Category Archives: Individual development

A Little on the Side: How a Side Project Can Re-ignite Your Love of Work

If you read my LinkedIn profile summary, you’ll see I try to do lots of things. I’m definitely not alone in this: and more is not better! It’s hard to summarise your working life (anyone who has tried to write their resume after a break of 10 years knows this very well!) and it always ends up being a reductive process, but what you’ll see is that I’m involved in a few different businesses (career development, risk and compliance, corporate communications, leadership and culture), as well as working in the community sector. Each can be challenging (even incredibly difficult) at times – and I need it to be like this for my own mental health. I’ve got an anxious mind and I dig myself into a hole very quickly by focusing on too little a range of things. So I find this way of working deeply rewarding. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly the right way for me. How did I get here? And why does it work for me?

Part of the answer for me is the concept of “Flow”. More on this below.

Soon after leaving school I came to realisation that I really didn’t have a clue about what to do with my life. It shouldn’t have been a surprise – like a lot of people, my final year at school involved many, many things different pursuits and interests – study, sport, drama, art, cadets – you name it. And I loved it! Not all the time, but I really did genuinely love nearly all of it. And it was mostly the variety that I loved. If I was struggling with getting motivated to study, there was always the relief of art classes – if one part of it was getting me down, there was always something else to take my mind off it and provide some perspective and relief. When I left, all that was gone with nothing to replace it without my own effort. It took me many years of frustration to realise that I couldn’t just wait for the conditions at school to happen again, that I needed to create those conditions for myself.

After a lot of thinking, trying, failing and struggling, that’s what I did. I thought very deeply about the work that really absorbed me. Not just what sort of work I tolerated, but the work that I could do happily in downtime as well as work time. To put it all into place (a lifetime process by the way that I work on all the time), I taught myself very basic web design, started a business, then started another, then became an associate of another, then helped start another. I also – and I think this is really important – didn’t turn my back on my training as a lawyer. Now I just use these skills in a way that gets me out of bed (rather than fills me with dread!). Not all of these things make a lot of money and the work in each is not glamorous. But that’s not the point – being interested, engaged and motivated by my work is the aim – to me, all the trappings – cars, houses, boats etc – is fluff.

The thing that binds all these strands together is that they all help people in some way. And they’re all fairly conceptual and cerebral. If you know me, that makes a lot of sense (and if you want a laugh, or become appalled very quickly, watch me try to do any handy work around the house). And I keep doing it because it helps me remain in flow.

What’s “Flow”? “Flow” is a mental state characterised by a feeling of absolute absorption and focus, as well as enjoyment. Many adults have had the feeling – perhaps in their youth – and are constantly searching for the same feeling again. 300px-challenge_vs_skill-svg *Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work (the Hungarian psychologist credited as being the originator of the flow concept), is applied by people across a lot of fields.  The above diagram is from his 1997 book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. 

At it’s heart, my purpose is to make the best use of my potential. Too many of us are miserable in our work – when for those looking outside in, there is a lot to be happy about. A nagging feeling that you are not quite doing what you should be doing is often the root of this unhappiness. This realisation is hard to get to and difficult to express, let alone do anything about. What works for me is talking it out – and, if you’re not feeling great, look back at when you felt really good. There are lessons there for what you really need right now. I like to think I’m an ethical kind of person. And I believe that maximising your potential is the best thing you can do for the world. It’s also a lot more fun!

Coming Home: Career Development Tips for Returning Expats

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Read on if:

  • You’ve ever contemplated going overseas for work (you might find the advice here useful)
  • You are currently working overseas but are pining for home (I feel for you!)
  • You’re back home after being overseas but are being challenged by what to do next

As a consultancy that helps people achieve their career aspirations, we come across plenty of people who are either yearning for the expat life, living it now, or have just left it and want to develop their career at home. Returning expats are a great untapped resource. At least, they are in Australia. While some people manage to land on their feet again in a job that’s a logical next step in their career, many take years to regain the career momentum they had when they left, and find their experience is just not recognised like it should be.

For some, the returning expat speed-humps aren’t a problem – you might be returning to a role in the same company but in a different place. Or you could be coming back from somewhere that is very similar to home. If not though, you’ll need to manage this transition so you can extract maximum career value from your time overseas.

Start early

If you are currently working overseas and now looking to return, start preparing now. Amidst all the work that needs to be done with packing up and selling/shipping your possessions, arranging flights, cancelling utilities, doing that last road trip, saying goodbye, most people forget something absolutely critical – you might think of it as your career development insurance. It’s not applying for a job – that can be a hard, but by no means impossible, task from overseas. And by all means apply for jobs! But I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

It’s setting yourself up so that you don’t look like a newly returned expat with no idea of how things work around here.

Look for lots of opportunities to localise your experience while you’re still away. How? Think carefully about the sorts of roles you would be going for next. What ways can you show an employer that you’ll be seamless fit back into your old home country? You could volunteer to write something for relevant industry publications for people in your sector at home. Network with people in your sector and let them know you are about to turn up again – let them fill you in on what’s happening. Read up on what is happening in your sector. Join groups specific to the area you are returning to and contribute to discussions.  You can do all these things remotely and – at least – it will help you adjust to the working world back at home.

Be humble

“Overseas” experience does not equal better experience. I occasionally come across expats wondering, “Why won’t people recognise me?” That’s like saying “I’m going out of business because my customers have no idea”. It’s not them, it’s you. What you present to people must be precisely relevant to the work you’ll be doing, so the more you can tailor and position your work history for the local market, the better. The language you use is so important – a cover letter and a resume must be written for an audience – the people you’re writing for will simply ignore or discount anything they can’t readily understand. Don’t make it hard for them! Make it easy by being concise, relevant and using the style, tone and language for the local environment in which the role is based.

Finally, I’ve met some wonderful people recently who are making Australia their home. They initially struggled with where they fit in terms of the Australian job market and quickly realised that their incredible expertise is marked down because it just didn’t resonate locally (i.e. people haven’t heard of the companies they’ve worked for). What they work on constantly is eerily similar to my advice to returning expats – think local and make it relevant, relevant, relevant. They work hard at that and are getting great results.

I think there’s a big lesson there for people trying to make it back home as well!

Get in touch! Floreat Consulting Australia helps people discover their own way to an outstanding career. We offer Career Development for individuals and Consulting services to organisations.

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12 Career Development Tips for Public Servants (a digest of 3 IPAA articles)

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Over the last couple of months, Floreat Consulting Australia was lucky enough to contribute 3 articles to the Institute for Public Administration Australia’s (IPAA) Ignite publication. Below is all 3 articles in the one spot. If you’re a public servant, we recommend you check out Ignite – and if you’re not, you’ll no doubt find a lot of this useful for your own career too.

More on IPAA: 

IPAA is the not-for-profit professional association for the public service, their mandate is to promote the relevance, integrity, reputation and intellectual rigour of the public sector. It is the professional association for people interested in strategic issues, policy, reform and innovation in public sector management.

Connect with IPAA via: 

Twitter 

IPAA NSW website 

LinkedIn  

Networking for Public Service Success

There are three major things that struck me as I moved from the public to the private sector, back to the public service then into the not for profit sector:

  • There is an underlying pattern to the experience of working in the public service that is the result of interactions between cultural norms, formal structural influences and policy. Budgetary cycles, briefings, Question Time. It’s unlike anything else.
  • People are intelligent, well-read, and very politically aware.
  • The towering departmental hierarchies lend themselves to a focus on formalism that is a complete shock to outsiders – the minutiae of fixing margins in minutes, agonising over the tense in a sentence etc etc etc.

What does this all mean for networking? Preparation, preparation, preparation! Don’t bother approaching people for networking reasons at high stress times – be patient. And finally, find out about the written AND unwritten rules and follow them.

Ok now for some concrete, practical tips…

  1. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is really, really good….or don’t bother with it at all   

It’s hard to find data on the take-up of LinkedIn among the public sector, but you can be confident that it’s growing. While many public sector employees are “on LinkedIn”, many don’t use it actively. This presents a clear opportunity – to differentiate yourself from other people in the public sector by using LinkedIn really well. To start this process, something that everyone can do is make sure your LinkedIn profile is as good as it can be. And that doesn’t mean more information – it generally means less. Keep it succinct, interesting and to-the-point. Make sure what needs to be in capitals, is in capitals, that there are full-stops where they should be and that the text is consistent (but not necessarily the same as) with your resume. It should promote your strengths without being over the top. And put in a good profile photo (not one cropped from a photo at a wedding with your partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, arm around your neck, glass of chardonnay in hand). Using LinkedIn well gives you potential access to loads more people than if you go it alone – and even if you don’t use it as an out and out networking tool, you can get great data on who to talk to.

And while we’re on LinkedIn, it’s important to keep in mind that LinkedIn is a professional social networking site, rather than simply a social site (like Facebook). Your networking will be far more useful if you actually know the person first before you send a connection request, rather than using LinkedIn to build up the longest possible list of contacts! In particular, never send a request to someone you’ve never met – and that includes everyone from senior executives, to policy officers, to managers – the quality of your connections is what counts, not the number. When you do send a connection request, make sure to craft the message for the person. Firing off a connection request using the default message is a tell-tale sign of a LinkedIn user trying to get to 500 connections as quickly as possible.

  1. Get clear on the “direction” of your networking

If you’ve ever studied before – school, university – you would have had someone ask you, what do you want to do after you finish? For me, the answer used to change every time I was asked! And that can be the same with your career, your goals can change rapidly and can depend a lot on what opportunities you see, as well as who influences you and how you are being influenced. It’s worth thinking about though because when you’re networking for your career, people will want to know what you aim to achieve. Knowing this enables other people to help you – it makes it far easier to understand the sort of opportunities and advice that would be most useful to you.

Instead of “goals” (goal-setting itself can be a trap if you are unclear about what is really driving your goals), consider what it is about work that you really, really enjoy. Not just a bit but what are the one or two things that keep you working beyond what you really have to do. If you are clear on this, you can be flexible about what to do next. I’ll give you an example, let’s say you are currently a Policy Officer. What is it about doing this work that you enjoy above everything else? Is it the intellectual challenge? Is it about working on something meaningful? Is it about having a set routine? Is it about not having a set routine? Link all that to work and you can start talking about what you want to do in a way everyone will understand.

  1. Don’t go for the big prize straight away

Not all of us have the stomach to arrange a meeting with the Secretary of the Department. Some people can go right up to someone – no matter who they are – and just start talking. If that’s you, skip this and proceed to point no.4.

If you’re still here, you might be wanting to know, if you don’t go straight to the top, where do you go? Well, start out small. All of us have connections and everyone has, at some stage, felt “I really don’t know anyone here!” But you do – and it doesn’t matter how small your current network is, they can help you. A famous scientist once decided to study the creatures that were in her own backyard. The result was a range of completely undiscovered insects! So consider your own backyard – your current manager and every person in your team. They’re your immediate professional network and – if you haven’t brought this up with each of them yet – you are guaranteed to find one or two connections that they may offer to introduce to you.

Do you drink coffee? Most people do and find it hard to pass up someone else paying for it! Don’t underestimate the power of asking someone for a coffee. Be relaxed and flexible about it, as well as having a clear purpose (without being overly dogmatic about it).

  1. How can I help?

Don’t be a whiner, a pleader. Networking is about service. It’s not about you. Ok so this whole article is about you and your career. But in another way it’s not – it’s really about collaborating with others really, really well and purposefully. It helps us all if we do that a little better! So think about helping others. That’s the core of networking well. Help everyone.

Ok, enough preaching. The other good thing about helping people is you quickly build a good, positive reputation. That will open doors – maybe not this week or even this year, but it will at some stage. It will all come back and is well worth the investment.

  1. Get seriously up to date 

Be a nerd. Read up about what’s going on – but don’t try to read everything, you will never get there. What you need to do is read purposefully – that will mean skimming a lot of things, and then diving into detail where it’s relevant. What often impresses people is familiarity with the latest discussion paper/briefing/event that the team was responsible for. Find out what that is and bring it up in conversation – but before you do that, talk to someone in the know about it first, so it doesn’t seem like you’ve just read the title.

Find out the context, why the work was done, who the likely stakeholders are, and what’s next. Who knows, it might be you involved in that next step!

Turbo Boost Your Public Service Career Potential

The focus of my last article was networking in the public sector – how the culture of the public service entails a different approach to networking, as well as some tried and tested techniques that can help anyone become a networking star. Maximising your career potential in the public service is a complex picture – effective networking will play a big part, but what else can you do to boost your career in this unique environment?

  1. Learn the Capability Framework NOW! 

The NSW Public Sector Capability Framework is a common foundation across the public service for developing people. Essentially, the Capability Framework describes the capabilities required for different roles across the public sector. If you have recently applied for a NSW public sector position, it is highly likely the Capability Framework was in the background – a consistent marker for assessing job applications as well as for designing the role itself. It’s also the backbone of many ‘people’ systems like training and development. Within the capabilities there are 5 levels – from Foundational to Highly Advanced. A question for you and your career now: what are the capabilities and levels that apply to your current role? If you would like to progress to a role with more responsibility, what’s the scope for doing work at a level above your current role?

The advantage of knowing the Capability Framework is that you have that common yardstick in the front of your mind when you go about your day-to-day work. It’s created a language many are now familiar with, and you can use it to look for tasks that will let you demonstrate your ability to operate at a greater level of responsibility and complexity. At the very least, this gives you the basis for compelling answers to selection criteria – how can you ignore someone who demonstrates competence against the Capability Framework! (IPAA NSW courses are searchable by category and the capabilities from the NSW Public Sector Capability Framework).

2.  What am I known for?

A friend of mine was very good at sport in university – which was lucky as he hated studying! He did very well, getting to the university’s first grade football team but was frustrated that he kept missing out on representative teams chosen from the best players in first grade teams. His coach at the time suggested something to him that I’ve never forgotten: grow your hair long. The problem wasn’t talent – he was about as good as he could be – it was recognition. The selectors saw many, many players, but some people were chosen among peers simply because they were memorable.  Now am I saying you suddenly need a personal image consultant and that will help your career in the public service? Not at all! But I am saying to spend some time thinking about what you are good at, and what you would like to be known for.

In any organisation, your currency is your reputation – this is a combination of your ability, your trustworthiness, but also how distinctive you are. The key is understanding your own abilities really well and focusing on those you really enjoy doing. This is all about differentiation so you would be well-served to focus on 2 or 3 things only. Is it developing communications for a wide range of people? Researching something rigorously in a lot of detail? Monitoring trends and conducting analysis? What could you do that shows you do this thing really well? The answer might be joining a relevant industry group, completing training in something you really enjoy, or simply getting very excited about the ‘discipline’ of your skill and how you can develop it. Think about how much better this will look when you are thinking about your next career move.

3.  Borrow, beg or steal “leadership experience”

For those who are inclined to scale the dizzying heights of public sector leadership, read on…

If you have aspirations to lead a team and are currently a team-member, the pathway to leadership can seem a difficult, even unrealistic one. Remember when you first tried to join the workforce, everyone wanted experience but how to do you get it if you don’t have any? Nearly all formally advertised leadership roles ask for leadership experience – but how do you get that experience in the first place? It’s impossible isn’t it? The answer is – informally.

If you think leadership is for you, then talk to your current manager about how you can get leadership experience. Many managers are very open to providing these opportunities. And of course if it’s in yours and your team’s best interests, all managers should be open and downright enthusiastic about the conversation.  Also, what do you currently do outside of work that demonstrates leadership experience? It might be your sporting team or your local community. Whatever it is, “leadership” is simply about creating and maintaining a group of people so they achieve goals over time. Opportunities to do this can pop up everywhere so get creative, and make sure to include it in your next job application!

4. Hold on to your own unique version of success

I cringe when I read career development articles that seem to assume what success means for all of us. Some people I have helped throughout their careers look very “successful” in a conventional sense, from the outside. But inside, they’re in complete turmoil, miserable with self-directed admonishments and regrets about the career path they’ve taken.

I met a lovely person once in the middle of the Pilbara – a beautiful, harsh desert environment in Western Australia. She was the executive assistant to the General Manager, in an organisation that had many difficult cultural challenges. It seemed to be a very tough place to work, but Raelene was one of the happiest people I’ve met. The reason? She was very well suited to her role, which gave her an incredible aura of calm. She didn’t compare herself to other people and was grateful for having a job that she enjoyed. Being very good at her work too puts her in my book as having one of the most “successful” careers I’ve come across.

Be stubborn about your own unique version of success, and forget about the versions other people have. If you do, you’ll be happier, more productive and an asset to the public service!

Left-field Career Development Tips that Work in the Public Service

In this article, I focus on just three things that you may not have considered – but that I think will help develop your career in the public sector. The ideas set out below are suggestions for taking calculated “risks”, as well as being the most likely to provoke some thinking and hopefully action. First of all though, a little warning. In December 2003, Patrick Weller gave a speech entitled “The Australian Public Service: Still Anonymous, Neutral and a Career Service?” in which he quoted a private sector guru of Margaret Thatcher who had this to say to a committee in Britain:

If you are running a business in the private sector, to be successful you have to be right more often than you’re wrong: if you’re right 51 per cent of the time, you’re just on the right side of that line; if you’re right 60 per cent of the time, you’re doing better; if you’re right 70 per cent of the time, you’re doing well; if you’re right 80 per cent of the time you’re doing brilliantly. However, in the public sector, if you’re right 98 per cent of the time, people are not interested in the 98 per cent—they’re interested in the 2 per cent of the time that you were wrong. Because the 2 per cent will be the instances that people are concerned about where things are not being done properly, or not being done the way people would like to see them being done.

So I put the word “risks” in inverted commas because the culture of the public service – relatively – has a low tolerance for mistakes. You might argue that this is not a good thing, that innovation and learning comes from mistakes. The fact remains however, that the public sector deals with public resources. There are therefore many, many people and communities interested in making sure we get it right! And of course your relevant Minister would no doubt be thinking “Yes please, I want an innovative public service. Just make sure you do all that mistake stuff either before or after I’m around!”

So if you are considering implementing any of these, run them past your manager first – the last thing you want is written material that, for valid reasons, your leader doesn’t want to see made public. Your written work could become the subject of a request for information or an inquiry of some kind, so be careful that the result is something that will make a positive impact among your stakeholders.

  1. Discover and Communicate the Systemic Drivers that Will Impact Your Area

We can all get caught up in the minutiae of policy development and programme delivery – what’s often missing is the time and space to take a big step back and look at the systemic drivers that impact on your area of work. You can then feed this information back to your team in a presentation – a great development opportunity for you and a very useful piece of work for your team.

For example, say you work in an area that is responsible for workers compensation reform. The interaction between current policy settings and current stakeholders are probably well-known to you and your team, but what are the key international trends in workers compensation reform? How might changing demographics interact with policy development going forward? What impact will Australia’s changing economy have on workers compensation policy settings? There will almost certainly be work being done somewhere about this already, so your job is to find it, build on it and filter it so it’s useful for your team to use. The next time your team is asked to work on future policy, then you will have made a great start on the intellectual work required to provide the best possible response.

  1. Get Serious About Stakeholder Engagement

Every area in the public service has stakeholders. The relationship between stakeholders and the public sector is a dynamic, complex one that often takes years to fully master. Leaving mastery to one side, knowledge about stakeholders is an easier thing to gain and can be shared relatively easily with your team. Why do this? Stakeholder attitudes and behaviours are vital in the success of any approach that makes it out of your team. Good predictions about how different groups might respond, is crucial to the success or failure of any initiative.

I once asked a colleague about the success of a young, newly promoted deputy secretary when I was working for the APS in Canberra. How did she do it? I asked. He said that – above all her other talents – the individual had an excellent grasp of the stakeholders – she could almost read their thoughts and could confidently predict how each might respond to a given set of circumstances.

We’re not all like this of course, but a very useful thing to do for your team is to examine and record all your stakeholders and do some analysis on their attitudes, what action you could expect each to take in respect of various policy changes and decisions, as well as your team’s current relationship with each, and their attitude towards each other, your team and the government. A succinct matrix document often helps to present this – and it’s likely to bring to light where work needs to focus in order to improve relationships. What you are really doing is a mini-risk assessment of the social and community dynamics of policy and service delivery development in your area. Because many of us tend to focus primarily on getting the technical aspects right, the data from this type of analysis is a rare and valuable commodity, enabling better decision-making.

  1. Add Value to the Third Sector

This won’t make sense for everyone but you would be surprised at how ‘in demand’ government skills and knowledge are in the not-for-profit sector. There are many challenges faced by the not-for-profit sector – a dwindling public purse, complex regulatory obligations and greater demands on NFPs by those organisations that fund them.  Australia’s not-for-profit sector contributes at least $29.6 billion or 4.7 per cent to Australia’s GDP making it one of our largest ‘industries’ – it is likely there is a not-for-profit of some variety that would greatly value your skills and experience.

Many public servants are put off by exploring skilled volunteering opportunities because of concerns about conflicts of interest – the concern is a valid one, but conflicts are easily managed by making judicious decisions about who you might approach to help out. If you are working on social housing policy then you would of course avoid any NFP that could be funded by your organisation. But if you do know how funding works in government, those same skills are likely to be very useful to any organisation that needs money from government to survive. What is always needed is to be clear on your offering – what are the (3-4) key skills that you have that will be useful. You don’t need to go it alone though – some intermediary organisations match your skills to a NFP in need. And if you do have a particular burning passion or favourite NFP, go for a direct approach – just make sure you have your offering down-pat and be prepared to be flexible. This is a great way to contribute directly to your community, an excuse to dust off your resume and add to your skills, and an opportunity to expand your thinking and perspectives about those who are greatly affected by government decisions.

And for anyone who is a little jaded (it happens to the best of us!), sometimes the best way to re-kindle love for your work is to step outside of it for a while and discover a different perspective.

5 Networking Ideas for Your Career

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I’m not a natural networker. I love people, talking to people and – especially – helping people, but I don’t go out of my way to make contact with new people – even when it would help me – and I definitely feel nervous before meeting people for the first time. Let alone before giving a presentation!

You might think that makes me completely unqualified to talk about networking for your career. But you would be wrong. It’s because it felt so unnatural to me, I’ve had to think about how to do it successfully very carefully. After all, for someone who finds the whole process emotionally draining, the last thing I want to do is waste time on things that don’t work. And I can tell you now, I know first-hand plenty of things that don’t work!

For all those who abhor “selling themselves” the good thing is, networking is not about selling anything. At least, not directly.

When people ask me – “what does a ’networking plan’ actually mean?” I talk to them about what they currently do, ask questions and make some small suggestions that I think will give them better results. Generally this all falls into 2 broad categories: what you could do more of (lots of things here); and what to avoid (a handful of generally unhelpful things – many of which I’ve done myself).

Do more of this

  1. Go right back to the start.

Before you write that email, pick up the phone – make sure you do this first. What is your purpose? Why are you doing what you’re doing? I’ll give you a real(ish) example: say you work in human resources. You like the work, but you’re becoming more and more interested in leadership development. You may have even started studying leadership or are reading books about the subject. But your professional network in that area isn’t strong and you’d like to meet some like-minded people who do it for a living. Imagine you approach someone who does leadership development for a living and you ask them for advice. Be prepared for this question: why do you want to get into this field? You need to be clear on that, otherwise you’re wasting your time. I hate the phrase ‘elevator pitch’ – if you know why you’re doing something, you don’t need an artificial-sounding speech. Go back to the start – why?

  1. Think about them.

If someone came to me right now and said, I want to sell you a new accounting system, I would ignore them. If they said, I want to sell you a sales and marketing program, I wouldn’t even reply. But if they approached me and said, I want to get your advice – now they have my attention. I love helping people, and I can’t resist helping someone, often people I don’t know. No one else is me of course so what this means is think about what’s going to interest the person you’d like to talk to, not what you’re interested in. That can come later, after you have established the relationship.

  1. Focus on your “best bets”.

In my experience, the most likely people to respond to you when networking are those who have at least 2-3 connections with you. They are people who might be in the same or a similar field, have a similar educational background to you, are interested in the same causes and might know some people in common. The more of these the better. Let’s say I would like to be an adviser in the office of a Member of Parliament. One of my tactics might be networking with people who currently have that role or a similar role.  Let’s say you narrow down on 10 possible people you could contact. People who work with politicians are likely to be looking for clues about your political affiliation. Not just whether you are a member of a particular party, but what proof is there that you will be able to stay the course and keep to your values even if under pressure. So be clear on your own affiliation and seek out those who are interested in similar things. See if you know anyone in common. Choose people who feel familiar to you – use your intuition. And when crafting the approach, make it personal and warm. If you do these things, people will respond more often than not.

Do less of this

  1. Using a standard approach.

If you’ve got a standard letter or email that you plan to send to new contacts, throw it out. It will rarely work, which means you need to send it to lots of people, and many of those you send it to will be confused or even irritated about getting it. And even if it does work, it’s unlikely to be a good start to the relationship – the person responding might just be curious, bored or even feel an obligation to reply. There won’t be much emotional attachment there and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to help each other out. Far better to get clear on your purpose, work out a small list of people who you think can help you, and approach them with something personalised for them that also helps them. After all, there are probably only a handful of core contacts that will be really useful to you in your career.

  1. Be pushy in the first contact.

Don’t request a meeting with someone right at the outset. If you are planning on sending a note, email etc, my recommendation is not to ask for a meeting straight out – (it can be so tempting!) The reason is that without really knowing you, most people just won’t have enough trust in you to agree to meet. And unless it’s a very good proposition for them, it won’t be clear they will get something of value out of it – and it will be too late after the meeting you to back out of the relationship. In short it’s too risky for most. Rather than say that explicitly, a lot of people will make an excuse or keep you hanging out indefinitely for a suitable date and time. So by all means, ask to meet, but make sure you’ve worked on a solid connection and have something genuine to discuss.

I hope the above gives you confidence that you can make networking work for you. And don’t forget, have fun. There is nothing like the thrill of uncovering a new opportunity through your own networking efforts!

If you’d like to learn more about career development, you can get our new Career Development Guide AND sign up to posts here.

Mini Conversation Guide – Career Development for Your Team

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Imagine this… You might have 5 people reporting to you. You might have 3 or 2 or just one. Your team performs reasonably well. You have one person who you can always count on, works themselves to the bone. Although you are concerned about them burning out. You have another team member who is very, very clever. They could be doing anything they wanted. The problem is application – is their heart really in this role or somewhere else? There are lots of different varieties of people, each of us is incredibly complex. But one thing stands out as a common factor for all of us in any team working in an organisation – we all need some idea of the future. Therefore, if you manage people, you need to think very carefully about the aspirations and ability of the people in your team. If you can provide a way for people to talk about their future in a safe way, and you help people to realise at least part of that future in your organisation, you’ll be amazed at the results. The starting point is a good conversation. What you need:

  • Trust
  • A quiet and private place where there’ll be no distractions
  • A strong desire and the ability to continue supporting your team member reach their goals

Some questions that may help the conversation:

Why are we here? Make sure you are both clear on the purpose of the conversation. If you don’t believe it, neither will they. So dwell on this question – why are you bothering to do this? If you don’t have a good answer – DON’T DO IT!

What gives you the most energy in this role? What gives you the least? Now a lot of people will say – don’t ask that, they’ll complain about things they HAVE to do and you won’t be able to do anything about it! There are always things we have to do in our roles that we don’t like. I once had a job where I was essentially managing a small office – from processing accounts, to the website, answering the phone and booking appointments. Some of it was awful, some of it I was surprised that I enjoyed. The idea here is that you are trying to help someone be “In Flow” for as much time as possible in their role: where they are doing work that they enjoy and are challenged by (that’s not the definition of In Flow by the way – I’m paraphrasing because true “flow” can seem a bit unrealistic at work – but it’s a helpful model to help someone understand the work they enjoy in their current role).

What is your career purpose? In other words, why are you working? What’s the point? For many people this is for material reasons, for others it is about supporting other people e.g. “to help support my family”. It could be focused on career advancement in their profession, “to be the best teacher I can be”. Or it might be about broader, more esoteric objectives e.g. “to help build a strong community”. It is a revealing question – a lot of us can’t actually articulate it! Which is why having you – their manager – ask them might be just about the best thing that’s happened in their career all year. What can we do together to help you achieve your goals?

  • Hopefully, if you make some progress on “purpose” then there will be some idea of goals. In my view, goal-setting needs to be approached with extreme caution, particularly when it comes to careers. Sure, plenty of concrete, achievable things can be worthwhile goals, but a person’s career pathway can change so quickly that goals can become redundant and an irritation rather than the impetus to achieve things (which is what they’re for).
  • One way to approach this is to say “Look, these are your goals and your goals only. Even with the best intentions, some goals can become less important and new ones arise. I’d be happy to revisit any or all of these with you as we go along.” And don’t bother holding someone to account for their own goals either – they’re not your goals and you aren’t assigning them as work to do. This is about individual development in the context of work in your organisation. Don’t take all the enjoyment away by insisting they be completed. Few adults will thank you for doing that.
  • *And don’t get sucked in by “I want you (my manager) to tell me what to do” either – this might solve a few short term problems but challenging people to take responsibility for their own development is what this is all about.

Some final things to think about: What if I get an answer from my team member that I don’t like e.g. “well, I don’t actually want to be here”? If that happens, it is a good thing. Why? Because the team member you have probably been concerned about is finally opening up and telling you the truth. Now, if that conversation hadn’t happened “the truth” may have come out by that team member resigning suddenly over a holiday break, never to be seen again. You’ve now got the chance to talk about why. What’s going on for them? What can be adjusted to help take some of the pressure off (anything?). It may be a lost cause, but at least you’ll have the opportunity to learn a new perspective from a team member. A skill all leaders must cultivate!

*You might be interested in our other posts on career development across a range of topics including:

Unconventional Tips for Your Career Development

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At this time of year, many of us are spending time deliberately reflecting. You might be looking at the year that’s just passed and wondering if this year is the time to make a Big Career Move or even a small career move. To that end, below are just some things I’ve found useful.

The reason I call these “unconventional” is that the tips below are meant to be the start of a conversation – a way to open up thinking and discussion. But often career advice puts the career advisor in the “expert” role: someone with the answers. But in many cases, that dynamic doesn’t work. Why? You are the expert on your own career – you probably have the capacity for all the answers you’ll ever need, and so career ‘advice’ should be very heavily focused on listening, asking questions, reframing, challenging and supporting. And if it’s really good, it will feel like you are getting practical breakthroughs and self-generated energy to keep pursuing your own career development in a way that seriously matters to you. Career development done well doesn’t just brighten up a day or a week. It fires a person’s will to succeed in whatever they choose for years.

But I digress…

You may not think any of these are unconventional – that’s good news! You might be using many of these already. *Please add more if you can think of others.*

Have another look at your resume

Discover the patterns in your skills, experience and achievements. In many resumes I’ve seen there are actually several careers just waiting to be released e.g. if you’ve been in sales, you would have also done a lot of work in training…what does a training resume look like?

Doing this could reveal that you are nowhere near as “trapped” as you think and could inspire you to take a leap into further training and development. Even better, do this with another trusted person if you can – all of us (me included!) forget or miss things in their own experience that should be brought to light in their resume (or are best forgotten!)

What is your career purpose?

This is complex and worth plenty of thought. What is it that you really want to do in your career? Does it fire you up? If it doesn’t you’re not alone, but you’ve got work to do. There’s no perfect career or job or manager or organisation. Stop looking!

But almost always there is a purpose for your career that is better aligned to you.

Don’t settle for something that isn’t right.  You might be in marketing and your career goal could be to be a better marketer. Why? What is it about marketing that really drives you? What is the most interesting, compelling thing you do in marketing that keeps you back at work and gives you a sense of control and satisfaction? Is it writing really, really good copy? Is it choosing just the right images and colours to reinforce your message? Is it the opportunity to talk and listen to lots of people?

Now that you have a good handle on what you really enjoy doing, what does that mean for you and your career purpose?

Just for a moment, forget your sector or profession 

Some professions have such a strong culture that once you’re in it’s hard to see yourself as anything other than a _________.

Of course you’re not just a _________. You’re lots of things, but many of us can feel that we need a box. Some people also enjoy boxing up others too. I had a relative once bail me up at a family gathering with the opening question “now what box can I put you in son?” I won’t say how I responded….(but we are still friends).

So if you can get past all the detritus, consider instead the level of complexity of work that you have enjoyed most in your career to date and what have you found the least enjoyable. By complexity I’m talking – very roughly – about the extent to which your work is affected by variables and the timespan that you expect to complete it. Some of us enjoy completing set tasks with little room to manoeuvre, others like creating work from scratch. Complexity is an essential nature of your work – an analogous level of complexity can invariably be found across a lot of different industries. For example, you might like the challenge of designing and implementing a marketing plan for 2015/16. Along with some skill development, the same cognitive ability you used doing that could be used to design a learning and development plan, or a recruitment plan….And of course if you understand the level of complexity that you are comfortable with and enjoy, you can then seek opportunities for more of the same.

Your Career Game Plan – Hunter Young Professionals workshop

1In late September, Scott and Sam are excited to be facilitating a workshop at The Production Hub for Hunter Young Professionals, “Your Career Game Plan” – we’ll be supporting a small group to find a meaningful career purpose, critically assess goals, create solid and practical tactics and walk away with a personal Career Development Plan. For details, check out this link: http://www.hunteryoungprofessionals.com.au/event/your-career-game-plan/.

The Early 30s Career Crisis

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Are you on the right track?

A little while ago, I started noticing a pattern among a lot of my friends. Let’s for now call it the “Early 30s Career Crisis”. What seemed to be happening was that people were reaching levels in their careers where the costs from changing track (“starting again” on a lower salary, re-training) and doing something else were approaching the costs of continuing (being generally unhappy, frustrated and under-utilised). In other words, it felt as if a “crunch time” was approaching. If I really didn’t want to be a recruiter / lawyer / accountant / engineer my whole life, I had to get out now or I would be “stuck” doing it forever.

If you feel like this at any age, you’re not alone – many people at all different ages could be in a state of turmoil about the direction of their life – and there are many stages in life where a person feels an overwhelming sense that change must happen. Most of my direct experience is among friends, clients and colleagues who feel a sense of crisis around the 28-35 age bracket. I’m still (just!) in this age bracket, and went through something similar myself.

The common factors seem to be:

  • A sense of deep frustration and anxiety about work.
  • A tendency towards binary-type thinking e.g. I never ever want to be an accountant again (or anything even resembling it).
  • Some sort of career progression already – and perhaps with that, a realisation that what I thought would make me “happy” hasn’t actually done that. (When I became a registered X I thought it would be better than this!)
  • A feeling of confusion about purpose in life, and the link between that and work.
  • A drive to find answers – in particular, a need to find someone to help provide direction and purpose. I only have to look at all the self-help books I bought and the experts I consulted during my little crisis time, to see that I took finding answers very seriously!

Life can precipitate bringing on this crisis – in my experience, having a particularly challenging job, relationship troubles, health problems, even having kids – can entail a lot of soul-searching. What happens – if anything – out of all this is a uniquely individual question. For some, the crisis might be rationalised, put away and minimised. Others could take wild and hasty action – leaving a job suddenly, going overseas, making dramatic changes to their appearance – that could have unexpected results and not all good.

I’m only a frustrated psychologist (not a real registered one), and so I’m not going to go into the ‘why’ of the Early 30s Career Crisis in terms of developmental psychology, but I do have some guidance that has worked for me and others in developing their career which might help the crisis become a productive time and not a destructive one.

  • What you think, drives your behaviour, which creates outcomes – basically, what you think doesn’t just influence your life – it IS your life. A bit deep for some perhaps, but true. Many people don’t actually know what they think. A great way of finding out, is to talk to someone else who you can talk to openly and honestly and can feed back to you what you’re saying (as what we say is one good indicator of what you think). Is all of what you currently think really helping you? Are you limiting yourself unnecessarily? What have you told yourself lately that you can’t do? If you are someone with a tendency to be hard on yourself, talking to someone with your best interests at heart and is a good listener is highly recommended!
  • Your beliefs about values are important. At some stage, if you are working in an organisation and/or with colleagues who don’t share similar beliefs to you, you will get annoyed and frustrated, even exhausted – and want to leave. Some of the most crucial beliefs we form in terms of our relationships with others, especially in organisations, are in relation to the values of Trust, Love, Honesty, Fairness, Dignity, Trust and Courage (these human values are from a body of models called “Systems Leadership Theory” – here is a link to learn more). We all see and judge behaviour through these values. Very simply, when we share these beliefs, we start to form a “culture”. We all see the same things slightly differently – just reflect on your views about disciplining children compared to other people – what do you think of the views and behaviour of those you don’t agree with? In the workplace, it’s just the same, people make judgments about behaviour all the time, and sharing of those judgments with others is the start of a culture (“Oh did you see how that Claire disparaged her team in the management meeting? How unfair was that!”) Where your beliefs are will largely determine if you fit in or out, and therefore if you are accepted and comfortable or feel alienated and want to leave.
  • If you are looking for the right role, industry sector or profession, you might be asking the wrong question. Instead, think about the essential character of work that you really, really enjoy. For me, there was a pattern in what I was going that was linked to the complexity of my work. Do you enjoy working on discrete, and short-term technical problems with little oversight from others? Do you prefer working on very wide issues with no straightforward answers and a lot of ambiguity? A mistake I made was trying to “be” a “profession” that would be the best fit for me. Margaret Thatcher said once “It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” The truth is, all professions can suit many people – but people are frequently unhappy in their work because they focus on the “being” part of their work e.g. being a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, rather than the work they really like “doing”.

If you want to get serious about the opportunity that a career crisis presents, get to know yourself, your thoughts and beliefs. Try to understand ways of working that will help you be around people who share similar beliefs. Get to know the complexity of work that appeals to you. And finally, have a plan that will support you to succeed. Thankfully, no-one is going to do it for you.

Floreat Consulting Australia creates a positive and sustainable future for organisations and early career professionals. We help build organisations that are great places to work because people are engaged, challenged and happy in roles that fit them well. We help individuals succeed* through solid career planning and a deeper understanding of their own potential.

*New Individual Career Development packages now available!