Monday 9 July 2018

"Why did you leave?" 3 Step Plan to a convincing answer

Do you dread this question? - “Why are you leaving your current job?” Or - “Why did you leave your last job?”
Often people worry about answering because at the core of the reply is a negative or even emotionally difficult reason.
Perhaps you didn’t get on with your boss or a colleague? Maybe you were interviewed for what you considered to be “your own job”? Or - more commonly these days - you were made redundant.
If this is the case it’s worth rehearsing what you’re going to say until you’re confident with your answer and you “own” the reasoning behind it.
Even if you’re not asked directly at the interview then someone, somewhere will probably ask you. It may be a new colleague when you start the job. It could be a friend or family member. Someone is going to ask you this question. You need to feel comfortable with your short and clear reply.
“Comfortable” because it has to be truthful and sound natural and positive. Craft your words carefully to avoid negative words like redundancy, low morale, personality clashes, etc
“Short” because the longer your answer the more likely that people become suspicious or that you’ll inadvertently “trip yourself up” by telling more of the story than you need to. The briefer the reply the less chance of follow up clarification questions too.
And “Clear” to appear factual and logical. Leave the listener feeling they’ve had a satisfactory reply and, most importantly of all, reassured that there are no potential causes for concern for them.
I’d like to suggest a possible 3 step structure:

Step One - “Legacy”

Explain what you’ve helped the organisation achieve. You may even have successes that you alone were responsible for.
What will you look back on with a sense of pride at having achieved while you were there?
Why is this logically the “right” time to leave?
E.g. “If I think back to when I started the job... when i finished it... it’s the right time to handover because... I’ve taken the role from ... to... I will look back knowing that during my time I and / or the organisation has achieved...”

Step 2 - ‘Big Picture”

Take as big a “step back” as you possibly can from your personal situation. Remove all the possible emotional “baggage”. You’re new employer doesn’t want to hear it and wants to feel you’re ready for your next career challenge.
Think global context if you have to get a wider perspective - regardless of what your role is or was.
What’s happening in the sector? In the local / regional / national / global market place?
What direction is the organisation going in that might be moving away from the reason you first joined them?
How has your role evolved while you’ve been in it? What impact has that had on you? How close are your skills matched to what the role has become?
What’s happened since you left? Or - Likely to happen when you go? Will they replace you with a “like for like” person?
Unless they replace your role with someone with exactly the same functions then there was a “restructure” or the company decided “to change their focus”.
E.g. “Ultimately the market has changed and the company has restructured in response to... / since I first started there my role has changed from ....after I leave they’re likely to ....”

Step 3 - “Forwards’

This is where you emphasise why the new job is the perfect match to your skills and that your career has brought you to this point. Time to picture yourself in the new role and engage with its key competencies. Your reply should explain the logic of this next career step. 
Use reassuring phrases like “return to / do more of” so the listener knows you’ve used the same skills previously.
E.g. “I’m really looking forward to this job so I can return to more of... this is a much better match to my x skills and y experience because...”
Remember - when you’ve decided what fits each of the 3 steps above then you’ll need to practise saying it out loud. Maybe get a friend to ask you the previously “dreaded question”, record yourself and listen back to your answer or even just practise in front of a mirror.
So next time someone asks you “why did you leave that job?” you’ll have your ready made, 3 step answer to convince your potential employer... and yourself!

Thursday 5 July 2018

What I did just before starting the business

I can still smell those bags of dirty washing as they ‘steamed’ in the boiling hot cab of the transit I was driving in the summer heat of 2011…  How did I get here?

The pungent odour was the New Zealand Women’s cricket team kit. And I was their Tour Liaison Manager for 3 weeks on behalf of the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – after a suggestion by my “other half” to take the work while I formulated exactly what my business model would be for the Job Interview Coaching.
If I’d made a list of why I thought I could do this it might’ve been something like this: I’m good at project managing and persuading people to do things.  I played county cricket for 14 years and umpired hockey to international standard. I love sport enough to do a degree and postgrad diploma in Recreation Management… So, why wouldn’t I want to spend 24/7 “on call” to ensure things ran smoothly for the “White Ferns” while playing in the Quadrangular series against England, Australia and India?
I’d been told it would be long days, and involve driving a van full of cricket kit, water bottles and a ‘ginormous’ cool box around the country.  And that, whilst there would be the glamour of televised games and some free New Zealand kit, the most important task would be …ensuring the washing was done on time!
It makes sense.  You’re living out of a kit bag.  You’re getting through ‘warm up’ and playing kit at an amazing pace – and there’s only so many spare shirts, trousers, shorts etc the baggage allowance and your aforementioned ‘kit bag’ can hold.
Along the way… I nearly blew out the clutch pulling a particularly heavy vanload of kit up a steep hill in Bristol.  I had a plastic surgeon on standby to stitch a clean but gaping hole in the Kiwi Captain’s knee after she’d ‘spiked’ herself.  But more importantly I managed to avoid sitting in a launderette doing the washing myself – as my colleagues working with the other teams had done – by planning ahead, as we zigzagged across the country in our matching transit vans.
I loved the experience.  The “White Ferns” were brilliant to work with.  The job reminding me that I’m organized, I can adapt quickly and I have a canny knack of persuading folks to give me ‘stuff’ or to ‘acquire’ what the team needed.  Bearing in mind their requests varied from needing chocolate to …a spare set of stumps, a trip to A&E, contact lenses, vitamin C tablets… and the list goes on.
So my pre-business start up “cricket career” was really a fortunate ‘chance’ opportunity.  Although it reassured me that I could be useful in a role supporting and encouraging others to perform at their best.  Not able to do what they do, at the level they do it, but feeling a ‘high’ from knowing that I’d got the washing done in time for them to pull on clean kit to face England under the full glare of the Sky TV cameras.

How things often go "full circle"

"The Story of how my business came about and how things often go full circle”

How a walk can bring your life back round in a circle.

I started my business as a direct result of a chance conversation with my friend Tracy on a Christmas walk on The Wrekin in 2010.  As we chatted she mentioned in passing that she wanted her soon-to-be-graduate 3rdyear Film & TV undergrads from the University of Wolverhampton to be better prepared for the world of work.

I’d recently been made redundant so I offered to chair some mock interviews with them if she’d be interested, as it was something I was trained to do, I’ve done a lot of and that I love doing. 

I thought nothing more of it until I got an email from Tracy with proposed dates and times for the sessions!  I did it for no payment that first year as I thought it would look good on my CV and to keep my interviewing skills “sharp". Since then I’ve returned each year:  and - what began as a useful ‘add on’ for the undergrads - is now a fully integrated part of their employability enrichment syllabus.

It’s unique in the fact that the students are interviewed in the University’s own TV studio and each of them gets to ‘walk away’ with footage of how they perform at a job interview.  I also coach them as a group about how best to prepare for and perform at panel interviews.  

To make it as meaningful as possible we’ve always used 'real life' jobs at the University that these students may well have an opportunity to apply for when they graduate. In fact in the first year one of my fellow panelists said they had to pinch themselves part way through to remember it wasn’t a real job interview!

For most of the students it’s the first time they’ll face a job interview panel or even an interview of any kind.  Being able to do it in a ‘safe’ environment they’re familiar with is vital preparation for the ‘real world’ after they graduate.  (Even if they’re more used to being behind the camera than in front of it.)

Having been through a panel interview experience once - surely the most testing part of the job-hunting process - the next time they face something similar it should feel easier, they should know more about what to expect and feel like they’re better equipped to perform at their best.

In my interactive lecture I cover: how to make a great first impression, how to guess the questions, what makes the best answers, how will these be measured by the panel and some top tips for preparation.

And I say things "go full circle" when you think that the college I graduated from is now the Walsall campus of the University of Wolverhampton.  So when I arrive to chair the mock interview panels several years on from my chat with Tracy I suppose I’m “going full circle” in some ways to help those who follow me make a smoother transition to the world of work.

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.