Monthly Archives: January 2015

Soft Skills: Key to Securing the Job?

 

According to Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) one in eight graduates  found that time invested by graduates in their personal brands as well as flexible sociability was a key factor in their first-job success.

AGR’s stat covers a wide range of characteristics when concerned with the word ‘sociability.’ The explosion of the technology industry, the obligatory online applications forms when applying for a new job and an almost constant online presence via email, phones, and social media has both complicated and expanded the definition of sociability.

Futureboard’s previous articles  have covered the importance of maintaining a persistent and professional online presence when job-hunting. However there is a growing importance in the ability of interviewees and graduates to be able to demonstrate not simply their hard-skills (i.e. skill sets and competence in managing tasks and activities in a job role) but their soft-skills in the workplace. Emotional intelligence, also known as soft skills, is the skill-set most likely involved when evaluating likability or fit. As Miriam Salpeter quotes “Soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with co-workers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.” In those key moments in an interview these skills will be tested consciously and sub-consciously and the latter requires good practice to the point that it is habitual.

I am not referring to basic social skills so what do I mean by habitual soft skills? Firm eye-contact, the ability to regulate the pace and tone of your voice, good posture and self-confidence. Self-confidence does not come to us all naturally so practice and act it, even if you don’t feel it as perceptions are very important. Meditate if you have to and consolidate your thoughts. The 2,500 personality tests around will indicate (at a basic level for some of us) that not all of us enjoy, prefer or have the best soft skills. However personality of some kind and a likeable and workable one which allows you to engage with employers, would-be employees and customers will push you ahead of the running for top job even if someone is more qualified than you.

Why? Because you may be more eloquent, likable and professional and while employers employ online personality tests and online applications processes and are adamant (as to avoid legal issues) that someone doesn’t get hired because they weren’t liked, personality and soft skills are as essential as qualifications and skill-sets whether both parties like it or not.

Have a look at some of these links and fill in the chinks in your armour while evaluating your weaknesses and above all; strengths.

Strong Work Ethic: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/five-characteristics-good-work-ethic-10382.html

Positive Attitude: http://www.careerealism.com/attitudes-workplace-get-ahead/

 Self-Confidence: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/06/10-ways-to-fake-confidence-the-1-reason-why-you-should/

Flexibility: http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghanbiro/2013/08/18/5-reasons-why-workplace-flexibility-is-smart-talent-strategy/

Proactive: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/are-you-proactive-or-reactive.html

Time Management: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifehack/20-quick-tips-for-better-time-management.html

Communication Skills: http://smallbiztrends.com/2013/11/ways-to-communicate-effectively-in-the-workplace.html

Matthew Williams

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Military Values in the Workplace

“To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
Sun Tzu

Applying military values to the workplace and career works; it is from discipline and a combination soft and hard power that spontaneity evolves. “What is this guy on?!” you may ask, you may suggest “This is the era of ‘Soft Skills’ and ‘Digital Natives’! Military-style disciplinarians at the office are history, they were the worst!” Or you may even think “not another traditionalist.”

There are numerous articles on avoiding toxic workplaces and the invaluable lessons on ‘Soft Skills’ . There is an increasing focus on the needs of the emerging graduate workforce and employers are often expected to match graduate expectations. According to the Telegraph, “graduates are struggling to wade through generic company messaging to find their way to the right job…and the result is 1 in 4 graduates quit within a year of starting work.”

Hannibal Barca marched his Carthaginian army across the Alps. He lost half his army along the way to the winter cold. Similarly Alexander the Great marched his army from ancient Greece to India in the space of eight years. What did these men and their armies achieve by pushing themselves to the extreme? They won remarkable victories and they both achieved historical fame. How did the Roman Army become the best the world had seen in its time? It was disciplined, relentless and adopted new strategies and tactics to not just survive but evolve. The reward was loot, treasures, empire, fame, and being the subject of debate for military scholars and historians hundreds of years after they had gone.

What defined Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Brian Clough? They were ruthless and defeats were guaranteed to be few and far between. They got results, whatever the cost. However more importantly they got the balance right between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. They won piles of trophies in the footballing world. At the other end of the spectrum Paulo Di Canio had a mutiny on his hands at Sunderland in 2013 after he cracked the whip too hard whilst Arsenal F.C have been defined as a ‘friendly club’ and therefore easy to bully in the crunch games. With all the new trends emerging across the globe, the rise of the millennials and digital natives, the ever strenuous push for ‘world peace’, and the technological revolution you’d be forgiven for thinking that the past, particularly military history, has little to teach us bar substantial barbarity.

Granted, a hard-core disciplinarian without a reward system, trying to impose their views forcefully on other and the lacking ability to be flexible is not a good leader. Balance between sacrifice and reward, balance between discipline and innovation, balance between compassion and discipline and timely daring and timely caution. These are the military qualities have served the best military commanders and the best businessmen. Generals and leaders have only failed when they got this balance wrong. The digital natives don’t want to be too nice for their own good. Field Marshal Hague technically worked from home in the First World War, dishing out archaic strategies and orders miles behind the trenches. The result? This reoccurred across Europe a century ago with the deaths of millions of young men.

Dramatic? Certainly, but why does this affect the new generations pouring into the workplace? We expect employers to accommodate our needs, expect success and above all we have instant expectations.  Everything that happened yesterday is largely forgotten and we operate at break-neck speed, preparing graduates for jobs and roles that have scarcely been invented or taken off as projects. The digital world dominates in its entirety in the workplace. There were there were 4.2 million UK home workers in the first three months of 2014, amounting to 13.9% of the workforce. . This was the highest since records began and according to Futureboard’s research this looks like a trend that is set to increase with the introduction of the ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digitial Natives’ into the workplace. The latter facts are disconcerting to some extent.

“Too many bosses still don’t trust staff to work from home and instead force them to trudge into the office so they can keep an eye on them,” said Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary. “Employers’ attitudes to new working practices must change to make a much better use of modern technology in all workplaces.” Since when has an email be more effective than a face to face discussion? I have learnt more in a conversation than I will in the content of an email. I have worked from home before, yet I find it restrictive, anti-social, and a monotonous experience. There is less reward from working from home and technology for its wonders and the capability of our generation to utilise it is merely technology, it does not improve human instincts which have served us so well now and in the past.

We might be known by future generations as ‘the Softies’ and our ancestors would likely brand us as such in a heart-beat. Why lose our ruthless streak when it has served the best of us so well in the past?

Matthew Williams

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Big Things Have Small Beginnings

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”

Vincent Van Gogh

 Habits cut both ways; they are either good for you or they are bad for you. At both ends of the spectrum they are difficult to change, for example when you quit exercise, you notice the loss of tone and perhaps put on weight and when you decide to break a habit of laziness and begin exercise, the first few days is one of the pain of rusty muscles clicking into gear. The same can be said of applying yourself to jobs, long-term goals, and the workplace, how do almost microscopic life choices make the difference?  Each New Year brings the same question “What are your New Year’s resolutions?” The resolutions vary from the smallest changes in lifestyle to all-encompassing changes to a lifestyle. The smaller changes ultimately make a bigger difference in life.

Mastering the mundane, enjoying process, making important daily choices and operating comfortably outside the fabled comfort zone. These are crucial to making the average person stand out from the rest. Habits are an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways.

Success is achieved through inches, not miles, of progress. Making the small changes and consistently applying those changes whether it be eating breakfast every day, exercising daily, innovating and being creative at work every day will shine through. The Grand Canyon was not formed in a day, the Roman Empire wasn’t built in a day, love them or hate them Manchester United would not have dominated the Premier League for two decades unless they changed the small things we didn’t see behind the scenes in the late 1980s and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have created Facebook if he hadn’t had the cheek to create FaceMash from his room in Harvard and cultivated it overtime.

The modern-world is instantaneous and moves faster than at any previous time in human history. Instant results are expected, instant internet access, instant coffee plagues the workplace, we expect instant success, and even instant happiness. Habits distill themselves into finances, health, business, personal development, and relationships and these subtle differences often determine the difference between success and failure in an interview or the workplace and they are so subtle no one will ever notice them or see them until the crucial point. Thinking big without attention to tiny and at times seemingly insignificant details of life can undermine personal development and career. Changing habits requires conscious discipline and changing a tough habit requires discipline and strong mental strength against temptation to do something which is easy to do, but easy not to do. Patience, process, practice, repeat, balance, time; these are words that are not emphasized enough to undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates. Have a look at some of the links below and make those little changes that will benefit your performance in workplace and personal life.

Matthew Williams

http://www.wikihow.com/Form-a-Good-Habit

http://slightedge.org/

http://www.thechangeblog.com/24-daily-habits/

http://lifehacker.com/break-bad-habits-by-tricking-your-inner-caveman-1678100814

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/241532

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Exam Period: An Important Learning Process

The statement ‘enjoy your exam’ sounds crazy doesn’t it?! Exams are associated with revision, pain, nausea, headaches, stress, misery, blurry eyes, red bull, excess coffee, constraint, memes of foreboding memes such as ‘Brace yourself Exams are Coming’, last minute revision blitzes and most importantly pressure to get results.

Undoubtedly results are of paramount importance and should never be discounted, however the notion that the time of revision is regarded as some horror from the Dark Ages is misplaced. It is all a matter of perception and there are many things you can learn about how you work and learn (not simply from an educational/topical perspective) as a person. Some of us prefer to work in bite-sized chunks over an extended period of time, while others prefer to consolidate the work effectively in a short period of time. Exam period teaches you about the balance between discipline and reward. It is surprising how these habits can translate into the workplace.

A genius may pass his exam or you may even get lucky if you cram, however the ones who benefit will be those who develop (whether or not it is short-term or long-term revision) a scheduled routine, discipline themselves to work at a certain point during the day and being able have a normal life outside revision schedule.

For me pulling all-nighters, drinking energy drinks, and cramming was never a realistic option, nor was the idea of being up all day revising 8 hours straight a day. Exams are a lesson in juggling your work life and your personal life, an opportunity to find out how you work and how you shouldn’t work. Both ends of spectrum of horrifically obsessing and stressing over revision, not eating properly, socializing and not exercising or turning up hungover to the library, blagging exams, or cramming because you were procrastinating for two weeks will spill over into long-term habits, even if they are small. Can you imagine cramming work for the rest of your life, you would crash and burn!

If you have the tendency to stress, eat well and exercise well, discipline yourself to stop. If an exam revision day does not go well, don’t kick yourself for it. There are always days when things don’t always go to plan, ensure you have flexibility. My favorite quote that encapsulates how you should approach exams came from the Telegraph: ‘Exam Advice: Relax, and go with the flow’ . The article itself was aimed at students about to commence their A-Level and GCSE examinations, however when you combine with attitude with discipline, and reward (a pint at the end of the day, gym work-out, a hour of your favourite TV series, even a day off at the weekend!) exams will feel less of a chore than a great learning process.

I’ll finish up with my own personal tips for exams:

1. General Routine: Be flexible, know which hours you operate most efficiently and generally stick to that schedule (be it night-time or day), and ensure you have other things to besides work. Reward yourself with breaks frequently. Dare to have a day off if you have done enough work or revised yourself into the ground! Don’t be obsessive with schedule.

2. To take a Break?: Know your limits, if you can only do a certain amount of revision a day, stick to that. There is no point revising if you aren’t concentrating. If you procrastinate frequently discipline yourself and do revision in bite-sized chunks (i.e 1 hour revise, 10 minute break).

3. Eat Well: Don’t live on toast, cornflakes, chocolate bars, coffee, teas, crisps and biscuits. Ensure you have a well-balanced healthy diet.

4. Sleep Well: Go to bed, listen to some soothing music, have a bath or shower before bed, read a non-revision related book before you go to bed

5. Relax: Stress is an extra worry that isn’t needed during exam period and it shouldn’t be what motivates you to succeed. Relax and look forward to the sweet rewards at the end of the exam period. Matthew Williams

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