FIND A BETTER CAREER
The experts’ guide to employability
1 Create a portfolio
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s too late to make a change, or that you can’t leave a stable career. According to career experts, we should all be thinking in terms of ‘the portfolio career’, a mix of part-time work, freelance interests and personal business. Not only does it enable you to follow your passions, it also prevents you from losing your income stream all at once. And it allows you to think across disciplines, amassing a large network that makes you feel plugged in and connected. For working mothers, it’s the flexibility that appeals. Running a small cottage industry from home means they can still earn a living but also be at the school gate. ‘We should all be developing a second career,’ says Pamela Fay, a business coach who works with people on career development, ‘whether that’s through evening work or weekend hobbies.’ She urges people to think about what they love doing rather than what they are good at. ‘Following our passions gives us greater fulfilment,’ she says. She advises her clients to keep a journal. ‘Keeping a record of what you love doing and what inspires you can bring great clarity.’
2 Network your way in
If you consider that 50 per cent of Irish jobs are gained through the use of a personal or professional network, rather than through standard job applications, you cannot fail to appreciate the importance of networking. Occupational psychologist Sophie Rowan at pinpoint.ie is the author of Brilliant Career Coach: How To Find And Follow Your Dream Career ( Pearson). ‘People generally balk when you mention the word networking,’ she says, ‘and although Irish people are known to have the gift of the gab, they can be slow to make use of their most powerful career-change tool.’ Networking doesn’t have to be as cynical or as strategic as you might think: making the effort to keep in touch with family, friends and friends of friends, and spreading the word about what you would like to do can have just as much of an effect as cold-calling a CEO. You never know when your name might come up in a conversation.
Once you have built up a network, don’t be shy about contacting people in your target industry and asking them for coffee. People love to talk about what they do and to impart knowledge and experience. ‘It often helps to say that you will only take up 20 minutes of their time,’ says Sophie, ‘and arrange to meet at their office to make it ultra- convenient for them. If they can’t spare the time for a meeting, email or phone will do, too. When you do get to talk, be positive — while this isn’t an interview, if you make a positive impression at this meeting you can be sure that you will be the first person that they think of the next time they’re hiring. And remember, a good networker will always leave a networking meeting with another contact so be bold when it comes to asking your contact for the number of someone they may have mentioned during the conversation.’ As well as creating your own tailor- made network, there are plenty of networking groups you can join such as Simply Networking Salon, e-networking and LinkedIn.
3 Broaden your experience
Rather than bemoaning the lack of staff in your office, and the extra responsibility that comes with it, see it as an opportunity to learn new skills and to create a new niche for yourself within your company. All too often, it’s not a 360-degree turn we need to make in our careers but something a little more 180, and multi-tasking allows you to think outside a single defining role.
4 Get your mojo back
The biggest block to career change? Lack of confidence. This is particularly true of women returning to work after having children — and is infuriating for recruiters, who often feel these women have the most to offer. So how do you get your mojo back? By getting out there again. Meet up with old friends, call up old employers, sign up for holiday cover, or say yes to a short-term project. ‘Women returners often don’t remember or appreciate their professional skill sets,’ says Sophie. ‘I ask them to look back on their careers and ask, “When was I firing on all cylinders? What have I enjoyed most in my work — what gets me buzzing? Who has inspired me and whose work or career path would I like to emulate?” The answers can be revealing and really serve to rebuild a person’s sense of professional confidence.’
5 Do a course
If you’ve been put on a three-day week as a result of the recession and have always wanted to learn Spanish or take up photography — do it. Doing something new helps us make changes and get out of ruts. It also dissolves fear: the biggest block to career change. You have no idea how your new skills might make you attractive to a new employer, or how meeting new people might broaden your contact base. If you want to upskill but are short on funds, check out springboardcourses.ie, which offers a range of free courses at a postgrad level on everything from cross-enterprise skills to IT management.
According to a survey carried out by the volunteering organisation TimeBank, some 73 per cent of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteering experience over one without, 94 per cent of employers believe that volunteering can add to skills and 94 per cent of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted. So if you have been made redundant or are out of work, sign up for a community project such as social entrepreneurs.ie or ashoka.ie, which support people who are providing solutions to Ireland’s social problems. Not only are these projects positive and invigorating environments to work in — helping you fend off recession blues — they are also good places to meet people and learn new skills.
7 Dress smart
New research shows that people assess your competence and trustworthiness in a quarter of a second based solely on how you look. So, buy the best-quality clothes you can afford, get a new haircut and polish your shoes when meeting prospective employers or clients. Messy hair, too much make-up and revealing or dirty clothes are a no-no. When you look good, you feel good, and it shows.
8 Get a coach
Lost your confidence? Feeling stuck? Unsure which career path is the right one for you? Hire a career coach. Career-management experts will work through your blocks, give you objective feedback on your skills, strategise with you help you stay on track with goals, explore options and handle all the elements of a job search. If you can’t afford a coach, meet regularly with other people in your position instead. Talking about what you want from your career will not only help you clarify your vision, it might bring in new leads. Sometimes it’s only by seeing the obstacles others create for them-selves that we gain insight into our own position.
9 Change your attitude
Thinking negatively will not get you a job. We might be in recession but there are still plenty of opportunities for competent candidates, particularly those with can do spirit. ‘Obviously, employers want people with specific skills who share an affinity with their work culture,’ says Irene Sorohan, of recruitment company O’Malley Sorohan, ‘but a sense of positive engagement is important. Employers want to see candidates that are really excited to be joining their organisation and that sort of attitude stands out a mile. There are some fantastic opportunities out there. Employers in small entrepreneurial companies and large multinational companies can’t find the staff they need and it’s a big hindrance to growth.’
10 Learn how to manage your boss
Do you need a new career or do you just need to learn how to manage your boss? We don’t work for organisations — we work for people, and how we manage our relationships is vital to our work wellbeing. Susan M Heathfield is a human-resources expert and professional trainer. Here are some of her tips for getting on with your boss: 1. Build trust. Get projects in on time. Do what you said you were going to do. And tell him/ her when you make an error. 2. Understand your boss’s priorities and do what you can to help. You are not the centre of the universe. 3. Remember your boss is probably not going to change, and work with what you’ve got instead. Look for your boss’s best parts and focus on those. Read their moods and dislikes. Knowing when to approach them about new ideas or work problems is key. 4. Ask for feedback and tell your boss what you need in order to be a good employee. 5. Be honest. If you don’t agree with something say so. Don’t be afraid of discord, it’s part of life. Speak calmly and firmly and your boss will respect you — it is more important than being liked.