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110 Job Hunting Resume, CV and Interview Tips

110 job hunting resume cv and interview tips from Jim Bright

Here are some tips for Job Hunting, Resumes, Interviews, and Testing for 2011.

As an author of job hunting books that have sold way in the 100,000s in the USA, UK, Australia, China, Vietnam, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Japan (you get the idea), with titles like Amazing Resumes, Brilliant CV, Resumes that get shortlisted, Should I stay or Should I go, StressSmart®, and Job Hunting for Dummies Australia & New Zealand, I thought I’d pass on some tips to assist in landing that job.

More tips and advice can be found in other great titles in the USA published by JIST, and the Brilliant series in the UK published by Pearson.

I’ve divided the tips into sections below.

39  Resume, Cover letter, Job Search tips

  1. The resume is just as important as the interview. When we got recruiters to rate candidate resumes and then rate their interview performance, the resume predicted the job offer just as strongly as the interview.  Don’t under-estimate the resume.
  2. The resume is the first point of contact between you and the employer in many cases. The resume is the only time in the recruitment process where you have total control over what information is presented and how it is presented. First impressions count.
  3. Make your resume a marketing tool that sells you! When you show someone around your garden you point out the beautiful flowers, and water features – you don’t dwell on the dog’s droppings and the compost heap! In the same way on your resume you emphasize your achievements rather than just your duties. (We found that resumes that emphasize achievements were more likely to be short-listed that resumes that emphasized job duties).
  4. Make a list of every single achievement you have had in life since birth. Yes since birth.  Leave nothing off no matter how trivial it seems.   You might not use “I learned to talk” on your resume, the practice in training your memory to recall personal achievements means you will recall more achievements from your school or work life that are relevant.
  5. Do as much research as you possibly can on the job you are going for.
    • Google search,
    • ask current and past employees,
    • visit the office, factory or shop if practical.
    • Call the contact to ask intelligent questions
    • Get a friend to call to ask the “dumb” or self-serving questions (like how much money, can I delay my start, can I leave early on Wednesdays)
    • Buy or hire the product or use the service if practical
    • Ask your mentors and network
    • Check out job sites, Linkedin, Facebook, Google + and Twitter for information
  6. All resumes should be be written with the Fit model in mind – the fit between you and the job on offer. Do this by:
  7. Look at the job ad, position description and any other research you have on the job you want to apply for and divide the job into
  8. Knowledge – what you need to know to do the job
  9. Skills – what skills do you need to have to do the job
  10. Abilities – how will you need use your knowledge and skills
  11. Attitudes – what kind of personal qualities are they looking for
  12. Now think about yourself in the same way – Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Attitudes
  13. To decide what to include in the resume (or say in the interview) apply these rules:
    • If it increases the fit between you and the job include the information on the resume or say it in the interview
    • If it decreases the fit between you and the job, omit it from the resume and do not say it in the interview
    • If it is neutral with respect to fit between you and the job only include it if there is room and only say it if there is time

Layout:

  1. If you are completing an online resume – type it out first into Pages or MS Word.  Get the word lengths, format and spelling correct and double-checked before copying pasting into the online form.  Also it means if the form crashes or the link is dropped you still have all your work saved in the word-processing file.
  2. If you are printing a hard copy:
  3. Use white paper of 80 gsm thickness or slightly greater
  4. Avoid gimmicks including:
  5. Clip art
  6. Pictures
  7. Photographs (unless expressly asked for)
  8. Samples of your work (unless expressly asked for)
  9. Colored paper
  10. Non-standard fonts (use Arial 11, Times New Roman 12, Verdana 12)
  11. In our research resumes containing identical content put presented in a wacky way were rated lower by recruiters and they said it included less information

Content:

  1. Leave out date of birth, gender, marital status, children, religion, smoker status, illnesses or disabilities, sexual orientation, memberships of political or activist organizations (unless they unarguably increase the fit), hobbies (unless directly relevant to the job), reasons for leaving, salary or salary expectations
  2. Include contact details, generally include an address (unless it is a long way from the place of work, has a notorious reputation, you have reason to be concerned about security or privacy)
  3. Length: School leavers 1- 2 pages, graduates and most employees 2-3 pages, senior people up to 5 pages.  Academics, and when specifically requested, the sky is the limit
  4. Spelling mistakes.  Eliminate these by
  5. Using spell checker (set to the correct language)
  6. Then printing out and reading
  7. Then give it to someone else to read and check (who has good grammatical skills)
  8. Read the document backwards – this is an old proof readers trick – it forces you to process each word and not read for meaning (which disguises typos and spelling mistakes)

Cover letter:

  1. Limit to one page.  Check all contact details are up to date.  Address the letter to a real person – do not use Dear Sir/Madam (it means you haven’t done enough research)
  2. 1st paragraph – Say what job you want to apply for, provide the reference number (if there is one) and where you saw it advertised (puts recruiter in good mood as they get feedback on their advertising)
  3. 2nd Paragraph – state why you are a perfect fit for the role
  4. 3rd Paragraph – state that you are looking forward to meeting them at the interview (for which you are available at their request)
  5. For general on-line resumes see the excellent book about using Linkedin for job  searching by my friend Aaltje Vincent Career Management via LinkedIn http://www.amazon.com/Career-Management-LinkedIn-Aaltje-Vincent/dp/9049104398/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318218179&sr=1-9
  6. For general job networking and search also see my fellow JIST authors Susan Britton Whitcomb, Chandlee Bryan and Deb Dib’s The Twitter Job Search Guide: Find a Job and Advance Your Career in Just 15 Minutes a Day http://www.amazon.com/Twitter-Job-Search-Guide-Advance/dp/1593577915/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318218290&sr=1-1
  7. For more resume and cover letter advice check out my own books Amazing Resumes (JIST) USA, Brilliant CV (Pearson) UK, Resumes that get shortlisted (Allen & Unwin) Australia

26 Interview Tips

  1. The night before take your mind off the interview and go and do something else which is interesting and engaging.
  2. The night before the interview try and have as calm a night as possible. Go back through your résumé, flick through the material, go to a film, watch television. Just have a relaxed evening, don’t get too tensed up and have an early night and not too much alcohol. I would suggest that you avoid eating food with lots of spice or garlic in it. You don’t want to go to the interview the following day smelling heavily of alcohol or garlic, because that can be off-putting. Get a good solid meal and a good night’s sleep
  3. It is worth bearing in mind, that the person sitting on the other side of the desk interviewing you is human as well believe it or not. Prick them with a pin and they will bleed. (Note do not literally do this!)
  4. Take down accurate records of the time, date, and venue of the interview – so you know exactly where you are going and when (I know durrrr, but I could tell you a tale of one the leading international coaches who forgot to do this and missed a giving a presentation, or the hapless keynote called at home to be asked politely whether he was thinking of attending the conference, as there were 1000 people waiting to hear his speech – and no neither of these were me!)
  5. If there are clashes and you are already being interviewed that day for another job, you will need to consider rearranging the interview. The thing to do here is to consider which of the two interviews is the most important to you. Which job you really most want or which job is the one that you really feel you are most likely to get and then rearrange the least preferred interview for another day. You can be very polite about that and I would suggest that you don’t say that you are being interviewed elsewhere, but make another excuse such as you are unable to leave work that day if you are working, or perhaps a white lie ‘for personal reasons you are unable to attend on that day, but you would be more than happy to attend on any other day that they may care to choose’.
  6. Pull out from your work file the copy of the job advertisement and the résumé and cover letter that you sent. Study those closely and try to remember as many of the points that you made about yourself as possible.
  7. Any information that you found out about the company that you stored in your job file you should go through now
  8. Now is the time to make sure that you have your suitable attire for an interview. Whether that happens to be a suit or just a smart pair of trousers, a shirt, and some shoes that are well polished and look smart and match with the accessories.
  9. Not sure what to wear?  Generally wear clothes one notch smarter than the everyday wear in the job.  For trades roles, smart pressed button shirt or blouse and smart pressed trousers or skirt.
  10. Mindmap stories about a time when you achieved something at work, think up several examples for each selection criterion.
  11. In making up your stories organise them with these questions:
    What were the:

    • Dates
    • Names
    • Outcomes (in numbers, dollars, etc)
    • Locations
    • What Happened?
    • What is the Point?
  12. Use the common STAR formula for your stories – Situation, Task, Action, Results
  13. If you are an internal candidate, take a smarter set of interview clothes to work with you and put them on just before you are called. The contrast and the fact you have made an effort will impress. It also saves you spending the day wearing these clothes and increasing the chances of them looking tired, or worse soiled with coffee spills and the rest.
  14. Avoid strong cologne
  15. Avoid garish make up
  16. Consider removing or covering piercings and body art – yes I know they are lovely, my father was a sailor with tats on both arms, but even he covered them up when working as a Judge….
  17. The minute you walk through the door of the building on the day of the interview your interview has started. In fact, the minute you have a telephone conversation with the recruiter or the recruiter’s secretary the interview has started.
  18. Never make the mistake of patronizing or underestimating the administrative staff in an office.
  19. Don’t express opinions in the interview or where you can overheard, unless you are expressly asked to do so.  Then be careful and cautious in your answers if you do not know the background politics in the place.
  20. The cardinal rule in the interview is keep your cool. It is not the time to start arguing.
  21. If you are sure of yourself and you know where you want to go and what you want out of the job, then you should ask questions. Not asking questions at interview when invited to do so, gives the impression you are not interested in the position, or that you have not prepared properly
  22. Take your time to respond to questions
  23. If you do not understand a question ask for clarification
  24. Do not always accept the interviewers premise i.e. “So you left Bloggs and Co. pretty quickly, where did you work next?”. Why accept the interviewers premise that you left quickly? This is a typical trap, instead reply “Well I was at Bloggs and Co for a year, so I was there a reasonable amount of time, and in that time, the company restructured which removed any chances of progression in my specialist field…”
  25. Emphasize positives during interviews – do not dwell on negative experiences such as sackings, work disputes, long periods out of the work force. If you have had such problems in the past and the interviewer tries to get you to explain such events, you can try cutting this short by saying, “ I am really most interested in how I can best develop my career now and in the future, and I am positive I can make an excellent contribution…”
  26. Panel interviews (where two or more people interview you at the same time) are fairer for you, so do not be intimidated, they are less likely to be biased by factors such as personal rapport, race, gender and other irrelevant issues.

45 Testing Tips

For traditional face to face testing

  1. Ask in advance how long the test session lasts.
  2. Try to have a restful sleep the night before.
  3. Take a spare pen and pencil with you. (for face to face testing) (Stationery should be supplied, but you should bring your own in case the tester doesn’t, or the pen runs out)
  4. Go to the bathroom just before you go into the test room. (Don’t forget to wash your hands!)
  5. Now you’re ready to face the test, you can take plenty of steps to prepare yourself to do well. Once you’re inside the test room, follow these simple tips in the next section.
  6. Don’t be late arriving at the venue.

For online testing

  1. If you doing the tests at home or in the office, ensure you have quiet surroundings and a rock solid internet connection and mains power to your computer
  2. Switch off phones and other applications running on your computer like facebook, mail, twitter, linkedin
  3. If the test is not timed, consider using an open word file to compose answers to any open response questions to get the response right and grammatically correct
  4. Work through methodically, taking advantage of any opportunity to save your work
  5. If you have to provide a user name and password at login, make a record of it.
  6. When completed, if you know how to take a screen grab, take one of the final page that says you have completed, or even take a photo to prove you have completed the test

For all testing

  1. Read the test instructions very carefully.
  2. Check all the options first before deciding multiple-choice answers.
  3. Answer personality questions as honestly as possible but do have in mind the picture of an ideal employee for the role, would their answer differ significantly from yours?
  4. Go back and check that you’ve answered all the questions before you finish.
  5. Don’t have a late night before testing day or take the tests late at night.
  6. Remember to bring your reading glasses
  7. Don’t drink alcohol or take strong sedating medication (other than regular prescriptions) or other drugs before sitting a psychological test.
  8. Don’t take medication that can make you drowsy. (If you have to take medication, inform the tester in writing before you sit the test.)
  9. Don’t plump for the first choice answer without checking the other options first.
  10. Don’t worry if you haven’t answered all the questions in the time available. This is not unusual.
  11. Even if you approach a test in a positive manner, you may find that a number of the questions in personality tests appear to be either quite strange or irrelevant. In the next sections, you have a chance to try your hand at typical aptitude tests and explore how you can best handle the process of being tested.
  12. Personality and aptitude tests can work to your advantage. The trick is to understand why you’re being tested, to test the tester with questions of your own and to know enough about the tests to feel in control of the process.
  13. Personality testing is so complex, the experts find it difficult to agree on what works and what doesn’t. However, the theory called the Big Five has managed to gain a relatively high degree of support among personality test specialists.
  14. The Big Five theory is based on the fact that five broad areas of personality exist and that each of these areas reflect many different facets of personality. These five areas are:
  15. Agreeableness – Trust, compliance and modesty are signs of agreeableness. As the label suggests, agreeableness is about how well you get along with your fellow humans!
  16. Conscientiousness: Competence, achievement and self-discipline are qualities of conscientious people. The words ‘I can resist anything but temptation’ do not make a conscientious response!
  17. Extroversion: Warmth, assertiveness and excitement-seeking are examples of extrovert behaviour. Broadly speaking, being an extrovert is about enjoying getting on with with other people.
  18. Neuroticism: Anxiety, depression and self-consciousness are examples of behaviours that may fall under this heading. Neuroticism is the degree to which you’re relaxed and self-accepting (low neuroticism) or nervous, fidgety and self-critical (high neuroticism).
  19. Openness to experience: Fantasy, ideas and values can fall into this category. Creatures of habit who like everything just so and have the this is how it has always been done’ attitude aren’t open to experience!
  20. Personality tests can make people feel angry, but you can avoid this emotion by asking the recruiter or tester the following questions:
  21. How do these tests indicate to an employer how well I’ll do the job?
  22. How do these questions relate to employment?
  23. Why should I share such personal information with an employer?
  24. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the truth is that personality tests do give an excellent indication of a candidate’s performance levels. A large amount of research has gone into this subject and documented independent evidence of the highest quality shows clearly that well-constructed personality tests are a useful tool in the candidate-selection process.
  25. A well-constructed and well-conducted test has the following features:
  26. The test contains at least 20 questions and generally many more (personality tests can contain up to 500 questions). Generally the more questions a test contains, the more likely the test can yield a reliable result.
  27. The test includes clear instructions and you’re tested in quiet surroundings where nobody else can see your responses.
  28. After you finish answering the questions, the people conducting the test are happy to answer your queries and agree to provide you with appropriate feedback.
  29. The people administering the test are able to produce evidence that your performance on the test is to be measured against an appropriate comparison group and that the test is administered according to the test manual.
  30. The people administering the test can produce verifiable evidence that the test relates to performance in similar sorts of jobs.
  31. If you encounter references to left- and right-brain abilities or handwriting analysis, be afraid. Be very afraid. Psychological tests have a bad name because of shonky practitioners who use unscientific, fad-like tests. Don’t hesitate to decline any test that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  32. Generally if a recruiter includes a personality test, he or she also includes an aptitude test. Unlike personality tests, aptitude tests are normally timed, which has become a controversial issue in the recruiting industry. One of the key international publishers of aptitude tests argues that recruiters shouldn’t be looking for people who can make snap decisions, but rather people who are prepared to mull over a problem and reach a reasoned answer. Despite this reasoning, the majority of recruiters still time aptitude tests.
  33. Numerical reasoning tests assess your ability to manipulate numbers, spotting patterns and progressions.

 

Is the Chaos Theory of Careers doing Practitioners out of a job?

The Chaos Theory of Careers says its all down to chance right? So why do you need a career practitioner if it is all chance?  So the logic goes that gives rise to the question and title of this blog.  It is a question that I am told was asked at a recent CDAA meeting.

Let me give two answers to this question.  The first answer is “no, go read our book The Chaos Theory of Careers (Pryor and Bright 2011)”. Those who are convinced need not bother reading any further.  My second answer is no and I’ll try to explain why by using the Chaos Theory of Careers to counsel my questioner.

Firstly lets deal with the misapprehensions.  The Chaos Theory of Careers (CTC) DOES NOT say it “is all chance” see also this link.  The CTC states that there is inherent uncertainty in all actions of a complex dynamical system such as a person operating within and between other complex dynamical systems.   However, a feature of CTC is that over time a form of dynamic order emerges, that can be visually represented in a fractal pattern.

A good example of dynamic order is the physical appearance of your face over time.  Your face changes as you age, but remains self-similar over time.  If it didn’t we could never recognise ourselves in the mirror let alone other people.  So our faces are always changing but also maintaining a kind of stability over time.    In fact if our faces did not change over time through cell-reproduction, it would mean we have died (and even then it would change through decomposition).  Alternatively it means we have had disastrous plastic surgery. But I digress.

So the CTC certainly does suggest that chance events are to be expected and that they should not be considered rare or trivial.  One implication that flows from this is that it places severe constraints on rigid plans or goal setting. The CTC says that order and chance are not opposites but are composites. This means we cant live and plan as though everything is ordered and chance wont happen to me.  We need to acknowledge the chance in our lives and careers.  The question becomes how do we go about doing this?

My questioner has expressed a view of chance that is not uncommon.  They have implied that the appropriate response to chance is to give up and become fatalistic.  Both myself and co-author Robert Pryor have observed this response amongst some of those who have sustained a workplace injury. In effect they choose to see themselves as one of “luck’s victims”.

This response amounts to fatalism – the view that there is nothing one can do to influence the course of one’s life.   Such thinking is often a reflection of a person caught in Pendulum Attractor thinking. In the CTC, we set out 4 different “Attractors” which describe the varying amounts of constraints people place on their thoughts and behaviours.  Those who display Pendulum Attractor thinking tend to see things as being either black or white.  In this case, the questioner seems to construe life as Chance as equating to being all out of control, whereas Order implies control. I might even want to administer the Change Perception Index (Bright & Pryor, 2005 see this link to get a second opinion on this hypothesis as this is one of the things (amongst 9 others) that this psychometrically validated instrument measures.

The counselling challenge then is to help the questioner re-conceptualize chance events. Bright, Pryor, Chan & Rijanto (2009)  demonstrated that when considering chance events, people have a bias towards recalling events that are high impact and over which we have little or no control.  For instance being in a motor vehicle accident as a passenger and being severely injured.

However as Bright et al (2009) point out, there are other types of chance event.  Specifically there are two types of chance event that have high levels of personal control.  For instance, imagine you go to a party and a fellow guest you’ve just met, offers you a job and tells you to call their office the following day.   This is a chance event where you have as complete control as reasonably possible over whether you take up the invitation or not.   You also have more or less complete control over some more trivial chance events, such as noticing a $5 note on the pavement of an otherwise empty street.

The trouble is as Bright et al (2009) point out, we tend to forget these high control events more quickly than the low control ones.  This in turn fuels a tendency to construe chance events as being out of our control and it is a short step to fatalism from there.

The good news is that we experience far more of the high control chance events than the low control ones.   Clearly because there is a high degree of control in such events, there is a lot of scope for Practitioners to assist their clients with strategies and techniques to leverage such events.   This may include networking, social media, job application assistance, promotional or profile raising activies and so on.   In fact the sorts of thing that Practitioners routinely undertake with and on behalf of their clients.

Once I’ve discussed this perspective on chance events, I might use the Luck Readiness Index (Pryor & Bright, 2005) to gauge my client’s Flexibility, Strategy, Optimism, Persistence, Efficacy, Risk, Curiosity and Luckiness.   It should be fairly clear why helping my client develop a more Flexible, Optimistic, self efficacious and strategic approach to the complexities of an uncertain world could prove important.

Then I might work with my client in helping to develop their own creative solutions to their career dilemmas.  I might do this using the Creative Thinking Strategies Card sort (see this link) (Bright & Pryor, 2005).

The appropriate response to uncertainty in the world and in our careers is not simply to give up and become fatalistic.  Nor is it ideal to thole the uncertainty by merely trying to cope.  As Robert Pryor pointed out in a recent conference paper to the Society of Rehabilitation Counsellors, the CTC allows clients to go beyond coping into developing the skills of personal creativity to allow them to reinvent themselves or creatively re-arrange their transferable skills so that they can offer a more varied and changing proposition to a labour market increasingly demanding changing and variable skills.

In being adept at being personally creative, we learn to survive and thrive living on the edge of chaos, and in so doing allow ourselves a better opportunity to take opportunities that present themselves and to respond positively to both expected and unexpected change.

So far from Practitioners being made redundant by the Chaos Theory of Careers, quite the opposite is true. The CTC practitioner has a major role to play in assisting their clients confront and embrace the complexities of their lives.  When we formally evaluated the CTC counselling approach by comparing it to a more traditional interests-inventory and vocational recommendations type approach, not only did the CTC score higher on every success and satisfaction measure, it continued to do so 1 month later. The counselor doing the CTC counselling reported finding the CTC sessions far more engrossing and stimulating (McKay, Bright & Pryor, 2005).

The CTC is ultimately as much a theory about order as it is about disorder, because those elements of careers are composites.  The problem with theories that have gone before is that they have generally over-estimated the amount of control or agency that a person has, while simultaneously under-estimating the inevitability and impact of continuous and non-linear change.  The CTC provides a principled framework for understanding why and how change operates in careers, and we have also begun to provide a series of empirically evaluated and validated counselling techniques, concepts, card sorts and tests that can be usefully employed by practitioners to assist their clients in a more effective and relevant fashion that addresses the world as it is now.

The CTC will not do Practitioners out of their jobs, but it may for some provide an exciting opportunity to alter and expand their jobs in a way that is deeply satisfying, relevant and effective.

 

References

  1. Bright, JEH & Pryor, RGL (2005). The Complexity Perception Index. Bright & Associates/Congruence.
  2. Bright, Pryor, Chan, Rijanto.  (2009). The dimensions of chance career episodes. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 75(1), 14-25.
  3. McKay, H., Bright J.E.H. & Pryor R.G.L. (2005) Finding order and direction from Chaos: a comparison of complexity career counseling and trait matching counselling.  Journal of Employment Counseling. 42, (3) Sep 2005, 98-112
  4. Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH (2005). The Luck Readiness Index. Congruence/Bright & Associates.
  5. Pryor, RGL & Bright, JEH. (2011).  The Chaos Theory of Careers. Routledge.

 

 

Transform your Career by shifting: Shift 3 From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness

Shiftwork is the work we all have to do to manage, survive and thrive in the face of a world where Shift Happens.

I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here) and the first shift (see here) and second shift (see here) below I give a few tips about how to achieve the third one.

Shift 3: From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness

When trying to make a decision it is easy to become overwhelmed by the choices and so it makes sense to narrow down those choices to a couple of alternatives or even better to one option.  This strategy is useful when:

  • making the wrong choice doesn’t matter much
  • when the situation is simple and you can think through all the implications of your various options
  • when all the alternatives are obvious and easy to understand in advance
  • when things are not not changing or not changing rapidly and can be predicted accurately
  • when you can reverse the decision and start over with the same alternatives still available to you

However many decisions, and many career-related decisions are not like this.  Often things are changing and changing unpredictably.  There are many complex factors bearing on the decision, and because of this uncertainty, changeability and unpredictability, it may not be possible to “undo” a decision.  Under these circumstances being too focused on one course or action of goal may mean failing to spot a better one along the way. Bright & Pryor (2007, Career Planning & Adult Development Journal) call this Luck Readiness (a term coined by my friend from Life Strategies Roberta Neault), or opportunity awareness.

Ways in which you can focus on openness include:

  • engaging in possibility thinking
  • entertaining “wildest dreams”
  • reading lots
  • reading material and attending meetings addressing topics outside of what you think of as your area
  • go to a gallery
  • go to a museum
  • see a music gig
  • talk to friends
  • talk to enemies
  • listen without talking
  • look for 10 reasons why someone else has got a point
  • see other ideas as gifts not threats
  • hold opinions but never be sure
  • be oppositional with your own ideas and open with others ideas
  • change your viewing/reading/learning/cultural habits
  • using the “I’m feeling lucky” link on google
  • read blogs
  • follow links on twitter
  • accept invitations
  • make invitations
  • vary your social life
  • sit in a different chair

  • rearrange your office
  • talk a walk in the woods/high street/mall/in your mind
  • travel
  • look at a scene, turn away, look again and see something different. Repeat 10 times
  • when things go wrong dont curse, instead say how curious I wonder why?
  • never conclude
  • appreciate quitting is often success – like smoking, drugs, reckless driving, make quitting work for you
  • network by giving and sharing yourself, your ideas and tips
  • if you must set goals set fuzzy ones
  • see yourself as lucky
  • experiment with everything
  • take things apart
  • be curious, especially about what you take for granted

Leaving a job: Telling people where to stick it and helping them remember where

Leaving a job: Telling people where to stick it and helping them remember where

I was in Woolworths the other day and decided to try out an alternative career as a check out chap using their self service system. I came away mystified and marveling – mystified as to how to open those flimsy plastic bags provided for your shopping and marveling that the professional check out jockeys manage this feat with elan.  More importantly I came away with colonoscopies firmly forced right up into the forefront of my mind.

Parting may be sweet sorrow for Juliet, but whomever programmed the self-service’s parting comments at Woolies has evidently heard of neither William Shakespeare nor it would seem Nobel Laureate Dr Daniel Kahneman.  There is nothing sweet about the parting shot from the Woolies self-service.  Shoppers leave with “Please take your items…” ringing in their ears. Sounds fair enough until you detect in the intonation that something is missing at the end of this phrase. I find myself adding “and stick it up your…”. Thus I leave my local grocer miffed and colonoscopy-focussed. Which brings me to Danny Kahneman…

Kahneman famously studied colonoscopy procedures to see how the patients registered pain during the invasion and how they subsequently remembered their pain. Memory is important here because when we make decisions about most things in life, we rely on, to quote more Shakespeare, remembrance of things past.  So if our memories of an event are aversive, we are less likely to voluntarily repeat the experience.  Kahneman showed counter to intuition that longer colonoscopy procedures were not necessarily recalled as more painful than shorter procedures.  The memory of the pain was associated most strongly with experiences of pain in the last few minutes of the indignity.  So regardless of length, if you had a shocker in the last few minutes this tended to outweigh any fun had to that point.

In other words, whether it is your local grocer or a professional wielding a camera that goes where reality t.v. normally lives, if you want to engage the customer or patient for a voluntary repeat experience you need to leave them laughing or at least not howling like an inmate surprised in a shower.  The final interaction colors our memories disproportionally.

The same principle applies right across career development.  For instance Andrew Clark and Yannis Georgellis from Brunel University found that current job satisfaction is an inadequate measure for predicting whether folks will leave a job. It turns out when you ask someone whether they are satisfied in their job, they interrogate their memories, and memory being a tricky blighter throws up a response that is disproportionately biased toward current feelings.

They found that if you want to predict who will leave, measure job satisfaction regularly, and average across the peak level of satisfaction found over time and the most recent level of satisfaction.  In fact peak satisfaction was twice as important as recent satisfaction in their predictions.  The amount of change in satisfaction also predicted quit decisions as well.  So to engage staff, aim to get the satisfaction levels as high as possible and monitor changes to try to keep them high. Don’t get complacent, if the latest levels have dropped a lot, it could spell trouble.

More generally, the leave them laughing principle applies to developing relationships and networking.  Those who are good at these essential career skills are conscious of leaving interactions – meetings, calls, emails, texts or twitters – on a high note. So Woolies, consider adding “and thanks for your business”.  With this principle in mind, thanks for reading this and till we met again, I wish you peak career satisfaction for the week ahead.

Design your own job

What is a job and who determines what you do in a job? For John Paul Getty, if you haven’t got a problem, you haven’t got a job. At the most general level, for an employer a job exists if they have a problem that needs addressing. So if they haven’t got enough time, knowledge or skills to get the work done themselves, they clearly have a job vacancy for some lucky soul.
There is some truth in this maxim because it would be odd (but not unheard of) to employ people when there is nothing to be done. So if we follow the approach of identifying a problem the next logical step is to specify that problem in as much detail as is required to generate a position description for the role. Generally this will include a consideration of the tasks and reporting relationships associated with the role that we are beginning to describe. This process can be as simple as saying get me another one like “Pablo”, or it could get very involved indeed. We could set up a committee to design the job, or we could interview or observe other employees doing similar things to work out the core responsibilities and reporting relationships. Once we have an idea of the duties we can specify the qualifications, experience and perhaps personal qualities that we feel are necessary to do the role well. Then we advertise the role and wait for the hungry hordes of job seekers to come a-knockin’ at our door.
It all sounds so reasonable and logical, but it is questionable whether such a traditional approach to job analysis and job design is so effective in the current market. Debbie Loveridge CEO of recruiters Vedior Asia Pacific says “Even if organisations haven’t previously embraced adaptable working conditions, they will quickly realise the need to do so in order to meet the demands of their current and future workforce”. What the recruiters are saying is that the balance is shifting from designing jobs to meet problems, to instead designing jobs around employees. Employees have so much market power in the current talent war, that they have stopped trying to tailor themselves to the jobs on offer, and it is now the employers who are obliged to tailor their roles to the employee.
This revolution in job design has a range of benefits. Companies have always had an eye on staff turnover because turnover, especially in complex and skilled roles is inefficient. Productivity is lost while the role remains empty, and continues to be lost until the new incumbent is fully up to speed in the role. The less obvious productivity loss that Organisational Psychologists have known for years relates to the degree of engagement that the individual feels with their role and their employer more generally. What better way to increase employee engagement than by designing work around the skills, and abilities of your staff?
Such an approach naturally embraces diversity, and makes each individual feel special and recognised within the organisation, in the same way that the person in the tailored suit feels more comfortable than the less fortunate person squeezing into off-the-peg attire.

The traditional objection to designing jobs around people is that it effectively hands the employee a gun along with instructions to hold it to the head of the employer during salary negotiations. Even worse than being forced to pay top dollar, there is the risk of chaos if the pivotal employee moves on.

While these arguments may have held sway when skilled employees were plentiful, those times have passed, and the risks of structuring jobs around key people are outweighed by the benefits it brings to the organisation. So if you are on the look out for a new role, don’t put all your energies into squeezing yourself into a badly fitting job, have the confidence to work out the type of role you’d like and be good at, and offer it to your employer. You never know, you might just transform not only your own career, but the fortunes of your employer as well.

Managing your job with a terminal or chronic illness

(Dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Sylvia Cox)

Steve Jobs’ of Apple sad passing highlights the dilemma faced by employees diagnosed with terminal or chronic illness of how many details of their condition they share with their employer and colleagues.
There are two ways of looking at this situation, the formal or legal one, and the career development approach. I have no legal training and so what I can say about this from a formal perspective is limited and readers are strongly advised to take advice from appropriately qualified independent legal advisors. If you are a member of a union, they should be able to assist.

The first point to make is that you have a duty to notify promptly your employer of your illness or incapacity and of the estimated duration of the absence as a condition of any sick leave you are going to take. Employers have a right to demand an explanation for unexplained absences from work, indeed I am told by lawyers that it could be argued that under Occupational Health and Safety laws employers who do not inquire into absences may be abdicating their duty of care to their employees. Consequently you should expect management to request information about any absences.

sunset

Ok, so much for the formalities, how in practice can you maximize the chances of keeping your job while at the same time dealing with the emotional shock and upheavals that accompany a diagnosis of a chronic or terminal condition?
The first point hardly needs making it is so obvious, but you are likely to be in a highly emotionally charged state around the time of medical investigations and diagnosis. When under such stress, we do not make the best decisions, and understandably our focus is on ourselves, our well-being and our loved ones. The employer generally ranks very low
in our priority list, however the remuneration they provide may well rank as important. Consequently you need to give yourself the best chance possible of communicating clearly with your employer. Try writing out or talking out with a sensible friend, what you want to tell your employer. This will help you collect your thoughts and communicate
more coherently when the time comes. Take a little time to gather your thoughts about work and to decide on your strategy.

Do not be tempted to quit in an emotional state. Think through your actions. If you are going to require the financial support of a regular income during the course of your illness, the stresses of continuing to work need to be balanced against the stresses of being unemployed and being financially insecure. Even if you do not need to work
for the money, think very carefully about the sense of social support, recognition and social contribution that can accompany work. Do not throw away such things lightly.

Despite your personal circumstances, the reality is that work goes on for your employer, and they have a responsibility to their other employees, customers and shareholders. Consequently, you might want to consider framing your discussions with your employer in terms of how you are going to continue to meet performance expectations. Do not be tempted to personalise the situation or become resentful if the employer seems to be coldly indifferent to your circumstances. If your goal is to continue to make a professional contribution, then you need to behave professionally. You are likely to be treated a whole lot better if you maintain a dignified and supportive approach to your colleagues and boss, than if you simply “trade” on your illness.

Openness in communication with your manager is an essential for most people at work. Understand the nature and course of your diagnosis and ask your medical advisors about how your illness and treatment is likely to affect your performance at work. Test yourself so that you are fully confident you know as much about the impact of your illness as possible and remember there are no stupid questions if you do not know ask your doctor and ask again for clarification it is part of their job. When you fully understand the nature of your illness, plan out how you see this translating into your work situation. How long realistically will you be able to continue with your duties? What modifications to your duties or workplace will be required, when and for how long? What are the realistic best and worst case scenarios relating to
work? Once you have set out these parameters you are in a good position to have a meeting with your manager, where you can set out all of this information for them.

If your condition is one that is not likely to impact upon your work or your work colleagues, or not for a long time, then your condition is not a work-related issue at this stage and there is no obvious reason to inform your managers about it. However if your condition is going to impact upon your work, or is going to be plainly obvious to your managers and colleagues you should not delay in discussing the matter with your boss.

You need to decide on a preferred “communications policy”. In other words, you need to decide who you want to share
your diagnosis with. Some people will prefer to limit knowledge of their condition to a manager and no one else, whereas others will want the information disseminated more broadly. You need to discuss this with your manager and make it very clear what your preference is. Remember your manager may well have an obligation to report your case
to their superiors and so on.

Even if you have close friends in the workplace, your boss should still be the first (or a very close second) work colleague you inform. The last thing you want are rumours starting and your boss hearing second- hand. Your goal is to get your boss on-side as a supporter. Schedule a meeting at a quiet time, such as the end of the day or early morning when there is less chance of interruptions. Indicate that you want to discuss something of importance, and that you will need at least 30 mins to an hour. Indicate that you need to see them reasonably urgently. After the meeting, follow up with an email, or a note (keep copies of either), politely thanking them for their time and setting out briefly your understanding of what was discussed and what was agreed.

My golden rule of all communications is to get it in writing. Keep a dated written record of all meetings, and communications with people at work. Write up notes as soon as possible after face-to-face meetings or even
corridor conversations, and date them. Keep the records up to date and limit your entry to the facts of what occurred do not include any defamatory opinions or reflections. If someone reduced you to tears, say so, but do not write down a lot of personal attacks about the other person. Why go to all this trouble? Simply to cover yourself in the
event that the employer becomes unreasonable or reneges on an agreement.

If you fear that being open with your boss is likely to result in your sacking, it is likely that your boss would also sack you for any regular or long absences for treatment, so unless the impact of your illness is not going to impact on your work, you have little to lose in informing your boss (and lots to gain, because you are actually helping your boss to manage you better).

Finally, I have known cases where the most irritating, anti-establishment employees who were convinced their boss hated their guts, found after diagnosis of a terminal illness that the boss became their greatest supporter. Most people (and that includes most bosses!) are compassionate, reasonable people, but like most people, they can be cold-hearted or unreasonable if approached in the wrong way. Be honest, be proud and be positive. Nobody and no employer could ask for more.

By Dr Jim Bright, Partner Bright and Associates Career Solutions
this article originally appeared in the Arrow Bone Marrow Transplant Association Newsletter