Career management book update: 02

Since my first, and most recent book update a couple of weeks ago, the beginning stages of my book have picked up considerable momentum (…than expected at least). As a follower of a number of writers, I always hear them talk about how a story has organically taken an unexpected turn, and while I don’t see myself as being awesome as they are, I now understand what they mean.

I left off my last update having completed the mind map with my Post-it notes, categorised them into chapters and I’ve taken the next steps of writing a summary for each of these chapters. This became a much bigger task than I expected but in a pleasantly surprising way – I have noted a lot more information than I first thought under each chapter, so much so that each chapter has a number of sub headings. This has added a considerable amount of clay to the pipe-cleaner.

But from these concepts grew two more tangents. At first I considered these to be completely separate entities – perhaps book two and three? But when rolling with those concepts, and beginning the research phase of the book by reading leading books on similar topics, I’ve come to realise the three seemingly separate elements are ultimately and fundamentally interdependent. So why was I keeping them apart?

Cue my book growing 150% bigger! Which is good for two reasons: one, readers won’t feel they’re only getting part of the picture, subsequently still having questions unanswered; and two, I won’t need to rely on ghost pages to pad out the book (this is a particular bugbear of a writer-friend of mine so I wouldn’t want to upset her!).

So while I’ve progressed considerably with my initial idea, I now need to do a similar Post-it mind map for the two other ideas, and make sure they cohesively work altogether, before summarising the remaining chapters.

Mitigating risk at work

It all sounds a bit corporate, doesn’t it? ‘Mitigating risk’. It’s usually a term associated with project management. You don’t need to hold a title of ‘project manager’ to manage projects; in theory, most of the tasks you carry out in your day-to-day role are either short- or long-term projects, and with each of these projects come various degrees of risk, i.e. factors that can make a project go wrong.

These factors include:

  • People – the skills, capabilities, behaviours and attitudes of those who are actively participating in the project
  • Resource – the amount of people needed for a successful project
  • Stakeholders – a step beyond ‘People’, but those who have a degree of influence and interest in the project but may not actively be involved in carrying out the project
  • Money – whether enough is available or not
  • Logistics – the logistics and scheduling needed to carry out the project
  • External influences – the economy, politics, environment, and customer behaviour.

And many more. Effective communication throughout the entire process promotes a seamless synchronicity and ensures red flags are brought to the right people’s attention at the earliest possible time.

Risk management

To quote from the aptly-named project management blog Project Manager:

“At its most simple, risk management is a process of forecasting and planning for potential challenges to your business or project. When done correctly, risk planning enables you to prioritize risk and work to eliminate or lessen the impact of the potential risks on your project or business.”

For projects, for work or for our careers, avoiding risk means that we:

  • Identify the risks, listing out all worst-case-scenarios, potential dangers and any hiccups that might and will crop up
  • Analyse these risks to determine the impact they have and which of these hiccups are in our control
  • Prioritise these risks by the likelihood of them happening
  • Mitigate these risks by putting in the appropriate and proportionate anticipatory measures – or safety nets – so that if the risks were to have an impact despite your efforts to avoid them, you can prepare and lessen the impact. This could even include a contingency plan
  • Monitor these risks, and the efforts we make, to ensure they’re always on our radar so that we are always ahead of them.

This is a standard, non-fancy risk management model. Applying this model is useful for us in two ways. Firstly, managing risk by following this model is a useful skill for anyone in any role. Managing risk from the beginning of any project you work on will help you do your role much more effectively and with minimal disruption. Not only will this promote better mental well-being (as you experience less stress from avoiding, preparing or lessening the impact of hiccups), but you also establish a reputation of being organised, credible and reliable. You are much more on top of things.

Secondly, risk management also plays a role in managing and developing our careers if we recognise it as an ongoing project. Being able to identify risks in your career trajectory means that you can adopt a more proactive approach to development, rather than winging it and dealing with hiccups as they present themselves. This is particularly helpful for those who are in an industry that’s prone to fluctuation (and really, what industry isn’t?). Being able to identify the risks that may influence your field means you can start making the necessary arrangements to mitigate that risk. We need to predict to the best of our ability where our industry will be in 5 years’ time, the demand for our skills in the market at that time, and the skill gaps that may become apparent.

For example, there’s a (necessary) focus on AI at the moment and the associated risks it brings to the job market. If you assess that your current role or career progression against this risk, you can begin now to readjust accordingly, for example upskilling, developing new skills that don’t rely on AI like soft skills, or, in really bad (but opportunistic) situations, changing careers altogether. Determining the likelihood of each risk and how it will impact your career means you can lay down the ground work in time, long before you would feel the impact and influence.

Horizon scanning

This approach to your career trajectory can be coupled with another corporate doozie: horizon scanning.

Olivier Marteaux, Principal of Horizon Scanning at the RSSB, puts horizon scanning eloquently as:

“the intelligence gathering part of strategic foresight, concerned with emerging trends, issues and uncertainties that the future may bring, and assessing their potential impact on organisations.”

While this could be seen as the same to assessing risk, I’d like to think as horizon scanning as something that scopes out opportunities, as well as risk. The quote mentions ‘emerging trends, issues and uncertainties’, and forever the optimistic as I am, their ‘potential impact’ can be just as positive as risks are negative.

Adopting this foresight means you can spot the uncertainties that lie ahead of us and see them as opportunities to learn in anticipation which can be enormously positive for your career.

Look past the corporate jargon and realise the advantages of mitigating risk and horizon scanning. Your work-life, professional reputation and career will reap the benefits if you put the effort into these.

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?

A new word for ‘weakness’

We are often told we need to work on our weaknesses in order to develop our skills and progress our career; or at least traits that are labelled as ‘weaknesses’.

This isn’t the case. At the very least the word ‘weakness’ in this context needs to be re-defined to something more accurate. By way of example, a ‘weakness’ of being a poor public speaker is not a weakness. There’s a gap there – of confidence, skill, knowledge, ability, trust, authority – rather than a weakness.

A great Medium article I recently found on this topic talks about how weaknesses and strengths are the same thing, and warns us of the damage that may occur when we try to see them as two separate traits. Umair Haque writes:

“When we try to divide them, that is when we fail at both. We are principled, so we try to be less judgmental. And now we are not even principled. We are compassionate, but easily hurt, so we try to be harder, but lose our compassion.”

I thoroughly recommend reading the entire piece.

This takes me back to when I completed the 16 Personalities test, a free online test that’s based on Myers-Briggs testing (I don’t buy into the criticism that MBTI testing is similar to horoscopes – like most things in life, the results are only as strong and true as your input).

The results of the test are compiled into comprehensive lists by topic, including your weaknesses. Two of mine, as an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ, FYI) for example are: needing to have a cause in something I do and; being too sensitive.

Do these not contribute to my strengths, which, according to my results include being determined and passionate? Could they not therefore be considered as standalone strengths? Are my labelled ‘strengths’ not jeopardised if these weaknesses are worked on?

I’m interested in looking further into re-wording ‘weakness’ in the context of skills development.

In the meantime, focus on your strengths, the things you’re good at, and don’t bother too much about your ‘weaknesses’ until they have been correctly reworded.

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.

 

Finding time for CPD

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

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

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

This change is habit.

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

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

Habitual CPD in work

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

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

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

Habitual CPD outside of work 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making it a habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflective log

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

When work won’t pay for training

As avid doers, we love a good course: a structured and linear progression towards a shiny new qualification (and even a shinier post-nominal) which gives us more competence and confidence in a particular topic, and which will lead to promotions, your own executive office and world domination.

Just one snag – work won’t pay for it. It might be development that you can bring back into your job (even at a push, I’m sure the principles behind crochet can be applied to the corporate world) but for one reason or another, work are unable to fund it.

Perfect. By the way, if there was a grammatical way to type a word that doesn’t sound sarcastic, I could have done with it there. It really is a blessing in disguise that work won’t pay for training or a course, or in other words, that you have to fund it yourself. If you have your heart set for a particular course, and a particular topic you want to develop, then you would be doing it one way or another anyway (if you’re as stubborn as me).

You see, funding your own course has so many benefits:

  • you get to choose how you want to take the course (online, classroom, weekends, evening)
  • you get to choose the course to complete. The topic doesn’t therefore necessarily need to relate directly (or at all) to you current role
  • you get to choose the provider. If the topic is offered from a number of course providers, you can choose the one that suits your needs, budget, membership benefits and general preference.
  • you have no obligation to finish the course if it’s a load of pants (I’d strongly recommend you finish it anyway but you won’t feel obliged to do it because work are paying for it)
  • the sense of accomplishment when you complete the course feels so much stronger knowing that it was on your own steam than if you did it as part of work
  • you have no strings attached to your employer. You could leave your company the day after you completed the course without any guilt (or debt if your company has a clause that repayment needs to be made within a certain time after the course if you leave)
  • but the best benefit of funding your own training is that it shows absolute professional determination and initiative to your current, and future employers

Professional determination and initiative 

I cannot begin to tell you how good this will look to your current and future employers as it really illustrates your determination and perseverance. In interviews you get to also explain why you funded it yourself – not “oh, them there wouldn’t pay for it! Grr!” – but that you assessed your own skills and abilities, you understood what was required of you in this, and any future role, and you proactively sought to bridge that gap by taking the course by any means necessary.

It’s also important to remember that taking a course or enrolling on any sort of training doesn’t always have to improve your career prospects. This might initially sound contradicting to the whole ethos of The Avid Doer ie career progression and getting where you want to be professionally. To me though, I believe you can progress and develop yourself without necessarily having better career prospects as an end goal (new job, promotion etc.), but instead so you can progress and develop in your own role. These additional skills help boost your productivity, performance, efficiency and confidence in your current role, and really make it your own.

Unrelated qualifications

This approach also explains to employers why you underwent seemingly unrelated qualifications to the current role as it was appropriate at the time to learn that particular skill even though it wouldn’t have led to better prospects.

For example, if someone wanting to work their way up in accountancy but has a qualification in marketing, it’s still worth mentioning why they decided to train in that, which clears up any doubt of in their dedication to the field but also recognises a qualification they would have still worked hard for.

Of course you will have to be selective in which ones you decide to include, but you need to identify which skills you picked up during, and as a result of, completing the unrelated qualification are transferable to your current or prospective role.

But when it comes to your existing employer not paying for the unrelated qualification, you can still follow this process of identifying the transferable skills and how they will play a part in your existing role.

“But courses are expensive” 

I hear that. Funding your own training does, obviously and non-figuratively come at a cost. It also relies heavily on your personal and financial circumstances.

Luckily, training online, or “distance learning” keeps costs down, and most even allow students to pay for the course in installments. And most will even qualify you to be an actual student ie student card discounts!

Other qualifications also allow people to just sit the exams; the Certified Insurance Institute for example have exam areas around the UK for people to complete their tests. Before this, those sitting the exam would have just needed to buy the relevant books and studied that way, rather than just enrolling in a course. So the total cost would just be the books and the exam fee. However if you’re the sort that needs a tutor to talk you through the content or to motivate you into completing chapters etc. this self-learning approach might not suit you.

I am a huge fan of learning and development (“L&D” in the bizz) and also of distance learning, so much so that it’s worthy of its own post which I will be publishing soon. I’ll be writing about picking the right course, finding the right way of doing it, making the time and tips on self-discipline.

In the meantime look at what’s available out there; I think you’ll find they’re a lot more affordable than you realise. Of course before you commit to any financial commitment like an installment plan, you should always do your sums and seek professional financial advice if appropriate. You should also assess the amount of return on investment ie will the benefits of gaining this qualification outweigh the cost and time it will take to complete it.

If it is an expensive course, the benefits really need to be tangible to your existing role (or your career aspirations) and speaking with your manager will help eliminate the possibility that the course isn’t necessary for your existing role (which might have been the reason why they decided not to fund your course).

So that’s why all is not lost if work decide they’re not footing the bill for your course. Dare I say it’s better they’re not paying for it as by funding it yourself, you add so much weight to the qualification, demonstrating to your current and future employers that you have the get-up-and-go to learn what you need and want to learn come what may. It also demonstrates you’re not one for giving up at the first sign of resistance and instead find other ways to develop yourself.