Book review: ‘Mind Flip’

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

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

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

Check out the review here!

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 job litmus paper test

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

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

Job litmus paper test

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

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

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

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

Career Venn diagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to use the test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* Not coincidentally