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Reclaim your commute!

For most people a daily commute to the office is unavoidable. We drive, carpool, catch public transport, or cycle/run/walk to work. Some people love their commute and others find it tedious and boring.

It was when I was spending almost 3 hours a day commuting (and almost as much time grumbling about it!) that a friend mentioned how much he loved that part of his day. Early every morning he’d set off on his bicycle for a 90-minute ride to work, and back again every evening. It didn’t sound appealing to me but he looked forward to it. He appreciated that he was able to exercise every day, he was getting fit and he felt happy and relaxed when he got to work and again when he arrived home in the evening.

I wasn’t keen on cycling to work! But it got me thinking if there might be other things I could do to stop viewing my commute as a waste of time. I asked a bunch of people how they viewed their commute and how they spent that time. Quite a few told me they enjoyed the “me time” – no kids, or coworkers or others to bother them. They could relax and do things that made them happy. Some said the commute home allowed them time to process their work day. I noticed a difference between those who begrudged that time and those who looked forward to it. Here are some of the things that made it more bearable, even enjoyable.

If you catch public transport.

This is one of the nicest ways to commute as you don’t need to keep your eyes on the road.

  • Call people you don’t get the chance to speak to often enough.
  • Read or listen to an audio book or listen to interesting podcasts. I love podcasts and have a long list of favourites – so many that I even use the Overcast app to get through them faster!
  • Use Duolingo to learn a language.
  • Look up”. Switch off. Put everything away and look up. See what’s going on around you, notice your surroundings … daydream.
  • Breathe. How you breathe has an impact on your stress levels and many other things. Here’s a good article with little-known but excellent advice “if in doubt, breathe out”.
  • Whether standing or sitting, practice good posture, engage your core muscles and tuck in your chin to avoid the dreaded “computer hunch”.
  • Improve your concentration and focus.
  • Using your time to practice mindfulness.
  • If your job involves sitting most of the day then your commute is a perfect time to stand. Standing engages more muscles than sitting, and there aremany associated health benefits.

Here’s a great blog from a freelancer in New York who now misses her train commute.

If you walk, run or cycle.

If you commute by using your own legs as transport then you are awesome! This is great for your health and mental outlook.

Quite a few people told me they use listen to loud music on their earphones but after a few near-misses they no longer feel safe doing that. If you are going to wear earphones then be vigilant about what’s going on around you. In addition to some of the public transport tips above, you could:

  • Develop good posture – engage your muscles and walk with intent. Turn your walk into a workout.
  • Practice feeling “actively relaxed” – focus on good posture and breathe evenly and try to feel calm.
  • I was told about a “walking meditation” where a friend notices colours, practices relaxing breathing or listens to the sounds around her.
  • Appreciate the outdoors. If you work at a desk all day then this is a good time to be out in the sun and breathing fresh air.

If you drive.

If you’re stuck in slow traffic here are some things you could do, provided you keep yourself and others safe.

If you can’t avoid commuting then doing these things can help to make it a positive part of your work day, even fun. And once you’ve reclaimed your commute then reclaim your job because that should be fun too!

Your attitude is infectious.

Infectious_attitudeIs there anyone at your company who you really like to work with? Anyone you’d want to avoid? What about your overall attitude at work, your manner and disposition … how do you approach people or give your opinion or disagree?

It’s obvious that no matter where we work we have no choice but to interact with other people to get things done. And while we’re getting things done we’re having an effect on each other whether we intend to or not. Sometimes it’s a positive effect, sometimes it isn’t.

There’s a well-known saying that “your reputation precedes you”. It’s important to be aware of how you might be “infecting” others with your attitude as it can have an impact on things like team productivity, individual’s job satisfaction, and your career prospects.

Are you aware of what others might think of you? You can never be 100% sure as opinions are influenced by people’s own values and life experiences, but it is possible to get a sense of their general feelings. Think of things you’re complimented on or feedback you’re consistently given.

  • Are you known for getting things done?
  • Are you proactive / approachable / self-motivated / sensible / trusted?
  • Do you take responsibility?
  • Can you be relied on?
  • Have people said they specifically want you on their team?
  • Do you encourage or help others to do well?
  • Are you open to new ideas or different approaches?
  • Is your opinion sought and/or respected?
  • Can you disagree without being disagreeable.

If you can say Yes to any of those then you can be fairly sure you are a positive influence at work. Sadly, it’s often the negative influencers who end up having the biggest impact.

  • Don’t be the person who is a stuck record, always complaining or pointing out things you don’t like. Instead, use that energy to find ways to help. There’s nothing like a good vent every now and then but if that’s all you do you lose respect, and moaning doesn’t actually change anything. Offer to help fix the problems or ask for support from others to find solutions.
  • Don’t be known for being cynical, distrusting or disparaging. Just one person behaving this way can infect a whole team by making it seem okay to focus on the negatives. There are plenty of opportunities to feel disappointed or lose trust but you need to be willing to give people another chance. Standing on the sidelines pointing at others isn’t a good way to promote healthy relationships at work.
  • Don’t be an arrogant know-it-all. Remember how you felt when you were new at something. Have some empathy for people who don’t know what you do. When you’re feeling frustrated at other people’s lack of knowledge use that as an indicator that you could do more to help them understand.

People who display these negative traits have often started out with good intentions. Those who complain may be trying to prevent problems for their team, or improve poor work practices. People who are cynical may have placed trust others but had their trust betrayed. Being arrogant could be a protective measure in a high-blame environment.

Wherever these attitudes originated, they can quickly become a habit. We all have bad days and moments where we’re feeling frustrated and we can’t help but be negative, but to be respected and valued at work you should try to keep those occasions to a minimum. Be aware of the things that trigger a bout of bad attitude and practice different ways of responding. Think of how you impact people. Be someone that others see as a positive influence. Take every opportunity to infect people with your great attitude.

Something is better than anything.

be_specificWhen you tell someone you’re looking for a new job, you can expect that their next question is going to be something like “so what are you looking for?”. You’d be surprised how often I hear people answer with “anything”.

They say things like “I’m looking for anything in testing” or “anything in IT” or “anything to do with customer service”.

Imagine it’s your first appointment at a new hairdresser. As you sit down they ask what you want and you answer “anything”. How likely is it that you’ll be happy with the end result?

I can understand that when you’re looking for a new role you may not be sure what kind of roles are available. Or you may actually be willing to do a whole range of things. Or maybe you think by being specific you might not get some other role you’d be perfect for.

But here’s what it sounds like when you say “anything”:

  • It sounds like you haven’t put any thought into what you want, what you could contribute to a company or where you might be valuable.
  • Instead of making you seem open to a range of things it could make you seem desperate or unenthusiastic or vague or lazy. Employers tend to like enthusiasm and driven and focussed people.
  • It could make you look like you don’t care.
  • It’s hard for employers or recruiters or people you’re networking with to mentally match you to roles/companies they know about if they don’t have any idea what it is you want or would be suited to.

When people ask what you’re looking for, you need to help them to help you. Prepare for their questions by considering the items in the list below. You don’t need to have firm answers for all points below … just focus on the things that you feel strongest about.

  1. What do you want from your next role? To develop technical skills or leadership, to stretch yourself, to embed skills you already have?
  2. Do you have an idea of the role you want in the long-term? Is your next role a stepping stone to that or do you want something completely new?
  3. How senior a role do you want? Why? Do you want to be a leader and do you have experience in this? Would you prefer to work in a team or alone? How big a team would you prefer?
  4. What industries have you worked in before that would give you an edge, and what industry do you want next? Why?
  5. What type of company do you want to work for? A small start-up, a growing company, a large corporation?
  6. What type of work environment do you want? Fast-moving, flexible, traditional, innovative? Is the development methodology important to you? Do you want a team where roles are flexible and varied or do you prefer clearly-defined responsibilities?
  7. What salary/benefits would you want ideally and do you have a minimum in mind?
  8. Do you have any must-haves?
  9. What is most important to you? The role, company culture, salary, benefits, training, flexibility, industry, opportunities, location, or other things?

Let’s change those examples above to something a bit more helpful:
“I’m looking for a test lead role at a telco.”
“I want a Java developer role in a large corporate organisation.”
“I want to work part-time in a customer service role.”

Once you have some idea of what is important to you and what you want to aim for, then decide how specific or broad you want to be when telling others. You don’t need to disclose exactly what you want but it’s good to have your ‘first prize’ in mind.

So the next time someone asks what kind of role you’re looking for be ready to replace “anything” with something.

Can recruiters find you, and will they like what they find?

I recently attended an IT recruitment conference that had speakers from many successful and fast-growing companies. The event was about how to attract, recruit and retain IT professionals.

Companies operating in the IT/tech/digitech space are well aware of how hard it is to find good people to fill their vacancies. Presenters at the conference spoke about new methods they’re using to help them with this task.

How companies and recruiters find candidates.

The most common ways for recruiters (in-house or at agencies) to find candidates are:

  • Place an ad on an online job board or on a company’s career page
  • Look at their existing database of previous candidates
  • If they’re in-house recruiters they’ll likely look at their pool of existing staff
  • Ask for referrals
  • Approach people directly

Aside from the channels above there are is now a trend towards looking for people online, via various social media and other channels. Or, maybe they have someone’s name but they want to find out more before they proceed.

The cost of not filling a role or of hiring the wrong person or high so it’s reasonable that companies and recruiters will try to find out as much as they can, and in places you might not expect.

Here are some places they might look.

In most cases below, people can search for a name or more generic terms (e.g. developers in Sydney). Once if they find someone they’ll usually expand out the search to see that person’s contact, followers etc and get even more names of potential candidates.

1. Twitter.   This is a great starting place to see who you follow or interact with, what types of things you post and how you communicate. Use this to your advantage – follow or interact with companies you like or ‘influencers’, post relevant content. Also remember that companies often post vacancies on Twitter so it’s a great place to see what roles they offer and how they deal with candidates.

2. LinkedIn.   Recruiters are likely to have a look at your LinkedIn profile, but they also search more generically for people with certain skills or in specific locations. This means you should keep your profile up -to-date (but remember to disable notifications if you don’t want your current employer to suspect you’re thinking of moving). Do you have a title showing what you currently do or what you’re looking for? Do you have a few, specific recommendations from people about how you work? (See my other blog about creating a good Linkedin profile and CV.)

3. Facebook.   Depending on your privacy settings there could be a wealth of information on Facebook that you don’t realise is public. Check what your profile looks like to people who aren’t friends and edit posts/photos that you want to remain private.

4. Instagram.   As with all social media, employers can tell a lot about you from what you post or respond to.

5. GitHub.   I’ve heard many times that if you’re a developer you need to have a GitHub profile.

6. Meetup.   If I was looking for someone with, for example, testing automation experience, one of the first places I’d look would be the local meetups. I’d get the list of members and then cross-reference them with other places (Twitter, LinkedIn etc). If you belong to meetups, make sure your profile – for each group you belong to – is up-to-date.

7. Google.   A plain, old Google search might yield lots of information about you or people like you. Google+ is used in some countries but not in others. For example, if you work in India (or if you want to be found by an Indian company), you need a Google+ profile. A reverse image lookup (drag an image and drop into the search bar) might take searchers to other places online where your details can be found.

8. Online.   Searchers might look at sites where tech people can offer their services or display their portfolios. You might be found on one of these – Bēhance, Elance, Upwork, peopleperhour, Fiverr, dribble, etc. What about if you leave a review with you name on TripAdvisor, AirBnB, eating out sites etc? People can get a sense of your tone, your attitude and what you do in your spare time.

What will they find out about you?

It’s not only about how you might be found, but also what information people might uncover when they find you.

  • If you use your name in any of these sites or applications then make sure you have content that won’t discourage potential employers.
  • Keep in mind the image you are portraying online. Does your online presence give the impression that you’d be a suitable employee for the kind of company you want to work for?
  • You don’t need to sign up to all the sites listed above. Only do so if it makes sense (e.g. if you’re a developer then GitHub is a good place to start).

candidateSo, be aware of your presence online, but possibly even more importantly be honest, professional and hard-working … these are the things that will ultimately create your reputation.

 

About mentoring

I was recently interviewed by Nicola Owen for her blog “Nicky Tests Software”. Nicola writes about her journey in software testing and includes interviews with people in the testing field. I work with people in a wide range of tech roles but because of my experience in testing a lot of my clients are testers, or would like to be.

The interview was a good opportunity to speak about what it’s like mentoring to testers, hard decisions testers face and which soft skills are important to develop.

You can read the interview here: http://nickytests.blogspot.co.nz/2015/05/interview-with-shirley-tricker.html

Don’t follow your passion. Look for challenges.

I was sitting in a job interview and things were going pretty well, then the question: “So tell me what you’re passionate about?”

Hmm. I could say what it seems they want to hear – something about making customers happy, learning new skills or doing good work. Those are things I really enjoy and feel strongly about but … passionate? Do I really have intense and emotional feelings about those things?

I could say that what gives me the most intense and emotional happiness is spending time with people I love, reading bed-time stories to my niece, laughing with good friends. I don’t think those are the answers they’re after. I think they want to know what makes me come alive at work, what things I’ll be willing to stick at, what motivates me.

Feeling “passionate” means an deep enjoyment that comes easily. You can’t help feeling the way you do and you don’t have to put any effort into it. It’s like when you see someone you love after time apart – you can’t help how you feel. You don’t have to try to feel happy because you just do!

This is different to how I  feel about work. I thoroughly enjoy much of what I do but I feel the most satisfaction at work when it’s not easy, when I’ve had to push myself, or make sense of complicated things or when I’ve forced myself to be brave. Succeeding at a challenge (or at least attempting something difficult) … these are the things that make me feel happiest. Taking on challenges and overcoming obstacles – things that take effort and persistence.

You’ll often hear people say you should follow your passion. I believe the overuse of the word ‘passion’ (“follow your passion” or “do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life”) is misleading people into thinking that they should be doing work that doesn’t feel like any effort at all. The truth is that the most satisfying work won’t be easy. You will certainly do things that seem effortless but the reward will come from mastering the things that don’t come easily.

Do a quick experiment. Think of something you’ve done that you’re really proud of. Was it easy? Many of the most rewarding things in my life have been the things that at first seemed the most impossible.

If you want to find things that make you truly enjoy your work ask yourself:

  • Will this push me a little (or even a lot)? If you don’t feel some level of discomfort or uncertainty then you aren’t growing.
  • How would I feel if I succeeded at this?
  • Would I be willing to stick at this even if it was frustrating? (Persisting at difficult tasks is also rewarding).
  • Will I get to learn or practice something new?

Is there something in your current job that you find challenging? Think of the smallest step you could take to start overcoming that. Do that, then do the next smallest thing. Small, brave steps add up to giant leaps in how happy you feel about work and yourself. Each time you do this, you build trust in yourself and your ability to do hard things.

It’s knowing you’re stretching yourself that’s so deeply rewarding, and different to the feeling you have when you’re doing easy, fun stuff. You need both … too many challenges and you’ll feel burnt out, but only doing what comes easily and you’ll feel unfulfilled.

Look for challengesYou shouldn’t only take on things that are difficult, but it’s handy to know that much of your sense of achievement and your career development live in these challenges.

Who looks after your career?

One of the best things about working in tech companies are the people. Smart, interesting, funny, dedicated people, with diverse personalities and backgrounds who work hard to do great things for their employers.

Over the past few decades in many different companies I’ve seen these people working under pressure, in challenging and constantly-changing environments. They take on tough projects, they do overtime, they deal with frequent restructuring and too-small teams. They hold training sessions during their lunch breaks. They’re asked to justify the time they need to do their work. They’re the first people questioned when projects go wrong. They’re expected to keep up with new technology, to be great at communicating and to be excellent team players and if they don’t already over-achieve in these areas it gets noted during their annual review. Hard work and innovation are not always appreciated, sometimes not even noticed.

But … some people are promoted and given raises. Some get opportunities and cool projects to work on. Some companies train and develop their staff, and value their contribution.

It’s frustrating how much it comes down to luck. Are you lucky enough to work for a company where staff are valued and cared for? Do you have a good manager who has your best interests at heart?

Even if you are fortunate to work in a good environment, that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be rosy. There are still pressures and times you may feel neglected.

Right now, there is a large group of experienced and skilled people doing just fine in IT/tech roles, but they’re not happy with ‘fine’ … they want to be better. They want to keep learning, to improve and advance. They want to be noticed, get promoted. They want a more balanced life. What options do they have to be supported to get the growth and challenges they want?

This is the reason I started Elementum. I want to make it easy for everyone to move forward and achieve their goals, no matter where they work. I want people to be in full control of their careers. I want people to be able to learn how to improve the skills that make the most difference. I want people to realise how easy some of these things are – you don’t have to change jobs or make big commitments … small and steady improvements will add up over time and become life-long habits.

I’m learnt some shortcuts working in a range of IT roles for the past 20 years, but the most important learning for me was when I realised it didn’t matter if I was a permanent employee or a contractor, it didn’t matter who employed me or what my role was. What mattered was that I needed to take charge of my own growth and career happiness.

A job is the work you do for someone else. A career is what you own over a lifetime of experience and growing and doing awesome work. Even when my job wasn’t what I really wanted, I could still work on the skills and experiences I dreamed of for my career.

“You can apply for a job, but you can’t apply for a career. A job is given to you; a career is made by you.” Lynne Mattoon

imthebossofmeAlways remember that you own your career. The power is in your hands. Is there anything you need to do to take back control?