Friday, 11 May 2018

Things you may not know about me - work, rest & play

Things you may not know about me - "work, rest & play"

Starting with "work" I've had jobs in sport, special events, tourism, rural & countryside issues, economic development, public relations & marketing, skills and training. Furthermore I've worked in the public, private and charity sectors.

I've: been a Pool Lifeguard, worked with Mickey, Minnie and Goofy in Bath, ran a touring caravan site, advised the management board of a country park, helped design the largest visitor experience on the site of Garden Festival Wales in the South Wales Valleys, managed a rural business service across Devon & Cornwall, had a part in the development of the Eden Project (I stood on the top of the china clay pit with local councillors trying to persuade them that this was a great idea when all they could think of were the drawbacks), was a Board Member of "Taste of the West" - the regional food group for the West Country - and I judged a national food competition in a posh hotel in London, advised the East Midlands Regional Assembly about rural issues, been interviewed by a TV crew sat in the back of a rickshaw, organised Ministerial visits and attended Royal Opening ceremonies, designed business plans to promote jobs and inward investment in the East Midlands, won a national "Investors in People" Award competing against Heads of HR from local authorities and health authorities, helped spend £13 million pounds worth of European money, worked with Solihull MBC & Job Centre Plus to get people back into work, helped Solihull Sustain write a winning bid to run a volunteer bureau by doing some pre-research, lectured at Wolverhampton and Worcester Universities, match managed an Ashes Test Match and T20 County Cricket, worked with the New Zealand Women's Cricket team - and nearly had to play for them due to squad injuries!, driven a transit van delivering internal post around Birmingham ...and I've taught Supervisory Skills to civil servants, care home and social workers in the Isle of Man.

I've been TUPE'ed three times, made redundant once and then set up my own business doing job interview coaching.

Closer to my current role - I've chaired job interview panels in some unusual settings like a TV studio, in a church hall (when a window cleaner appeared behind us unbeknownst to the panel), and in a store cupboard at a Community Forest. I've interviewed for jobs in, for example, housing, transport, rural development, press / PR / marketing, project workers, educational resources, admin / office management, equality & diversity etc. I've even done "speed interviewing" of schoolchildren to give them a taste of what the real world is all about.

As far as "rest" goes I enjoy photography, watching films and I love a good quiz ...since my brain seems to retain trivia better than useful stuff!

And lastly as far as "play" is concerned you may not know that I played county cricket for 14 years for Somerset and Derbyshire, I umpired hockey to junior international standard, and now I play golf off a 17 handicap.

So that's a whistle stop tour of things you may not know about me at work, rest and play... Mars bar anyone??

Clean shoes = attention to detail

Shoe cleaning is a kind of meditation for me. When all the footwear in the house is shiny & showing a “clean pair of heals” on our shoe rack, I feel calm and like “the universe” is in its rightful place - at least in that moment.

I’m also reassured that the next time I grab a pair off the shelf their cleanliness will make me feel great as I pull them on ...and may also make people think I’m wearing new shoes!

It was something my father always encouraged me to do. Keeping my shoes clean would help others take me more seriously. It was about self-respect as well as keeping your belongings in good order. (Plus it meant they’d last longer - always an eye on minimising unnecessary expenditure my Dad!)

Thinking about footwear recently reminded me of an old boss who said the best piece of advice his parents gave him was to remember to polish the heels as well as the fronts of his shoes. They viewed it as good manners. They told him that for all he knew someone’s first impression may be from following him down a corridor or up a flight of stairs.

So when I found myself unexpectedly with enough spare time... and finally with some sunshine beaming down on our back patio... to encourage me outdoors with my shoe cleaning kit... I found myself pondering this nugget of wisdom and how it may help my clients.

My work introduces me to lots of people who’ve either never had a job interview before or whose recent experiences have encouraged them to seek my coaching before they next face a panel of eagerly expectant interviewers.

I often talk with them about how to make a great first impression. It’s that one teeny weeny, initial glimpse and almost infinitesimally small fleeting moment to present themselves at their absolute best.

What do they want their interviewer’s lasting impression to be? How professional do they appear at first glance? Are they making themselves look like an ideal candidate? How easy is it for them to be “pictured” doing the job?

It’s a useful reminder that sometimes the small things can take on a larger significance. Clean shoes - front and back - does mean you’ve bothered to polish all their sides. And yet it also reflects useful qualities of attention to detail and completing the task no matter how mundane it may seem.

Meanwhile - on our back patio - I know I also enjoy the satisfaction of being able to stand back at the end and admire the results of my efforts and to see the benefit of all of my input. I suspect that in our seemingly faster and faster paced lives it’s a rare experience. So I try to freeze the moment in my consciousness like a photo. Then I smile at the thought that people will think that these are all new pairs of shoes ...and then my smile broadens as I imagine my Dad would’ve liked that thought too.

Next time you see me I suggest you check my feet first. Are my shoes shiny front and back? Yes? Then you’ve caught me “putting my best foot forward.”

Thursday, 1 March 2018

What could some “Muppet” teach me about job interviews?

Good question. Quite a lot potentially. Here’s how being a bit more of a “muppet” might well help you the next time you’re at an interview.
Let’s consider what this might give you:
Kermit - listening & leadership
Miss Piggy - performance
Gonzo - bravery
Scooter - enthusiasm
Statler & Waldorf - self awareness

Let’s think more about each of these characters and what they can “teach” you potentially about how to succeed at interviews.

Kermit uses active listening skills and a deep empathy for his colleagues.  These leadership qualities shine through as he tries to be a role model and explain his vision for how well he’d like each Muppet Show performance to go. Even if the reality is not quite what he expected - usually for reasons outside his control.

Miss Piggy embraces her “inner diva” and knows that whatever setbacks there might be “the show must go on!”. As a star performer she knows that rehearsals and perfecting her own personal presentation is all that matters to her audience. When the lights go on and the music starts she’s ready to perform.

Gonzo’s the kind of guy who’s likely to say  “give me the ‘right’ suit & then fire me out of a cannon!” (not to be taken literally in an interview please). He’s brave and has a can-do attitude. Sometimes, even like Gonzo The Great, we need to convince ourselves we’re ready for the job and have confidence in our own ability.

Scooter is boundlessly enthusiastic and clearly demonstrates that he wants to help the team. It’s hard to teach someone to be keen. For this reason employers know that if you’re motivated at interview then you’re more likely to be enthusiastic as an employee.

Statler & Waldorf can perhaps teach us how to be our own best positive “critic”. Taking a few moments straight after any interview for some self reflection and constructive feedback can be invaluable - regardless of the outcome.  We should consider what we learnt and how to do better next time if we’re going to keep the heckling to a minimum - whether it’s real or imagined.

For many people interviews can feel odd and “artificial”. After all - how many times in our lives are we put in a room with people we probably don’t know and asked to boast about ourselves? 

Telling our own “stories” and showcasing our skills to an audience is about a performance.

So next time you find yourself preparing for a job interview which muppet can help you most?

Me? I might take a bit of all of them.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Race for Life 2018

Please help me raise money for this worthwhile cause

Here's my page for this year

Are all job interviews a "gamble"?

It’s a “numbers game” and you have to be “in it to win it” as they say.

Many of us look at a job advert and talk ourselves out of applying by thinking that we’re not able to fulfil all the requirements of the post.  We feel it’s too big a gamble. At that moment I challenge you to be brave and apply anyway.

You may also need a “poker face” …or at least a calm exterior

Appearing composed at a job interview is a real asset, even if underneath that the nerves are jangling. Being able to put yourself into a frame of mind where you can convey a relaxed confidence and positive attitude, while listening carefully to what is required of you, can help so long as it is kept at a believable level.

Over confidence and an over relaxed state risks being misinterpreted as being blasé and unfocused – so keep the “performance” balanced and genuine.

Interviews and starting new jobs are often high pressure moments where you’ll need to maintain your composure. Keeping control of your emotions when working at pace, as well as being able to think clearly and act decisively despite being under the spotlight will all help you along the way.

Do you understand the numbers?

It’s also a “numbers game” in a different sense when numerical reasoning is tested as part of the recruitment selection process, so practising quick mental arithmetic is a useful skill to keep as sharp as possible.

Spinning and winning?

Risk and budget management are key skills in today’s job market.  The ability to take a logical approach and fully understand the factors involved should be the basis of clear evidence-based decision making.

Most jobs involve some element of calculated risk taking. Understanding the likelihood of a scenario, being able to do options appraisals and fully appreciate the impact of each potential choice, form a skill set that ensures resources are targeted where they will have the greatest result, reduces waste and maximises efficiency. So have some great examples to use at your next interview.

Stacking your own odds?

Learning to remain calm under pressure, improving your arithmetic and developing robust risk assessment are all skills that will help shorten the odds of being successful at that next interview.  

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Can you blag your way into a job?

What happens when you know you’d be brilliant at a job even though it’s very different to anything you’ve done before? Maybe a friend or relative secured you the interview? 
Let’s think through how to “blag your way in” with a suggested 9-step plan.
1.        Convincing
First you need to be convinced. If you are then it’ll be easier to convince your interviewer.  A clear mindset can help you land a great role even where, at least theoretically, you’re not necessarily experienced or qualified for it.
2.        Transferables
The key is finding where you have “transferable skills” or experience. For this you’ll need to put yourself “in their shoes”. What is it you’ve achieved before that will sound almost exactly like what they’re looking for? You’ve got to show how you’ve done something so similar it might as well have been in the new job. 
3.        Strip it back
Work out the “real” core requirements of the job. Mostly they’ll be related to the following:
Being organised, problem solving, measuring or monitoring, teamwork, adapting to change, talking to people and reading / writing / arithmetic
Now identify a couple of times when you’ve been brilliant at each one of these skills.
4.        Search for …the “bridges”
Look for the linkages that show that these examples are relevant. Now practise explaining how they relate to the new job. You’ll need to be careful what words you use to avoid distracting your interviewer with references to other sectors or irrelevant job titles etc.  You may also want to expand on why this is a great comparison and to make the connections clear for your audience to understand your line of thinking.
5.        Search for …the people
Find someone, or alternatively - someone who knows someone, who’s done a similar job. You’ll be amazed what your social / work networks will yield. If you look hard enough there’s always someone you can meet for a coffee, call, email or send a message to who can give you some nuggets of advice about the job, organisation and sector. 
People love to be put in the role of “expert” so now you can test out whether you’re on the right lines with the core skills and “bridges” you’ve been working on.
6.        Learn quick
Arm yourself with a couple of stunning answers to “when have you been a quick learner?”. Firstly because these will be useful in any interview and, secondly, because you’ve got to convince your interviewer that the next person in this job doesn’t need relevant skills or experience… they just need to be adaptable and willing to learn! 
7.        Reflections
Sound and look like your interviewers to make it as easy as possible for them to imagine you in the job. Use their words in your answers – the ones in the advert, job description or on their website / publicity material. Dress in a similar style to them. Check out their dress “culture” before you arrive with anyone who knows the place or try to catch a glimpse outside their premises / in corporate videos etc
(If you’re feeling ready for advanced level “reflections” you could even experiment with some small scale body language “mirroring” - although you’ll need to be very subtle please.)
8.         Turn on the charm
Do your homework! Research their sector, organisation and the role itself. Know what their “hot topics” and current issues are so you can demonstrate your passion and commitment to the new job.
9.        Why you?
Work out what you have that’s unique to you and potentially valuable to them. This is your “unique selling point”. You may even have more than one thing that’s different about you and what you can bring to this role – besides the benefit of having a ”different perspective” (i.e. no “relevant” experience - at least on paper!)

To blag or not to blag?
Once you’ve been through the 9 steps above thoroughly then please ask yourself whether or not you’re convinced you could do the job. If the answer is “yes” then you’re probably ready to test the blag. Good luck!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

"Keep it Simple - with your next Job Interview" - Time to Spring Clean your approach

Modern life can be extremely complex. Job interviews can feel the same. So it's worth spending a few moments making things simpler for yourself the next time you prepare.

Here are a few practical ideas to “spring clean” your approach and to succeed at interviews.

First impressions start days before you enter the room
How you reply to your interview invite will make an “impression” on whoever receives it.

Think tactically about the words you use in the phone call, email, or online acceptance you send back to your prospective employer.  You need to appear professional and as much like the organisation’s ideal candidate as possible.

Remember also to spell and grammar check everything you write.  Clarity, correctness and attention to detail are paramount - especially if these are skills required in the job.

Remove any “mystery” before the big day
Take as much of the “surprise” out of the interview as you can by researching the organization and asking well crafted questions in advance of the day to ensure you know exactly what's expected of you.

Make a list of things you need to ask that will help you to be properly prepared.  The answers should dispel the impression that this is some mystical process where they want to catch you off-guard.  Generally they're not trying to do this.

Beside the “where…”, “when…” and “who…” questions you could consider some of the following:
E.g. how long should I expect the interview to last? Are there any tests?  Can I prepare anything beforehand? Is it ok for me to refer to notes?

Take your notes with you
Most interviewers will allow you to use notes.  They'd rather have someone who refers briefly to notes and answers a question, than someone who looks blank and struggles to know what to say.  It also shows that you've arrived properly prepared.

Add to your notes a list of the questions you will ask at the end of the interview.  In the heat of the moment, with the prospect of being near the end, you may forget what you were going to ask.  It's really important that you have questions because it shows you care about the job and it allows you to demonstrate the level of your motivation and the depth of your preparation.

Key words and bullet points
Make notes in the days before your interview to help you structure your answers.  Use single words or short phrases rather than sentences and paragraphs.  That way you can keep your replies more natural and instinctive.

You'll have to listen carefully to the question and, with only key words to refer to, you're then more likely to talk conversationally and sound less like you're reading a script. The result should be that your answers are more focused and sound more believable.  The added bonus is that it ensures your answer will be different at every interview.

Make it simpler for your interviewer too
Filling staff vacancies is expensive and time consuming.  Make it as easy as possible for your interviewer to picture you in the job and also being successful in the role.

When explaining what you achieved in a particular project concentrate on the “so what?” factor.  What happened as a result and how does your interviewer know that this was a great outcome?

If you can do so then give some facts, scale or context to help your interviewer.  Use numbers or percentages where they strengthen your answer. For instance if you had great customer feedback or praise from your boss then mention that too.

Simpler is clearer
Keeping your approach simple will help you and your interviewer.

Spring-cleaning your preparation may take a little extra effort the first time you do it - although it should improve your overall technique and how you present yourself at your next interview.

Remember - they want you to be the perfect candidate for the job.  If you are the ideal person then their search is over and their vacancy is filled – simple!