Tag Archives: Career Management

Things I Wish I Had Known When Starting My Career

Reading 20 Things I Wish I Had Known When Starting Out in Life by Leo Babauta inspired me to take a look back to twenties and starting to write. However, rather than referring to all the aspects of my life, I narrowed it down to my career.

I made my share of mistakes and I learned some lessons the hard way. There are some things that I wish I had known since my first year in University. Why then? Because I would have had time to get better prepared for the “real world”, prepared to become a “grownup”.

In my opinion, the contact with the real world comes for many of us only after graduating University. This is the moment when we are expected to be on our own, when we learn that the years of study grant you neither a good salary nor a job.

There are many things I wish I had known back then, but I listed below the things which may also apply to others who found themselves passing trough that stage. Would I had listened or followed this advice then…. I don’t know.

These are the main things I would tell myself if I could send a note to the 18 year old me:

  1. There is no such thing as the perfect job! Learn what things are the most important for you to find in a job and focus on those when appraising your current/potential job. Maybe you cannot figure it out from the start. It’s OK. Just keep learning about yourself. What makes you enter the state of flow? What makes a good day to be considered one? Every job has its downsides. What really matters it’s for the upsides to contain those factors you identified as being of high importance to you.
  2. Read more! Time spent on watching TV is a huge waste of time. Try reading instead. There are so many lessons to be learned out there! I don’t mean reading only books/articles on the field you study/would like to have a career in, but also those which challenges your thinking and imagination, helping your personal development.
  3. Find out what is happening in the real life! Translate this into getting more information regarding your possible/probable career path. Try to answer some questions:  Do you have a long term career goal? What about a short-term one? What job could you get after graduating from university? What would be the following step? Do you really know what that first job and your chosen career involve? Some things that could help you answering these questions: read blogs of those already in that sector, find job descriptions and job ads, try to meet and discuss with people already working in that field, ask them what they do, what you should know to do, etc.
  4. Get an early start! Maybe you can afford not having a job during college, but go get one anyway.  Not only does every experience represent an opportunity to learn, but experiencing with jobs during college could bring you a better understanding of your skills and motivation and get you prepared for the grownup world.
  5. Go for a new opportunity instead of leaving a job you dislike. Whilst the grass always seems greener on the other side, it may be just an illusion caused by you focusing mainly on the things that appear unbearable in your current situation.  Don’t make decisions based on a negative motivation, but on a positive one. What I suggest you to do: take a deep breath, clear you mind of frustration and put down all the good aspects of your current job and future opportunities that are likely to occur. Now evaluate whether the new job you were offered is a genuine opportunity for you or not.
  6. Use reason when considering a job offer. All things mentioned above apply. Furthermore, at this age, you tend to be impulsive and make decisions based on superficial and emotional factors and make less use of reason than necessary. I know that things may sound great sometimes, but don’t believe everything you are told and also listen to the opinions you don’t like to hear. Make use of your own brain: decode messages, facts and thoroughly analyze what you are offered.
  7. Asking what could you earn from a job in terms of knowledge (not cash!) helped you at the beginning of you career. Don’t change that!
  8. Keep learning! Try to learn as much as you can from your experiences. Whether you have failed or succeeded, there is something to learn form that. You may think that learning by doing things is enough and you may expect for others to teach you things. Conversely, you could take responsibility for your own personal and professional development and actively search for opportunities and sources to learn from. The latter is the approach I recommend. Be informed and updated on what is happening in your field: read books, blogs, engage in discussions with people you can learn from.

I would like to conclude this post by quoting the one that inspired me to write it:

All these mistakes you’re going to make, despite this advice? They’re worth it. My 18-year-old self would probably have read this post and said, “Good advice!” And then he would have proceeded to make the same mistakes, despite good intentions. I was a good kid, but I wasn’t good at following advice. I had to make my own mistakes, and live my own life. And that’s what I did, and I don’t regret a minute of it. Every experience I’ve had (even the tequila ones) have led me down the path of life to where I am today. I love where I am today, and wouldn’t trade it for another life for all the world.

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Articles of the week – March 3 – 9

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Why did you apply for this job? (II)

It might look like a simple question, but only a few of the candidates can answer it in an appropriate manner. Thus this question is not usually addressed in this form; the recruiter needs to have it answered and, needless to say, the answer has a significant impact on the final result of your interview.

Hopefully, I will not disappoint you by saying that “because I need a job” or “because I need money” is not the best answer you could give. On contrary, these may be in the top of the worst answers.

When you apply for a job we may assume that:

  1. You consider you are suitable for that job
  2. You are interested in that job

Consequently, the one question mentioned in the title can be translated in two more specific questions:

  • How would you relate your key competencies to this position?
  • What motivates you to apply for this job/company/ industry?

In order to be prepared to answer, firstly perform a self assessment. This helps you to identify your strengths and apply for jobs where those will be best valued. Read carefully the job ad and apply only when you meet the mandatory requirements and you consider your strengths relevant for that job.

Secondly, conduct a brief research on the company you are applying for and identify what motivates your interest. It could be the industry, the company’s position on the market, its values, quality of services, strategy and so on. Find out what would be that thing that could make you choose that job in that  company from another job in another company.

Relate these findings with your self assessment results and build strong arguments to support your interest. Try to avoid clichés. It’s highly probable we heard them before. All we want to know it is that you did your research and analyzed the findings from your own perspective. As I already mentioned in a previous post: if one can’t spend some time to prepare for an interview then he/she does not deserve the job.

Please note that having these questions answered not only helps you during the interview, but it also can get you the interview. How? Find the answers before applying for a job and start building your cover letter around them.

Now, get ready to apply for the next job!

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Questions You Should Ask during a Job Interview

Unfortunately, many candidates see the job interview more like an inquiry than a discussion between equals. Consequently, they don’t ask any questions, assuming that their role is to answer questions and hopefully, get the job. This being the case, how can you be sure you actually want that job?

On the other hand, If I were to rephrase it from the recruiter’s perspective, several doubts can appear concerning your situation: “How could this candidate have a genuine interest on this job if he is not interested in finding out more about it?” or “If this candidate makes a decision regarding his career based mostly on assumptions, what other decisions does he make in the same way?” and so on.

Not only are you entitled to ask questions, but you are highly expected to do so. Asking questions helps you perform a more accurate appraisal of this job opportunity.

When the recruiter asks “Do you have any questions”, it’s high time for you to address them. Nevertheless, note that not any question puts you in a good light. Asking a question such as “what exactly does your company do?” puts you on the bottom of the list instantly. Before a job interview, it is mandatory for you to prepare. If one cannot spend thirty minutes preparing for an interview, he does not deserve the job.

You should also pay attention to what the interviewer says during your meeting. It’s needles to mention that asking a question already answered labels you as “not engaged in the conversation”. Nonetheless you can ask for clarification on certain issues.

You can find bellow 15 questions suggestions for questions you could ask in order to have a clearer sense of what having that job involves. Those can help you in building your own questions list, based on what it is important for you to know about your (probably) next job.

  1. What are the company’s values? How are they translated into actions? (Translate to yourself as „are those only on paper?”)
  2. How would you define your organizational culture?
  3. Can you help me understand your performance appraisal system? (When is your performance going to be appraised? By whom? On which criteria?)
  4. What is the average time an employee spends in a certain position? What are the opportunities for development?
  5. What are the traits and the skills of people who are the most successful within the organization?
  6. What are the opportunities for training? Does the organization support ongoing training for employees to stay up to date in their fields?
  7. What are the challenges this department (the one you are interviewing for) is facing?
  8. What is the structure of the department?
  9. How is this department perceived within the organization?
  10. What are the departments I would collaborate with in that position? How would you define the collaboration between this department and others?
  11. Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position?
  12. How do you see the ideal candidate for this position?
  13. When top performers leave the company why do they do it?
  14. What should be the top priority of the person who accepts this job?
  15. Do you have an onboarding programme? What does it involves?

Note that the more senior the position you are seeking, the more important it is to ask specific questions regarding the business strategy, present/future challenges, plans, development and so on. Connect interviewer’s answers with your previous experience and summarize how you had successfully coped with a similar situation.

Important: Unless you understand how its answer helps you, don’t ask a question. Don’t ask questions just because you are expected to.

To make a long story short: leave the interview with a clear image of the factors impacting your potential job both on short and long term.

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Employability self-assessment

In my previous blog post I raised the issue of employability. Whether you are happy with your employer or you feel it’s high time for you to make a change in your career, I recommend you to evaluate and maintain it. Note that in tough economic times it’s crucial to adapt to them and stand out of the crowd.

In order to assess your employability you should proceed to analyze both the context and your particular situation.

The context:

Assuming that you are not a psychic and you accept that you can’t predict the future, I suggest you to try PEST analysis. This is a way of trying to understand and asses the most likely future developments and trends in your industry sector.

PEST analysis takes into consideration several factors that influence the current state and possible changes of your sector and workplace: political, economic, social, technological.  Understanding these factors can give you a clearer image of what is happening to your company and industry sector and, trough that, a clearer understanding of your situation in the workplace.

  • Political factors – Take into consideration issues such as: political stability, government’s policy on economy, changes in legislation, EU requirements that must be met during the next period, etc. The political arena has a powerful influence on businesses regulation and spending power of both other businesses and consumers.
  • Economic factors –Take into consideration: interest rates, exchange rates, inflation rates, economic growth. The impact these factors have on how businesses operate and make decisions can be easily seen trough the major changes caused by the current economic crisis.
  • Social trends – Include: career attitudes, age distribution, attitude towards the social services, financial system, consumer habits etc.
  • Technological factors – Can determine the minimum efficient productivity level and influence outsourcing decisions. Technology is vital for competitive advantage, and it’s a major driver of globalization.

After completing the analysis, try to answer some questions:

  • What changes have occurred or are likely to occur in your job function’s role?
  • What are the threats and opportunities you identified for your company/sector? How could these impact your job role?
  • What changes have occurred and what is the trend of the workforce market in your sector?
  • What are the actions you should take in order to be prepared for these changes?

Now that you have a clearer sense of what is happening around you, take a good look at yourself and your particular situation. In order to find out where you are and where you should be heading, try a SWOT analysis. This is a breakdown of your strengths and weaknesses combined with the opportunities and threats of your particular situation.

Strengths and weaknesses refer to your competencies (your inner qualities) whilst the threats and opportunities refer to the external environment in which you operate.

It’s high time for you to be completely honest with yourself.  Unless you openly and honestly appraise your own strengths and weaknesses and consider the situation you find yourself in, this analysis will be a waste of time.

Take some time to think and find solid arguments for everything you write in your SWOT. Think about more aspects of your life as a professional. E.g.: Ask yourself what are your strengths and weaknesses as: a coworker, a team member, a partner, a manager, a leader, a subordinate etc.

After you devised this, try to find trusted and qualified people to provide you with a feedback on it. Choose people who will give you an honest feedback and whose opinion you trust and value on those specific issues.

Answer yourself the next few questions and use the answers to build an action plan of your future development.

  • In which job role would your strengths be mostly valued? What would be the impact of your weaknesses?
  • Is the job that best fits you also the one that motivates you?
  • How many of your competencies identified as strengths are transferable to a new job?
  • What weaknesses mostly affect your current job?
  • What could you do to diminish your weaknesses?
  • What are you planning to do to make the most of the identified opportunities?
  • How could you transform the threats in opportunities for development?

Now that you have a better image of both your competencies and workforce market needs, you can also start building your personal brand.

Piece of advice: periodically update your PEST and SWOT in order to keep an accurate image on your employability and development.

LE: If you are intrerested in employability self- assesment and you want to know more about this, I recommend you to read: Teach Yourself Getting a Better Job by Roderic Ashley.

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You are employed, but are you employable?

Given the changes in the economy, technology, society, it is also necessary to change one’s mindset about jobs.

Mostly, but not only, because of the communism, our parents found themselves in a passive expectation of becoming an employee. They devoted a number of years to an employer, working a number of hours a day in exchange for a certain salary and a sense of security. Nevertheless, upon on ability, political views, hard work, that job could evolve through a promotion into a more financially rewarding one, but not necessarily a more enjoyable one.

Hence, this mindset prevented many to proceed to a career change after the communist regime was ended. Companies were restructured; thousands of people were laid off and found themselves in an impossibility of finding a job. One of the reasons was that they were completely unprepared for a job search, had few transferable skills, they were unaware of their strengths and weaknesses and of what a competitive workforce market needed.

Now (after almost 20 years since the revolution) we are facing again an economical crisis and many people are still unaware of what employability stands for. In those times, but mostly in this economical context, there must be much more active selling of the competencies, experiences and personal qualities one has to offer.

It’s high time for the focus to change from “job” to “career”. Jobs don’t come for granted. Therefore one should be always ready for a change and think about next steps to follow on his/her career path. To look on the bright side, we have the opportunity to take control and responsibility on our professional lives.

We live in a world where the essential qualities needed are (as characterized by William Bridges in his book Job Shift): employability (retaining your attractiveness to employers by displaying and developing those competencies valued by them), vendor mindedness (thinking at your employer as it was your client) and resiliency (finding your security from within, by knowing your strengths and weaknesses rather than being dependent to an external factor).

You may have a job now, but have you ever asked yourself what is the level of your employability skills?

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Performance Feedback III – The Receiver

In my previous post I tried to provide a piece of advice on how to offer performance feedback in a manner that leads to a constructive attitude from the receiver.

Today’s post is on the constructive attitude one should have when receiving a performance feedback:

  • Firstly, remember that you are in the same boat and you need to be sure that you are paddling in the same direction. This is not only about you and your needs. This is about how you can both grow and perform together.
  • Secondly, be prepared for this discussion!  You should be the first reviewing your performance, whether the manager asked you to do this or not.  I suggest you to start by listing your achievements and failures, thus you will be able to identify their causes. Analyzing those causes leads you to a better understanding of what you should stop/start/keep doing in order to improve your results.
  • Please note that performance feedback is not only given during the annual performance review. If it is feedback about your work or competencies, it is a performance feedback. You should take it into consideration and act consequently.
  • In order for this to be a win-win situation, be sure that you really listen. The performance review is not about criticism.
  • Don’t blame others for your poor results. The questions you should ask yourself are:”Given the context, could I’ve done better?” and “Was it under my control to change that context?” If you can answer either of those questions positively than this means you have room for improvement. The manager may accept the fact that the outcomes are not entirely under your control (lack of resources provided by the company, market decrease etc), but only to a limited extent.
  • When you challenge one of your manager’s opinions do it tactfully. Bring arguments to support your perspective and be sure you understood his/her arguments, in order to fight them (if the case). Build your case around company’s interest, not your own interest, as the “performance “ part in “performance feedback” refers to how you manage to meet company’s objectives.

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