Why having more than one career can help you be happier at work

Ever dreamed about a career switch? Perhaps you sit behind an office desk every day, but you really enjoy gardening? Could being a landscape gardener be the job for you? And could it make you happier at work?

It’s not uncommon to dream about switching to a career that’s drastically different from your current job. But in most cases, it’s rare for people to actually make the leap and jack in all the career progress you’ve made to date. The costs of switching seem too high and the chances of success too slim. With mortgages, weddings, kids and job security being the chief worries that might be impacted by a career change, it’s not surprising that you’ll probably sit behind that office desk until you retire.

Or is it?

Perhaps the answer isn’t to plug away at your current job, feeling unfulfilled every day. Perhaps you could do both? Or perhaps you could make a transition from one to the other. Here’s how to do it.

Keep learning new skills

Subsidise your passions by working pro bono or utilising your salary. Say you do want to be a commercial gardener. With no track record of successful landscaping projects, nobody is going to pay you to rip up their lawn. But, if you could remodel your own garden and volunteer to help others with theirs, you could gain valuable experience in a completely new industry.

Perhaps your day job could afford you with the capital you need to retrain in your spare time? With gardening, the best lessons are often learnt on the job. But, if you want to be a web designer, are there any good design courses out there which could be worth investment? Maybe you’ll find that your second job doesn’t need to pay you back financially – it might be rewarding enough to do something you really enjoy and see others reap the benefits from your efforts.

Make friends in different circles

Let’s say you are in banking. It’s highly likely that if you log on to LinkedIn and check your connections, around 90% of your network will work in the financial services sector. You probably know lots of traders, analysts, advisors and sales reps. As a whole, you can build up a view of your industry and make predictions about your business. However, if you really want to work in marketing, and not banking, then your goal to change careers will be much harder if nobody else in your network knows anything about marketing, or needs a marketer.

As part of your new mission to diversify, do everything you can to build up networks in different circles. If you want to be a marketer, go to marketing events, trade shows, learn new marketing skills and attend relevant seminars. You’ll soon build up your contacts in the industry you’d like to conquer in the future.

Discover new innovations

When you work different jobs, you can identify where ideas interact — and more significantly, where they should interact. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing,” said Steve Jobs, who was the embodiment of interdisciplinary thinking.

When you follow your curiosities, you will bring passion to your new careers, which will leave you more fulfilled. And by doing more than one job, you may end up doing all of them better. Eventually, you might even find that you can switch careers, without any risk at all.

Mastering the interview: 4 ways to avoid making hiring mistakes

We speak to hundreds of hiring managers every year and happily, in the vast majority, it’s rare for a client to admit they've made the wrong hire. As a business, we spend a great deal of time ensuring that any candidates we submit are likely to be a good fit for the prospective organisation. We therefore pride ourselves on the retention rates we can achieve for our customers.

Nevertheless; it’s inevitable that, on occasion, a company’s new starter just doesn’t quite fit the bill. This may well be nobody’s fault – after all, the person may be perfect on paper. However, if a mistake does happen, the origin of that error (assuming it’s not ours) can usually be pinpointed to one particular point in the hiring timeline: the interview.

Here are four tips to maximise the effectiveness (and efficiency) of your interviews and to avoid making hiring mistakes.

1. More tasks, less chat

This tip can seem a little cut-throat, but it could be a vital way of separating the good from the bad. As an interviewer, how often have you walked out the room and thought, “that candidate was great, very engaging and a really nice person, but I’m not 100% sure whether they can do the job?” It’s so easy to have a ‘nice’ conversation for an hour or so, but at the end of the interview if all you’ve deciphered is that your candidate is a good communicator, then you’ll be taking a risk if you offer them a job without inviting them back.

By getting a candidate to solve relevant problems during your limited time together, you’ll reveal a lot more than if you discussed a theoretical situation. Interviewing a designer? Get them to design something. Or an analyst? Give them some data and ask them to tell you what they learned. These tasks can even be done as prep exercises or take-homes and will give the opportunity to ask “why” when the results are in.

2. Have an initial impression? Try and disprove it

As a recruitment company, we completely understand that it’s hard to find great people. Similarly, it’s also easy to miss great people. It only takes a mediocre first call to a candidate to completely write them off – but if you’ve already formed an initial impression, it doesn’t always mean that you’ve got an accurate picture of their talent.

If you’re asking a candidate a question and they stumble and fluster their way through the answer, it’s easy to assume they aren’t great at a given skill. But; treat this as your hypothesis, and then test it. Ask another question or two to try and understand whether they really aren’t great at the skill you need.

Candidates can get things wrong for a lot of reasons. Maybe the question wasn’t clear. Maybe they assumed something that threw them off course. Don’t give up too soon. Don’t let a good hire get away because you jumped to conclusions.

3. Understand what drives someone

It’s easy to assume that a candidate is applying for a job because they love your company already, they know your brand and they want to work for your amazing business. However, making these assumptions can be a huge mistake. Sometimes candidates can apply for a role and appear great in an interview, even if they don’t want the job. Perhaps they just want a ‘foot in the door’ or they are too lazy to travel elsewhere, or perhaps they just need the money.

Be confident that your candidate’s drive matches the role you are offering, not just their skills, otherwise you could be left with someone who’s unmotivated and uninterested in the tasks required. Be straight with your questioning and ask your interviewee about makes them tick, what frustrates them and where they want their careers to go in 2, 5 and 10 years time. Often; you’ll find that the things that annoy your candidates will be exactly what is expected of them – making your decision a lot easier.

4.  You’re being evaluated too

The most common thing we hear with the very best talent is that they have the most options. This means that, as the interviewer, you are being evaluated too. Countless times, we’ve heard via a candidate’s feedback that they want to work at X or Y company because the hiring manager was super engaged, driven and asked challenging questions.

The best candidates want to know what their boss will be like and ultimately what it will be like to work at your company. They might be attending 2-3 other interviews consecutively, so the interview is your best chance to show how great your company is, using both specifics and intangibles. If you want the best, you need to be the best.

Why it’s time to scrap annual performance reviews

Whilst monitoring career progress has always been a useful reference tool for both employee and employer, the advancement of digital technologies in recent years has significantly transformed the way that individuals and teams can impact business change.

As a result of this continuously accelerating pace of development, a new heightened level of organisational agility is not only desirable, but critical to survival in a growing number of industries. Employees with the highest levels of digital skill will be instrumental in a helping a business to stay flexible and ultimately to prosper. However, the methods of highlighting and managing the best talent are often lagging way behind.

Could employee mental health improve?

It’s no wonder then that some of the largest digital organisations, such as Microsoft, Accenture and Adobe are embracing more regular and informal performance management. In 2015, the Wall Street Journal even reported on how this could improve employee mental health as well as recognition. It seems that reviewing what staff did a year ago (or even six months ago in some cases) is simply not efficient enough in the context of the change which the business needs to master.

Performance management therefore needs to allow for more responsive behaviour changes by employees. By facilitating smaller course changes more often, a higher rate of return is more likely. Deloitte famously discovered that two million management hours annually were being spent assessing staff performance and discussing the outputs of the process. Yet, the majority of staff felt that the results gained by conducting these reviews didn’t match the hours put in.

Deloitte have instead moved to a system that involves regularly asking team leaders about their future actions related to particular team members, helping to ensure consistency. When combined with what they call frequent ‘check-ins’, employee work and productive behaviour can be better supported, ensuring greater clarity, alignment and employee engagement.

Try OKRs instead

A number of other high profile businesses including Google, LinkedIn, Oracle, Twitter and The Guardian have moved to a system of OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. This methodology for connecting company, team and individual goals and measurable results was originally introduced at Intel in the 1970s. The system involves setting quarterly measurable, definitive objectives at a company, team and individual level, and then supporting those objectives with quantifiable key results, against which performance is measured.

OKRs are often made transparent (at Google for example, everyone’s OKRs from Larry Page the CEO down are available to see on the internal directory) but provide a clear directional focus and expectations, ensure alignment at every level, and a high level of awareness of what others’ priorities are. This brings greater empathy and understanding for individual or team priorities, and giving focus to how an individual might make their own priorities align with someone else’s in order to get stuff done.

Ultimately, whatever performance review methods are implemented within your business, it’s important to keep agile. Reviews should be regular, clear, simple and time-efficient to get the best out of your staff.

This blog entry was adapted by an original post by Neil Perkin at Only Dead Fish.

How to make the most of your marketing plan on a limited budget

Creating an effective marketing plan can be a conundrum for many small business owners, particularly when the budget is on a real shoestring. As a business owner, you’ll need to work out which activities will draw the most amount of leads for the least amount of your precious pounds.

They key to marketing success will generally be down to understanding your audience and customers. Without knowing your audience, you will struggle to market to them and to get your sales messages across. It’s also vital you don’t throw money down the drain and throw good money after bad.

Measuring ROI

Although there are endless ways to measure the results of your campaigns and decipher whether your marketing is working (or not), in its simplest form it’s wise to stick to marketing methods that work for you.

If you are consistently spending money on marketing that isn’t yielding results, then stop it immediately and review if there’s something you could change to improve your return on investment. Just because something should be ‘tried and tested’, if it’s broken and expensive, there’s little point in continuing. Nevertheless, don’t discard it forever. It might be that with a little tweak to your campaign, you’ll start winning those all-important leads.

Utilise low cost options

Channels such as social media may seem like they wouldn’t produce direct results, but if they are utilised correctly, they can be extremely cost effective.

There are so many advertising options with excellent segmentation tools available on platforms such as Facebook, that you can reach your most likely customers with relative ease. You can set yourself a daily budget and target a set number of people depending on their likes and demographic; a tool which is almost unbeatable in certain industries.

With careful monitoring, you can listen to your audience and understand what they say about a particular product or service, helping you to revise and improve your strategy and maybe even your business model.

Traditional marketing isn’t dead

Of course, whilst social is cheap when compared to Pay Per Click and advertising, there’s a reason that businesses are still spending millions every day using more traditional channels. Don’t ignore things like weekly emails and direct mail, just because they are viewed as ‘old hat’. Anything you can do to make yourself more visible is likely to breed success.

You are your business

If you are sitting in your office waiting for the next customer to walk in or ring up, you may be waiting a long time. Your marketing plan needs to revolve around your skills and expertise.

Showcasing your talents becomes a lot easier when you are also active outside of your place of work. Joining networking groups such as BNI and your local Chamber of Commerce will do wonders to help you generate interest in your business. Your customers are far more likely to be engaged when they speak to you directly about what you do and why you do it, rather than reading your emails or watching your ads.

All you need to know when doing DIY Public Relations

For a small business or start-up, promoting any commercial news or successes is likely to be a crucial part of marketing your services. But PR can be costly and a real luxury for most burgeoning companies.

PR companies can add huge value when done correctly, particularly if the right strategy and press releases are managed effectively. But, unless you spend thousands per year on a retainer, you are unlikely to receive much more than a few press releases (on most occasions) for your valuable money.

However, there are some DIY options to do PR in house. The good news is that there is nobody more qualified to talk about the business than the business owners themselves. Of course, developing a successful PR strategy will take time and resources, but costs can certainly be saved – and the increased customer awareness and increased sales you get in return should be worth it.

All good PR writers are good PR readers

The expression is definitely true in PR: to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. Set aside at least 15 minutes a day to read the news. Learn about media outlets, key reporters, your competitors and how they're talking about themselves. This will help you understand the major media influencers in your industry and start building the connections you need to reach those people.

Respect the journalists

Engage with key journalists well in advance. If you’ve never spoken to a reporter before and suddenly you email them out of the blue asking for coverage, chances are that they won’t be engaged to publish it. Try and get to know any journalists you think will be able to help your PR strategy and send them some praise if there’s an opportunity. Even things such as Twitter retweets or giving them compliments will help your cause.

Journalists will always want to be the recipient of a good story, but unless yours stands out from the crowd, there may be little other reason for your release to be published.

Avoid clichés and jargon

It’s wise to avoid clichés and marketing talk. Phrases like "game changing," "cutting edge," and "disruption" will encourage reporters to switch off immediately. If a journalist is not interested, then your story won’t be published, and nobody will ever read it.

Write about your company the way that you think it will be covered. If you want your story to appear in your local newspaper, try and emulate the kinds of language being used in that publication.

Write a compelling headline

Think of a headline as your pitch. Try and create a compelling subject line to grab your reporter’s attention and in turn the consumer’s. The headline should be punchy and be short enough to read from a smartphone. However, it should still be informative and inviting to encourage further reading. Including words such as ‘new’ or ‘growth’ or ‘success’ could (although not always) help you pass the journalist’s vetting process.

Reverse engineer a successful press release

A successful press release is not just one that you enjoy reading, but one that resembles those covered widely in your industry.

By studying similar press releases that have achieved good coverage by your preferred media outlets, you should be able to make an effective template for yourself. Break down the winning press release into sections and try and understand why they are successful. By emulating success, you’ll give yourself the best chance of achieving the results you desire – so long as there’s no plagiarism!

Five important skills for IT professionals looking to progress

By its nature, tech is rapidly changing industry. It’s also rapidly growing – with the UK’s digital economy up 30% in five years. It’s therefore unsurprising that the skills required by IT professionals are changing just as quickly.

So, if you’re looking to develop your career in tech, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest trends and ensure your CV stands out from the crowd.

"For tech candidates looking to stand out in a sea of CVs, they should be aware of the latest technology trends," said Harry Silvester, Technology Consultant at ESA Group. "Based on hundreds of discussions I’ve had with local hiring managers, the most attractive IT professionals are those who have some experience with emerging technologies, security and mobile.”

Here are some key skills for IT professionals who are looking to bolster their CVs:

1. Mobile technology and cloud computing

Since the introduction of the smartphone, mobile tech has become integral to the way that people and businesses work in the UK. As a result, the mobile industry is now around $50 billion in size - just in creating and deploying mobile apps. Naturally, skilled developers who have experience of both mobile and desktop apps will be more in demand than those who aren’t.

2. Cybersecurity

The lines are becoming blurred between IT specialists and cybersecurity specialists as all hardware and programming now requires some sort of security. With data encryption / protection becoming ever more important in the digital age as hackers become increasingly sophisticated, it’s crucial that security is built into programs and networks at the start of the build, rather than as an afterthought.

3. Willingness to go freelance

A great deal of tech work is built around projects and with the talent shortage in the industry, companies are looking to fill their investments in an agile and flexible manner to boost efficiency. IT professionals who are looking to make their mark, might consider making the transition from becoming an employee to freelancer / contract to make the most of this opportunity.

4. Open to emerging tech

Even just a few years ago, niches such as virtual and augmented reality weren’t making many headlines in the tech world. Now, total revenue in these ‘niches’ are predicted to reach $162 billion in 2020.

By becoming familiar with these and other emerging technologies such as A.I., workers can make themselves much more attractive to companies.

5. Higher-level analysis and decision-making skills

With the rise of big data and analytics, companies can start to save money by automating certain low-level IT functions in areas such as network monitoring. Unfortunately, this can pose a threat to IT jobs.

To avoid any future automation pitfalls, tech professionals should focus on developing skills in decision making, higher level analysis or more creative platforms.