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How to turn your work-ability into your biggest asset

My husband Ray and I are your typical Aussie mum and dad property investors; our three children are also young investors (in their 30s).

Back in the 1980s, getting a deposit together to purchase a house was arguably as difficult as it is today. My husband and I started saving on our engagement. Our parents were of humble means – certainly not in a position to help out. There were no maternity/paternity leave entitlements, no child care facilities and we relied on one income for many years after we settled into our home.

The Government at the time attempted to solve the problem of housing affordability by providing a first home buyers grant (a means tested cash bonus to assist with the purchase). Although our individual salaries were not particularly high, when combined, Ray and I were not entitled to the grant.

So we worked five jobs between us. When our peers were out dancing at bachelors and spinsters balls, we were the ones working in hospitality, serving them food and drinks. They were driving around in new cars. We drove second hand cars and once we bought a new one, we owned it for 10 years before buying a new one. Our peers were travelling around the world and going to rock concerts. I regret to say I never attended a rock concert. I remember the only musical I went to see was Jesus Christ Superstar.

Economists are always predicting a drop in the property market and investing means accepting some risk. When we decided to buy an investment property, our parents, friends and family, actually tried to talk us out of it! Don’t do it, it’s too risky, you can’t afford the loan repayments… What if you lose your job, what if you fall pregnant or what if there is another GFC, or a war?

Harry Triguboff, Australian billionaire real estate property developer was interviewed on 60 Minutes recently. He said, “Ordinary mum and dad investors are battlers and not millionaires.” In my experience this rings true. Aussie mum and dad investors contribute to rental availability in the market. It stands to reason that the more investors there are, the more rentals there will be available, which assists with rental affordability.

On the same program Tim Gurner, a young property investor turned successful developer, was also interviewed. Interestingly he recommended exactly what we have practiced. Go without the luxuries, work hard and have a goal. While it has been muted that he received a leg up with a deposit from his family, parents can assist in other ways, such a guaranteeing a loan or providing a deposit bond.

When we criticise the lifestyle choices of millennials, are we simply being critical of young people? My children started in the property market as teenagers. We did not provide them with any funding whatsoever. We set the example; they took the risk, budgeted hard and were devoted to their jobs.

The conversation should be about choices, not criticism. Taking a year off and travelling the world on a working holiday… well good on you, you’re only a year behind in savings, and possibly a few steps behind (or ahead) in your career. The occasional smashed avocado and a latte over breakfast won’t destroy your life savings either. Going to university will put your savings back several years and adds a HECS to your financial commitments in most cases, but you’re positioning yourself to catch up as your career advances.

A request under FOI revealed that over the past eight months (August 2016 to February 2017) in NSW alone foreign investors paid a staggering $76.6M in stamp duty to the state government, compared with Australian and dual nationals who paid almost $3.8M. While it’s obviously a great tax revenue stream, the disparity in the figures are symptomatic of local investors losing in their bids to secure property.

Doing something about housing affordability is problematic. Should we make it easier for young Australians by offering investment grants, allowing first home buyers to use their superannuation for a deposit, or further limit foreign ownership of Australian real estate? All of these ideas are debatable, with potential for unintended consequences. Certainly providing better information on budgeting, saving and investing would help educate the next generation of buyers. At present the real winners in the property market are the banks, property developers, fund managers, real estate agents and the state governments who all benefit from high prices.

My generation, the baby boomers, are often held up as a scapegoat for the affordability crisis. In my family we envisage there will be no government pension by the time we retire, so we are providing for ourselves through our property investments. Despite the media focus on negative gearing, its tax advantage doesn’t benefit us significantly. Here are some final considerations that are often overlooked when making a property investment:

  1. Work hard, taking on an extra job when required can make a difference
  2. New APRA rules mean a 20% deposit is required for an investment loan
  3. Banking institutions charge higher rates for property investors (and even higher interest rates for self-managed super funds)
  4. Factor in the significant cost of stamp duty (paid to the state government on purchasing)
  5. Understand the ongoing body corporate fees (if investing in an apartment, unit or development with shared common property)
  6. Budget for maintenance costs
  7. Negative gearing only applies to tax paid on expenses involved in holding your property
  8. Factor in capital gains tax when selling

At some level we are all working for a secure future. What have you done in your world @work to set yourself up for the future?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Attitude’s the biggest threat to the world economy?

Experts at the World Economic Forum release yearly updates assessing the biggest dangers facing the world economy. Environmental concerns have jumped up the list and now global warming tops economists’ concerns.

Last month I attended an Australian Credit Conference hosted by a large global credit rating agency. The event was well represented by investors and large business organisations. With a number of questions put to the audience, everyone had an opportunity to vote on the topics offered. The popular choice was along the lines of: “What do you think is the biggest threat to the Australian economy today, the cost of carbon reduction or the environmental issues associated with greenhouse gas pollution?”

At the risk of being controversial, it was shocking to me that the business community, as represented at the event, thought changing our (dirty) energy habits would be more disastrous economically than climate change. I was quite surprised that the majority of attendees felt our biggest economic threat is the effect of carbon reduction measures. Surprised, because I assumed those in attendance to be well-informed people with access to plentiful resources about current environmental concerns.

While our business leaders need a crash course in environmental awareness – I’d like them to sit through Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth or a screening of Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, Before the Flood – I was left wondering whether the majority of Australians in the world @work can see the effects of climate change as it is happening right now? Polls show increasing support from people at grass roots level on a range of environmental issues, including a carbon tax and green energy, but change begins with positive leadership, agitation and support from the community at large.

The potential cost of doing nothing to halt the damage to our planet is incalculable. However, it seems obvious that funding for renewables and other innovative carbon reduction energy solutions is being stalled by vested interests. It took a tweet from Tesla’s Elon Musk (who has famously offered to solve South Australia’s power problems with battery technology in 100 days) to fire-up the State Government and engage the Federal Government in the conversation. It was encouraging to see expressions of interest from local competitors in the battery market, but it’s going to take more than an ex Vice President, a Hollywood actor and an entrepreneur to kick-start a (much needed) renewables boom.

The World Economic Forum says failing to mitigate climate change will likely have a bigger impact globally than the spread of weapons of mass destruction, mass involuntary migration, predicted water crises and a severe energy price shock – Australian consumers have experienced significant energy cost increases year on year, abolishing the Clean Energy Act notwithstanding. Instead of funding massive foreign owned coal mines, as the Queensland Government-Adani partnership proposes, or championing newer but less responsible energy sources, such as coal-seam gas (fracking was recently banned in Victoria), let’s invest in the industries where local businesses and communities also have a future. I’d love to see our manufacturers of solar panels, wind farms, battery cells and other alternative innovations receive most of those investment dollars.

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Posted in Professional Support

When I was a Temp

I often ask friends and colleagues about their part-time jobs during their school and university years. Those experiences, what jobs they did and how they were trained, have in one or another, often led them to where they are today.

I myself worked at McDonald’s – on the front counter and in customer service at the drive-thru window. If you know me, I’m sure you can picture me in a navy blue visor and striped shirt with the golden arches logo. My dear old Dad was so proud! I’m not shy to say I was pretty good at the job. I was awarded Drive-Thru Employee of the Month twice and Employee of the Month – May 1988.

Working at McDonald’s was such great training. I learned procedures, discipline and responsibility. Sure, I was selling Big Macs, but even mopping the floor – there was a process for that – you had to do it the McDonald’s way. It was a fast-paced and structured environment, a great start to working life. My pay packet was also good incentive. I remember working out what shifts I could do to get the best hourly rates so I could buy a fabulous outfit, shoes or put a full tank of petrol in my car.

But what I liked the most about the job was the customers. I came across all sorts – from kids with their fed-up parents, to fast-food regulars and the party goers at 1am who threw pickles on the ceiling in the dining room – I can recall many encounters!

I expect it’s dealing with people in all their diversity that led me to recruitment. I still find them entertaining, to say the least. What’s really inspiring when working with temporary candidates is that sense of satisfaction – the feeling you’ve been able to fulfil someone’s needs when you get them working on one assignment, which leads to the next and the next…

Working with temporary candidates and coordinating temp jobs day-to-day makes me think about all the different types of work people do when they need flexible employment or are just starting out in their careers. It’s fascinating to learn about some of the more unusual opportunities.

Do you have a casual work story that you’d like to share?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

6 blogging brainstorming ideas

Recently my colleague said she wanted to write a blog, but she had no ideas for a topic, how she would structure her thoughts and where to even start?

Blogging gets people talking. When we write about what interests us and what we know, we share our thoughts and invite others to engage in the conversation. Social networks are built on two-way communication, so blogging can actively encourage an exchange of ideas.

So how do you write a blog and how do you come up with material that is interesting?

Here are 6 strategies to get you started and help you succeed.

  1. If you are an avid reader, that’s great, pick a topic that interests you! Books, magazines, news articles, discussion groups… in print or online, you’ll find plenty of inspiration.
  2. If you watch current affairs, there’s plenty of material. Take notes and track comments on Twitter.
  3. Never let a good idea pass you by in the middle of the night. I have a notebook and pencil on my bedside table for those lightbulb moments.
  4. Listen to what your customers (clients and candidates for me) are saying, problem solve the issues, then share.
  5. Look at the stats on what other people are writing about. Google Analytics research is excellent for what’s trending, as well as niche topics.
  6. Share your experiences. People love authentic stories.

Encourage people to comment and always respond to the comments (positive and negative) you receive. You may start a thread that leads to another idea for your next blog from those responses.

While I’m giving away ideas, here’s some I’ve already put on my list:

  • How to be a confident public speaker
  • What is it that engages an audience?
  • All about my community
  • What inspires me about technology
  • Are you brave enough to say what needs to be said?
  • What makes a good conversation?
  • Books I want to write
  • What I am passionate about
  • How do I get my big idea funded?

After thinking and deliberating over my blog topic for many days, things have taken shape. OK, now for the blog…

Well, I’m done here, so will have to wait until next time to tackle one of the topics above, but I challenge you to write on any of those topics as well.

If you do write a blog, please comment on this article to let me know. I’d love to hear your point of view.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Humpty Dumpty and the empty swimming pool

Sometimes life throws you curve balls in the most unexpected ways; curve balls that may change how you see the world, show you what you’re made of, or give you a little bit of both. Let me put some context around that.

Five weeks ago, we were having our swimming pool cleaned ready for summer. The pool was emptied, scrubbed and ready to be refilled. I was doing some maintenance around the side of the pool, so to move from one section to the next, I made a small jump onto the edge at the deep end. This proved to be a very stupid decision, I overbalanced and found myself falling into the empty pool.

As I was falling two and a half metres (it’s a very deep pool), I remember a ridiculous number of thoughts going through my mind… this might hurt a bit, but I’ll be fine… I can undo this… what is going to happen, will I get lucky and just have a few bruises, what can I do to minimise the impact? …and funnily, will I need to take Monday off work?

As I landed, I heard some nasty crunches and whilst the pain wasn’t obvious initially (thank goodness for adrenalin), I knew that things weren’t good. My feet were telling me that I couldn’t move. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, I landed in the chemicals that had just been put in for the pool to be refilled. So here I was, all busted up face down in chlorine, lying on the concrete.

I managed to commando drag myself far enough away from the chemicals to be able to breathe and I called for my husband who was, justifiably, in equal measure distressed and annoyed (“What are you doing down there, what the ‘bleep’ have you done?”). Strangely calm, I explained what had happened and asked him to call an ambulance.

Fast forward through the five hours that it took for the ambulance, fire brigade and police to arrive, get me out of the pool, take me to hospital, the x-rays, checks for chemical burns – I was in a pretty bad way. Hypothermic (it was very cold) with a completely shattered left heel and a fractured right heel, my body had gone into shock, which rendered me non-responsive to those around me.

I’ve had a month in hospital, have had my left heel surgically rebuilt, had to learn how to put weight on a broken right heel and practically relearned how to move. For someone who does everything at high pace, having to consciously assess the impact of every movement to minimise the risk of falling again has been incredibly challenging!

It’s been tough, my injuries were serious and it will be up to a year before I can walk normally. However, I’m also fortunate to have been cared for by some incredibly talented medical professionals and an exceptional support network.

I have had some very difficult days where the pain had me not wanting to move, where I’ve relived the accident over and over, which at times causes extreme anxiety. The tiredness has had me emotional and easily distressed. It’s been hard, but going back to the beginning of this story, I have a very different perspective on life.

Considering my every movement has helped me consider the impact of my actions on those around me. I no longer have the expectation that other people value the same qualities in my workplace as I do. Those small things that once irked me in the office don’t seem so important – I realise nothing should be taken for granted.

I’m still determined, focused and strong-willed, because these attributes have helped motivate me to push through and to get back to work. My job is important to me and while there is definitely an element similar to the people on the WorkSafe ads, my head and hands are fine, but for a few months my world @work means adjusting to a different physical set-up while my body gets back to full capacity.

There’s been no epiphany, just a subtle recognition of what really matters. While I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, I would urge you to take the time to focus on what is truly important. How do you want those around you to perceive you, even remember you? You never know when you’re going to be faced with your own version of an empty swimming pool.

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Posted in Professional Support

FRAGILE: Handle with care

In the world @work it’s easy to forget that people can have all sorts of other stuff going on in their life that makes them more or less vulnerable. Whether it’s financial strain, stress from their past or current workplace, contending with being made redundant or failing to make initial headway with job applications, there are myriad reasons why people might not cope well with a job interview.

A couple of times recently I’ve interviewed candidates who had good resumes and phone screened well, but at interview it was clear that all was not well in their world. Despite the usual nerves, there were some concerning signs that included being anxious, insecure and defensive; they were clearly people who were in desperate need of work.

These are always tricky situations that call on our professionalism, emotional intelligence and compassion.

As recruiters or hiring managers we spend a lot of time interviewing and we are generally very comfortable with the conversations we have with candidates. Before gathering information about their background, skills and work experience, we aim to put people at ease with some small talk and outline what it is we want to discuss. Sometimes it can feel like speed dating. Even when done well, it can feel a little invasive.

I’m sure I am not alone when I admit that I have struggled with my own job applications at various times in my career. You know how it goes, the contact person was elusive, the interview didn’t run smoothly or I brought a negative work experience to the table that didn’t add value to the discussion. I too have been frustrated because I thought my age or some time out of the workforce was a barrier to making progress. All of those emotions are best left outside the door when we apply for jobs.

Most times a skilled interviewer will put people at ease, overcome their interview anxiety and uncover the value they can bring to an employer. On those occasions when we can’t help a candidate further, we’re guided by respect for the person and our primary objective – to find the right person for the job.

Let’s be mindful that when hiring we are in a position to help or harm and everyone – every one – deserves respect. Take a few minutes to listen to Sting and Stevie Wonder perform Fragile in this video, which prompted me to pause and reflect.

How have you handled a fragile situation in a business context? What did you learn from the experience?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Every temporary tells a story

Why do people like to temp? Over the years as a consultant filling temporary positions, I have met all kinds of candidates. Each one has a unique story and a different reason as to why they want short-term work. The obvious ones who we expect to find in temp roles are students, travellers, working mums (and dads). Less recognisable, but often highly proficient, are the part-timers, in-betweeners and career temps.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at last count part-time employees made up 40% of the Australian workforce, with almost 22% employed in casual roles. From my experience placing candidates in Professional & Office Support roles, I’ve profiled the most common traits of temporaries and categorised them into four groups.

The Part-timer: They’re trying to fit work around lectures or day care. Whether it’s a few days per week or peak hours, Part-timers are always in high demand. Students and working parents rule in these working situations. Finding the right job match for someone with a fragmented schedule is sometimes a challenge, however there’s always a client with an equally demanding brief. Recently I had an aspiring actor in need of 2-3 days per week to work around her auditions. Due to various scheduled audition times, she needed flexibility. After proving her value to the company, they were able to accommodate her. They love her so much, they have booked her for another 6 weeks in July.

The Traveller: Here for a good time, not a long time, they’ve arrived in Oz most often from the UK or Europe with only a backpack. Not afraid of a bit of hard work to fund their next adventure, our Travellers are highly motivated, ready to start work right now. I once had an Irish chap who was willing to do anything – I’m not joking… After a two week assignment document shredding, he had made such a great impression with his friendly and positive attitude that my client offered him a three month assignment working in their customer service team. He couldn’t believe his luck!

The In-betweener: They’re prepared to wait for just the right permanent role and they’ll temp while they hold out. That’s our In-betweeners. One candidate who comes to mind was working as an Executive Assistant for a CEO for many years. She felt it was time to move on and was looking for a career change. Temping completely re-energised her. She was able to request assignments where she could utilise her significant experience, testing new working environments without a long-term obligation. She enjoyed it so much she became a regular on my availability list, eventually settling again in a permanent role in an organisation suited to her skillset.

The Career Temp: Repeat assignments are their bread and butter and our clients will specifically request them for an assignment, over and over. Career Temps, will have a deep and meaningful relationship with us. I can think of a candidate in particular who I’ve been working with for over five years who just loves the lifestyle temping affords – the flexibility, the variety of work, the people she meets and the different industries she has been exposed to. It certainly works well for her. She’s competent and reliable, I couldn’t ask for more.

All sorts of people temp for all sorts of reasons. And most people have a story about temporary work from some stage in their career. We’d love to hear about your experiences.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean that you have character.

I don’t know whether I’m just getting a bit long in the recruitment tooth or not, but the question of character has been playing on my mind lately. I know so many people in business who are characters – they’re funny, engaging, witty, great to have a drink with and are endlessly entertaining. What I’m not seeing a lot of is genuine character – by that I mean characteristics that people admire and look up to – strength of character.

I value honesty and authenticity in people and I try to create an environment in my team where people can demonstrate their character, not to just be a character.

I had a candidate recently who lied to me about the roles that she was looking at. It made me reflect on my own behaviour and to consider whether I had created enough rapport with her that she felt that she could talk to me about what she was looking at. It’s important to me to always look at what I do that contributes to a situation – either positive or negative. The truth was, there was nothing that I could do, the candidate just didn’t have the strength of character to be honest and to tell the truth. Sadly, I’ve seen so much of it over the past few years, just a complete lack of integrity and even more disturbing, a win at all cost mentality, regardless of the consequences and it’s just awful.

Strength of character is standing up for yourself even when you know that you may be unpopular, it’s telling the truth when lying may be a more lucrative solution in the short term and it’s telling someone how you feel when they may not like what they hear. The best people I know in business have character in spades, they’re strong characters who are memorable for their convictions and for the way that they stand tall against opposition. Some are characters, and some are not, but the genuine character underneath always shines through.

Are you someone who is a character or do you have character? Will your colleagues, clients or prospective clients and employees remember you for your qualities and attributes, that you push back or question something because it’s the right thing to do, that you try to do the right thing no matter what, or will they remember you as ‘quite the character’?

I know what I’ve seen work well, it’s tenacity and strength and courage, and I’d love to see more of it in business because I see quite enough characters on the TV.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse, 23 June 2014. Thanks to The Wolf and Mr Tarantino for providing the inspiration for this post.

Posted in Professional Support, The world @work