Lockdown & The Search For Meaningful Work

Recent research in the UK appears to show that “meaningful” work is going to become more important post-coronavirus. This research chimes with my own experience as a coach, which strongly suggests to me that many people are taking the opportunity provided by lockdown to consider the contribution that work makes to their lives and the lives of others.

The research found that many people have taken the opportunity of lockdown to re-evaluate their work-life balance, to question whether they have made the right career choices and to reconsider what work means to them.

These findings seem to be completely aligned with earlier, smaller scale research, undertaken by Professor Catherine Bailey, of the University of Sussex and Adrian Madden, of the University of Greenwich in 2016 .

They found that our sense of the “meaningfulness” of our work is intensely personal and individual. The work we believe to have meaning seems to arise from personal reflection and to be connected with the contribution it makes to society. It may be associated with fulfilled potential and our finding the work creative and absorbing. It doesn’t, however, necessarily arise from a positive or happy experience: people find meaning in their work during times of sadness, such as when helping someone through a bereavement, an all too common experience today.

I am not surprised to find that a period of lockdown should have encouraged many people to considerable personal introspection.

The coronavirus crisis, the research in 2020 finds, has drawn many people to think more about the role work plays in their lives, including its usefulness to society and its importance to the economy. The opportunity for extended reflection on these concerns is perhaps rarely given to an entire generation – but 2020 has provided it in spades.

Whether the re-evaluations of career direction will result in real change only time will tell but the scope and radical nature of people’s thinking is notable. The extended lockdown seems to have created a “COVID 19 life crisis” for many British people with nearly half (41 per cent) considering quitting their jobs for more fulfilling work when the pandemic is over. Inspired by the many heroic efforts shown by individuals during the crisis, one in five of those surveyed are looking for a career change, and have set their sights on joining the medical front line.

Evidence about how employers will respond to the individual musings of their staff after lockdown ends is not yet available. However, the related debate about how the economy “builds back” is growing. The growth in the public’s perception of the need to build back more sustainably could well become associated with employer’s concerns about staff engagement, productivity and job satisfaction. One thing is certain: employee’s evaluation of the value and the meaning of their work can have a significant impact on their productivity and wellbeing.

As the “build back better” movement gains pace and the case for redeveloping the British economy on a foundation of green sustainability grows, it is not surprising to find that recent research discovered that one in five people are predicting an end to commuting five days a week and the idea that you must be seen at your desk to be working (24 per cent).

The 2020 research, commissioned by employment law specialists Slater and Gordon, surveyed 2,000 working Brits and also revealed that the COVID 19 pandemic has prompted many to question the traditional office-based 9-5 culture and the reality of their work-life balance. It found that a third (34 per cent) of those surveyed experienced and were moved to combat a feeling of helplessness during the crisis (34 per cent) or a desire to be a more valuable member of the community (47 per cent), with 22 per cent labelling their current role as pointless.

As lockdown measures have forced working from home, nearly half of workers (48 per cent) plan to request some remote working once the restrictions on movement are reduced. If only a minority of these requests were to be agreed the impact upon office planning, travel to and from work patterns and family life would be considerable.


Sources:

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/what-makes-work-meaningful-or-meaningless/#article-authors, accessed 10 May 2020. https://www.slatergordon.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2020/05/pride-and-pointless-workplaces-could-cause-nhs-staff-surge/, accessed 10 May 2020

Virtual Selection Interviews

The number of staff around the globe working from home has increased each day as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions on travel and social distancing regulations have combined to force recruiters and managers to conduct a greater proportion of their selection interviews online.

Much of the content of an online interview will mirror an “in person” interview but the use of video changes a great deal. Preparation remains a key to success …

Your research

Your preliminary research before the online interview remains as important as ever. Check the role profile or job description carefully to determine whether a competency based or behavioural event interview is likely. Find out about the organisation, the reason for the vacancy arising, whether you will be expected to work remotely, how the job will be different as a result of current global conditions, who the interview panelists will be and prepare some scenario-based answers to questions using the STAR method, if appropriate.

The STAR interview question response method allows you to provide concrete examples or proof that you possess the experience and skills for the job at hand. 

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Using this approach, you first set the scene, outlining the situation. Then you describe your task or purpose. Thirdly, you outline the action you took, what you actually did. Finally, you highlight the result.

This answer framework is particularly helpful in responding to competency-focused questions, which typically start out with phrases such as, “Describe a time when…” and “Share an example of a situation where….”

Your space

You will want your personal space, the background to your interview, to be clean, uncluttered and business like. A plain neutral wall is good and a background of appropriate shelved books can be helpful in certain circumstances. Zoom allows you to combine lighting, a green screen and an artificial background and that may be useful if applying for certain, more creative, roles. Select clothing that does not feature checks or stripes and that contrasts with your background colour scheme.

Check and recheck your camera positioning. A laptop with built in camera can produce an unflattering angle that is best avoided in a selection interview. A separate, stable camera, with integral microphone, positioned at eye level generally works much better.

You will not be offered a tea or coffee during a virtual interview so should always anticipate the need for a sip of water and have a glass (not a bottle) of water on your desk. A short, stable glass is better than a tall, thin one as a taller glass can be knocked over far too easily. Keep fluids away from computers, microphones and cameras.

The most natural looking interviewees use an off-screen microphone. This may be part of your camera set up and is to be preferred to a headset. If you must use a headset ensure that the integral microphone does not transmit your breathing as this can be very off putting.

Managing your opportunity

With video interviews you can grab the opportunity to position notes in front of you, beyond the camera, and on the wall. Your interviewer does not need to know they are there if you arrange your space effectively.

You are likely to have the opportunity to practice your engagement with the camera before your interview.

You will want to become comfortable looking directly at the camera and to avoid speaking to your notes or to anything else in your room. Looking away, briefly, as you think about your response to a question is natural and engaging but your gaze should thoughtfully return to the camera as you talk. Good eye contact, through the camera “window” remains as important as ever.

Try to speak “through the camera” to the other human being. Allow your facial expression to complement and underline the meaning you are seeking to convey. The hint of a smile can soften your expression and is very engaging.

Always make eye contact with your interviewer when they are speaking to you.

In your enthusiasm to engage try to avoid “over talking”. Get into a conversational pattern by allowing your interviewer to talk first: they invited you to the meeting and will want to set it up for you. If you hold back initially, you should find a natural pattern of listening and responding develops between you.

Check that you have set your microphone volume to a pleasant audible level and that you are not broadcasting breathing noises. These can be of putting and slightly sinister and may arise if a headset is poorly positioned.

To ensure that your interview opportunity isn’t wasted, disconnect any device that does not need to be online throughout the period of the interview. This will stop them ringing or buzzing during the meeting and maximise the bandwidth you will be needing for the video interview. Turn off any pop ups you normally have running in the background on your computer for the same reason.

Let other people in your house know what you are doing when you are being interviewed, ask them to answer the door to callers and respond to the telephone calls that will, almost certainly, come in during your meeting.

Turn off or remove any telephone that you have in your space before starting the interview.

Close the door of your space but only after you have put an appropriate sign on the outside of the door!

Work out, in advance, how you will respond to a power cut.

Arrival time

You should practice arriving on time for a call beforehand. Clearly, you don’t want to be late but, online, you may not want to be overly early either. It is not uncommon for an interviewer to use their personal online meeting room for all their interviews. Whilst this isn’t particularly good practice on their part, you do not want to crash into another candidate’s interview, so be very careful about “arriving” early.

Set up a couple of test meetings, with a friend, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the technology, to work out how long the connection and arrival process takes. Use your experience to gauge your arrival arrangements.

Prepare for dialogue

Too often candidates make little valuable use of the interview opportunity to ask their own questions. Your research should equip you with pertinent questions that demonstrate engaged, intelligent interest in the organisation and the role itself. Don’t be afraid to ask about the organisation’s hiring timeline and whether the role will be located remotely until the pandemic has passed – or forever.

Aim to express your questions so that they convey real interest in the role. You can underline your interest and engagement in the process by gently leaning forward in your chair at times during the conversation. Avoid over doing this as it can come across as aggressive.

Humanitarian Development Opportunities

In the course of humanitarian development career related coaching I find that I am often asked two questions that are essentially about either “widening” or, alternatively, “focusing” the search for suitable opportunities.

Here is my initial raft or “go to” list of search suggestions with some evaluative commentary.

Going deeper or broadening your search

  • DevelopmentAid:This is a very large database with a reasonable search function but be aware that many of the opportunities found here will also feature on the Impactpool database where the search facility is easier to use. Many opportunities are not actually visible unless a fee is paid.
  • Human rights funders:As the name suggests this vacancy board is focused on selected jobs at major philanthropic foundations and charities that are working on human rights.
  • Devex:This very broad source of opportunities claims to cover the whole international development industry and the number of opportunities listed would suggest this may well be accurate. It offers the chance to create alerts in a way similar to Impactpool but less than half of the jobs are actually visible unless a fee is paid.
  • ReliefWeb:This broad source of humanitarian, relief and conflict jobs has a good search function.
  • Devnetjobs:This broad source of opportunities also claims to cover the whole development industry through a vast online database but, again, most functions are only available on payment of a fee.
  • UN Jobs:This covers mostly UN roles and some consultancy opportunities, as the name suggests, but also some other roles within the humanitarian and development sector. The scattered adverts make the experience of using this less than pleasant and the search function is difficult to use effectively.

Focusing your search more narrowly

For altruists wanting to address the world’s most pressing problems through their work

  • 80000 Hours:This is a very focused and well curated set of (mainly) job opportunities geared to meeting the career development needs of highly skilled and well-educated altruists. It mostly features roles in the US or the UK. The vacancies advertised are refreshed regularly. All the opportunities offer the chance to make a contribution to the resolution of some of the world’s most challenging problems.
  • Bridgespan:This advertises US philanthropic and charitable foundation roles, both paid and volunteer. It has an excellent search facility.
  • EA Work Club:This includes vacancies, projects and consultancy opportunities in the US. It is focused on effective altruism cause areas.
  • Social Enterprise Google Group:A collaborative, extensive and ever-growing list of roles in social enterprise and related fields. Well worth keeping up to date with. There is no search facility.

For procurement and supply chain opportunities

  • Procurement iNet: This website is an interface between career opportunities in procurement, supply chain management and related fields and employers/contracting organisations and clients. It publishes opportunities from multilateral and bilateral agencies, international consulting firms, etc.

For communications and behavioural/organisational change specialists

  • Social Enterprise Google Group:A collaborative and extensive list of roles in social enterprise and related fields. Worth keeping up to date with. No search facility.
  • C4D network:Provides a good weekly email for members of highlighting jobs and consultancy opportunities in the communications and behaviour change arena. This is a searchable online job board available to all.
  • W4MP:This started out with the title “Work for (an) MP” and now has a strong focus on Westminster, UK, roles and roles associated with UK politics. Also serves as a credible source of UK thinktank jobs but has no search ability.

For accountants and auditors

  • AFID: AfID offers every type of accountant or auditor, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations globally. Volunteer assignments of between 2 weeks and 12 months are advertised alongside permanent roles.

Focus on Africa

  • NGOJobsinAfrica:Quite a large number of jobs, some at junior level. A fairly limited searching ability.
  • CoordinationSud:A website with a good search function. A more limited selection of opportunities focused on disaster relief, populations at war, or development (including economics, education, health and agriculture). Especially strong on opportunities in Francophone countries and with French NGOs.
  • AFID: AfID offers every type of accountant or auditor, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations in Africa. Volunteer assignments of between 2 weeks and 12 months are advertised alongside permanent roles, particularly in Africa. Good search facility.

For French speakers

  • CoordinationSud:A website with a good search function. A more limited selection of opportunities focused on disaster relief, populations at war, or development (including economics, education, health and agriculture). Especially strong on opportunities in Francophone countries and with French NGOs.

For environmentalists

  • Environment Jobs in the UK: This source carries typically 250 or more job vacancies in the UK environment sector and is beginning to cover international environmental roles, contracts and consultancies.
  • Green Job List:A monthly climate change and social purpose focused jobs newsletter. Almost all are US based. About 60 opportunities per issue.
  • CharityJob:the UK’s largest and most specialised job board carrying non-profit, NGO, social enterprise, community interest company and voluntary jobs including numbers in the environmental sector.

For UK-based job hunters

  • ACF: A select, usually small, list of UK charity jobs. Usually senior and frequently board or trustee roles.
  • CharityJob:  The UK’s largest and most specialised job board carrying non-profit, NGO, social enterprise, community interest company and voluntary jobs
  • Bond: A UK-based vacancy database providing access to more senior vacancies in programming, fundraising, advocacy, communications, research, leadership or monitoring and evaluation.

IT and Technical roles in the US

  • Tech Jobs for Good:Here you will find tech jobs at social impact companies, foundations, and innovative non-profits within the US. An impressively large number of roles but a surprisingly limited search facility.

Looking fo Volunteering opportunities or Internships?

Many of the job boards listed here provide access to volunteer roles and internships but here are some that typically offer a wider range of both.

  • Idealist:This has good searchability and includes many non-paid opportunities.
  • Bridgespan:Covers US philanthropic and charitable foundation roles, both paid and volunteer. There is an excellent search facility.
  • AFID: AfID offers every type of accountant or auditor, from anywhere in the world, the opportunity to use their skills to support a broad range of non-profit organisations globally. Volunteer assignments of between 2 weeks and 12 months are advertised alongside permanent roles, particularly in Africa. Good search facility.”
  • VSO: VSO have been sending volunteers to Africa and Asia for over 60 years. Their preparation and support arrangements are excellent and their opportunity search engine for experienced professionals is well regarded.

 

Five Practical Steps Towards Career Success

Career development planning is the process of career review and decision-making – a cyclical process that we may come back to at several stages in our lives. The process of career development is not just for those beginning their careers and making initial choices or negotiating mid-life career change. It is equally applicable to the task of career maintenance – of gaining a progressively better fit between our needs and the work we do.

Having and using our career development competence can encourage us to:

  • review how far our work is using our skills and satisfying our needs and interests;
  • identify our own development needs and what is required for effective performance;
  • learn from coaches, from the experience of mentors, and others; and
  • anticipate future change and prepare for opportunities that might arise.

Career planning tools have, however, become very elaborate and sometimes serve only to confuse the user. They often give the impression that the career development planning process is more complicated than it needs to be. In response to this trend I have created a simple tool designed especially for those planning a career change.

“My Career Development Plan: Five Practical Steps Towards Career Success” is available from Lulu’s online bookstore

Inside this book you will find, first, a guided introduction to the content of the planning tool and some suggestions about the process of career planning. This takes the form of the first five chapters of the book.

Then, in part two, there is a copy of the “Career Development Plan” tool that you can use yourself. The tool has five sections within which you can organise your own personal content. Once you have completed all five sections you will have your own career development plan for the future.

The five key areas that are explored through the use of the tool are:

  1. The essentials about me as a person
  2. What shapes me and makes me who I have become
  3. My core capabilities
  4. My goals
  5. The development I need and will plan for

The flow of these five chapters is progressive. Each will require considerable thought and reflection on your part. As you complete chapters three to five you will also need to do some personal research about labour market requirements and opportunities. This work will help you to create a “gap analysis” consisting of career, job or role requirements on the one hand and what you can currently offer on the other.

How to make tough career decisions

“Should I quit my job? Which of my offers should I take? Which long-term options should I explore?

These decisions will affect how you spend years of your time, so the stakes are high. But they’re also an area where you shouldn’t expect your intuition to be a reliable guide. This means it’s worth taking a more systematic approach.

What might a good career decision process look like? A common approach is to make a pro and con list, but it’s possible to do a lot better. Pro and con lists make it easy to put too much weight on an unimportant factor. More importantly, they don’t encourage you to make use of the most powerful decision-making methods discovered in the literature.

In this article, we present a step-by-step process for making your next career decision, drawing on our impression of the most useful discoveries in decision-making research1 and our experience advising hundreds of people one-on-one.

Career decisions usually involve a huge amount of uncertainty. If you sometimes feel stressed or anxious, don’t worry – this is normal. We can’t make your next decision easy, but if you work through this process, we think you’ll be more likely to avoid common mistakes and take the best next step you can.

You can work through the article below, or use a simplified version in our tool.

First, make sure you have a clear idea of exactly what decision you want to make. Are you choosing where to apply, between two specific offers, which medium-term options to focus on, or something else? When do you need to decide by?

Also note that this process is geared towards choosing between a list of specific options. If you want to do big picture career planning, see our career plan page.

Write out your most important priorities

Once you’re clear about the next decision you need to make, write out your 4-7 most important priorities in making the decision. When making decisions, people usually focus on too narrow a set of goals. Writing out your list of factors will help you stay focused on what most matters.

We typically recommend that people focus on the factors in our framework, which we think capture most of the key elements in high-impact careers. They include the following:

  • Impact potential – how pressing is the problem addressed and how large a contribution might the typical person in this career make to the problem (in expectation)?
  • Personal fit – compared to the typical person in this career in the long-term, how productive do you expect to be?
  • Personal satisfaction – how would this path satisfy other important personal priorities that aren’t already covered?
  • Career capital — does this option significantly accelerate you in a long-term path, or otherwise open up better long-term options?
  • Option value — if you pursue this option, how good are your back-up plans?
  • Value of information — might this path be an outstanding long-term option that you’re uncertain about and can test out?

If working with a community, you might also consider:

  • Relative fit – how do your strengths compare to other community members focusing on these issues (which determines your comparative advantage)?
  • Community capital — does this increase the influence of the community and its ability to coordinate?

Read more description of these factors in the full articles.

This list of factors needs to be adapted depending on the decision you’re making. For instance, if you’re thinking about your long-term options, then focus on impact, personal fit and satisfaction. If you’re considering which job to take next year, then also consider value of information, career capital and option value.

Also try to make the factors more specific based on your situation. What type of career capital is most valuable? What signals best predict impact in the areas you’re focused on? What exactly are your priorities in personal satisfaction? On the latter, it’s important to try to be honest, even about your least noble motivations, or otherwise the path won’t be sustainable.

See a list of all the factors in our framework and a worksheet here.

There are also some other filters to consider:

  • Do a significant number of people think this option is likely to have a negative impact in a top area? If so, can you modify the option to avoid the risk? If not, eliminate it. Read more about accidental harm.
  • Does this option pose a significant risk of a long-term negative impact on your happiness or career capital? If so, modify it or eliminate it.

One of the most important mistakes when making career decisions is to consider too few options. Some research suggests that even just making sure you consider one extra option improves satisfaction with outcomes.

You can generate options for long-term career paths using our article on high-impact careers.

If you’re focusing on your next step, then also consider questions like:

  • Which jobs / courses / projects will best help you get into your top long-term options?
  • Which options will best help you test out your long-term options?
  • What ‘open doors’ are available right now?

Check out the jobs listed on our job board

Here are some other ways to come up with more options. Pick and choose whichever seem most useful to think about:

  • Career capital – What’s the most valuable career capital you have right now? What are your greatest strengths? How could these be applied to having an impact?
  • Ideal world – What would you do if money were no object? What is your dream job?
  • Ask your friends and connections – Do they know of any open positions or types of jobs that might suit you?
  • Priorities – For each of your key career goals, which options might be best? For instance, in which career do you have the best chance of excelling? Which career do you think is highest-impact? Which would most increase your career capital? Which would make you happiest?
  • Combinations – are there any ways your top options could be combined to get the best of all worlds?
  • Elimination – if you couldn’t do any of your top options, what would you do instead?

Now you’ve got your options on the table, put them in a rough order according to how well they satisfy the factors you wrote down at step two. Don’t worry too much about accuracy – we just want to get a rough idea at this stage to make it easier to do the next couple of steps. Now is also a good time to capture some outcomes in your career plan.

List your key uncertainties

Try to identify the information that is most likely to change your ranking.

The questions people most commonly ask us are often not actually decision relevant. Frequently, people focus on big picture questions that are too hard to settle, so thinking about them is unlikely to change their ranking. It’s also easy to get lost ruminating about the huge variety of issues that can be relevant. Try to focus on the questions that are most relevant.

Some useful questions to consider include:

  • How could you most easily rule out your top option?
  • If you had to decide your career tomorrow for the rest of your life, what would you do today?
  • What were you most uncertain about in making your ranking? Do any of those uncertainties seem easy to resolve?

Some of the most common questions are things like:

  • Would I enjoy this job?
  • Could I get this job?
  • What skills are required to get this job?
  • How pressing is this problem compared to other issues you could work on?
  • How much influence would you really have in this position?

Try to make the questions as specific as possible.

Not every decision in life deserves serious research, but career decisions do.

We often find people get stuck analysing their options, when it would be better to go and gather information or test out their options. For instance, we encountered an academic who wanted to take a year long sabbatical, but wasn’t sure where to go. They’d thought about the decision for a while, but hadn’t considered going to visit their top choice for a week, which would have likely made the decision a lot easier.

Here are some common ways to learn about your options (in ascending order of effort):

  • Often the most useful step now is to go and ask people about your key uncertainties. Once you’ve identified your key uncertainties as in the previous section, you should be able to ask pointed, specific questions that can reveal a lot about what’s best.
  • Is there something you could read?
  • Can you simply apply to the job (or course) and see how you do? In our experience, people should often make more applications.
  • Is there a cheap way to try out the work? (e.g. shadow someone, do an internship, a part-time project, online course). Trying things out is the most reliable way to work out what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
  • See our career reviews and list of priority paths for specific ways to learn about and test the paths we’ve reviewed.

Aim to do the cheaper tests before you do those that are more involved. We sometimes encounter people who decide to quit their job so they can work full time on their job search, sometimes without even having a specific plan in mind, but it usually seems better to us investigate in cheaper ways on the side first.

The higher the stakes of a decision, the more uncertain you are, and the cheaper it is to learn more, the more research it’s worth doing.

Keep investigating until you run out of time, or don’t expect to learn much without investing lots more time (technically, when the value of information is less than the cost of the test).

The aim is not confidence. You will likely always be uncertain about many aspects of your career. Instead, the aim is to find the best possible ranking using cheap tests and basic research. Once you’ve done that, the most efficient way to learn more is probably to pick an option and try it out.

Make your final assessment

When you’ve finished investigating, it’s time to make a decision. Here are some more decision-making tips to help make your ranking more accurate.

It can be useful to score your short-list of options on each of the factors listed in your second step from one to ten. There’s some evidence that making a structured decision like this can improve accuracy. It can be useful to add all your scores together and see what ranks highest. Don’t blindly use the score to determine your decision — it’s mainly a means of probing your thinking.

When it comes to assessing each factor, there are more tips on what to look for in our career framework article.

If you want to go into more detail in making your assessment, then also consider working out the following for each of your options:

  • The upside scenario – what happens in a plausible best case scenario? (To be more precise, the top 5% of outcomes.)
  • The downside scenario – what happens in a plausible worst case scenario? (Worst 5% of outcomes.)
  • The median – what’s most likely to happen?

This exercise helps to make sure you consider the full range of possibilities. Moreover, if you weight each scenario by their probability, you can make a rough estimate of the expected value of each option — this will probably be dominated by the value of the upside scenario.

If you’re trying to decide your next step for the next couple of years, then value of information should be a significant part of your decision. This can mean it’s best to simply focus on the paths with the best upside scenario rather than the best expected value (provided the downsides are similar).

After you’ve finished your assessments, take a break, and re-rank your options.

Once you’ve made a ranking, notice if your gut feels uneasy about something. You can’t simply go with your gut to make good career decisions, but you shouldn’t ignore your gut either. As we cover, your intuition is good at aspects of the decision where you’ve had lots of opportunity to practice with relatively quick feedback, such as whether the other people involved are trustworthy.

If your gut feels uneasy, try to pinpoint why you’re having that reaction, and whether it makes sense to go with your gut or not in this instance. The ideal of good decision-making is to combine intuitive and systematic methods, and use the best aspects of each.

It’s also a good idea to sleep on it. This may help you process the information. It also reduces the chance that you’ll be unduly influenced by your mood at that moment.

If you want to go further, here are some other techniques to help reduce bias in your thinking:

  • Ask yourself why you’re most likely to be wrong about your ranking.This is one of the most useful tips to reduce bias.
  • Pre-mortem and pre-party: Imagine that you take an option, but two years later you’ve failed and regret the decision — what went wrong? Then imagine that instead the option was way better than you expected — what happened? This helps to expand your views about what’s possible, which tend to be too narrow.
  • Change the frame. Imagine you’ve already made the decision, how do you feel? How do you expect to feel one year later? What about 10 years later? What would you advise a friend to do?
  • Ask other people. Having to justify your reasoning to someone else can quickly uncover holes. You can also ask people where they think you’re most likely to be wrong.

More advanced decision-making techniques

There is much more to say about how to make good decisions. For instance, often decisions come down to predictions, especially about your likely chances of success in area, and the expected impact of different interventions.

For instance, to make better predictions, you can make base-rate forecasts from many angles, combining them based on their predictive power. You should try to update on your evidence in a ‘bayesian’ way. You can break down the prediction into multiple components as a ‘fermi estimate’. And you can try to improve your calibration through training.

Here is some further reading we recommend on decision-making:

Here is some more advanced reading:

Make your best guess, and then prepare to adapt

At some point, you’ll need to make a decision. If you’re lucky, one of your options will be clearly better than the others. Otherwise, the decision will be tough.

Don’t be too hard on yourself: the aim is to make the best choice you can given the evidence available. If you’ve been through the process above then you have put yourself in a position to make a well-considered decision.

What’s more, there are some further steps you can take to reduce downsides.

First, create a backup plan if your top choice doesn’t work out.

  • Why is your top option most likely not to work out?
  • What will you do in this situation? List any promising nearby alternatives to plan A, and call them your ‘plan B’. For instance, if you’re already in a job and applying to a masters programme, one possibility is that you don’t get into the programmes you want. In that case, your Plan B might be to stay in your job another year.
  • We often cover nearby alternatives and ‘exit options’ in our career reviewsand profiles on priority paths.

You may face even more setbacks, so it’s also useful to figure out a ‘Plan Z’. Here are some questions to help you do that.

  • If you take your top option, what might the worst case scenario be? Many risks are not as bad as they first seem, but pay attention to anything that could permanently reduce your happiness or career capital.
  • How can you reduce the chances of the worst case happening? It’s difficult to give general advice, but there are often ways to mitigate the risks.
  • If the worst case scenario does happen, what will you do to cope? Call this your ‘Plan Z’. Some common options include: taking a temporary job to pay the bills (see some ideas here), moving back in with your parents, or living off savings. What makes most sense will again depend a lot on your situation.
  • Is your Plan Z tolerable? If not, then you should probably modify your plan A to build more career capital so that you’re in a better position to take risks (e.g. take a job that lets you save more money). If it is, great – hopefully this exercise will make it easier to commit to your Plan A.

A final point to bear in mind is that your next career step is probably only a commitment for 1-4 years — building a career is a step-by-step process, not a one-off decision — and if you plan ahead to that next revision point, you’ll be better able to focus on your top option in the meantime, as well as be more prepared when it arrives. Here are some extra steps to consider:

  1. Schedule in a time to review your career in six months or a year. We made a career review tool to make it easier.
  2. Set check-in points. Make a list of signs that would tell you you’re on the wrong path, and commit to reassessing if those occur. For example, publishing lots of papers in top journals is key to success in academic careers, so you could commit to reassessing the academic path if you don’t publish at least one paper in a top journal before the end of your PhD.

Once your plan is set, it’s time to focus on execution. How to execute is not the main focus of this article, but here are some further resources.

First, translate your plan into very concrete next steps. Write out what you’re going to do and when you’ll do it. Setting ‘implementation intentions’ makes it significantly more likely you’ll follow through.

To get more ideas on how to increase your chances of success in a path:

One of the most useful steps you can take is to team up with others who want to have an impact. There are many great communities out there, often focused around specific problems. Your first step should probably be to try to meet people in the communities most relevant to you.

We also helped to found the effective altruism community, which is a group of people who use evidence and reason to work out the best ways to have a positive impact. This community is not for everyone, but through it we’ve met some of the most impressive people we know. Find out more about how to get involved.

Notes and references

Some of the sources we drew upon include the following, as well as those listed above:

Ariely, Dan. Predictably irrational. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

Arkes, Hal R., and Catherine Blumer. “The psychology of sunk cost.” Organizational behavior and human decision processes 35.1 (1985): 124-140.

Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work. Random House, 2013.

Hubbard, Douglas W. “How to measure anything.” Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business (2007).

Keeney, Ralph L., and Ralph L. Keeney. Value-focused thinking: A path to creative decisionmaking. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.

Larrick, Richard P. “Broaden the decision frame to make effective decisions.” Handbook of principles of organizational behavior (2009): 461-480.

Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. “Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases.” Science 185.4157 (1974): 1124-1131.

  1. If you assess your options in terms of what would happen in a plausible best case scenario, rather than just in terms of expected value, then value of information will already be somewhat captured. This is the ‘upper confidence interval’ algorithm discussed in our podcast with Brian Christian
  • Vitas Consult are grateful to Robert Wiblin of 80000 Hours for granting permission to publish this article here.

Passion – and Mid-Career Changes

In my role as a coach it is a special privilege to work with people, typically in mid-career, who have been highly successful in establishing and developing their professional standing in the private sector and who now are seeking ways to apply their skills in the development field. People in this situation typically find it very helpful to explore what it takes to make the transition: to evaluate and sometimes re-express their transferable skills before considering at what level they might change sectors; to become acquainted with the variety of routes in and the common strategies that are used to secure the development sector role they are seeking.

I have had a career spanning public and private sector education, financial services and organisational and leadership consultancy before becoming a coach in a global talent leadership role within the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development organisation. I find I can readily empathise with motivations for mid-career change.

I particularly appreciate the importance that passion plays in mid-career change. A growing conviction about the need to make a difference through their career is a common motivation for those seeking entry to the development sector in their thirties and later. Passion is, of course, not enough to make the change that some of my clients seek. Occasionally, to illustrate this point I might suggest that a client watch Larry Smith’s sobering TED talk entitled “Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career”. Professor Smith teaches economics at University of Waterloo. He is a well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership and has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk tends to centre on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

It’s challenging and – possibly – motivating too. At the heart of Smith’s talk and central to some of the work I do with mid-career changers is an assessment of the part passion plays in career decision making. If you are searching for your calling in life or what you most care about – here are five digested, and up to the minute, research findings worth thinking through:

  1. Types of passion A career path or a goal that fires you up is likely to lead to success and happiness. That much the research confirms. However, Robert Vallerandet al found, in 2003, that there is a real difference between a harmonious passion and an obsessive one. An out of control passion that upsets your mood and shapes your self-esteem can be referred to as an obsessive passion. Vallerand found that such obsessions, whilst energising, are also associated with burnout and anxiety. By contrast, if your passion feels in control, reflects qualities that you like about yourself, and complements other important activities in your life, then this is the harmonious version, and these are associated with positive outcomes such as vitality, better work performance, experiencing flow, and positive mood.
  2. An unanswered calling in life is worse than having no calling at all If you already have a burning ambition or purpose, do not leave it to languish. Recent research at the University of South Florida surveyed hundreds of people  found that work engagement, career commitment, life satisfaction, health and stress were all negatively impacted by having a calling that had not been responded to. The researchers concluded: “having a calling is only a benefit if it is met, but can be a detriment when it is not as compared to having no calling at all.”
  3. Invest enough effort and you may find that your work becomes your passion It’s all very well reading about the benefits of having a passion or calling in life, but if you haven’t got one, where can you find it? Duckworth says that it’s a mistake to think that in a moment of revelation one will land in your lap, or simply occur to you through quiet contemplation, what’s needed is to explore different activities and pursuits, and expose yourself to the different challenges and needs confronting society. This is where organisations like 80000 Hours can be helpful to the really talented individual. This Oxford, UK, based group conducts research on which careers have the largest positive social impact and provide career information based on that research. Many clients have found their website invaluable.
  1. Reverse the flow, perhaps It is also worth considering the advice of those who say that it is not always the case that energy and determination flow from finding your passion: sometimes it can be the other way around. Consider, for example, an eight-week repeated survey of German entrepreneurs published a few years ago. This found a clear pattern – their passion for their ventures increased after they had invested more effort into the ventures the week before. A follow-up study qualified this, suggesting the energising effect of investing effort only arises when the project is freely chosen and there is a sense of progress. “Entrepreneurs increase their passion when they make significant progress in their venture and when they invest effort out of their own free choice,” the researchers found.
  1. If you think passion comes from doing a job you enjoy, you’re likely to be disappointed
    Another issue to consider is where you think passion comes from. In a paper released as a preprint at PsyArXiv, Jon Jachimowicz and his team draw a distinction between people who believe that passion comes from doing what you enjoy, and those who see it as arising from doing what you believe in or value in life. The researchers found that people believing that passion comes from pleasurable work were less likely to feel like they had found their passion as compared with people who believe that passion comes from doing what you feel matters. This may be because there is a superficiality to working for sheer pleasure – which may not last in any case – whereas working towards what you care about is timeless and likely to stretch and sustain you indefinitely.

Introducing Vitas Consult Ltd

Career Change To Make A Change

In the course of my work as a career and executive coach I have the pleasure of working with many people who have reached a point in their careers where they are re-evaluating the contribution that they make to society through the work they do. The way that clients express their aspiration varies considerably, as you would expect, and their goals are, of course, very diverse. However, it is not uncommon for clients to express a desire to want to maximise their chance of having a big positive impact with the rest of their career, often in areas which would be considered to be part of a global problem.

At the heart of their aspiration they are often seeking high-impact careers where their additional contribution could help towards solving one of these pressing global problems. This aspiration may be expressed with more or less certainty, clarity and conviction. Indeed, part of my role as a coach is sometimes to help my client refine their goal and their understanding and expression of it.

For some clients an enormously valuable resource is the work that’s been undertaken by 80,000 Hours. This non-profit has been analysing global problems for a number of years, working in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford’s Global Priorities Institute and the Open Philanthropy Project. In particular, they have been scanning global dilemmas to find problems that are large in scale, solvable and neglected.

One outcome of this research focuses on providing preliminary ideas about career change with a purpose. It is aimed at those who already have pre-existing experience or qualifications, or are unusually good at a certain type of work.

The resource starts with three “strengths” (quantitative, verbal & social, and visual). Then the writers go on to give advice for people with existing experience in fifteen specific fields. The resource was written before the Canadian research we discussed in “Humans Required”  became widely available. It doesn’t benefit, therefore, from an understanding of the Royal Bank of Canada’s research into six fundamental occupational clusters and their skills emphasis, their susceptibility to automation, and examples of career transitions that can occur within each.

80,000 Hours work in this area is, they admit, preliminary. They anticipate possibly changing their minds over the coming years concerning both the content and the advice associated with their work. It is also true that, from the outset, the career development pathways that 80,000 hours plot are contested by some with personal experience of career change making with a purpose. Indeed, this is one area of thinking and practice where the comments attached to the original work do add value and are well worth considering.

Lying behind the work there is a methodology that anyone can use when thinking about this type of career direction setting. The outcome of the work would be to generate a list of roles that would have high impact on pressing problems and then to narrow this list down. 80,000 Hours demonstrate their application of the methodology – given their own, research-based, view of global priorities – to come up with a list of five key categories of high impact careers. My clients may disagree with 80,000 Hours perspectives on pressing global priorities and can tailor their use of the methodology to align with their own views. Indeed, the originators of the method recognise that:

 

“The best career path for you will depend on your values, strengths and situation, so the ideal approach is to generate your own list of promising options, rather than use a generic list.”

 

Furthermore, the method can be applied no matter what your career stage – whether you’re an undergraduate or nearing retirement. What’s particularly interesting about this method is the way in which qualitative and quantitative decision making are combined into a relatively strong research-driven approach. At each twist and turn of the method the user will find that the underpinning rationale, exceptions and further research is available.

Would this method appeal to all? No. In my view the user would need to have a commitment to an evidence-based decision-making approach combined with a willingness to accept that a complete purity of process is impossible. It is also true that all of 80,000 Hours work is aimed at academically gifted and/or highly successful people who face a wide range of choices and options for making a difference through their work.

Humans required

In our “Dying Professions” article, published 30 August 2018, we commented on the impact of automation on a variety of employment roles. In this complementary article we share the outcomes of Royal Bank of Canada research undertaken in 2017/18 and highlight some really useful conclusions RBC came to. Rather typically, for an advanced developed economy, RBC found that:

  • More than 25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming decade. Fully half will go through a significant overhaul of the skills required.
  • Despite projected heavy job displacement in many sectors and occupations, the Canadian economy is expected to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, all of which will require this new mix of skills.
  • Canada’s education system, training programmes and labour market initiatives are inadequately designed to help Canadian youth navigate this new skills economy.
  • Canadian employers are generally not prepared, through hiring, training or retraining, to recruit and develop the skills needed to make their organisations more competitive in a digital economy.
  • RBC’s researchers identified a new way of grouping jobs into six “clusters,” based on essential skills by occupation rather than by industry. By focusing on the foundational skills required within each of these clusters, a high degree of mobility is possible between jobs.
  • Digital fluency will be essential to all new jobs. This does not mean we all need to become coders, but we do all need to be digitally literate.
  • Global competencies like cultural awareness, language, and adaptability will be in demand.
  • Virtually all job openings will place significant importance on judgment and decision-making and more than two thirds will value an ability to manage people and resources.

These findings are likely be repeated across many economies of similar size and complexity, but we wish to highlight just one finding: the clustering of occupations, not by industry, but by skills clusters.

This approach has real, practical value for those making career development decisions … wherever they are.

RBC’s comprehensive data project looked past the standard economic data to dig into the work Canadians actually do. It shows that these occupations are increasingly connected by the skills required to do them. Skills that range from reading and critical thinking to systems analysis and technology design, each bearing its own importance in any given line of work.

The occupations can be grouped into six broad “clusters,” which RBC called Solvers, Providers, Facilitators, Technicians, Crafters and Doers.


The clusters aren’t grouped by industry, educational attainment, collar colour or income; they’re grouped by the skills required to do the work. This allows us to see how skills apply across a wide range of jobs, and how young people might be able to move from one profession or role to another by upgrading just a small number of skills. Out of 35 foundational workplace skills, it takes upgrading just four skills, for example, for someone in the Facilitator cluster to transition from dental assistant to graphic designer.

These findings are not likely to be relevant only in Canada. They point to career development strategies with much wider application.

Of course some transitions between professions will require time, money and a personal commitment to bridging certain knowledge gaps — and it’s no small thing to be constantly upgrading skills.

Career changers will have to find the transitions that work for them. Not every dental assistant has the aptitude or desire to become a graphic designer.

RBC’s report shows the six clusters and their skills emphasis, their susceptibility to automation, and examples of career transitions that can occur within each. This paves the way to a new understanding of how job changers can discover career paths, acquire skills and upgrade them. RBC also used market forecasting to show which clusters stack up well against labour demand, and automation projections to show which clusters face the most risk of disruption. This part of the report may be of less value outside Canada though the general labour market themes are almost certainly applicable way beyond the land of the maple leaf.


Download the full report here.

Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership

Leadership books can be turgid, full of unsupported assertions, difficult to read and extremely dull. Too few really engage with the daily messiness of leading, the acute uncertainty many leaders experience or the fragile loyalty offered by  team members. It is a real pleasure, therefore, to recommend Dr Eve Poole’s creative and encouraging book “Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership” (published, March 2017, by Bloomsbury Business. ISBN: 9781472941237).

Poole’s conviction is that real leaders learn their craft the hard way: through “critical incidents” that test their mettle. This conviction is based upon 2003 research undertaken to develop the simulation-based Ashridge future leaders programme. Eve Poole, on the way to explaining what she means by “leadersmithing”, contends that the seventeen critical incidents are the apprentice-pieces of the leader’s craft. Having engagingly introduced and argued the case for each of these apprentice experiences, Poole then explains how capable leaders really learn before defining and exploring the contribution of the leader’s character.

The second part of this immensely readable, good humoured and literary book provides a whole year’s worth of support for any leader who is really serious about their own development. As a leadership coach who often supports organisation’s rising talent, part two of Poole’s book has rapidly become my reference source of choice. Truth to tell, part two is too rich to be fully savoured in one short year: this is a playbook for a lifetime’s apprenticeship.

Naturally, Dr Eve Poole recognises that some of her readers may be drawn to the first part of the book where the theory is beautifully and succinctly explored whilst others will gain most from the more practical part two. Whatever your preference, I would urge you to read both parts because, developing leader, experienced leader, leadership facilitator or coach, the pearls of wisdom to be found here are well worth savouring.

Producing Your Curriculum Vitae or Your Resume

Introduction

Having a professional curriculum vitae or a resume, with a clean design and well-ordered relevant information, is essential. However, changes to the ways in which recruiters view these documents mean that almost every part of the former sentence is questionable!

Actually, today, having just one CV or resume is not reasonable. If you have only one then – for the reasons explored below – you will be hampering your job search. The idea of a “clean design” may well be attractive and there are certainly some situations where design will be of considerable value. However, due to the increasing use of applicant tracking systems, which will be discussed later, there are many situation where any kind of design flourish could be real barrier to getting hired! As for the question of the ordering of the various sections of your CV/resume even there the correct answer may take you by surprise. Perhaps the only part of that first sentence that stands scrutiny is the idea that a CV/resume needs to contain relevant information. What is relevant and what is not goes to the heart of the idea that one CV/resume is all you need … and it isn’t!

Many recruiters spend very little time scanning a CV, so it really is essential that yours makes a great first impression. Moreover, an increasing number of large organisations now rely on applicant tracking systems – a form of artificial intelligence – to help pre-filter resumes or CVs. These systems work by scanning CVs/resumes for contextual keywords and key phrases, mathematically scoring them for relevance, and sending only the most qualified ones through for human review.

So what?

It has always been true that the best places to highlight your individuality and fit for the role you are applying for are in the covering letter or statement, but the widespread use of applicant tracking systems means that sticking to this rule is now more important than ever.

Applicant tracking systems require simplicity. They do not positively score those extra touches you may have added to your resume, like logos, pictures, symbols, and shadings. Worse than that, these embellishments may actually work to your disadvantage by ‘confusing’ the system. It has now become even more important to stick to conservative resume formatting using one of three common fonts: Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman. Tracking systems have a rather limited facility to make sense of other fonts so they are best avoided.

The increasing use of applicant tracking systems also means that it is essential that a CV or resume must be presented in the form specified. If yours is not, then you do genuinely face the prospect of no living human being reading it! Generally, it is best to supply a Word doc or a rich text format CV/resume instead of a PDF. Though some applicant tracking systems can now ‘read’ PDFs others cannot and yet more have rather limited capabilities. So, unless a PDF format is specifically requested, do not supply your CV/resume in this form.

Words and phrases

Within any profession, there will be words and phrases, responsibilities, skills, licenses and certificates that are strongly associated with performing the job well. Applicant tracking systems will typically have been programmed to look for these words and phrases together with contextual information related to appropriate qualifications. To ensure that the software recognises that you are a good fit for the job, use these tips when writing your CV/resume:

  • Look for important phrases and skills written into the job description. If your experience matches these, then include exactly the same phrases and skills in your own CV/resume – but don’t overdo it. This is simply because the hiring manager will have arranged for the applicant tracking system to search your text for these all important phrases and skills.
  • Use an online word frequency assessor such as Wordle to help you to work out the most frequently occurring words, phrases, names and qualifications in the job description. Make sure you pay attention to the spelled out version of any phrases and any commonly used acronyms: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, CIPD, C.I.P.D. all count as one.

You should not overegg your CV/Resume with repetitive use of the key words and phrases. There are at least two main reasons for this: First, many applicant tracking systems use algorithms that are clever enough to spot excessive repetition and, second, if a human being does get to read your CV/resume the overuse of these words will look contrived.

The main goal is to stand out from other participants and to let recruiters quickly get an idea of who you are, what your skills are and why you are the right person for the job you are applying for.

You should aim for a CV/resume that contains a working history that makes sense and demonstrates some employment/professional progression if at all possible. The document should include details of relevant qualifications and statements of competences and it should bea brief description of your achievements all within a clean, easily readable format.

Your CV/resume should relate to your LinkedIn profile, through the CV/resume itself may be shorter. In many cases it is now acceptable to include a hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile but only do this if your LinkedIn entry adds value and is thoroughly up to date. Your LinkedIn profile must include a professional photograph that is relatively formal rather than being excessively informal!

International considerations

There have traditionally been differences between CV expectations in different countries. In general, a German Curriculum Vitae, for example, consists of 1 or 2 pages, no more. There’s always a photograph at the top and the layout follows a strict chronological order (with exact dates, for example 12/93) and uses a clear, professional style. CVs are signed at the bottom.

A CV should include personal information, about studies and working experience, as well as knowledge of foreign languages and other activities.

In Italy brief texts are preferred and photographs aren’t usually included. A good CV should consist of, in chronological order, personal information (including telephone numbers), as well as information related to studies, and working experience. Hobbies aren’t mentioned but candidates should clearly mention if they have served in the military.

A British CV should be no more than two pages long and there should be a strong emphasis on facts and numbers. The reasons for applying and the candidate’s related experience and demonstrated skills are highlighted in the covering email or letter. Typically, the following information is expected in the CV:

  1. Personal information.
  2. Studies (mentioning centres, dates and places, and grades).
  3. Languages spoken.
  4. Work experience (with dates, starting with the most recent job).
  5. Hobbies and personal achievements.
  6. References.

Almost all UK employers will follow up references so it is important that the two referees have given their permission to act in this way. The typical CV will mention the names, position, addresses and contact details of at least 2 people.

Whilst many British enterprises prefer a CV with an American-style resume format (elevating the work experience section above the studies and languages spoken sections), the document should always be formatted to print on A4 paper and not the North American equivalent.

Europass CV

Partly as a response to the variety of CV forms in use throughout Europe, in December 2012the European Union launched a new CV template and online editor. The “Europass CV” is a part of the European Skills Passport (ESP), a user-friendly electronic folder to help students, workers or job-seekers build up a personal, modular inventory of personal skills and qualifications acquired throughout life.

The ESP can contain a range of documents (language skills evidence, copies of degrees, attestations of employment, etc.). When attached to a Europass CV, the European Skills Passport will reinforce the CV by adding to it evidence of the skills and qualifications listed.

The European Union recommend that people use their online editor (https://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/editors/en/cv/compose) to create a CV:

  1. Concentrate on the essentials
  • Employers generally spend less than one minute reading a CV before deciding to reject it.
  • If applying for an advertised vacancy, always ensure that you comply with any application process entirely.
  • Be brief: two A4 pages are usually more than enough, irrespective of your education or experience.
  • Is your work experience limited? Describe your education and training first; highlight volunteering activities and placements or traineeships.
  1. Be clear and concise
  • Use short sentences. Avoid clichés. Concentrate on the relevant aspects of your training and work experience.
  • Give specific examples. Quantify your achievements.
  • Update your CV as your experience develops.
  1. Always adapt your CV to suit the post you are applying for
  • Highlight your strengths according to the needs of the employer and focus on the skills that match the job.
  • Explain any breaks in your studies or career giving examples of any transferable skills you might have learned during your break.
  • Before sending your CV to an employer, check again that it corresponds to the required profile.
  • Do not artificially inflate your CV; if you do, you are likely to be found out at the interview
  1. Pay attention to the presentation of your CV
  • Present your skills and competences clearly and logically, so that your advantages stand out.
  • Put the most relevant information first.
  • Pay attention to spelling and punctuation.
  • Retain the suggested font and layout.
  1. Check your CV once you have filled it in
  • Do not forget to write a cover letter.
  • Correct any spelling mistakes, and ensure the layout is clear and logical.
  • Have someone else re-read your CV so that you are sure the content is clear and easy to understand.

Organisational preferences

As the guidance above states, it is really important, when applying for any advertised vacancy, to always ensure that you comply with the requirements of the application process entirely.

For example, The United Nation’s Office of HR Management have published, online (at: http://www.un.org/Depts/OHRM/guidenew.htm, accessed on 27 September 2018), very specific guidance about CVs and it would be seriously unwise to not follow this type of employer guidance, which is intended to be helpful to applicants.

Clearly, any specific alternative employer guidance posted with a vacancy notice should always be followed.

 

 

 

Dying Professions

The OECD Employment Outlook 2019 found that: “The world of work is changing in response to technological progress, globalisation and ageing populations. In addition, new organisational business models and evolving worker preferences are contributing to the emergence of new forms of work. Despite widespread anxiety about potential job destruction driven by technological change and globalisation, a sharp decline in overall employment seems unlikely. While certain jobs and tasks are disappearing, others are emerging and employment has been growing. As these transformations occur, a key challenge lies in managing the transition of workers in declining industries and regions towards new job opportunities. There are also concerns about job quality. While diversity in employment contracts can provide welcome flexibility for many firms and workers, important challenges remain in ensuring the quality of non‑standard work. Moreover, labour market disparities could increase further unless determined policy action is taken to ensure a more equal sharing of the costs of structural adjustment in the world of work. While there are risks, there are also many opportunities – and the future of work is not set in stone. With the right policies and institutions, the future of work can be one of more and better jobs for all.” In this article we will be examining the impact on employment of the rise in automation.

One of the most striking themes to emerge from the OECD’s 2019 research is that, over the past decade, labour market conditions have deteriorated for young people with less than tertiary education in many countries, with a rising proportion out of work or, under‑employed or low paid if in work. These changes are unlikely to be the short‑lived product of the economic downturn, which raises significant policy challenges for the years to come. From a gender perspective, in a number of countries, men have seen an increase in joblessness and under‑employment. Nevertheless, the latter remain more widespread among women, who are also more likely to be in low‑paid jobs.

The rise of automation continues to put pressure on occupations that are susceptible to replacement by algorithms and robotics. Naturally, working out what occupational groups are likely to decline in the years ahead is of most concern to young people entering the employment market. They really do not want to invest in training for a role that will likely disappear during the course of their working lives. Such thinking does, however, tend to overlook the fact that career flexibility and the willingness to transform your offer to the employment market to respond to changing needs has been one of the most powerful themes in the general advice given by career counsellors for decades. That said, there is evidence to suggest that it is of some value to look at what we currently know about declining job opportunities and to factor that into career decision making.

A survey of the gaps in many High Streets would suggest that the rise in online travel  booking sites has put paid to many retail travel agencies. Where once people shied away form booking direct there are now many more travellers willing to put together their own holidays, arrange their own accommodation and generally make life difficult for the High Street travel agent. There may be a future niche for those who specialise in particular countries, sectors of the travel market or who can develop an offer that is superior or more secure than anything the individual can arrange themselves.

Mortgage brokers have faced significant competition from generations well able to use the internet to find financial solutions. The rise of online “money saving expert” services has not only contributed to general consumer education but has also enabled the mortgage hunter to access online tools arguably more powerful than a mortgage broker could find thirty years ago. The decline in the number of mortgage brokers is particularly well documented by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and, as ever, where the US employment goes there is tendency for other Western markets to follow. Mortgage brokers are, of course, part of the wider financial services industry and the opportunities for career development through change within that wider economy have been pursued with enthusiasm by those noting the trends.

John Pugliano, author of “The Robots are Coming: A Human’s Survival Guide to Profiting in the Age of Automation,” sees plenty of white collar jobs that will be threatened by automation. “Bottom line, any routine job that can easily be defined by a mathematical or logic equation will be at risk,” Pugliano says. “Opportunity will be [there] for those that can create new produces/services or solve/fix unexpected problems.”

Sometimes the changes are unexpected. For example, the legal ancillary professions face challenges that might not be straightforward. A lot of the work once done by legal case researchers can now be done with increasingly sophisticated algorithms. Pugliano’s recommendation for aspiring legal eagles – in the light of this challenge – is to focus on specialising in non-routine human emotion intense areas, like jury selection or witness profiling.

The UK really does not have an equivalent to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics but we can note developments in the US employment market as potential indicators of change in many Western labour markets. “Across the pond”, one of the groups of workers expected to be the hardest hit by an overall decline in opportunities are office and administrative workers. The rise of technology is to blame for word processing, voicemail and the internet replacing work that was once completed by a now dying breed of administrative assistant. The most recent recession saw an acceleration in the collapse of this employment market sector which started several decades ago.

Opportunities in farming have declined over several decades and the pressure on farmers to increase efficiency and effectiveness will continue to fuel this trend. There may well be a demand for seasonal staff to operate semi-  and fully automated harvesting machines and even to pick fruit where an automated solution has yet to be found but the numbers are in long term decline.

The decline in the number of local newspapers continues in the face of competition from other media outlets. Correspondingly, the opportunities for trainee reporters look likely to continue to fall.

The skills of the print binder and finisher are still sought out for specialist and high end publications but the demand for these professionals is expected to diminish – though at a slower pace in the coming decade than it did in the past decade. The problem is essentially that most books can now be bound and finished, without the intervention of a craftsperson, by machine and we are now reading more books on screen.

Your personal learning from all of this? Don’t assume that a craft, trade or profession currently in demand will continue to be so over your lifetime. Do your own research in your own employment market and overseas and look for trends that could reshape demand in the years ahead. If you notice signs of declining demand for your own skills look out for opportunities to move sideways into related occupations or to retrain in occupational areas connected to your established expertise.

 

 

Managing Two Careers At Once

Why do organisations manage their talent in ways that fail to take account of spousal careers? What happens as a result? What additional thinking and practices could assist organisations to manage talent located within a dual career relationship better? What do findings about what is valued in mid-life career counselling have to say to those involved in career coaching?

Spousal Careers

Writing in the May – June 2018 edition of The Harvard Business Review (“Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple”) Jennifer Petriglieri, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD, shows how companies invest significantly in grooming their star talent — but then fail to take account of marital situations and responsibilities.

This failure, which involves seeing the high performing employee “one dimensionally”and not appreciating their familial context is surprisingly common. Many corporations with relatively enlightened talent management programmes haven’t, according to Petriglieri, “figured out how to manage the growing population of employees who care deeply about their partners’ or spouses’ careers at the same time that they want to advance their own. As a result, many high potentials are heading for the nearest exit.”

Outdated Ideas About Career Progression

Jennifer Petriglieri has seen this happen time and again across a range of sectors and says the crux of the problem is that companies “tend to have fixed paths to leadership roles, with set tours of duty and rigid ideas about what ambition looks like. That creates flexibility and mobility challenges for employees—and recruitment and retention headaches for employers.”

In referring to these “fixed paths to leadership roles” Petriglieri signals that the companies concerned are likely to be practicing that, rather exclusive, form of talent management that Victoria Campbell and Wendy Hirsh (in their Institute of Employment Studies report “Talent Management: A Four-Step Approach”, 2013) dubbed “accelerated skill development for high potentials” (type A). An alternative, and more inclusive, form of talent management, based upon the conviction that every employee has talent, usually drives anemphasis onorganisational capability building throughout the workforce” (type B).   

That some corporations still use models for talent development that are based on fixed paths, set tours of duty and rigid ideas about what ambition looks like might be thought remarkable. That they often struggle with last minute realisations about the importance of spousal careers is perhaps predictable. It does not need to be so.

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

As Global Practice Leader for Integrated Talent Management at World Vision International I was constantly reminded that talent management is but “one side of a coin”. The coin’s “two faces” are talent management and the individual’s career. Talent management is that side of the coin seen from the corporation’s perspective. The other side of the coin is built progressively through the career – and other – decisions made by individual employees. Where they are in a relationship with another person also managing career decisions the two people will characteristically, and increasingly, take these decisions together.

Campbell and Hirsh found, through their case studies of 23 organisations, drawn almost equally from the private and the public sector, that between the “type A” and the “type B” approaches to talent management, there was “a more career‐oriented definition of talent management.”This “places more emphasis on establishing career direction (relating to individuals’ interests and ambitions), as well as deploying and mobilising talent across the organisation, by offering different career experiences and using talent populations to fill key roles.” I will call this approach “type C”. It is important to our current discussion because it has the potential to allow talent managers to understand “the other side of the coin”.

Understanding this important symbiotic relationship between the two sides of the coin has taken some organisations a while. If type C practices were more commonly used this might not be true but experience in the disparate financial services and humanitarian development sectors suggests this is not the case: the type A approach predominates. Predictably, organisations are in a comfortable place, for them, when it is clear that their decisions have impact on individual’s careers. It is less comfortable when the organisation becomes aware that individual’s career decisions can – and do – have organisational effects. When the conditions are right these organisational effects can be very significant indeed. Two examples from my financial services sector experience illustrate this point.

Example 1: In the ten years from 2000, there was considerable actuarial and insurance consulting firm consolidation resulting in the emergence of a smaller number of global organisations with considerably enlarged headcounts. This led to some professionals in this sector becoming more and more specialist and, consequently, their roles being ever more narrowly conceived. For the organisations concerned the opportunity was created to build teams of dedicated experts with niche consulting expertise. By the end of the decade however, employers and specialist recruiters were recognising that the individual career decisions of these business critical experts were having a determinant and sometimes limiting impact on organisation’s business strategy.

Example 2: Merger or acquisition based growth also created opportunities for individuals and teams that employers may not initially have anticipated. A range of firms lost talented specialists to their rivals as the result of a legal loophole meaning they were technically unemployed at the point of M&A transaction. In some cases, individuals or even intact teams were changing jobs and being recruited without serving their notice periods. Remedies were, of course, found (sometimes known as “golden handcuffs”) but constraining career choice often proved both complicated and expensive.

Petriglieri’s work highlights a further complication for corporations that have not got used to flipping the talent/career coin and appreciating, as we have seen, that in dual career partnerships, career related decisions are commonly made by the couple thinking and acting together. The decisions the couple jointly make address career choices in the wider context of family values and goals and give expression to their views about the overall well-being of the couple and the family. In doing so their decisions, taken for the good of the couple and/or the family, are at least as subtle as those taken by the employing organisations. My experience in talent management and coaching would suggest that these familial decisions are often much more nuanced than corporate talent managers contemplate.

Simply put, when managing their talent, organisations need to match the levels of subtlety found in spousal decision making. Expressed this way, that may appear to be a “corporate nice to have”: unfortunately the associated risks can have big price tags attached. Indeed, failing to recognise the relational aspects of career decision can be as expensive as not considering the talent aspects of a merger or an acquisition. The “golden handcuffs” mentioned above were, for example, sometimes resorted to precisely because the level of corporate talent risk management had earlier been inappropriate.

The challenges associated with having these types of career development conversations are significant. Creating the environment of trust, establishing the agreed ground rules, preparing the agreed summary of the discussions, taking time to plan and hold the conversations at the appropriate frequency all require significant maturity, planfulness, sophisticated data management, excellent communication and commitment to coaching behaviours.

Today’s Dual Career/Talent Management Context

The context for both corporate talent management and individual career choice is shaped by the hugely important ways in which our working lives are changing. These changes are well known: people are living longer, the labour market is shifting as a result of technological change and globalisation, employees may be caring for children and parents simultaneously whilst they manage and evaluate their paid work and consider their own second-half-of-life options.

As a consequence of this, people may see the need to change jobs and retrain; they may be having debates about their own and their partner’s careers; portfolio working lives are now a reality for many and retirement is being experienced as a more flexible reality with less of a ‘cliff edge’ between working and not working.

These changes indicate that organisations should approach the relationship they have with their key talent in much more subtle and responsive ways than in the past. “Indicate” seems the appropriate word here because, of course, employers have choices to make. Enlightened employers that operate talent and succession management processes that respond to these significant technological and socioeconomic changes – and recognise the importance of spousal career decisions – are more likely to retain their high performers. Those that don’t, increasingly will not.

Career Coaching Agendas

Employers may or may not invest in coaching for leadership and emerging talent. The extent to which career development looms large in that relationship will vary. My executive coaching experience suggests that career planning and development are increasingly important issues for coachees. Corporations purchasing developmental executive coaching variously recognise – and often support through other initiatives and programmes within which coaching may be located – the fundamental notion that the coachee is the captain of their own life and learning[1].

This recognition creates the context within which the coachee’s goals “are the foundation of the work, although in executive coaching the line manager’s and organisation’s goals are also fed into the agenda” as Jenny Rogers deftly expresses the situation (in “Coaching skills: The Definitive Guide To Being A Coach”, May 2016). Many coaches, including myself, influenced by the cognitive behavioural coaching school and the work of Carl Rogers, approach this type of development coaching with the belief that the coachee is infinitely resourceful and that their work is necessarily holistic in nature and scope. The individual has choices.

Outside of paid coaching, support for the making of those choices, some of which may relate to what Cadbury has dubbed the individual’s “crazy paving” will vary. In many countries individual adults do not have ready access to advice on what to do to make the most of their opportunities. The results can include premature retirement for some, a lack of fulfilling work for others, and insufficient saving for retirement for many.

However, evidence from a UK study (“Mid Life Career Review”, July 2015) evaluated by the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) showed that valuable mid-life career review opportunities helped people take stock of where they were and who they are, and what they wanted to achieve for the rest of their lives. The pilot projects not only helped to determine the variety of possible agendas for such a career review but they also illustrated the range of career-related topics that a coachee may be considering.  The study showed that some or all of the following might feature in a well-regarded review:

  • Understanding life expectancy, and its implications for work, leisure, finance and health: many people underestimate life expectancy.
  • Reviewing changing aspirations for work and life over coming decades.
  • Making informed decisions about retirement timing and phasing (since working longer is likely to improve the quality of life of most people, as well as being good for employers and the economy).
  • Undertaking training likely to sustain the individual longer in rewarding activity, including paid work.
  • Reviewing the implications of working longer for personal health.
  • Reviewing the individual’s long-term financial situation including saving for retirement.
  • Developing strategies for overcoming age discrimination.
  • Understanding rights in relation to retirement timing, flexible working, and caring responsibilities, and developing strategies for negotiating adjustments to the individual’s and the working patterns of any spouse.
  • Realistically assessing options for job change and self-employment.

This NIACE research points to the level of sophistication that an informed mid-career review may need to achieve. Looking “around” and “behind” the bullet points above it is also possible to see the work/life considerations that dual-career couples are, increasingly, managing. This provides an indicator of what excellence in career coaching will increasingly look like and it should act as a wake up call and a compass to organisations whose talent management is as sadly one-dimensional as Jennifer Petriglieri found. Talent management should be aiming at least to understand the questions that are being asked by “the growing population of employees who care deeply about their partners’ or spouses’ careers at the same time that they want to advance their own.” This understanding can help to minimise something that talent managers are often said to want to avoid: unpleasant surprises.

[1]Sir Nicholas Cadbury expressed this well: “There is no such thing as a career path.  It is like crazy paving and you have to lay it yourself.”

References

Petriglieri, J. (May – June, 2018), ‘Talent Management and the Dual-Career Couple’, in Harvard Business Review, pp.106–113. Harvard University Press, USA.

Watts, J. et al. (July 2015), ‘Mid Life Career Review Pilot Project Outcomes: Phases 1, 2, and 3 (2013 – 2015): Final report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’. National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, Leicester, UK.

Rogers, J. (May 2106), ‘Coaching skills: The Definitive Guide To Being A Coach.’ Open University Press, Milton Keynes, UK.

Campbell, V. and Hirsh, W. (2013), ‘Talent Management: A Four Step Approach.’ Institute of Employment Studies, Brighton, UK.

Envisioning The Future

Writing in July’s TD Beverley Kaye and Linda Williams say, “Individuals need the encouragement, resources, tools, and support to envision their futures. They don’t need every possible new app or program, but they do need conversations with managers, coaches, or mentors. They need to take action, be open to learning, be willing to change behaviors, and be introspective enough to clarify their career needs, wants, and aspirations.”

When the world’s largest child focused humanitarian organisation began to embrace online learning and created its own e-Campus I was not surprised to find that the online “Career Development Centre” gained eager followers across the globe at a faster pace than any other development offer.

Based on personal experience as a mature career changer, as a qualified career development practitioner, coach and a former global practice talent leader in the diverse fields of financial services and humanitarian development I so agree with Beverley Kaye and Linda Williams.

My practical guide to career development for those considering a change of career direction is designed to help people who would benefit from some help being, as Beverley and Linda express it, “introspective enough to clarify their career needs, wants, and aspirations”.  It is now available from Lulu publishers.

Who am I?

Changing career in mid-life becomes easier if you have done some work on your values and your passions. Doing so helps many people to understand and to talk about who they are. Regardless of your career to date, your future decisions about career will be easier and more valid if you have a clear understanding of your own orientation toward work, your motives, your values and your self-perceived talents. Being clear about these  helps in focusing career development tactics and enables people to talk confidently about what you will bring to a particular role. My experience as a coach suggests that most people have several passions and that as they get older they make decisions about the passion – or the small number of passions – that are so strongly aligned with their values that they will not give them up easily.

Some people are very clear about their career related values. Others find it helpful to take one of many career assessments. These assessments will help you explore your career interests, skills, your values, and personality. In this post I would like to introduce Edgar Schein’s “Career Anchors”.

Edgar Schein and Thomas De Long developed “career anchors” in the 1970s. They described career anchors as that combination of perceived areas of competence, motives and values that you would not give up: it represents your real self.

Schein’s “Career Anchors” can help you think through your career options and give you a clear understanding of:

  • Your own orientations toward work
  • Your motives
  • Your values
  • Your talents

Use of “Career Anchors” also helps people:

  • Define the themes and patterns dominant in their life
  • Understand their own approach to work and a career
  • Provide reasons for choices
  • Take steps to fulfil their own self-image

As you accumulate work experience, you have the opportunity to make choices; from these choices you begin to ascertain what you really find important. Dominant themes emerge—critical skills or abilities that you want to exercise or crucial needs or values that dominate your orientation toward life. You may have had a sense of these elements but, until now, you may not have assessed them in a thorough way. However, when changing careers in mid-life this self-awareness becomes vital. Knowing how important these aspects of yourself are and how any given talent, motive, or value relates to other elements of your total personality becomes an important “lens” through which to plan and talk about your career change journey. It is often only when we are confronted with difficult choices that we begin to evaluate and decide what is really important to us.

With accumulation of work experience and feedback comes clarification and insight, providing a basis for making more rational and empowered career decisions. Notice the importance of feedback especially if you have participated in work-based feedback processes and have a recent report that you can re-examine.

Through self-assessment the self-concept begins to function more and more as a personal “guidance system” and as an “anchor” that shapes career choice. Out of this process people begin to talk about careers saying that this role is something they identify with whilst that occupation is not something they could ever see themselves doing. This knowledge keeps us on course or in a “safe harbour”.

As people recount their career choices, they increasingly refer to “being pulled back” to things they have strayed from or, looking ahead, “figuring out what they really want to do” or “finding themselves.” This process leads people to gradually move from having broad goals to a sense of knowing better what it is that they would not give up if forced to make a choice. The career anchor, as defined by Schein and his co-authors, is that one element in a person’s self-concept that he or she will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices. And if their work does not permit expression of the anchor, people find ways of expressing it in their hobbies, in second jobs, or in leisure activities.

Schein and his colleague developed the career anchor concept at MIT. An empirical investigation conducted by Catherine Steele and others and reported to the British Psychological Society’s 2007 Occupational Psychology Conference, concluded that the eight career anchors, as measured through use of Edgar Schein’s “Career Anchors: Discovering Your Real Values” is a valid model with satisfactory internal reliability results.

This tested reliability is important to know because there are many forms of assessment available and not all of them are reliable. I recommend that mid-life career changers make use of the “Career Anchors” approach and find that people do find it beneficial. It is recommended for use in  “My Career Development Plan”  which you can purchase here

Schein’s approach to Career Anchors included the use of a Career Anchor Interview to be used after completion of the Career Orientations Inventory. I am pleased to advise about the use of the Interview: it is a particularly helpful process that mid-life career changers have found valuable.

“Career Anchors: The Changing Nature of Careers: Self Assessment”, 4th Edition by Edgar H. Schein and John Van Maanen, published in May 2013 contains the “Career Anchors Self-Assessment” or “Career Orientations Inventory”,  the simple “Scoring Instructions” and the “Descriptions of the Career Anchor Categories”. Guidance on the user’s “Next Steps” and “Choices” are also included.

Mid-Life Career Change?

As people look back over their working lives it is not uncommon to find them asking questions about service, achievement and satisfaction. Some may be in positions where the opportunities for development through work are limited and they may increasingly identify with the view that there’s a considerable difference between twenty years of experience, and one year of experience relived twenty times! Unsurprisingly, this feeling can be expressed in employee’s engagement with their work. Gallup, for example, has found that the percentage of actively disengaged workers tends to be highest among those aged 40-49. Workers in this age group were almost 1.5 times as likely as those aged 18-29 or those aged 60 and older to be actively disengaged (15% for both the youngest and oldest age groups).

Faced with the evidence, Gallup concluded that, once employees are past early adulthood – the years when many are learning their chosen profession – they become significantly less likely to strongly agree that their workplace is a source of personal development.

Evidence from psychological research confirms what shared experience would suggest: that life goals and motivation tend to shift, as people grow older. As many coaches would confirm, mid-life is a time when people re-evaluate their goals and make changes accordingly.

Sometimes the incentive to make these career changes may be fuelled by a sense of dashed expectations. Hannes Schwandt, an economist at the University of Zurich found that young people overestimate their future happiness, and so feel disappointed as life goes on. But as people approach 60, they start underestimating their future happiness, and then are pleasantly surprised by reality.

For many, accumulated wealth, relative security and a desire to really make a difference or to “give something back” propels individuals in mid-life toward something of a career crisis. E B White captured their quandary: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

“My Career Development Plan” is a practical guide to career development for those considering a change of career direction. It was written by John Evans, a qualified career development practitioner, executive coach and former global practice leader for the world’s largest child focused humanitarian development agency. John was previously head of Hewitt Associates’ European Organisational Development practice. Your copy is available here.

“Cubing” Career Goals

“Cubing” is a way of brainstorming outlined in the book “Writing”, by Gregory Cowan and Elizabeth Cowan (New York: Wiley, 1980). With cubing, as with other brainstorming methods, you start with one topic, challenge or issue. Then, you apply six points of view (like the six sides of a cube) to the issue. Here, we have adapted the method so it can be used as a tool for initial career goal development. To use the cubing method …

Click “Present” in the visual above. Use the forward and back arrows beneath the presentation to page through the process.

First, write down your career development goal.

Second, examine your goal closely and describe it in as much detail as you want.

Third, compare this goal with other goals in your life. Is is significantly different from them or related to them in some way?

Fourth, ask yourself what this goal makes you think of?

Fifth, analyse your goal. Break it into parts that you find relevant and helpful.

Sixth, now describe what achieving you goal would mean to you and to other people.

Finally, debate with yourself – or someone you trust – what might stop you from achieving your goal and what might work in your favour?

A Career With Impact?

Impactpool is a unique career platform aiming to provide the best possible support to people who want to pursue a career within mission-driven organisations. Impactpool (previously UNjobfinder) was founded in 2015 and is a social enterprise with headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Its founders were aware of the need for a qualified, customer oriented and user-friendly service covering the global employment sector of mission driven organisations.

Impactpool’s own mission is to support highly qualified and motivated individuals by helping them grow professionally and to develop successful careers within organisations that contribute to a sustainable world. In just three years Impactpool has become the world’s fastest growing career website with a focus on talents and organisations who are striving for and contributing to a sustainable world. The service gathers opportunities from hundreds of international organisations around the world including all UN organisations, international financial institutions, the European Union and the most influential intergovernmental and Non-Governmental Organisations.

For talent seeking to break into this niche global marketplace, Impactpool provides a “shop window” on approaching 2500 daily-updated entry, mid-career and executive level appointments across (currently, and growing) 156 organisations. A single portal provides unique job search functionality. This is complemented by a dedicated and independent career coaching service provided by coaches with successful career records in the industry; I am honoured to be a part of this network. The organisational coverage is impressive covering an ever-expanding range of international, governmental, medical, justice, faith based, peacekeeping, and humanitarian and development organisations with current vacancies across the globe.

Alongside this dynamic slate of opportunities those who sign up to Impactpool have access to invaluable career guides. “Start Making a Difference” is a must-read providing an introduction to a career in international development. Experienced recruiters and HR specialists explain how to start your career in the sector, including what you need to know about educational requirements, relevant skills and experience, the differing organisation types, career tracks, and remuneration. The Impactpool authors share concrete, honest advice on how to approach your career strategically—from choosing the right jobs to apply for to positioning yourself in the best possible way for growth and advancement.

For experienced talent, “The Senior Assessment Guide” is an invaluable “preparation kit” to use when facing a UN assessment centre.  The eBook describes the different UN pools, how you get into them, how you are assessed, and how you finally get selected. These pools primarily target senior internal staff at the UN, but the Guide also describes how external leaders have successfully gained access to pools in the past.

Complementing this targeted Guide, Impactpool also publish general interview guides and question banks for those applying for international organisation careers, humanitarian and development sector roles. Regular summary articles highlight the beginning and flag up the closure of recruitment campaigns. Click for further information.

(The writer is an Impactpool Fellow).

Learning with Kaya

Kaya is the online learning platform of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.

50,000 people from nearly 200 countries across the world are using Kaya to learn about humanitarian issues and action. On Kaya you will find online elearning and in-person workshops that will help you learn what you need to take you where you want to go, whether you are a professional humanitarian looking for career development, or a community member supporting the response to a crisis in your own country.

Kaya’s courses are grouped into learning pathways – combinations of online and in-person learning opportunities – that mean at the beginning of your learning journey you do not need to know exactly what you want to learn.

Within Kaya you will find:

  • Online elearning content
  • Videos
  • Documents and files

Information and registration for in-person events:

  • Workshops
  • Talks
  • Webinars (streamed film of events that you can access from your phone or computer)

Kaya is designed to be accessed from phones, tablets, laptops and PCs, so you can use it whenever and wherever you want.

You can search for a course through the Catalogue. This will show you individual courses as well as whole pathways of learning you can take part in. You can use the filters at the side to change the results you are shown.

Click on the result you are interested in to be taken to its page.  Join the course by clicking on the ‘Join’ button. On a mobile phone, this box will be underneath the course description. On a larger screen, it will be at the right of the page.

How much do the courses on Kaya cost?

All courses are entirely free, unless a course description specifically says otherwise – you will be able to find any cost information on the summary page of each course.

How To Find Work You Love

Scott Dinsmore quit a job that made him miserable, and spent the next four years wondering how to find work that was joyful and meaningful. He shares what he learned in this deceptively simple talk about finding out what matters to you — and then getting started doing it.

Why you should listen

According to a Deloitte research study, over 80 per cent of people don’t enjoy their work.  Scott wanted to find out what it is that sets the twenty per cent apart: the people who do the passionate, world-changing work, that wake up inspired every day. Discover what he found out!

Sadly, in September 2015, three years after recording this TED talk, Scott was struck by a boulder as it tumbled down the 19,000-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro peak he was climbing  with his wife of five years as part of their adventure around the world. Scott was 33 when he died.

Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career

In this funny and blunt talk, Larry Smith pulls no punches when he calls out the absurd excuses people invent when they fail to pursue their passions.

Why you should listen

Larry Smith is a professor of economics at University of Waterloo. A well-known storyteller and advocate for youth leadership, he has also mentored many of his students on start-up business management and career development. The most notable start-up he advised in its infancy is Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry.

Discussion about this blunt and challenging TED talk centres on what passion really means and costs but, as Carmine Gallo wrote in Forbes, what you will see here “in this TED Talk is essentially thirty years of Smith’s frustrations reaching a boiling point.” “Wasted talent is a waste I cannot stand,” and this talk is Smith’s response.

Challenging and – possibly – motivating too.

Career Development With Devex

Devex describes itself as the media platform for the global development community. For those in – or seeking entry to – that community Devex is a source of information of growing importance. Devex claims to have an audience of more than one million people engaged in the development sector, to have placed thousands of people into jobs through its important recruitment marketplace and to have contributed significantly to the sector’s business development through its role as an informed source of grant and contract opportunities.

Devex casts its net wide: it considers the development, health, humanitarian, and sustainability sector and professionals working within these fields to be part of its global network. There are now more than 900,000 registered members within this international development community – including development organisations, donor agencies, suppliers and aid workers. In all, Devex claims more than 1 million active users.

Using a range of tools Devex enables its user community to access a searchable database of over 700,000 professionals and a directory of more than 12,000 development organisations. It has become a leading source of information about projects being funded by agencies across the globe.

This is remarkable growth over a period of the 18 or so years since Raj Kumar, then a student at Harvard’s School of Government, converted the ideas behind Devex into a workable precursor as part of a student project. Kumar, now editor in chief of Devex, aims to provide for the development sector what Bloomberg and The Financial Times have for the financial markets: accurate, plentiful and searchable information.

For the professional engaged in their own career development Devex is a virtual ‘honey pot’. The clearing house of information on development projects provides the intelligence needed to anticipate where opportunities may exist in a few months time. Real time vacancy information pulls in the active job seeker, those coming to the end of existing contracts and aid professionals whose careers have stalled with their existing employers. Webinars on a range of career development topics (including networking, charting a global health career, STEM careers in the aid sector, etc.) provide added value for the serious career professional. A continually updated tender notification service offers leads for business development specialists, contractors and consultants.

Investment in international aid remains strong – the money in USAID’s budget was $15.4billion in 2018 rising to $39.3billion for fiscal 2019. Devex occupies a key role in staff sourcing and career development in this sector. Admittedly, Devex charges for certain premium services and prices access to more senior vacancies but, if you are in the aid sector or seeking to break into it your curriculum vitae should feature there and Devex should be a part of your career development toolkit.

Information sharing, pathos and apologies

It is widely believed that leaders should share information with those they lead. The arguments to support this as ‘best practice’ draw widely on studies of staff engagement. These repeatedly show that, by explaining the connection between employees’ individual jobs and the organisation, leaders and managers can greatly increase employee satisfaction with their day-to-day work. The commitment to communication also rests on the belief that, whilst trust evolves, ebbs and flows it is essential to staff engagement and motivation. For leaders and managers, the evidence shows that employees who trust them are most likely to follow through on goals set. Trustworthy leaders and managers are also more likely to get a flow of honest feedback on the challenges their staff face: which is invaluable.

At the strategic level, as Alkhafaji stated (1997), “no matter how brilliant the strategy may be, unless the business team understands and accepts it, performance will suffer.”

The “terms” of understanding and acceptance depend on leaders being able to communicate relevant information credibly. Leaders typically base their own judgements on both hard data and softer information. Many will take the view that the data is easier to communicate than the softer information. Of course, what is easier for one leader to accomplish may be more challenging for another and track records certainly play a part in creating the foundations for each call to action. Agreeing, perhaps instinctively, with Aristotle, many leaders I have worked with know that credibility depends upon a rather subtle demonstration of competence, good intention and empathy.

Modern business communication has tended to elevate the attention paid to what Aristotle terms “logos”. This is often, and to a great extent rightly, associated with logic, the hard data and the apparent proofs of our case. Business leaders, perhaps because they are business leaders, will often avoid paying attention to “pathos” in their communication. However, as we will see, this failure to consider the emotional impact of communication can have catastrophic impact on how it is received and responded to. More generally,  and perhaps through a fear of being seen to be overly emotional, much business communication appears leaden, stilted and impassive: not the tinder that lights fires of commitment as Henry V did on the Feast of St Crispian. (As Richard Olivier explains so eloquently in his book “Inspirational Leadership”, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 905879 00 7).

The dangers of a failure to attend to engage emotionally with people are well illustrated by the response of the CEO of United Airlines to an airline-overbooking situation on April 9, 2017. This resulted in a fare-paying passenger being dragged bodily off an internal US flight. When the gruesome video footage went viral and the CEO, who had previously been named U.S. Communicator of the Year, failed to apologise he was widely criticised. In avoiding emotional response and failing to give a profound and heartfelt apology for the terrible manner in which the passenger had been treated on a United plane the CEO stoked fear. He did not appear to understand or to respond to the fact that relationships between United, its public, investors and actual and potential passengers were breaking down. His initial communication did not include an effective apology that would right these collapsing relationships. He did appreciate that passengers felt unsafe at the hands of United. Later attempts to correct the impression given were seen as too little and too late.

An example of a generally well-judged communication style that combined logic and emotional intelligence comes from Steve Jobs. Jobs appeared to completely understand the need to marry logos and pathos when sharing information with Apple’s market. His style was typically as calm, enthusiastic, and confident when launching high stake products as others might be in their living room. The author and Associate Professor of Management Garr Reynolds put it this way: “His style is conversational and his visuals are in perfect sync with his words. […] He is friendly, comfortable and confident (which makes others feel relaxed), and he exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm that is engaging without going over the top.” Sometimes this was no mean feat when the subject matter might have been a little dry!

In making the judgement call about the use of the hard data and the soft information, Blanes I Vidal and Moller (2007), call attention to the importance of the leader’s belief about the accuracy of the soft information available. When a leader strongly believes (and is self-confident about) her/his judgement about the available soft information she/he is more likely to share it and this, Vidal and Moller show, can increase the organisation’s surplus.

Conversely, Blanes I Vidal and Moller’s work suggests that information sharing can help to reduce the autocratic predisposition of self-confident leaders. Information sharing can help organisations to avoid overconfidence-driven courses of action. This happens because, when workers have access to information, for example about a possible merger, they are able to form opinions about its potential viability. Because this opinion affects their motivation, the leader can find themselves effectively constrained from pursuing courses of action that are unduly based on her/his ‘gut feeling’ or instincts.

This is not what is generally thought of when “the flow of honest feedback to the CEO” is being discussed but it can certainly be powerful.

References

Alkhafaji, A.F., 1997, Strategic Management: Formulation, Implementation and Control in a Dynamic Environment, New York: Haworth Press.

Blanes I Vidal, J., and M. Moller. 2007. “When Should Leaders Share Information with their Subordinates?” Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 16, pp. 251-283.

Planning Your First Three Months In A New Role

Congratulations on the new role!

This posting outlines our criteria for a quality new role transition plan. (We draw from “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins: a recommended read).

In this book Michael Watkins sets out five fundamental propositions:

1. Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.
2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure, and to ensure that they reach the break-even point faster.
3. The over-riding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility, and avoid getting caught in the vicious cycles that damage credibility. As a vicious cycle takes hold, the organisation’s immune system gets activated and the new leader is attacked by clumps of ‘killer cells’, encapsulated, and finally expelled; it’s not nice, and it can get messy.
4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly. They are an indispensable development experience for every company’s high-potential leaders.
5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organisations.

In planning your transition and your first three months (100 days or so) in role the aim is to avoid the “triple dip effect” where the appointment of a new leader results in a decline in direct report’s performance, engagement and intention to stay. Corporate Leadership Council research dating back a number of years shows that, where a new appointee is transitioned smoothly into their new role this can be avoided and that where this does not happen the negative impacts on staff performance, engagement and intention to stay are both clear and damaging.

A well balanced transition plan should assist you in five main areas:

1. To gain deeper knowledge of the new portfolio – most especially to gain a realistic and informed appreciation about any present gap between the stated strategies of the new teams you will be responsible for and the current operational realities or de facto strategies. This will involve you in getting to grips with both initial perceptions and the underlying reality – which is, as you know, usually more complex and subtle than you might at first imagine!

At the end of your first one hundred days or three months, you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the long and the short term goals, plans and budgets associated with your new role?
  • How are business goals and strategies and individual manager’s goals aligned?
  • How do current performance levels compare against these plans? (Pay particular attention to who knows and who does not know the answer to this type of question).
  • Why are the time-frames for achievement set in the way they are? Who set them?
  • What are the relationships with internal clients and external partners like? How do we know?

2. To accept and deal with the real capabilities of the organisation and the people. Like all organisations, your new people’s capabilities will, indeed, vary. As a leader you have probably been brought in to change something. Some of your managers may relish change – but this is not universally true.

Within those first three months you will want to be able to answer the following questions with some confidence:

  • What are the key success factors for all the operations in my new role?
  • How much time will I need to understand [fill in the gap here] before I make change plans?
  • What are the stated and un-stated processes, accountabilities and systems?
  • Were there any “landmines” built into prior decisions and why?
  • What is the true depth of difficulty in [any under-performing] group?
  • What individuals hold real power?
  • What are the real lines of authority?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leadership and/or management team? Are both acknowledged by the members?
  • What is the actual role of [high profile leadership teams]?
  • What is the actual experience and professionalism of my people and people over whom I now have influence?
  • Do formal job responsibilities exist? Why? Why not?
  • What are the management philosophies here?
  • Is there real (or simply imagined!) alignment between these philosophies and the way that leaders/managers are rewarded?
  • How much emphasis is placed on managerial consensus? Why? Why not?
  • What resources are there outside the formal network that are contributing to the goals? How can they be brought into the network?
  • How will I strengthen and secure the leadership of my team to achieve agreed goals?

3. To discover and prioritise multiple expectations. Deeper investigation of many complex organisations tends to leave the impression that they are not adept at prioritising and often appear to wear out their key resources – often including, but not just, people – because the difficult choices have not been made. New-in-post leaders frequently “see” this very clearly. It is a very valuable “newcomer’s insight” but it can negatively impact your morale if you are not prepared for this experience. This is an area where a competent coach, mentor or buddy can make a real difference to your experience.

4. To navigate political waters and establish alliances with the right people. This is often seen as the most difficult challenge. An experienced mentor can help you to make sense of the subtle power plays that really are at work, often just under the surface. A key question for you may be: Do I have enough of the support I need?

5. To set an agenda for action that has buy in and generates a sense of urgency. In this area you need to first make use of your people skills. Your transition plan should enable you to make substantial connections with key people and from there to begin building out your network. Sources within this network will provide the data, information and commentary that you need to begin constructing an agenda for action.

Stakeholders In Your Transition (or “behind every successful transition lies an effective support network”)
The individuals surrounding you can serve as powerful sources of support and development during the transition process (and beyond). HR, with the support of your manager/s and, sometimes, the outgoing leader have an enormous opportunity to get even greater leverage out of these often overlooked existing assets.

From Flexible, Reactive Guidance to Intense, Focused Assistance
Many leaders succeed, in large part, to the extent that their support networks become active participants, rather than passive observers in their transition process. Each group in the leaders’ support networks plays a unique, yet complementary role in ensuring their transitions are as smooth as possible. An implication of this is that HR need to provide stakeholders with the transition support tools and resources that enable them to shift from reactive, passive observers to proactive, focused participants.

Fast Starts Do Not Happen in the Absence of Gentle Exits
High performing new-to-role leaders hit the ground running when their previous managers and their new managers work together to prepare leaders for their new roles and carefully orchestrate a smooth hand-off of responsibilities. This will be critical for you.

Need tailored support to plan your own or another leader’s transition? Contact √itas Consult.

Develop Your Career With Branding Practices

Brand differentiation is usually taken to mean ‘setting your product apart from its competitors as a basis for preference’. In career development it is certainly useful to know about overall leadership strengths and weaknesses as this influences the access the individual has to career opportunities. However, at leadership level access to career opportunities may be somewhat determined by a subtle combination of leadership capabilities with certain significant career competences that we may dub the “three knows”:Three Knows

Know how competences concern job related knowledge and work related skills that are reflected in employee, team or business unit performance. Know why competences are seen in the way in which leaders (and others) understand their own motivation and are able to identify with organisational goals. Know whom competences are about networking both within and outside the organisation.

Leaders with these “three knows” stashed in their toolkit are unlikely – especially in today’s changing organisations – to rely over much on career pathways. They are more likely to see career development as a network of ‘crazy paving’ that they lay themselves. They are also likely to recognise that career paths are increasingly likely to be diverted and interrupted and that their own career development may be facilitated by lateral and other moves. Leaders who are adept at managing their own careers also tend to recognise that learning and career development can occur at any age and career stage and that access to opportunities is influenced by family, personal and community roles and can be facilitated by work outside paid employment.

The way you present yourself to your employers, both current and future, plays a crucial part in career success and satisfaction. If you get it right, it can enhance your profile at work, helping you to win interesting projects, promotions and the respect of your colleagues. It will also increase your chances of being the successful candidate at job interviews or attracting clients to your business if you’re self-employed.

Open Learn provides free online learning from the Open University and their course, Personal branding for career success, will help you to pick your way through the concept of personal branding, developing and refining your own brand, and choosing tools and tactics that allow you to present yourself to current and future employers in an authentic and effective way.

You’ll consider your own values and strengths, identify the key skills employers’ look for and learn how to present and evidence those skills appropriately, whether you want to raise your profile with your current employer or are looking for something new. Presenting yourself online and in person brings different challenges and you’ll look at a variety of platforms and approaches in more detail.