Christmas wishes from Sue Thomas, Director at Career Evolution

I don’t know about you, but I am certainly looking forward to a well-earned rest this Christmas, and I know I am not alone in being eager to leave 2020 behind.

However, even with the potential easing of some restrictions, this Christmas will be far from normal for many of us. Despite the constant reminders of the ongoing pandemic and things like self-isolation and ‘bubbles’ impacting on our ability to get together with friends and family, there have been plenty of bright spots, as well as inspirational stories of kindness and perseverance throughout this time.

Over the last nine months we have seen, heard and probably been involved with some of these. From people taking to their doorsteps and gardens to #ClapforCarers every Thursday evening throughout the first UK-wide lockdown, to 100 year-old Captain (now Sir) Tom’s incredible fund-raising, walking laps of his garden – and raising millions in the process – to support front-line workers. And of course, all the everyday acts of selflessness of people looking after each other, even from afar, has certainly made this year one to remember beyond its darkest times.

So, as I complete my last meetings of the year and tidy my desk ready to start afresh in 2021, I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and send you the sincerest wish that things will improve throughout 2021. I look forward to celebrating a return to a more stable way of life soon.

Seasons Greetings!

Looking back – what we’ve learnt in 2020

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We all know that this year has been unlike any other. It has been an incredibly tough year. All of us have faced different challenges with regards to providing for – and protecting – ourselves and our loved ones, whilst adapting to circumstances beyond our control.

However, if we can take anything positive from this year, it’s the things that we have learnt in terms of defining a better workplace for the future.

As 2020 thankfully draws to a close, here are some of my key take-aways from this year, which I would like to see continue into the new year and beyond:

We can work anywhere

For many of us, the traditional 9-5 office hours may be a thing of the past. With many companies forced to close their doors this year, workforces have had to adapt to working from home. From new tech and ergonomic workstations delivered to our door, to managing our home life around online meetings and deadlines, we have shown that we don’t have to be based in an office to get the job done. Only time will tell as to whether this ‘new normal’ will be a continuing code of practice for companies across the UK.

Adapting to new technologies

A year ago, some of us may have run a mile from having to take part in a video call or conference. Now, this is one of the easiest ways to create virtual face-to-face meetings and catch-ups. We’ve all had to get to grips with Zoom, Teams, or a hundred other software tools to stay connected with colleagues, customers and clients (as well as friends and family). With no end yet in sight to working from home for many of us, it’ll be fascinating to see what new forms of technology will be created and adapted to suit a largely home-based workforce.

The importance of valuing staff

With a greater emphasis on flexibility to accommodate a work life based at home, it’s never been more important to make staff feel valued. I have heard of, seen and experienced an increased level of kindness, tolerance and understanding between people, colleagues and their managers and CEOs. This is particularly true around accommodating people’s personal circumstances and family commitments during these uncertain and difficult times, and I hope that this always continues.

Whatever challenges the next year brings for us, if you or members of your team need assistance with tips on building resilience in the face of continued uncertainty and changing circumstances, get in touch to see how we can help.

Forks in the road

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It’s important at key stages in any career to identify forks in the road. These are times when the paths open to you can take your career on vastly divergent routes that can affect your future in a multitude of ways. Key forks in any road usually occur in transitional periods and can be of your own making, or can be imposed on you, as is the case for many people currently. How you deal with change and make the most of these periods will be down to your own skill and dexterity. Career Evolution can equip you with the tools that will help you get the most out of the situation and steer you on the road to a successful career.

Look for opportunity

Rather than being daunted by transitional periods, see them as a time when your options open up to you. Use them as opportunities to assess your own happiness and wellbeing, and to picture what your ideal or dream job looks like. If you have been working in the same role for a lengthy period, you may be becoming frustrated by the job. This may be especially crucial if there is little room for advancement, or for your own personal development. For many people, their ideal role will be one that will give them the most gratification. It’s useful to think of periods when you felt as though your job was really making a difference, that made you proud of what you had achieved and genuinely enthusiastic in your work environment. These are aspects that you’d like to experience on a regular, day-to-day basis.

Make a change

But just because you have been working in a certain role, don’t be constrained by the parameters of that role. And don’t simply look at exact matches for your skills, with an identical ‘job title’ match to your existing one. Look at how transferable your skills are between sectors.  This is your chance to assess what things matter most to you about your job. Do you waste time on a long commute and does it eat into both your own time and your own money? Are these factors to you in choosing a job, as well as the job itself? And would you be prepared to shoulder a reduction in salary to boost benefits to you in other ways?

These are questions you need to answer honestly when you are looking at your options at any career juncture.  In such times of transition, it’s useful to consult with career experts and coaches, to receive strong and impartial advice on which path to take.

Second time around – the second interview

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Congratulations. You have been invited back for a second interview. This is excellent news, but don’t forget, there are likely to be other candidates still in the frame so there is no guarantee you will secure a job offer at the end of it. Careful preparation now is just as important as it was for the first interview. You have got your foot in the door, now you need to convince the company that you are a perfect fit for the role on offer.

First things first

Make sure you find out who will be conducting the interview. It may not be the same person you met at the first interview. It might even involve a panel interview or an introduction to other team members, including your potential line manager. If you can find out the names of your interviewers in advance, then you can do a little research on them via LinkedIn. This should inform you about their particular areas of interest and help you prepare for the kind of questions they may ask you.

Review and improve

Look back at the notes you made after your first interview. What could you have done better? What questions did you struggle to answer? Make sure you rehearse these answers again as they may well be re-visited the second time around. Go over your CV with a fine toothcomb, making sure you can talk knowledgeably about every detail on it.

Time to shine

Sell yourself and don’t hold back. Provide lots of examples of what you have accomplished in previous roles that relate to this position. This is your chance to convince everyone in the room that you are the perfect candidate for the business and the role.

Doing things differently

Whereas, prior to the pandemic you might have been offered a tour of the facility, now it’s perfectly feasible that your second interview will be carried out remotely.  This still gives you the opportunity to ask lots of questions and you should still be able to find out if the business environment is right for you.

At the end of the interview make sure you ask when they are likely to be making a decision. This gives you a timeframe of when you can realistically expect to hear back. There is always a chance you may be offered a job then and there. Don’t feel under pressure to make an instant decision. Ask for some time to consider the offer properly and let the interviewer know when you will respond.

Developing the confidence to face uncertainty

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible”: Dame Margaret Drabble

The dark, winter nights are truly upon us and we continue to face uncertainty in both our business and personal lives. However, although we cannot change the current situation, we can change the way we deal with it. Supporting your key executives to reach their full potential now, can help your business thrive in the long term.

It is particularly important, with so much of the UK workforce working from home, that managers know how to manage effectively. Micro-management must (fortunately) become a thing of the past. Leaders need to facilitate their teams to take greater ownership and responsibility for their work.

Coaching, either individually or in teams, can help provide the skill base and knowledge – and perhaps more importantly, the confidence – that will enable good managers to become great. This in turn, will help your entire teams become more productive and motivated – whether they are based from home or within the business’ premises.

As businesses continue to travel unchartered territory, having an established coaching programme in place is essential. A good programme addresses the needs of the business and the individuals involved. Get this right, and it will help everyone succeed, regardless of what happens next on the journey.

If you would like to find out more about how a coaching programme can benefit your executive team and your business, please contact Career Evolution to see how we can help you.

Be Prepared, Stay Prepared

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No one can fully predict what the future holds, and 2020 is certainly testimony to that! Despite the unforeseen challenges, you should never underestimate the power of forward planning. Many factors feed into our career progressions and several are completely out of our control. But the planning you can do is worth your time and effort, as it can pay dividends in the long run. Look at where you can make your own future steps and map out a career path that takes you to a place where you can picture yourself being successful and happy.

2020 vision

Positive forward planning is something that so many people take for granted. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but how many of us really look at our business, our staff and ourselves, and plan for the long-term. On a personal level, staff can plan ahead in terms of keeping their network of contacts up-to-date.

Knowledge is power

Networking and membership of professional bodies are both good ways of maintaining an air of preparation for the unexpected. Ensuring qualifications and work practices are as current as they can be is also key to smooth career progression. While our movements are restricted, look out for online seminars and conferences that might be relevant. Look at and plan what you need to make yourself an attractive candidate, either for new positions or promotions.  Attend networking events (online or in person), even when you don’t need to, to keep your hand in. Maintaining an updated CV is another good way to forward plan and not get left in the lurch when an appropriate resume is suddenly required. By tracking career achievements in real time, it’s much easier not to make omissions while the details are fresh in your mind.

Keep it social

If you use social media in your working life, such as LinkedIn, be consistent in your ‘message’ across all platforms. This will make sure you have one ‘online persona’, not several outdated ones, floating around the ether. When planning out your career path, keeping alert is a vital part of the process. Look out for job opportunities and seek out as many new experiences and relevant contacts as possible. Absorb as much experience and knowledge, and hone and practice interview techniques too. Be ready for change, with a multitude of hypothetical scenarios – if this happens, then do that. All these aspects of your planning and self-scrutiny will enable you to better prepare you for transition and make sure you have a clear strategy for career advancement.

Breaking up needn’t be hard to do

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As an HR professional, one of the most difficult conversations you will encounter in your working life is when you have to make someone’s role redundant.  Unfortunately, in the current climate, this is something too many of us are having to do on a too frequent basis. Although people from a logical point of view can often ‘see it coming’, and maybe even understand the reasons, the emotional viewpoint its very different.  Initial reactions to the news can vary from anger through to shock and disbelief, as well as sadness and frustration.  These are all natural emotions and are to be expected.  However, what happens next will be very dependent on how the redundancy issue is handled.

Finding the positives

If handled badly, negative emotions can escalate. This can cause harm to the individual, their colleagues and potentially even the organisation.  However, this doesn’t have to be the case. It is possible to turn a negative situation into a positive outcome.  To increase the chances of a positive outcome, you need to take a host of things into consideration and make sure you plan your approach carefully.  This is essential, not only to comply with employment legislation, but also to provide a positive experience for the individual, which will reflect positively on the company.

Think about how the news is delivered. Is there a clear explanation for why the redundancy is necessary, the selection process, the avenues for appeal and the next steps?  Also think about where the news is delivered. Are you somewhere private, where both you and the individual can talk freely without being overheard or on show? With many people currently working remotely, it might be necessary to deliver the message virtually. Although necessary, this has the potential to make the conversation even more difficult.

Outplacement options

In addition, you also need to understand what the package you are offering is.  It needs to comply with certain criteria, to ensure you are handling the redundancy legally and fairly. However, it should be more than a box-ticking exercise.  Any employee facing redundancy would benefit from some level of outplacement. Group outplacement can even be available, where a larger number of staff are under consultation.  If the individual is at a more senior level, you might find it beneficial to offer them individual outplacement.

As a third party, an outplacement consultant can deflect some of the negative emotions. They can work with individuals to see the positive opportunities that redundancy can provide.  They can also offer invaluable advice about career opportunities that are out there.  Things like transferable skills can be identified and avenues not immediately obvious can be explored. If the ‘break up’ is handled well, all parties can benefit from the positive experience.

Playing the long game

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It’s a strange time to be looking for a new job. You may be on furlough, but wanted to change your career prior to lockdown and are trapped in an odd kind of limbo. Maybe you have just started a new job and are itching to meet your new colleagues and settle into the role. It may be you have been made redundant, as a result of the lockdown restrictions and industry changes that have been accelerated by a vastly changed economic climate. Or quite simply, you are ready to move on to your next challenge, perhaps in a new sector. Whatever your reasoning, employers are still hiring, and posts are still being advertised. However, a big shift now is that the timeframe between interview, job offer and sometimes even start date, is longer than ever before.

Worth its wait?

Interviews are being carried out almost exclusively via online platforms and over the telephone at the moment. Prospective employers will be able to get a sense of how you are in person, your mannerism, confidence and knowledge, but body language is difficult to read solely from the neck up.  After selection, the actual employment process seems to have become protracted, as remote working for many is a challenge when it comes to getting decisions finalised. The prolonged gap may become unnerving. Remember, even if you have a concrete offer of a job, it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. It’s useful to keep networking throughout the ongoing process, as a precaution against any changes in the employer’s decision. Sadly, it’s not unheard of under the present situation for job offers to be withdrawn due to unforeseen circumstances.

Dealing with uncertainty

The security of a firm job offer was once thought to be diecast. However, present times are giving employers a great deal of headroom if they need to change their strategy – and their minds. Unfortunately, there’s little argument when someone describes these days as ‘unprecedented’. So remember, even if you thought you had a new job to go to, that post may no longer exist on the other side of lockdown. It’s very important not to rest on your laurels. Keep networking throughout the process. It can be a little soul-destroying waiting to hear from prospective employers – even to secure an interview, let alone a start date – but it’s important to remember it’s more about the current economic climate than anything personal. It makes sense, however, to continue to network and maintain those ongoing relationships, even when your job is secure, or an offer secured.

Be proactive

For some people, the cumulative effect of working remotely is by now wearing pretty thin. So the thought of starting virtual networking, via Zoom, Teams or other platforms, may not be top of your to-do list. But it is still important that you stay connected with your colleagues and make new connections beyond your current ones. It’s not just your own wellbeing to consider – not everyone has a strong network or family or friends to rely on in these solitary, confined times. Some people will benefit in ways beyond simply ‘networking’. For example, it can help preserve mental health, by talking to people in similar situations.

While you are waiting to start your new job, it also ensures that you haven’t burned any bridges by dropping off the radar, should you need to resume your job hunt at a later date. It makes sense to be proactive in such uncertain times. If you’re not working in an office environment, it also provides that interaction that may prove invaluable in the long-term.

More than words – non-verbal communication

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In preparing for an interview, various different aspects of your ‘presentation’ will need to be addressed. Your appearance matters a great deal and also having the right look and tone for the company you would like to work with. Research the firm and find out what the company’s dress code is – if they have one – or what would be suitable if not. Staff profile photographs are usually a good indicator of how the company likes to present its staff to the wider world. Some office-based companies are still business suit/shirt and tie types of places. But more and more smart-casual is now acceptable in most workspaces – or pyjamas and slippers, if you’re working from home. It’s not just what have you say in your interview answers – although that will need to be pertinent and knowledgeable – but also how you deliver it.

Speaking volumes

No, we’re not talking about audio books. When it comes to interviews, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. In addition to your outward appearance, your demeanour will also make a considerable impression in an interview. It’s not only the words you use, but also your tone of voice and your non-verbal communication, such as your posture. Spoken words are only 7% of the impact you make. Your non-verbal communication makes up the other 93%. This is divided between verbal (38%) and non-verbal (55%). The latter is a huge percentage, as so much of how we act defines who we are.

In most instances and situations – going into a shop to buy something, for example, or exchanging pleasantries on the street – our behaviours are normal and relaxed. But the added pressure of being in an interview can accentuate mannerisms, and what wouldn’t be noticed in everyday life becomes heightened, or even exaggerated, in the interview set-up. This can be particularly noticeable if you are fidgety, or gesticulate a lot when you speak to an unfamiliar audience when you become tense.

Build and strengthen confidence

Listen to the questions and answer them fully. Don’t try to crowbar a readymade answer in reply to an unrelated question. Try to find where points you’d like to make can be included, but also think on your feet and use your intuition, to appear yourself. If you tend to speak more quickly when you become nervous, try to address this. Practice speaking slowly, rehearse your responses to commonly-asked interview questions and generally hone your persona to become an interview-and-nerves-proof version of you. Be clear and coherent and the overall message will come across and be easy to understand.

Make sure not to talk yourself up cul-de-sacs and lose your train of thought. You need to ‘know your stuff’, but you also need to portray the right image for the job you are applying for. Practice of course makes perfect, so the more rehearsals you can have – using friends and colleagues as interviewer stand-ins – the more ‘unrehearsed’ your actual presentation will be when it comes to the real thing.  If you think your presentation may benefit from some professional support, our full outplacement programme includes support on this as part of the package. Our coaches can provide the experience and guidance you need to improve your confidence and presence, to ensure your non-verbal communication matches your suitability and skills.

Settling into your new role

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Congratulations, you’ve made a great impression in the interview and you’ve secured your new job.

But now the hard work starts all over again, as the first few weeks of your job will involve settling in. Things are a little different at the moment, as some offices are open, some not. The standard induction that many new employees may undergo might not be happening, or be happening remotely.

New employees will still have to get to grips with their new roles, even if it involves working from home. If you don’t meet your new co-workers in person, you’ll still be introduced to them online. Some meetings are even taking place in person now, so you may find you have more normality in your new role than you expected. Even in these usual times, you can still make an impression in your new company. Here’s some recommendations to make your first 100 days work for you.

New role goals

Make sure you schedule a meeting with your boss early on and agree on what your performance goals for the first year should be. These should be SMART and diarise a three-month review of these objectives. The meeting can be remote or in person, but is an essentially part of mapping out where you and they see your role and your part in the company. Identifiable parameters will ensure everyone’s on the same page and pulling in the same direction, towards an achievable goal.

Strengthen skills

Don’t be too hard on yourself or expect results and acknowledgement right away. Reward yourself at the end of the first day and at the end of your first week. Reassure yourself you are doing well. Feedback may not be immediately forthcoming and it may take longer – especially at the moment – to receive positive praise. Set yourself some professional development SMART goals. Identify your training requirements and select a variety of online and offline learning opportunities throughout your first year. Make good use of your time and look for facets of your skillset you can strengthen.

Remember to update your LinkedIn profile to include your latest news. Get in touch with anyone who helped you in your job hunting and let them know about your new role. Also, join any new social media groups that are now relevant to you. You have a new job now, but don’t neglect your ongoing career development too.

Learn and absorb

Familiarise yourself with every aspect of your new company. Read newsletters and annual reports, and spend time looking at its website. Absorb their world and become part of it, by setting up things such as Google Alerts, which will make you aware of any developments at your organisation and within the wider sector, which may be a new sector to you. Find yourself a mentor – either within the organisation or outside it –  and as soon as you can set up your first one-to-one. A mentor can be very useful in guiding you in the company ethos and honing your skills to become an even better fit for the company. Learning from a mentor adds much to the experience of working at a company, as they will have a great deal of specialist knowledge and a wealth of information that will be useful in your new role.

Pace yourself

Don’t try to do too much instantaneously and expect everything to work first time. Set priorities for your first year and leave longer term planning for the next two or three terms. Don’t make changes for change’s sake, but do make notes and identify what you would like to improve. Perhaps there’s a workflow that you think could be managed better or automated further. Your fresh insights will be invaluable to your new company, but if it’s working, don’t try to change it. Make sure you are tactful in your approach when it comes to making any tweaks. The last thing you want is to put anyone’s nose out of joint. By pacing yourself, you can get a feel for the company’s ethos and its ‘personality’, so changes you make will fit well, whilst improving efficiency and productivity.