number 8. Replace ‘blog’ with ‘book’, ‘blogosphere’ with ‘book shops’ and ‘posts’ with ‘pages’.

  1. Work on a side hustle (PT)

If you have a yearning to start your own business or have one on the side as a side hustle, using your commute to work on this adds to the input while not eating into work time and home time. Obviously there are certain things you might not be able to do on a train, for example if you’re a blacksmith, but the related admin tasks can easily be done using a phone, tablet, or good old fashioned notepad. There are some side hustles people might feel they could do on a train for example knitting, graphic design or social media marketing.

  1. Study a course (PT)

The power that is online or distance learning enables you to learn new skills from the comfort of your own home…or your commute. Most people who take online courses feel as though they struggle to commit to a schedule or find a time to do it; making this a part of your commute ensures you can commit to a regular schedule and find the time to do it. If you look after a home and family, doing this means you get to get stuck into your course without distractions or feeling obligated to do things around the house.

  1. Work (PT)

Although this goes against the whole concept of switching off after work, some people find that they can get more done on the way to and from work as it’s mostly distraction-free. They see themselves as not officially at work yet and therefore unavailable to take calls or respond to emails. The trick is to get the right balance – working during your commute should be able to help manage your time better or put any worries at ease. Go too far though, where you just need to do more work to meet a deadline, can lead to either poor time management (relying on unpaid hours to get your work done) or over loading, both of which needs addressing with your manager. When it reaches this stage, you will find it harder and harder to separate home life from work life.

Now, I could have listed a whole bunch of other ideas, for example binge watching a series or aimlessly scrolling through social media accounts, but I really wanted to focus on what productive things us avid doers can do to add to our day, not inconvenience it.

Personally, I’m glad I have a commute. When I’m not working from home, I travel to work by train for an hour each way and it’s an unavoidable part of my day where I have no other option but to find things to do. It’s a time of day that is forced upon us and therefore is a great excuse to do the things we want to that might otherwise seem unproductive if you were at home with a sink full of dishes.

 

Thigstodoonyourcommute

Dealing with people more senior than you

Regardless of your role now and in the future, you will always have to deal with people more senior than you (until you hit the big time and become CEO) so it’s important to understand how you emotionally deal with these people. It’s also important for me to clarify that when I say ‘senior’, I mean in role or position, not in years. 

Of course, each senior person is different; it may be easier to deal with people more senior than you than others, but sometimes it can feel intimidating, even for those who don’t consider themselves as introverts. For that reason (and so I can create a typing shortcut), we’ll call this particular group of people more senior than you as ‘the Seniors’ (excluding those who don’t necessarily make you feel intimidated).

One of the first things to assume when you’re dealing with the Seniors is that they too are human beings. This is both incredibly obvious, and yet effortlessly forgotten. For that reason, going back a step before this consideration is to check your thought pattern that is making you feel worked up and intimidated.

Emotional intelligence

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot on emotional intelligence (or E.I., emotional quotient, E.Q.) and part of what makes someone more emotionally intelligent is to keep their thought patterns in check. So much thinking and worrying can occur out of habit and subconsciously. It just runs on autopilot while you control your conscious processes (eg panicking, getting worked up, acting defensively). But although your thoughts run on autopilot, the products of them are certainly present and conscious; feeling intimidated, feeling like you’re not good enough, feeling like you’re going to be ridiculed for knowing less than they do, feeling like the gap between you and them in terms on seniority is proportionate to the gap in knowledge, intelligence or capability. All of those fun things.

This is why it’s so important to listen to the thought patterns being created in the background without your knowing because their effects are the very things holding you back from performing confidently, and therefore keeping them in check is an important way of dealing with Seniors.

So how do you keep your thought patterns in check?

There is no doubt a number of different methods out there that work for different people, but one I have found particularly helpful is the below process:

  1. Single out one thought pattern
  2. Articulate why this thought pattern makes you feel intimidated
  3. Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen
  4. Ask yourself how you would handle the situation if the worst was to happen
  5. Ask yourself what you have to offer that counteracts the original pattern.

(I’ve made this in a handy infographic at the end of this post!)

So, by way of example, let’s say I have to contribute my opinion to a meeting that consists mostly of Seniors:

  1. My thought pattern is that I have nothing to offer that the Seniors don’t already know
  2. I feel intimidated as I will make a fool of myself if I offer my opinion that’s either invalid or is common knowledge amongst the group of Seniors
  3. The worst case scenario would be the group ridiculing me for not contributing anything of value and making me, and the group, feel really awkward. I’d feel really stupid
  4. If this was to happen, thinking about it, I would aim to remind them that I was under the impression the meeting was a space for offering opinions and hearing from different points of views, and what may seem obvious to them and not to me might actually highlight a certain significance eg colleagues less senior than the Seniors are not privy to the information they are when they ought to be.
  5. I have my opinion to offer, which is neither wrong nor invalid. I have been invited to the meeting for a reason and if I had nothing to offer, I wouldn’t have been invited. After receiving the invite, it would help me to have a quick chat with the organiser to understand their expectations in terms of my involvement and contribution. That way I know why I’m there and I can do some homework on the matter if needs be. Having the opportunity to offer my opinion at a lower position in terms of seniority ensures whatever is being tackled in the meeting is done so with a hierarchal-diverse group.

Steps 1 to 3 are acknowledging the subconscious thinking you didn’t know about. Steps 4 and 5 are where you need to turn the pattern around and establish some non-emotional logic to get a truer view of the situation.

Safety nets

It’s important to remember step 4 in particular, as this provides you your safety net. I’m all for safety nets. They’re a handy mechanism, a banked reaction that has already been thought through, at a time where you were cool and collected, so that should the worst happens you have a quick response at the ready to use. This saves you from having to think of a quick and collected reaction on the spot when all eyes are on you. Step 4 is very unlikely to happen, but knowing you can handle the worst case scenario off-the-cuff with a good response will ease the fear.

Step 5 is the most crucial step. Having gone through your pattern and why it’s happened, the final step turns the pattern on its head by replacing it with positivity and logic, and helps you see it from a pragmatic point of view. This means your energy is spent on how you can make a positive impact in the situation, rather than on how you might mess up or feel awkward.

And by noticing the positive impact, you become more aware of how to up your game, like doing more homework into the nature of the meeting in the above example, rather than crumble under the self-imposed pressure.

Another thing to consider is the possibility that you want to impress the Seniors because you admire them professionally. Do you fear failing in front of them, or not delivering the goods, because you see them as a role model? Although this is a positive thing (I will talk more about the concept of work role models and ‘career crushes’ in another post), the pattern itself is making this into a negative experience. Instead you could try to connect this to step 5 and turn it into a positive experience by thinking what they would do in your situation, or what you would need to do to meet or exceed their expectations of you.

The senior profile

As I mentioned, at the end of the day, the colleagues that intimidate you – and that’s how they should be seen, your colleagues – are people; people you work with and therefore must share professional respect. The Seniors would have been in the same position as you and the ones who are down to earth will be aware of that.

For those who aren’t as down to earth as the others, they are no different to any other colleague you work with that might be a little more difficult to handle. I have found in the past that these particular Seniors exert their seniority to get what they want out of you. While you can’t change who they are or how they act, you can learn how to cope with their behaviour towards you in an attempt to work on a better professional relationship. Of course if it gets to a point of bullying, you need to raise this using your employer’s appropriate procedures.

Coping with difficult Seniors

So if these people exert their power to get what they want out of you, you first need to figure out if this is a reasonable request. If it isn’t, again follow your employer’s appropriate procedures. If is reasonable and forms part of your role, as an avid doer, you should turn your thought pattern to see this as an opportunity to improve yourself in giving them what they want in the best way you can.

This involves: probing them for a clear steer of the nature and extent of the information they need from you; how they want this information delivered to them; when do they need it by; if there is an unreasonable deadline, explain to them why a reschedule is more appropriate; explain to them how you will manage their expectations; is this an ad hoc request or will they be requiring it on a regular basis?

By improving your efficiency, you improve the professional relationship, improve your reliability and in time they should not have to be so difficult to work with. You have then turned the experience into one that develops you, rather than intimidates and drains you.

Reality check

This might sound really easy in theory, and you might already be doubting the likeliness of this happening in practice. I know it can be hard in these situations but they are always going to be a part of working life. It’s therefore essential you give it a go and start to hear what specifically you are reacting to, how you choose to handle it, and how to make it into a positive development opportunity. Like anything outside of your comfort zone, practising really does make things easier. You will become more resilient and strong in handling these situations. Give it a try; ultimately the alternative is letting negative patterns affect your working life.

 

thought patterns

Moving from a call-centre environment

This post is the first of a series that advises on moving from one working environment to another.

“I currently work in a call-centre providing quotes to customers with a bit of cross selling but I’m ready to move onto another type of role. I want to work in an office that doesn’t involve non-stop phone calls, for example administration, but due to my lack of experience I’m worried I won’t ever get away from call centres. Any suggestions?” – Bob B.

Moving from one area of work to another, regardless of the nature of each, can sometimes seem too out of reach and hard to accomplish. Working in call centres can sometimes restrict the amount of duties you have in your day-to-day role so there may seem few examples of other work for you to demonstrate to recruiters.

The first thing I would suggest is determine how long you intend staying in your current role. Having an end date in mind not only helps you focus on a deadline but it also allows you to explore what you can do between now and when you leave.

Unless you’re in a desperate situation where you need to abandon ship right now, you might need to ask yourself if you can delay your plans to move on for up to another 6 months. This is so that you can start exploring everything your current employer has to offer to you now, that you can demonstrate to your new employer, and not deny yourself on what’s on hand to you in your current role.

Existing development opportunities

For example, you might want to ask for extra responsibilities that take you away from the phones. Sitting down with your manager and explaining what you would like to try out would be a good starting point as they may be aware of any secondment opportunities, any additional tasks they can send your way or offer to set you up with some job shadowing. Be sure to remind them of the sort of extra duties you would prefer; you mention you want to move to a more administrative role, so the extra stuff you’re given needs to match any future roles. Being able to relate these extra opportunities back to your existing role, and how they can complement it will increase your chances of your manager being on board.

However, spending time off the phones in a call centre will require a pretty hefty and convincing business case and you might be fighting a losing battle. In this case, I would suggest looking to see if there are any skills you can brush up on outside of working hours that you will need in an administrative role.

Depending on the type of admin role you’re going for, you wouldn’t normally require too many academic or vocational qualifications (however, if these are likely to be required if you were looking to progress once you have the admin role, you need to let them know you’re keen to gain these at a later date if you haven’t already got them, and then follow through on your promise). You may find you will only need Microsoft Office skills which can be picked up with practice alongside a book for beginners.

A quicker option

There is another, quicker way. In a previous article, I talked about transferable skills, where you can bring your existing skills developed from your current and previous roles to a new employer or position. Figuring out what you can already do, and portraying this in the best light (without lying) to prospective employers will save you from spending more time in a role that has nothing further to offer in terms of development or satisfaction. I took these steps myself when I worked in a call centre, my first full time job as a ‘grown up’ when I was 17.

One of the first things you need to do with this approach is sit down and go over everything you do on a day-to-day basis. Then look at each of these listed duties and determine which specific set of skills they require – these are the skills you can transfer to a new role outside of a call-centre environment. You’ll be surprised at how many you have.

You really need to dissect each task you do and pull out all the skills that each individual task requires. These skills will then become the building blocks of a set of (seemingly) new abilities that can be presented in a more universal way.

Phone skills

Let me give you an example. Working in a call centre, you may list your first task as ‘answering phone calls’. So what skills do you need to answer phone calls and make sure you do it correctly, compliantly and to the satisfaction of the customer and your line manager?

Digging deep into this task, you could list a number of skills: customer service; understanding the needs of your customer by actively listening and asking the right questions; dissemination (feel free to pinch that word, it’s a good’n) of verbal information; dissemination of data should you refer to any databases to help you inform the customer of the quote; referring to and updating databases; provide solutions specific to customers’ needs; demonstrating composure and professionalism when there is a back log of calls; working timely and efficiently; able to use a number of systems simultaneously while the customer is on the phone; ensuring you are up to date with the product and keeping abreast of changes and updates.

And this is just one task that you might have thought you couldn’t relate to an admin role. This is the depth you need to go into. After you’ve listed a number of tasks you do, you would have built a number of skills that could be completely removed from a call-centre environment and placed somewhere else.

Beyond your immediate role

You will also need to include any relevant skills beyond your role. This can be a little harder to think of as they’re not so obvious. For example any relatable volunteering you do or any previous projects you’ve worked on in and out of work. As mentioned above, you can easily work on ‘extracurricular’ activities outside of work if your employer can’t offer you something you want to learn and develop.

Another range of skills beyond your immediate role which are transferable to anywhere you go is how you manage your performance. This can include: the targets you are given and how you make sure you meet them; how you keep on top of your professional development; how you help your immediate colleagues out and wider teams; how you take and use feedback.

With these components, you can go on to rebuild your CV aimed at your desired role with your re-branded set of skills. Keep your eye out for a series of articles that I will be writing on how I transferred obscure skills into the corporate world, as well as tips on writing a CV.

 

Presentations for introverts: Part 2

In my previous post, I shared 5 tips on what anyone, and particularly introverts, can do before a presentation to put in place some safety nets. We discussed the importance of getting clarity on the point of the presentation, fact-checking, getting your intro right to start things off on the right foot, rehearsing, and the ‘prepare, pause, repeat’ method. In this post I share a further 5 tips on what you can do to keep your cool during the presentation.

  1. When you mess up

Allow yourself to mess up. Unless you are a political or power figure who needs to deliver a flawless speech, you are a person telling people about something at work that they need to know about. Simple as that. So if you mess up your words, just stop, excuse yourself, dust yourself off and try again. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Would you feel embarrassed if you did that in a one-to-one conversation? Like I said, this is work, with people, who just need information given to them, not a flawless production. Lost your train of thought? Then say that. Don’t pretend you haven’t and bluff your way through it, it will look really obvious. Admit it and make a joke out of it – prepare one if needs be – ‘sorry, I’m that excited about this glamorous subject, my mind’s raced ahead to the next slide! Where was I?’.

If you are stumbling your words or rushing, make yourself aware that you could be afraid of silence. Some people feel they need to fill silent gaps as quickly as possible, making them panic and stumble. Taking time to punctuate your presentation with a suitably timed pause actually looks and sounds better than rushing from one topic or sentence to the next. The silences can be a conscious decision, or a natural pause of concentration. The 2 or 3 seconds of silence (even though it might seem longer to you!) is enough time to compose yourself and gather your thoughts for the next sentence.

  1. Offer experienced people to share their view

I understand the intimidating feeling of presenting to people who are more experienced than you. If they have been given the objective of the presentation and they still felt the need to attend the presentation, then that’s one victory already achieved – they want to hear what you have to say. If you know in advance who these people are, do a bit of a background check into their experience (don’t be creepy about it) and find out what they do. That way if they really do know more about the subject, find a way of letting them offer their thoughts into the presentation. Ask them what their views are or relate a certain point to them.

‘…and this is why the figures look to be so low in the next quarter. Susan, I believe you worked with Finance a lot on this, would you care to share what your thoughts are on this? Is there anything you would like to add that I might not have covered?’

You have given Susan less imaginary power to challenge or embarrassing you by controlling the situation. You’ve practically told her ‘I acknowledge you know a lot about this, I’m not trying to say I know more. Please can we use your knowledge and share your experience with the group’.

Of course, Susan doesn’t actually want to challenge or embarrass you, she’s actually quite lovely.

  1. Visual aids

Now, as I mentioned, I will be writing about putting together a presentation at a later date, but the reason I have included visual aids to help you overcome your nerves is because they’re a great place for eyes to rest. In other words, everyone is looking at something other than you! Be it a PowerPoint slide, a physical handout or infographic, give the group somewhere they can rest their eyes on, taking the focus away from you.

Some, if not most, introverts feel uncomfortable with attention on them, so having a bunch of eyes ‘judging’ you while you’re going through your already nerve-racking presentation adds to our worries! Give them something else to look at.

  1. Check in regularly

Make sure you check that everyone is happy with the presentation at regular points, or in corporate lingo, ‘checking the temperature’. Not to a point where it’s annoying, but maybe after each big topic or every 20 minutes or so. Sometimes your nerves can build up throughout the presentation if you are the only one talking. If no one is saying anything and you just see a sea of faces looking blankly at your presentation, firstly remind yourself this could be just their resting faces as they’re digesting the information; it might not have anything to do with you boring them.

Secondly, by checking in on them, you can gauge how they’re feeling about it. If asking them has snapped them out of a trance and they all confirm they’re happy with the pace, information etc. then you can carry on with a bit more confidence. If they’re struggling to keep up or digest the information, then checking in on them early means not only can the presentation be readjusted or re-explained in another way for the audience to really get the most out of the presentation, but it’s also good to find this out now rather than get through to the end and no one not knowing what the hell’s just happened. This causes embarrassment and will hit your confidence unnecessarily.

  1. Open the presentation to the floor a lot

Not only does this keep your audience engaged or give you 5 minutes to recompose yourself, you get to know a bit more about the people you’re talking to when you make them part of the presentation. Sometimes it could be not knowing someone, or being intimidated by them because you’re not familiar with how they act with colleagues that puts you off presenting to people. By asking for input and open discussion throughout the presentation, you get an understanding of their character and you’re more than likely going to realise they’re not as scary as you imagined.

Make sure to not stick with the same person or selected few; try and get everyone involved so that you get the maximum group contribution. Edging quiet people to share their views also helps if there is someone dominating the discussions.

Giving presentations is scary to begin with. But admitting that alone will really help you, and bring yourself to terms that this is the way it is, and not necessarily a sign of danger or something that you shouldn’t be doing. Remind yourself this is a professional environment and no one will boo you off stage or think any less of you if you trip over your words. Remember to breath, take your time, and in time, you’ll become better and better.

 

Presentations for introverts: Part 1

“I have to give a presentation to a group of around 20 people but I’m really scared of public speaking. What’s more, there are a couple of people in the group more experienced than me who probably know a lot more about the stuff I’m going to talk about anyway. As an introvert, I haven’t got a lot of confidence with having all eyes on me and I’m just dreading making a mess of it. I know I need to develop this skill to grow professionally, so any advice would be much appreciated!”

I hear that. As an introvert myself  I can’t tell you that the nerves will go away anytime soon. Believe me when I say though that it does get easier with practice though, as with probably every other challenging task in existence. So it’s great that you acknowledge this is something you need to do. To get ahead in your career, it’s an important thing to learn, whether you’re comfortable with it or not, and approaching it head on rips off the proverbial plaster. I’m much more confident with them now and once the momentum picks up, it’s really (nerdily) enjoyable!

My approach is having a number of safety nets in place before and throughout the presentation in 10 simple steps. The first 5 talk about what you can do before the presentation. I will then talk about the other 5 in the next post, where I explain what you can do during the presentation. These are tips on delivering a presentation – I will write another post later about how to put one together.

  1. What’s the point…

…of the presentation? To avoid wasted effort and time, clarify what the presentation needs to be about. To use a corporate word for it, what is its ‘objective’? What does the audience need to take away from the presentation? Who are the audience? And if this has been commissioned by someone else like your line manager, confirm the point with them so that you’re both on the same page before work starts. This saves you embarrassment if you’re pulled up in mid-presentation that you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

  1. Fact check

Always routinely fact check your presentation. Even if you are pretty sure a certain fact is correct, double check this from a reliable source. Odds are the one fact you didn’t check will be brought up by someone who will challenge you. Scary right? Check your facts.

  1. Get your intro right

While conquering my fear of public speaking, I find that the best way to start a presentation is a really good and well-rehearsed introduction. Starting off on a trip or stumble (verbally of course, although physically is just as humiliating) will really knock your confidence and you run the risk of this setting the tone for the rest of the presentation. Only a risk though, not a guarantee.

Knowing exactly what you’re going to say at the beginning and how you’re going to say it will really get you on the right foot and build confidence-momentum. This will involve writing down the tiny detail, even an ice breaker, of what you’re going to say to hush people to attention. Practise what you’re going to say, you need this in your ammo. For example:

Right everyone? Excuse me, everyone? [you need to choose specific wording otherwise you won’t feel comfortable using a hushing expression on the spot without knowing what the words sound like in the air]. I think it’s time we all crack on with this if we’re going to make the best of our time so if we could just settle, we can begin.

‘Right, thank you everyone. My name is Bob, and today I will be talking about X so that by the end of the presentation, we will get a really clear understanding of what we need to do next, while also opening the floor for any comments’.

  1. Rehearse

Go through the presentation a number of times and make sure the flow is right. You don’t want to write an entire script down that you read off, which sounds like a safe option, but it’s really awkward hearing it. And once you start and you realise people know what you’re doing, it’s incredibly hard (and more awkward) to break out of it mid-presentation.

  1. Prepare, pause, repeat.

Preparing for a presentation might sound like an obvious step, and rightly so as without preparing for the presentation, you feel less in control, and that’s where the fear kicks in. What you need to be cautious about though is preparing too much. That might sound a little odd, but you can actually prepare so much that you play out the same presentation over and over again so rigidly but in your head. Come the day you present, it’s more likely not going to turn out the way you planned, and frankly, you can never be 100% sure how it will go. Preparing too much gives you a false sense of security.

Instead, give my ‘prepare, pause, repeat’ method a go. What I do it prepare a lot for a presentation then ‘pause’, or just put it away out of my mind and not think about it for a day or two. Then I prepare again, be it a rehearsal or quick fact-check, and then I put it away out of my mind again. This stops you preparing so much that you overwhelm yourself with such a rigid perception of how it will go while also giving you the opportunity to not be so heavily involved that you can’t spot grammatical errors or inaccuracies.

So these are 5 things you can do to put some safety nets in place before the presentation. In my next post I will share 5 further tips in what you can do during the presentation.

 

Getting out of a dead-end job

We’ve all been there; feeling stuck in a job that offers little or no prospects, no possibility of moving up the ladder, and with each day coming into work – the same smells, the same annoying sounds, the same entrance, the same, the same, the same – it feels progressively harder and tiresome. The excitement of Christmas seems like a distant memory, and while your choice of quinoa salad ‘for the new you’ will certainly not pick your spirits up, you feel nothing will.

Being in a dead end job can really take its toll on a person, especially for those who want to progress and just smash their career. Working in an organisation that can’t offer the career or job you want will make you start asking what you should do next, or you might have already considered your next move after planning your career in 2018.

To help you focus your thoughts, you could start by assessing your situation and ascertain:

  • Your wants: what you want to do – the type of job or career you want, the industry, the working culture, the lifestyle, your work/life balance
  • Your abilities: what you can do that can get you to where you want to be – the current skills you have, the attitude you possess, the experience you have developed, the ability to relocate, the flexibility in terms of working patterns, the budget to fund learning new career skills
  • Your limitations: what you can’t do that limits what you want – the skills you don’t have but would like or need, lack of flexibility to relocate due to, for example, childcare, the funds for new qualifications

This won’t be an overnight epiphany. You might find it will take a while before a clear picture forms in your head about your wants, abilities and limitations. More so if you can’t decide what career you want in the first place. It’s important to not keep these in your head either; it’s an agreed

But once you do have an understanding of this, you will consequently be presented with four options:

  1. Move on and find another job

You might come to the point where you feel that your current organisation can’t offer anything you want any more and that you should find another job. Although this option shouldn’t be taken too lightly, it might be the best solution for you if you want to develop and progress, either in your current or new field.

Looking for a new job in your current organisation should be your first port of call so to not to interrupt your years of service (you have full employee rights after 2 years’ service with your current employer), but if your employer is the problem, then your search should exclude them so you won’t be tempted to take a new job within the company and find yourself back to square one later. And if they are the problem, and it’s come to the point that it’s affecting your health, then this option could be the best one for you. No job is worth putting your health at risk.

  1. Stay put while studying

If it’s at all bearable, you could consider staying in your current role while studying a new skill or qualification, especially if the career you want requires these and you don’t have. I’m a big believer in studying on your own steam – that is studying in your own time, with your own money, under your own initiative. Studying on your own steam not only does this mean you get to study what you want to get where you need, but it demonstrates motivation to any new employers.

This option prepares you for your next career move without haste but it also justifies you staying where you are. It’s no longer a dead end job but a job that pays the bills while you study. Having chosen this option before, I can say that this does really change your attitude of the job you want to leave and makes the wait that bit more bearable.

  1. Stay put while working on a side hustle

When thinking about what you want to do, you might have concluded that you want to start your own business, either as an eventual full-time venture, or alongside your ‘bread-and-butter’ job. If it’s a full time thing you’re after, this option is similar to option 2, where you’re making the job more justified as it pays the bills while working on setting up your own business. It provides financial security while you get the business off the ground, and acts as stabilisers until the business is ready to generate sustainable income.

If you want the side hustle alongside the ‘bread-and-butter’ job then again it justifies you being in the dead end job. Some people find that being in a dead end job means they can reserve their energy to their side hustle, whether it’s for extra income, as a creative outlet, or just for fun and not-for-profit. Having a number of roles is what’s termed as a ‘portfolio career’ and it has been predicted that this way of working will become more and more popular as people find multiple avenues to use the full spectrum of their skills. Although the entrepreneurial route isn’t one I want to take, it is something I have explored in the past and continue to be fascinated with the idea and community, so I will write posts about entrepreneurialism and portfolio careers at a later date.

  1. Stay put and reassess your situation

If you’re not in the position to find a new role or take up new skills, whichever reasons these may be, you should speak with your line manager. Even if you have spoken to them before, by talking to them again and explaining how you have assessed your wants, abilities and limitations, it takes the conversation into a new and more productive direction.

Your line manager might not be in a position to offer many opportunities to you but it is their responsibility to talk to you about the options already available to you like reshaping your role, taking on more responsibility, or giving you new tasks – anything to adjust your routine.

Reassessing how your work is given to you or the tasks you do can help you find ways of coping with your job. Reassessing how you react to your job will also help, focussing your mind on the positives rather than just the negatives. I know of the least likely of people to get into positive mantras who have gone on to use them to cope with their dead end job with great success. Finding mantras that you like and storing these on your phone make a very handy pick-me-up when the day gets trying.

Speaking about your job in a way that puts you (and others around you!) down in the dumps doesn’t improve your situation – if anything it makes it a lot worse – and if by ascertaining that the best option for you at the moment is to stay where you are, then you can only control how you respond to this, be it using mantras, developing your emotional intelligence or becoming more resilient.

Easier said than done? Yes. But there is truth in it and worth giving it a go. You owe it to your mental and physical health to find ways of coping with a job you’re unhappy with if you genuinely feel there’s no way out. Just promise yourself that you won’t become complacent with the notion that there isn’t a way out – make a point of going through these steps again after a couple of months and you might find an idea that was hiding on you the first time round.

I hope this have provided you with some clarity on the options open to you. It’s important to really figure out what you want in a career before working through the four options. If you’re unfortunate enough to not know what you want to do, there will be a post or two about this in the coming weeks (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). I use the term ‘unfortunate’ not in a derogatory way, but with total empathy as I was in this boat for far too long before learning what I wanted to do in my career.

 

Planning your career in 2018

So 2017 is behind us. Where did it go? Did you manage to accomplish everything you wanted to do, or did one thing or another get out of hand and time just simply slipped away? It’s OK, it can happen. Life gets in the way and sometimes certain commitments overtake others.

So, as 2018 kicks off, here are 3 really easy steps on how you can take more control of your career planning in the new year, whether you fell behind in 2017 or not.

Step one: look at what you did (and didn’t do) in 2017

Before making a start on what you want your career to look like in 2018, you will need to evaluate what was and wasn’t done this year. This isn’t an exercise to give you a hard time or dwell on mistakes; it’s about making a simple bullet point list of each the things you accomplished and things that got side-tracked. The list of accomplishments provides you the self-reflection every professional needs time to do, while also laying down the ground work for next year, for example, you might have completed a level 3 course, so 2018 might involve looking at level 4. But for now, focus on what was done.

Then you can focus on what you didn’t do, and determine what got in the way. For example, you might have wanted to be promoted this year but didn’t; why was this? Lack of skills? Lack of insight to what is required for a promotion? Your company doesn’t really offer promotion opportunities? Write, or keep note of your answer to this.

Step two: look at what you want to realistically accomplish in 2018

The key word here is ‘realistically’. You need to keep your eagerness to be a highflier by tomorrow in check and keep timescales realistic. This helps give you accurate deadlines that can actually be met, rather than thinking you have failed somehow by not meeting a deadline you set that was improbable in the first place. This will be put you in a place of defeat and potentially stop you in your tracks when you could have made steady progress to your goals in a controlled pace.

You will want to begin by understanding the direction you generally want to go in. This can be in 1, 5, 10 years etc., from now, but where is the focus? The master plan? For example, if you are an insurance professional and one day you want to be a manager. It might not be in 2018, but that’s where you want to head for now. It also might not be the actual end goal and for now it seems that far away, it’s not a clear picture as of yet. That’s fine, for now you can focus on what will get you closer to being an insurance manager that will be accomplish-able in 2018?

Begin your list with the areas you might want to explore on the things you had accomplished in 2017. As avid doers, we don’t rest on our laurels when we’ve completed something, we want to see where the next step is, where can this take us, how can we get even better? It might not necessarily be closely related to it, but can feed an idea as a starting point to your list. For example, you might have been promoted in 2017. Well done! Now what? You might want to explore how you can understand the new position fully by doing a particular thing, or upping your game by patching over some skill gaps you’ve only just discovered now that you’ve started the new role.

You can then move onto the things you didn’t do while being mindful of the reasons why you didn’t do them. To eliminate any out of date stuff, determine if there are any objectives you didn’t meet because they no longer relevant to your role, or what you want to do. If they’re not important, don’t include them in your 2018 plan. Then, anything left over, you can decide to bring forward into 2018 as they will still be relevant and play a part in your development and progress. Feel free to tweak them in certain ways so that they make sense.

Then the final consideration for step two is to include any new areas you want to cover in 2018, any new objectives, that aren’t covered by the lists above. Anything new that would help you in your master plan.

Step three: bridging the ‘now’ to the ‘then’

Now you need to bridge between where you are now, and where you want to be by the end of 2018. To do this, you need to understand what is needed to get you there and detail this into a particular objective. For example ‘getting good at maths’ is a good start if you have recently been put in charge of handling budgets, but it’s not really quantifiable. It’s not giving you any recipe to make sure that is completed. You know you need to ‘get good at maths’ but how are you going to do this? Make it easy for yourself by laying out the steps you need to do to get good, for example ask sign up to a course, buy a book (a popular genre is along the lines of ‘finance for non-financial managers’), understand financial terminology (a glossary from a search engine should do the trick), or simply make a conscious effort to ask more questions from those who have more experience than you when you don’t understand a particular concept.

If you know where you want to be by the end of 2018 but you’re not entirely sure how to get there then make it your mission to understand that. Make that as one of your objectives. You can then break it down into a step-by-step recipe, as above, for example research on the internet, online resources about particular careers, look up courses, find information in books, or simply ask people face-to-face.

You could start with your line manager, as you should already be having conversations about your career anyway – if not, make sure you do. Take control by setting a meeting up yourself with your manager so you can talk about where you want to be and what they can do to help you understand what needs to be done.

Of course, you might not be in the position to ask around too conspicuously if, for example one of your objects is to find another job, or start your own business. If this is the case, speak to those already in the career or company you want to swap to, talk to those who are already running their businesses. This will really help you get tried-and-tested steps to implement into your objectives for 2018.

What if you don’t know what to do?

I hear that. Like so many others, I have been there myself. You know you want to put your energy into a career, you feel as though you’re a wind-up toy that’s ready to be put down and speed off to success if you just knew in which direction to be dropped.

This is a whole topic in itself, and one I will cover over a number of posts in the future as I believe it’s a common problem, not to mention one that is so incredibly frustrating for those who have the avid doer attitude without an outlet to apply it (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). For now though, you can still follow these steps to help you on the track of discovering what it is you want to do. That can be your end goal, or at least your master plan (ie you might not know by the end of 2018, but you can have objectives in place to help you discover). What did you do in 2017 to help you find out what you want to do? If you did nothing, why is that (note: ‘waiting for a eureka moment’ is not an acceptable answer I’m afraid)? What will you now do in 2018 to get a step closer to discovering what you want to do? One of the objectives is to certainly stay tuned to The Avid Doer as it will be covered in the not-too-distant future.

Whichever your situation, make sure 2018 has a feasible roadmap that consists of sequential steps and progressive events. And then stick to them. Your 2018 plan can of course change and be updated – it’s a living thing, and not something that’s written in concrete. But it is important it is written in one form or another, to remind you what you promised you will do in 2018.

By the time 2019 is here, you would have accomplished your list which will set you up nicely for accomplishing more amazing things in the new year, and so on.

 

Job title or duties: which is more important?

I am at a crossroads. In one direction, I’ve been offered a job that I know I can do and looks to be interesting, and although it’s in a new tangent to my chosen career that I’m happy to explore, the title of the role is quite generic and sounds entry-level. In the other direction, I can stick in my current role that really isn’t interesting at all, but it’s in my chosen career with an associated and profession-specific title that could help me progress later up the ladder, but it’s not guaranteed. I’m not sure what I should do.”

All is not lost. By stepping back and weighing up your options in a deeper level than you have described, you can make an informed decision that you won’t later regret. Although you can more than likely recover from a potential wrong decision, this causes delays in your career which nobody likes.

At face value, it’s easy to conclude that what you do on a day-to-day basis at work is crucial to your health and wellbeing. As such, it’s correct to assume that by choosing a job that looks really interesting means you’re less likely to go into work dreading each day. Being unhappy at work really does take a toll in one way or another, so wherever there’s an opportunity to be happy, take it. You would need to make sure though that you’re not jumping ship purely to get out of this job, or that you’re viewing this seemingly interesting job through rose-tinted glasses. This could potentially only solve your problem short-term where after a while you find the job does nothing for you and you’re back to where you started.

Your ‘chosen’ career

I can’t help but notice, however, that you say that you are in your ‘chosen’ career. I can understand why this then throws a spanner in the works and can cloud your judgement. By being in your career of choice suggests you have made it through the gory steps of deciding what you want to do with your work life and/or have some sort of vocational or higher educational qualifications to match. This might have all been for nothing if you choose the first option, where you are exploring a new profession.

Or will it? You would have probably explored the new profession in terms of the job satisfaction it offers, is there a clear route for progression, does the money meet your desired income etc. but have you brought these findings back to your chosen career? By this I mean are there any skills you will learn and develop by taking this new tangent that you can then, at a later date, bring back to your chosen career?

These are termed as transferable skills, and I’m all for them. Taking a side step – or even a back step if needs be and you can afford to do so – into a new tangent means you get the chance to build up experience and new skills that you might have otherwise missed out on, especially if they are skills that aren’t expected of you in your chosen career. These skills, however, can be the very thing that separates you from the rest out there. Not only can you consider yourself still a ‘member’ of your chosen profession while you take that side step (carry on with keeping on top of your industry news, professional membership, qualifications), and therefore keep you in that professional frame of mind, you can bring so much more to the table from taking that bold move when you return to it.

And don’t be afraid to explain why you took this bold move to new potential employers during your interview, or as part of your career bio. They should admire you for recognising the skills that you needed to develop outside of your profession but still transfer them back to it when you were ready to progress. The generic title shouldn’t factor into their decision-making if they understand what they require from a candidate. They’re after what you can do, not your job title.

A brand new direction?

There is also the possibility that this could be a serendipity moment where you discover this new role becomes your new chosen career. By experiencing the new role first hand, you might really enjoy it and wish to progress in this field instead. When asking people how they got into their chosen career, you’d be surprised at how many of them say that they stumbled into it after making an unexpected or unintentional career change. I’m one of them! You will just need to make sure you won’t miss the things that attracted you to your current career in the first place, or find ways of incorporating these attractive qualities into the new tangent.

If the new tangent is so far off-piste that it seems you can’t transfer any skills back (you always can by the way which I will write about in another article, but for now let’s pretend you can’t) and you feel you need to stick it out in your current role, don’t do it solely for the title. They mean a lot less than you’re giving them credit for, especially in the age of made up titles. Do it because you believe this is a stepping stone to the place you really want to be and that the slog between now and then will be worth it.

If you decide to stay, you need to consider how long you intend to stay there and when the next progression opportunity is likely to happen. This should give you your ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so you can focus on riding it out and getting through it with a target date in sight. Then while working through this time, look for ways that you can make it count by working on extra qualifications, extra research, develop new and existing skills, or even just clocking up the career miles – anything that keeps you occupied and helps you through it.

Moving on

If you think the time is too long to manage, or there is little proof to suggest there’s scope for progression any time soon, then you might have to use the situation as a wake-up call to start looking for somewhere else. As you will know, job searching can be stressful, ditto for moving into the great unknown, so don’t take this option too lightly. But you need to figure out if job searching is much less stressful than your current role because no one should stay put in a role that makes them unhappy. You should also determine if the problem will remain with your employer, and that it’s not the role itself, as doing what you do but elsewhere might put you back into the position you’re in now.

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s for the right reasons, that they have a long-term positive effect and that you look beyond what a recruiting manager decided to call the collection of things you do at work. You need to really think what would be the best direction to take that will really help your career in the future so that you don’t regret anything later for the sake of a quick fix.