Tuesday 18 September 2012

Are we balancing our career with family?

In the many career advising situations that I have been confronted with over the years, it was often the case that we would be discussing the ideal position. The candidate had ‘almost’ everything he/she wished for. It was challenging, promotional opportunities, great product, awesome culture and very good financial incentives etc. I had the ideal candidate. Just one snag; it meant that the person had to either relocate his or her family to a different part or another geographical region as the daily commute was not possible. In another similar case, no relocation this time but changing position meant 60 to 80% air travel. How do we balance these situations with a healthy family life?

In the case of relocation; the more sensible candidate would respond by asking for some time to discuss the situation with their partner. Some would revert back and compromise in that the person might commute on a weekly basis and be home in the weekends.  The few that relocated were more desperate for a new life, their children were grown up, or felt it was their only option due to a totally unfulfilling current role or in certain cases no role. Put simply they felt they had little choice and their decision was purely economic. Most would come back and say no. The upheaval and burden were too great on the family, the children at school, their home, their friends, sense of community etc. They would be happy to patiently wait for something else closer to home and make the most of their current position.

In the case of a high level of business travelling, this was straight forward. Many can cope with 20% to 40% business travelling in the year when it becomes very manageable even enjoyable. Beyond this i.e. 60% or above definitely becomes a strain on yourself and your family life at home. When I was asked to recruit for these persons I would search for the younger single type with little ties. Senior businessmen that I met that were married and travelled in the high percentage barrier 60% (In some case I have heard 80%) were often living difficult family situations and were ultimately unfulfilled.

I give these examples in that sometimes we are confronted with very difficult decisions in our careers.  If you want something so badly that may impact your family or is not coherent to your inner value system, surely the sensible, more measured or even courageous approach is to take time out, reflect, reason and think through on the best possible outcome and its consequences where sacrifice of our own personal need might take increased consideration before anything else.

My view is that any career decision that negatively impacts family life or worst of all may victimise children is an evil one. Furthermore a child brought up with a father or mother hardly at home is harmful. Plus what is no good is getting so tied up with your work whereby squeezing aside your family or using your work and other activities as a form of escapism from your private life. It goes without saying that work holism is nothing to be proud of; it falls into the category of addictions & aholism i.e. this compulsive need to do something or craving implying that in truth there must be something deeper at fault or missing in you as a person.

In brief a life balance is essential to our wellbeing; family life is one of the greatest contributions any human being can make toward our children and society, and parenthood is one of the greatest fulfilments and joy any human being could wish for. Anyone disagree?
‘It is never too late for us to become what we might have been’

Thursday 13 September 2012

What’s wrong with our home talent?

I spoke to a CEO of a web design company recently.  His company employs around 50 people with several of his designers based in Azerbaijan. I asked him how it was possible to have people based so far out even if he is in a virtual business.

His answer was as follows: "If I had the choice I would employ my technical staff here (in Belgium) but the problem is the following: It is not about the money but more about it being extremely difficult to find the right staff who have a sense of loyalty to the company they work for as well as the adequate skills. Once the person is on board, they are trained for approximately six months, after which they do not hesitate to move on when a better financial offer comes their way from another company. So why bother? In Azerbaijan the workforce is highly skilled and has a great sense of loyalty to the company they work for. I am very happy with them."
I had witnessed this myself in a time when I recruited senior IT staff in the past but it was interesting to be reminded of this fact by a CEO and the flaws we face on our home ground when we are seeking our very own talent & skills. Take note skills are not talents. Talents are your natural gifts and strengths. Skills are the knowledge, expertise and know how you have acquired throughout your career. It is often the case the two are confused with each other. Yet it takes great skill to develop your talents.

The immediate issues that spring to mind from this example, is not just our lack of loyalty as an employee but how we are driven by money.  Evidently it is a cultural problem and a mind-set that is conflictive and extremely difficult to deal with, which clearly also exists in the financial sector amongst others.

The issues and solution are twofold. The IT sector, like in the financial sector, falls within the service sector. Those that are employed in the service sector must have the mentality of ‘serving’ for the needs of the customer (givers mentality) and not those for their own benefit.(takers mentality.) If someone leaves because of being offered more money elsewhere; this person is seen as contributing for his own need. This is a cultural issue and is endemic in our society. It begs the question. How can we be contributing therefore for our own benefit in a service sector customer facing environment?
Following the carrot is by no means the key to happiness. Instead we must strive to give yourself to work that brings together a need and I promise you; your talent and your passion will be unlocked and you will be happier for it.

I say it is twofold as this must be looked at too from the employer’s perspective. People in authority may not fully understand or grasp the full extent of human nature, in the sense that they manage people as they do things. Their lack of understanding can prevent them in tapping into the human potential of their employees, their true worth and their talent. By using them purely on their skill whereby overlooking their talent or rewarding a knowledge worker on short term gain; are some examples of management through fear in so far as the employee can easily become unhappy. He/she feels degraded or depersonalised. They do not feel ‘cared’ for and ultimately lose their sense of loyalty. In other words a job becomes a job, more like a necessity that is programed in us and not something they want to do or feel passionate about.

The final point to make and worth noting that it is also up to universities and training programs to remain abreast to where the gaps remain in our pool of talent to where the scarcity of skills can be matched. If there are a shortage of talent in our very own back yard well these issues must be addressed in a balanced manner.
The more we use our present talents, the more talents we are given and the greater our capacity becomes.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

How do I conduct an interview?

The best interviews I have conducted (there have been may) are with people who come across as having a certain ease with themselves. Open but reserved, confident yet still humble, honest and sincere. Focused yet undeterred. Finally slightly inquisitive, humorous and ultimately interested. There is a great uplift in creating a two way conversation with two interested individuals. I sometimes would walk away impressed with the person in mind for days to come.

Assuming you are sitting in front of an experienced interviewer for a position you are clearly interested in and for the right reasons, first impressions count enormously. It goes without saying that it is important to arrive on time. It is essential to dress appropriately or be in proper business attire suitable for the occasion. Introduce yourself formally with a firm yet gentle handshake.  Sit down when offered to be seated - not before! The task of the interviewer is to find out about you, the type of person that you are, your strengths and your weaknesses. He or she is there to find out if you have a focus, that you are balanced in personality and solid in character and to see if you can really add or contribute and ultimately fit to the needs of the company. The chemistry is vital to see if you get on with each other. This is very important especially if you happen to be talking with your potential boss or team members.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? This is one of the most common questions an interviewer will ask you. In my view it is in fact such a crucial question because it is really there to find out if you have found a purpose in life and to see how well you know yourself. Many candidates struggle to answer this question as they have not spent enough time knowing their own aspirations and ambitions and afraid that what they say may hamper their chances in getting the position on offer. (This can be the same when talking about your weaknesses.) Naturally unforeseen circumstances may limit your aspirations in the future but that should not deter you in answering this question.
I would therefore advise any candidate to work in getting an understanding of themselves to have a peace of mind before sitting down in front of an interview. What does not work is if a candidate is unsure of himself, comes across as slightly desperate and not being oneself. Fear is a crucial obstacle we all face as human beings but needs to be dealt with from within. Sweaty hands, play acting, fidgety, rambling and not allowing the other person to speak is really bad. Incidentally there is nothing wrong with being slightly nervous as we are after all only human.
A good interviewer will sense whether the candidate is sincere or not.  That is why it is so important, to know yourself well. To be able describe your weaknesses with ease and your areas where you can improve. It is important to have a focus, and to know your own talents.  To be able to show a fine balance between your own confidence and humility and not over sell yourself. It is essential that you have done your research about the company and therefore have some good questions to ask the interviewer about the position, the culture of the company, and the strategy of the business for example. As it goes both ways the candidate has to feel comfortable with the company and the job. It is important that if you are interested to make the interviewer feel that you are. Again this must sound subtle yet sincere. Show also that you have a bit of humour that in fact that not only do you contribute to the companies needs but you are also potentially positive to have around.
‘Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee and we’ll ascend together’
Quaker Proverb