Permission to sing your own praises

Spend a few moments reflecting on your achievements and what’s good in your career.

singyourpraisesHumility is a wonderful virtue, but for the next five minutes I invite you to trade it for pride and gratitude.

Take a pen and paper and make a list of all the things you’ve enjoyed and achieved over the last few months/6 months/year. What went well? What made you smile? What boosted your self-esteem?

Write down everything that comes to mind – things that made you feel proud, fulfilled, engaged, or happy. The times you solved a difficult problem, the compliments you received, the people you enjoyed working with, the moments you stepped outside your comfort zone. Don’t stop until you can’t think of anything else.

Now, read your list. Reflect on each moment. Allow yourself to fully enjoy your accomplishments.

Notice how you feel when you focus on the good. Do you feel calm, capable, self-assured?

This exercise isn’t about fuelling the ego or indulging in narcissism. It’s about switching from a scarcity mindset to one of possibility.

That feeling of ‘not enough’ – creeps up on all of us from time to time. It’s that nagging feeling that we need to do more, want more, have more, achieve more. It’s a good thing in small doses as it motivates us to strive for our goals. But it’s equally important to be grateful for everything you have right now, at this very moment.

 

What to do while you’re waiting

Sometimes you need to wait for what you really want. Here are some tips to help you get through those times.

rainSpring in New Zealand is beautiful. Buds on the trees and blossoms everywhere, tiny lambs and cute ducklings. And rain. This spring has arrived with more than the usual amount of rain.

It got me thinking about life’s ‘seasons’, the sunny and rainy times. The dull, grey times. The moments of calm and excitement.

Yet, unlike the seasons, in life it’s hard to predict whether sunshine or rain is around the corner. (To be fair, Auckland weather is pretty hard to predict too.)

Sometimes you’ll find yourself stuck in a season you’d rather escape. When this happens, it’s natural to long for sunnier times. You can spend weeks, months, or even years, waiting for change.

Despite your best intentions, sometimes it feels like you’re wading through mud – that life isn’t changing fast enough. That your dreams and aspirations keep eluding you. That you’re not getting the new job, the raise, the changes you want – no matter how hard you try.

You’re not alone. We all get stuck from time to time – it’s inevitable. So, the question should not be ‘how do I avoid the rainy season?’, but ‘how can I cope while I’m waiting for sunshine?’

I want to share several techniques I’ve learned over the years. Some require small shifts in perspective. Others require patience and time. Here is what I know.

Remember that “this too shall pass”

There is much wisdom in this old adage. Tough times won’t last forever – your situation will change. Try to cultivate patience and acceptance of the seasons of your life, while at the same time keeping your heart open to a brighter future.

Good times won’t last forever, either. Enjoy them while you have them. Relish in the special moments that will keep your spirits up when times are hard.

Use tough times as momentum for change

There is no personal growth without challenge. They go hand-in-hand. Use tough times as an opportunity to reflect, take stock, and regroup.

Tough times often help us make tough decisions. When life is mostly good, we sometimes overlook the small things that are niggling us, the quiet voice that says “something’s not right”.

When frustration or sadness is the more dominant emotion – when you can no longer say that “things are mostly okay” – it’s easier to take a clear, hard look at what’s not working in your life. Identify the things that demotivate or drain you, and use this clarity as momentum to try something different.

Do what you can with what you have

To (fully!) embrace this seasons cliché, sometimes you have to learn to dance in the rain’. If you can’t change your circumstance, then change your attitude. Sometimes your attitude is the only thing you can control.

All situations offer a chance to learn about yourself or others, to practice patience, to build resilience, and to try different paths. Often it is these very challenges that make the sunnier times so sweet.

Be ready

My last tip is to be ready for change – to create space for it in your life, so when the time comes, you will be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

You may not be where you want to be yet, but you can start to prepare for future opportunities. For example, if you want to move into a different role, you could start researching it online, enrol in a course, or speak to others in the field. Immerse yourself in learning.

I’ve found that when you are learning about something new, it’s very hard to feel stuck – with knowledge comes momentum, no matter how slow.

And remember – it (whatever ‘it’ is for you), will be worth the wait.

How to succeed at feedback

Feedback can be hard to ask for or to receive, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

feedbackFeedback. Does this word make you feel uncomfortable? Perhaps just the thought fills you with dread?

Asking for feedback can be awkward – for both the asker and the askee. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

At the recent Gather Unconference I went to Genny Stevens’ session on giving and receiving feedback. It was great to hear what she had to say. It reinforced some things I knew but I also learned a lot.

Here are some of my key takeaways from the session.

Giving feedback
Genny shared a new technique for giving feedback called the Feedback Wrap Model.

Forget about the awful feedback sandwich – you know, when you sneak feedback in between two pieces of praise?

“You’re fun to work with, but here’s how you suck, and you’re always on time to meetings!”

The feedback sandwich feels awkward and inauthentic. The feedback wrap, on the other hand, follows an intentional five-step process. Instead of ‘sandwiching’ the feedback between two insincere comments, it ‘wraps’ the feedback with context, observations, and suggestions. The result? Clear and sincere communication that’s honest without being blunt or inconsiderate.

Giving feedback is actually a good thing; it shows people you’re paying attention and that you care about their progress. Noticing and helping others is a great way for them to notice and help you. Feedback is a two-way street.

Asking for feedback
I believe that it’s even more important to ask for feedback than it is to give it to others. Why? Because we have blindspots about ourselves. We need feedback to know what we’re doing well and what we could improve.

Asking for feedback shows that you’re taking ownership of your work. And the more you practice asking others for their feedback, the easier it will be to cope with unsolicited feedback when it arises.

The main things to remember when asking for feedback are to be specific and to give people ‘permission’ to be honest with you. Instead of asking “Am I doing okay?”, relate your question to a real situation such as “I don’t think I managed that last meeting very well. What do you think I could improve for next time?”. If you want more general feedback you could ask something like “I am keen to develop my skills so I can do better at work. I value your opinion – could you give me a couple of suggestions on what I could do to improve?”

Some good questions to ask in relation to specific situations include:

“Am I on the right track?”
“What can I do to prepare?”
“Which skills would be valuable for me to grow?”

If asking feels uncomfortable, start by actively listening to what others say about or around you. They may be already telling you a lot without directly talking to you.

Coping with feedback

Asking for feedback is one thing; coping with it is something else altogether. It’s hard to receive feedback that’s not entirely positive, especially if the person giving it isn’t sensitive to your feelings. But remember – you don’t need to take on board everything that they say.

I believe a simple ‘thanks’ is enough. That’s it. You don’t need to justify yourself or explain further. Give yourself time to mull over their suggestions, decide if any are useful and then any further actions you’d like to take.

Receiving and responding to feedback is, after all, a personal journey. You get to decide how it shapes your future.

The secret to feeling valued at work

RollercoasterWe all want to feel valued. It’s a universal human desire. We hope to be appreciated, acknowledged and accepted in all areas of life, including the workplace.

When we receive praise or recognition, we gain a spring in our step, a burst of confidence, the energy to tackle the next challenge with gusto.

But when we receive criticism or perhaps worse, no feedback at all, it can leave us feeling the opposite – deflated, unheard, unseen, and unappreciated.

Looked at in this light, work can be an emotional rollercoaster. One minute you are on top of the world, the next you’re questioning your worth.

But ask yourself this: who is steering the rollercoaster?

Do you rely on external validation to feel appreciated in your workplace? Is your self-worth dependent on how your boss/colleagues/peers treat you?

If the answer is yes, then your ‘self-worth rollercoaster’ is being steered by events outside of your control. This places your feelings of value in the workplace at the mercy of other people, and this can have a huge impact on your confidence.

It’s time to take hold of the steering wheel. The only person who can determine your true value is you.

I believe that feeling valued in the workplace starts from within. Of course other people will play a part in your professional journey – that can’t be helped – but they shouldn’t be in the driver’s seat.

Instead of waiting for your boss or colleagues to acknowledge your efforts, instead try asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I happy with the way I am conducting myself at work?
  • In what ways do I feel valuable to my team?
  • If I were to ask for feedback, what would be the most likely responses?
  • What tasks do others regularly trust me to do?
  • What am I already doing better than before?
  • What achievements am I proud of?

Regular, honest self-reflection will help you maintain a sense of calm and integrity. It’s important that you value yourself and your efforts, even if no one else appears to have noticed.

The more your self-esteem grows, and you begin to recognise your own value, the less you will rely on external validation. Your confidence will no longer be at the mercy of other people – it will only be at the mercy of your own mindset.

Remember, the only person who can determine your true value is you.

Failures on the way to success

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAlXAAAAJDdjMzk1MDQ4LTVkODMtNDg1MC05ZDE4LTlmZDA3Mzc0MTNiYwThat’s me on the right of the photo. I attended an Outward Bound course last week and this was my very first time rock-climbing. I was really worried about how I would do, and about how I’d look compared to the others. I kept reminding myself that I didn’t have to be the best climber out there, I just had to try. I tried, I got stuff wrong, I kept trying (and failing) and when I eventually got to the top I felt a huge sense of achievement. The experience reminded me about the things that sometimes hold us back when we’re in situations where we’re not sure of the outcome.

One of my favourite quotes is by Olin Miller who said: “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!” How often do you hold yourself back because you’re worried about what other people will think?

Could it be that we’re more afraid of being judged than we are of failure? Could it be that we’re not scared of failing, but we’re scared of what people might say if we fail?

Let me digress for a moment to note the difference between mistakes and failures. A mistake is when we do something wrong even though we know the right way to do it. Failure is when we’re trying something new and we don’t know ahead of time how to make it successful. Where possible we should try to avoid mistakes but in reality there are times this can be hard (such as when we’re under high levels of stress, or we’re tired). Sometimes you are going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. And if you’re trying new things, pushing yourself, or taking action you are almost certainly going to experience failure.

Find peace in the fact that people aren’t judging you as much as you think they are. And even if you do have some critics, do you want to spend your time satisfying them at the expense of your own growth?

Failure is a powerful way to learn. We learn about ourselves, and we learn where we went wrong so we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Failures are not meant to be buried, forgotten – they give us the opportunity to reflect and can be used to help us decide our next steps.

Instead of living in fear of your failures, you could use them to your advantage. Start ‘banking’ your failures – imagine they are sitting in a high-interest savings account of all the things you have learned over the years. You can withdraw these important learnings any time you need them.

It’s natural to try to avoid looking bad in front of others, but try to fight through this fear and allow yourself to take the action you need to make in order to grow. People aren’t actually paying that much attention.

When you do experience failure, be gentle on yourself. Instead of using all of your energy to feel embarrassed or frustrated, use your energy to focus on what you can take from this experience, and what your next step should be. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Remember, you did the best you could with what you knew at the time.

Stop looking at your failures as a bad thing. Start embracing those moments for what they have added to your knowledge, your career, your growth. It’s amazing what can result from this simple shift in perspective.

The perfect career path

Success stories often skip over all the years of uncertainty, experimentation and growth that people go through to get to where they are today.

CareerPathWe live in a world where people are praised for having it ‘all figured out’. The shining examples we read about in magazines, newspapers, blogs – they often only make it into the limelight once they’ve found their path, be that the perfect job, starting a business, or finding great success.

These stories are interesting, but they don’t paint the full picture. Success stories often skip over all the years of uncertainty, experimentation and growth that people go through to get to where they are today. Although inspiring, they can fill us with anxiety that we’re not doing enough. They might prompt you to ask yourself: “What’s the right career path for me? Why haven’t I found it yet?”

I don’t believe it’s possible to find the right career path – rather, the right path will likely find you. Technology is evolving at such a rapid pace, how can we possibly know what the industry will look like 2, 5 or 10 years from now? How can we find the ‘right path’ when it probably doesn’t exist yet?

When we become fixated on long-term goals, we might miss out on the new and exciting opportunities that pop up as we go along.

I advocate the pursuit of short-term goals. I encourage my clients to make the best career decisions they can at any given time, and to be flexible, adaptable and receptive to change. There are many good places to start – but let’s not worry about the finish line just yet. Enjoy the journey.

As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Celebrate the small wins, continuously reflect on your achievements and keep repositioning the goal posts. The right path will reveal itself in time.

What does your CV say about you?

Does your CV reflect your awesomeness?Image - interview

During my time working in the tech industry I see hundreds of CV’s and many of them do not accurately reflect the person they are describing.

It’s disappointing to discover during an interview that someone who looked great ‘on paper’ doesn’t actually have the skills they promised on their CV. But the opposite is even worse – knowing that there are people who will not get an interview because their CV doesn’t describe their value. 

The purpose of your CV is to land an interview. It’s not to get a job … the interview is for that. The entire reason for a CV is so that the person reading it will be interested enough to want to know more.

Your CV is a marketing tool.

It should reflect who you are in a work context, and who you want to be.

  • It needs to cover the basics – contact details, profile, employment history, relevant skills and experience. There are millions of sites that give helpful advice. Here’s just one example – it says how to approach writing your CV.
  • It should be professional and positive. This article has good tips on what to avoid.
  • The layout and content should not make it hard for busy people to find the key details. There are many examples and templates here and here of simple, clear CV’s.

The mistakes I see:

  1. Way too many words.
    • Pretend you’re sending each sentence as a text message or a Tweet. You’re not writing an article, you’re writing bullet points and summary details.
    • Decide what you really want to emphasise and delete the rest. Your CV is not a full and complete story of everything you’ve ever done! Focus on the highlights.
  2. CV’s are too long or too “busy”.
    • Related to the point above, but the way you format a CV can result in lots of pages. It’s also not always a good idea to have lots of tables and borders and fancy formatting. When I’m reading your CV, I care most about the content, not the colour of section headings.
  3. People talk in generic terms (“I’m passionate about learning / Tech / testing” or “I have excellent communication skills”) but don’t show their actual achievements and strengths. Your CV needs to emphasise why you are valuable and useful.
    • Think of awards you’ve got at work, or things people consistently compliment you on, or times you’ve exceeded expectations.
    • What business ‘pain’ do you solve?
    • What are you most proud of? What makes you stand out?
    • Why would a company benefit from hiring you? What have you demonstrated you’re really good at?
  4. Not being clear about what you’re looking for. Read my blog “Something is better than anything” for ideas on how to be clear about what you want.
  5. Not matching your strengths/skills to the role.
    • Make sure to highlight where your skills match the role or job ad. (But don’t fall into the trap of feeling you have to tick every item on their list before you apply. You don’t need to have everything.)
    • Adjust the words you use so they mirror the terms that the company uses.
  6. General tips for people wanting to work in New Zealand
    • In NZ, we use the term CV rather than Resumé.
    • We generally don’t capitalise words other than proper nouns (and acronyms/initialisms/standard terms, like .NET).
    • I’d suggest using ‘and’ instead of & in a sentence.
    • Always aim to provide short and meaningful context for your reader. This is especially important when describing the company or project you’ve worked on outside of NZ.

Next steps

  1. Assess your CV. Does it show your value for the kind of roles you’re hoping to get? What do you like about it? What don’t you like? [10-minutes]
  2. Do you know how you are valuable? What business ‘pain’ can you solve? [15-minutes]
    • Write a list of 5 ways you are useful to a company, your top 5 achievements, and 5 ways you stand out.
    • Does your CV highlight these things?
  3. Look at the articles I linked to above. Does your CV contain any of the mistakes those articles refer to? [20-minute activity]
  4. Is your CV too long or is the format too busy? [20-minute activity]
    • Look at the sample templates linked to above, or search online for others. Find one that looks clean and simple and transfer across your details, deleting excess words and descriptions as you go.
  5. Look critically at your CV and find things to delete so that your main points stand out. [15-minute activity]
  6. If you’re applying for a specific role then does your CV show the ways your skills, talents and experience match that role? Are you using terms in your CV that are used in the job ad or the company website? [10-minute activity]
  7. Get someone else to review your CV – ask for honest feedback about language, spelling, meaning, and formatting. Is the language appropriate for your target audience? Will the words you use be suitable for automated systems that search CV’s for keywords? Change what you need to. [15-minute activity]
  8. Have a final read-through – out loud – to make sure you’re happy. Name your CV sensibly (e.g. “MarySmith_CV”, not “June2015”). [10-minute activity]
  9. Pat yourself on the back for taking the time to do this all-important career task! [1-minute activity 🙂 ]

I hope these tips will help you create a CV that you are proud of, and one that potential employers will find interesting and relevant enough to want to meet with you. (Look out for a future article on preparing for a successful interview).

You have skills and talents to offer! Make sure your CV reflects that.

[See this blog for advice on your LinkedIn profile.]

If you’d prefer one-on-one help with your CV, get in touch with me via shirley@elementum.co.nz. I’ve worked with many people to create CV’s and LinkedIn profiles that reflect their value.

Shirley Tricker is founder of Elementum, a company dedicated to helping people in Tech to be their best at work. Elementum offers career advice, coaching and online training, specialising in the soft/social skills and techniques that make a difference in the workplace. 

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