Saturday, 28 July 2012

"What's Your Problem" series #2 - Personal Branding, is it for you?

There has been an increasing emphasis given to personal branding, online reputation management, and personal image management in recent years.  Numerous websites, blog posts and articles have been dedicated to the subject, which has generated debate on Twitter and elsewhere over whether this is a good thing. 

Many feel that ‘branding’ smacks of over-commercialisation, and that it is uncomfortable to try turning something as complex and nuanced as a person into a ‘brand’.  There may also be a feeling that having a focus on image or branding means an unhealthy focus on something superficial.

The fact remains that a person is going to have a reputation, for good or ill, whether they make any attempt to ‘manage’ it or not.  People will have perceptions and will form opinions about someone based on what they see and hear, either first hand or reported by others, whether in person or online.

Given this fact, and assuming you are concerned about how others might react to you, whether in your current job, when seeking promotion, or when looking for a new role, it makes sense to take some steps to ensure the perceptions people form are positive ones.

As with most things in life, too much of anything is a bad thing.  No one wants to create a ‘false front’ or insincere brand or image; the very idea of putting on an act like that makes most people cringe.  However, making no effort at all and being oblivious to your own reputation can be equally damaging – who likes someone who swans through life giving no thought to how they affect others?

Perhaps it is more sensible to think about taking care of your reputation, rather than trying to create a ‘brand’.  All the things that you do or say, at work, at external events or online, has an impact on your reputation.  It therefore makes sense to give some thought to how those words or actions might be perceived by others.

To give an example:  what would your conclusions be if, on arriving at an evening seminar and networking event, you noticed someone standing by themselves, wearing a shabby, shapeless jumper with messy hair, who made a beeline for you and announced “I hope tonight is worth it, the last one of these things I came to was useless”. 

Now it could be that this person is a dedicated librarian, who does a great job and is committed to the profession, but has simply had a bad day and did in fact have a bad experience at their last networking event – but those are probably not the first thoughts that went through your mind! 

Looking smart, being positive and professional at all work related events, and saving the moaning that we all do for family and friends, are small steps to take but could make a world of difference to your reputation.  Similarly, being aware of the impression you are creating at meetings, while chatting around the water cooler/making a coffee, or even just when talking to colleagues during your day to day work is worth the effort.

The same principle applies online; just a few tweets, list-serve posts or comments on blogs which appear unprofessional, overly critical or negative, can have a significantly negative impact on your reputation.  On the other hand being professional and friendly, sharing links and information and making positive comments to posts can have the opposite effect.  It can be as simple as saying "...people could do xxx" rather than  "people shouldn't do yyy".

Worrying about your brand might seem narcissistic, but being concerned to develop and protect your reputation is simply being sensible.  As with most things, getting the balance right is the key to success.

Monday, 23 July 2012

"What's your problem" series #1 - What role would you enjoy?

In the first of a series of articles examining some of the common problems encountered by people seeking to develop their career, this post takes a look at career goals.

What sort of job, in what sort of organisation, do you want to aim for?  How do you know?  I’ve always envied those few people I’ve come across who have it all sorted, who have known from a young age exactly what they wanted to do in life, and have succeeded in achieving their goal.  On the other hand, I’ve also found such single mindedness a bit daunting.  How on earth did they know, aged 13 and ¾ or whenever, what they wanted to do with their whole life?  Why did I have no idea?

There are several different approaches to developing your career, all equally valid in my mind.  These range from the single-minded, vocational, ‘I’ll be an xx when I grow up’ through the general aptitude and interest ‘I’ll give that a go and see what happens’ to the uncertain but need to earn a living ‘I’ll take anything that I can do with the skills I’ve got’ approach.

Do you have to have a career goal?  The short answer is ‘no’.  If you are happy with how things are going, you’re working in a job you enjoy and earning what you need, and you expect to either stay in that role or earn promotion naturally over time, then you probably don’t need a grand master plan.

On the other hand, if you are feeling at all dissatisfied with your job, aren’t earning enough, or aren’t sure where you’ll be or if you’ll be enjoying it in a few years time, then a bit of strategy and some action planning on how to get somewhere better probably wouldn’t go amiss.

Once you’ve decided that you need to think about where you’re going with your career, then the problem becomes one of ‘how?’.  There are two halves to this question – how to find out about the wider information profession, so you have a clear picture of all the possible opportunities and directions available out in the market, and how to determine what you’d enjoy doing and have the capabilities to do.

Finding out about the first one is a matter of research.  Investigating all the various library, information, records & knowledge management groups and associations that are out there is one good way to tackle this.  Every part of the industry, it seems, has its own group catering to its own networking and professional development needs.  Simply creating a list of them all will give you a good idea of the full spread of the information profession.  Taking a look at the events and courses they offer will give you more insight into each area.

Finding out what you’d enjoy doing entails:
  • Examining your personal values (what’s important to you; status, achievement, learning, money, promotion, reward, acknowledgement, family, etc)
  •  Looking at what gives you job satisfaction (finding information, helping others find information, organising data, facilitating knowledge sharing, etc)
  • Understanding your personality type (how do you behave in a team, what sort of management style will help you thrive, etc)
With the outcomes from these two questions in hand you can match between the two, and hopefully find some degree of overlap between available options and roles you’d enjoy having!  That gives you a clear template to use when you are browsing lisjobnet or other sources of library and information sector job adverts, to filter down to only those jobs that will help you on your path to your ideal job.

Having a clear career goal in mind, and being aware of your skills gaps and how certain roles might help you bridge these, also means that you can be better prepared for interviews.  These are two way communications and are your chance to find out enough about the organisation, its culture and the job itself to see whether it’s a good match for you.

I also came across this article with some great tips for making goals achievable and realistic by Annette Earle that I wanted to share with you.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What’s in an elevator speech?

One of the themes reported to have been running through the recent SLA Conference in Chicago was to have your elevator speech prepared.

This may seem a daunting proposition to many.  What should you include?  How can you avoid making it sound cheesy and canned?  When will you be able to use it?

If you have ever had someone say to you ‘What do you do?” and been stuck for a simple, clear answer, then you’ll understand the need for a short, prepared sentence or two to explain.  The alternative is either saying “I’m a librarian” (irrespective of whether you work in a library, a knowledge centre, or somewhere else), or going into a long winded explanation of some of your daily tasks (while watching your conversational partner glazing over).

So, what does an elevator speech look like?  Here are some examples that could suit various different kinds of library & information roles:
  • I help people find the right information, from books, journals and online databases, to write better assignments, as well as training them to use the resources more effectively for themselves
  • I use a range of subscription-only sources to provide business information and analyse it to create insights the (consultants, lawyers, etc) can use in their client work, either to develop new business or provide better services to existing ones
  • I organise the organisation’s own information so people can find it more quickly and easily, and help people share the knowledge in their heads so they don’t have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ all the time
  • I support people with all sorts of things – from introducing kids to the joys of reading via storytimes and helping people find the information they need, to helping elderly people create their first email account or job seekers submitting an online job application
The key thing is to focus on the benefits to the user of the work you do for them, not to try and explain the detail of how you go about doing this.  Unless the person you’re talking to is a librarian themselves, they’re unlikely to be interested in a detailed explanation of Boolean searching or how you constructed a taxonomy! 

Another SLA Chicago attendee, Neil Infield, also blogged a while ago about a workshop he'd attended on creating an elevator pitch.  While being focused on a pitch for a business, it is well worth reading for some extra tips on how to craft a good message.
Prepare something short, outcome/solution and benefit focused, and have it ready to go next time someone at a party asks you “so... what do you do?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

What’s Your Problem?

Six posts in this series of articles about common job-hunting problems are now up!

Is your career going swimmingly? If you are totally satisfied with your career progress so far and confidently expect your career development to continue on a smooth upward path, until your eventual retirement, then read no further.

*Shaking myself awake from this utopian dream* If, however, you are like most of us and are struggling to balance life, career, money, hobbies and time, then you might have one of these problems:

  • You’re not sure how your career could develop, or what sort of jobs you’d enjoy doing in the future
  • You’ve heard about personal branding, online reputation and image management but aren’t sure how they apply to you or what you should do about it
  • You’ve worked hard on your CV, but when you send it off you get very few interview invitations
  • When you get to interviews and they ask you to name your key skills, top three strengths or tell them ‘why should we hire you for this role’, you panic and can’t think of what to say
  • You’re often faced by application forms when you apply for jobs, and feel daunted by the large blank box asking you to explain why you’re suitable for the post
  • At interviews you try and answer their questions to ‘tell me about a time when you....’ but they never seem satisfied with what you say and you have no idea what you’re doing wrong
  • You always get asked tricky questions at interviews, about why you left previous jobs, or what you want to be doing in 5 years time, and you never know what to say for the best

These are common concerns that come up when I’m spending time with people I’m career coaching, so over the next few blog posts I’ll try and address a few of these issues and offer some suggested strategies to cope. 

If you have come up against a different career development problem you’d like me to cover, why not add it in a comment below?

Six posts in the series are now up!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Application forms - some hints and tips

Many job vacancies call for application forms rather than CVs, particularly in the public sector.  Filling them out can be a time consuming task, meaning that it's best to be selective and only work on those for jobs you have a realistic chance of being shortlisted for.  It is better to send off one or two carefully and thoroughly completed forms than to try and dash of dozens of applications.

The first and most important piece of advice I can give is to follow the instructions carefully. This sounds obvious, but it's surprising how often over the years I've seen instructions on application forms misunderstood or ignored completely.  This has ranged from flagrant disregard - writing "see CV" across the Experience section instead of listing employers and dates - to the less blatant  - writing in the wrong colour ink or leaving off past salaries or reasons for leaving.

Ignoring or misconstruing the instructions is likely to get your application form put in the 'no' pile on first pass, simply because it demonstrates quite obviously to the hirer that you can't follow instructions!  Whether this is through slopping reading/misunderstanding or wilful disobedience/'I know better' attitude, either are large red flags for someone wondering whether to hire you.

The second area that causes greatest problems with application forms is the large blank box apparent on most of them, headed by a question something like "Describe your suitability for this post, referring to the requirements of the job description/person specification".

Since the JD/PS is likely to have a list of required criteria or competencies in it, it is best to create headings in the application form box and write paragraphs &/or bullet points under each one.  You should make sure you address them all, both the essential and the desirable ones.  You need to give one or more examples in each case, as evidence to demonstrate that you have that attribute.  

One of the commonest mistakes that I've seen is to write one or two sentences that boil down to "Yes I've done x, I'm very good at x".  This will score minimal points in whatever system the hirer is using.  Instead, you need to show and not tell.  That is, you need to describe a time when you used that skill or competence.  It is fine to use an example from outside of work, for example from a club/society, professional association or leisure activity.

The best way to give the examples for each criteria is to use the STAR technique.  This stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.  Start with a (brief) description of the context, and the task you needed to undertake, then describe in a bit more detail the action(s) you took to do it, and the result or outcome.  It's fine if the result isn't a positive one, so long as you add a reflective sentence explaining what you could do differently next time or what you learned from the experience.

Once you have completed your application form it's a good idea to print it out (even if you will be submitting it electronically) as it's easier to proofread  it in hard copy.  It also allows you to ask a friend or family member to proofread it for you as well.  Ask them to check that you've addressed all the criteria as well as look for spelling or grammar errors.