Jul 162009
working from home

Image by gin soak via Flickr

Because this week’s column about working from home with children, was career related, I’ve posted it over on the new Career Moves blog, where you’ll find lots of other great career, jobs and recruitment related content from the Evening Echo Career Moves section and also stuff written exclusively for the blog.

Check it out, share it with your friends, and don’t forget to let me know what you think via the comments :-)….

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Jun 172009

A while back I agreed to write four weeks worth of content for a new Evening Echo section on careers and recruitment. Dubbed “Career Moves” this new section would run on a Monday, and would focus on jobs, employment, education, training and career development.

Two-and-a-half years later and Career Moves is still going strong, and I’m still penning the content.

A while back I figured that it would probably be a good idea to take all of the careers related content I’ve amassed for Career Moves and publish it online, making it accessible and searchable for a much wider audience. But I’ve been busy with other things (haven’t we all?), so it’s taken me a while to get around to it.

Finally I’ve started to populate the all new Career Moves blog with content. I’ll be augmenting the stuff I’ve written for the paper with other bits and pieces too – so be sure to subscribe to the Career Moves RSS feed or visit the site and sign up for e-mail updates in the sidebar.

The Career Moves blog is very much in its infancy and is a “work in progress” that I’ll be developing and evolving as time allows – so by all means let me have your feedback via the comments system on the site.

Apr 142009
Clouds of Fire v2 / Nubes de fuego v2
Image by Sergio_One via Flickr

Losing your job can be one of the most traumatic experiences in your working life. Conflicting waves of emotion race through you: anger, frustration, disbelief, acceptance… even relief. You relive things in your mind… was it something you did, or perhaps didn’t do? Could you have changed something that would have spared your job? Most of all there’s the uncertainty and doubt about what to do next… where will you turn, how will you pay the mortgage?

There’s no doubt that losing your job is an incredibly trying experience. I know… it’s happened to me twice in my career, and when you’re living through it it’s not fun. But looking back now, I have to say that on both occasions being made redundant was categorically the best thing that could have happened to me, spawning a new chapter in a career that’s been interesting, diverse and rewarding.

The last time, back in 2001, I was working as a project manager for a start-up technology company. Being suddenly made redundant led me to take the plunge into self employment as a freelance writer. Since then I have become a columnist, feature writer, marketing copywriter and, most recently, an internationally published author. My first book, “Understanding Digital Marketing“, co-authored with Damian Ryan, was release in January by publishers Kogan Page in Ireland, the UK and the USA. Things are looking exceedingly positive for 2009, there’s another book deal in the pipeline, and several other projects that will keep me busy well into next year and beyond.

And the catalyst to all of this was losing my job.

If you find yourself caught in the cross-fire as companies battle to survive the recession, try not to despair. Yes, on the one hand losing your job is a potentially devastating blow — but only if you allow it to be. The first, and perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it’s your role, rather than you as a person, that’s being made redundant. The fact that your position is no longer required by the organisation isn’t a reflection on your ability to do your job. Secondly, remember that, at the end of the day, the only thing you’ve lost is a job. Unlike your family, your friends or your health, your job is a disposable commodity that can be replaced, often by something better.

Top tips for coping with redundancy:

  • Take stock: redundancy gives you a great chance to re-assess your career, your life and what’s important to you. Look at it as a potential catalyst to bigger and better things; something to force you outside your comfort zone and prompt you to take action.
  • Talk to other people: talking to people you know who’ve been through the experience will help. You’ll be surprised by how many of them look back at their redundancy in a positive light.
  • Get what you can: many companies only offer the statutory redundancy packages they’re obliged to under Irish law. Don’t let that stop you from negotiating for more: the more you get the easier the transition between jobs will be. If you’re affiliated to a trade union, see if they have negotiated preferential redundancy rates for members.
  • Sign on immediately: this is important to maintain your PRSI contributions, and the money every week will help supplement your savings while you look for work.
  • Start job-hunting: finding a new job can take a while, so start looking immediately. Your employer is obliged to give you time off during your notice period to look for work.
  • Tighten the belt: cutting back on unnecessary spending and sticking to a strict budget while your income is suppressed will help reduce financial pressure.

Most of all, try to stay positive, and look at your redundancy as a stepping stone to the next stage of your varied and interesting career.

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Jul 032008

Written for the Evening Echo Career Moves section

image There are all sorts of reasons why people don’t go to college straight from school. There are also plenty of reasons why, after a while, those same people feel they’d like to broaden their educational horizons and explore the opportunities a third level qualification can offer.

But making that transition back into education can be daunting. Where do you start? Do you have the right qualifications to meet the often stringent entry criteria? Isn’t there a complex application process to endure? Too many questions, when what you need are answers.

One of those answers could be a joint initiative run by Business Information Systems at UCC, CIT and Cork City Partnership. The Diploma in Applied Business Computing has been specifically designed to offer people a path back to third level education, ultimately leading to employment in the vibrant arena where business and technology overlap.

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Jun 172008

This week’s Career Moves is a bit interwebby, so I’ve posted it over on Digital Marketing Success instead of here.

It’s the first in a series of articles I’m doing for the Evening Echo on using the internet for market research when setting up/growing a small business.

Jun 072008

All Change, by Elsie Esq. It’s amazing how often small, seemingly innocuous words in the English language can be harbingers of much bigger things. Death, for example… there’s a small word with potentially huge implications.

Change is another one – small, unassuming, and for a lot of people utterly terrifying. We tend to be comfortable with constants – they’re safe and predictable; when things stay the same we feel secure, it’s the unknown that scares us… and venturing into the unknown is all part and parcel of change.

In today’s dynamic, high paced workplace, change is often the only real constant you’ll find. With the internet, connectivity, collaboration and interaction disrupting the accepted norms across a wide array of industries and sectors, nothing in business today seems to stay the same for very long.

The pace of change can be daunting. Sometimes it seems that no sooner have you acquired a new skill than it’s becoming obsolete. But I’ll let you into a little secret… this rapid pace of change is good for your career, as long as you’re ready to embrace it. With every change comes opportunity – to learn something new, do something different or develop in some way. If you’re willing to grab those opportunities with both hands, and you can adapt quickly to changing circumstances, then organisational change can be one of your biggest allies when it comes to career development.

As usual there are lessons to be learned from nature. Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, hit the nail on the head when he observed: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

His biological insight makes a seamless transition to the workplace… if there’s one thing that will help your career to flourish, then it’s your ability to embrace and adapt to change. Yes your suite of skills is important, your experience invaluable and your education indispensable – and I’m not trying to belittle any of those things – but all other things being equal your ability to adapt to the changing dynamics of the modern workplace is often the defining characteristic for career success.

Look at some of the most successful people in the world today – are they the brightest, the most talented, the best educated? Some, maybe… but many of them aren’t.

While wealth shouldn’t really be used as a measure of success, in this instance it serves to illustrate a point. A few weeks ago the Sunday Times published its annual Rich List. Flicking through the pages reveals a wide array of people from all walks of life. Some of them are undoubtedly bright, talented and well educated individuals – but that’s probably not what propelled them into the rich list. Pick a random selection and scratch the surface, and what you’ll find that they have in common is unwavering tenacity and self belief, coupled with an amazing capacity to embrace, adapt to and thrive on change.

Take a leaf out of their book, condition yourself to embrace change, step outside of your comfort zones regularly and explore the unknown. When the wind of change blows, and opportunity knocks, you’ll be there, ready and waiting.

Photo Credit: All change, by Elsie esq.

May 262008

Published in The Evening Echo on 26/05/2008

You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Sir Alan Sugar.

Why feel sorry for a man who’s managed to accumulate a fortune of more than GB£800 million over his chequered career? A man who’s ferried around in a chauffeur-driven Bentley? A man who flies around in his own Lear jet?

Not a lot feel sorry for, you might think; apart, perhaps, from the fact that he supports Tottenham Hotspur…! But then you remember that Sir Alan has signed up with the BBC to do “The Apprentice”, which is now in the middle of its fourth series. And the poor man must be ruing the day he signed on the dotted line.

Sure, the programme has made Alan Sugar a household name, but at what cost… and does someone that successful really need to raise his profile anyway?

Never mind the fact that he comes across as an acerbic, megalomaniacal tyrant; or the fact that he’s forced to jab an accusatory finger at one hapless candidate after another as he delivers his “You’re fired!” catch-phrase every week (apparently it’s written into his contract; a legacy from the original American show format, featuring the equally megalomaniacal but frankly much more ridiculous-looking Donald Trump). No, the real blow must be that he has to actually hire one of these buffoons at the end of the series.

Why on earth would a man who obviously doesn’t need the money, and who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, decide to lumber himself with such a motley assortment of corporate misfits? Worst of all, he’s actually obliged to give one of them a job at the end of it… and based on their performance on the tasks to date you can’t help but wonder at the wisdom of that.

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May 202008

Published in The Evening Echo, 20/05/2008

Desk job could be killing you There’s no getting around it, some jobs are just plain dangerous.

Working high up, work involving heavy lifting, working with machinery, working underground, working with dangerous animals, working in hostile environments… even dealing with the general public can have elevated risk levels. But what about your bog standard, run-of-the-mill office job. For the risk averse out there, surely that’s as safe as they come.

You might think so, but not according to scientists from the UK and New Zealand, who recently warned that office workers are at higher risk of potentially fatal blood clots. If you spend long hours sitting in front of your computer every day you double the risk of developing deep veined thrombosis (DVT), the same condition that affects passengers on long haul flights.

Researchers in Southampton and New Zealand questioned 200 patients admitted to hospital for either blood clots or heart problems, and compared how long each group was typically sitting in a given day, both in total and in a single period uninterrupted period.

“The risk of developing blood clots with prolonged seated immobility is largely unrecognised. However, this study has shown that it is at least as important a factor as long-distance air travel,” Professor Richard Beasley, from Wellington Hospital, New Zealand, told the Daily Telegraph.

“This study provides preliminary evidence that prolonged seated immobility at work may represent a risk factor for venous thromboembolism [DVT] requiring hospital admission.”

According to Prof. Beasley, both the Both total time seated at work in any given day, and the maximum time spent seated without getting up, contributed to the increased risk of DVT, which the authors say could be caused by increased pressure on the veins of the legs when sitting still. They warn that the risks can be exacerbated by sitting in overly cramped conditions, and by periods of intense concentration that tend to result in reduced muscle activity.

If your job involves sitting for long periods of time, the authors recommend that you minimise your exposure to risk by taking similar precautions to those advised for long-distance flights: periodically exercise and stretch your feet, ankles and calves, and make sure you take regular breaks to get up and walk around the office.

As if the threat of blood clots wasn’t enough of a health risk, in another study earlier this month researchers in the UK revealed that your computer keyboard is a microbial paradise. According to the research carried out in a busy London office the key’s you’re tapping away on every day could harbour more harmful bacteria than the average toilet seat. In fact, microbiologists conducting the research found the level of bacteria in one keyboard to be so high that they reportedly had it removed from the premises.

A separate study revealed that 10% of workers never clean their keyboards, while 20% never clean their mouse. So if you think you’re safe in your average, run-of-the-mill office job… think again. If the blood clots don’t get you, the bugs in your keyboard will!

May 142008

Published in the Evening Echo on 12/05/2007

We’ve all made mistakes in interviews. We’re only human after all, and no matter how careful or diligently we prepare, a stray question slipped in here or there can throw us.

We know all about researching our prospective employers; we know about preparing for key questions ahead of time; we know about projecting a cool, calm, professional exterior, regardless of the turmoil we feel inside; we know about having clever questions prepared in advance. We know all of these things, and yet occasionally we stumble. No matter, we pick ourselves up, metaphorically dust ourselves down, and we carry on. Nine times out of ten we get away with it.

But not always. Sometimes gaffes are so dramatic that they defy any attempt at recovery.

Surveys are ten a penny in the careers and recruitment world. Dig a little and you’ll unearth umpteen surveys a week, revealing this or that nugget of largely pointless insight into the latest trends in this or that industry. Many are worthless, a few are valuable, and then there are the ones that warrant a look for their pure entertainment value.

Careers website Careers.com released one earlier this year. They surveyed more than 3,000 HR professionals across the US, and compiled a list of the ten most outrageous job interview blunders; if you want to sabotage your chances of landing a job, why not try one of these?

  • The candidate answered their mobile during the interview and asked the interviewer to leave her own office because the call was a “private”.
  • The candidate told the interviewer that, if offered the job, he may not be in a position to stay for very long, because he was expecting an inheritance when his uncle died – and his uncle wasn’t “looking too good”.
  • The candidate asked the interviewer for a lift home after the interview.
  • The candidate sniffed his armpits on the way into the interview room.
  • The candidate refused to provide a sample of her writing because all of her writing had been for the CIA, and was therefore “classified”.
  • The candidate told the interviewer he was fired from his last job for beating up the boss.
  • When offered food before his interview, the candidate declined, stating that he “didn’t want to line his stomach with grease before going out drinking”.
  • A candidate for an accounting position said she was a “people person” not a “numbers person”.
  • One candidate flushed the toilet in the middle of a telephone interview.
  • The Candidate took out a hair brush and started to brush her hair mid-interview.

Of course, these are extremes… most interview mistakes aren’t nearly as bad. The most common ones cited in this survey were dressing inappropriately (51%), badmouthing a former employer (49%), appearing disinterested (48%), arrogance (44%), insufficient answers (30% percent) and not asking good questions (29%).

So, if you have an interview lined up, and feel compelled to attend, but have already decided that really don’t want the job, you know what to do. Simply take a leaf out of your American colleagues’ book. Study the list above for a inspiration, apply a little imagination of your own, and you should be able to come up with some spectacular ways to fail at interview. Good… or should I say bad luck!

May 052008

Who do you really work for?

It’s not a trick question, it’s not that I suspect you’re involved in some sort of shady commercial espionage. It’s a simple, straightforward query:

  • Do you work for your supervisor?

  • Do you work for your line manager?

  • Do you work for your HR Department?

  • Do you work for your CEO?

The answer, of course, is none of the above. When you break it down we go to work for ourselves. Whether we’re self employed, working on the shop floor, of a high-flying executive with a swanky corner office… we work to support ourselves, our families and the lifestyle we’ve chosen to live. Work is a means to an end, and while you might enjoy, or even love what you’re doing, ultimately it’s just a vehicle for your financial security, personal achievement and development, fulfilment and, ultimately, happiness.

Unfortunately we tend to forget all of that. We get caught up in the frantic hustle and bustle of working life. Long hours, stress, unrealistic expectations, unmanageable workloads and tortuous commutes conspire to erode the very things we’re working to secure.

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