New Horizons: Career Change and Job Interviews
How to handle that nagging feeling of being unprepared when a) a new, unexpected, job opportunity arises or, b) you finally decide to leave your current, going-nowhere, job? Either way, you are going to face a job interview – possibly something you have not done in a long time. Here are some tips to help you with your career change.
People who have the courage to seek a career change deserve to be rewarded with success. Making a change involves risk. Following these three tips will help you manage that risk and realize your ambition.
Your CV: Getting it right:
Do no harm: Doctors take a vow to “Do no harm” when treating patients. Whatever investigations or tests they perform and, no matter what medicines they prescribe, they are always informed by the need to, at the very least, do no harm. And that’s one of the reasons patients trust them: doctors may not always cure you, but they will rarely harm you.
You should take the same approach with your CV: at a minimum your document should do no harm to your prospects of getting a job interview offer. It may not be the best CV in the world but as long as it does not actively harm your prospects, it will not cause you to crash and burn. So just how can your CV do you harm?
Job Hunting and The Older Worker
It happens to everyone, eventually. You look around the train or bus on your morning commute and wonder: “am I the oldest person here?
Alas, you may well be the oldest person right now but research from the UK suggests an increasing trend for over -50s to remain in the workforce leaving many older workers with little choice but to remain in their job beyond their planned retirement date
And a similar trend is likely to follow here in Ireland.
Sometimes the living is easy for older workers in organisations that value their skills and experience. Others, though, may not be satisfied with staying in the same old job as the retirement horizon recedes. After all, over 50’s may be looking at another 20 years of working life under the new scenario so it makes sense to make the most of that time.
However, older workers can feel that they face an uphill battle in competing with younger people for the attention of employers. And, some employers can harbor negative beliefs about older employees – around salary expectations and being over qualified for the job
But the fact is that many enlightened employers say that they value older workers for the experience, reliability and customer focus that they bring to a job
So, what’s an upwardly mobile, older job seeker to do in order to get a new job? Here are some suggestions:
Thinking of retiring or of taking an exit package but can’t make up your mind? Here are just three points to ponder
When considering retirement planning you need to base your decision on a rock solid knowledge of your future income. If finance is “not your thing” get independent financial advice on retirement planning. It will cost you, but it’ll be worth it in the long run. When you know your future income with certainty you can see if it will fund your future lifestyle plans or if you will need to adapt your retirement plans. The question you need to answer is “How much money will I have”?
Most people work more that 40 hours a week. That’s 2000 hours a year, all of which becomes available to you on retirement. Time is precious but you need to plan how you will use it. It can be hard to decide where to park when the car park is empty and the parking possibilities are endless. Likewise your new time bonus will seem confusing if you simply drift towards it without making retirement plans. The simple question to ask yourself is: “What will I do with my time”?
“Just be Nice”
Giving honest feedback on sub-optimal performance can be difficult. The default mode for many of us is to be nice at the start of this difficult conversation, give the unpleasant message in the middle and round off by being polite (and even jovial) at the end. When you think about it that approach can leave you wondering if you really got your message across as you intended while the person on the receiving end leaves feeling confused and asking herself “what was that all about”
Here’s an article by Gregori Giotti that explains it well
‘Just be nice’ is emotionally resonant but nutritionally shallow advice, paying no mind to the complexity of candor.
Does respecting someone’s work mean being honest enough to say hard things? Is staying silent when standards aren’t met a selfish gesture, not a caring one? Is motivating someone through stress actually kind in the long run?
Mental shortcuts, like assuming there is a clear right and wrong in any given situation, are tempting because they promise us concrete answers with minimal effort. Perhaps this is why “niceness” has become sloganized. “Don’t be a jerk!” cries the Internet. Sure, but don’t be a doormat either.
If we aren’t careful, this simplistic thinking can confuse what it means to be nice with what it means to be kind. The end result is that “niceness” becomes a black-and-white trait with no nuance, one that more readily resembles politeness than the spectrum of ways to make a kind, thoughtful gesture to a peer or colleague.
In my mind, nothing represents this misguided pursuit of niceness better than
Recipe: take some honest feedback and sandwich it in between two compliments. This brown bag psychology implies any sort of critical feedback requires double the praise to make up for it, even if you have to reach.
You’re left making a dangerous assumption: that critique and criticism are inherently unkind. Operating with this mindset creates an unhealthy expectation for “conversational fluff.” People start tip-toeing around each other and resort to using undecipherable soft language that’s sole purpose is to ward off conflict and protect feelings. The truth inevitably becomes buried under a pile of pleasantries. Soon enough you’ll be stuffed on compliment sandwiches and starving for some honesty
A smarter approach is to have a built-in good faith clause—to always interpret feedback and judgment from your team as coming from a good place.
This isn’t to say working together requires pre-emptive pardons for reckless insensitivity. Being honest doesn’t mean being a brute. But you’re better off accepting that a little friction is bound to happen. Friction in small doses is perfectly fine; it’s the only way to make sparks fly.
At Help Scout, we have an unofficial principle built around this idea called
Consider it a modern twist to Hanlon’s razor: Always assume miscommunication over malice.
Born from the reality that remote cultures rely on text and text is easily misinterpreted, it also applies to co-located teams. With benevolence assumed, you’re free to share the unblemished truth. No need for defensive language; everyone should already be assuming positive intent. When you comment, “This hasn’t hit our standards yet,” I know you think I can make it great.
Here are a couple of side benefits we’ve personally seen:
More speaking out for quality. When you work with people who know what they’re doing, it can be intimidating to challenge the Subject Matter Expert. Truth is, quality control is everyone’s job. We’ve seen cross-discipline challenges lead to better results, and now they happen more often, all due to one internal assumption: we’re trying to make this thing the best it can be, regardless of everyone’s roles. Fighting to make it right is more important than being polite.
More speed, reduced confusion.
Earlier this year the marketing team found itself with too many project cards containing comments like, “Can you please take a look at this?” What a polite way to ask! One problem: no hard edges or due date means it’s going to slip to the bottom of someone’s list. We now skip the circular talk and insist on keeping it short and sweet: “I need this by EOD, thanks!” If you can’t make it happen, reply honestly; assumed benevolence goes both ways.
Giving good weight
The web is littered with personal essays on “that one time I had the wind taken out of my sails and was better for it.” We already know this stuff. We know frustratingly high expectations come paired with similarly high beliefs in our talent. We know radical candor can actually be a positive form of pressure—a “good weight” for us to carry. But we seem to hesitate when it comes time to give good weight.
I more than sympathize; I actively make this mistake all the time. Reasons abound to just do the polite thing. Let the high fives ring and the good times roll, right? I often need to reflect on what “kind” really means, and how avoiding tension isn’t always to someone’s benefit.
There’s no catch-all solution for the tangled mess of emotions inherent in giving hard feedback. But it’s better to strike at the core of the problem—the intent we assume—rather than take a duct tape approach by using insincere courtesies to patch up any misunderstandings.
Stick to assuming benevolence; when working with great people, you’ll rarely be wrong.
The Polite Sandwich
Writing your CV can be a tedious at times. So, when you’ve finished the task it’s hard to resist a self-congratulator round of applause.
This is completely understandable.
However it’s always worth taking a second look at your use of language. In particular, ask yourself “is my language passive or active?” Recruiters like to read CVs that are active and positive in their use of language. CVs that are couched in language that is passive and uninspiring tend to end up in the reject pile.
A passive CV is a chronological list of roles and responsibilities. An active CV tells an authentic story that inspires curiosity and shows evidence of solid achievement in areas of interest to the reader
Here’s an example of active language: “increased employee retention by 10% through implementing comprehensive induction programme for all new employees” Both “increased” and “implementing” are positive verbs and “10%” is a specific measure of achievement.
Example of passive language “My role included responsibility for employee retention from 2010 to 2016” “Role” and “responsibility” both sound passive and don’t give any real sense of activity, urgency, or achievement.
Your CV, must, of course, list your skills and experience. But you need also to persuade the recruiter, through clever use of language, that you are worth calling for interview. The way to do that is to use active language that tells a story of solid and relevant achievement in your career to date.
The Power of the Pat on the Back
This Christmas I got a present of six one-on-one coaching sessions from a swimming coach.
It proved to be a great gift for me. My swimming, never great, improved no end after the coaching sessions.
Having someone to coach me on technique was a boon. I had grown used to other swimmers powering past me in the swim lane like well-aimed torpedoes. That does not happen so often now
At this time of year (January) many CEOs issue what they believe to be motivational and inspirational messages to workers. But do messages from the top really inspire us and motivate us to work harder? Personally, I don’t think so.
Look at my swim coach’s simple motivation technique: She was clear about how I could improve my performance. She spent time building up my trust in her as a coach. She monitored me as I battered my way up and down the lane and then gave me direct feedback.
Most importantly, I think, she gave me an occasional verbal pat on the back (“excellent legs” being my favourite).
I think CEOs should leave the motivational stuff to those much further down the hierarchy. Tempting, as it must be, to fire off an inspirational New Year message to all employees, CEOs should resist the impulse. Workers’ immediate managers are best suited to the task of delivering praise. And managers should never underestimate the power of a well-delivered and timely pat on the back.
Tell us about yourself”
A Frequent Question: This has got to be one of the most-often asked questions at interviews. Yet not many of us prepare for it adequately, if at all. And despite the fact that most of us rather like talking about ourselves, this seemingly simple question can stump us. So what to do about it?
Oscar Performance: Well, firstly lets agree that in asking the question the recruiter is not trying to chat you up and, equally, does not want an Oscar-like account of your fantastic life and loves
CV: Your approach should be based on your CV. It should highlight your professional experience and skills relevant to the job. Likewise, it should highlight your career accomplishments and the challenges and work situations that motivate and excite you.
Personal Stuff: Keep personal information about yourself at a minimum at this stage. After all you CV will have listed your education, address and academic record. But you can be yourself in describing your personal career ambitions and goals and in a your enthusiasm for the role you’re applying for right now
Paint a Picture: Essentially you need to paint a picture (an engaging picture) of who you are professionally, where you’ve come from and where you see yourself in the future (the latter is another often-asked question).
Practice: Like all performances, “painting a picture” or telling a story about yourself will not go well unless you practice it in advance. “Tell us about yourself” is often asked at the start of an interview. It’s an opportunity for you to deliver a smooth performance and set a good tone from the outset. Even it is not asked directly, the process of thinking through and preparing and practicing your answer is good all-round preparation for the interview in general.
Getting stuck in mid career is a difficult place to be. As the U2 song says “You’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it”. Perhaps you’re getting good performance reviews, attending all training courses offered, and your colleagues and/or staff admire and respect you. But you are not making that breakthrough your desire. Obviously the problem and the solution can be multi-faceted. But research shows that top people in an organisation are experienced and grounded in three particularly hands-on areas: Firstly, they have business acumen i.e. an understanding and experience of the business operations aspect of the organisation. Secondly they understand organisational strategy making sufficiently at least to make credible strategic suggestions and, finally, they possess deep knowledge of the organisation’s financial operations. All three areas require “hard” skills and experience that can only add to your reputation and personal brand in the organisation. That’s not to dismiss the proven importance of “soft” skills such as team building, communication skills, coaching etc. But in seeking advancement such skills tend at times to be taken as a “given” by decision-makers. Deliberately seeking out experience in the hands-on areas mentioned above can give you the edge (get it?) in moving beyond being stuck in the moment
Let’s face it. January can be a heart of darkness month. A time when you think of buying one of those lamps that claim to replicate sunshine and ward off the effects of winter gloom.
But January is also a time for setting new goals for career and business success and for generally setting out with a new spring in your step.
What happens, though, if you fall between those two opposites, between gloom and glory?
One option you might try is to just turn up for work in as good a mood you can muster, and then keep turning up and keep contributing. No shining new goals and no dramatic January blues.
The strategy of turning up has been described as the main secret of success. Woody Allen famously (well, fairly famously) said that the secret of his success was 80% due to just turning up. The remaining 20% he put down to “luck”. Harvard professor, Rosabeth Moss Kantor in writing about leadership, identified “keep turning up” as a key to successful leadership. Mind you, she does add “and make your voice heard” to her advice. (This seems reasonable, as there is little point in turning up if no one notices you).
By all means set goals for you self in January. And maybe even buy that lamp. But don’t forget the success strategy of “keep turning up” and making sure you voice is heard (no one knows what’s in your head unless you speak it)