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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

How sports coaches use world class leadership to create winning teams

Before I elaborate, I have a confession to make… I’m an ex senior AFL player, now a football coach and more recently, a professional recruiter.

To outsiders, a senior coach is the face of their club, much like a hiring manager is a window to their organisation. They are engaging and genuinely passionate, or as cold as stone.

The strengths of a good coach are universal, but let’s tackle the sport I’m most familiar with – AFL football. Consider the 2016 reigning premiership coach, Western Bulldogs’ Luke Beveridge.

Beveridge walks the fine line between instilling confidence in his players, and holding them accountable for their actions and behaviours.  All the while, he demands exceptional on-field performance.

It is well documented that since commencing his tenure as Senior Coach he has focussed on open and honest communication. He’s built strong relationships with the players, the club, its supporters and a wide range of people associated with the sport, including commentators, the media, and sponsors. These are not unlike the types of relationships we aim for in business when interacting with our clients or customers (who for me in recruitment are candidates), colleagues, suppliers and even competitors in our professional networks.

Much like recruitment, in professional sport, and AFL football in particular, nearly every transaction includes working with the uncontrollable elements inherent in dealing with people. In sport and recruitment alike, those without the qualifications or the requisite experience to pass judgement, often shout the loudest and voice the most criticism.

For Beveridge his clients are predominantly made up of both existing and potential club sponsors and members. These clients have made financial commitments and naturally want to see a return on their investments. In this context a winning performance as a coach could mean a cohesive team, with high levels of morale amongst players, who have the motivation to attend training and associated club events, and are well supported by family. It may translate to increased membership, a higher media profile, greater sponsorship and other opportunities. A winning team is more than match winning performances – think of the otherwise poor practices of the West Coast Eagles circa their 2006 Premiership.

High level sport, in some aspects, is not much different to the corporate sector. We’re juggling all manner of expectations from various parties. There are set timeframes (seasons) with efficiency targets (statistics). In business and sport, we all have to consider best process and methodology. Importantly, just has Beveridge does, we have to establish a culture and live the values, brand and standards of our organisation. Sound familiar?

Some players, as with corporate talent at the top of their game, are hot property.

In other cases some candidates are like promising young players; potential but struggling with form, gaining experience but not quite good enough – yet. How Beveridge manages the pool of talent in his playing group is his greatest challenge, because although he understands the industry and his client demands, his players output and abilities will often predicate game results.

So, would Luke Beveridge be the sort of manager you’d like to have in your organisation? Based on the attributes we’ve explored, I think so. His stakeholder management skills and ability to communicate with a broad range of people and personalities would be a strength. He has the proven experience in implementing a game plan, follows process, allowing him to work efficiently and consistently. Lastly, and I think most importantly, it would be his character and the impact he has on his organisation’s culture. His confident and engaging personality, combined with his strategic thinking, willingness to provide feedback and people management skills would make him successful in a non-sport leadership role. I’d like to recruit him.

Which qualities do you value in a manager? Who would you like to recruit to for your team?

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Posted in Slade Executive, 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

How to learn Italian… without going to school

It’s needless to say that childhood experiences shape a significant part of our adult persona, but they also help to build some of the skills and attributes that we carry with us during our working life.

While in pre-elementary (equivalent to kindergarten in Australia) and then elementary school (primary school), I, like many of my peers, revered television for its ability to entertain, educate and simply provide an escape from everyday reality. However, in Albania where I grew up, the State-run channel was pretty dry on children’s programming, with limited variety, laughably amateurish sets and substandard directing, which had little appeal to my youthful imagination. Like many others at the time, I turned to Italian TV for entertainment because it featured many cartoons for children.

The geographical proximity of the two countries (Albania is only 40 miles across the Adriatic Sea from Italy) allowed us to receive Italian broadcasts with a simple medium-wave receiver. From age five onwards I was watching cartoons on Italian TV. I would wake up at 6am along with my brother to watch Anna Dai Capelli Rossi, Heidi, Power Rangers and Sailor Moon, which were all featured in Italian. Enraptured by the stories and delighted by the colourful images, I naturally started to interpret what was being said and my understanding of Italian improved day by day. As I grew a bit older, I progressed to watching a TV series called Amico Mio and even developed a crush on the actor who was about my age! At ten I was able to fully converse in Italian, and have been fluent in the language since then.

I went on to improve my language skills, taking Italian courses in university, where I learned to read and write besides speaking. It’s a skill that came in handy: my first job at 16 was working in an Italian bakery in Toronto. I took a Modern Italian Culture course at university in Canada and shared a house with five Italian girls for a few months in regional Victoria, when I moved to Australia. Funnily enough, I have only once set foot on Italian soil (while visiting a friend in Rome, and just for two days), nevertheless those language skills I acquired from Italian television were my trampoline to the wider world.

Tons of research demonstrates that our behaviour as adults stems from what we have experienced during our childhood. If you are afraid of dogs, it’s probably something you can trace back to your younger days. If you speak Italian in a Micky Mouse voice, you probably grew up somewhere along the Mediterranean.

What about you? Is there anything you have learned in an unconventional way?

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work

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

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

Waving the Magic Wand

“If I could wave a magic wand to create a perfect career opportunity for you, what would it look like?” It’s a great question, isn’t it? A former colleague of mine used it in all her hiring interviews.

Open ended questions literally allow people to open up. You bring out a range of answers, which can sometimes be quite surprising. In recruitment, typical responses are: job stability, career progression, management style and company culture. Very rarely does money come up in this conversation.

One of the best responses that I have had in a job interview was from a return to work Mum who had applied for a full-time Sales Rep position in the Architecture & Design market – a role notoriously difficult to recruit for.  I asked her a magic wand question, only to discover that all she really wanted was flexibility. Her ideal wish? To divide three days in the office and on the road, then spend two days working from home, which would help achieve a balanced life with her little one.

We discussed the mutual benefits of a flexible approach and I presented this working arrangement to the prospective employer. My client was open to the concept, my candidate secured the role and now two years later, she has readjusted her schedule (how fast life changes!) to work four days a week and continues to exceed her targets.

If I had never asked my candidate an open question, I would never had known which options to explore with my client. Using open questions in interviews or even business in general, opens up opportunities to explore others’ needs when they may not otherwise be obvious.

As a recruiter I find it’s valuable to ask my candidates about their aspirations, rather than just look at their past experience and make an assumption. You get so much more insight about a person’s genuine motivators.

If you get a magic wand question and an answer doesn’t immediately come to mind, just respond with a smile and take it on notice: “That’s a really good question.” You’ve kept the option to explore it further during the conversation and can continue in a non-confrontational way.

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Posted in Professional Support, The world @work