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How to Have a Successful Career

A successfull career - this is what everybody wants and there’s no need to explain why. What I still need to emphasize is that by “successful career” I mean having that dream job/occupation that makes you happy – not necessarily being a top manager in a multinational because not everybody wants that, but having that job that makes you wake up in the morning happy that a new day has started, that makes you hurry to work, that makes you feel good about yourself, about achieving something, that makes you feel useful and that makes you go home in the evening satisfied with your life.

I am sure that all of you that are reading this article are in different stages of your career – some are still studying, some have just started their first job, some have a few years of experience behind, some of you are happy with your job and want to know how to keep the feeling and some desperately need a change.

And one more thing before we start: one of the good things that my last job has taught me – don’t fear change. Change can be beneficial. Stop opposing it and try to be open minded about it. Try to analyse the impact and try to see if there are any opportunities involved. You may say: OK, but I am 50 years old already. What can I do now but accept my fate? Accept change instead! Think about your passions, some things that you have always wanted to do in life and couldn’t because your parents wanted you to become a manager or a doctor or whatever you weren’t passionate about. Being a happy and successful cook or farmer is better than being an unhappy top manager. Think about it!

Now, let’s start…
For those of you that are facing the difficult decision of what I want to become, here’s my advice:

-          Start with your passions. Think about what you like and what you do best. Talk seriously to your parents if they want you to keep the family tradition by choosing a job you don’t like or you have no skills for. They want you to be a lawyer, but you feel better on the stage in the spotlight and are good at playing the drums, then be mature and discuss about your choice; or you are keen on researching marine life – again, be firm and discuss in a mature manner; you will make them happy for a while if you accept their choice, but you will get unhappy in the end and blame them for your lack of success;

-          Research well before starting – you think that you would like to be a teacher, a surgeon, a lawyer…try to find out as much as you can about these. What studies you need, what certifications, what exams you need to pass later on, what skills you need to have, how can you develop those you don’t have yet, what difficulties face the people in those professions, what sacrifices do they need to make to be successful. Try to talk to people doing these, visit their work environment. And if all this seems difficult to do and you would rather go to a party…well, you should wake up. Imagine yourself 20 years from now in a job you hate but you have to keep because you have children and mortgage to pay! And if you have no clue what that feels like, look around you! There are thousands of people like that…just because they didn’t think about their future well enough before making choices and they preferred to leave that to others or they just moved on hoping for the best. So…be mature and remember that you make your own future most of the times. Inform yourself, research, think, talk to older people, make lists and act responsibly;

-          Remember that money doesn’t make you happy. Sure, having some helps you have a better life, no debts is better than a life of debt, having money to buy your children gifts for Christmas is great, but money alone doesn’t make you happy. Don’t aim for a well-paid job if you don’t like it or you don’t have the skills for it. Happiness is a complex thing and it involves more than money – it involves family, friends, health and much much more. Tons of money and things don’t compensate for friends, family and health; it may not seem like I’m right, but trust me, I know. I have aimed for money and a better job, always going for more and going up, but now after 10+ years I have come to believe those that told me what I am telling you now;

-          Prepare for hard work. Nothing in life comes for free. Unless you are really rich and your parents plan to offer you everything at no cost – big mistake, but it happens; or maybe I should say…prepare for hard work if you want to enjoy what you have achieved and feel happy about yourself. Most of the times the things that come for free are taken for granted, so work hard to achieve something by yourself if you want to feel accomplished.

For those that are struggling with their first or second job:

-          Think about what would really make you happy. Do you want money, a top position, do you want to travel? For a while go on that path and pursue what you think would make you happy. Any difficulties you encounter now will prepare you for later and will make you know what to choose. A little struggle is fine as long as you know when to stop. A lot of successful entrepreneurs find their way in business after their first or second job because they learn what to search for and what to avoid. They learn about business and people the hard way. School is useful but it doesn’t really teach you what to expect in a real job;

-          Then if you think you don’t like what you have but are not sure what path to go on – think really hard…sit down with yourself and decide if you REALLY don’t like what you have. Maybe you find your life more difficult after school. It’s normal to be that way. School is about learning and passing exams. Having a job is about doing your daily tasks – on time even if you don’t like all of them, dealing with angry customers and demanding managers, being on time everytime at work even if you feel like not going out of bed, dealing with ambitious colleagues or with colleagues who want to work less and make you work for them and so on. It's a jungle :) You are now facing real problems. Problems that adult and mature people have. You are no longer a student caught cheating by the teacher. And a class you missed is no longer your biggest issue.

-          Make a list of pluses and minuses concerning your current job, leave it for a day or two then read it carefully. Think about the minuses and how many of them are fixable – maybe you need more training (you can talk to your manager and that can be fixed), maybe you need a more flexible schedule, a different shift, a new PC monitor or whatever. Think just about those that can’t be fixed and how many they are. If they far exceed the rest, then it’s really time to move on;

-          Read above as well. Some apply to you too, especially the part about passions and hard work.

For those that have already started a career, have a few years behind, let’s say around 10, but are having second thoughts…since I am there, I will speak from my experience. I’m sure I’m not the only one around. You are at that point in your life where you have worked really hard to graduate, to specialize, to impress, to shine, to get to a better position, then a better paid one, then more money, then even more, then to become a manager, to see how that works out…and after a while you are no longer happy with what you have, you no longer want something more, but something DIFFERENT. Your passions are now clear to you, but you have some constraints already – kids, a house to pay, a car that needs to be changed since it no longer accomodates your entire family. You are no longer at that point where it’s only you and you decide for yourself only. Other factors need to be taken into consideration, other people have a say. Well, for you I have another short article I wrote a while ago: Career Change at 30+. I hope it helps.

And finally…for those that alredy have a notable career behind, aren’t happy anymore and more than that don’t consider their current career ‘successful’:

-          Again, think about your passions, what you would have liked to do in life and what you have done in the end. Maybe at some point you dreamed about becoming a painter, a famous cook, having your own cattle farm, growing herbs, opening your own restaurant. If you have the skills, go for it. If you don’t have the money, borrow some from your friends or try to convince an investor to invest in your idea. Think about all the questions they may have for you and how you would convince them. It’s never too late to achieve your dream;

-          Be open-minded and explore change. Sorry for what I’m about to say, but it’s proven fact that the older you get, the harder it is for you to accept change. And that’s simply because you no longer have the energy you used to and you prefer to accept things as they are, good or bad, than invest some time and energy. Trust me that I know what it feels like to have no more energy after you have invested it all in kids, the stress at work, paying for years for your house, the sleepless nights when you thought about your next mortgage payment…but even if it’s late, think about yourself too and do something you are passionate about and something you have always wanted;

-          Enroll in some classes or look around for opportunities to help you get started. It’s never too late to start over. Of course there are jobs where they won’t accept you for being over-qualified. Wanting to be a junior programmer after 20 years in the finance field, may not even bring you to an initial interview. Let’s face it. That’s the reality. But there are fields where you can start something for yourself and where age and previous experience don’t matter.  Normally I avoid TV, but I couldn’t help noticing a lady of around 45-50 who had always dreamed to be a soprano singer. She came to a TV show where she amazed everybody with her voice. She had no studies in the field and she had worked for years in the financial field because that’s what her parents wanted her to do. Now she wanted a fresh start and her dream was about to get true;

And last but not least, one final thing that you should all remember: always keep time for yourself. If a job doesn’t allow that, then you need to get out. You may not mind now, but you will when you end up alone in a cold appartment with no family or friends, old and boring. Always make time for yourself, your friends and family. No company keeps you forever. Maybe when it’s yours, but you need to remember you will get old someday and you will need to leave. Coming home to a big but empty house is no fun.

Please share your thoughts,
Take care,

Geo

What to Do as a Manager When Your Team Falls Apart – Prevent & Cure

First of all, let me define “falling apart”. I’m sure you have a rough idea, but let me be clear. To me a team that is falling apart means unhappy people leaving the team, people that are not motivated to do their job and make sure others are demotivated too, people that constantly complain, people that you see are constantly coming late to work, taking too many breaks, spending too much time on social networks or job portals, people who no longer do their job (but used to) and come up with silly excuses, people who stay home on sick leave too often, who no longer answer their phone after 5 pm, who no longer stay willingly in the office to help finish a team project if the clock is 5.01 pm, who miss team events outside the office, people who seem bored and annoyed around their colleagues, around you or inside the office. Sounds familiar? I’m sure you’ve had that in your team at some point…

Now, what to do?
Well, there are several possibilities depending on the number of team members in that situation – if there’s only one, obviously your team is not falling apart quite yet and the situation can easily be improved. However, if there are several team members involved, you need to rethink your strategy entirely and FAST!

But, before treatment, try prevention:

-          Get to know each team member really well – what their personality is (introverts, extroverts, ambitious, timorous, courageous), what their skills are, what their ambitions and goals are and important as well – get to know their personal life too – their parents, children, problems, hobbies, illnesses, whatever they are willing to share. I know it seems like a lot, but it is worth it. You will get to understand them better and use their skills in an optimum way and at an optimum time;

-          Spend enough time with each team member and the team as a whole – this will make them feel valued and important; get to listen to what they have to say, to their suggestions, reply in a realistic manner and use their ideas if they are good – you may never know who is the one saving your next project;

-          Accept the idea that there may be people in your team better than you. I mean it! Help them develop and support them. You will lose them eventually if you don’t and the image they will spread about you and the company won’t be a nice one. If you support them, they may be replacing you when you get promoted and the company won’t lose a great next manager; you may never know what lies ahead;

-          Do your best to offer your team the resources they need to do their job – knowledge, office supplies, time, whatever necessary. Involve them in the process and they will respect you for trying even if you fail;

-          Roll up your sleeves – don’t just sit there ordering them what to do. If there’s a big project that requires a lot of work that is beneath your level of expertise, but the team has to do overtime to finish it (and you have some spare time), leave the strategic thinking for later and help them. Team members respect their manager if they see that he is working next to them archiving dusty papers.  Don’t be afraid you will fall from your throne! No way! They will just appreciate your effort and it will be great team building for them too;

-          Make people feel important – value their ideas. Read more about it here;

-          Accept the idea that attrition is good up to a point and that people need to evolve. Don’t panic and run like a headless chicken around the office if someone leaves. The rest of the team will panic too and moreover they will think that you don’t value them as much. Simply organize a team meeting, explain to the team what happened, ask for ideas if necessary to bring things up to normal then continue your work. That’s it!

-          Allow team members to enter your busy strategic world. Offer them information about the company, about what you are doing, about your projects. Let them see as mush as possible of the big picture. This will allow them to better understand their work and their part in the company;

-          Give your team members SMART objectives. And I mean SMART. Don’t just say they are SMART.  Talk to them and make sure they understand what you need the to do. Putting parts of their job description as SMART objectives for the year is stupid and dangerous. Make sure they can measure at all times what their progress is. If an objective you give them can’t be measured in terms of progress, then that’s a non-SMART objective and can demotivate your team member who will struggle to achieve it but won’t see the end in their struggle. Let me give you  an example of a non-SMART objective that I received some time ago from my manager and that annoyed me and demotivated me: “ Have a good work relationship with your colleagues from location B.”. Well, how do you measure that? How many times I traveled there and took them out for lunch?

-          Be honest – don’t lie and don’t promise things you can’t offer; empty promises  will help on the short term, but they will backfire horribly on the medium and long term;

Now, assuming that you did all that and your team is still falling apart, then…

First of all, if there’s only one team member that is obviously demotivated, you need to:

-          Talk to them. This is the first thing to do. Maybe they don’t have the courage to tell you something. Maybe they have a family problem, maybe they did something and are afraid of the consequences, maybe they are overwhelmed with tasks, maybe their best friend in the team is no longer doing his job and they are doing their job too not having the courage to say. I don’t know. Just talk to them. People react strangely sometimes;

-          Try to improve something – maybe the employee needs more resources, maybe you need to change their shift, maybe they have too many tasks or maybe they just need a few days off. Try to help somehow, the employee will expect it after the meeting; don’t implement favorable measures just for the demotivated employee if there’s the case. Extent it for the entire team;

-          Explain the changes to the team – you don’t want more of them getting demotivated. Allow them to understand what happened and why.

If the team is really falling apart, then you need to:

-          Organize a team meeting and encourage the team to tell you about their problems. Try to improve at least of few items during this first meeting if you have the ability and power; they will see you care;

-          Go to upper management with the problem if there’s something you can’t fix – maybe they want higher salaries, maybe there’s a new company on the market offering something more and you could fix it with their help, maybe you need to hire someone new to take some of the tasks the others can no longer handle; come back to your team members with results or at least keep them posted with as much as you can tell them – there may be confidential items you may not say;

-          Keep a close report of leavers – reasons of leaving, duration of stay in the company, positions of leavers, other details you may find useful – this will help you improve the life for the rest;

Tough being a manager, huh? Who said it was easy?  Managers keep teams together and have a difficult job. What else would you add to the lists above?

Take care,

Geo

Motivating Your Employees - Make People Feel Important

As I have mentioned in my previous article, motivating people is a difficult job for a manager, especially when you have only non-financial means available and your team is made up of various types of characters. Money is a good motivator but only for a while and only for lower type of positions. As you go higher, it no longer works, no matter how much money you decide to make available. That's when you need to think of other motivators. Making people feel important is one of them. It works for all categories of team members - juniors and seniors alike.

Making people feel important doesn't necessarily mean promoting them. And you need to remember that not everybody wants to be manager. For some it may be a huge pain in the back. Also, promoting the wrong people may lead to team disaster. Making people feel important may be sometimes much easier than you think. Here's what you can do:

  • Listen to people - this shows you care - listen to their problems, to their suggestions, even if you can't apply or solve everything at least give people a part of your time to show that you appreciate their effort in the team;
  • Ask for help - this makes people feel useful - delegate some of your tasks - it will help them and you equally;
  • Be polite - no matter how angry or frustrated you are. Never forget "Please" and "Thank you";
  • Reward people - don't take measures only when something is wrong to solve a problem - also act when people have done something positive;
  • Offer feedback - good or bad - this shows that you are following your team members in their actions, that you offer them part of your time, that you praise them when good things happen and that you care about their improvement when bad things do;
  • Encourage people;
  • Offer them some decision freedom - no matter how small, allow them to make some choices, to implement some of their ideas;
  • Show them you care about their professional and personal improvement - send them to trainings, organize team buildings, delegate (I've already said that, but it needs to be repeated here too), talk about what they want to do and help them, give them challenging tasks and objectives;
  • Show compassion when they have personal problems;
  • Allow them to have a life - let them go home on time to be with their families, encourage them to be efficient on the job in order not to spend the entire day at work, encourage them not to take work at home unless absolutely necessary;
  • Smile, be nice and honest;
  • Organize personal meetings with each of them to allow them to offer your their feedback;
  • Roll up your sleeves - don't run when the team has a big project to finish and tight deadlines- work near them doing sometimes tasks that are below your status - this will show them you care about them and about the team and you don't consider yourself too good and too high on the ladder to do entry level tasks;
What ideas do you have to make people in your team feel important?

Take care,
Geo

Motivating Your Employees - Active Listening

Listen!
Non-financial motivation of your team when you are the manager is a tricky business. It's difficult and challenging, but also fun and rewarding. Since financial means to motivate people are most of the times not available and even if they were, it's a proven fact that as you go higher on the ladder people are no longer motivated by money, the question is for you as a manager - what do you do to keep your team together, functioning at highest standards? Well, one idea would be to do "active listening".

What is active listening?
It's that moment in a conversation when not only you  stop talking, but really listen to the other, show by various means that you are listening and don't offer any personal opinions on the matter. Active listening is listening, understanding and showing that you have understood. This doesn't mean that you agree, you just show you understand.

How is it useful?
It makes the person you are talking to feel important. And making people feel important is another very strong non-financial motivator. It builds a stronger relationship between individuals who know each other better (because they listen to each other's opinions) and who trust each other.

How do you do it?
There are certain techniques by which you show that you are listening actively:

  • Paraphrasing - to repeat parts of what the other has told you, but in your own words;
  • Repeating - to repeat the last words the other has mentioned in the form of a question - to ask if you have understood correctly what he/she said;
  • Summarizing - to repeat the other's ideas in a shorter version and in your own words;
  • Asking questions - asking for additional details either through closed questions (Yes/No) or open questions (that ask for more information and keep the conversation going);
  • Verbal signs: Uh - uh, Yeah, I see, OK, Of course, Oh;
  • Non-verbal signs - tilting your head, visual contact, body language (staying with your body towards the speaker), raising your eyebrows to show interest;


Can you learn how to do it? Can you practice it somehow?
Of course. Not everybody is good at that. Some even have great difficulties listening actively. There are aggressive people that need to have a say in everything, that interrupt you when speaking, that keep asking questions even if you haven't finished your idea. Here's an idea of what I did with my team - I learned this during a course and applied it with the ladies:

  1. Once a week we had our department meeting - at the end of the meeting we had our "active listening" exercise;
  2. One of the ladies was the speaker, one was listening actively and the other was evaluating the listener;
  3. We would pick a theme - preferably something controversial like death penalty, drugs, abortion, divorce;
  4. The speaker had 10 minutes to speak about the theme, the listener to actively listen (this involved not offering any personal opinion whatsoever) and the evaluator to determine whether the listener did indeed listen actively or not, how many of the techniques she used and what else could have been improved in the process;
  5. They would switch places three times - this way each of them got to be the listener.
The exercise was useful as they got to know each other better, to respect their opinions and after a while they would use what they learned in everyday duties, not only during the exercise.


What are your thoughts on the matter? Are you a good active listener? Do you know any people who don't know how to listen and could use this exercise?

Take care,
Geo


I Have No Experience, but I Have an Interview. What Do I Say?




If this is you, I am sure you have a few questions concerning the interview. And here are my answers:

      1. Is it a mistake?
    Absolutely NOT. If they called you, and asked for your name on the phone and scheduled you for an interview, then it's you they want to meet. Stop worrying and get prepared. They have your contact information from your CV and since they can see in your CV that you have no experience, then they know about your background. 

2.  Should I go?
Absolutely. Even if you don't get the job, at least it will help you get used to the interview environment and do better next time.

3.  What will they ask?
First of all since you don't have any experience, they will skip that and ask questions about yourself, your personality, your studies, your personal projects, any volunteering activities you may have done, just to see if you were interested in doing something else than just going to school, they will ask about any additional courses you attended, what you learnt. Then they will ask about your future goals, why you want to work for their company, what you know about them , if you remember the job ad and if you have any questions about the company, the job or the team.

4.  Should I ask questions?
Of course. Asking questions means that you are interested. You can prepare a few from home, but make sure you don't get too aggressive. Ask the questions during the discussion without interrupting too often and also at the end of the interview.

5. What do I say about myself?
Read the job ad and see what kind of employee they are searching for. What skills and strengths this person should have. Then tell them which of these you have offering examples and arguments. For example, if they are searching for someone with organizing skills, tell them you are a great organizer and how you managed some projects that you and your team had to do in college.

6.  What do I say about my experience?
Focus on what is connected to the job you are applying for - mention that you don't have experience, but that you were part of an internship in the field, you attended some classes connected to the field (make sure you mention those in your CV), that you came to visit their headquarters when they organized some "Open Doors" events, that you have been interested in their jobs for a while and visited their stand during the last job shop where their employees told you a lot about the company, mention any volunteering you may have done (even if not directly connected - it will prove you are not just an ordinary student who cares just about parties and wasting time with friends). Mention anything you find relevant that will prove you did something besides your regular student activities. It's useful.

7.  How long should the interview take?
Between 15 minutes and one hour. Chances are that since you don't have experience they will most probably keep you there closer to 15-20 minutes than to an hour. More useful details about a first interview here and about how long it should take here .

8.  How should I prepare?
Read the job ad carefully (they will ask about it to see how interested and careful about details you really are), prepare questions and read about their company. Why? Please read about it here.

9. What should I wear?
It depends on the position you are going there for. Please read about it here

10.Why did they call me since I have no experience?
Not all positions require experience. Some companies are willing to hire young inexperienced professionals and train them, sometimes even for months for a number of reasons: a fresh perspective, young people are more eager to learn and adapt to change and the last one (not too nice, but it's the reality unfortunately) - young people are willing to work for less money for a while. This can mean serious cost savings for the company. You need to remember that the corporate environment is all about profit not society well-being.

If there is a question that you may have and I missed, please write it to me in a comment and I will reply asap.

Take care,
Geo

Strengths and Weaknesses – What Should I Reply at the Interview?

A lot of candidates, especially those that are preparing for their first interview, ask the following question: "One of my friends has recently told me that during the interview the recruiter will ask for sure about my strengths and weaknesses. What do I reply? Can I prepare somehow for this question?"

Well, first of all, professional recruiters no longer waste their time with such questions that can be found in any recruitment and selection course for students. Professional recruiters prefer open discussions, case studies and of course ask the candidate to tell about specific situations where a certain skill could be found. For example, "Please tell me about a situation where you had a conflict in your team. What happened with your team members? How did you solve the problem?". If the candidate is a good manager, he would have solved the problem in an efficient manner without any further impact on the team. This kind of answer, with all the specific management details, is more valuable than the candidate just telling the recruiter he's a good manager. Answers to such well-known and expected questions like "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" can be prepared well before the interview, even found on the internet (some advisers may tell you what's useful to say and what's not) and the information offered to the recruiter by a shrewd candidate can easily deceive. Moreover, if the recruiter is following certain skills according to the job specifications and the candidate's answer is about others, then the time was completely wasted - better ask directly what I, as recruiter, am interested in.

Coming back to the question - there may still be recruiters who will ask you this question, so thinking a bit about it can't hurt. What should you reply? Clear strengths and weaknesses that are yours and not that you found in a book. Examples may be requested further on so don't lie. By the end of the interview, after several other questions, they will know you did. Also, remember that references can be verified, so additional information about you will be revealed for sure. If you say that you are always on time, but your former manager tells the recruiter during reference verification that you were late for work at least once a week, then you proved a liar and they won't care anymore about any other real skills you may have. 

Also, think about at least 3 of each. Some recruiters will insist that you tell 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses. In my opinion that's a waste of time, but you can prepare. Believe me, under the interview stress, you won't have any ideas, especially if you are a beginner on the market. You will hardly remember what you prepared at home; coming up with new ones will be even harder. Thinking a bit about it won't hurt as I said.

And last but not least, don't mention as weaknesses features that are in fact strengths - like "I am too ambitious". That will make the recruiter ask you to come up with one more and they will be really annoyed - trust me.

Now, what are strengths and weaknesses you may ask. Everybody talks about them but nobody tells you what they are. Well, strengths are positive features about yourself that can help you boost your personal or professional life - like being ambitious, smart, optimistic, organized, having good decision making skills, even knowing Java or Excel. Weaknesses are negative features that can slow you down - for example being impulsive (that's my main one). Being impulsive can affect your team work, can make you say or do things you can later regret. One more thing they may ask and you need to be prepared - how are you improving - think about what you do already or plan to do to make your weaknesses impact your life less, especially professional one - this is the one they are interested in. For example, if you don't know how to prioritize, a time management course can be helpful.

To sum up, you can think about this question and prepare something, but never come up with answers from the internet or details that in fact are not yours.

Take care and good luck with your interviews,
Geo

Should I Apply to All Job Opportunities in My Company?

A lot of employees are attracted by the job opportunities that their own companies open. Wanting to be promoted is a natural desire. The question is - if there are several different opportunities available at the same time, should I apply to all?

The answer is NO. Absolutely NOT! And here's why:

1. they will think you have no idea what you want - you want a career, that's clear, but you have no idea what to choose; you want to try it all out before you decide. This is not OK. The company needs someone reliable with clear decision making skills.

2. they will think that you have no idea what each job is all about - you can't possibly like all jobs and want to do all of them; this means that you haven't bothered to find details about each one before applying;

3. you want to be promoted at any cost and want more money - that's it - you don't really care about the job or the company;

4. you desperately want out of your team or you want a new manager; they will start asking what is wrong with your current team and manager;

5. you have no decision making skills - you can't decide what you want.

Did I convince you? I hope so.
Applying to too many open positions may "help you" lose them all, including to that one you may have been perfect for.

Take care,
Geo

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