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.

Straight talking

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It’s the age-old question that’s posed at interviews, in the hope of getting an honest answer – “So why did you leave your last job?”. It’s a favourite question of interviewers, because if you haven’t rehearsed an answer beforehand, it can really put you on the spot.

Quick thinking

If you’re unprepared, your answer can reveal a lot about your character. It can also show how you react under pressure. If you haven’t already given this response some thought, it will result in the following internal dialogue. “Oh”, your brain says, “why did I leave my l last job? Quick, don’t mention who you fell out with, come up with something plausible”. Your response is even trickier if you didn’t leave your last role voluntarily. However, honesty is always the best policy. It’s possible to be entirely truthful and yet strategic in your response. Under no circumstances lie in an interview. The risks of being found out far outweigh any possible benefit. Facts can easily be checked by contacting your former employer. With networking and social media and platforms such as LinkedIn, this is even easier to do these days.

Questions and answers

Answering strategically will put a positive spin on the situation, even if in reality the situation impacted you negatively. For example, if you were made redundant by your former employer, then explain that your job role was redundant due to restructuring or downsizing. Avoid an overtly emotional response. This may make you sound like a victim. Be sure to highlight your accomplishments in your former role. Don’t focus on how and why it came to an end, but on how excited you are by this new opportunity – and how it matches your skillset.

Don’t allow yourself to be led into saying anything detrimental about your former employer. Industries are often quite small and you may quite unknowingly be speaking to one of their friends or acquaintances – if not in person, then maybe online. Speaking negatively about a place you used to work comes across as unprofessional. This is not going to show you in a good light in front of your potential employer.

Positive activity

When you have been unemployed long term, try not to sound defensive about it. Focus on the positive activity you have undertaken during your unemployment. This could be voluntary work, freelancing or temping – and the experience you have gained from this interim period. If you have moved around a great deal, changing roles frequently after just a few months, make sure you present each move as a positive one for you career-wise. Alarm bells might ring if employers see too many jobs on your CV in a short period of time. If an explanation is required, concentrate on the positives gained from each role. If you have moved between industries, make sure you have good reasoning prepared that reflects well on you.

As always, practice makes perfect. Practising your responses to particularly tricky questions will mean your answers don’t come over as hurried or panicky. You need your answers to be confident and relaxed, to reassure your potential employer that you’re just the candidate they’re looking for. Recruit a friend to help you, practise using online platforms such as Zoom or Teams. Or even rehearse in front of a mirror – it can be a great help in building your confidence before the real thing.