Jan 192011
“A beginning is only the start of a journey to...

Image by katerha via Flickr

Right… time I started posting to this blog much more regularly and frequently again.

Over the last six months or so I’ve become pretty jaded with the whole online scene. The urge to share everything with the world through blogging and social media channels waned.

I’m not sure what it is really… I think I just reached saturation point, and needed to step back a bit. In the real world I’m a pretty private person, quite happy to spend long hours alone. I’ve always been that way.

I’m sociable, and enjoy spending time with friends, but I’m not good in crowds and tend to keep myself to myself. I’m just as happy on a remote headland somewhere, or in the middle of a forest, with only myself for company. I guess the whole “share-everything-with-everybody” culture of social media was always rubbing against the grain. It just took a while for me to realise it.

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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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Mar 192009
Board meeting room
Image via Wikipedia

It’s difficult to think of anything that wastes your precious time more than attending meetings.

Working parents around the country lament the fact that they don’t have enough time to spend with their children. But if you add up how much time those same working parents spend travelling to, waiting for and sitting around in pointless meetings you’d be shocked at the results. A huge chunk of the working population waste days – weeks even – every year sitting in meetings. And for what? To talk about things that could have been discussed on the telephone or online, or to listen to things that don’t really concern them at all. What a waste!

Sometimes in any business you need the face-to-face collaborative communication that only a meeting can provide. But the truth is those occasions are much rarer than you might think. These days days, thanks to the internet and the wonders of digital communications technology, there’s usually an alternative that would work just as well, if not better, would be quicker, and would prevent participants having to travel long distances to attend. Ireland just hasn’t been open to exploring the opportunities. Continue reading »

Sep 122008

Published in the WOW! supplement of the Evening Echo

Home office breakfast table I’ve been working from home for seven years now. Let me say that again… because it’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long: I’ve been working at home for seven years now!

Wow! (no pun intended)

There are countless benefits to working from home, but also significant challenges. On balance though, from a parent’s perspective I’d have to say I heartily recommend it! Here are just a few of the pros and cons I’ve encountered over the last seven years.

The Good

  • The 20 second commute: this has to be the number one thing about working from home. Listening to the morning traffic report while sipping coffee and contemplating the short stroll across the garden to my home office is one of the highlights of my working day.

  • Suit… what’s a suit?: when you work from home the only dress code is the one you choose for yourself.

  • Time out: one of the best things about working from home, particularly when you have a young family, is the ability to arrange your work to suit you. Want a couple of hours off in the afternoon to take the kids to the beach, no problem! My work is fluid, it flows seamlessly around the more important aspects of my life… that flexibility is priceless.

  • Making a meal of it: the dining table is the hub of family life… and working from home means I never miss a meal with the family. I think that’s priceless!

The Bad

  • Exponential Distraction: if you think distractions at the office are bad, you should try working at home. Children running into the office, impromptu visitors, emptying the dishwasher, weeding the vegetable patch… even mowing the lawn. I kid you not, when you’re working on something you don’t really enjoy even gardening has its appeal.

  • Discipline and deadlines: I’m a terrible procrastinator. It’s just the way I’m built. I need a pressure to kick start my brain into motion; that can be a good thing, but it also means I let work build up to a critical mass before attacking it. That tends to put me (and hence the rest of the family) under unnecessary pressure. You have to be disciplined – and that’s one of my biggest challenges.

  • Isolation: working from home means you spend long periods working alone. Yes I’m in contact with lots of people via e-mail, the telephone and online every day… but it’s not the same as meeting face-to-face. That’s the main reason I’m involved with a local small office/home office networking group SOHO Solo (www.sohosoloireland.com and www.sohosolowestcork.com). Meeting other home-based workers regularly helps to keep me sane….

  • Always on call: one of the biggest pluses of working from home is the fact that you’re always around your family… but it’s also one of the biggest challenges. It’s only natural to prioritise family over work – but when you work at home sometimes you can be too available.

The Ugly

  • Doing the jobs you hate: when you’re working for yourself you have to look after everything – including the jobs you don’t like. Jobs like sorting out the accounts, filing and business administration stuff. Yuck!

  • Biting off more than you can chew: sometimes it’s easy to forget you’re just one person, and you take on more work than you can handle. I’m getting better at managing my workload now… saying no to things. Still, at home unexpected things always crop up to throw your schedule out of kilter. You have to give yourself enough of a buffer to be accommodate that.

But the best thing about working from home has to be that I get to spend so much time with my children. Sometimes that can seem more of a curse than a blessing… but on balance there are more ups than downs, and as the girls grow up I know the time I’m investing now will pay real dividends.

Aug 292008

Be here now!

Three innocuous little words that, if you pay them a little heed, can be an incredibly powerful force. Words that, among the myriad distractions of modern life, it’s all too easy to dismiss.

I remember the first time I heard them back in the mid-nineties. I’d just got a job as an IT project planner with Transco, the pipeline and distribution arm of the former British Gas. As part of a massive restructuring programme the company was sending all of its tens of thousands of employees on a training course called “You make the difference”.

It was one of those touchy-feely American things, all about the power of individuals to make a tangible contribution in business and in life, designed to boost morale, develop soft skills and, for the company, to ease the acceptance of organisational change.

Naturally enough most of us were pretty sceptical, and it’s fair to say, on reflection, that the course contained more than its fair share of feel-good bunkum. But it also got you out of work for a couple of days, was a lot of fun, made you turn the spotlight on yourself to reveal things you otherwise might never see, and, it has to be said, included a couple of real little gems.

“Be here now” was one of those gems.

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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 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 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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