Career advice

Women – would you like to earn as much money as your male colleagues?

I was at #altukgc13 yesterday on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall.  It came about thanks to Lloyd Davis & James Cattell who jumped into action following cancellation of UK Govcamp because of a bit of snow & the chaos that wreaks on the British public transport network (I note that even Buzz Aldrin had to take the train from London to Edinburgh on Friday and sit in standard class, although from the photos online he appeared to be having a great time).

One of the groups I joined discussed why it is that conference speaking platform slots are overwhelmingly dominated by white, middle aged males.  We had a lively discussion & generated some ideas.  One of the women in the group, the very fabulous & sadly ex-public sector Sharon O’Dea, has successfully managed to break onto the speaking circuit herself where she talks about technology.  Rare indeed.  Sharon agreed that she will write a blog with some tips for interested people on how they may do the same.  You can find Sharon’s blog at http://sharonodea.co.uk/

The discussion got me thinking that many of the reasons that women in particular don’t put themselves forward for speaking slots are similar to the reasons why women are so rubbish at either negotiating or improving their salary packages.  That was my driver for writing this blog.  When I was a younger person in a junior job it didn’t occur to me that there was a difference in outcomes of salary negotiations between men & women.  I naively assumed that everyone did as well as each other.  I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable having to wrangle with my MD in this way once a year.  Then one day in a team meeting a wonderful woman that I used to work with, Kirsten Gillingham (now Bursar at St Antony’s College, Oxford) challenged our MD about this inequality & made reference to the many studies that have been done showing that women are extremely unwilling to negotiate their salary and are financially disadvantaged as a result.  For me, merely becoming aware of this fact was enough to bring about a change in my own behaviour from that moment on – another reason for writing the blog as hopefully the same thing will happen for at least one person that reads it.

When you get to the stats they’re a bit alarming.  For new graduates, 57% of men negotiate a higher starting salary than the sum they are first offered but only 7% of women do.  In recruitment exercises, 90% of men immediately ask for more money when their offer comes through but over 50% of women accept the first offer.  Women earn about 75% of what men do in the same role.  I’m not talking about the public sector here or organisations where there is a transparent pay scale – although I will say that even then, you do still have a chance of negotiating a better deal when you’re joining the organisation.

So why is this?  What are the contributing factors?  I think there are probably a lot including:

  • women systematically underestimate their own abilities and performance
  • women underestimate their own value and the contribution they make to an organisation
  • women often aren’t used to negotiation because of the types of jobs they do
  • women probably care more about fairness
  • women are nervous & less confident of their position if they don’t have complete information – in this context specific salary information on other people is unlikely to be available
  • women don’t usually like conflict & will be extremely reluctant to threaten to walk if they don’t get what they want
  • at recruitment time, women may believe they’ll be able to improve their lot once they’ve started working & demonstrated their value to the organisation
  • perhaps women are more scared of losing the job offer than men are
  • maybe bosses treat this as a bit of a game and women don’t readily understand the rules
  • perhaps worst of all, success & likeability are positively correlated for men & negatively correlated for women – I can think of many occasions where I’ve underplayed my own achievements in order to be better liked or more easily accepted (we publicly put our success down to luck or help from other people).  So the male that negotiates a great package for himself is seen as an all-round great guy whereas the woman who does the same thing is seen as a hardnosed ballbreaker.

No doubt there are many more.

So how can you improve your salary negotiation outcome?

  1. By being aware that this is just how things are done.  It isn’t personal and you may not like it.  During the hiring process most company’s recruiters will start by offering you less than they are authorised to spend on the post.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to refuse that sum & state what your expectation is via a counter offer.  The negotiator will then often lowball you with another offer that is less than they can pay you.  Again – just stick to your guns & continue to counter offer.  Stay calm & polite at all times.  Don’t give any reasons why you want more money unless they really press you to.  Often they won’t.
  2. Be familiar with your industry metrics so that you know what’s realistic – it probably isn’t realistic to ask for £50k when you’ve been offered £25k – but who knows – dependent on your sector & skills maybe it is.
  3. Practice your negotiations with a friend or mentor & reassure yourself that your demands are reasonable.
  4. Remember that negotiation at its core is culturally masculine.
  5. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with your manager about a salary increase – my own team is made up of males & females but inevitably it’s the men who will chance their arm and pitch to me the reasons why they deserve a pay rise, even when they aren’t due for one.

Ideally the process should be changed as there’s also a commercial downside & cost to behaving in this way.  No enlightened company will consciously operate like this as they will appreciate that in order to succeed commercially; they need a gender balanced and happy workforce who are treated fairly.  At Learning Pool we want our people to have the same opportunities and to be treated equitably.  We recognise the very large sums of money we spend recruiting and training our team members so it’s in our interests that they are content & stay with us for the long term.  There’s probably a special place in hell for managers who offer pay rises only at the point where their people threaten to leave.

When I was researching this topic last night I watched again Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s famous TED talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” – it’s just shy of 15 minutes long & well worth a viewing or another viewing.  I won’t repeat what she says but she makes some great points that really made me think.  The link is here http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

I sincerely hope no-one is offended by this blog post.  That isn’t my intention & those of you who know me will know that I thrive in a male dominated sector and industry.  There’s lots more that can be said on this topic and I hope many of you will start a conversation using the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing careers might not be as hard as you think

These days it’s more usual than it used to be to meet people who are onto their third or fourth career.  I can think of quite a few examples amongst my own group of friends and associates.  On Friday at the London IIBN conference I met Niall Quinn & then heard him talk about his own transition from footballer (Arsenal, Manchester City, Sunderland and of course the Republic of Ireland) to Sky Sports commentator to entrepreneur/businessman (when he led the buyout of Sunderland AFC by the Drumville consortium) and now executive Chairman of newco Q Sat, a rural broadband provider.

Any of you who know me will not be surprised to see there’s a photo involved – many thanks to Sinead Crowley of IIBN for snapping that one below!

Mary McKenna with Niall Quinn at the IIBN conference in London on 9 Nov 2012

Niall shared his brutally honest insights with us in his talk & I thought I would in turn share some of them with you.  He talked first about how he now views his former life as a footballer as quite a false existence.  He used to go training in the mornings & then come home & lie on the sofa.  His wife would bring him his meals & make sure the children left him alone.  When his first career came to an end he was quite depressed about it & drifted into a job at Sky Sports which although it paid the bills, didn’t really put fire in his belly.

Then he saw his old club Sunderland AFC in trouble, met with his former chairman & after talking to a few of his Irish contacts decided to lead the buyout & after a short (unsuccessful) spell as manager Niall moved into the Chairman’s seat.  Along the way he had to stop being a footballer and learn to be a business person.

He found he enjoyed the change and the new challenges and he began to take an interest in new technology.  This interest has culminated in Niall moving into a start up business as their executive Chairman.  He commented what a big difference it is between selling footballers for £50m & persuading someone to pay you £35 per month for broadband.  Q Sat has grown from 22 to 50 employees in the time he’s been there and they now have 11,000 customers (6,000 of those in rural Ireland) and are about to open an office in Nairobi.  It’s clear to see that Niall enjoys building relationships with partners and putting something back as well as building a successful and profitable business.  He talked a lot about the mentors he has learned from (in football and in business) and the way his company is seeking to build on the work that other Irish people have done before, especially in Africa.  One of the pieces of advice he offered to us was in business to keep some space aside to meet people, have conversations and network.  I’m a great believer in this approach too.

One of the funny stories he told us was about one of his friends Patrick M’Boma, a Cameroon striker and former teammate at Sunderland.  The two guys had clashed heads & both gone down.  Niall claims he knew his time playing at Sunderland was over when the physio ran onto the pitch & ran straight past him & over to Patrick.  For me thinking about this since, it seems that the life of a footballer is indeed different – as you’re either on the way up or you’re on the way down – the time at the top seems fleeting & hard to define.  Hopefully Niall doesn’t miss that aspect of his first career although I’m guessing the same boy has hung onto his competitive streak which will do him no harm.  I’m also guessing he’s enjoying being part of a team again as that team spirit is one of the most fun things about being in a small, growing company.  He said that one of the odd things about being a footballer is that although you play in a team, you still hope you are the best in the team – something that doesn’t really come up in a business because everyone has their own defined role to play as part of the overall team success.

He finished by saying that looking back he wonders now how much further ahead he would be in business if he’d quit football 10 years earlier.  We have a rule Niall – no regrets.  It’s the experiences you have along the way that makes you the person you are – and if you meddle with the order then who knows where we’d all end up.  Good luck with career number 4.

So – some people change career because they have to & some because they want to.  Whatever your reason get on, grasp the nettle and don’t be afraid to ask your network for help and advice.  Great speaker, great conference and thank you to all at IIBN for making it a lot easier for the Irish diaspora to do business outside of Ireland.  Please share your career change stories in the comments below – you know I love to read them.

 

What makes a great virtual team member?…time to practice what I preach

Paul_in_stansted_lounge

Today’s my last day in Northern Ireland for 6 months.  For the past 5 years I’ve managed a highly motivated part of the Learning Pool team who are absent from our Derry mothership & who work from home in England and Scotland.  Tomorrow I become one of them.  This past couple of weeks I’ve been really mulling this over & wondering what it will mean for me.  I’m also slightly worried that I may not be the exemplary virtual team member that I imagine I will, a carbon copy of the perfect remote worker in the image I have in my mind’s eye.

In my view, these are the qualities & behaviours of a great virtual team member:

·         superb communicator – in both directions – giving & receiving information; this applies equally to customers & colleagues

·         highly organised in terms of managing appointments, follow ups, phone calls, CRM updates, keeping your online calendar bang up to date

·         ability to work efficiently on the hoof (on trains, in cafes, at airports, in the car)

·         knack to really bond with people you don’t see face to face much – other virtual colleagues but also the people in the powerhouse or mothership – the people you need to actually do things for you that you can’t do yourself

·         planning your schedule to get the most out of each day by combining appointments & using common sense

·         gift for really knowing what’s going on beneath the surface at HQ, think that comes about by really listening to what your colleagues say

·         makes the best use of the available technology & doesn’t get bogged down in constant technofail

·         books travel well in advance to get the best prices

·         effective collector & disseminator of customer information back to the mothership team

·         self starter with a lot of drive

·         ability to complete & finish things (this one is tricky for me) in a fast paced & constantly moving environment.

From time to time I’ve been critical of how other people do some or all of the above.  I guess I’ll know by this time next week how I’m doing myself.  Any hints and tips from you, my dear readers, will be most welcome as always.

So what am I going to miss most over the next 6 months when I’m London based.  Folks – there’s no competition on that score.  The photo of Paul was snapped yesterday at Stansted airport.  He’d just finished a conference call with our tech team & is posting something up on Twitter.  As usual, we had a few right old laughs yesterday – despite both of us having a 3.30am start, a tricky meeting at the Cabinet Office and the usual mixed bag of rushing around London for meetings, juggling stuff as we go.  Along the way, and starting at 5.30am, we also discussed everything that both of us are working on, we did some long term strategic planning, we both chatted to a number of colleagues, customers and partners, sketched out a couple of new products or markets for existing parts of the Learning Pool portfolio, swapped the usual load of gossip (mainly about other entrepreneurs or businesses), exchanged views on the content of business books we are both reading (cuts down on individual reading time if your business partner reads it & gives you a précis of course), managed to have both breakfast & lunch in the most random of places, went through some sort of time/space portal at Stansted airport, took two plane journeys & two long drives each, but were emailing again when we got to our respective homes last night.  The relationship anyone has (should have) with their business partner is pretty intense and full on.  I’ll refer you to a previous blog of mine if you’re interested in reading more about this – it’s here https://kickingassets.co.uk/two-heads-are-better-than-one-10-pros-of-havi

We’ve been working together like this for 8 years, we rarely disagree and you couldn’t put a cigarette paper in between us.  I guess that’s what I’m going to miss most.

 

Job Hunting? Be careful you don’t cross the line into canvassing…

Ear_whispering

It’s a dog eat dog world out there, especially if you’re on the hunt for a job.  I’ve written a number of blogs over the past couple of years offering advice to people looking for new employment opportunities or getting ready to attend interviews and I always encourage people to be as proactive as they can.  This means being alert to opportunities as they come up, using your networks, sending carefully crafted emails or letters & cvs to organisations you want to work for, etc.  As we all know, a large percentage of jobs are never advertised – so it’s important that you get yourself on the radar.

However, you can go too far.  When that happens you can be in danger of either being disqualified for canvassing or you can just annoy someone so much that they put you on the “no thanks” list before you even get a chance to shine.

Recently I’ve started to receive large numbers of Linked In requests from people I don’t know.  Many of them are people that are looking for work.  Guys – this isn’t going to do you any favours.  First of all, I only connect with people on Linked In that I have met in real life & know and like.  I joked when David Cameron joined Linked In that he needn’t bother sending me a request as I wouldn’t accept it.  It’s the truth.  In my mind, it’s pointless being professionally “connected” with hundreds of people that I don’t know.  Twitter’s the place for that.

Sometimes, before I click the “ignore” option, I do take a look at the person’s Linked In profile.  Call that what you like – nosiness, curiosity, even politeness.  I live in Northern Ireland so if it’s a name I half recognise or someone that I think I may have met, I look at the profile to find out more information.  Surely that’s the point of having profiles.

I don’t then expect that person to send me a public tweet thanking me for looking at their Linked In profile & saying they hope Learning Pool will be in touch with them shortly.

This is so wrong on so many levels:

1.       If we’ve advertised job vacancies, we’re in a process and using social media in this way to promote yourself to people in the company could be construed by some to be canvassing, and that can result in your application being disqualified from the process.  In Northern Ireland we work within very strict recruitment guidelines in order to meet legislation around equal opportunities in employment.

2.       I might sit in on interviews from time to time and I might meet people before we offer them a job, but it will be our team leads that are driving the recruitment process at Learning Pool not me.  If you contact me outside of the process, I am unlikely to know anything about the particular process you are in (we advertised 10 vacancies in the press on 27 December) and even if I was interested in your experience and skillset, I’m unlikely to mention you to one of our team leads – they’ll pick it up themselves as part of their shortlisting activity.

If you’re looking for a job & want to work at Learning Pool, spend time & effort instead improving your cv (most of the ones I see are dire) and writing a decent covering letter.  Or spend time getting onto our radar before we actually go out to recruitment – so that we already know you.  There are many ways you can do this – intelligent commenting on our forums, writing an interesting personal blog & making us aware of that, conducting interactions with us on Twitter or coming along to our events & chatting to us.

I know that many of you will have opinions or questions about this topic and I hope we can have some debate in the comments section.  As always, love to have your input.

How to present yourself well at job interviews

Resumepic

In my job I do a lot of interviewing, both for Learning Pool & for other organisations that ask me to help them out with this from time to time.  It’s taken a lot of effort to find and assemble the 50 or so perfect (ish) people that form Learning Pool’s current #teamlovely.

There are no doubt thousands of books written on this topic but having been involved in two sets of interviews this week alone, these are my top tips for interview success.  You will have loads more tips of your own & I hope you’ll share them with us in the comments section below.

·         Do take a few deep breaths before you go into your interview & try to remain calm; we know you’re nervous but you have to be able to manage your interview nerves

·         Don’t bring in a load of files & papers & copies of cvs to your interview – it’s distracting & makes you appear disorganised/forgetful/dishonest (as in you can’t remember stuff about your own career!)

·         Don’t take notes or write stuff down – again – it’s distracting

·         Instead, do really focus on what the panel are telling you or asking you; 30% of the people I interviewed this week (yep – you heard that right) asked for the question to be repeated when they were already half way through answering it.

·         Do manage your time well.  You will know in advance how long your interview is likely to be.  Don’t ramble on for ages when answering what are clearly icebreaker questions designed to make you relax a bit or you’ll have no time left to get onto the stuff you want to tell them about yourself.

·         Do really do your homework about the organisation & think about the job so that you can pre-empt the questions you might be asked – not to stalker level obviously, although if you have carried out research that’s that thorough, don’t tell the interview panel – it will scare them.

·         Do be friendly & chatty but don’t be too over familiar or go too overboard in your enthusiasm for the organisation

·         Do pre-prepare enough questions so that if some of them get covered off in the course of the interview you still have one or two left

·         Don’t ask about money in the first interview stage unless either the panel brings it up or you’re there for a sales job

·         Do think carefully about why you want the job & why you want to join that organisation as they will probably ask you – saying it’s because it’s close to the train station isn’t a good response.

I’ll leave you today with some of the weirdest interview behaviours we’ve witnessed lately:

·         The guy that drank about 3 pints of water

·         The girl that told us she would do ANYTHING to get the job – Paul’s face was a picture on that occasion

·         The guy that turned up dressed head to toe in white, including a hat

·         The girl that couldn’t stop crying – that was difficult to cope with

·         The girl that didn’t appear to have read the job description at all – despite having submitted a detailed application form

·         The guy who was so argumentative that we had to stop the interview & start over again

Looking forward to your stories, as always.

Top 5 qualities the start-up CEO wants from team members

Start_up_employee

You have to be a certain sort of person to get on well in a start-up and there’s no doubt it isn’t a suitable career choice for everyone.  I thought a quick “top 5 qualities” may be useful for any of you out there that are wondering if this sort of adventure is for you.

My original list was much longer but I’ve whittled it down to the 5 that matter most to me – I realise that this is personal to me and many of you will have some of your own that you wish to add in the comments section.

Read on if you’ve been bitten by the start-up bug or are thinking you might jump in to the technology bubble that’s rapidly exploding right now.

1.       POSITIVITY No-one wants to listen to or work alongside a whinger or sniper.  Yeah – things generally aren’t even close to perfect in a start-up environment but get over it & get over yourself & you’ll  make a far better team member.

2.       HARD WORK No getting away from this one folks.  You cannot cover off everything you need to by working 9-5 for 5 days a week.  If that’s all you can give, stay well away from start-up land.

3.       COMMITMENT I want to know you’re gonna stick around long enough for me to recoup my investment in you – and there will be one.  The flip side to that is the minute you’re gone, you’re gone – don’t expect a leaving party & sad farewells in a start-up; no-one has time for that.

4.       ENTHUSIASM AND ENERGY Enthusiasm for what we’re all trying to achieve, hunger for success and energy which manifests itself as urgency in all that you do.  Don’t come sloping in to work at 9am telling me you are tired.  I don’t want to hear it.

5.       A SOLUTIONS FOCUSED OUTLOOK Don’t bring me problems.  We have millions of those already.  Push yourself a bit, work it out & bring me a solution.  I like that a lot better.

You’ll note nothing on the list has anything to do with your skills.  I guess they’re a given & a secondary consideration.

As always your comments are welcome – keep them coming & I look forward to reading them.

 

So you’re staring at redundancy…what happens next

Change_of_seasons

This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about the people I know or have heard about, especially in the wider public sector, who were made redundant from their jobs on 31 March.  To some folk this may have come as a surprise, to others they’ll have had a sinking feeling this was going to happen for some time – perhaps since the change of government last May.  For everyone it’s a shock and sometimes a relief.  A shock because your pride is dented and in your heart you wonder why you were picked and not someone else.  A relief because perhaps you’ve know for a long time that you weren’t getting enough from your job or the organisation you were working for – you had become a “prisoner” – reliant on your regular salary to pay the bills & taking the easier option of leaving things as they are instead of grasping the nettle & making a change in your life.  It’s ok – we all do this and not just with our careers!

I thought I’d drop a few thoughts down in my blog in case it helps a couple of people out there, especially those that are going to use what’s happened to them as an opportunity to take stock and think about a complete change in career or change in direction.

First thing to do is not to rush into any decisions but think about what you’d like to do next and avail of any help your former employer has provided – especially the services of a career coach if you’ve been offered one.  On this, do take whatever you’ve been offered – you never know what you might learn or who else you might meet.  Seek advice or read up about coping with change and how to go about starting an active thinking programme.  Consider all your previous experience and what else it might enable or equip you to do – many people will have passively thought about changing their career so you may have already planned what else you could do.

Next make a plan.  Type it up or write it all out longhand but do physically do this.  It’s cathartic and research has shown that if you write a plan in this way it’s much more likely to happen.  Get your family on board and keep your partner in the loop – especially in terms of any significant changes you are considering (perhaps moving to another place) or any changes you need to make to your immediate financial plans and household budget.

Once you’ve narrowed down the jobs and sectors you’re interested in, do some research on the companies & players and keep in mind that 70% of jobs never get as far as being advertised.  Target your chosen companies or organisations carefully and beware when using job agencies – sometimes they flood the market with your cv or worse still employers see your cv coming in from several agencies in a most random way and this makes you appear desperate.  Remember that there are always opportunities and there are always opportunities for good people. 

Take a long hard look at your cv and show it to someone else (not your mum) once you’ve reviewed and updated it.  Do the same with your LinkedIn profile and any other online presence you have such as a blog – prospective employers will always check you out online.  As a small, growing business, Learning Pool has spent the last 5 years in recruitment and on the lookout for new people – it’s the most important activity that Paul & I undertake as our team is everything.  Many of the cvs we see are awful – they’re too long, the good stuff is hidden away & too hard to see, the cv is generic for any job, there’s nothing in the covering letter that sells the person for this specific opening, the person hasn’t thought about how they would bring value to our company & enrich our existing team, the person hasn’t thought about anything and so on.  I wrote a New Year’s blog related to job seeking which you can read at this link http://bit.ly/h6H077

Think about your network and don’t be afraid to use it. 

In summary:

1.       Don’t panic, stay calm & take stock

2.       Use any “free” resources you’ve been offered

3.       Make a plan

4.       Research the market – approach this like a full time job

5.       Use your network

6.       Carefully target organisations you are interested in; I would do this before signing up with an agency

7.       Brush up on your interview techniques, take a good look at yourself in the mirror & buy a new suit or interview outfit and get a haircut (remember all that stuff about first impressions being based on how you look – regrettable but true)

8.       Don’t give up, keep looking; opportunities do exist out there

9.       Keep an open mind about anything you come across & don’t rule opportunities out too quickly

10.   Keep busy, take up volunteering, catch up on things you’ve been too busy to do, exercise.

Just to finish, some of you might be interested to know that I elected to take voluntary redundancy in 2003.  I was glad to do it but at the time it was uncomfortable as I had always taken the easy career options.  For the following 2 years I worked as a freelance consultant and this moved me out of my previous comfort zone.  It also opened a lot of doors and I met a lot of new people.  The eventual outcome for me was that I completely changed the direction of my career and I have no regrets.  Not a single one.  Remember that you make your own luck and you’re unlikely to find it sitting in the house.

As always interested in your comments and stories – please keep them coming as I love to read them.