Changing Careers – They Have Done It!

Changing careers is something that people think about but it can be quite a scary concept! I have been talking to a number of people over the last few weeks who have been considering whether they should change the focus of their careers. Seeking a new role or changing career is one of those things that people do tend to consider at this time of year.

I am sure you will have come across people who have “fallen into” their current career and have stuck with it because of the security the regular income brings. They often find themselves frustrated as time goes on that they are not following a career that would really fulfill them and allow to work in an area that they would enjoy and feel they were adding value to the world around them. You may be one of those people?

Pondering on this set me thinking about some of the people from history or that we know today who have changed their careers.

There are many examples of people who have have taken the plunge and moved from thinking about changing careers to changing their lives and careers completely through knowing themselves and what they were capable of. They also had the courage to change direction and make the most of the opportunities presented to them.

Changing Careers – These People Did It!

Julius Caesar

In 49BC, Caesar, though a great commander, was told to disband his legion and return to Rome – most likely to retirement or even death. He disobeyed orders and instead crossed the Rubicon River into Italy. His power grew through his great talents and love of the people, and that one act led to him becoming the Emperor of Rome and first in a long line of Caesars.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon was not even French, but become Emperor of the French within a decade after seizing upon the opportunities for power that had resulted through the French Revolution. He transformed himself from a corporal of artillery to the greatest general the modern world had ever seen, and he made every member of his family a king or ruler in Europe.

Arthur Wellesley

Arthur Wellesley was born in Ireland, a second son who would not inherit his father’s estate, and so would have to make his own way in the world. He was a talented violinist, but when the family of the girl he wished to marry turned him down because he had “no prospects,” he burned all his violins and threw himself into a career in the army. Around 20 years later, he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo and became the Duke of Wellington. He also became the prime minister of Great Britain.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was a retired politician writing books and painting watercolors in the 1930s, but the rise of Hitler in Germany so alarmed him that he became a tireless opponent of the Fuhrer even though he was nearly 60 years old. He became Prime Minister in 1940 and led England through the horrific war and on to victory in 1945, when he was 71.

We have many modern examples of people who thought about changing careers and went on to be wildly successful:

  • Walt Disney was a newspaper editor
  • Ellen DeGeneres was an oyster shucker
  • Harrison Ford was a carpenter
  • Andrea Bocelli was a lawyer
  • Chef Julia Child was a spy in World War II

Sylvester Stallone was a deli-counter assistant and lion cage cleaner at the Central Park Zoo. Desperate to give his family a better life, he penned the screenplay to Rocky. Hollywood loved it, but he insisted he would only sell it if he got to play the lead. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What drives people like this to success? It’s often a sense of purpose or destiny. It’s knowing what they want and finding ways to get there. Let’s look at one way of accomplishing this in the next post! In the meantime are you thinking of changing careers? What are you going to do about it?

Dealing with Competency Based Questions at Interview

As I participate in interviews as part of my search for a new role as a Learning and Development Professional I find myself encountering Competency Based Questions. In common with others I am not a great fan of competency based questions because whilst they can tell the interviewer what you have done in the past they are no real indicator of future performance.

However, there is still competition for many job openings, and whilst interviewers continue to use the competency based approach we need to be able to handle them.  The STAR model is one proven technique that can help you frame your responses to this type of question and show off your accomplishments to your best advantage.

This guide is an explanation of the four elements of STAR and how to use this format to answer the competency based questions.

The Four Elements of STAR

  1. Situation: Describe the situation you found yourself in (the context) and set the stage for your story.
  1. Task: What were you faced with? What was it you were being asked the do? What were the challenges you faced? Who were you working with? and what did you need to achieve? You do need to talk about a specific piece of work and not just your general approach to things. Explain the obstacles you worked to overcome.
  1. Actions: Details the actions you took. Spell out precisely what you did to respond to the challenge. What was your particular contribution? How did you organize things? You need to focus very much on what you did and even if you were managing other people the response needs to talk about your actions and not those of “the team” as a whole.
  1. Results: Report the results. Talk about the final outcome and its impact on your company. Specify what you achieved in terms of cost savings, increased customer satisfaction, lower employee turnover or similar measurements.

Additional Suggestions for Using STAR

  1. Tell a compelling story. Try telling your stories to others perhaps in a mock-interview to test how interesting they might sound to a recruiter. Make your language concise and vivid.
  2. Develop multiple examples. If possible, include more than one STAR story for each of the main competencies for your area of work.
  3. Draw on all your experiences. Sometimes, as I have written about before, other areas of our life can provide useful stories. In addition to your past jobs, think about what you’ve done through volunteer services, self employment, or other activities.
  4. Use numbers. Quantifying your contributions strengthens your credibility. Be aware of how much money you helped to save or the percentage increase in sales you brought about.
  5. Be specific: Paint a clear picture throughout your story. Details and particulars are more convincing than generalities.

Whatever your career goals, you are almost bound to face some form of competency based interview, and the STAR model can also be adapted to improve your performance in any behavioral based interview or employee evaluation.

Can Blogging Help You Find A New Job?

As someone who is currently looking for a new role as a Learning and Development Professional and who blogs I have had a number of people ask me whether I think blogging is helpful.

My take is that blogging can help you show off your knowledge, skills and understanding of your area of work. It can also help you to network effectively and if you include a link to it in your CV can even prompt questions at interview as I have found on a number of occasions. Whether you already have a blog or are looking to start one, below are some tips for incorporating your blog into your job search.

Benefits of Using a Blog in Your Job Search

  1. Engage with more people. Blogging is really a social activity. You can use your site to engage new people through techniques such as guest blogging, interviews, and exchanging links. You can also encourage your readers to introduce/recommend you to their network.
  2. Cultivate long term relationships. It’s common for people to spend a year or more looking for a new job these days. A blog makes it easy to stay in touch over a prolonged period.
  3. Help others. Networking is more likely to be enjoyable and productive if you keep it focused on serving others. Your blog is a way to help people find solutions to challenges you’ve both experienced and attract job offers from people who are looking for a candidate like you.
  4. Expand your knowledge. You’ll learn valuable information while you’re researching and writing blog posts. It’s a great way to stay up to date in your chosen field even if you’re between jobs or looking for a position that better matches your long term goals.
  5. Create a portfolio. Think of your blog as a showcase. Potential employers can get to know you through the content you produce. As you establish yourself and gain readers you might even want to consider turning your best posts into eBooks or YouTube videos.
  6. Operate within your budget. If you’re low on funds, it’s okay to start out small. Set up a free blog on something like WordPress.

Effective Strategies

  1. Post regularly. The two top reasons readers give for unsubscribing from a blog is posting too seldom or posting too frequently. Keep your blog fresh but be prudent with more intrusive communications like mass email blasts.
  2. Stick to your topic. Identify your subject area at the start so you consistently deliver what your readers are expecting. You can always start a separate blog for unrelated interests.
  3. Participate in forums, social bookmarking and social media sites. Become a regular on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn or forums on topics related to your blog.Exchange guest posts and comments.
  4. Connect and engage with other popular bloggers in your field. If you write about issues in your area, make reciprocal arrangements to contribute to other local blogs that focus on the same issues.
  5. Get sticky. Encourage your readers to keep coming back. Thank people for their comments and answer their questions. Create a list of your most popular posts so new visitors are encouraged to read more.
  6. Stimulate polite debate. One way to get positive attention is to take a bold stance when you’ve got the facts to back you up. Write a thoughtful post about issues that are being debated in your industry. Maybe then invite an article from a colleague or another blogger who takes the opposing position.

In a competitive job market, it’s important to take advantage of every resource available to you. High quality content and strategic networking will make you and your blog stand out in a crowded field.

6 Tips for Building Resilience to Stress

Stress is all around us in the modern world, and can really wear us down if we are not careful, leading to all sorts of personal and health issues. Whether it’s the stress that can come from having to find a new job or dealing with all that is involved in Christmas people find many different situations stressful. Building up your resilience to stress is one of the best way of coping with it, so that you bounce back more quickly from tough times rather than get swamped by them. Here are several ways you can build resilience to stress so you don’t burn out.

1. Put together a powerful support network

Studies have shown that those with the best support network are often the most resilient. They know their friends and family will help them in stressful times and are not afraid to ask for assistance for fear of seeming weak. They say what they need and will return the favor whenever the other person needs it.

2. Practice good self-care

Stress can have an extremely negative effect on both physical and mental health. Eating right, exercising, getting eight hours of sleep a night, and avoiding negative coping behaviors (such as smoking tobacco, using illicit drugs, or drinking alcohol) can all help them avoid burnout.

3. Learn from past experiences

Dealing with stress successfully often means dealing with stressful situations and learning from them, so the next time something similar happens you will be prepared. It sounds terrible to say it, but it is only through the illness and death of a loved one that a person will really learn how to cope with these types of situations.

Through getting support and overcoming these issues, you set a pattern for success. You don’t feel powerless – you are able to take action and produce the results you wish for.

4. Be flexible

A lot of stress comes from an “Oh, no!” attitude that makes you tense and unable to deal with the situation in a calm manner. Being flexible – that is, rolling with the changes through understanding that change is a natural part of life, can lower your stress response and make it easier to deal with issues in a calm, practical way. Stuff happens. Deal with it. Then move on to the next challenge.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff

If you stress over every little thing, you will always be stressed. That being the case, learn to let go and not stress over things that in the long run will really make very little difference. If you get upset, think, “Will I remember this issue a week from now? A year from now?” If the answer is no, deal with it as best you can and move on.

6. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude

When we are under stress, it’s easy to focus on the negative and the present struggle we are facing. But if we take a moment to think about all we are grateful for, it can add a whole new appreciation for life. Thinking about the best things in your life you are grateful for can change your perspective and mood completely.

Stress nowadays is an inescapable part of life, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Work on building your resistance to stress and see what a difference it can make in your life.

Are You A FED-Up Job Seeker?

Are you fed up of Job Search? Yes it can be frustrating when you are trying to find a new job and you just want it to come to an end and for someone to offer you are a job can’t it! Well I want you to be really FED up! But not in the way you might think and not that I am wishing you more weeks and months of job search. But I want to suggest that you look at your job search in perhaps a different way.

This morning I had a telephone conversation with Steve Radcliffe which came about purely by chance. For those of you who may not recognise the name he is the author of Leadership Plain and Simple which for me is probably the best book I have ever read on Leadership.

I had a job interview around lunchtime today with an organisation that has taken on board Steve Radcliffe’s Leadership model. I had therefore taken the opportunity to re-read his book to refresh my memory on some aspects of the approach. Having done so I dropped Steve a line thanking him for re-inspiring me about something I am passionate about as a Learning and Development Professional which is keeping things simple!

I was pleasantly surprised to get a message from him asking if I would like a discussion about his Leadership Model before my interview. Of course I was delighted to accept and we had a really excellent discussion. So what’s all this got to do with job search and being truly FED up?

Well, if you are not familiar with Steve’s Leadership Model it is Future, Engage, Deliver (FED) and is a model which can be applied to so many people at every level of an organisation but equally to individuals who are not “leading” anyone.

In summary the model is based around the idea that effective leaders need to do three things:

  • Future – The Leader needs to have a clear vision that they can articulate about where the organisation is going. Or to put it another way they are “up to something” that they really care passionately about.
  • Engage – The Leader needs to be able to engage others, bring them onboard and get them moving towards that future vision.
  • Deliver – The Leader needs to be able to make things happen.

I love the simplicity of the model but equally the depth of insight it offers into the role of Leaders. If you want to explore it in a little more detail then I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of Leadership – Plain and Simple and like me you might find your views on leadership changing. Because as Steve shows leadership isn’t that complex!

During our conversation this morning Steve asked me how I was applying FED (Future, Engage, Deliver) right now. I didn’t really need to think about it because having been re-engaged with the concepts through reading the book again it is something I have been thinking about. As a Job Seeker I am “up to something” that I care passionately about. I have a clear understanding of the type of role I want to be doing and the type of organisation I want to work with. I am Engaging people through networking in many different ways, doing work on making relevant people aware of my personal brand and continuing to interact with people across social media. Then we come to “Deliver” and that of course is about ensuring that I am taking the actions required and getting others to take action for and with me to ensure that I can create the “Future” that I want.

I appreciate that at times it can seem a lonely, heartless task searching for a new job. However, if we think about it in terms of the leadership skills we can and are demonstrating it can make it a much more focused activity. Equally next time you are at an interview and you are asked when did you last demonstrate real leadership skills you can talk about your job search and you can also demonstrate your awareness of Future, Engage Deliver which makes leadership simple, understandable and effective.

As I said earlier I would highly recommend you getting hold of a copy of Leadership – Plain and Simple (UK) and if you are reading this in the US then you can get it here.