Company reorganisation leads to an appetite for change

With a 25-year background in the protein food industry, Peter Allan found his Regional Managing Director role was made redundant last May following a company reorganisation.  As part of his redundancy package, Peter’s former employers offered him outplacement support via Career Evolution.

Job hunting during a pandemic

Peter explains: “Having been with the company a long time, the decision to restructure did not come as a shock. Once the dust had settled, my key focus was to find a new role.  I was pleased to accept the outplacement support, as I knew the job market would be difficult in the current environment, particularly for the type and level of role I wanted to secure.”

Career Evolution worked with Peter to ensure that his CV was more specific and purposeful, and that his LinkedIn profile reflected the tone of his CV. With so many years in the food industry, Peter already had a well-developed, global network. However, he needed to decide on what he wanted from his next position.

Identifying what’s important

Peter found the support of Career Evolution extremely positive. He said: “Career Evolution encouraged me to really think about the sector and type of role I was looking for. Director Sue Thomas also provided me with introductions and contacts with senior people in other industries, as I had identified that my new role didn’t need to be sector-specific, but rather, there were various elements that were imperative. I wanted to work for a values-based business and thrive through leading a good team of people.

“Career Evolution also helped me prepare for interviewing via Zoom, which adds a whole new element to the interviewing process.”

After exploring a number of options, including NED positions, Peter was ultimately offered the role of Managing Director for Billington Food, part of the Billington Group at the end of last year and started in his new job in January 2021. It is an ethical, values-based, family-owned business with a good customer base and Peter is excited about the opportunities to develop the business further.

Keeping on track

He concluded: “Possibly one of the most important aspects of the support from Career Evolution was the accountability and reassurance that the team provided. I worked hard developing my network and researching and contacting companies but having someone there to motivate me and sense check my action helped keep me on track.”

Good connections lead to a brighter future with Esure

At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, Gill Swindlehurst, like many others began working from home and later, as the pandemic continued, was furloughed.  Having only been in her insurance role since January, with the ongoing disruptions to daily life, she took the short-term decision to become the primary carer and home-schooler for her two young children and in May 2020 left her job.

Following a fortuitous introduction to outplacement specialists Career Evolution, via one of her husband’s HR networking groups, Gill started working with Sue Thomas, Director at Career Evolution. Sue helped her update her CV and advised her on the best approach to securing her next role.

Highlighting achievements

Gill explains: “Sue spent invaluable time, over Zoom, talking to me about what I wanted from my next role and looking at how I could develop my CV to position myself in the best possible way.  Sue got me to think about what I had already achieved in my professional life, with a focus on the most recent role I had held, and how that had contributed to the business’ bottom line.”

Star performance

Working in this collaborative way, Gill developed and revised her CV to make it punchy and to the point, using the STAR technique – looking at Situation, Task, Action, Results – to highlight competency examples. She also ensured that she was sending consistent messages through her LinkedIn profile and other online platforms, and that she was easy to find and contact.  The other fundamental piece of advice Sue shared, was for Gill to reach out to her professional network and make sure that they knew that she was looking for a new opportunity.

Gill continued: “The positive response I received from my network was amazing and an ex-colleague of mine put me in touch with the Claims Manager at Esure. I sent him my CV, and he contacted me, and we arranged to have a coffee via Zoom.  The benefit of having invested time on my CV, ensured that I was comfortable talking about my previous successes and that I had a strong framework to refer to during our call.”

Gill’s ‘interview’ and her CV ensured that she stood out. Gill was offered a newly created position as Claims Delivery Manager, responsible for change and improvements within the Esure Claims team.  Starting in November 2020, the position was originally a six-month placement, which has since been extended to May 2022.

Network strength

Talking about her experience of job hunting during a pandemic, Gill commented: “The advice Sue gave me made such a difference.  From updating my CV and personal statement, through to examining what I actually wanted from my next role, all had a huge impact on my approach and confidence.  However, possibly key was contacting my professional network, and the strength of the response from them was overwhelming.”

The power of connections

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One thing we’ve learned in the last few months is how interconnected everything can become. From our family and friends, to our work, our shopping and our hobbies. We have managed to continue to keep in contact with these aspects of our lives, even in the remoteness of isolation. There’s something really positive about a world that allows this to happen and the fact that these connections are what make up who we are – and also help keep us sane.

Changing times

Once upon a time, people would have looked at you askance if you’d said home delivery of groceries would make a comeback. Years ago, especially in rural villages, a van would often ‘do the rounds’, selling essentials like bread and other goods from outside your own home. The rise of supermarkets put paid to those ventures. Now, the supermarkets themselves are offering home delivery. The same is true of working from home. Who would have thought that it would have been possible to have almost an entire office-based population working from home? But that’s what’s happened and we’ve all got used to it. For many though, the physical isolation has taken its toll and staying connected offers positive reminders that there is still a world outside your front door.

Wired up to the network

The working from home policy has sped-up how interconnected we all are. Those who didn’t have a decent internet connection, or had never used online meeting platforms such as Teams and Zoom, are well versed by now. It’s become an even more vital part of our lives in other ways too. The impact increased connectivity has had has resulted in other benefits growing out of it – such as home entertainment and socialising. Business aspects such as exhibitions, job interviews, training and mentoring have all moved online for the time being. Technology and connectivity have ensured that these things – a job search, a training course – have been able to continue. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The way has been made so much easier thanks to the internet and digital technology.

Positively connected

From my own experience during lockdown, I have found there’s been a real sense of collaboration and kindness. I joined HR Manchester Connect at the start of lockdown. Its members comprise of professionals working in the Human Resources sector. This has been one of the areas most affected by lockdown, working from home, furlough and the uncertainty the job market has endured. The organisation has developed into an amazing support network of friends and connections. This is all the more incredible as I haven’t met the people in person, only virtually though my laptop screen. Over the last 12 months, we have all supported each other, both personally and professionally. This is so heartening in these uncertain times. I do hope that this positive ethos continues after the crisis has passed and we can meet in person.

Going the extra mile

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One of the strange by-products of being under lockdown for long periods of the last 12 months is how divisive depictions of the outside world have become. Our biggest contact with the wider world is of course the media. But there is a ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide on almost every aspect of reporting at the moment. From politics, generational differences and the Royal Family, to where you should go on holiday – home or abroad, when home for some people literally means ‘at home’.

But what can so often be forgotten at the moment is simple kindness. The kindness of going that extra mile and beyond the call of duty. To make sure of others’ mental and physical wellbeing. The impact the national lockdowns, the lack of social interaction, the lessening of physical contact and the ongoing work from home policy, has left many people feeling isolated. Even if they have large extended families or wide circles of friends, the ability to meet up with them has been taken away. Even within your own household activity is limited. You may not want to go out for a meal, or a clothes’ shopping spree,. However, it would be nice to at least have the option. And work from home is wearing thin for some now. As for many, their dining room table continues its dual role as eatery and office – taking eating ‘al desco’ to an entirely new level.

A duty of care

What we’ve found at Career Evolution is that we’ve been more in contact than normal with our clients. Checking in with them regularly. Our Consultants and Coaches always aim to build up a strong and continuing relationship with their clients during their time together. But we’re finding that it‘s simple things like asking for an update on progress – if they are undergoing the outplacement process – or getting updates in their job search or career progression, that have really been appreciated.

We have found this extra commitment, for example, checking in with clients after they have been in their new roles for three months, to ensure they’ve settled in, makes a big difference. We’ve also found that it’s happened naturally, as opposed to being something that was premeditated. Also, all our clients know that they can keep in touch with us, even after they have secured their new role. That ongoing contact enables us to address any concerns our clients may have or allow us to apply reassurance and ongoing guidance where necessary.

Whether it’s checking in with your next-door neighbour, contacting a colleague to say ‘hello’ or following up on a client’s progress and feedback following a job interview, try to find the time to make sure they’re okay. You have no idea how much some people will appreciate it.

Informally speaking

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Even in lockdown, job searches can still being carried out, fresh contacts made and new opportunities pursued. Often doors open in the most unusual circumstances, in the most unexpected ways. Sometimes it’s a call for an ‘informal chat’, but don’t be fooled. Go in with both eyes open. Even the most informal chat requires a degree of presentation and preparation.

Same rules apply

Over the last 12 months, many aspects of business have changed dramatically. With offices largely deserted and people working remotely, things like the daily commute have become consigned to the past for now. With that has come a degree of complacency on the part of some people, who have seen their ‘work’ and ‘home’ life blur into one.

However, for some companies this remote working has been business as usual. If operatives are working in a variety of countries already, they are used to working via Zoom and Teams (other conferencing platforms are available). People are already working for companies that are based around the globe, in different time zones, with meetings taking place at all hours of the day to accommodate all attendees. What shouldn’t be forgotten at this time, however, is a consistent level of professionalism that should be maintained, even in the most ‘informal’ business situations.

Don’t knock opportunity

Imagine that through an online networking event, or a business forum such as LinkedIn, you have had an invite for an ‘informal chat’ about potential opportunities for working together. This could be from a senior person in the company. But the chat is being conducted via Zoom, so the minimum effort on your part is required, right? There’s no getting smartened up, working out travel times to the office, arriving on time for the meeting or interview. No prep at all. All you have to do is show up at your own dining room table.

However, even if there isn’t a role currently available for you at the company, you could use this opportunity of being in front of a senior person at a company you’d like to work for, to make a good impression. Our advice to our clients at Career Evolution is that there’s no such thing as an informal chat. These are busy people, who don’t give up their time freely when they don’t have to. If they want to talk to you, it’s because they’re seeing value in you.

Keeping up appearances

This means you have to dress, act and prepare for a formal interview.  Don’t be caught unaware just for the sake of putting some smart/casual clothes on and doing some preparation. Research the company and its people. Look at how it presents itself online and in the media. Determine what they do and how you could have a positive impact at the company. Give it some thought beforehand.

That extra bit of effort on your part – visually and mentally – will combine to create the right impression of you as a potential work colleague, however informal the invitation to ‘chat’ may seem to be.

The etiquette of online meetings

In the past year we’ve become very used to seeing Zoom, Teams and other platforms in all kinds of places. Many of us have been using them for meetings, presentations and interviews, or even just to catch up with friends and family. They have become ubiquitous in all sorts of media too. On TV we’ve seen them being used on everything from news interviews, to the nightly round-up of tomorrow’s papers. We’ve even seen supporters watching football matches remotely – as screens become a chessboard of small faces. They’ve also been used for podcasts and other online forums and have allowed people to ‘see’ each other, albeit remotely.

Screening calls

Not everyone is comfortable with the format however. Some find it too informal, intrusive even, to have a camera trained on them in the privacy of their own home. As offices struggle to get staff back to work, due to the ongoing restrictions put in place by the UK government, work from home continues to be the most likely scenario for the foreseeable future. This is particularly true for larger office complexes.  But what are the rules when it comes to onscreen etiquette?

There’s some basic no-no’s from the off, like don’t Zoom and drive. But there are many layers to carrying out successful, worthwhile Zoom calls that will be beneficial to all participants. If you’re uncomfortable with the visual aspect – or your IT isn’t up to it – is it okay to not have the camera on and just use the format as audio-only? If you’re happier with that, then why not, but you might find its better received if you explain that is what you are going to do. Some people seem to take umbrage if they’re onscreen and you’re not.

Sound and silence

To minimise background noise, it’s best to mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. This will stop any extraneous noise (a door slamming, a child shouting, a pet growling, the washing machine running) in your room activating your mic and causing you to ‘take the floor’ so to speak. Some software allows the coordinator of the meeting to automatically mute mics their end and introduce speakers as they are needed.

It’s probably best to buy a headset or a freestanding microphone, as the audio input quality on laptop speakers can be less than ideal. Some people use desktop webcams, but the camera in your laptop should suffice, if you’re not broadcasting to millions of people. Make sure it’s positioned properly though, so you don’t look as though you’re stuck down a mineshaft, or looking up out of a well.

Looking professional

Appearance-wise it’s also best to dress as though you were going to work. That Winnie the Pooh onesie isn’t going to present the right image as you pitch for a new client.  You may also have to stand up to retrieve something during the meeting.  You should always concentrate on what is being said and try and avoid external distractions, such as checking your phone, or watching the TV.

Nodding to acknowledge you’re listening and understanding what is being said is a good and won’t interrupt the speakers flow. If your meeting requires a contribution from you, outside of informal conversation, then prepare well beforehand and have notes to hand and prompts, should you need them. But avoid multitasking onscreen if you can help it. Don’t start playing with the printer, or trying to make a cup of coffee, while you’re supposed to be listening.

If it’s an interview or presentation, approach it with the same attention to detail you would as if it was in person. Make sure you have rehearsed what you would like to say and come across as confident and knowledgeable.

Online meetings hopefully won’t be the only answer in the long term, but for the moment it’s something we all need to use. You might as well get good at it!

Reach for the stars with your CV

If you are currently actively job hunting in this difficult climate, it is so important to do everything you can to position yourself as an attractive prospect to a potential employer.

Your CV is an opportunity to present yourself, your qualifications, work experience, skills, achievements and progress to potential employers.  There are many different layouts and designs and it is important you choose one that works for you. It is essential to ensure that you can demonstrate how your skills would benefit the company you are hoping to work for. One popular model that makes it easy for your potential employer to see how you would fit with their business is to draw up a STAR competency based CV, which looks at Situation, Task, Action and Result. This is how it works:

Situation

Give a short description of a situation you experienced.

Task

Explain what you had to do and what your specific role was.

Action

Describe what action you took, how you did it, what skills you had to demonstrate.

Result

Explain what happened, the impact it had, how successful it was and how you made a positive difference to ensure a successful outcome.

Points to remember

Don’t be too wordy. Use examples that are up to date and really relevant. Relate the task and action closely to the job description if you can. Make sure you cover the skills and qualities the company is looking for in the Action part. For maximum impact, it can work well to lead with your Results.

SWOT analysis: Time for a spot of self-analysis

As many of you will know, SWOT analysis (also known as the SWOT matrix) is a strategic planning tool. It is used in business to identify aspects of an individual, team or company.  The acronym spells out the key features that can affect outcomes and performance on any given project or strategic plan. They are STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES and THREATS. They have become a familiar and universal way to quickly identify and isolate these key areas. Then, through a discussion or analysis, a SWOT model can be quickly noted down and understood.

How can SWOT help you?

It’s an interesting exercise to apply the rudiments of SWOT to self-analysis, when you’re thinking about how your career is progressing, for example. It is also useful when choosing new paths or making important, career-related decisions.

Strengths are characteristics and assets that give you an edge over others

Weaknesses are those traits which could be seen as detrimental or need improving

Opportunities are aspects of your sector that you could make use of in your favour

Threats are areas that could cause uncertainty or turbulence for you.

Two sides of the same coin

Strengths and weakness are obviously flip sides of the same coin and can be easily identifiable. You’ll know what you are good at and where, if anywhere, you fall short. When thinking of your strengths, think about things such as your experience, education, qualifications and aspects of your job you’re particularly good at. These can be seen as skills that set you apart from the pack. You can also include achievements that you’re most proud of here too.  Weaknesses are often seen more by other people than acknowledged by yourself. It may be useful to ask others’ opinions on this one. Traits such as a lack of punctuality or organisation can be offset by your stronger suits, but there’s always room for improvement.

Identifying the opportunities

Opportunities are chances that come along that you could make greater use of in your career progression. These could be job opportunities, but also such aspects as new technologies and networking could fall under this heading too. Threats also need to be identified. They can be rival businesses or challenges you face at work – be they colleagues or technological change. One of the most prominent threats currently in business, apart from the obvious impact of the pandemic, is the way technological change is driving business development. Many traditional office roles are becoming obsolete. However, this can be overcome by retraining or looking at allied sectors, where your skills may be transferable.

Defining a clear direction

Categorising your work personality in this way, using SWOT data, will help to define your career path. It will also reveal where your true strengths and weaknesses lie. However, it’s not always easy to do this on your own.  At Career Evolution, we have a team of highly qualified and experienced Consultants and business Coaches that can work with you to turn problems into challenges, and challenges into opportunities.  So, if your business is investing in outplacement and you would like to find out more about how we can help you, visit www.career-evolution.org.

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.