2021 IS HERE!

What is your goal or theme for the year?

In 2017, I wrote a blog entry looking at developing themes for the year – given our individual experience(s) and journey through 2020, I felt it was worth republishing (with a couple of edits) – keep reading:)

Did you decide on any New Year resolutions?  If you are anything like me in the past you will have given them a cursory thought and moved on to looking for somewhere with sun to enjoy anything remotely resembling summer!   By the way, who actually has HAD any summer? Please send it to me, I will cover the postage 🙂

For a number of reasons, I have a number of new resolutions this year – well, to be fair they are more like a revised bucket list!  There are a whole lot of things that I have decided that I want to learn and / or do this year.   A bundle of items are actually from existing versions of a bucket list but it’s been completely tossed in the air, re-prioritised and extensively added to – I love it.

But what about developing some goals for the year? We are nearly into February and have had time to think about what we would like to achieve for the year. So how do we approach it?

Here are some ideas to help get you thinking about what you want, get creative and planning to design a theme for 2021!

Grab a pen and paper and take some time (just a couple of minutes a day would be a good start) to jot down some things that you would really like to happen this coming year.  What are your goals?

Some ideas:

  • A new career
  • Volunteer for a charity or cause that is important to you
  • Getting fit
  • Eating healthier
  • Travelling
  • Starting your own business
  • Being more social
  • Finding a hobby
  • Signing on for a course in something you are interested in
  • Saving for something special
  • Getting your motorbike licence or BUYING a motorbike or car that you’ve always wanted

So to help you identify some goals have a think about the following questions:

  1. If you could have anything that you wanted in your life, what would that look like? Conjure up some images to help visualise a possible future state.
  2. Set up a Vision Board with some of the images from point 1. Keep it somewhere where you can see it without looking for it.
  3. What makes you happy? When you are doing something that you really enjoy that puts a smile on your dial, what is it?
  4. When you feel motivated and excited, what are you doing?
  5. When you were young, what did you envision you would be doing at this stage of your life? Do you have a Bucket List?  Write one!
  6. If you already have a Bucket List – what is the priority on that list for you? Is it time to change it around?  Add items to it?
  7. What do you have in your life that you no longer want or don’t want to do anymore? (Oh and this includes people by the way!)
  8. If you had the luxury of unlimited time and resources, what would you do?
  9. Is there anywhere special you have always longed to go? (Local right now, but nothing like planning overseas travel a year or two in advance)
  10. What new activities do you want to try?
  11. Is there anyone you would like to meet, or see?
  12. Is there a new skill you would like to try?
  13. Are you looking for a new job or career?  Talk to a recruitment agency or give me a call for a chat

Designing a theme is less about having milestones and a detailed plan (quelle horreur!) and more about opening your mind to new possibilities and new ways to enrich your life through experience and growth. It could be a moving feast of possibilities as you find a new hobby, become more social, meet someone special, and so on.

Take some time to review your answers and really think about which is most important to you in your current life – which out of all your responses, motivates and excites you?  What or who inspires you the most?

Take that and make that your theme for 2021.   Write it down where you can see it every day.  Add it to you Vision Board.  Feel it!

Support your theme or goal by committing it to paper. What is it?  How do you feel about it?  What is the first step towards achieving it?  Who do you need to talk to, and where do you need to go to find out more information about the process?  Are there any books on the subject that might help?  Any websites that could provide more detail?  Try Mr Google, Siri or Alexa or whatever tool you have – you might be surprised at some of the information available. Research, research reasearch!

Think about conceptualising the goal by creating a visual of your theme.  For example you might have decided to learn to ride a motorbike.  Your theme might consist of roads you want to ride, bikes you would like to buy (eventually!), contact details for ‘Ride for Life’ and other organisations that will help guide your learning. 

Make it big, cut out pictures from magazines, put your visual on your Vision Board where you can see it every day to remind you of how it’s going to feel when you achieve your goal.

  • Focus on the theme every day
  • Keep a record of your progress and any new ideas you might have
  • Update your visual if you have designed one
  • Go the library (or buy) at least two books on the theme that will help provide you with guidance and ideas or inspiration
  • Set up a budget to help support the theme

Don’t let life pass you by, you are not a bystander. Own it, be daring, be different, be YOU in all that you can be.  It all starts here.

If you or your team would like help to develop your theme and goals for the year, both (personally and professionally), please contact me at Chrissie@whitfieldfactor.com or give me a call on +64 21 769 826.

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Micromanagement Anyone?

Anyone who’s been in the workforce for any length of time has probably experienced, to some degree or another, the hell that is micromanagement.  To understand what you are up against, let’s begin with trip inside the mind of the micromanager.

The more some people are given responsibility the more they fear losing control. To reduce their anxieties they seek information in as many ways as possible, resulting in over-reporting, multiple unplanned meetings, and helicopter management. Because this behaviour is usually unconscious, it is also haphazard which is even more frustrating and disruptive. Secondly, micromanagement is often about needing to stay in one’s comfort zone. Many managers are promoted on their ability to focus on detail and get things done, and not on their people and project management skills. For some people it’s just not possible to adjust to leadership and so they remain stuck in the comfort of doing their old jobs, to the detriment of their teams.  There’s also a theory that a certain type of manager believes that people are basically lazy and need to be constantly prodded to get anything done.

So what can we do about it? If you have been told you are a micromanager, then it’s probably true. Here are some tips on how to address some of the classic symptoms.

  • Firstly, face up to your fear of failure. You are not the only one to feel this way so learn to manage your insecurities for your sake and the sake of your staff.
  • To avoid over measurement, select one or two metrics for the success of a project. Focus on them and ignore everything else.
  • Don’t worry about reaching consensus on every little thing. Arrange a limited number of meetings in advance to gather inputs, then set and keep a deadline for decision-making.
  • Identify one overriding priority for each team member and for each team, then leave them to it. If they need help they will ask.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your staff fail from time to time. If they can’t or don’t learn from their mistakes, then that’s another issue.

And, here are some ways to help manage your micromanager:

  • Don’t give your micromanager any reason to nitpick.  Do your job and do it well.
  • If you don’t have a job description or are not clear what is required of you – ask!
  • Anticipate their needs and be proactive.  Perhaps even give them what they want before they realise they want it.  Remember M.A.S.H’s Radar?  Be like Radar.
  • Keep your micromanager updated and proactively, and don’t forget to work out ‘how’ they prefer to be updated to ensure that your updates are both received and understood appropriately.  Over time s/he should see you are a safe pair of hands and can learn to let go.
  • Communicate your own needs clearly. Suggest that your manager step back and let you take charge of a project. If you follow the advice above, there could be happy outcomes for everyone.

Of course there will be times when it’s not possible to manage your micromanager. Don’t beat yourself up. If you know you are performing well, you cannot be held accountable for someone who is not yet ready to be a leader. Mentioning the problem at your exit interview (do contractors still have those?) and high staff turnover will send the message soon enough.

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Who are you and why you matter (from a team perspective)

“We are all of fundamental equal worth. At the same time, our community will be richest if we let all members contribute in their distinctive way, appreciating the differences in roles, education, backgrounds, interests, skills, characters, points of view, and so on”.  (Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations)

We spend a lot of time at work and that’s a lot of time to pretend being someone we are not. I was once advised by a colleague whose opinion I valued that I needed to change, and then spent about five years trying to follow that advice by being someone I’m not. This experience taught me that self-improvement is not about changing but about being your best self, knowing that it is okay to communicate individuality while recognising areas of potential growth.

Cultural value on self-expression has a lot to do with where you live and New Zealanders are more fortunate than others.  Evert van de Vliet argues that in countries where climate and living conditions are generally are very harsh and where the focus is on survival, self-expression is tolerated less. In New Zealand and other countries where the living is easier, tolerance and focus on self-expression is much stronger (Climate, Affluence and Culture, 2008).

Self-expression at work is part of this but a study by Deloittes in the USA has found that most people conceal aspects of their personalities when they arrive at work. Other research shows that while the practice of leaving aspects of ourselves at the workplace door is common, it is also unhealthy, potentially leading to a decrease in immune function, not to mention the impact on emotional well-being.

So self-expression at work is not just good for the individual, it’s good for the workplace too. Being a whole person at work means we feel comfortable talking about our passions and interests, we are given the scope to demonstrate our individual talents and strengths regardless of our role, and we are able to reflect who we are outside work – the people we are within our own families and communities.  This feeling of permission leads to healthier and happier teams.

While no one wants to be thought of as a fake, it can sometimes be dangerous to be too authentic. But this only becomes a problem when the filters are off. Over-sharing and poor emotional management, for example, can create difficulties for teams and are more likely to be career limiting than career enhancing. Our authentic self at work should be the best version of our authentic self and this can be achieved through self-awareness and mindfulness. If we know we can be impatient then we should pay attention to practicing patience. This isn’t being inauthentic; it is being kind and your best self is kind, right?

Here are some ways to practice being both mindful and authentic:

  • Be genuinely interested in your colleagues and what they do both at work and outside work. This doesn’t mean you have to be best mates, but being attentive and concerned brings positive social interaction to the team, connects people, and encourages empathy.
  • Keep doing enjoyable things outside work to keep you fresh and interesting, and most importantly, to relieve stress. This is especially important if your personality type tends towards stress-cadetship.
  • Observe yourself as an impartial spectator. Are you being the best you can be in any given situation? The golden rule applies here – if you like to be treated with kindness and respect then treat others with kindness and respect.

I know from personal experience just how much effort can be wasted when we feel obliged to change our personalities to suit our workplace. This can be avoided when we are confident we are expressing our individuality appropriately, and when we work for organisations that value diversity and encourage staff to be their best selves.

What are your thoughts about being empowered to express your individuality in your workplace?  Share with other readers in the comments below.

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The Relevance / Importance of Emotional Quotient in Leaders

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about Emotional Quotient (EQ) or Emotional Intelligence (EI), in particular the importance of having a high EQ for relationship and career success. The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was first coined in the 60’s and came into common usage following the publication in 1995 of Daniel Goleman’s influential book Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ. While the terms EQ and EI are interchangeable, EQ is a measure of our self-awareness and knowledge, and our ability to feel empathy and display sensitivity towards others. Just as an IQ test is used to measure intelligence, EQ tests are used to measure emotional intelligence.

Since the publication of Goleman’s book, the importance of EQ in the workplace has been the subject of much interest, with research in the States showing that as little as 10 to 25% of career success can be attributed to IQ, and a whopping 75 to 90% to EQ. It makes sense then to conclude that people who want to succeed in leadership positions either need to have or be able to develop a high EQ.

Just how valid is the claim that emotional intelligence and leadership potential are linked? In 2003 Malcolm Higgs and Paul Aitken studied a group of 40 New Zealand senior public servants, and found some evidence to support the relationship between their levels of EQ and their leadership ability. It is reassuring to note that Higgs and Aitken also found that the “technology” organisations use to measure emotional intelligence (such as assessment centres) had a high degree of reliability.

In general terms EI can be distilled into two main concepts: self‐awareness and emotional management. Goleman’s original model also includes internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. Arguably the most important of these components is the ability to empathise. Individuals, corporations and organisations lacking in empathy – both for their workforce and their customers – are almost sure to run into problems, especially around reputation. Employers are increasingly coming to realise that these problems can be pre-empted or corrected by recruiting leaders with high emotional intelligence.

You might think that notions of EQ and EI lack scientific rigour, but neuroscientists have recently discovered a physiological basis for empathy. When we observe the actions of other people, multiple systems in the brain called mirror neurons reflect the actions back to us causing a mimic effect. So when we notice someone is sad, we too will feel sad to a certain extent, and when people around us are happy, it makes us happy too. Basically, our mirror neurons connect us to the feelings of the people around us, including colleagues and staff, as well as friends and family.  Depending on how well tuned these mirror neurons are explains why some people are naturally very empathetic while others have almost no empathy at all. It also explains why many people believe that great leaders are born not made. While the jury is still out on whether empathy can be taught (medical training is a good example), some organisational experts believe it is possible as long as people can be trained to identify and overcome their roadblocks to empathy.

 Leading with your heart

Tracey Crossley of the Huff Post expands Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence criteria to: compassion; good communication; a sense of humour; authenticity, respect; confidence; intuition; creativity; and, perhaps most important of all, leading with the heart. What I would add to this list is courage, because it sometimes takes guts to be all those things in workplaces where the primary focus is productivity rather than creating a healthy emotional environment. But even with our mirror neurons firing on all cylinders, it seems a no-brainer that when leaders possess the qualities that Crossley identifies then high performance and great outcomes from a happy and engaged workforce are the natural result.

What your thoughts?  Is there any other qualities that you would add to EI to ensure a happy and engaged workforce?

Comments welcome 🙂

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Priority Setting!

PRIORITY SETTING

Some people are natural-born prioritisers. You know the type – those friends, family members and colleagues who live with a to-do list in their heads that they can call on and re-jig at a moment’s notice.

Not everyone is like this but everyone can learn how, and if you are a project or people manager it is all the more important to become a skilled priority setter. Your staff will count on you for guidance or just reassurance they are prioritising their own work in the best way.

But even the most crash-hot priority setter will need a moment when every task appears to be Number One, particularly during complex or multiple projects with looming deadlines. Project management software is a useful tool but it is just that – a tool. It still needs a human hand (and brain) to identify the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in priorities that just about every project requires.

Most experts suggest the following steps for successful priority setting:

What is URGENT?

Collect a list of all your tasks and identify which ones are URGENT versus those that are merely important. An URGENT task is anything that if it is not done immediately with have serious negative consequences. Then get it done, like now.

What is IMPORTANT?

Of the tasks you have identified as IMPORTANT, put them in VALUE order, for example IMPORTANT work for clients should normally take priority over IMPORTANT internal work. Another way to measure importance is to assess the number of people who will be affected if the task is delayed.

How much effort will it take?

If you have identified more than one task with equal value, start on the one that will take the most effort to complete. It can be tempting to get the easy ones out of the way first but the spectre of the big task ahead will stress you out. However, if the task really is too daunting to get stuck into straight away, get a quick and easy one out of the way first to motivate you.

Can it be cut?

Accept that there are some tasks that are nice to have but that can be cut without any serious detriment to people or the project. This is where good management comes in. Staff who may feel unconfident about removing tasks may need guidance and support. The important thing is to identify quickly what the small stuff is and not to sweat it.

Life “Balance”

All the tips above relate to priority setting in a work context. But to achieve life balance, requires you to prioritise your whole life in such a way that you take good care of yourself and have plenty of time for the people and activities that make your life enjoyable.

Your personal priorities need to overlay everything else. When personal and work priorities are working in sync – that is when you feel comfortable and confident about what you know needs to be done first – then you have achieved a healthy life balance. Your stress levels will reduce and you, your colleagues and the special people in your life will be all the better for it.

If you or your team would like help to develop your priority setting skills, please contact me at Chrissie@whitfieldfactor.com or give me a call on +64 21 769 826.

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Dealing with Conflict

Almost all workplaces involve contact with people with whom we might not choose to associate under other circumstances. That’s life, and learning to get on with those we don’t like or don’t share our values is part of being a grown-up. It’s also true that most conflicts can be resolved – even the very worse kind. It won’t happen overnight but with good will on both sides it will happen.

Chief Happiness Officer blogger, Alexander Kjerulf (http://positivesharing.com/2006/07/5-essential-steps-to-resolve-a-conflict-at-work/) distils work conflict solutions into five essential points.

1.   Accept that conflicts at work are inevitable

Understand that conflict is inevitable and that there is no such thing as “winning”: Kjerulf says“[g]etting the outcome you want regardless of what the other person wants can be gratifying, sure, but the problem is that the underlying issue has not been solved.”

2.   Handle conflict sooner rather than later

The price of letting unresolved conflicts continue is high, resulting in hostility, miscommunication, inefficiency, stress and low productivity. All this will make you and your co-workers very unhappy so tackle the problem early.

3.   Ask!

If someone’s actions or words hurt you, ask them (nicely, of course) why they did what they did or said what they said. There might be a logical or at least satisfactory explanation. Don’t assume people do things just to upset you.

4.   Giraffe language

For long-running conflicts, Kjerulf suggests using “giraffe language”:

  • Identify with the other person what you see in neutral, objective terms
  • Apologize for your part in the conflict
  • Praise the other person and tell them why the conflict is worth resolving
  • Explain what the conflict means for you and for the company, and why it is a problem
  • Propose a good outcome
  • Ask for specific actions that can be implemented right away.

5.   Mediation

When conflicts become so entrenched and cannot be solved, a third, objective voice can help. This could be a trusted co-worker, manager, business coach or professional mediator.

How to deal with Horrible Bosses

When the source of conflict at work is your manager, the situation is trickier to resolve. A good boss will take on constructive criticism, but as we know not all bosses are good. Kjerulf suggests the following strategies for dealing with a horrible boss.

Assume no bad intentions

Unless proven otherwise, assume your manager does not intend to make you unhappy. He or she might lack emotional intelligence and appreciate advice on how to do better.

Classify your boss

There are three types of bad boss. Classifying him or her will provide you with the best strategy:

  1. Has no idea s/he’s bad: a polite but firm conversation with this kind of boss might be all that’s needed. In fact, pointing out your boss’s s shortcomings is likely to help the whole team, and increased happiness and productivity becomes its own reward.
  2. Knows s/he’s bad and wants to improve: A boss with greater self-awareness who genuinely wants to improve will welcome honest and constructive feedback.
  3. Doesn’t want to know s/he’s bad or doesn’t care: this type of boss is a lost cause especially if his or her line manager is not willing or able to address the manager’s behaviour. If escalating the problem does not result in a good outcome for you, do yourself a kindness and get out.

Address conflict sooner rather than later

Don’t be tempted to wait and hope the relationship will improve with time or your boss will leave. Early action is best.

Choose the right time and place to talk

Arrange a face to face meeting where you won’t be interrupted, and remain calm and professional. Explain how your manager’s behaviour affects you and your work, suggest ways to do things better, and follow up at a later date to review the situation together.

Praise managers when they get it right

You don’t have to be a boss yourself to do this. Most managers will appreciate positive feedback from staff when they get it right.

My personal tips for surviving workplace conflict until it is resolved:

  • Protect your good reputation by behaving well in the face of bad behaviour: remaining calm and professional in the long run enhances your reputation while those who create or prolong conflict will have their own reputation problems later on. Take comfort in the fact you are doing what you can to resolve the conflict.
  • Take good care of yourself: imagine you are your own best friend, treat yourself to flowers and facials (even you guys), and meet up with empathetic friends for lunch or an after-work drink.
  • Leave work problems at work. Your home is your sanctuary from workplace conflict – keep it that way.
  • Where you are being drawn into an untenable situation or feel that you are being provoked / manipulated into behaving badly yourself, as mentioned earlier, don’t hesitate to bring in a trusted co-worker, or manager to a) calm tension b) encourage professionalism or even c) become a witness where and when necessary.
  • If you have decided that there is nothing for it but to leave – do talk to your organisations HR Manager first. They will have a good handle on the organisation’s politics and people and may be able to offer some practical and qualified advice.
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Is It Time To Go Contracting?

The needs of the workplace are changing constantly and there is an increasing desire to achieve a better work / life balance. This has resulted in more of us moving into contracting as a career choice. I have been approached several times over the past six months for advice on how to start the contracting journey. Here are my hints and tips.

First of all, WHO are you and WHAT are you selling to potential employers?

Have you crafted your CV / Resume to ensure it covers your skill sets and highlights recent experiences and achievements?  Does it include a professional title, and does it include a skills or competency matrix (if that is relevant to the role that you are applying for)?

You only have a few seconds to impress someone with your CV.  Make sure you include key words from the job description and demonstrate how and where in your professional history you meet the requirements.  Many of us are modest by nature and selling ourselves can be difficult – give me a call if you would like help to market your skills and experience.

So – HOW to proceed?

To start with, you need to decide how to structure your contracting business, whether as a sole trader, partnership, or Limited Liability Company.  The Ministry of Building, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) provides awesome information on how to make the right choice and how to proceed.  Here is a good one to get you started http://www.business.govt.nz/getting-started/taking-the-first-steps/choosing-the-right-business-structure.

Once you have decided on the structure for your new business, you need to sort out practical things like:

  1. Taxes – when contractors first start out, they often forget to put aside enough money to pay for both GST and (provisional) Income Tax. While we all know we have to pay tax, GST often gets overlooked. GST registration is a requirement if your income reaches $60k in a 12 month period. MBIE covers all this and more at https://www.business.govt.nz/tax-and-accounting/basic-tax-types/introduction-to-taxes-and-levies/. And here is a great one from IRD http://www.ird.govt.nz/yoursituation-bus/starting/business-starting-index.html.  Take advantage of the free and reliable information on offer and make sure you go in with your eyes open.

AFTER NOTE: A new Tax Bill has just been passed with the changes for employers of contract resources taking effect from 1 April 2017.  The new legislation could mean that tax is deducted at source so as a contractor you may not have to pay provisional tax from 1/4/2017.  IRD is currently updating its website so keep an eye on it and what the changes could mean for you as a contractor:  http://www.ird.govt.nz/campaigns/2017/changes-schedular-payments.html.

  1. ACC Levies – these can also be overlooked and it can be a shock to get an unexpected invoice in the mail. All businesses – big and small – are required to pay ACC levies to cover the cost of treating work-related injuries. The MBIE link in the previous paragraph provides the information you need. Among other things, the levies are based on your business classification, claims history and earnings.  To find out more, check out the ACC website:  http://www.acc.co.nz/for-business/index.htm.  Take the opportunity to talk to an ACC Business Representative upfront and provide details about your business including the appropriate classification to ensure that you are charged the correct levies from the outset.  The ACC Levy Guidebook is available to download from ACC for 2016/17 from this link http://www.acc.co.nz/publications/index.htm?ssBrowseSubCategory=Business%20descriptions%20and%20industry%20codes.
  1. Accounting Tools – A number of accounting tools offering simple solutions that are easy to use (Xero or MYOB for example), but equally there are some really great accountants out there who specialise in small businesses and don’t charge an arm and a leg.  I prefer manual invoicing (although that might change soon) and having an accountant.  It’s worth talking to other contractors to see who they use – a referral is a great way to find a good accountant.
  1. Invoicing – If you are going through a recruitment agency you probably won’t need to prepare invoices; generally you will provide a signed-off timesheet to the agency who will bill the employer and pay you. However, if you are contracted directly to the employer, YOU are responsible for getting your timesheets signed off and submitting an invoice (usually monthly).  A basic invoice needs to include at a minimum:
  • Your company name / your name
  • Your address and contact details
  • Date
  • Unique invoice number
  • GST number
  • Who is being billed (quote a purchase order number or specific cost centre if supplied)
  • Description of services delivered
  • The number of hours being billed (as per approved timesheets)
  • Itemised disbursements that you have approval to charge
  • Your bank account details (most important!).
  1. Business Banking – at the very least a separate bank account is a good idea to keep your earnings separate from your savings or cheque account. It also means that if your sums are correct you should have the required tax payments on hand and on time.
  1. Filing system – Believe it or not, this is a biggie! You would be surprised how quickly you are invoiced for goods and services as a business and / or purchase items (e.g. stationery, software, mobile phone). Keep all invoice records for tax and GST purposes.  I have a basic cash-flow sheet that keeps track of all expenses to provide to my accountant each year.
  1. Insurance – You will need to consider both professional and personal indemnity. Some organisations ask for no less than $1m professional and up to $5m Public Liability insurance.  Shop around, talk to other contractors, and get a good understanding of what your market’s expectations are.
  1. Contacts – Who do you know? Do you have a Linked In profile?  Have you worked with people in the past whom you would like to work with again? It’s worth the price of a coffee to catch up and see if they know of any contracts in your area of expertise.  Advertise your availability on Linked In, email ex-workmates, approach hiring managers.  Make sure you have referees lined up and a CV that outlines your skills and highlights key experiences.
  1. Networking – What professional organisations do you belong to? Do you attend and support their events?  Are there any local organisations that match your skill set and have the kind of roles you prefer?  Which organisations do you relate to and can add value to, and include members that may be able to help you get your next role?  How could you contribute (volunteer; join the committee; sponsor an event; provide a meeting place; become a speaker) to the organisation and make it a win/win?
  1. Professional Image – When you set yourself up as a contractor, pay heed to your professional identity and image. The way you present yourself at interviews and at work, to the state of your invoicing (layout, spelling, and use of company name) says a lot about YOU.  It’s not unusual for contractors to work with a graphic designer (GD) to establish a corporate identity – business cards to use at networking events and graphics for invoicing and emails are a good way to establish a consistent image.  My GD is a very good one and has covered several iterations of my business cards, stationery and email design, as well as website design and build, all at very reasonable prices.  If you are interested, let me know and I will pass on his contact details.
  1. Recruitment Agencies – I have purposely left this one till last. There are great advantages in working with a recruitment agency – at the very least, and probably most importantly, they have access to the ‘good oil’. They work within their sphere of expertise and have all the contacts you don’t.  They know of jobs coming up and they work closely with hiring managers to understand the role requirements and the type of person they are looking for.  There are a number of perks including (but not limited to):
  • Certainty of payment / invoicing (you usually get paid fortnightly even when their invoice hasn’t been paid)
  • Advice and leverage from a group of peers
  • Social / peer networking (most agencies provide an opportunity for networking within their contractor pool)
  • Negotiating on your behalf (don’t underestimate the value of having agency support if issues are raised about your pay rate, deliverables, hours, products, or invoicing)
  • Working with someone that fully understands the scope and breadth of your skills and strengths and can target specific roles and clients on your behalf
  • Help to identify marketable skill sets you may not realise you have
  • Sales – contacts
  • Pipeline maintenance – once you have worked with a recruiter (and proven your skills and trustworthiness) they will be proactive in getting new work lined up to minimise your downtime.

It can be hard work finding the ‘right’ agency – both from a hiring manager AND a contractor perspective, but there is gold out there.   If you choose to go with an agency (as opposed to going it alone via your existing network), have a look around and talk to a few first. Buy them a coffee and have a chat to find one that you feel will work best for you.  Sometimes that choice is taken out of our hands when we find an advertised role and end up with an agency by default.  But if you have a choice, look around, talk to other contractors to see who they use, and get feedback.  If you are stuck – drop me a line.  I’m happy to pass on referrals for specific agencies that have ‘passed the test of time’ with my requirements as a hiring manager.

Just one thing I will add here – for the sake of all agencies and hiring managers please DON’T go to numerous agencies and cast your CV around like confetti at a wedding – it is counter-productive.  If you find yourself in a position where you are being considered for the same role through different agencies, OR if you have approached a different agency to your primary one – be upfront and let all parties know what you are doing.  There is nothing worse than a hiring manager receiving a CV for the same contractor from different agencies. At best it is confusing and at worst it is seen as disingenuous, and may well be the death knell for you with that role AND the agencies.

If you would like help to prepare your CV for contracting, message me with your email address. NOTE: CV work for the first two responders will be provided FREE of charge.

I can also send you a FREE copy of my simple-to-use cash-flow or invoice tracking spreadsheet(s), and an invoice template.  Just get in touch.

Is there anything else you want to know about contracting? Let me know in the comments below.

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Brain Teaser Interview Questions

We have all been there …

It’s going to be the Perfect Interview. You are feeling upbeat and confident; you’ve prepared well and researched the company, the team, the role, and the culture.  You have reviewed your CV, racked your brains for examples of behavioural questions, and now you are ready to take on this panel of serious looking dudes and dudettes.

  • Active listening? Check
  • Responses to behavioural questions on point? Check
  • Playing back questions you don’t quite understand? Check?
  • Smiling? Check?
  • Confident? Check
  • Starting to relax? Check.

And then out of left field it happens – POW!  The smile falters and you stumble – “say what?”  The interviewer repeats the question carefully – “How many cats are there in New York?”

I’m guessing “who cares and how is this relevant to the position of Programme Director?” is not the response they are after, but where are they going with this?

You might be surprised by the number of odd or brainteaser questions and the reasons they are asked in interview situations.  Here are a few more examples:

  • If you were a crayon in a box of crayons – what colour would you be, and why?
  • If you woke up one day and had received thousands of emails but could only open 10% of them, which ones would you open, and why?
  • If you had to explain the colour yellow (or red or green) to a blind person, what would you say?

These interview questions, although unusual and startling, are designed to find out how you respond or react to the unexpected.  Is the candidate creative with their response?  Have they attempted to answer it?  There is no prize for guessing that saying “I don’t know” isn’t the response they are hoping for.

Brainteaser questions also help uncover traits that may be missed from a traditional or behavioural interview, for example: a sense of humour; creativity; critical thinking; analytical skills; and thinking on your feet. The interviewer wants to understand your approach to problem-solving. The actual answer you come up with is not important, but how you arrived at that conclusion is. Were you able to work your way through the issue in a confident manner? What assumptions did you make, and why?

For an approach to answering these types of questions consider the following:

  1. Stay calm and relax (after your initial surprise!)
  2. Use a pen and paper if necessary to help focus your thoughts
  3. Take time to think about the question
  4. Check that you do understand what you have been asked
  5. Be logical in your response
  6. Demonstrate your problem-solving and approach by talking it through out loud
  7. State your assumptions clearly.

These days the focus of the interview is more on structured behavioural questions, especially for senior level positions. However, in my own experience, I have noticed that some panels still have the tendency to sneak one in – including me!  :).

Have you been asked any odd interview questions?  How did you fare?  Let me know in the comments below.

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What Is YOUR Theme For 2017?

What is your theme for 2017?

Did you decide on any New Year resolutions?  If you are anything like me you will have given them a cursory thought and moved on to looking for somewhere with sun to enjoy anything remotely resembling summer!

But what about developing a theme for the year? We are into February and have had time to think about what we would like to achieve for the year. So how do we approach it?

Here are some ideas to help get you thinking about what you want, get creative and planning to design a theme for 2017!

Grab a pen and paper and take some time (just a couple of minutes a day would be a good start) to jot down some things that you would really like to happen this coming year.  What are your goals?

Some ideas:

  • A new career
  • Getting fit
  • Eating healthier
  • Travelling
  • Starting your own business
  • Being more social
  • Finding a hobby
  • Saving for something special
  • Getting your motorbike licence.

So to help you identify some goals think about the following questions:

  1. If you could have anything that you wanted in your life, what would that look like? Conjure up some images to help visualise a possible future state.
  2. What makes you happy? When you are doing something that you really enjoy that puts a smile on your dial, what is it?
  3. When you feel motivated and excited, what are you doing?
  4. When you were young, what did you envision you would be doing at this stage of your life? Do you have a Bucket List?  Write one!
  5. If you already have a Bucket List – what is the priority on that list for you?
  6. What do you have in your life that you no longer want or don’t want to do anymore?
  7. If you had the luxury of unlimited time and resources, what would you do?
  8. Is there anywhere special you have always longed to go?
  9. What new activities do you want to try?
  10. Is there anyone you would like to meet, or see?
  11. Is there a new skill you would like to try?

Designing a theme is actually less about having milestones and a detailed plan (quelle horreur!) and more about opening up your mind to new possibilities and new ways to enrich your life through experience and growth. It could be a moving feast of possibilities as you find a new hobby, become more social, meet someone special, and so on.

Take some time to review your answers and really think about which is most important to you in your current life – which out of all your responses, motivates and excites you?  What inspires you the most?

Take that and make that your theme for 2017.   Write it down where you can see it every day.  Feel it!

Support your theme by committing it to paper. What is it?  How do you feel about it?  What is the first step towards achieving it?  Who do you need to talk to, and where do you need to go to find out more information about the process?  Are there any books on the subject that might help?

Think about conceptualising the goal by creating a visual of your theme.  For example you might have decided to learn to ride a motorbike.  Your theme might consist of roads you want to ride, bikes you would like to buy (eventually!), contact details for ‘Ride for Life’ and other organisations that will help guide your learning.  Make it big, cut out pictures from magazines, put your visual where you can see it every day to remind you of how it’s going to feel when you achieve your goal.

  • Focus on the theme every day
  • Keep a record of your progress and any new ideas you might have
  • Update your visual if you have designed one
  • Go the library (or buy) at least two books on the theme that will help provide you with guidance and ideas or inspiration
  • Set up a budget to help support the theme.

Don’t let life pass you by. Own it, be daring, be different, be YOU in all that you can be.  It all starts here.

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Why is it so hard to say NO?

The ability to say NO effectively is a very powerful tool yet it is easier for some people and not so easy for others – why is that?

How come I can say NO to anyone (other than my cute three and a half year old grandson!) and leave the recipient in no doubt as to the clarity of my response, whereas a good friend of mine can say NO in a myriad of different ways and it always seems to come across as a ‘maybe yes’?

To be fair, with my working background in prisons, I have had plenty of practice in the art of saying NO clearly and articulately whilst not undermining the other person (or people).  BUT I wasn’t always able to do this – over the years through trial and error I have gained a clearer sense of self-awareness around where I choose to spend my time and energy, with whom and doing what.

If, like the ‘old’ me, in your head the answer is NO but when you open your mouth it becomes a ‘maybe’ – consider the following:

  1. Be aware of your audience – who are you saying NO to?  Tailor your response and approach accordingly.  If you feel the recipient needs extra care – be gentle, yet assertive.
  2. Plan your approach, your words and be confident. If you don’t feel it, fake it until you make it (practice with a mirror or a trusted friend!).
  3. Don’t be afraid to be selfish – if you already have commitments on your time, money or energy, give yourself permission to deliver to those commitments.
  4. Say ‘I don’t…’ instead of ‘I can’t…’ to empower yourself. In a social situation, saying ‘I don’t drink’ when you are up against a strong peer group is much more effective and powerful than saying ‘I can’t drink’ but the former provides a sense of finality (acknowledging that you may have to repeat it several times during the night!). ‘I don’t have time to do this for you’ is much more effective and powerful than ‘I can’t see where I can fit that in’.
  5. Speak firmly and assertively. Don’t say ‘I don’t think I can’ or ‘I’m not sure if I can’.
  6. Back up the word(s) with body language. Sit or stand tall, nod and look them in the eye if you can.  Saying NO is not at all effective if you are face to face and nodding your head and/or looking at the ground while you are saying it.
  7. Now, empower yourself and go practice with a small NO so the big ones become easier and more natural over time.
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