Learn New Skills On The Job

It’s wise to know when to take on more responsibility in your workplace and when to let those opportunities pass you by. I suppose what it boils down to is making sure you can take on new tasks that require expanding what you know without your present workload and performance standards suffering.

There will always be those who never voluntarily take on anything new, never volunteer to do anything more than they’ve done for years, and can’t understand why any of their co-workers would either if those new responsibilities don’t come with money attached.

Conversely, there are those who prior to mastering existing skills and performing their current roles to the best of their abilities are already clamoring for more.

It is as I say, wise to first master what you’ve now been assigned and then start looking at what else might be available. Often, those other things that might be available involve stretching yourself a bit; perhaps in your knowledge and skills, perhaps in your time commitments and your ability to multi-task.

Surely you’ve got people who come to mind who seem on the fast track in your workplace? You know, the ones who barely are into a job who then are already submitting applications and resumes for positions they know are promotions? The go-getters; the ladder-climbers. They’ve got ambition and they spend much of their time in the workplace networking with anyone they see as advancing their own careers. They smile often, might be taking some classes in school outside of their full-time jobs, and they’ve got favour with people in senior positions in ways you can only guess at.

Nothing right or wrong by the way for those that work hard to accelerate their own careers. For them, it may indeed be the right thing to be doing. A mistake you and I might make would be to judge them for their actions; which is odd because that is precisely what many people suggest isn’t it? Judging people for what they do not what they say.

You see, you and I, we might be very content in the jobs we have. We might one day hope to advance, look to get a promotion or two ourselves. Could be that we figure it takes time to fully comprehend and master the job we now do. Quite often how a job is performed in January isn’t how the job is done in December of the same year. It can take time in our opinion to really master all the fine points of the position and have that expertise.

Some however see things different. Yes, unlike you or I, they might have only taken a job as a stepping stone to the next one or the one after that. So mastering a job isn’t something they have any real investment in. No, they might only want a general knowledge of one job and be able to do it satisfactorily or maybe even well before they can move on. Their goal and your goal might be decidedly different. What’s important to note is that this is okay.

Now on the other end of the spectrum is the co-worker who has been at their job for decades with apparently no interest or motivation to move up or even laterally into another position. In some organizations this is frowned on. These organizations might indeed hope to leverage all that knowledge and ability by moving it around and bringing that person into regular contact with others where they can mentor or share what they’ve mastered. The companies that do this might even be concerned that they don’t want a person to grow listless and bored and then want to leave and take all their performance expertise with them.

You and I could look at them and just shake our heads and wonder at such people, wondering how on earth they could come in and do the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year for what seems like forever without new stimulation and new responsibilities. Yet again, we’re all different and motivated in different ways – and that’s a good thing.

I believe however that it’s impossible to know with certainty how you’ll actually feel 5, 10, 15 years down the road and what you’ll want to do – whether it’s to take on a new role or stay with what you’ve got. Of importance is putting yourself in a place to take advantage of future opportunities should they arise if we choose to do so; and this often means seizing training and stretching yourself to learn new things. After all, stay in a job for a length of time and you’ll likely know it very well. If you continue to love it and do it well then good for you. However if you decide at some point you need a change and you’ve not taken advantage of learning new things, you might find your position is the ceiling; you’re stuck and can’t move because they need the skills you lack. This is when you might experience regret over your decisions of the past.

As we have seen and continue to see these days, new jobs crop up all the time. Sometimes its existing jobs with obscure, fancy new titles. Sometimes however, the job is indeed new and could hold real excitement. Good for us if we’re in a position to go for it!

An Exercise In Feedback For The Brave

If you are brave enough, I have an interesting suggestion for you that could be extremely beneficial to you both personally and professionally. It has the potential to reveal your character and enlighten you to how you are perceived by others. Knowing how you come across to others; how they see you, can either confirm the impressions you wish to create, or give you the information you need which could form the basis of making some changes so you come across as you would like.

How we are perceived by others can help us professionally when it comes time to apply for promotions as one example. If the job we want calls for someone with tact, leadership abilities or sound decision-making skills, it would be essential that those in our workplace see those qualities in us on a day-to-day basis. If they don’t see these qualities in us as we go about our work, how could we realistically expect them to see us these ways in another position? When the time comes that we are being evaluated for a promotion, those who interview us are not only going to go on what we tell them in an interview, they are going to look at our performance in the workplace. Our presents jobs therefore; or more accurately how we act and behave in our current jobs, are going to have a big influence in the future job interview we undertake.

The suggestion I have to make is this: Consider asking your colleagues to give you some honest feedback. The thing about honest feedback is that it’s easy to both give and hear when it’s all good isn’t it? Sure it is. When someone says you’re compassionate, understanding, positive and sincere it can’t help but make you feel pretty good. On the other hand, if you were told you are unreliable, inconsistent, and rigid in your thinking or overbearing – that might be harder to take. In fact, you might feel the urge to defend yourself, question and probe for specific examples, maybe even dismiss the feedback altogether as just wrong.

When seeking personal feedback on how you come across to others, the best always comes from identified sources; where people take ownership for their comments. Anonymous comments can be useful of course in freeing up people to tell you things they couldn’t bring themselves to say to your face, but they also free up people to be unintentionally hurtful and overly blunt. Most importantly, if you took your feedback to heart and made some changes, you wouldn’t know the person who made a certain comment so you could ask them if they’ve noticed a change in you in the future.

If you undertake such an exercise, it is essential to come across as genuinely interested in your colleagues valued opinion. Comments like, “You’re amazing”, “Awesome”, “You’re beautiful” are nice but entirely of no help. These comments are so vague they provide no tangible feedback on what makes you perceived as amazing or awesome. The same is true were you to be told, “You’re difficult”, “Hard” or “Intolerable”.  It is important therefore that if you seek out feedback from your peers, you do so with some thought put into how you ask, and what you ask for.

This is no low-risk activity to be done at some team meeting where people come in ill-prepared and write a comment or two on a slip of paper and slid it over the person concerned. That feedback will have little if any long-term impact and people will be inclined to write down things they believe will make you feel good and avoid real feedback you can muse over.

The best way to get the feedback that will ultimately be of greatest value is to ask a colleague if they’d be willing to sit down with you in private and give you some honest feedback because you value their opinion. It’s not about them, it’s about you wanting to check in on how others perceive you, to see if how you think you are coming across matches the reality for others or not. They will be suspicious no doubt; wondering why them, and if you targeted them specifically or are speaking with everyone. It’s essential to give them some time to gather their thoughts even if they agree immediately; and to tell them you want sincere and honest feedback.

In such an exercise, you will have to prepare yourself to record what they say without reaction or judgement. If your body language or words communicate anger, annoyance, defiance etc. at the slightest negative comment they make, the person will shut down and likely not tell you what you most need to hear. Best to record, be appreciative and hold all your comments for another time, so they have the freedom to share uninterrupted.

If you do this exercise every so often with a few different people, you’ll get valuable insight into how you are characterized and viewed by others. This valuable information can lead you to work on flaws, reinforce qualities you see as desired, and most importantly help you identify jobs that might be best suited to someone like yourself.

There are electronic tools on the net that you can use to get others impressions of you, but the face-to-face interview works best to draw out insights, observations and honest feedback.

Something to consider.

Share A Resource With Me Please

Dale Briers gets it. Dale resides in Australia and among his other titles in life, he is the leader and founder of a group I belong to through LinkedIn called, Collaborative Career Conversations. In checking my email this morning, Dale has generously offered to share one of his resources with me he uses with his clients. So this got me wondering if my readers and other connections might be willing to send me an email with an attachment of one of their own client resources.

When I think about the wealth of information, skills and expertise largely untapped by me in this world, I quickly understand how much I have yet to know and how massive an index of ideas and job/career resource tools are already working world-wide. Oh and I’d be happy to reciprocate as well. Send me one and you’ll get a tool I find helpful in working with my clients.

So what would be best to share with me should you feel so inclined? Good question. As an Employment Counsellor, I help clients in a number of ways. I run workshops on career exploration, self-assessments (skills, strengths, likes, dislikes), resume writing, interview do’s and don’ts, job searching, self-esteem and of course dealing with employment barriers. If you have a favourite resource you’d be willing to send me that I might incorporate in some way into those broad topics, I’d love to look it over.

Maybe it’s a spreadsheet you find easy for your clients to use to organize their job search. Perhaps it’s a Word document that helps clients assess themselves in a certain area, or something on dealing with conflict. It would be entirely up to you but I’m getting excited just thinking about the wealth of information that could potentially come my way.

I think this is so appealing to me because I value my connections so much; largely because you are collectively such a diverse group of people literally from around the globe with amazing abilities and success stories of your own. Like me, I’m positive you have developed tools you created, or perhaps have come across which work in your own settings.

What is also exciting to me about this exercise is that if resources do come my way, my own learning curve rises. I’ve been doing employment counselling for years and certainly have my own tried and true resource tools. If I’ve learned anything however, (and surely I must have by now) it’s that there are so many more things I yet don’t know and will never know. Surely there are other exercises my online colleagues use that would equally or perhaps more effective than those I use now. Could be, and I’m open to that possibility.

Getting a hold of new resources, understanding them first and implementing them also keeps me growing and learning. We want our clients to be hungry to learning so why not ourselves? Educate me! Believe me when I say I’m grateful in advance for any resource you might care to send my way. And if in the sharing you want to give me a brief synopsis of how and when you implement it in the course of interacting with your clients all the better.

My personal email address is hobbitzaboo@hotmail.ca and my work address is kelly.mitchell@durham.ca Either one would work for me. If you indicate you’d like your gift of a resource credited to you, I would of course be sure to do so each and every time I use it. After all, this is a bit of an experiment in utilizing social media to acquire something concrete and meaningful, so I’d love to be able to share how I obtained the resource I’m about to use with a person or class.

Don’t think for a moment your resource has to be something out of this world and isn’t somehow worthy of sharing. If it works for you in the course of your work it might be something I find entirely useful too. Sometimes what appears obvious and boring to read actually has the most dramatic impact when actually used. So it could be a template, a quiz, a creativity exercise, an on-line assessment tool, a writing exercise, etc. Anything that comes to mind.

You could end up sharing something that adds to or replaces a tool that I currently use myself. Looking in my career exploration and job searching toolkit, I can see it still has a lot of room for additional tools. And don’t many of us like a new tool? You know I do now!

Please don’t think that the field you are in means you have nothing to share. You could be in the field of bereavement, human resources, finance, education, construction etc. and still have something valuable to share with me that could by sharing help those with whom I work. People I work with are unemployed or underemployed. Being people, they too deal with bereavement, need financial help etc.

I know it might take a couple of minutes to fire off an email with an attachment. Help me help others and in return I will send you back a resource of my own that I use which may in some way help you in the course of your work be it professionally or personally for that matter.

Thank you in advance. I’ve got wonderfully wise contacts and connections.

Always Look For Innovation And Creativity

I bet you can think back pretty easily and find someone in your past who appeared to be going through the motions in their job. Maybe a teacher for example who appeared to be on auto-pilot for an entire year, droning on and on without much enthusiasm for the subject matter. Looking back, it’s as if that person should have gave way to someone else who would have put more energy and enthusiasm into the job.

What I believe really is happening with such people is that they’ve lost the enthusiasm to innovate and make the subject matter they are teaching interesting – both for the students in their classes and more importantly for themselves. I feel for these people because they have rich backgrounds, know their subjects very well and at one time were probably held in high regard. The problem sometimes is stagnation; doing the same thing over and over without variety, an infusion of creativity and the result is a bland message without any passion for the subject matter.

Now you and I would do well to remember those folks from our past who got into those ruts. We can and should learn not make the same errors and become like them. Today is a good example in my own life of trying something different. I am hopeful of great success in what I’m starting today.

You see, I facilitate employment-related workshops for people in receipt of social assistance. Come the 19th of January, I’ll have 12 people hand-picked by my colleagues and pre-interviewed by myself who I will be helping to land job interviews and hopefully if all goes to plan, employment offers. I’ve been doing this workshop every couple of months since early 2011. Now that is not all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, and every client present as a unique person with their own set of employment barriers. But I find great personal satisfaction in shaking things up a little, as it keeps things fresh for me, and hopefully improves the experience for participants.

This time around, I will have in my class a former participant who ended up gaining employment, then lost her job and returned to school. Now with school complete, she is again job searching, and both she and her Employment Placement Consultant think it would improve her chances of success in finding a job to go through the class a second time with me. What she’d get out of an intense job searching program a second time is the disciplined environment, the focus on job searching intensely for 10 consecutive days, and the support of an Employment Counsellor throughout.

So what is new and innovative? Where’s the creative part? Ah, well what I’ve proposed to do is allow this participant a chance to actually do some co-facilitation. The course she took back in school is some advocacy on behalf of others, and so it seems like a good fit to take someone who has gone through the course before and has chosen a career which might involve some leadership and group facilitation, and build-in the opportunity for her to lead a session under guidance and supervision.

What we’ll be doing later on this morning is meeting to go over the range of topics to be covered and find out which she might be able to take on a lead facilitation role. This not only gives her the chance to lead, but it puts a new skill on her resume in the future and equally importantly, 2015 experience on her resume. But personally, it also stretches me a tad more. You see now I’m involved in mentoring someone, preparing them to take charge, sitting back a bit when it would be natural for me to jump up and facilitate. I’ll have to help her prepare herself for this added role, yet remember too that she is job searching herself and not get her too much into the facilitation so that she has time to look for work herself. It’s finding the balance.

And on top of all this, I have to be prepared to take over and lead as I’ve always done, for what if she should get called out for an interview or get hired and not be there to lead a session we had agreed she would? Yes, being prepared for such an eventuality is critically important.

It’s a delicate balance in another respect too. One has to be cognizant of confidentiality concerns. Whereas I want to know the ins and outs of all the participants and their personal barriers, I can’t divulge this to her being a client herself. Is that important? It sure makes the learning more personal and beneficial if I can tailor the experience to someone or tread cautiously when discussing areas which might otherwise trigger strong reactions.

This is just a small example of thinking creatively and adding some innovation. Hopefully by implementing this idea, I provide greater buy-in from the client herself, give her new skills and experience to add to her resume, and still convey to the class participants the information originally intended. And of course, I personally develop a little in a new way which is good for me.

So my suggestion is to look for new ways to be creative and innovative in the work you do. Be aware of the pitfall of falling into what is easy and tried and true. Sometimes what’s easy isn’t always what we should do.

What Does Your Job Teach You?

When you are looking for work, one of the most natural things to do is to look for a job where all the learning you have accumulated to date will allow you to compete successfully to obtain the position. Employers predominately are looking to hire people with the skills, experience and backgrounds that will benefit the company either on their bottom line, enhance their image, accelerate their growth and visibility or some other form of benefit.

How often however, do we look for work thinking to ourselves, I want a job that I can learn from. To be sure we might do this when we are young and just starting out, and again we might do this when we are changing fields of work. But I truly wonder if what we are saying to ourselves in those moments is that we are looking for something to learn but only to the point where we know enough to be competent in the job. So 7 or 12 years into a position, is there anything else your job teaches you?

I’m guessing you can think of people who are going through the motions in your own workplace. They are fixtures in the company, worthy of being respected and have earned their place in the company. But do you sometimes get the feeling, or even hear them say aloud that they are no longer challenged? That there is nothing further to learn in the job? I believe when you get to that point it’s rather a sad state of affairs – well to me personally at any rate.

Now in my situation, we’ve got a new computer software program which is taking people some getting used to across the entire Province of Ontario. And the learning going on is tangible, measurable, and it certainly is good for the old brain to be stimulated in this way. Aside from the software though, my work brings me into contact with people each and every day. And it is from these people that I learn the most and am the better for it.

I am fortunate to share my work day with approximately 50 or so people. That number includes Clerks, Employment Counsellors, Supervisors, Secretaries, Family and Mental Health Counsellors, a Psychologist, Receptionists and of course a wide diversity of clients. Each of these people, if I look for the opportunities and take advantage of them when they present themselves to me, has things to teach me that I can learn from.

For example, I can observe how one staff member’s personal style resonates with someone whom another staff person finds difficult to deal with. I can listen to the varying tone and pitch of a colleagues voice that makes what she has to say all the more interesting and encourages those around her to listen. I can recall the manner in which our Manager relays information, passes on praise and challenges us to do our best. And yes, even when there’s an issue arising, I can appreciate the delivery and the sensitivity with which it is delivered by a Supervisor.

From all of this and more, it is the case that my own communication style has changed. I suspect that like me, you either consciously or unconsciously find your way of doing things change as you learn to separate what you appreciate in others and what you find leaves a poor taste in your mouth. Sometimes we try to copy or mirror the best in others and see if how they handle themselves in certain situations would bring about similar outcomes for ourselves.

For learn we must; all of us. When we learn, we evolve, we grow in value not only to our employer but to those around us, our co-workers, our clients, our families and most importantly to ourselves. As we learn new skills, open ourselves to new ideas and as a consequence our self-esteem goes up and our self-image improves.

Be prepared for the truism that often real learning can be challenging on two fronts. First it challenges our own belief system sometimes secondly even when our belief systems aren’t being challenged and we embrace the opportunity to learn new things, we don’t always have the pre-requisites that will make the new learning smooth. Both of these are not insurmountable barriers to learning unless we see them as such, but rather once worked through make the lessons or information newly acquired all the more sweet when we master it.

So learning a new way of constructing a home might challenge the basic principles which a builder has been using on the job for a couple of decades, but if open to the possibilities, there exists the chance to not only learn a different way, but perhaps one that is more economical to build, less expensive to maintain and takes less time to create. To fight that opportunity is sometimes based more in fear about being made obsolete and being revealed as not capable of the learning.

So what does your job teach you? What opportunities for learning have come about over your time where you now work, and more importantly what opportunities exist in the present and are just on your horizon in your workplace? When we learn we continue to grow, and when we stop growing, we curtail that capacity to learn and evolve.

All the very best to you this day!

Why A Perfect Job Becomes Stale (And It’s A Good Thing)

A phenomenon that happens often to many people I know may also have happened to you personally. This is when a job you once thought was the perfect job and you were thrilled to have it, becomes less appealing, less rewarding and sometimes downright boring. What went wrong?

In short the answer is nothing. In fact if anything, this can be wonderful news if you look at it from a different perspective, and I want to illustrate the positive side for those of you who might be feeling negative. You see what really has happened in the vast majority of instances is that the job itself hasn’t changed at all. However, with the passing of time from that first day you accepted this job as new, you have grown yourself. What was once new and challenging has become easy to do and the challenge has largely disappeared. And the challenge was your motivation.

So why is this a positive? Ah, well that’s because you my dear reader have improved in your abilities; your skills have significantly advanced to a degree where your mind is sending you a signal that it’s time for re-evaluation. You’ve heard that saying that it’s the journey not the destination that is important? You’re now the poster man or woman for that old adage. The journey to get where you are now was what you found stimulating and had you hungry to go to work everyday. But now, months or years later, you’re comfortable, complacent perhaps, and the job is not providing you with as much gratification because the journey is over; you’ve arrived.

This is precisely why people who often change jobs, or work from contract to contract are hard to fathom by those who stay in one job seemingly forever. Do you recall a generation of people who took a single job – maybe two at the very most for their entire lives? For those generations, it wasn’t cool to be so apparently self-absorbed in finding your job happiness, they worked to earn a living. But our generation and that of our children, is all about finding work that brings us meaning and fulfillment. When it wanes, look for another job and keep stimulated.

So in a practical sense, what to do? Well clearly, if you grow unhappy, you’ve ultimately got two simple choices – and it is simple. One you either accept your unhappiness and change nothing, or you change something and rediscover your joy and take on new challenges. Taking on new challenges could mean you look for a new job altogether with the same employer or a new one. But as many know, it can also mean having the same job title that you hold right now, but doing the job differently, more creatively, maybe with new responsibilities.

And this last option in a tight economy where you might be unwilling or scared to test the waters of job searching may be exactly what you need. The change in either option however has to start with you. (Well it doesn’t HAVE to start with you, it could be forced on you by your boss who isn’t happy with your performance, but let’s leave that one for another blog!) It is a fantastic time to listen to your mind and do a self inventory. By asking your colleagues, your boss, your subordinates, your peers and network of contacts, you should get an idea of how you are viewed by others. What do they value in you? What do you see as your own strengths and assets?

From that long list of skills and qualifications, what are those skills that you most want to use in the next couple of years? Nix a five-year plan…too long and too much could change. And think about what skills you have that are weak here too. Maybe you want to improve in certain areas.

Now armed with your skill inventory, think about where you get your buzz. What turns you on and gets you motivated to excel and fires your passion, your enthusiasm. Instead of looking for what you could do right now with ease, what would be challenging and just a bit difficult or require you to learn from someone else? This is the growth you might just be craving. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but embrace that which is just a little out of your reach so when you achieve it and call it your own, you’ll feel great from reaching a new accomplishment.

Now it’s time to talk with your boss. Assuming you are performing your current job responsibilities to the satisfaction of the company, you’re looking to share your desire for new challenges, and want that person on board with your career development. It doesn’t mean you’ll be fired in the next two days just by having a conversation. My goodness if things are THAT bad, move on and stay mentally healthy!

This discussion with your boss shouldn’t be a one-time thing. Ask for 30 minutes or more and a few meetings. Your looking perhaps for their advice and counsel, and they’ll appreciate time to do some succession planning on their own if you move on via a promotion. You may find their flattered you’re seeking their mentorship. They may identify courses or training to acquire skills you’ll need to advance. You could also be given new assignments or co-author a new job description altogether.

As the ads say, “Stay thirsty my friends.”