The Natural Selection of Business & Careers

download (3)Now I am sure we all know the Darwinian model of natural selection & the five theories contained within. If you need a short reminder have a quick look at this very informative web site run by Christ’s College in Cambridge http://darwin200.christs.cam.ac.uk/pages/ (accessed 3/11/2014). So the question is how can these theories be applied to shedding an alternative light upon how businesses evolve and how your career “fits” the environment, the shifting sands of time, skills and your ability to “mutate” into a new job or career path.

Coupled Darwin’s theory and the term “survival of the fittest” developed by Herbert Spencer to help explain his understanding of natural selection, we arrive at everyday terms to describe how life and for that matter business & careers can (in theory) develop. Needless to say these theories have been hijacked to fit may different ideologies and moral standpoints to sometimes disastrous effect. Such as Social Darwinism that is thought to be responsible for laissez-faire attitudes to war, economics & racism.

The Business of Natural Selection

By this time I am sure your imagination is starting to make the connections between natural selection, survival of the fittest and how businesses & careers are born, develop and sometimes die. Businesses have to compete for resources, evolve through small but distinct stages and that some variants or mutations may help them adapt better to their environment. Apple is a good example of a variation that produce many products that are internally similar to other technology companies (Mp3 players, PC’s, laptops, etc) they just do things differently with distinct styling and pretty boxes. Thus have mutated into a distinct species within the landscape. Its a high wire act and difficult to maintain, as if the mutation looses its distinct adaptation to the environment then they become generalists.

The generalists are other technology companies struggling for resources (profit). These generalists are all fighting for the same slice of the market so have to be nimble, agile and smart to fit products to business opportunities that arise. Products are not generally high value items such as Apple products but more standard offerings that will be less expensive but high volume to make the margins. Similar to species of birds, mammals & rodents – all fighting for the same meagre resources to survive in changing environments. Its hard for both generalists & specialists to survive as there has one eye on changing climates and barriers to their success. Competition is tough for businesses as with species of animals & plants are after the same resources unless they can evolve to adapt before others or sadly die out. I am sure as you are reading this you can apply similar stories to businesses & market sectors that you know? Of course there is nothing more compelling than a good theory – just reality gets in the way!

How does your Career “Fit”

The term “fit & fitness” can of course mean many things but in terms of your career we can use the theory to overlay your skills, abilities, knowledge of your job and how your career trajectory fits into the changing landscape of work. I wager you job or work is not the same as it was a few years ago and that you and your work is evolving steadily. Your job may have been made redundant in the past and had to make significant adaptations of your skills and abilities through re-training or re-branding yourself into a distinctly new career species? There are many ways that your evolution and you may have been naturally selected to give your career and working life an advantage.

The big question is now – does your skill set and career fit with where you need to be? Do you perhaps take a risk and mutate into a new career path or do you find new and novel adaptations to re-invent yourself to help maintain your competitive edge? To that aim I have put together a list of actions to help consider your evaluation career options and interested to hear what else your would add?

  • Identify what works well for you that gives you a competitive edge. May be a skill, an ability, an easy way of doing things others find hard, or even just a different way of thinking. Is it truly an advantage? Does it give really you an edge? Can you repeat it and give you that competitive edge?
  • Now that you have found it – cultivate it deliberately. Refine it, add to it & focus on it. Move on from those things you don’t do so well, build that competitive advantage and not trying to catch up with what others find easier than you do.
  • Now you have found and developed one great career adaptation, find another and keep repeating the process. Create as many natural advantages as you can. See what works and go with it, regardless of whether it’s what you expected or not.
  • Always spend time doing what you do best. Don’t forget your positive attributes, skills and knowledge, ignore them are your peril. By identifying development areas you are aiming to support your strengths enabling you to evolve positively.

Hopefully the short list will help with the adaptations as no species has ever thrived by working on its weaknesses and forgetting about its natural strengths. Don’t try to go against the way that natural selection works with careers and business – go with it and prosper. Creating your competitive edge, overcoming barriers, exploiting your natural attributes and planning for your future will no doubt help you (or your business) see environmental changes as a challenge so you can adapt and manage change effectively. So don’t be a Panda eeking out an existence on bamboo alone – be more…………………………….you fill in the gap!

Stick or Twist Careers – Finding Meaning at Work

images (40)Did you know in the pre-industrialised world there were around 30 different jobs to do. You might well have made things such as barrels, worked leather, a potter or looked after horses – you get the picture. Pretty straightforward jobs to earn a living.

However at the last count today there are approximately 12,000 different jobs and occupations (Krznaric 2012). So its no wonder people are confused about how to find a job or career that is fulfilling that will match our values, talents, identity and passions. Our working life and career paths have taken on greater meaning to us all. Maybe wrapped up in status anxiety and the power we feel is necessary for us in certain roles and life stage. Perhaps all this business of careers is just a modernmiddle class conceit; as when the bills and a mortgage needs to be paid any job will do right? Tricky sociological & philosophical questions to answer and certainly one I am not willing to explore here.

Clearly we have more and more choice in our careers and working lives today. Though the paradox of more choice is that we tend to become more risk averse and paralysed about making the wrong choice. Just choosing biscuits for me is the ultimate paralysis though analysis recently. Is it price, chocolate content, brand, dunkability and so on and so on!

Statistics show 2-4 years is about the time we spend in one job before moving on, thus putting us in a perpetual career/work transition phase and having to re-invest ourselves time after time.

So how do you find a job or career choice that has a good match for where you are in your life? Perhaps you are starting out and just wanting to get onto the career ladder or at a stage where you are looking for something more meaningful to do with your time. Do you specialise or spread you net over a range of roles called a wide achiever? In the meantime here are a few things to think about that may help the focus on finding a job with meaning that will fulfil and sustain you – and I will leave you to decide upon what constitutes meaning, fulfilment and what will sustain you in your work.

  1. If you just need a job plan then implement. Apply your skills, abilities, knowledge & experience etc to fitting an industry, trade or career path and get things moving quickly. Get the CV out there, network and find the people who can connect you to those business looking for new recruits. This method may not help you find the “special” role but it will help you move forward.
  2. Getting into a job will help you know what you like and not like in a job or career. You may find that things don’t necessarily match your identity, beliefs, values and passions but you are getting experimenting with work. Trying different jobs and career paths will help build up your experiential learning about the workplace and where you see your future.
  3. Start some voluntary work (if you can) that fits with where your passion lay, if not being satisfied in your current job or career. It may lead on to different opportunities and help you know if your passions are a lovely fantasy or a reality. If the thought of changing career is scary try this model to start the process of change and becoming less risk averse.
  4. Spend time in a career or job that you had never previously thought of. As suggested my Roman Krznaric in his 2012 book How to Find Fulfilling Work a “radical sabbatical”
  5. Lastly, and not for the feint hearted – act first and reflect later (Krznaric, 2012). This may be for the more confident amongst us as going with a career or job that isn’t necessarily planned and thus implemented upon as mentioned before may be a step too far. Though if there is an opportunity to just “feel the fear and do it anyway” you may find that this will open your working world view to career experiments that you had not thought of in your planning phase of career management.

So there we are that’s enough careers and work navel gazing for the time being. Though these big questions are being asked by people, employees and progressive organisations in recent years. Progressive organisations are helping employees become more meaning focussed by allowing them to engage in more diverse projects and outward facing working.

So as Chris Baldry et al in The Meaning of Work in the New Economy, suggest “Nobody wants their job to have no meaning, even if the primary or indeed onlymeaning is its economic support for home and family.’ It may be time to allow yourself some navel gazing toward a more progressive approach to you career and perhaps trying a few interesting working experiments to see where your passions lay?

Bibliography & References

Botton, A. (2009) “The Pleasures & Sorrows of Work” Penguin Books, London

Krznaric, R. (2012) “How to Find Fulfilling Work” Macmillan

Baldry, C. et al (2007) “The Meaning of Work in the New Economy” Palgrave Macmillan

My “Genius”and 3D Career Coaching

images (34)A client told me last week that I am a “genius” following a one off Career Health Check session. Mind you I had told them I was a genius before hand, so not sure that counts. Still got to take the complements where you can these days – even if they are self generated.

Career coaching is an area of my work I get very animated about, so stand back and mind the flaying arms of excitement. Want to see what it’s like check out Magnus Pike on You Tube. Now I get a deep sense of satisfaction working with my clients looking to change or transition careers. They may have been out of the workplace for a while for parenting duties and want to get back to work, or perhaps have been out of work and just need a job. Toward young people looking for their first job. These are just a few of the reasons people seek my help as a career coach. However I am sure you can appreciate there are radically different motivations for people, as a result the career coach will need flexibility and a number of differing strategies for meet the need of the client.

Whether we like it or not work is a healthy place to be, probably not something that crosses your mind waiting for a bus on a Northern European Monday morn in January. Bring happy, fulfilled and satiated in your work & career provides you with challenges, income, confidence, self esteem and a chance to strive toward your personal & professional goals. Hence the reason this part of my work is so helpful to my clients and is a hugely fulfilling part of what I do. Though career coaching for some is seen as an indulgence or a necessity depending upon your circumstances. Perhaps getting that itchy feeing in your feet suggesting you need to move on to pastures new or things are coming to an end in a job and redundancy may be a real possibility. All result in a need for change.

Now having had a number of years helping a very diverse group of people to change career or perhaps get back to work, I am always struck by traditional methods of career advice and guidance and the more creative 3D methods. Firstly, traditional methods tend to focus upon the employment process, i.e. CV, application forms (online/paper) job searching methods, interview skills, some passive training and perhaps fitting a round peg into a round hole as soon as possible. Great if you are just looking to get back to work as quickly as you can and into a similar role as before. This method used extensively in the Welfare to Work sector and by some career advice organisations that are, not to put a finer point on it, akin to a sausage factory. Very much a linear one dimensional affair, or to the cynics a box ticking exercise to getting paid for the outcome i.e. the client getting a job for least input.

So what I do mean by 3D strategies for career coaching? Needless to say this is very dependant upon need, goals and aspiration etc. However bear with me for a bit and I am hope to give those looking for a new start food for thought.

The 3D model provides is a fluid method of career coaching & management with staged activities for re-engaging with the workplace or new careers. So I work with clients at three levels.

  1. Primary level – The clients defined goals and hard outcomes. What they want to achieve, by when, how, and resources needed.Some support may be needed to help clarify the primary level to ensure the clarity. Goals may well change but are still the primary level and will need to generate thier own 3D model.
  2. Secondary level – What does the client need to reach the hard outcome – a needs analysis. This may mean the components parts of the job searching strategies, self employment, career change. A CV, L&D needs, geographical area and to examine a social media platform for the client amongst many others.
  3. Tertiary level – More the psychological analysis. Confidence & self esteem, improved interpersonal skills, along with self efficacy to name a few. The activities in a psychosocial capacity may be necessary to help the client develop toward those primary & secondary career goals.

By helping clients move through identifying their goals and the resources they need to achieve them with a renewed sense of purpose is a powerful method of supporting change. Looking at an example, say an individual has had a bad experience with being made redundant and has been out of work for a while. Confidence, self efficacy and self esteem may have taken a bit of a knock and may feel employment skills are out of date. So sending out an old school CV and applying for jobs that do not yield interviews can reduce confidence etc even further. In this instance utilising a 3D model the individual can identify their goals, focus upon improving confidence etc whilst working on their career narrative to help with the mapping out of a CV and a compelling case for why an employer would be daft not to employ them.

A very simple example granted but putting these components and layers together helps the client see the wood from the trees. So enough arm flaying from me for the time being and if you need any more information on one of my 3D model just drop me a line and will be happy to share the knowledge from one genius to another.

Is LinkedIn your new CV/resume?

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Following on from the recent blog on face-to-face networking and how important getting you out and about is for your career, the question now is, has LinkedIn become the new CV/resume? Of course well crafted & up to date CV/resume is primarily a historical document of your experiences, skills, abilities & competencies etc and is still necessary for most jobs you may be applying for. However, utilising LinkedIn can add a more dynamic dimension to your job searching strategy. You can continually update your profile, make great connections and interact with groups and individuals that can help to connect you to those less visible career opportunities.

How does LinkedIn work?

So how does LinkedIn work for those that are less comfortable with the technology. Well getting a LinkedIn account is very straight forward. With a little guidance and support for those not familiar with the Internet, you can start creating your LinkedIn profile. Using LinkedIn will help you with your personal marketing & support your employment brand better than a CV/resume can do alone. It’s less about a list of what we have done in the past, but more focused on letting people know what you can do and you we can help them. Indeed working side by side a CV & LinkedIn is a powerful tool for your chances of getting the job or career transition you want.  So being on LinkedIn means you can use it as part of your job search strategy, seeking out new job posts, doing your research, identifying people for fact-finding interviews and so on. 

Recruiters

Needless to say recruiters are all over LinkedIn looking for likely candidates for jobs. It is an opportunity for the recruiter to look at your key skills and experiences etc and how you develop and sell yourself within the limited space of the background summary. In the summary – you get 2000 characters and you should try to use them all. Use this space perhaps like a covering letter to engage with the reader and provide examples and details that will make them want to find out more about you. Creating that killer narrative is a great way to engage virtually with your contacts so that they remember you and your career story. LinkedIn is a huge database and by using relevant key words they can quickly find the people they need.

Can it go horribly wrong?

So what can go wrong with your Linked In profile? If recruiters and potential employers look you up what will they find? It could be a partly completed profile or nothing at all. If you are not found at all, what message are you giving to the recruiter? Perhaps that you are a cyber scaredy-cat and, as a result, providing a negative impressions of yourself?  Too many fail to get the best out of LinkedIn sadly, their profile is incomplete, they don’t have a photo and there is nothing compelling about the information they want to share. Registering for LinkedIn and not doing much with it is like joining to an expensive gym and expecting somehow to get fit – believe me you have to do the work. You only get out what you put in.

Benefits

Indeed the great benefit of LinkedIn is that you don’t have to be constrained by your CV/resume but can select highlights from each role that you want to share. You can impress others with ideas or research reviews or join in on group discussions to help you get known and recognised. The reader will at least skim read through your profile – and will be drawn to the recommendations of your work. Do you have any and what do they say? The people who recommend you can be powerful advocates of you and your strengths and as the recommendations are linked back to a person, there is a much higher level of trust. Providing recommendations is also important, it gets you noticed on other users pages and also demonstrates your judgement & skills.

So to utilise Linked In effectively for your job search or career change here are a few pointers you may want to consider –

  • Try to write in the first person, not the third. Include interesting insights into your character, not just what you have done, emphasise key words and accomplishments.  
  • Use an up to date professional picture, no wacky images. Beware if you are searchable with LinkedIn you are likely to searchable via Facebook & Twitter etc. So bear in mind your on-line profiles and not too extreme so that it puts recruiters off. 
  • Include key words throughout your profile. For example, copy-writing or social media. 
  • Take account of any company confidentiality policy, and do not include any confidential details. If currently in work don’t tick the looking for job opportunities box, you will still be found, try not to make it too obvious you are looking for a new role. 
  • Aim for up to 8 work related recommendations at the beginning but try to get as many as you can. it’s far more effective to have other people write a recommendation than you talk about how great you are. 
  • Improve your visibility by asking providing questions & providing important answers – join relevant groups. Be mindful of language on-line as with email it can be misconstrued and misinterpreted
  • Join groups related to your background and desired work related goals so you can identify relevant jobs. 
  • Include a link to your Linked In profile on your CV and email signature to encourage people to find out more about you. 

So is LinkedIn your new CV/Resume?

Well no. You will need both a great CV/resume and utilise social media platforms such as LinkedIn to your advantage. Clearly recruiters will use all platforms at their disposal to fill vacancies in the quickest and convenient way possible; and LinkedIn allows them to see you and your skills better and perhaps more up to date. LinkedIn therefore is part of your job searching strategy and to not use it you may not be utilising every tool available to you. LinkedIn can put you in-front of those people that help you change career or get that job that you are striving for. So if you can’t be found on-line will recruiters take your application forward – is that a risk you want to take?