Standing Out in a Crowded World

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One of the challenges when starting out your own business, creating a new venture, being seen within at work for the effort you put in or if you're looking for a new partner is how to put yourself out there. In doing so you leave yourself open to criticism or judgement, to make mistakes, for things not to work out and to see the "I told you so faces" all around you. Having worked in the public sector for so long, I did not have an internet presence at all. You would not have found me through doing a Google search which suited me at the time, and in a way suits my introvert nature. But, if I keep myself hidden in the shadows, how will people know exist, what I stand for or who I am?

We live in a crowded world, both in the real and digital worlds, it can be difficult to stand out and make yourself heard and seen. In business, there will be other companies which sell the same products or offer the same services you do; this doesn't mean there isn't space for you or that you're not going to achieve success. There is enough business for everyone.

At work perhaps there are a lot of people with similar skills, qualifications, experiences and skills to you but if you go for a promotion you've no chance of getting it because the competition is so high, but not everyone is exactly the same so why couldn’t you be the one that is right person at that moment in time? Maybe you see others getting recognition at work when you work just as hard, if not harder. Sometimes it is difficult to shout about your strengths, especially if you're one of those that just think you're doing your job and to point out to others anything they don't already see already would just be bragging. It took me a long time to acknowledge that there are things I am very good at. There are many things that are works in progress and I do make a lot of mistakes, but rather than focusing on them, the focus for me is on the elements which make me stand out. Give yourself permission to get the credit and recognition you deserve; if people don’t see it initially, point it out to them, sometimes they can’t see what is directly in front of them.

I can't tell you how to stand out in your world, but as a Career and Life Coach I would help you figure it out. However, I can tell you how I am trying to do it. For me, standing out means demonstrating my values through how I show up in every aspect of my life; how I behave, what I say and do. I use my genuine curiosity to engage with others, I use imagination to help people go beyond their existing realms of possibility and support them in enhancing what makes them different in order to create their stand out life.

I don't stand out for what I am wearing or how I look, though maybe to other people that is why I do. It’s not about how many followers I have on social media. Or what car I drive, where I live or my accent…it’s definitely a Yorkshire one, so if you don’t like that, then I am not for you. I aim to stand out through the integrity of my work, by pushing myself when it's unbelievably uncomfortable and by being authentically me. Some people won't like me, some people will probably sit there in judgement, but I figure I am not going to please everyone, and I can't coach everyone anyway. In a coaching session it's not about me, I don't need to stand out then, it's all about you.

In fact, do I need to stand out in the crowded world? I only need to stand out to the people who value education, entertainment and who want to take their life to the next level. I need to stand out to those people who are wanting to make changes in their career or life. If you're ready to make that change then you'll find me; because, whilst I might not have had an internet presence before, I do now.

I don’t want to stand out because I am a better coach, there are lots of great coaches in the world. I want to stand out to you because I am different. I know what it’s like to work in both the private and public sectors. I have been where you are right now. I understand your world; the ups and downs, the laughs from the dark humour you use to survive the stresses, the sense of purpose you have and the heartache that it’s no longer the job or role you’re passionate about and love. I know what it’s like to want to change aspects of your life, and then to do something about it.

Creating these blogs was part of the process of giving my voice a platform for those that want to listen, putting myself out there and being more visible. And if you've been reading these blogs, you'll have learnt much more about me and my life, you decide whether I am worth connecting with, listening to or whether I am the right coach for you.

Fear Going to an Interview? Part 1: Preparation

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It's funny but many public sector workers spend most of daily life interviewing people or in interview situations. It might be talking to a patient, trying to find out what's wrong, interviewing a suspect or asking a victim what happened. Maybe you have a report to write for court and you need to explore with the defendant what led them to this point. Perhaps it is a child who is at risk within the home or a teenager who is struggling to fit in at school. Or maybe you are one that is being asked to explain your decision-making process within a formal setting. All these types of interviews, and more, are second nature to you and given you have developed both your interviewing and active listening skills through years of practice, on the whole, they come with ease. Why is it then, when it comes to thinking about changing careers or we have applied and have been given an interview for either an internal role or a job externally, we panic. We become filled with fear because in many cases, it could have been 10, 20, 30 years since we last attended a formal job interview.

In today's blog I'll give you some tips to put into place in preparation for the interview so that you can quieten the fear and take control for you to show up at your best during the interview.

  1. Personal highlights: Spend some time thinking of several different examples that you can use to demonstrate your skills and what you bring to the role and the hiring company. Rehearse these, because I can guarantee you when you are in an interview there will be times when they ask for an example and your mind goes blank, often because you have 100s if not 1000s of examples but in that moment, you can't think of one. You want to get to a stage where they come to you automatically, you don't want to have to think of one in that moment. Use the STAR Model to help you formulate and describe your examples, it allows you to be clear and concise, leaving the interviewer in no doubt.

    S - Situation: Describe the challenge or situation.

    T - Task: Highlight what your goals were.

    A - Action: Explain what you did.

    R - Result: What was the positive result, what did you learn then and going forward.

  2. Personal strengths: Inevitably, you will be asked the question what are your strengths and weaknesses? Focus on the strengths first, take a blank piece of A4 paper and write down every word that comes to mind that reflects a personal strength. Spend about 20 minutes doing this then leave it for a day or two, come back to it and spend another 20 minutes thinking of some more strengths. Ask other people who know you, what they would say your strengths are, add these to the list. Then from everything you have on the paper pick out at least 10 that would fit with the role and the company you are having the interview with.
  3. Personal weaknesses: Do the same exercise as you did for the strengths, you will have a fraction of the content. From the list you have generated, pick out 2-3 weaknesses that are irrelevant to the role you are going for. They are characteristics you are aware of, but they are a work in progress and something which you learn from.
  4. Prepared responses: Think about what questions you might be asked. There might be some you can't prepare for but unless you are going for a job at Google, most interviewers ask similar questions. In addition to what are your strengths/weakness, it will be questions like, why do you want this job/role? Why do you want to leave your existing job? What can you bring to this role/organisation? What motivates you? What are your future goals/aims? Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Prepare responses to these types of questions.
  5. Research the company: You can never know too much about the company you want to work for and even if you don't use all of the knowledge in the interview, it will be clear in how you present, the questions you ask that you are serious about wanting the role. Research their aims, ambitions, vision and values, paying particular attention to where the company values align with yours. Understand how they have got where they are today from where they were in the beginning and what the future looks like for them. You want to really get to know the company.

    If it's an internal role you are going for, you still need to do your research because whilst you will know the organisation, you might not know the role and everything that entails. Speaking to others who do the role, spending some time shadowing will give you insight into specific details you might not know about, give you a different perspective on what questions you might want to ask and what you can specifically bring to the role. A fresh pair of eyes into a role might see something which could improve an aspect that seasoned staff don't.

  6. Devise your questions: Now you have done your company research, devise several questions to ask during and at the end of the interview. Many will get answered during the process but if you think of quite a few, you should have some left be able to ask.
  7. Supporting Material: Gather any supporting material you might need. This could be additional copies of your CV or any references you might have already.
  8. Plan and check out your route: Take the time to go and check out the venue where the interview is at. The last thing you want is to get lost on the way, even if you are using a map on your phone, don't just rely on technology. Trust me, you don't want any complications that could have been avoided on the morning of the interview. If it's in an area you are unfamiliar with, also check out Google Street View on the day as a reminder of what you'll pass on route. I know it's obvious but if you are driving, set off well before your interview time; even if you are in the vicinity really early, you'll be at the location you need to be, giving you some time to relax and focus on the task ahead, as opposed to being stuck in a traffic jam because everyone has decided to come out in their car that morning.
  9. Practice, practice, practice: This speaks for itself. Anything that you don't do on a regular basis needs practice. You want everything to just trip off the tongue, not in a scripted way, but if you know your stuff, it will come to you without much thought and naturally. This will make you feel more relaxed and the more the real you will come through during the interview.

Putting in the preparation work helps you take control of some of the fear you might experience at the thought of an interview. Having the knowledge gives you the control, you know your stuff and you won't need to search for an answer during the interview. There'll be no long pauses where you have an out of body experience as time stands still. Your responses will be confident, concise and answer the questions fully.

In Part II, we'll focus on how to show up at your best within the interview rather than letting nerves get the better of you. 

5 Steps to Take Care of Yourself

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Working in the public sector can place high demands on your physical and emotional well-being. You're in jobs which require you to be switched on all the times. Unlike some other jobs I had, there was never a time when I was a probation officer that I said, "I don't have anything to do."

When you do have a holiday, rather than looking forward to it, you're thinking about all the work you have to do beforehand, doing the work you would do in the time that you're away in the weeks before you go. It makes you question, is it worth having a holiday at all?

You put in an excessive number of hours each week, building up your flexitime but not having time to take it. Your workloads are so high you are effectively doing the work of two people. You wish it wasn't like this because you don't know how much longer you can maintain this pace. You don't remember a time when you didn't feel tired.

If this is a situation you can relate to then maybe it is time to take better care of yourself. Here are 5 steps that might help.

  1. Set yourself boundaries and stick to them.  If you want a better work/home life balance, this does not happen by accident but by design. It's almost like you have to create a rule book for yourself and stick to the rules you make. Get off autopilot where work has become the main focus and switch your priorities to you
  2. Don't turn to behaviours which might make matters better in the short term but can lead to other issues later down the line. Each person has their own way of dealing with stress, high workloads, job pressures. The volume of work can often result in you putting in 12-hour days on a regular basis. For me, chocolate was the thing that momentarily made me feel better. I would not have a lunch break, often eating junk food at my desk, very rarely getting up to move about or going out to get some fresh air. Be aware of what behaviours become your short-term coping mechanisms and question how useful they are to you.
  3. Make the time to look after yourself. If you say you don't have the time, then maybe it’s time to review how you are spending your minutes and hours. We often tell ourselves that we are too busy to do this or that but in reality, our perception of time is skewed. Things don't take as long as we think they do, and we like to see ourselves as being busy. But, if we were honest with ourselves, watching the latest episode of Britain's Got Talent is just a form of procrastination.

    (If you want learn more about procrastination, read my blog post,
    5 Steps to Deal with Procrastination
    )

    If you don't believe me, make a list of everything you do during the day and night, and how much time you spend doing these things.  Look through your list and decide which things are the most important, the things that give you the most in return or what things are necessary.
  4. Identify which activities or environments which energise and drain you. This includes people who you spend your time with. As an introvert, getting away from everything is a way that I recharge my batteries. I like nothing more than renting a cottage in the middle of nowhere, spending the day at the beach or going for a walk in the woods with my dogs. It's not about being unsociable but being around large crowds or noisy environments, I find draining so I often turn to nature to boost my well-being. I have friend who are extroverts and for them, being in the thick it with lots of people boosts them no end.
  5. Take the pressure off yourself and give yourself permission to relax, to do nothing, to really switch off, do whatever you want. It is so easy to fall in the habit of just work, work, work. With targets to meet, you put in more and more hours and looking after yourself falls by the wayside and you tell yourself, you must do everything. As a result, you neglect your own needs and there is little wonder you might feel stressed, tired or at risk of being ill. You tell yourself you have no choice, but you do. Put you first and cut yourself some slack. You can only do some much within the working day, you are entitled and deserve to have an enjoyable life beyond the work environment. The problem is everyone feeds into this notion that you must get everything done, no matter what the cost. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy because it is us that places such high expectations on ourselves, not the organisation. When was the last time, you truly relaxed? If you haven't done it recently then make it your top priority this week.

It is so important to take care of yourself; you only have one life in this world, so you need to be able to make the most of it.

Is Your Career Meeting Your Expectations?

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We often have certain expectations about jobs or careers. Sometimes this involves stereotypes, generalised information based upon limited knowledge and not grounded in reality. Other times, they come from when you feel like you have a vocation, that strong feeling for a particular career, where it seems more like a calling in which you display a higher degree of dedication. Maybe for you it's teaching, within the medical profession or policing, amongst many others. It is more than just being a job; you are in service to others and it is a privilege to do so.

When you are looking to go into these kinds of professions, I think you do so after doing more research than you would for other career choices. You might volunteer, participate in shadowing opportunities. Maybe you have a family member who already works within those sectors. You ask around, trying to gather as much information as you can. You feel that you're in a strong position if you have volunteered within an organisation to go for a paid position within that sector. And with all this knowledge you have garnered from a variety of sources, you know what to expect, right? But, do you really?

Let's look at a few statistics:

A fifth of teachers leave the profession within less than two years of starting, 40% will leave within five years, citing their reasons for leaving being workload pressures and 'excessive' accountability.

In the Prison Service, a third of officers quit within a year of starting with them highlighting chaos on the wings, and a lack of respect and support from management.

33, 000 nurses leave the NHS every year, an unbelievable number of staff, and of these, 17, 000 are young nurses; the future of our health care. The reasons, pressure and demands of the job leading to stress and depression.

In a recent study of 3000 social workers, 61% stated they were looking to leave the profession within the next 16 months, citing poor working conditions and a lack of enough resources to be able to help people.

More than 2400 police officers have left since April 2018. Within the Armed Services, 7500 personnel left in 2017 with them citing family and personal life, job satisfaction and opportunities outside of the force for reasons for leaving. Regarding the civil service, 25% of staff from Whitehall departments leave each year.

Whilst within these figures, there will be people who have reached retirement age, there are thousands more who have not. This raises the question that if people really knew what to expect, would they spend all that time studying and training etc to leave a profession after such a short time. Even if they stay within that profession, it might mean a significant change in circumstances, for example, moving abroad as many nurses or teachers might do. But many I guess are leaving the profession and starting a new career, which is nothing new if you've reached a more natural junction for change such as being in an organisation for a set number of years; for example, the Armed Services or the police force. But when you look at certain professions you wouldn't expect so many people to be leaving after such a relatively short period of time. I think people become disillusioned because when recruitment campaigns are in full flow, they highlight all the appealing aspects and never mention the realities of the role.

So whilst you thought you would be spending your time teaching children and helping to shape future generations, work with service users to turn their lives around, protecting the public by being out within the communities, providing care when people need it the most and making the difference you were hoping to make when you joined. The reality is your workload is unmanageable, the bulk of your time is spent at a computer, filling in forms and duplicating information in order to satisfy meaningless KPIs. The amount of time doing what you thought you'd be doing is a fraction of your daily working life. You're tired and stressed and when you get home after your day's work, all you manage to do is grab a bite to eat before going to bed. Only you don't get a restful night's sleep because your mind is active with the things you didn't manage to get done, worrying about mistakes you might have made, wondering if you had missed something and then thinking about what you have to do in the day ahead. Was this what you expected your job to be? Living for those brief interactions where you are making a difference? Loving those moments but then getting bogged down with the mountains of now digital 'paperwork'?

Maybe for some of you reading this blog, the job is exactly what you expected it to be and you're happy in your role. If that's the case, then great, I am all for pursuing what makes you happy. But for those of you that you feel you could be one of the statistics above, accepting that the profession you have chosen doesn't meet your expectations can fill you with dread, fear and sometimes a sense of hopelessness of what direction to go in next. Unless you have worked in these sectors, it is difficult to explain to others why you want to leave because the perception is, these are fantastic careers, thankless ones, but rewarding ones, nevertheless. And they can be rewarding but at what cost to you and your well being? Sometimes the reality is, leaving is the only choice. This is not a failing on your part, it is the greatest act of responsibility you can make. See it as an opportunity to channel your strengths and skills in an area where you can make an even greater difference.

We do not have to stay in a job or career which no longer meets our expectations. The probability of the job changing is slim to none, so you have a choice to make, is the role you are in, the one for you long term? Ask yourself what you are now taking from your job or career? If you remain in your current role, what will you gain and what will it cost you?

I know what it is like, I have been where you are, questioning what direction to go in, loving aspects of the role, despising others. Facing comments from other people as to whether I was doing the right thing. I can’t tell you what the right thing for you is but for me, I have always felt I left a role at the right time and for the right reasons. If the right time for you is now, and you feel you need help to figure out your next steps, then get in touch.