Tag Archives: career

Career tip: Play to your strengths

One thing that stuck with me from my  recent training session on mentoring high school students was the strengths based approach.

It seems so logical. Focus on your strengths, rather than solely on tackling your weaknesses. Yet I realised I have not been doing this at all.

For example, an ongoing goal of mine for, oh, a couple of years now, has been to brush up on my coding skills. Yet every time I dived in, trying to dig into CSS, or even starting the Javascript module in Codecademy, it was a CHORE. I didn’t enjoy it, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. The other day I managed to break my blog thanks to a stray < in one of the PHP files. I used to think the concept of testing was pretty cool – essentially trying to break things on your site – but actually doing it on my own blog and the site I work on is bloody tedious.

(On that note, there was a great piece on Mother Jones recently about how computational thinking is the new literacy – the ‘learn to code’ movement is great and all, but programmers need to be able to think about WHAT to build, too, in order to meet needs and solve problems. I definitely felt this during my brief brush with Javascript; it was cool to write code that actually DID something active, but realistically when would I use it?)

I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the natural bent, and I don’t have the desire, since there are no obvious benefits. I’m confident in tweaking code – poking around and figuring out what pieces to change in order to get elements doing what I want them to do. Writing code from scratch – not so much. Getting to the stage where I’d be good enough to do it in my professional life is beyond my capability – and it’s probably not going to be hugely helpful to me. Even if I want to go down the full stack marketing route later on, heavier back end coding skills beyond basic HTML/CSS are not going to be as important as commercial nous and/or analytics. If there is talent besides programmers that we are crying out for in today’s work world, it’s digital analysts! (Seriously, we’re hiring right now.)

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of clarity about my immediate career path lately (this is my third job, and I finally feel like I’ve found my ‘story’ – a cue for me to tweak my LinkedIn profile soon, actually) and the way forward is not to try be something I’m not. My strengths are in content, not design or development. Focusing on that – particularly content strategy, building on my production and management base – is the obvious move.

In the next few weeks I’m going to have to create a development plan as part of annual reviews at work (a totally new process to me), so now I’ve really got to think about what kinds of specific goals to commit to and how I can get there.

Any tips?

The art of selling yourself: Let’s talk behavioural interview questions

When I interviewed for this job, I was pretty confident I had the skills required. I was mostly concerned with how to figure out whether it would be a good fit for me.

Rather than rehearsing answers, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kinds of questions I could ask to pinpoint whether this would be the right move and what the culture was like. I was quite conflicted about whether I should even be interviewing for it.

Did I mention I’m not experienced at interviewing at all? My last job was a warm lead; I already knew them well so the interview was informal and there were no reference checks. My first job grew from a part-time job, which in turn grew out of an internship. So I’d never been through an actual structured interview before.  

Some of the questions I struggled with:

Discussing projects and my role in pulling them off

I don’t come from a project-based background. The nature of my workflow means that it’s pretty constant. I suppose on a micro level, you could say I go through a lot of mini projects – every newsletter, every piece of writing, every photo shoot I coordinate. Luckily, I have gotten to work on a couple of initiatives over the past years – the joys of a lean team – that were often a pain in the ass but provided valuable work experience.

What I said: Rambled a little about one initiative I was a part of, struggled to quantify my contributions.

What I should’ve said: Next time I’d prepare and practice with one or two examples and try to put some numbers or specifics to it. My workflow will be much more project-based going forward so I plan to keep notes along the way for my own records.

Describing my communication style

What I said: I described my communication style as collaborative – I’m good at taking on board and weighing up various perspectives.

What I should’ve said: In hindsight, and after doing a little research, in the future I’d also add that I listen more than I talk, am stronger in written communication, and while I value input from others I often do my best work alone.

Describing my ideal manager’s style

What I said: My ideal manager provides clear guidance/objectives upfront, offers support when asked for and when they sense it’s needed, and champions their team and their team’s work. (The best bosses are the ones who trust you to get the job done and leave you alone to do it, IMO.)

What I should’ve said: I’m still thinking on this one. I feel there’s plenty of room for improvement, but not sure how specifically. Any thoughts?

Describing the kinds of people I get along best with – and the ones I don’t 

What I said: I get along with most people. I am not a fan of close-minded types who are always convinced they’re right and aren’t open to other viewpoints.

What I should’ve said: A better answer in the future, especially in a professional context, would probably be that I take issue with the type of person who is a talker and not a doer, a ‘not my job’ type, who isn’t committed to going the extra mile when needed. In short, people who don’t share my work ethic. Coming from a background where resources are always thin and passion plays a big part, I expect the same sort of standards from others. I’m big on work-life balance, but when you’re at work, I think it’s important to do what it takes to get the job done.

What kinds of interview questions do you struggle with? Any thoughts on answering some of these?

What kind of career do I want? How my thinking has changed over time

MONEY WILL HELP YOU BE MISERABLE IN COMFORT

In reading back over some of my very first blog posts, it’s clear just how much things have changed in my life.

In particular, how many times I’ve changed my mind about the kind of work I’d like to have. It’s not just a case of me being fickle, I promise – my chosen career field is a rapidly changing one.

When I first graduated I thought I wanted to be a subeditor. Thing is, there are fewer and fewer of those jobs these days – it’s a dying art – and the hours are often crappy. It wasn’t long before I ditched that idea.

Then social media took off. Everyone and their dog was becoming a social media manager or consultant. I loved that I got to play with social networks as part of my job, but the more I did it at work, the less I wanted to do it for fun, and I quickly learned that I would want to be  more than just a ‘Twitter monkey‘. (I had to laugh when someone I follow locally on Twitter, who’s been a social media champion from the early days, tweeted that she is now looking to do a project as far removed from social as possible.)

I’ve always been a doer. I wasn’t into the top-level stuff – I’m a details person, not a visionary. I like that this, at times, allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere, since all I need most of the time is a computer and internet. But I don’t love staring at a screen all day – and I don’t think it’s been great for my health. Fortunately, as I’ve gained more experience I’ve also become more interested in the strategy behind the doing and being involved in how/why things are done. I still have  zero desire to manage people but increasingly I’m thinking I’d like to learn more about doing things more strategically and getting involved at a higher level.

It’s great to love your work. It’s also great to be able to afford the kind of life you want, and to have the kind of job that allows you to have that life outside of your working hours. As much fun as my work has been so far, I knew I had to be realistic about the long-term opportunities. Publishers are struggling to make money – but on the flipside, all other kinds of organisations are investing in content.

In thinking about what I might want to do next, I narrowed it down to a few areas I would ideally like to work in:

a) the travel and tourism space

b) the personal finance space (a cool bank, or, say, at sorted.org.nz)

c) an awesome startup (though arguably my last job was pretty close to a startup job)

Amazingly, I found a role that perfectly marries my writing chops, digital skills and love of travel. It’ll be my job to help extol all the virtues of New Zealand as a place to visit – a dream gig, really.

So far, I anticipate a lot more collaboration, a lot more meetings, a workload that ebbs and flows – more facilitation, planning and strategy alongside the nitty gritty production stuff rather than a constant cycle with very tangible daily outputs.

Overall, will I love it just as much as I did my old work? I think it’s highly likely. Time will tell; I haven’t gotten too much into the ‘doing’ yet. I dig the atmospherical aspects and am pretty sure the workload will be less relentless. All things considered, higher pay, the chance to hone new skills and better long-term earning potential don’t hurt, and are definitely factors that play into professional satisfaction.

Maybe further down the track I may have to make a stark choice between money and satisfaction, but not just yet. Phew.

Do you believe in signs?

When it comes to job hunting, I always tell people there’s no harm in trying. What’s the worst that could happen? You get ignored, like you almost always do anyway? You’ve got to be in to win, and there’s absolutely nothing to lose by sending your application out to a faceless (and often nameless) person.

Yet I almost didn’t take my own advice. When I first came across the listing for my new job, I shook my head and sighed. It sounded like the perfect role in every way … but the timing wasn’t right. I wasn’t planning on leaving until later in the year! I know positions like this don’t come along everyday, but I decided to shelve it anyway and put it out of my mind.

And then …

Without going into any detail, let’s just say something happened to remind me that business is business. Your only loyalty should be to yourself, first and foremost. Never forget that. —-> SIGN 1

I decided to do a little more research and put in an application. And what do you know: a Google search revealed that the position would be reporting to someone who worked at my previous employer, who I had actually had a couple of dealings with. —-> SIGN 2

They called me right away, and although I’d just had my wisdom teeth out and was a bit sore, I wasn’t in too much pain and didn’t want to put off the interview. It went well, and I had a second interview a week later.

A few days after that, my (super awesome) boss announced her resignation. —-> SIGN 3

Handily, this also freed me up to ask her for a reference, and in keeping with the theme so far, that very same day I was asked for reference contacts by the HR consultant.

In a strange twist, as it turns out, we both ended up joining and leaving the company at almost exactly the same time.

I am a bit bummed to bail out before winning an industry award. But then again, I was sad to leave my last job before getting assigned a travel feature – and then I got to do a couple of sweet trips at this one.

Because of the way Easter and Anzac holidays shook down this year, I wound up with 10 days off in between. Add in the fact T didn’t have work to go to either, after getting very close to a very cool sounding job (final 2 candidates) and I took this as a sign that we should make the most of this time and take a trip somewhere. Call it an early anniversary celebration.

So we took off to the Great Barrier Reef for a few days of relaxation. (Recaps to come.)

And funnily enough, on our last night over there I learned through Twitter that my bank’s social media team will soon be hiring – another ideal opportunity that I had been hoping might manifest. It’s still on my career bucket list.

How long do you wait for the perfect dream job to come along?

 

I’ve found a new hobby.  And nerdy as it sounds, that hobby is writing cover letters. 

Job hunting is so much easier when you have a passion for an industry. Helping T do cover letters is super enjoyable because it’s a breeze to communicate that – and those letters are getting responses, because that passion shines through and stands out.

Still, time has flown; it’s been about a month already with no solid leads. Obviously it’d be great if he could score a dream job doing what he was doing, now that he’s had a taste of it … but with limited experience, that’s a long shot.

How long, then, do you hold out for the ideal job? Money is money and at some point bringing in an income becomes top priority. (You can always keep looking, and they do say a lot of employers prefer to hire people who already have jobs…) And I think we’re shifting into that mode now.

One option would be to keep going down the sales path – there’s never any shortage of sales jobs out there, many of which are happy to train people up. If you can sell, you’ve got a pretty versatile skill that’ll never go out of demand, and your earning potential is massive. But he rocked car sales because he loves cars, and it’s doubtful that he’ll find the same level of a) enjoyment and therefore b) success selling insurance or water coolers or whatever.

The other obvious path is to look for something else in the auto industry. Now that T’s found an area he really likes, it’s a no-brainer. Even if it doesn’t pay a ton, as long as it pays enough, is steady, not too physically taxing, and doesn’t trigger Sunday night blues – that’s pretty good in my books. We’ve been doing this to some extent but it’s probably time to really ramp that up and expand the search.

This is where I think I need to play cheerleader a little. Sometimes he’s a bit narrow-minded about his skillset and will write off postings because he doesn’t fit all the criteria; I find myself having to persuade him that his experience applies just fine to roles that don’t bear the exact same title or description, and that there’s nothing to lose by applying for jobs that are a little bit of a stretch if you don’t tick every single box. (This is no time to fall prey to impostor syndrome…)

There’s something really exciting about all the potential, all the opportunity that comes with the job hunt – imagining yourself doing various jobs that sound particularly awesome and what your future might look like. But conversely, it’s also a bit depressing seeing how mundane and poorly paid many jobs out there are – it makes me feel really privileged to be able to do work I enjoy that I am decently compensated for.

How long would you keep hunting for the dream job? On a scale of 1-10, how perfect is your job?

I love my job because…

why i love my job

It’s hard to believe sometimes when you’re entrenched in the digital world, but not everyone hates their job and wants to quit.

So, inspired by KK, here’s what I love about my job:

I actually get to do what I love all day – write and edit. If I were freelance I would have to spend the majority of my time marketing. Ugh. 

(I can’t lie – when full-time freelancers I know post links to their projects, I click out of interest, and some of the work they do makes me wince. I get to write about  inspiring people and companies all day; the thought of doing marketing copy about curtains and joinery makes me die a little inside, even if that stuff commands a higher hourly rate. Of course, when you’re at the top of your game you get a lot more choice – I’m sure superstar designer Jessica Hische has her pick of projects – but that’s not the reality for most.)

I get to work autonomously. My days are mostly self-directed, which is freaking sweet. I always forget how rare this is when I talk to people who work at other organisations…

I work with cool people and in a reasonably nice environment. It ain’t Google or Facebook, but it’s not an underground bunker (as a colleague essentially described her former TV workplace).

I have flexibility. I occasionally work from home and I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck; we’re trusted to get the job done and things like the odd weekday appointment would not be a drama at all. I’m also not totally chained to my computer – I have occasion to get out of the office and mix things up.

I get a lot of random freebies. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a nice perk. Event invites, free lunches, vouchers, and all kinds of products.

I don’t suffer a terrible commute, nightmare coworkers or feeling stuck. (A lack of room to move up seems to be a common complaint out there, but in my field you don’t really move up, you just move around.) Really, my only complaint might be a lack of resourcing – but it’s hard to find someone who isn’t stretched these days. Oh, and you know, a little more money would never go amiss :)

I’ve been really fortunate so far despite graduating right into the GFC. Steadily employed, and in jobs that I like, to boot.

It’s easy to forget this – you do get complacent with anything good in life – but overall, I am stupidly lucky. With T on the job hunt, I’m extra aware of that right now.

Women’s Money Week: Overcoming impostor syndrome – how a virtual stranger opened my eyes to my real worth

overcoming impostor syndrome One of my fears about taking half of 2013 off to travel was that my fill-in at work would totally outshine me.

Fortunately it did the opposite – highlighting how much I juggle every day and how well I do it. It wasn’t just the people I work with every day who noticed but people externally who noticed the difference. That really struck home for me when I was chatting to someone – a person I don’t have much personal, frequent contact with but really respect – who went as far as to say our team had been obviously “screwed” in my absence.

His validation, as an outsider, was the key to altering how I see myself. That marked a real turning point for me.

I’ve always had a strange thing about self-confidence.  I love what I write, at least until I hand it over, at which point I immediately start to hate it. Until very recently, I couldn’t ever stand to read my own work once published. I’ve always gotten good feedback about my work, but my own self-belief has always been patchy. There has never been a solid foundation underpinning it. Hello impostor syndrome!

This is only my second full-time job (although I have learned so very, very much over the past couple years) and I’ve basically always been the most junior on the team. I’m  naturally reserved, I’m quiet in meetings not just because of shyness but because I don’t feel I have anything to contribute.

But I’m firmly mid-20s now. I’m not necessarily always the junior person, or even if I am, I now do increasingly have things to contribute. It’s expected of me – and I shouldn’t hold myself back because of how I feel inside. It’s time to adjust this mental perception I hold about who I am. I’m not 18 and clueless anymore.

I look older than I am, which I think has helped people take me seriously up till now. And I need to take myself seriously too, and not sell myself short.

At what point did you realise you had outgrown the ‘junior’ card and couldn’t play it anymore? Have you ever had a random incident change how you perceived yourself and your professional worth?

Women’s Money Week: Career progression and climbing the ladder

via Florian Klauer

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

There are companies that reward talent, and there are some where it’s more or less impossible to move up.

Companies where feedback is given and an active interest taken in career progression, and companies where people wake up one day and realise they’ve been doing the same thing for 5 or 10 years.

It can also depend on structure. In some places, the number and type of roles is more or less fixed. Creating new positions is unheard of within the hierarchy and the kinds of titles and duties available are strictly limited, unless somebody vacates their spot and a specific post opens up.

A few years ago, T found himself in one of these. It started off well; he had a good relationship with the boss, who promised opportunities for advancement. (Sponsors, not mentors, are your champions within an organisation – I now realise my boss at my first job was essentially a sponsor for me and was key to my moving up.) Initially, he was being groomed to fill a position that the incumbent was retiring from. However, when it came up eventually, it was made clear they’d rather he remain where he was.

It was probably a mix of factors: he was too good at what he did, and too valuable to lose there; the fact that he’s a bit rough around the edges, so not necessarily preferred management material; and that the company just wasn’t big on promoting – most workers stayed where they were and other top performers went elsewhere in order to advance.

In the end, we decided to go travelling for awhile and that was the impetus for him to hang on until we left. If we hadn’t, I imagine he would have started job hunting a lot earlier.

What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a company that encourages growth and promotes talent? How do you spot them?

What Cards Against Humanity teaches us about our careers

Last week I played Cards Against Humanity for the first time with friends (oh, the dark hilarity). Surprisingly, the game also reminded me of a few important career lessons…

Excellence always speaks for itself

There are some cards that everyone immediately recognises as being head and shoulders above the rest awesome. I won’t list any here, because they’ll probably vary a little depending on the crowd of people, but trust me, you’ll know them when they’re played.

Just like in real life, truly great work speaks for itself.

But self-promotion is important

I’m not sure if this is how we’re actually meant to play, but our first game (and only game so far, though I hope that won’t be true for long!) was marked by a healthy dose of campaigning. I’m talking back-and-forth arguments over certain cards and their merit in the context of that particular round. Now, I’m not saying that players always argued in favour of their own answers, because  - as per point number one – excellence always stands out in the crowd.  But it definitely happened a lot.

In the workplace, being a rockstar will get you noticed, but it helps to have some PR behind that. Help yourself out and learn to self-promote – subtly, that is.

And finally, you can’t control absolutely everything

As amazing as the ‘being a fucking sorcerer’ card is, you can never count your chickens before they hatch. Every round is decided by a different card ‘czar’ and their own biases and preferences might not mesh with your sense of humour. Ultimately, your fate is out of your hands.

No matter how well you know your boss, client, etc, people can surprise you at any time. Even master manipulator Frank Underwood (a different type of Cards reference there…) sometimes gets blindsided.

Have you played Cards Against Humanity? How much do you love it?!

Three career tips we can all learn from

A wee break from travel talk today….

The prospect of rejoining the real (working) world this month has me mulling over career, personal development, and other such big picture things.

Funnily enough, I happened to click into this Billfold interview with a digital analyst, which offers a ton of nuggets that all of us could learn from, regardless of industry. Here’s the three most important points I took away from it:

Know when to say yes … and when to quit

She says: “I call it punching above your weight class, and it happens when you keep showing up and enough people like what you do that they keep asking you to do it in more and more senior places. For a company, that’s what you want, because you have someone young and excited to do the work…and you don’t have to pay them much … And the truth of the matter is that if you punch above your weight class they’re never going to promote you to what you’re worth. Because they know they can throw you little bits. They will always get more out of you than you are being compensated for. It’s the way of the world. I’m not saying I have a problem with it. But it got me thinking about what I wanted to do.”

My takeaway: Say yes. Take on more responsibilities, more projects. Rack up as much experience as you can, and when you can no longer get ahead to where you want to be, move on and parlay that experience into a new and better job.

The 80/20 rule

She says: “My theory is that 20% of every job is shit. Not to say that you can only be 80% happy, but you will always have status meetings and timesheets and things that are not fun for you. But if, on four out of five days per week you aren’t doing things like that, that’s pretty good. So I tried to tell myself that on good days—when I started looking for a new job, I said to myself, “What did I do today that made me happy? How can I do that?”

My takeaway: I firmly believe that even ‘dream jobs’ have their mundanities, and thinking anything else is naive. It’s about overall balance; when you’re miserable more often than not, that’s when you need to reconsider.

You need a champion – not just a mentor

She says: “Ten months. I got promoted out of cycle, which was really amazing. My boss led it, and the moral of that story is to find someone who will fight for you. It’s the Sheryl Sandberg thing—you don’t just need mentors; you need champions as well. I had a boss who was getting on people’s cases, saying, “I want to hire this person.” “I want to promote this person.” “I want her to work on these projects. I don’t want her to have to work on these other things.” Chances are you’re not going to get that relationship, but look for it, and look for opportunities to turn a relationship into that sort of relationship. You’ll know it when you see it.”

My takeaway: Advice is one thing; someone who knows your capabilities, believes in your potential, and will go to bat for you is another. And this is why clicking with your boss is more important than I ever thought. I’ll never forget my first boss, who did exactly this for me, unprompted.