Book review: ‘Mind Flip’

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

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

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

Check out the review here!

Clarifying your career’s direction through volunteering

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

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

Careers blog The Muse talks about how:

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

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

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

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

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

The neuroscience around change

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

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

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

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

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

Agile concepts for avid doers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Town Planner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this mean for you in the workplace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Career management

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

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

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

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

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

 

Professional development: 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.

 

 

Creating a CV with impact

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

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

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

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

Job spec

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

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

Your key skills section

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

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

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

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

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

Employment history

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

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

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

Qualifications

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

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

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

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

References

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

What about interests and hobbies?

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

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

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

Format

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

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

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

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

Good luck with your job hunting!

 

CV format

The job litmus paper test

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

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

Job litmus paper test

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

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

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

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

Career Venn diagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to use the test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

* Not coincidentally

 

Professional motivation

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

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

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

What is professional motivation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to find your professional motivation

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

The questions below should begin to get the cogs moving:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A secret to finding your perfect career

Are you frustrated with the unending struggle of figuring out what you should be doing with your career? Too many interests, too many options and no idea where to begin? Or you just don’t feel strongly enough about any particular field, subject or type of vocation that you feel like you’re moments away from going eeny meeny miny mo? 

Is there a way to finding out your perfect career?

No.

But is there at least a perfect career for each person!?

No.

….Does this give you relief? ‘At last the struggle is over!’ Or does this make you even more frustrated because time and time again you’ve been promised the contrary?

Allow me to expand a bit on this. By all means this is not a negative view on the hot topic of discovering what you should be doing with your career, on which there are thousands of books, blogs and so forth. I have read a large number of these but I did not discover my ‘true calling’ by doing so.

This is my own perspective on the topic and should hopefully bring a little relief that there is no one way for finding out what is your perfect career – you no longer have to frantically search for an answer as the answer does not exist. Indeed the question is superfluous.

Analogy time!

An analogy, if you will, for food for thought (pun intended…you’ll see in a bit). Imagine if you’re looking for the perfect weekend dinner (see). You want a go-to dish that you want to cook every Saturday that will need to meet a number of criteria:

  • It must be tasty (in job terms, it needs to scratch a vocational itch)
  • It must be easy to cook, or at least easy to learn how to cook (it uses previous experience. ‘Easy’ is relative to the amount of interest you have in it, for example a someone with a natural flare to be a doctor won’t necessarily find the medical exams easy, but it’s easy for them to be determined to study for them)
  • It needs to involve the utensils you have (the skills you have)
  • It shouldn’t take a long time to cook (not compromise your free time)
  • It mustn’t be too uninspiring so you won’t get bored of it (be stimulating over time)

Now, to discover this perfect dish, do you think a personality test will give you the one correct answer? Or if you spoke to a professional chef with 5 Michelin stars, they will give you the one correct answer? Or if you read dozens of recipe books to learn about all the dishes available and the first dish you choose, after careful and lengthy assessment, would without doubt the best dish for you? Or by choosing all of your favourite ingredients, combining these with your experience and utensils, you will reach a culinary ‘ikigai’, the centre of a perfect Venn diagram?

Is this really achievable? Hypothetically, lets humour that the answer is ‘yes’ and the perfect dish for you came out as chorizo, olive and mushroom pizza. You might think to yourself you’ve hit the jackpot and you have finally, yes finally, found your perfect Saturday dish. Nothing can beat this.

Until you travel to Italy and try their pizzas and it’s better than your perfect Saturday dish. What did all that time mean when you’ve researched, did the homework, spoke to the professionals – all the things you were told to do to find the best Saturday dish – only to have all the effort gone awry with this new Italian spanner in the works.

Would you apply this logic to find the perfect job? Personality tests, experts, books and assessments? Yet there’s so much out there saying this way is the only way to find the perfect job. In times of desperation, it’s easy and convenient to believe them. It’s a reflection of our avid doer spirit; it’s a problem that we want to solve and we’re more than willing to use as many methods and techniques to get the answer. But it feels that bit more frustrating when an answer is promised but not reached.

Personally, I found it satisfying knowing that there isn’t a perfect career for me.

But I love my job. I find it interesting, uses my experience and skills, with plenty of room for development and progression fueled by my own professional motivation. I feel I’m making a difference and scratches my vocational itch. The people I work with are the best and the working culture suits me and my personality. On paper, this is the perfect career for me. So why isn’t this the perfect career for me?

Because perfection is time-sensitive and specific to my current life circumstances right now which include the extra things I do in my free time, for example addressing my other interests in my leisure time (like blogging!) that my job doesn’t meet. I’m not saying that in time I will go off the job. But who’s to say a couple of years down the line I’m offered a promotion I hadn’t thought about, and that is way better than the job I’m in now but is in a slightly different direction or niche? That therefore doesn’t make my current role perfect as I would have found something better.

Do you have a preference to loving your job or having the best career specific for you? Does either one provide more satisfaction than the other?

In my opinion, I don’t think so, but the former is a lot more achievable, realistic and tangible than the latter. That’s why I think the question shouldn’t be ‘what is my perfect career?’ but should be ‘how can I love my job?’

So what do you do?

There are four types of people who get their job satisfaction right:

  1. They’ve known all along and literally made it their mission to be what they want based on their personal interests eg a musician might have picked up a guitar at the age of 5 and couldn’t put it down. Those who say they would love to play an instrument but have never given it a go are not musicians. They would have had an involuntary compulsion to pick up that instrument long ago.
  2. They’ve stumbled into their career by accident eg those who find themselves in less sexy roles than we’ve not normally been exposed to, or have eventually found it by a few attempts of trial and error
  3. Their job fits their lifestyle and therefore gives them satisfaction – this is not the actual role, or the nature of it per se, but it provides enough happiness and contentment for the life they want to live
  4. They encapsulate these three points into one whole, contented life that meets the needs of their interests, job satisfaction and lifestyle.

You see, focusing your efforts into finding the best job for you is, I believe, just one element to finding job satisfaction, or satisfaction in general. Would you be less satisfied with your work life if you could still pass the time with your interests when you’re not at work in the form of hobbies, or if you incorporate elements of your interests in your role, giving it your own unique angle? Would you be less satisfied if your job meant you couldn’t get home earlier than most people so you can spend more time with your family? Would you be less satisfied if the itches that aren’t scratched by a good job could be scratched by ways of a side hustle, either paid or for leisure?

You might put blame on a job that didn’t cater to your interests, for example, if you didn’t take the time to fulfill these interests outside of work.

As multi-faceted beings, we have many interests, and the concept that one career can satisfy multiple dimensions of a personality is inaccurate and unnecessarily leads to inevitable dissatisfaction.

In time I believe more and more job roles will take this concept into more consideration, allowing people’s unique set of skills and experience to ‘meat-out’ the role, bringing a competitive edge to the organisation, a workforce that isn’t identified by their job roles or by the job adverts to which they applied. Indeed, the concept of ‘intrapreneur’ is becoming a thing now, where organisations are harnessing employee’s entrepreneurial spirit by giving them free rein on certain aspects of projects and tasks, and reaping the benefits while providing more job satisfaction.

So it questions: is there is a need to find the perfect career if more organisations will adopt this spirit of intrapreneurship meaning that careers aren’t being shaped by a cookie cutter, but by the employee themselves?

In the meantime, I hope that if you agree with my perspective on achieving ‘the perfect career’ it hasn’t left you disheartened – instead I hope it has lessened the weight of the burden in trying to find the perfect career.

This is the first of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I will be talking about what to do if you have too many interests to decide on a career.

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.