How to make successful career transitions ? PART I

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” The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” J.P Morgan

About one-third or 30% of human life is spent working to earn livelihood. It is important to spend one third of our lives doing something which makes us happy and content other besides providing the livelihood. Many a time, we do not choose our career, we happen to get there by chance or without design. It takes some years of understanding of our job, life  and ourselves to realize that we might need to change our career track as what we are doing does not meet our life and career goals.In 2 blog post of this series, I would be discussing the process before you actually make the career change in Blog I and how to go about making the career transition in Blog II of the series.

First things first  “there are no perfect choices, only other choices”.

If you are contemplating a career change to run away from a temporary bad situation in your current job or Industry – tough project, a tough boss, tough policies. Please remember that there are no perfect choices, only other choices and if issue lies with you settling in any job, any change would not solve the problem and you would find yourself in similar situation very soon. Make sure that the intent to change career track is for right reasons and not an escape route.

Get a one line answer to ” Why you want to change your career” ?

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There might be many valid reasons for you going for a career change. Example – being laid off, Role being phased out, Changing life stages such as motherhood. It could be simply you wanting a new, better, more satisfying and more fulfilling life. Whatever may be reasons behind seeking the change, know at high level what you expect to gain from the change. Your measurement of how successful your career transition was would be based on what you expected to gain from it.Your goal or objective from change could be for example:

  • Finding more purpose and meaning in your life
  • Setting out in a different direction in your life
  • Getting out of corporate rat race
  • Finding your mission in life, at last
  • Aligning your skill sets and interests with your job
  • Deciding to try something new
  • Get more work life balance

Know thyself well. The road to your dream career is a road that first passes through you.

Most career change seekers who fail, do not fail because they do not know about job market or how to make the transition, they fail because they did not know themselves in and out. Who can know you better than you? You need to reflect upon your life and job experiences and do a thorough inventory of your skill sets, emotions, interests and preferences. This is the most important part of your career transition plan.

Inventory of your favorite skills and fields.

Time for introspection, reflection on experiences and getting inside your heart and mind to know what ticks you, upsets you or motivates you in work and life. Put the following inventory on paper if you prefer to work in systematic way:

  • What are the skills you most enjoy using?

List down your favorite transferable(functional) skills. Prioritize them in order of importance and enjoyment for you. Key functional skills categories are people skills, data skills & operation skills. Physical skills, Mental skills, Interpersonal skills.

  • Where do you want to use your favorite skills?

List down your favorite interests, subjects, fields, Industries or fields that fascinate you. Fields that use your favorite skills. Skills inventory and fields chosen have to go hand in hand  for compatibility and future success.

It is ok to keep work and passion separate

It is said that find a work you love to do and you don’t have to work for a day. Undeniably it would be a perfect life but at the same time it is also okay if your work is not necessarily your passion.There is a reason why work is called work and hobbies are called hobbies. It is alright if two are separate. When a painter starts selling his art, he is no longer an artist but becomes a salesman. Please remember that most of the time primary objective of career or work is to take care of your basic needs and give you a quality of life and opportunities to enjoy  life beyond work.

Read about how to make the career transition in my next post PART II of this blog series.

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Speak Up. Be Heard. Be Noticed

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Image Source: LinkedIn

Women speak up less than men do in work settings at least and I have noticed this throughout my career. If I have only one advice to give to working women to advance their career, it would be to “speak up”. When you speak up, you make your presence felt and shine the light on your potential. It can take courage to speak up – whether for your rights, your opinions, or for something in which you believe deeply. This single most change of speaking up more can empower women not only in workplaces but in overall society.

Why should women speak up more in workplace ?

  1. To make your presence felt. To be heard and noticed. To add value

In global economy and workplaces, not all meetings are in person. In a telecon meeting, if you don’t announce yourself and don’t speak up at all, you very well might not have been attended the meeting. It is important to make your presence felt by participating and contributing to a discussion. There is a reason why you have been included in a meeting and you should strive to earn your seat in a meeting and add value to it.

2.  Speaking up is critical to your growth at the company

Every meeting is an opportunity to  display your leadership potential and to build your professional brand. One can  achieve it  through speaking up at appropriate moments. Every time you remain silent, treat it as an opportunity lost. Keep a count of it and you would start speaking up. You need to earn believers in your ability to advance ahead. Speaking up more has been linked to displaying leadership potential. You earn your mentors and sponsors by speaking up and displaying potential.

 

3. Speaking up builds self-confidence – the secret ingredient for long-term success.

Confidence is not a static thing It keeps changing and you need to keep replenishing any loss of it. Speaking up has been found to be helpful in building confidence not only in yourself but of others in you. Mustering the courage to speak up can add volumes to your confidence. Just hearing your own voice in a meeting has been linked to contribute to an increased self-esteem.

4. Speaking up can get you promotions, salary raises and help

Humility is a great virtue but not so in workplace. Do not silently keep toiling and expect others to make a note of it and reward you. You shouldn’t be hesitant to ask for a promotion or to be recognised for your contributions. Do not maintain a stoic silence in those crucial performance appraisal discussions. Speak up for yourself and your efforts. In juggling between dual responsibilities of office and home, do not be afraid to ask for flexibility in work or any considerations which might help you in your work. Make your case and put it across assertively. If you don’t ask for it, you would never get it.  If you ask for it, you may or may not get it but you still at least have a shot at it.

5. Lastly, Speak up when something’s not right

Sometimes people cross lines in behaviour. You need to speak up the first time it happens. Speak up and say no firmly to an inappropriate behaviour or request. Do not be afraid of consequences. Do not let your silence be misunderstood for tacit approval.

Here are some tips on how you can speak up more and make your presence felt.

  1. speak-up-2Believe in yourself. Don’t be hesitant to put your thoughts across

Most of the things come down to your self-confidence. Speaking up publicly not only requires good communication skills and good content but also confidence and courage within. Women need to keep working on their self-confidence and self worth.It is a known fact that women speak less in meetings not because they don’t have anything to say but because they are not confident that they would add value. Even when they speak, they are apologetic about interrupting or making a point.  Don’t hesitate or apologise. Just speak up.

2. Do not judge and disqualify your opinion as not worthy of mention.

As many a times, women out themselves from a race to the top, so do women themselves disqualify their point of views as something which would not add value to the discussion. You don’t decide that. In fact you earn your seat in meeting and add value by contributing to the discussion. If you are merely present and just absorbing information, you are not adding value to others and to the discussion.

3. Be prepared. Do your homework. Make your notes.

Prepare for your meetings and presentations. Go over the agenda, brainstorm and make notes of points you would like to make. Make notes while meeting is going on. Being prepared would not only add  value to quality of your point of view but also to your self-confidence. Being prepared makes you feel ready and you look forward to the meeting to participate and contribute.

4. Learn the language of assertiveness

Using correct language can help in being assertive. Women tend to tone down assertiveness with use of defensive language and starting sentences with phrases such as ” I think” or “I feel”. Sometimes these might indicate you are not sure of your opinions. Rather use starting sentences which convey certainty such as ” I believe”, ” I am sure” or “from my experience , this is what i have seen”. Handle interruptions with declarative sentences such as ” I haven’t  finished what I am saying”. Be assertive.

4. Practice, Practice and more Practice

Practice makes perfect. Start with small meetings. Build confidence. After a while speaking up in meetings would start coming naturally to you. Even if you have been the silent majority in meetings, make an effort. If speaking up doesn’t come naturally to you, force yourself to speak up at least once in a meeting to start with. Once you are comfortable with speaking up, focus on content and adding value through the quality of your point of view.

It is not that women act differently in workplace and outside of it. A confident women who is not hesitant to voice her opinion would most likely do the same wherever she is – in office, at home or a party. To be a confident woman in workplace one day, a girl needs to grow up to be a confident woman with a mind of her own. Parents need to encourage their daughters to speak up more. Teachers need to be cognizant of giving equal opportunity to a raised hand of a girl in class. Community needs to not shut up a girl when she tries to make a point. Nobody should dismiss a girl’s point of view because well, it’s a girl’s point of view. Girls should be taught to not only have a point of view but to also have enough encourage to put across their point of view. Speaking up is akin to standing up for your opinion and for yourself.

 

Power Dressing for Success

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“You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it”. – Edith Head

“Dress shabbily and people will remember the dress, dress impeccably and people will remember the woman”. – Coco Chanel

We may not like it but it is a fact that we all judge people by the first impressions they make. Your image is important. According to a survey of business leaders published this year by the Center of Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, two-thirds said that when it comes to getting ahead, image makes a major impact.  Clothes we wear impact not only how we feel about ourselves but also our performance and productivity at work. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, subjects who donned doctors’ lab coats scored higher on attention-related tasks than did those who did not. Power dressing is a tool to convey the message that you are competent, able, ambitious, self-confident, reliable and authoritative. Definition of power dressing as per wikipedia is ” power dressing is a fashion style that enables women to establish their authority in a professional and political environment traditionally dominated by men.” Margaret Thatcher, one of the first female icons of power dressing summed up when asked how power dressing should be for women  “never flashy, just appropriate“.  Power dressing is particularly useful in leadership roles where trust and authority is expected.

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Image Source:Van Heusen
  1. When in doubt, choose formal over casual: Better to end up more formally dressed than casually: Higher the position, more formal the dress code. Formals such as business suit make you look put-together, competent, and trustworthy. Irrespective of context of a meeting, for a leader it is safer to be formally dressed rather than err on casual dressing. If you would have noticed, Men CXOs can hardly be seen in anything other than business suits at least when it comes to business meetings. Unfortunately and fortunately women do not have a single approved dress code like  a business suit when it comes to power dressing. There is lot of variety of what all a  women can wear to work hence leaving scope for subjective judgement which can be good or bad depending on the person. If you are not sure, stick to commonly accepted formals for women such as pantsuits in western wear and churidar kurta in formal fabric such as cotton in Indian wear.
  2. Comfort is king or rather queen: Wear something which you are comfortable in and used to wearing. Do not attempt new styles for any important meeting where the discomfort from dress can distract you or make you conscious and less confident.
  3. Dress appropriately keeping in mind the audience and place. Be Roman in Rome. . Always factor in cultural sensitivities and mix of people you are going to meet.  Make sure what is normal for you for example short skirt or sleeveless top will be not be too bold for a conservative audience and place. If you are going to err, it’s better to be on conservative side than bold side
  4. Avoid revealing and bold clothes: You objective is to not look desirable rather to look business like and keep audience comfortable and focused on your capability rather than on your physical appearance. Studies have shown that wearing revealing clothes to work is negatively correlated with a positive opinion about woman’s capability. Stay away from low necklines, too tight clothes and bling jewellery.
  5. Choose the colors judiciously: Colours of your clothes play an important role in exhibiting power and confidence as colors already have established connotations. Accepted work colours are black (chic), navy (trustworthy), red (dynamic, aggressive), grey (conservative). Go for neutral colors and avoid bright ones like hot pinks, oranges and neons.
  6.  Appear groomed: Hair should be clean and set and should not appear unruly or unkempt. Studies have shown that makeup increases a woman’s confidence but keep makeup discrete and don’t overdo it. Clothes should be clean and ironed properly.
  7.  Wear well fitted clothes : Fit of clothes you wear is more important than your body size/shape and brands of clothes.. Do not opt for either too loose or too tight clothes.

Clothing sends out very powerful messages about who we are, so dress to make a positive impression, dressing for success is a necessary precursor to obtaining it.

Women in workplace 2016 Study : a synopsis

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Image source: http://www.forbes.com

Women in the workplace 2016 is a comprehensive study done by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company to study the state of women in corporate America. Though the study was done in US, the findings are relevant for state of women in corporate India as well.

The research report headline itself tells what details we can expect inside. ” In corporate America, women fall behind early and continue to lose ground with every step” I must admit that as somebody who believes in championing the cause of advancement of women at workplace, I did feel depressed on reading those lines. Its 2016, we are talking about leisure trips to moon, driverless cars, cutting edge technology in every aspect of life and women are still struggling to get ahead at workplace. I wonder if this is the state in a developed country, how would be it in developing countries like India. Though we can see some women leaders in India specially in Banking Industry- Chanda Kochhar, Arundhati Bhattacharya, Naina Lal Kidwai to name a few, but these are  handful of women out of 1.8 million women working in organised sector in India. What’s happening to rest of women working in corporate India? The study throws some light on why we are not seeing more women at top of corporate world. The major reason being decreasing % of women in pipeline with increase in level of hierarchy as depicted by graph below.

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Key findings from the women workplace study 2016.

  1. For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted

  2. Very few women are in line to become CEO

  3. Women are negotiating as often as men—but face push back when they do

  4. Women get less access to senior leaders

  5. Women ask for feedback as often as men—but are less likely to receive it

  6. Women are less interested in becoming top executives—and see the pros and cons of senior leadership differently

Key broader themes as per the study

# 1 : On average, women are promoted and hired at lower rates than men, so far fewer women become senior leaders  

Promotion rates for women lag behind those of men, and the disparity is largest at the first step up to manager—for every 100 women promoted, 130 men are promoted.

“Compared to women, almost twice as many men are hired from the outside as directors—and more than three times as many are hired as SVPs”.

# 2 : At more senior levels, we see women shift from line to staff roles, so very few end up on the path to becoming CEO.

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By the time women reach the SVP level, they hold a mere 20 percent of line roles. This hurts their odds of getting the top job because the vast majority of CEOs come from line positions.

“In 2015, 90% of new CEOs were promoted or hired from line roles, and 100% of them were men.”

# 3 : Women are less interested in becoming top executives—and see the pros and cons of senior leadership differently from men

An expected reason behind this would be that women with children would find the dual responsibilities of a CXO position and home challenging but the startling result that even women without children are not interested in top jobs suggests that there are far deep-rooted beliefs women have about themselves and how they see the top job and its challenges.

– Women anticipate a steeper path to the top. Women who aspire to become a top executive are less likely to think they’ll get there than men with the same aspiration—and more likely to worry they won’t be able to manage work and family commitments.

– Women may not think their ideas and contributions carry the same weight as men’s. This could be rooted in the different experiences women and men are having in the workplace.

# 4 : People who do more work at home are less interested in becoming top executives

At every stage in their careers, women do more housework and child care than men—and there appears to be a link between the amount of work people do at home and their leadership ambition

“Women in senior management are seven times more likely than men at the same level to say they do more than half of the housework.”

It is a very important study and companies across the world should look at it carefully and design their gender equality strategies. Actually more than the plan, the bottleneck as always is implementation of the plan. Though gender equality at workplace is high on priority of CEO but slips away from the list when it comes to implementation. Companies have an important role to play in reaching gender equality in society at large by working sincerely towards achieving gender equality at workplace. A fairer, more inclusive work environment will lead to more engaged employees. A more diverse workforce will lead to stronger organizations which would lead to better business results. Long term benefits of gender equality at workplace go beyond companies and employees by not only strengthening the world economy but also making  world a fair and just place for half of its population. It is a worthy goal to go after!

You can read the complete report at link below.

Reference : https://womenintheworkplace.com/

 

The Rio Olympics and the Ability to Stay Calm

A LIFETIME OF TRAINING FOR JUST 10 SECONDS - JESSE OWENS

Like anybody else on the planet, for past 2 weeks or so I too have been keenly following the Rio olympics – the greatest show on earth. Even though India’s performance was not upto mark, watching greatest sportspersons compete at Olympics is a source of  learning. It makes you wonder why some excel and finish at the podium and some are left behind. Everyone has put in the hard work for years and has an equal chance to get a place on podium and make history.

Watching the sporting events like archery and badminton in initial week, it struck me that how close Indian atheletes got to winning but couldn’t cross the line to the podium. We came fourth in many events. Deepika Kumari the top ranked Archer has a heart warming story of a girl from small town who fought against odds to come where she is. When I watched her in team and individual archery events, she couldnt outperform herself leave aside other competitors. Expectations were really high from Deepika as would be from any other established professional of her field. She seemed to be crumbling under the weight of expectations  Deepika could not keep control on her nerves in the crucial deciding moments.  Same story repeated with Saina Nehwal, the badminton star who again could not match her performance of last olympics.

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India’s Deepika Kumari shoots during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games women’s competition at the Sambodromo archery venue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 10, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

In the same matches, if you look at the winners, they all showed  nerves of steel. At any event like Olympics, a sportsperson is going to meet the best of world. After a point, the talent, skill and technique seem no longer  differentiating factors. What differentiates a winner from others is mental toughness. The ability of mind to have a tight leash on nerves, to control all emotions of nervousness, anxiety and tension. Everybody has put in thousands of hours into practice to perform their best in those few minutes or even seconds of the matches. But one thing any practice can not imitate is the actual feel of the event. When at practice, your mind knows that it is a practice and therefore is calm. Your body does the same work. Here comes the differentiating factor of how strong you are mentally as a person. It is this ability of keeping calm in most stressful and crucial moments is what makes a winner. Olympics is not only a test of an athlete’s physical prowess but also a test of his mental toughness.

This is applicable to not only olympics but also to life in general.Keeping calm under stress is an invaluable trait, skill or whatever we call it. It is a critical ingredient of leadership. Irrespective of field, be it sports, corporate job, politics, anybody who aspires to be a leader, aspires to be the best in their field or to lead a team, a company or people has to have the ability to stay calm irrespective of the situation. This one trait is what made MS Dhoni the captain cool. It is part of one’s core temperament. Though one can work on it and one needs to work on it be an effective leader. A leader is someone others look up to for inspiration, guidance and more so in crucial times of a crisis. It is during crisis, real leaders emerge by managing the crisis not only with the help of their skills and experience but also  with their ability to stay calm.

You can read about how successful people stay calm in the article (link below).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/02/06/how-successful-people-stay-calm/#3b35f2f49c8c