Blog Archives

Definition of Success = The Human Factor

What defines a successful person? Embedded throughout my secondary education was that elusive end of year score, which for some reason was going to determine our success in life. However, success has many faces. Even those who reach great heights in academia need to have a balance of social awareness, connection with others, an empathy that supersedes intelligence and a touch of commercial reality.

The challenge of continuously competing with other students who were more intellectually inclined weighed heavily on my shoulders throughout my secondary and tertiary education. I felt demoralised knowing that my chosen career path, whatever it may be, could be in jeopardy due to the fact my brain was wired differently. I shouldn’t have. There is a litany of brilliant people throughout history who failed to win popular support for their ideas, as well as many arguably not-so-clever people who were smart enough to succeed.

My life experiences have been a bit different to my peers in my generation: travelling to third world countries and dedicating more of my time focusing on the needs of those less fortunate. Unlike those with a more limited world view, my volunteer work abroad – teaching English, providing food and essential supplies to children and families in the local community in The Philippines, Africa and Fiji – enabled me to empathise with people from other cultures and relate to people from different walks of life on a whole new level. It enabled me to grow and mature. I became more confident in my abilities and started to believe that I did possess unique skills that could take me anywhere in life. It was a defining moment for me that reshaped my understanding of who I am.

Aren’t we all more inclined towards repeat business if we are greeted kindly and treated respectfully, like a friend, rather than a customer or a number?

Before I joined the recruitment industry, I spent seven years working in retail, specifically women’s fashion. I saw many eager faces wanting to achieve managerial roles, believing that their ability to meet arbitrarily high KPIs was the key to becoming a great leader. However, running a successful business requires more than reaching budget. The true leaders of the organisation were the team members who demonstrated empathy and made it a priority to listen, and not just make our customers feel welcome, but also established an inclusive work environment for all employees. I, for one, loved working in an environment where my feelings and ideas were valued and acknowledged, ultimately boosting my work performance and productivity. In turn, we did our best to make our customers feel like they were the only person in the store.

Austrian pianist, author and composer Alfred Brendel famously said: “LISTEN and SILENT are spelled with the same letters – coincidence? I don’t think so.”

Everyone wants to speak and be heard, yet it appears that few people can sit quietly and really listen.

My experience in recruiting hasn’t been long yet, but in the short time I’ve been with Slade Group and the Interchange Bench, I’ve been able to observe a few things. Through my interactions with colleagues, clients and candidates I’m learning key skills that not only make a great consultant, but help ensure successful recruitment outcomes. People often talk about trusting your gut instinct and following your intuition, but there’s a lot be said for learning to listen. Our capacity to grasp how others feel and think may indeed be our most valuable asset in the workplace.

So, whether it is facilitating temporary and contract work, permanent career changes or helping organisations grow by sourcing the best talent, I’ll be listening carefully to what clients and candidates are looking for. Recruitment often presents us with sliding door moments – opportunities that might have been missed if we were too focused on what we may think success should look like, as opposed to what we can achieve.

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

5 reasons why I stay, and enjoy recruitment.

Over my 22-year recruitment career, I’ve been asked time and time again by people in my networks – clients, candidates, work colleagues and friends – why the Recruitment industry, what is it that keeps you engaged?

At a time when candidates have become a rare commodity and The Great Reset is a hot topic, my reply remains the same. If you have the passion to make a difference, the drive to capitalise on opportunities and a positive attitude to develop yourself and others, there’s unlimited scope to successfully impact both a client’s organisation and a candidate’s career.

As a consultant, achieving recognition as a professional, a recruiter of choice in my field and a reputation as a trusted advisor for the value I add is not only rewarding, it reinforces my decision to stay.

Here are five reasons why l chose to work in the recruitment industry, and why I believe it’s still the right career choice for me:

  1. Great development opportunities and career progression

Recruiters receive comprehensive training – not just when first starting out, but throughout their career. Learning from colleagues, applied skills training and professional development programs have helped me grow and refine my skills. With dedication and the right attitude, recruitment is a profession where one can build career progression. I have personally been promoted from Resourcing through to Senior Recruitment Consultant and Team Leader of Government and Commercial divisions.

  1. Independence, exclusivity and flexibility

It’s a tremendous career for self-managed high performers. Running a recruitment desk, whether WFH or in the office, is like running your own business. Once you’re fully trained and have all the skills to succeed, you have the opportunity to account manage your own clients and establish exclusive candidate talent pools. It’s a great match between personal responsibility and the support of a wider business. And with our new ways of living and working, the flexibility to better manage your work-life balance.

  1. Making a positive impact on people’s lives

Whether it is finding someone their dream job or helping a client hire the perfect person to grow their business, recruiters have a huge impact on people’s lives. I still get the same buzz of excitement placing someone in a job now as I did when I began my recruitment career over twenty years ago.

  1. Uncapped potential

While you make your own success, you also share in the success of placing the right people in the right organisations and helping candidates achieve their career goals. At the same time, you’re part of the success of the recruitment firm as a whole. It’s a bit like being a shareholder in the business. While there are various remuneration models, most agencies provide a base salary and performance structure that supports consultants to realise their potential.

  1. Recruitment tools are continually evolving

Like many industries, technology has revolutionised recruitment. LinkedIn, for example, has made it easier to network professionally online. It’s also now common to meet over Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which is great for those working remotely or regionally, even internationally. While digital platforms can help to connect people, there’s nothing like face-to-face contact when building relationships.

So, there it is. Five reasons why l chose the recruitment industry and have never looked back.

Are you looking for your next career opportunity after two years of COVID lockdowns and restrictions? Have you considered temporary or contract work? I’d love to hear your feedback on this story.

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

Breaking the Bias: 5 things I’ve learned as a female leader

It’s rewarding to see other women succeed. I started my career in my mid 20s with a large multinational, led mainly by men who excelled in micro-management… they scrutinised all of our activities, imposed onerous activity reports and even questioned sick days. On results, my team were successful, but I didn’t aspire to their version of a manager – managing that way wasn’t my style. I left feeling burnt out, with a feeling management wasn’t for me.

As it turned out, every director I worked with subsequent to that early experience recognised my potential and encouraged me to go back into management. I’m glad I listened.

While challenging, management can also be incredibly rewarding, but the rewards begin when you start to think of yourself as a leader. The path to leadership was not smooth. I made mistakes – and learned from every single one of them! Most importantly, I learned that to be a leader, I also had to support and develop my team. I got a real kick out of giving them the tools (skills, experience and mentoring) to succeed and move on to the next stage of their career.

As a recruiter and team leader, I am in the unique position to be able to influence candidates and colleagues in their career choices, as well as to provide guidance to organisations on making unbiased hiring choices. I’ve encouraged both women and men to apply for opportunities that they may not ordinarily be considered for. For example, I placed a highly successful female Head of IT with a leading insurance company and recruited an amazing male executive assistant. I’ve coached businesses on the benefits of offering flexibility in their workplace: could a role be offered remotely, part-time or as a job-share arrangement to maximise the talent they attract?

On International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality, I’m sharing five things I’ve learned as a female leader:

1. Understand the importance of being a leader.

How you show up, how you communicate and how you lead, has a direct impact on your team. I looked up to successful female leaders and learned how they operate (especially when I was working in male-dominated environments), but of course you can learn from men too. Take from them what you like and leave what you don’t, but ensure to make it you own.

2. If you are not a man, don’t try to be one.

Early in my career, I thought you had to be tough and demand respect like my managers at the time (mostly men), but I was wrong. Research has shown that women in leadership not only positively contribute to an organisation’s profitability, but also bring imaginative problem-solving skills and a high level of empathy – an essential attribute for a successful leader. Take pride in your diversity, whether it’s from a female or another perspective. By being yourself, and allowing your colleagues to be themselves, you will create a productive, stable and happy team.

3. If you are underestimated, use it to your advantage.

I’ve typically worked in male dominated environments, often been the youngest in the room and consequently, have been underestimated. When that happens, don’t take it personally. Even when doing your job to the best of your ability, you may not always find opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge or use your full skillset. Make an ally of those who can see your worth, pick the right moment, engage the stakeholders and you’re sure to impress when it counts.

4. A few words about instinct and inclusion.

It is not called ‘female intuition’ for nothing, but you don’t have to be a woman to listen to your gut when it’s trying to tell you something. There have been times when I’ve not listened to my inner voice in the past and I’ve lived to regret it. However, ‘gut feel’ can also lead to bias in recruitment, which is why we use a merit-based process that has been quality assured and is independently audited. Even blind shortlists (removal of candidate names) are prone to unconscious bias and AI is capable of learned bias. When building teams it helps to maintain an awareness of diversity and inclusion across candidates from under-represented backgrounds, such as people with disabilities, Indigenous people, people from Non-English speaking backgrounds, the LGBTQI+ community and diverse age groups, as well as gender diversity.

5. Flexibility in the workplace is the new norm.

Pre-covid, as a mum, I felt like I was expected to work like I didn’t have a child. Flexible working has evolved significantly over the past 2-3 years to include working from home, working remotely, part-time executive roles and created better opportunities for women who may have otherwise put their careers on hold. Flexible environments also benefit both parents, single mothers (and fathers) and carers.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on what it means to be a woman in business. We still face inequality, but we’ve also come a long way. As a woman in a leadership position, I believe it is really important to encourage the next generation of women to go into management roles. And that’s a responsibility we all need to take on.

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Posted in Diversity & Inclusion, Interchange Bench, The world @work

5 ways to increase your focus: 3 minute read

We live in a world that is accelerating: from our broadband to our transportation, to the fashion we buy, fast food we eat, home deliveries we order, even dating. You name it, we’re figuring out a way to make it happen faster. For many, a fast life is exhilarating and often gratifying, but there are some unfortunate truths to living at this continued upward pace. Burnout, hypervigilance and the erosion of focus are consequences of our existence at breakneck speed.

Since the dawn of the Net, the speed at which information is produced and distributed on mass has increased exponentially, which was researched and documented in a study by Dr Martin Hilbert and Dr Priscilla Lopez, in 2007. Lopez found that the average human, through television, social media, radio and reading, ingests a total of 174 86-page newspapers worth of information per day (and that was 15 years ago, imagine now!). This overstimulation of information isn’t compartmentalised well either; our brains often miss contextual clues, while the appetite to digest larger texts diminishes.  

So, why has the importance of slowing down become a thing, and what do we stand to gain from it?

On an individual level, paying attention improves your memory, which in turn is invaluable for academic and professional performance. The ability to maintain focus helps strengthen interpersonal relations and allows for more meaningful connections. You will notice the finer details during conversations, discerning facts from information and discovering forthcoming trends. You will become more patient, which by slowing down and being present, is a quality that can make your life much more fulfilling in the long run.

If you’re like me and would like to dial back our sense of urgency, you can read into this topic further. Stolen Focus by Johann Hari provides a sobering temperature check of our digital world and the impact it’s having on our ability to stay focused.

Below are five ways that are proven to increase your focus.

1. Mindfulness

There are mounds of evidence to suggest mindfulness training improves memory and other cognitive abilities. This doesn’t just mean sitting silently in a room either. Yoga, deep breathing and mindful appreciation will significantly improve attention and focus.

2. Exercise

Regular exercise can help improve both concentration and attention after just four weeks. Other research looking at older adults suggests just a year of moderate aerobic activity can help stop or even reverse memory loss.

3. Improved sleep

Sleep deprivation can disrupt concentration, as well as other cognitive functions, including memory and attention. Regularly failing to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night can also affect your mood and performance at work.

4. Spending time in nature

If you live near a park, have a garden or even a backyard, make sure to step outside and get some sun! Try also adding a succulent or two to your workspace or home office for a range of positive benefits. Any natural environment encourages appreciation for the present, which provides a boost in your concentration.

5. Take a break

A digital detox might sound daunting, but several social experiments have found that taking a scheduled break away from your smartphone or digital device can significantly lower your stress levels. There are plenty of apps, including Freedom, that can provide a welcome respite from the noise of social media.

References

Ph.D. student calculates how much information is in the world
USC Annenberg, 17 June 2015

Humans have shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to smartphones
The Telegraph, 15 May 2015

You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish
Time, 14 May 2015

News Consumption Across Social Media in 2021
Pew Research Center

Moderate Exercise May Improve Memory in Older Adults
National Institutes of Health, 28 February 2011

Putting a Finger on Our Phone Obsession
Dscout, 16 June 2016

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

Step by step: returning to the office with confidence.

That thought bubble ‘returning to the office’ pops up, and a thousand worrisome considerations rush through my mind.  Questions such as: Will I be safe travelling on public transport? Am I not only risking my own health, but the health of my colleagues, just by turning up in person? Is our ‘COVID-19 Safe Plan’ as well considered as its title suggests? And on those thoughts loop in my overwrought mind…

These questions are not unique to me, my co-workers or our contingent workforce. They are also front of mind for many Melbournians who are being gently coaxed or otherwise cajoled to return to their physical office spaces. Some employers are well prepared, having had staff off-site for close to two years, while others are still scrambling to work out the best way to ease employees back into offices. Whether traditional offices will even be required, now that remote and hybrid working is well established thanks to multiple lockdowns, is also a valid question.

Step 1: It’s psychological

The return-to-work dilemma may seem, at the outset, a genuine physiological concern. However, I’m willing to stand up and say the issue isn’t partly physiological; it’s in fact completely psychological.

A logical person would say: I trusted science enough to receive my full vaccination, countless peer reviewed studies show the positive effectives of vaccinations, their protection can almost certainly keep most generally healthy adults out of ICU or from experiencing severe symptoms.

Therefore, it is logical that returning to an environment where the risk of contracting COVID-19 may be only slightly higher than in your own home is not enough to harbour serious fears.

Step 2: Start with baby steps

Looking at the psychology of how we form habits, we corporate types need to recreate the daily habits and routines that we were accustomed to prior to the pandemic. Hence the ‘baby steps’ approach that some businesses have adopted.

Start with one day, a week, then two, then three and so on. On the days that you are not in the office, try to follow the same habits anyway; those morning routine keeps our minds prepared to physically go into the office and accept that process – remember when they told us that at the start of the pandemic?  It’s also great to schedule work with colleagues and arrange days where you can be in the office at the same time to support each other as you readapt to the ‘old normal’.

Step 3: It’s a matter of consistency – every day will become easier.

Many of us have experienced anxiety for the first time as a result of the pandemic. Being amongst others again can be overwhelming after months of relative solitude. For some, the very idea of stepping foot on a crowded train may deter you from even attempting to step outside your front door. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Most organisations have Employee Assistance or other support programs (EAP) which can help you find your own path back to normality. Beyondblue has a number of useful articles and provides live one-on-one counselling to help support your mental health journey back into the office (links to resources below).

I believe it is healthy for us all to return to our workplaces at our own pace. Life is full of risks and COVID-19 is another in the long list we live with every day. I’m looking forward to a bit of banter with my colleagues when we all return to the office. I’m excited about meeting clients in person, visiting the organisations we work with on-site and interviewing candidates face-to-face, instead of via Zoom. 

What are you most looking forward to when restrictions ease in your city?

RESOURCES

Beyond Blue
Strategies for transitioning back into the workplace after coronavirus

Think Mental Health
Returning to your workplace

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

I’m also Covid collateral.

Remember 2019? It was late that year when I took the Melbourne-based role of General Manager for Slade Group and the Interchange Bench. I’d come fresh off an extended break, including giving myself the time to do the Camino De Santiago Trail, to find some ‘me time’ for reflection after 25 years working full time, living in Perth and raising a family of three girls, now young women.

At that stage I had every intention of travelling regularly back to Perth where my young adult children live. That was pre-Covid, when people travelled freely within Australia, often part of any national role.  Our old world @work seems like an alternate universe, with remote working, remote meetings and WFH all part of the 2021 nomenclature.  

With Melbourne and Sydney both in ongoing lockdowns, and continuing border restrictions in place between States, it became very difficult to catch up in person with colleagues, clients and candidates. While I certainly missed those professional relationship building opportunities, on a personal level the relationships I cherish with family and friends suffered the most. While as an organisation, Slade pivoted to a hybrid working model and adapted well to the online environment, it’s a whole other ball game to be separated for long periods from your loved ones.

Imagine having to factor in two weeks of quarantine for a one weekend flying visit! And that’s ONLY if very lucky in the timing to even be granted a travel pass.

From the get-go my dream job had challenges and achievements I had never imagined. Early in 2020, having just begun working on business improvements, we caught a whiff of a new virus, and then in March COVID-19 hit us hard. The important thing at that point was to ensure we minimised costs with a staffing level that was sustainable. The Board and senior management were vital in this journey. We all worked hard, which was very rewarding, developing a strong team focus that saw us through some really tough times. Fortunately, a well-established company with 50+ years in business, a diverse temporary and permanent client portfolio (including essential workers) and risk spread across commercial and government contracts held us in good stead for the remainder of the hardest years on record. Thank you also to the powers that be in Canberra for JobKeeper which kept us going through the darkest months.

But I was unable to make easy trips back and forth to Perth see ‘my girls’.

When the market improved, our brands’ strength really shone. We saw the benefit flow through job orders, whilst also attracting quality consulting talent. Covid fluctuations aside, our attention to building longstanding client and candidate relationships meant we were there for employers when the market for talent opened up again. The culture at Slade Group is mature and results oriented. The people are great to work with – diligent, smart, and they value themselves and each other. And through the tough Covid year(s) now we also had fun. Behind the scenes I had the support of Maria Cenic, our wonderful GM of Finance and Shared Services, together with her incredibly dedicated team, and my senior colleagues and a Board who are forward thinking and growth oriented. 

And now at the end of my Melbourne Camino Trail, I’ve reflected and dug deep to make the right decision: I have decided to return to Perth because in the end, without close family and friends there’s a gaping hole in my heart which just can’t be filled by the joy and satisfaction of work. Melbourne, I loved every minute!

And so, for the future record when someone reads Samantha Cotgrave, Reason for Leaving: Covid.

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

R U Really OK?

Imagine this: You witness one of your colleagues, a solid performer in their area of expertise, become so overwhelmed with their workload, that they break down during a team meeting (on camera, because we are meeting virtually), when asked, “How’s your week looking?”

What an eye opener. Yet, this is the reality for many of us, working from home, during the current lockdowns in our major cities in Australia.

It made me think we really need to reach out and take some of the pressure off those we work with, whether colleagues, clients or candidates.

When asked, we have a tendency to reply automatically and say, “I’m good”. So here are some of the things I’ve heard those in my professional network trying to say:

Clients:

“I’m feeling isolated WFH. I’m usually a homebody, but I’m getting lonely.”

“It’s hard to stay focussed. I feel like there’s no purpose to my job.”

“There are only so many walks I can go on for exercise or to get fresh air.”

“So tired of all the virtual meetings!”

Candidates:

“I’m feeling uncertain about finding a job during the current restrictions.”

“I’m nervous about what future lockdowns will mean for my career.”

“My self-esteem is suffering, even though I know I’m highly capable.”

Coworkers:

“I am missing my work colleagues and the social face-to-face interaction. I have no one to vent to.”

“I have plenty of work to keep me going, but I am lacking motivation because of the uncertainty.”

“I just want to come back to the office to have a sense of purpose.”

“It’s hard to stay focused and concentrate on my job requirements due to lots of stop-starting.”

“I’m so sick of looking at the same four walls.”

Carers:

“Home schooling is so hard with young children. My kids are missing the mental stimulation of the classroom and having their friends to play with.”

“I just want to cry!”

Often lending an ear is enough to give someone we care about a leg up. R U OK Day this year is a timely reminder that a conversation could change a life, but starting the conversation at work isn’t always easy. We’ve partnered with Prima Careers to include a helpful infographic below.

R U OK infographic

For more information, go to ruok.org.au or contact Lifeline on 131114 if you or someone you know needs urgent assistance.

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work

Our push for better mental health. Are you up for the challenge?

Did you know that one in five Australians will experience mental ill health this year, yet only 46% of people seek help? It’s a complex challenge – for our loved ones and ourselves, but most of all, for the nine Australians who die by suicide every day.

That is why I will be getting behind our resident fitness instructor, Bill Sakellaris, who is taking part in The Push Up Challenge. Not sure what that is? Well let me tell you a little bit more about it. The Challenge is an initiative that was started by the Push for Better Foundation. They aim to engage and educate people in mental and physical health, and raise awareness of the mental health issues affecting everyday Australians. Their focus is on the prevention and early intervention of depression, anxiety and suicide.

So how many push-ups do you need to do? 3,318 over 25 days! A huge effort, but not impossible (and if that’s a lot for you, they’ll take 75%, 50%, 20% or a donation). Bill has committed to doing 133 push-ups per day starting 1 June. We know he can do it, but you can absolutely do less, or more. A push-up is a push-up and supporting is support!

I am proudly supporting Bill and I would love to be able to support anyone else who decides to join the challenge.

So, will you be joining us? Head to thepushupchallenge.com.au or click here to register. You can participate as an individual, a group, as a workplace or help fundraise. There is even a handy app you can download to track you progress. Follow the Push Up community on #pushforbetter and don’t forget to let us know you’re participating, so we can get behind you too!

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work