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3 non-business books that will improve your confidence at work

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about confidence in the workplace. I mentioned a book that I read a number of years ago on the subject which really changed the way I think about confidence, and gave me an armful of useful tools that I found incredibly helpful. This got me thinking about other books I recommend people read, so I’ve put together my top three work-and business-related books. These are not your run-of-the-mill, dry, ‘serious’ reads. They are not even books you would find in the business section of a bookshop. But they are books that are worth reading because they provide wonderful insights into the world @work, and how we can perform as our best selves at work.

The Confidence GapThe Confidence Gap, Russ Harris
Written by psychologist Russ Harris, The Confidence Gap is the perfect book for anyone who feels they are being held back by a lack of confidence.  Harris has written an approachable, easy-to-read book that explores how a lack of confidence can affect many areas of a person’s life, and looks at real, clear suggestions to work through it. It’s not an easy book to read in the sense that if you really want to make changes in this area you will have to have some tough, honest conversations with yourself. But it is easy in the sense that it is written in clear language, and breaks down complex concepts into easily understandable stories and ideas.

QuietQuiet, Susan Cain
This book explains what introverts are, how they tick, and what the pitfalls of introvert/extrovert interactions can be. I would recommend this books for introverts, extroverts and anyone who isn’t sure where they fall on the spectrum (but would like to figure this out). Cain looks at how the business world, especially in America, has for almost a century, celebrated extroverts and build a system that favours their personalities and mode of working. Cain argues that because this system is not designed for introverts, it is difficult and often tiring for them to navigate. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible for an introvert to not merely navigate, but to thrive in a world of extroverts. Cain provides tools and techniques for introverts negotiating the extroverted world of business, and for introverts and extroverts to figure out how best they can work together.

Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter
This book is (in my opinion) a sort of unofficial sequel to Lean In, the blockbuster work memoir written by Facebook CEO Cheryl Sandberg in 2013. It’s a look at how work-life balance is something worth striving for, but that the make-up of that balance may change over time. Slaughter says that it’s important to ‘lean in’ at times, but that it is just as important and necessary to be able to lean out at times too. She advocates for a world where we can accept a promotion and work like the devil for a couple of years, then dial things back for another couple of years, perhaps  to care for family members, or pursue study. Slaughter writes passionately and persuasively for her vision of a flexible and changing attitude to work over our lifetimes.

What are your top reads for personal and professional development?

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Posted in The Interchange Bench, The world @work

Your next job interview: How to present the best version of you

No matter how experienced you are, interviewing for a new role can be a stressful experience. Pressure from your current job (if you are working) and whatever else is going on in your life, such as family and financial stress, can dictate whether you are successful at interview.

Preparation is key. Understanding the role you are applying for and researching the organisation, and the managers or executives interviewing you, are integral to your ability to be en pointe during interview.

To give you the best chance of success, here are my ‘most likely’ from the Glassdoor’s Top 50 most often asked at interview. Nail these and you’ve nailed your interview:

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Why are you interested in working for us?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  4. Why do you want to leave your current company?
  5. Why was there a gap in your employment between these two dates?
  6. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
  7. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  8. Describe yourself in 3 words?
  9. Give me an example of how you handled a difficult situation.
  10. Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
  11. Who are our competitors?
  12. What was your biggest failure?
  13. What motivates you?
  14. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
  15. How do you handle pressure?
  16. What is the name of our CEO?
  17. What are your career goals?
  18. If I called your boss right now and asked him/her what is an area that you could improve on, what would he/she say?
  19. What was the last book you read for fun?
  20. What are your hobbies?

It is worth thinking through answers to the above questions. You don’t have to learn answers robotically, but it is a good idea to be prepared for these topics. There are often no right or wrong answers, it is about your confidence and the interviewers getting to know you as a person.

If you want to make a great first impression it is important to work out your ‘hook’. Telling a concise well planned story that displays your strengths, including a key characteristic you know they are looking for, is an excellent way to do it!

Give real examples of your strengths that are applicable to the role you are interviewing for; this will make it evident that you are a perfect fit for the role.

Prepare a list of follow-up questions to demonstrate your knowledge of the company, role and industry. Also, don’t be afraid to ask if there is anything missing in your skillset that they are looking for. It may be helpful to take a professional small hardcover notebook and refer to your notes, because when we are nervous, it is easy to forget what you had planned to say.

Mirroring the tone and pace of the interviewer is also a good way to appear relaxed and help you fit in with the interviewer’s style of communication.

Before you walk into the building take a ‘power pose’ and some deep breaths on the way up in the lift – this really helps your confidence.

Of course, honesty is always the best policy and being your authentic self shows integrity and confidence.

Interviewing is always going to be difficult and you may have to go through several rounds with panels of up to four people.

Stand out with your preparation, and don’t underestimate the effect of your personal presentation and polish. Ensure you are extremely well groomed, your clothes are comfortable for sitting and walking in… you’re one step closer to getting the job!

If you want to see the entire list, here are the 50 questions Glassdoor identified you are most likely to be asked during an interview.

What tips do you have for interview preparation?

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Posted in Slade Business Support

The art of leaving a good voice message

At a time where text, email and other messaging apps dominate our communication habits, have we lost the art of leaving a good voice message? As we rely more and more on text-based communications, you may have noticed it’s becoming harder for people to verbalise complex thoughts, or even articulate simple information.

While I still receive numerous voice messages on my work phone, it surprises me that few contain a clear and concise message.

The purpose of a voice message

You want to let the caller know that you have called and that you would like to be called back. So what information does a person need to call you back?

  1. Your first and last name, and if appropriate, the organisation you are calling from
  2. Your contact phone number
  3. In brief, the reason why you are calling and the information sought from a return call

It sounds simple enough, however there are other important things to consider when leaving a message:

  1. Length of message – keep it to 10-20 seconds if possible (some voicemail services will cut you off after 30 seconds)
  2. Pace of speech – remember the person receiving your message may be unfamiliar with your voice and needs to capture the information, so slow down and speak clearly, especially when saying your name and your phone number
  3. Tone of your voice – it may be the first time you have made contact, so it’s important to leave a good first impression

Be ready for the call back

Now that you have left your message, it’s important that you are ready for the call back, especially if you have initiated contact with the person receiving the message. This is your opportunity to make the most out of the conversation.

Tips for jobseekers

Many professionals send and receive hundreds of messages every day. As a consultant, I prefer to pick up the phone when replying to candidates – it’s more personal than a text or an email and allows me to return calls efficiently. Here are my tips for successful voice messages:

  • Make sure you have your voice message service activated
  • Have a professional or standard voice message greeting on your phone to receive messages
  • If you’re restricted to talk to text or a shorter message service, consider changing to a full voicemail service
  • Speak clearly, be prepared and leave a good impression
  • Return your messages as soon as possible

I’m hoping for better voice messages in the future… and it’s not too late to add this one to your list of New Year’s resolutions!

What other tips or stories do you have to share on voice messaging?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Cure the Sunday afternoon blues

“It generally started about 3pm on Sunday afternoon, irrespective of rain, hail or shine and the activity or people I was with at that time. I’d start thinking of the next day and my shoulders would instantly tense up, I’d start snapping at my kids and/or wife and increasingly become more taciturn and grumpy as the day progressed. This would happen every Sunday and started to have a real impact on my quality of life, family relationships, and started to limit the activities I would do Sunday afternoon and evenings.”

Sound familiar? It’s an unfortunately common situation for highly pressured executives. A candidate once shared this personal story with me, which fortunately became a wake-up call to consider a career change.

I recognise that it’s rare to find individuals who bound out of bed on Monday mornings – naturally most people would prefer to be at leisure than go to work. Of course our level of motivation varies with the demands of our role, our clients or customers, and our employer. However, despite the inevitable peaks and troughs that can affect your job enjoyment, intense and sustained angst about work is not normal. Left unchecked, it can lead to long-term damage to our health, including stress, pressure on relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and a reduced work/life balance.

On the surface this individual seemed to be in the ideal work situation: he was in a key leadership position within a successful global blue chip organisation, earning an impressive wage, on a fast-track path to further success and growth – but it was just not right for him.

I appreciate that it’s not a simple matter to change jobs. Financial considerations, geographical location, time available to job seek, or your personal situation can be constraints.  If this sounds like you, consider these alternative strategies:

  • Speak up. Have an honest discussion with your manager and/or HR about revisiting the aspects of your job that cause you angst. Do these need to be delegated or shared with others in the team? Is your workload achievable within the resources and parameters provided? Do you need further training and mentoring to help you perform your job?
  • A sideways step could be an option if you like your company, but the role or your direct manager is not a good fit. Is there any opportunity to move to another role or division within the company?
  • If your employer and/or company culture does not align, but you enjoy your role, network across your industry through LinkedIn, industry forums and seminars, even former colleagues who have left to join competitors. Make yourself known throughout the sector, whilst maintaining your professionalism and remaining discreet about your intentions. This could lead to a direct approach to you to consider a job should an appropriate role arise.
  • Consider investing in additional training and/or studies that will further your professional development and enhance your employability to other organisations. This is particularly relevant if you are looking to pursue a field outside your current area of expertise. It also serves to demonstrate your commitment to self-improvement and continuous development.
  • Have a confidential discussion with a recruitment firm who specialise in your sector/job of choice. Whilst this should be implicit, emphasise the need for the recruiter to respect your confidentiality and ensure your resume is only sent out to prospective employers with your approval.

Whilst it might be a work in progress, you will find that the simple act of taking control of your work situation can improve your outlook and with this perspective, allow you to enjoy your whole weekend.

As for the candidate mentioned previously? After taking a leap of faith, he did change jobs and has continued to progress his career with another organisation better suited to his style. He has also joined that rare group of individuals who look forward to Mondays.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

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

Your recruiter is a tool

Well, I don’t mean tool in the pejorative! A well forged, fit for purpose tool is a valued accessory. Would you attempt a home renovation with just a hammer? In the job search process, savvy candidates realise recruiters are part of the solution – a tool in their kit rather than their sole strategy to market. Having placed many executives in senior roles over the years, people often ask me what more they could do to improve their prospects for selection. Here are five strategies to consider:

  1. Leverage your networks

It’s easy to underestimate the breadth of your own individual networks, but candidates who take the time to analyse their contacts (which may include previous colleagues and managers, university contacts, neighbours, social networks, etc.) find them a valuable source of information. Whether it’s a new opening or general market information, your chances of obtaining a position improve when you’re already recognised in your industry. For a prospective employer, it’s also less risky to hire someone who is known to be a strong performer.

  1. Select your recruitment partners carefully

While it might be tempting to send your resume to every search firm, be selective about the organisations with whom you’re entrusting confidentiality, particularly if you’re currently employed. Think about the exclusivity of your application rather than applying with every recruiter. Consultants strive to represent unique candidates who have not been overexposed and will proactively market them to our clients. Make sure that’s you.

  1. Take the lead on your job search and partner with your recruiter to bridge any gaps in your networks

Ideally a recruiter should complement, not replace, your job search activity. Manage your applications carefully and partner with recruiters who can present you to companies where you don’t have existing contacts or an established network.

  1. Cull what’s not working

Evaluate your job search progress on a regular basis and refine or ditch any strategies that aren’t working. This includes analysing the performance of your recruitment partner. If they said that they were going to market you to a particular company, ask for a progress report. If you think that they’re not delivering, then re-evaluate whether they are best suited to help you.

  1. Customise your resume

One mistake I often observe is that candidates will customise their covering letter, but fail to adjust their resume accordingly. Review your resume and consider tailoring it to suit each opportunity. The changes could be as simple as emphasising your most relevant experience by reordering your achievements.

If your perception of recruiters in general has been negative to date, try adjusting your engagement strategy by following my advice. I’m confident you’ll get results and be successful.

What advice do you have for executive candidates?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

Transitioning from Executive to the Boardroom – 6 key factors to consider

In my regular meetings with business leaders from the financial services sector, we nearly always discuss their ongoing challenges for the recruitment and retention of key staff. In this context it can seem inappropriate to discuss their own career plans in the same conversation, especially if it means leaving their current employer.

So, when I invited those same executives to discuss adding ‘Board Director’ to their career accomplishments at a Slade Executive Boardroom Lunch, I wasn’t surprised that spaces at the table filled quickly.

Led by experienced Director and Boardroom consultant, Nicholas Barnett, we discussed Australian boardrooms now and moving into the future.

While Boards are still heavily populated with older white males who have been approached directly through their own network, we are definitely seeing changes to this long established practice. More progressive Boards are recognising the value of greater diversity amongst Directors, challenging gender, generational and sociocultural norms. Nor are successful companies promoting diversity simply to achieve compliance or a feel good factor. Numerous studies have shown that best results are achieved where there is greater diversity in the Board of Directors and Executive team. The Australian Institute of Company Directors publishes regular research and reports on board diversity.

Board recruitment processes are changing too. Nicholas, through his company InSync, is regularly being engaged by Board Chairs to undertake Board reviews to identify strengths and capability gaps. From these reviews new Directors are being appointed. Yes, the traditional networks are still prevalent, however, we’re encouraged to see that the trend towards a structured and independent recruitment process for Board positions, facilitated by engaging external consultants such as an Executive Search firm, is becoming standard practice.

If you’re considering adding a board role to your executive responsibilities or transitioning your career to the Boardroom, here are the key factors to consider:

 

  • Board positions are highly competitive. According to Nicholas, the number of people interested in joining a Board has increased significantly, whilst the number of roles has remained largely unchanged over the last ten years. Therefore, you must be able to articulate what you can bring to the Boardroom and how you can make a positive contribution.

 

 

  • As in any role you’ve had in your career, you will be more engaged within an industry or company that you are passionate about. Your network or an Executive Search consultant can help you to identify suitable organisations that align with your interests, as well as your knowledge and experience.

 

 

  • Do your due diligence. You want to be part of an effective Board, and Boardroom culture is often set by the Chairperson. Insist on meeting other directors, as well as the Chair, to evaluate whether others are engaged.

 

 

  • A Board position involves a significant time commitment – can you fit it in with your other responsibilities?

 

 

  • If it’s your first time looking for a Board role, consider Not-For-Profits or unpaid roles, keeping in mind that many NFPs have high profile Board members who have a number of Directorships. Over time, opportunities to be considered for Corporate Board positions may present through this wider network.

 

 

  • Don’t leave it until you are at the end of your executive career. Consider your first Board appointment in parallel with your current role to see if it’s really for you. While establishing a track record as a Director, you’ll build a network of fellow Directors, which can lead to a growing portfolio of Directorships as you wind down your executive career.

 

What are your key considerations for a boardroom position?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work