Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why career risk can be a good idea

My coaching client B has been offered a job after six troubling months of searching while unemployed, after leaving her previous job abruptly – and not on good terms. It meets all her criteria: challenging work, respected organization, the work easily within her competence, good salary. But she is hesitating. Why? It does not have the words ‘Head of…’ in the title. Fortunately B soon realized that job titles rarely mean much outside the organization and that it was more important to have a decent job than to worry about what the job was called.

But B’s experience is common where careers are concerned. We can get too preoccupied by minimizing risk, by trying to re-create the mirror image of what we had before or by trying to find an exact match to what we want for the future. In today’s job market it can pay to take some prudent risks. What might this mean?

Target the organization  you’d like to work for, research them, find out what their problems are likely to be, look up the LinkedIn profile of the person who might hire someone like you. Call them. Tell them you’d like to work for them and  then say, ‘How can I help you solve whatever your most pressing problem is?’  OK you might get rejected, but is that the worst that can happen?

Never expect the employer to notice how wonderful you are. It’s hard for many of us to overcome  childhood messages about the horrors of appearing ‘boastful’ or about how it is desirable to be ‘seen and not heard’, especially for women, but if  we don’t act as skilful advocates for ourselves how can we expect others to  believe in us?

Get that unhelpful metaphor of a ‘career ladder’ right out of your head. With ladders you can only go up, down or fall off. In 23 years as a coach I have never once met a client who has made a long-term career plan that actually reflected their career path. Be prepared to move sideways or even to start again in a more humble role if it will allow you to develop your skills and work in  an organization and for people that you admire

Don’t get hung up on whether you are a 100% perfect match to the job specification: 70% will do. Employers know that the perfect candidate is a fantasy. They are impressed by enthusiasm and willingness to learn

Many job-seekers look for safety and stability, especially if they have worked for many years in  long-stay organizations. But safety and stability are illusions: nothing is safe and stable. Look instead for a company that is growing fast. These organizations are flexible, they have more work than people to do it, they will take a chance on you, rapid promotion is possible, personal development expected

If you are feeling stuck in a current role, ask what risky new assignments are possible and if offered, accept. Don’t rule yourself out by worrying about whether you need to get further qualifications and training first or asking whether you have all the skills you need: skills are best acquired on the job not in a training room.

Job-search methods that work

Many people don’t realise that far more jobs are found through the informal than the formal jobs market. The formal market is what you see in recruitment agencies, vacancies advertised on employers’ own websites, newspaper ads and so on. The informal market is one where the job is never advertised but is filled through personal contact. Many job-seekers will say with truth that they are working diligently to find a job but often they are wasting their efforts on job search tactics that are far less likely to work

Job search tactics that are less likely to get you a job

  1. Believing that the employer can see for themselves how wonderful      you are; sitting at home waiting for the employer to discover this
  2. Relying on passive methods of job search; expecting the employer      to make the next move
  3. Sending out your CV to hundreds of potential employers: the chances      that it will be read are minimal
  4. Having an all-purpose CV which fails to show any individual      employer how you could be good for them
  5. Applying for jobs that are advertised online: the simplicity of      online application tempts hundreds of people to apply, regardless of how      well their profile fits what the employer wants
  6. Hoping that a recruitment agency will solve the problem for you:      their role is to find people for jobs, not jobs for people
  7. Being inflexible about the type of job or where it is located; wanting      to reproduce exactly what you had in a previous job or getting fixed on a      promotion of some sort or on a particular type of employment
  8. Looking for work in dying industries or sectors
  9. Restricting the search to large organizations

Job search tactics that are more likely to get you a job

  1. Being clear about your personal ‘brand’; knowing that it is better      to concentrate on selling your strengths; understanding your weaknesses      and avoiding jobs that could emphasize them
  2. Targeting: focusing on a few carefully researched employers,      especially smaller organizations which tend to be a lot more flexible and      less bureaucratic
  3. Seeing the employer as a customer for your services: what problems      can you solve for them?
  4. Identifying your personal network and using it with ruthless charm      to help you contact people who might help you find a job
  5. Doing ‘research interviews’ which help you understand how people      get jobs in that employer/sector and build awareness of your ‘brand’
  6. Building relationships and expanding your network
  7. Using social media to build your ‘brand’ – eg Twitter, LinkedIn,      Facebook, a personal website
  8. Crafting your CV uniquely for each employer/possible job
  9. Using multiple methods of approaching an employer: social media,      CVs, introductory letters, phone calls, emails
  10. Being willing to take short term assignments, secondments, part      time work etc as a way of letting the employer see what you can do
  11. Understanding that the initiative ALWAYS lies with you
  12. Being persistent – realising that it can take up to 9 steps to      make a sale – ie in this case the ‘product’ is you

Why Diets don’t Work – and what does

Just over a year ago I closed down the weight management ‘offer’ in my coaching business. This was the right decision all round but I have remained interested in eating problems.

Now I find that the latest diet craze, the one that involves fasting for two days and eating normally on the other five, has swept up many friends, regular coaching clients and colleagues.

The only way to lose weight, as every dieter knows perfectly well, is to eat less and exercise more, but especially to eat less, as moderate exercise alone will make a difference to your overall health but none to your weight. Every single diet of the thousands that have come and gone is just a structured way of consuming fewer calories, whether it is the plain silly, the plain dangerous, diets that promise to reduce some specific part of your body (impossible) or club approaches like Weight Watchers. Sometimes there is an allegedly magic ingredient such as not mixing protein with carbs (no scientific validity whatsoever) or eating grapefruit (pointless). Every despairing and ashamed overweight person wants quick results so the diets that offer rapid shedding of pounds have always got a commercial advantage over the more sensible ones that are steady and slow.

One reason that diets don’t work is that they involve deprivation in ways that are incompatible with normal living and most dieters are telling themselves subconsciously that once some symbolic lower weight is achieved, their old-style eating can resume. And this is what gradually happens, and it can take several years, despite the promises of almost every diet system of a ‘maintenance’ phase. By the time that the maintenance stage has been reached the dieter is mentally saying, ‘Phew, glad that’s over, now I can eat what I like’. And so the cycle eventually starts all over again.

Diets also trigger the human response to starvation. When there is a big gap between your basal metabolic rate and the number of calories you consume, which is what almost all diets encourage – and the bigger the gap the more quickly you will lose weight – your body believes itself to be starving. In the wake of starvation the body’s overwhelming instinct is to eat enough to make up for it, so this is what ultimately happens.

Diets don’t work because that they position food as your enemy, something to be feared, whereas it needs to be embraced as your friend. How many times do you hear people soulfully regarding food of some kind and pronouncing it ‘wicked’? Seeing anything as ‘forbidden’ instantly makes it more attractive, as every teenager knows.

There are three reasons that we gain weight. One is unaware over-eating, consuming just a little more than we need which slowly but steadily adds pounds that creep up without us noticing – until the day when we find that for some unaccountable reason, a favourite pair of trousers is too tight. This is what has happened to people who find that they are now two clothing sizes bigger than they were in their twenties.

Then there is eating that is designed to solve serious emotional problems.  You can be pretty certain that anyone who is morbidly obese will fall into this category. Being very fat is truly tragic: such people are wearing their misery on the outside.

Underlying both these causes of weight gain is that for the first time in human history, there is a superabundance of food. We evolved to do the summer eating that would see us through winter shortages. Now it is ‘summer’ all the time but our Stone Age brains are programmed to eat whatever we see, and this includes not only cheap food laden with sugars and fat but super-sized plates and portions to put it on. I still have some of the dinner plates given to me as a wedding present many decades ago and these are a good 30% smaller than their more recent replacements.

Essentially the secret of weight control is to ban the word ‘diet’ from your thinking. It’s about doing your own cooking, eating when you are genuinely hungry, eating slowly, stopping just before that over-full feeling, savouring food and making a lasting commitment to healthy eating. Excess pounds will fall away, but very very slowly. In fact the more slowly the better. Weight loss will stop and will be easily maintained when you reach your optimum weight. This doesn’t need elaborate systems of points and calories, red and green categories, supplements, clubs, meal substitutes, nasty diet drinks, books, lo-cal ready meals, ‘health foods’, fasting days or special recipes, so it is too simple to be a commercial proposition because there is no lucrative roundabout for people to get on, get off and then get on again.

There are two questions to be asked when considering a diet. Is it healthy, meaning does it have the right balance of food groups and nutrients and in the right quantities? Is it sustainable, meaning can I make a 100% permanent commitment to eating this way? If the answer to either or both of these questions is no, then think again.