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Career advice for the young, old, hesitant and bold

By July 14, 2016October 3rd,

Career advice for the young, old, hesitant and bold

July 14, 2016

Whether you are living on South African soil or abroad, chances are you’ve had a few job mishaps, dismays and uncertainties. The thing is, even if you have experience in the corporate world, you will still find yourself in uncharted territory at times – especially if you’re moving to a new home.

So we’ve rounded up a few of the lessons, trips and tricks we think will help anyone looking for new work, stuck in a current job rut or moving into uncharted territory. These lessons have been hard-learned and could help both the rookie learner as well as the discerned earner.

Tips for landing and keeping the perfect job

Don’t sell yourself short

Modesty may be a great virtue if you’re entering a position of martyrdom, but if you’re looking to land that dream job, it’s quite unbecoming. Okay, so no one likes a show-off, but a certain measure of self-affirmed ego-boosting is not only expected in a new position – it is required. So your new colleagues may be a bit irritated by your boasting at first – but most of us know this is bound to tone down as the dust settles. It’s best you tell people what you are capable of, what your skills and experience is and what you are currently studying or researching before you get too deep into the thick of things. People are more likely to trust your skills and give you opportunities if they know about it from the get-go than if you suddenly reveal your superpowers after a year of working the photocopier.

Do your research

There’s no way around this one – if you’re looking at a new job, whether local or abroad, you’d better do your research. There’s a lot of information freely available on the internet nowadays, so start off with a simple Google search then move on to social networks. Don’t feel bad to do a bit of social media stalking – as long as you don’t gather information via illicit means you’re safe, and new colleagues or employers expect a bit of snooping – in fact, it shows you’re taking your vocational prospects serious.

If you are moving abroad, it’s even more crucial to do proper research. You should know your way around the culture, be aware of business taboos, regional business regulations and rules, how the company and country differs from your own and so forth. It doesn’t hurt to do a search for your colleagues or boss. Whatever information is available publicly is something which could help you prepare for your interview or position.

Don’t be afraid to bargain

One thing the young and desperate tend to ignore to their own detriment is the act of bargaining. Most of us are grateful for the opportunities offered us – especially if those opportunities are above our current pay-grade, level of experience or skills. In addition to this, we don’t want to look greedy or ungrateful. But you should remember one thing – you are not (in most cases) working for an individual, you are working for an institution. You are not bargaining for personal favours – you are bargaining to afford you the lifestyle you deserve. You are not asking in order to suck the company dry and leave – you are asking in order to gain a position from which you are not likely to leave anytime soon.

Good employers understand that if they offer you the right package now, they will retain you longer. If you show you are just too happy to accept the current package, they may be confused if you are unhappy in a few months. Rather ask – the worst thing that could happen is you may get a no. This will also help you gauge the affluence and frugality of your new employer. One ‘no’ is alright, but if they say ‘no’ to all your demands, chances are you won’t be able to bargain with them in future.

Ask the right questions

If you’re starting off in a new place, you probably want to seem informed and don’t want to inconvenience your new employer or colleagues with a bunch of obvious questions. The problem with this is that many people neglect to ask the important questions up front, and then find themselves in a situation where it’s impossible to ask those questions later.

You may find some of these questions silly, but believe us – it’s some of the silliest things that could cause great confusion in the office. Here are some of the things you may want to ask upfront:

  • How does the leave work? This is an important question to ask, especially if you’re moving to a new country with different labour laws.
  • How flexible are the working conditions? We’re all different, but flexibility could be a trump card for any employer.
  • What do they think of work-life balance? It’s an important question if you have a family or extracurricular activities. It’s also important to know whether they have space where your sick children can relax or if they will allow you to work remotely when your loved ones need you.
  • What CSI projects are they involved with? Believe it or not, but Forbes placed Corporate Responsibility at the top of the list of reasons people stay at companies. How much time and money your company invests in their community could be a telling sign about the company culture.
  • Do they have an open door policy? Some companies want employees to manage their queries via HR, others encourage 360 communication where everyone can approach another colleague with their questions or concerns. It’s important to know what you’re walking into.
  • How representative are they of other cultures, races, genders, abilities, religions or nationalities? It’s not necessary for a company to be representative of all races, genders and so forth – but it’s certainly telling about the type of place it is if they only have certain races or genders working there. Try to gauge how open they are to transformation before you accept the position.
  • Why did the previous employee leave? It’s not something we always think to ask, but an important question.
  • What type of small perks do they offer? This may sound a bit rude upfront, but when you have to weigh up pros and cons of two positions, it may be the little things that count – things like free coffee, air-conditioning, performance bonuses and incentive trips could make the difference.
  • How do they feel about free internet, phone and social media access? It’s important you know how you will be monitored before you accept the position or you may find yourself in hot water.

Admit your shortcomings

Okay, so you may have sold yourself like a used car salesman at first, but it’s important not to boast about things that you aren’t. No one’s perfect, Bob, best we settle that point right now. Be upfront and honest with your employer and colleagues about your shortcomings. If you’re bad at admin, public speaking or impatient it’s good that you ask for help or share your feelings before and during working. Of course, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t use your shortcomings as an excuse to pawn work off on others or escape the consequences of your actions or inaction without accountability – it merely shows that you understand you’re a work in progress and need a little polishing. We all have rough edges, and sometimes it takes a little abrasion to sculpt us into our best selves.

Don’t get drawn into the drama

Employers are unfair at times. You get colleagues you think are from Mordor, bosses who micromanage the office with an iron fist, HR practitioners who don’t understand you, cleaners who rearrange your desk, delivery guys who chew too loud – you name it. Though colleagues tend to stick together and support each other in issues which are mutually discouraging, it’s easy to get drawn into the drama and fixated on the sensation. It’s easy to become the greatest star in the soap opera.

It’s okay to complain and also good to tackle issues of unfairness collectively – if something‘s wrong, fix it! But don’t simply complain with others just because you can. Don’t become one of the moaners who like to cry about things you think are unfair or wrong for the mere sake of playing your part in the office melodrama – talk to your colleagues, but choose to remain at least somewhat objective.  This will allow you to see your own errors as well and prevent you from becoming negative and mopey.

Stand up for your team

You may not want to get sucked into the drama completely, but if something’s not right you’d better tackle that issue head on. In the end, what makes one team and one company stronger than the others is the ability of the players to work together. Building camaraderie is of utmost importance – not only does it build morale, but in the long run you will take pride in knowing you’ve stood up for others who could not fight their own battles.

Learn to call unfairness when you see it happen. Learn to ask your bosses about their treatment of others. It may be awkward at first, but once people know you are willing to fight for each other as a team, they’ll be less likely to take advantage of you and will also trust you to do the right thing when push comes to shove. It may sound strange, but the people you may initially be fighting against may eventually be your fighting partners – if people know you are a reliable colleague, then they’ll try to keep you on their side.

Judge the book by its vision, mission and values

Corporate values are often seen as a bit of hogwash by employees but in many ways they are your first starting point when trying to figure out where the company is headed. Brands spend hundreds of thousands of Rands at times to define their vision, mission and values and aligning employees to these values. If a company is really passionate and committed to these corporate guidelines – it will be immediately evident in their public relations, the attitudes of their managers and HR practitioners as well as the opinions of their staff. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to rank your own values in applying for the job – companies want employees who are innately aligned to their own values. On the flipside, you’d also want to work for a place which shares your vision.

A big red flag would be a place where the employees or managers don’t uphold these values. If, for instance, they claim to be passionate about equality, but maintain a strict hierarchical structure, you’re in for a tough time. If they are supposedly eager to innovate, but don’t offer employees platforms for ideation – then you’d best be weary. If they state that they trust in the expertise of their team but don’t entrust decision-making responsibilities to staff within their areas of specialisation – then don’t be surprised if you find yourself being overruled and second-guessed all the time. Of course, this is a double-edged sword. It is also your responsibility to uphold the vision, mission and values of the company you work for. Just because someone else has contravened these moral codes does not mean you should.

Always have a plan B

Living your life with a perpetually open back door could hamper your growth and commitment in any position. But let’s be honest, it’s still a good idea to have a plan B, just in case. We don’t want to feel like we are being dishonest or that we are disloyal – but this is the big world, and people make adult plans. You can’t hitch your wagon to just one star – it’s only logical that you should have a backup plan in case things don’t pan out. This doesn’t need to be a concrete plan – perhaps just a vague idea of where you will look or apply, what changes you need to make or what courses you need to complete in case you decide to make a change.

Are they moving with the times?

One of the things many employees forget to ask or keep an eye on is the company’s commitment to providing frequent pay raises, resource enhancements and upskilling, but it’s something which is very telling about the place you work for. If an employer is not willing to offer annual pay raises without prompting, or if they want you to work on outdated equipment or technology or won’t fork out to get you the training you require – then you’re in for a tough ride. Prominent brands understand that retaining the best employees depends on keeping up with the times and inflation.

If a company wants you to beg to keep your head above water, then you should settle into that beggar’s stance as it’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It’s all about your attitude

Doesn’t matter where you work – you have to be aware that things won’t always go as planned. It may be that there are temporary issues, or your company may have deep-seated issues which will not be remedied in your timeline. Either way, you’ll have to know that your first line of defence in any position of adversity is your attitude. There may be things you can change, and other things will be beyond your control – but it’s how you look at it that makes the difference.

A positive outlook on your life, business and situation will make the ride so much smoother, even if it doesn’t change the scenery. In time you will also find that your attitude affects those around you. People will look to you to show them the silver lining, kill the gossip and lead the way when things get a bit cloudy.

Don’t be intimidated

If you’re stepping into a new or foreign world, it’s possible you may be intimidated by the strangeness of it all. You may feel out of your depth or find yourself at the bottom or outside, trying to work yourself up or in. This is a natural response – but remember not to give in to this intimidating feeling.

Whatever position was granted to you, you have the capacity and knowledge to excel – you got there because you are the best at what you do. You may not be the CEO, you may not have the technological savvy of that hot-shot programmer, you may not have the vocabulary of the marketing exec – but that does not make you any less. You should be able to impart your knowledge and be treated as an equal by everyone in the company. If others are trying to intimidate you or discard your opinion due to your rung on the ladder, then it may not be a place you would want to work for. Remember this whenever you deal with others in lower positions than you as well – don’t intimidate them but lead with encouragement and respect.

Be willing to learn

So, as we mentioned above, it’s important to stand up for yourself, but this doesn’t mean you know everything. In fact, unless you are Stephen Hawking, chances are you probably don’t know that much. It’s good to rely on your existing knowledge, but even better if you are willing to learn from your peers and stay on top of new advances, knowledge and information available to you. You may be able to learn from your line manager, or perhaps the tea lady has something to offer you – don’t be condescending, don’t believe you are the only authority on a subject or field – always be willing to be proven wrong. If you are unsure – then find out. Make sure to show your colleagues that you are willing to learn and that you encourage others to learn. If everyone in the office can maintain this attitude, your business will always be at the forefront and your employees will be encouraged to learn and grow.

Gauge your growth

One thing you should always be cognisant of is your growth – how far you’ve come in your professional life. Quite often people get stuck in their positions. The problem is that the longer you remain stagnant the harder it will be for you to make a move when push comes to shove. If you’ve received a few increases without participating in significant learning activities, then there’s a good chance you’ll become under-qualified and overpaid. Companies will find it hard to simply get rid of you, but they may simply keep you on for the mere sake of keeping you on and you could find yourself being left behind.

The point is that you need to stay abreast of training opportunities and ready to change and grow with the company. Don’t become a dead weight of doggedness – learn to accept change and renewal and take it on the chin. Be willing to step into other positions if the company requires it, and continue learning and changing in the event that you have to step out of your current position.

Go the extra mile

We should all take care of ourselves first. No doubt about that. But there really is something to be said for going the extra mile. You won’t always get the recognition and compensation you deserve – you certainly won’t always get pay that balances out your effort, but what you will get is the feeling of pride and accomplishment at not leaving a stone unturned to achieve your goal. People will learn to rely on you and you may inadvertently encourage others to start revving up those outputs if they see you go the extra mile. Not everything in life is about the perks – sometimes the greatest reward is reaping the fruit of your labour.

Learn to have fun

Work is a serious thing, isn’t it? It’s probably the most serious thing you will find yourself embroiled in. But when you think about it, it’s also the thing you’ll do for most of your life. Although it can’t all be fun and games, you should at least be in a position where you enjoy what you’re doing. It’s not always possible, but we need to create opportunities for ourselves to have fun, even when they aren’t readily available. If your work requires you to be serious and stern – then pitch ideas for collaboration outside the office to build team spirit and break some tension. If you absolutely loathe your work, then you’re probably in the wrong field – make plans to find something more suited to your temperament, personality and aptitudes. Just don’t blame the world for being unhappy, as this will create a victim out of you, and victims rarely get out of their positions. You have the power to change your situation and to change the atmosphere in your office. Leverage that power.

We hope these tips and tricks will help you land and keep the job you want. Good luck with your prospects, no go out and get them!

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