A Solopreneur’s Daily Formula For Success

Since making the leap from corporate life to solopreneurship a decade ago, I’ve honed the art of self-discipline. But as my interests evolve and change, the distractions soar. If I’m going to make a success of my online business, my daily routine needs some re-calibration.

I’m a morning person, and prefer to be left alone as I set my course for the day. After a walk with the dog, shower and breakfast, the first hour at the desk dictates my daily accomplishments. My mind is fresh and I’m at my best. Whether I’m working from home, offsite with a client or travelling, this formula seldom wavers.

My formula for a successful day has three components:

ENVIRONMENT

I’m at my desk by 8.30am. I’ve always had a dedicated home office which is comfortable, and fitted out with all the resources I need to get stuff done. My desk faces the window, so there’s plenty of light and an outlook to the world. With my dog asleep under the desk, I have companionship. The only distractions are self-imposed.

EMAILS

I read, respond and delete emails as required. If I find articles of interest, I share them. Unless something needs urgent attention, I try not to get sucked into the black hole of social media.

SCHEDULE

I review my work schedule then download and sort the things on my mind. A bundle of Sharpies makes this task a whole lot more colourful! The low value time-sucking jobs are separated from the work which needs my attention. I’ll review, prioritise and allocate myself a discrete chunk of a project to be completed that morning.

Now I’m ready to focus on service delivery.

I have a clear runway to create and develop course content or write blog posts. Although I have stretch breaks on the hour, I’m absorbed by the flow of productivity until noon. Then I’m free for client meetings, making connections, social media and tackling low priority tasks on the list.

And there’s always time for cafe conversations with colleagues and friends, who inspire and re-fuel me for another day.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 5 

 

 

 

 

Superpowers Unplugged

The first step for anyone confronting a career change is take a good hard look at themselves – in the nicest possible way of course.

Each career pitstop is the perfect time to review and reflect on your roles and responsibilities to date. This includes identifying what you enjoy, what you do well, and what the market wants. The intersection of all three is referred to as your sweet spot, strengths or in this post – ‘superpowers’.

Today the focus is on my superpowers. Although I’m a bit of a chameleon, there are two common threads weaving through my career.

Superpower 1: Interviewing

I have form as an interviewer. I’m insatiably curious about people, and what they do. My early career involved recruiting school-leavers, graduates, and selecting staff for offshore roles. After I left corporate life I became an executive recruitment consultant. My first assignment was to find two Aides for the Governor of Victoria. I was off like a rocket!

Interviewing skills have translated into my current work as a career consultant and coach. This passion and expertise enables me to listen to people, challenge their thinking, and make suggestions about the next steps. My knowledge of an individual’s backstory and aspirations also helps as we explore their options, which engages my other ‘superpower’.

Superpower 2: Ideas

As someone with eclectic interests, I get excited by ideas. The people I work with are often deeply immersed in their day jobs. They haven’t had much time to check what’s happening outside their company or industry. I become the conduit between their current position and the world of possibilities.

I love pushing the boundaries, and encourage clients to think about both the common and less obvious choices. While I like to inspire the people I work with, I try to package ideas with pragmatism.

My superpowers give me the freedom to enjoy a variety of projects. And as much as I prefer the ‘high-touch’ environment in which to unleash my superpowers, technology allows me to connect with more of the people I love to work with.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 4 

My Imperfect Day

My day will take on a new meaning and shape soon. The past two years have involved bold decisions and gutsy lifestyle changes. But after the death of my mother and sale of the family home this year, I’m at another crossroad.

I’ve just returned from an indulgent winter escape. I soaked up the heat on my skin, dressed in over-sized pineapple-print shorts and just let the day evolve. I had no real decisions to make – other than a swim in the sea or the pool outside my bedroom window.  While meal-times didn’t bother me, the languid strolls in search of a coffee fix were always an early morning priority.

But I’m home now. There’s a wide open stretch of road ahead of me. The vision board that’s been curated in my head, is coming to life.

Although each day takes on a life of its own, one routine is never compromised. The early morning walk with my spoodle, Chica. And we have options for each season and weather forecast. That walk happens rain, hail or shine. Chica seems to know when it’s time for me to stop and smell the roses, and I’m always left inspired and energised for the day.

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I love breakfast with blueberries and green tea. It’s another non-negotiable. After checking into my online world, I spend the morning planning, creating e-courses and developing my membership site. This is my best thinking time – and when I’m most productive. By noon I’m ready to leave the house and engage with the world, and this is always over coffee and sometimes, after an Xtend Barre class.

Afternoons are spent with private career coaching clients, meeting colleagues or e-course collaborators. There’s always flex built in for the well-timed interruption or something spontaneous! By 5pm I’m ready to wind down and settle into the evening. If it’s a lovely summer’s night, there’ll be another walk with Chica, some quiet reflection and discussion with my partner over dinner, followed by a good dose of British TV.

My day will be imperfect, just the way I like it.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 3

 

Why I’m a Career Coach

Career Management has an image problem. It’s often led by organisations rather than individuals; an after-thought, just-in-time or overlooked altogether.

I’m fired up about challenging the status quo, and want to give style to career transition and change.

My mission is to help professionals make career moves on their terms. It’s easy for savvy professionals to lose touch with the realities of a turbulent marketplace. Consumed with their day job, it becomes a low priority, until circumstances change – sometimes abruptly.

As ‘jobs for life’ are almost extinct and redundancies have become a routine business process, I want professionals to insure their careers so they have the freedom to choose their next career opportunity. Job loss and career transition is far easier to manage when someone is career fit.

There are a couple of other things which inspire me as a career coach:

The new career mid-point

In their recent book The 100 Year Life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott discuss how new technologies are enabling us to work and live longer. The traditional view of retirement has changed, the nature of work will continue to evolve, and career navigation will be on a jungle gym – not rungs on a ladder.

Fifty is the new career mid-point. People who invest in their careers will have a competitive advantage. If an individual’s skills and expertise have currency, they are more likely to have ongoing employment, which directly impacts their options and quality of life.

Women + Economic Independence

I’m passionate about women investing in themselves and their careers, irrespective of marital or motherhood status. If a woman has economic independence, she has freedom and choice. When women have sustainable careers – families, organisations and communities thrive.

Everyone deserves career fulfilment. That’s Why I’m a Career Coach.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 2

My Own Career Style Challenge

Since breaking up with a conventional job and going solo 11 years ago, I have created a lifestyle which gives me the latitude and wriggle room that I love. It was a bold move, and I’m grateful for all the people who’ve given me the work to fuel my career aspirations, and earn my own living through feast and famine.

I have leveraged and built upon my expertise, and helped thousands of professionals to negotiate the stepping stones of their careers. I launched a website so potential clients could learn about me, how I worked and the services I offered. That website has been tweaked, plucked and re-styled more times than I’ve had soy lattes. About five years ago, I added a blog – which allowed me to capture and share my thoughts, and let readers learn a little more about me and how I work with others.

I tippy-toed my way into the social media jungle, soaked up ideas and was inspired. I almost drowned in the oceans of articles on building an online business. I have headaches from evangelical gurus shouting about the importance of building a tribe. I’ve invested in plenty of e-courses. I’m done with thinking. I need more doing and feedback.

However I know that if I’m going to take my career coaching to a wider audience, I need to crack the code in a way that’s faithful to how I like to work with people, and how I want to engage with them in an online world.

There are still a couple of things that I need to tackle as I build my community of online clients.

Find my inner athlete

Although I don’t have a competitive spirit, I do have an internal picture of where I want to take my business. It’s a kind of ‘big, hairy audacious goal’ –  and a little woolly around the fringes. Ideas and possibilities excite and distract me. I need to take some of my own medicine and create a few loose goals with time-frames, and monitor my progress. But just thinking about the granularity of this process exhausts me. Some bright colours and images might make this discipline a whole lot sweeter!

Connect with a wider audience

Despite having loads of advice, tips, templates and software at my disposal, sometimes I feel like I’m hitting my head against a virtual wall. Although active in the online world, I have limited reach. One of my biggest surprises has been the potency of Facebook groups, which enable members to share and learn in a supportive environment. These groups also provide a testing ground as I develop e-courses that are welcome by the clients I’d like to attract, and help with their careers.

And while my own Career Style Challenge is an ongoing work in progress, I haven’t looked back.

This blog post is in response to Natalie’s 10 Day Freedom Plan Blog Challenge Day 1

 

Tips to Get Interview-Ready

You’ve got the interview. Now prepare for just about every situation with these interview tips from leading industry experts, on how to prepare for an interview, what to wear to an interview, what to expect during an interview, the most difficult interview questions, the strangest questions you may get asked, questions you should and shouldn’t ask during an interview, how to handle the ‘weakness’ question and what to do after the interview.

How to prepare for an interview

10 quirky tips to beat interview nerves  Robin Kermode

10 ways to calm your interview anxiety  Katharine Brook

How to answer the top interview questions  Undercover Recruiter

How to stand out in your interview Amy Gallo

5 tips to ace your next job interview Samuel Edwards

5 sure-fire ways to lose your interview within the first 30 seconds Karalyn Brown

Stand out in your interview Amy Gallo

How to nail the dreaded phone interview Kate Finley

How to show trustworthiness in a job interview Heidi Grant Halvorsen

10 signs that the interview went well Stephanie Vozza


What to wear to an interview

What to wear to a job interview Liz Ryan

Dress to impress: what to wear to a job interview Chris Smith

How to dress for your job interview  Undercover Recruiter

What to wear for a job interview Jess Keys

I've got the interview, now what do I wear Michelle Lopez

Suiting Up for Success: Job Interview Attire for Women Diane Gottsman

Suiting Up for Success: Job Interview Attire For Men Diane Gottsman

What to wear to a job interview Michelle Lau

The perfect outfit for every type of interview Lauren Le Vine

What to wear at an interview Corinne Mills


What to expect during an interview

8 questions interviewers use to figure out who you are The Muse

How to answer the 31 most common interview questions The Muse

How to answer the 'Tell me about a time when...' interview questions  The Muse

88 great behavioural interview questions to help you prepare for your next interview Karalyn Brown

4 super-common interview question and 4 super-memorable ways to answer them The Muse

13 things not to before & during a job interview Rhett Power

Smarter alternative to the usual stupid interview questions Liz Ryan

4 things you must absolutely convey by the end of an interview The Muse

6 job interview slips ups Undercover Recruiter


The most difficult interview questions

The secret formula to answering 'What's you dream job?' in an interview The Muse

3 Better ways to answer 'Why should we hire you?' The Muse

8 stealth questions that will reveal your true character Zoe Henry

The 20 hardest questions to be asked in an interview Undercover Recruiter

10 toughest interview questions answered Forbes

Google's HR Boss: Focus on these interview questions Jessica Stillman

9 interview questions you should always ask millennials David van Rooy

Former Goldman Sachs employee shares favorite interview question Jacquelyn Smith


The strangest questions you might get asked

How to answer the weird interview questions Undercover Recruiter

10 weird interview questions that you need to be prepared for April Fong

13 weird job interview questions the best companies in America are asking Rachel Gillett

The worst 25 crazy interview questions (and why they're a waste of time) Adam Vaccaro


How to handle the weakness question

How to handle the dreaded "What is your weakness" question Caroline Ceniza-Levine

4 new ways to answer the weakness question Melissa Ilarena

The worst interview question (and how to answer it) Priscilla Claman

How to answer the weakness question Undercover Recruiter

How to answer the dreaded "What's your biggest weakness" question in a job interview Jacquelyn Smith

Stop answering "What's your greatest weakness" with badly-spun positives Alan Henry


Questions to never ask during the interview

10 questions you should never ask in a job interview Forbes

16 questions you should never ask at the end of a job interview Jacquelyn Smith

10 interview questions you should never ask (and 5 you always should) The Muse

4 questions that will cost you the interview (and what to ask instead) The Muse

6 things that successful applicants avoid saying during job interviews Alex Malley


Questions you should ask during the interview

10 job interview questions you should ask Joe Konop

52 interview questions you should be asking The Muse

10 questions to ask in job interviews Guardian Careers

8 questions every candidate should be asking during job interviews Jerome Ternynck

15 smart questions to ask at the end of every job interview Jacquelyn Smith

9 killer questions candidates ought to ask the interviewer Undercover Recruiter

The 8 most impressive questions you can ask in a job interview Jacquelyn Smith

The top questions to ask in an interview Undercover Recruiter

The top 10 questions to ask in job interviews Guardian Careers


What to do after the interview

5 things you should do instead of over-analyzing your interview and driving yourself crazy The Muse

5 horrible interview moments you need to stop over-analyzing The Muse

Following up after the interview Undercover Recruiter

10 things to do after the job interview Nancy Collamer

5 things you must do after an interview Sarah K White

The right way to say thanks after an interview Lydia Dishman

The interview thank you email vs letter vs note Donna Svei


How to handle panel interviews

The firing squad - how to survive a panel interview The Muse

7 tips for a successful panel interview Lisa Quast

Master the panel interview John O’Connor

How to prepare for a panel interview Undercover Recruiter

How to conduct panel interview and why're they're better than 1 on 1 Lou Adler


Extra tips for executives

How to ace an executive level job interview Kevin Daley & Dale Klamforth

10 job interview tips from a CEO headhunter Russell S Reynolds Jr & Carole E Curtis

Prepare to ace and brand your c-level executive job interview Meg Guiseppi

Top executive recruiters agree there are only three true job interview questions George Bradt

 

Referees, Reference Checks & Recruiters

Reference checks are more than a column of ticks on a template. Done well, they seal the deal between the preferred job applicant and a happy client. When I was executive recruitment consultant, I enjoyed  speaking to referees. I would get off the phone energised by the fresh insights I had about a candidate,  which helped confirm the person’s match for the role, and the value they’d bring to the organisation.

When should you provide names of referees?

Although you may be asked for referees early in the recruitment process, this is for expediency and the recruiter’s benefit – not yours. These details aren’t needed until after an interview or you’ve been short-listed for the position. It’s unethical and unprofessional for anyone to contact your referees before you’ve had a discussion (preferably an interview) with a recruiter about a position. Recruiters must seek your permission prior to contacting your referees.

Leave referee contact details off your resume – you risk them being contacted before you’ve even spoken to or met a recruiter. Read about the pitfalls in Nicole Underwood’s post here. Respect your referees’ privacy and time – only offer their details after you’ve indicated your interest in the job, and you’ve made progress in the selection process. Brief your referees and share any relevant information about the position – before you give contact details to a recruiter.

“References provide an accurate, third-party assessment of your strengths and weaknesses so managers can hire knowing full information…Given the option of either interviewing a candidate withoutchecking references or checking references without interviewing, I would choose the latter.” Claudio Fernández-Aráoz

Why do recruiters speak to referees?

In addition to verifying the basic facts about an individual’s experience and qualifications, referees bring so much more to the interview process.

Referees help to fill in the gaps, giving the recruiter a more complete picture about an applicant’s capabilities and potential to meet the job requirements. Any concerns the recruiter or client has about the candidate’s expertise and fit for the job – especially when the he/she doesn’t tick all the boxes, can also be addressed with a referee.

Recruiters often undertake a reference check before progressing the applicant to the short-list stage – and prior to meeting their client. Once the person has been identified as the preferred candidate for the job, the remaining referees will be contacted. A final job offer can be made after all of these checks have been satisfactorily completed.

Who should you nominate as referees?

People you’ve reported to in your last couple of roles will be the first referees sought by recruiters, regardless of the nature of your relationship with them.  And often a variety of referees gives recruitment consultants a 360 degree view of you, your performance, and how you work with others.

In his Harvard Business Review post How to Choose the Right References, Fernández-Aráoz  suggests providing a list of former bosses, peers, and subordinates at several previous places of employment. Former bosses are great at assessing strategic orientation and achievement drive; peers can help to measure influence; subordinates are often the best judges of leadership.

Where it’s difficult to provide referees from your current organisation, a recruiter may ask to speak to customers, service providers or other key external stakeholders who are familiar with your work.

It goes without saying that any referee should have a good understanding of your work, and be able to express this clearly during a conversation with a recruiter. I’ve spoken to famous people who couldn’t offer anything other than a character reference for a candidate. While they work well for community roles and tenancy applications, personal referees aren’t effective in a professional recruitment process.

A good recruiter will be open to and balance all referee feedback –  good, bad and indifferent. Share any concerns upfront with the recruiter who will guide you about the best people to approach.

What makes a good reference check?

The best reference checks are rigorous professional conversations, which can take 20 minutes or more. Once the basic details are verified (eg employment dates, qualifications, reporting relationships and accomplishments), the discussion will focus on attitude, capability, and fit.

Although each recruiter has their own approach, most questions will relate to the selection criteria for the position. Other questions may refer to specific issues raised by the recruiter or the client during the interview process. By the end of the conversation, the recruiter wants to feel confident that the individual meets their client’s requirements, and is a good cultural fit for the organisation. Only then does the job applicant become a short-listed candidate for the job.

Reference check conversations can be as different as the recruiters, candidates and referees involved. And the best reference checks occur when the referee is articulate and clearly informed about the candidate’s experience and career options.

How to Manage the Job Search Roller-coaster

Wished for or imposed upon, redundancy, job loss and unemployment can profoundly impact our economical and emotional well-being.

According to the American Psychological Association, recent research indicates that unemployment can change people’s core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for their to find new jobs, particularly as their period of unemployment becomes more protracted.

Although generous redundancy packages make the transition a lot sweeter, there can be many challenges as professionals review their options and step into the job market.

So what can you do to stay upbeat, and handle the roller-coaster ride to new employment?

1. Create a Support Network

It’s hard to manage a career change on your own. Take advantage of any outplacement services, career transition programs or coaching offered by your former employer. Professional support provides the structure, tools and tactics to get you off to a flying start. Even if you’re confident about job-hunting, access this expertise to review your plan.

Reach out to family, friends, neighbours, former colleagues, playground parents and professional contacts – all of whom may be able to give advice and leads during your job search. Cast your net widely, and explore new networks – in person and online. While those closer to you can give moral support, your ‘weaker’ business connections can often alert you to opportunities and provide valuable feedback.

2. Develop a Financial Plan

A lump sum can look very seductive when it hits the bank account. Watching it dwindle as the monthly paycheck stops isn’t as much fun. Analyse the real cost of this down-time, and develop a budget to avoid any surprises along the way. Involve family members where appropriate, especially if expectations need to managed and belts tightened.

And identify a fall-back position now – work you can easily find to generate cash-flow and relieve some of the pressure if things get tough. Once a financial plan is in place, a protracted job search may seem less daunting. If you need help, get professional advice.

3. Nurture yourself

Despite your best efforts, there will be occasions when your job search appears to lose momentum and take a nose-dive. All you can hear are ‘crickets’.

Take a deep breath and make room for both you and the market to re-charge. Regular breaks are good for the mind, body and soul, and help the days pass quickly. Whether it’s a weekend away, a school excursion, an exercise regime, a training course, a home renovation project, or volunteering, any positive distraction will give you something else to think about.

A clear mind will help you to focus on what you’d like to do, where you want to work, and what you offer your next employer. There’s nothing more attractive to a recruiter than someone who can articulate why they’re a good fit for the job.

4. Make a Career Plan

Successful job search is based on a good understanding of what you offer, and what employers want at the time. This involves research, planning, and action. And finding the right balance is critical. All the preparation in the world can only progress your job search if you get away from the screen, and engage with others – in person.

As industries and organisations restructure, the demand for some roles and expertise may shift. Do your own due diligence online and via your connections. Talk to people, seek their advice and input. Identify at least two options, do some scenario planning and be prepared to work differently. If you need to ride out a business cycle, consider new industries that welcome your expertise.

Surveys and anecdotal feedback confirm time and again that around 70% of jobs are found through people you know. Although the ‘visible’ job market can produce good results for some job seekers, the gold is often discovered in the ‘hidden’ job market. It’s important to invest at least equal time talking to recruiters and people in your network. Focus on professional conversations that progress your understanding about your prospects, rather than asking for a job. The more you know about yourself vs the prevailing job market, the better your chances of landing the right role, at least for now.

It takes a network to find new employment, and we all have the potential to make a difference to someone’s job search, and sense of well-being. If you know someone experiencing job loss (whether wished for or imposed upon), please share this post.

 

The Low-down on Recruiters (Part 4)

You’ve got the interview, now what?

An interview is like an audition, and it’s important to give the interviewer what they want in the time available.

It’s an investment of time and energy on both sides. If the discussion doesn’t lead to being considered for the position advertised, other opportunities may be shared with you.

Sometimes a recruiter may invite you for a ‘general’ discussion. As you won’t have a potential job to target, you are selling your expertise, experience, the value you offer an employer and your preferred job options during that time. These meetings are more like networking conversations, so tap into the recruiter’s knowledge where possible.

Whatever the nature of the interview, it’s an opportunity expand your network, and understanding of the job market.

  • Review & familiarise yourself with the resume you’ve sent to the recruiter.
  • Identify your best examples of your strengths where you’ve demonstrated them in previous roles. Know your greatest achievements.
  • Reflect on your motivations and behaviour in the workplace.
  • Is there a job PD? All the clues will be there, especially any selection criteria.
  • Tidy up & edit your LinkedIn profile; review profiles for the interviewer, people working in the company. Look for a company page, review latest developments in the industry, organisation.
  • Dress to impress for the culture of the organisation.
  • Double check location, transport, parking – get there early. There’s rarely a good excuse for being late.
  • Know your market worth and what it would take for you to accept a job offer.

What to expect in an interview

A general interview vs a job-specific interview will be quite different, with the latter digging more into the requirements of a specific job.

Whatever the nature of the interview with a recruiter, be prepared for the following:

Tell me about yourself

Although I never asked this question, be prepared for some informal conversation at the beginning of the interview. While this is an exercise of courtesy and rapport-building, you’re being assessed from the get-go. And by the way, the receptionist has probably already shared her first impression with the recruiter.

While every recruiter has their preferred interviewing process, an open-ended question allows the recruiter to learn more about how you respond to these situations. Keep the response brief (which is where those 60 second commercials come in handy) and professional.

The recruiter is in control

In most cases the recruiter has allowed 30 minutes to an hour for the initial meeting. If the interview is directed towards a job you’ve applied for, expect a tight process which enables the recruiter to determine if you’re a good candidate, and worth progressing to the short-list stage. This is where your preparation pays off!

Career Ladder or Jungle Gym?

What does your career path look like? Are you climbing a ladder, or has your career taken you through a zig-zag of moves, with the end goal in mind?

Globalisation and technology have transformed organisations over the past two decades. Professionals now navigate flatter structures, which may offer limited and less visible pathways to career progression. With a few exceptions, well sign-posted careers are so very last century.

In her book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg refers to her own career path as being more like scrambling a jungle gym, than climbing a ladder. Where a career ladder offers just one way to get to the top, she writes there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.

“The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or reentering the workforce after taking time off. The ability to forge a unique path, with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance of fulfilment. Plus a jungle gym provides great views for many people, not just those at the top.”

MaryFinal

While it’s easy to think Sheryl has enjoyed a charmed career, every step has been carefully researched and executed. And in doing her due diligence, Sheryl has engaged the following:

  • A clear understanding of her values, strengths & expertise
  • An ability to network, and nurture her relationship with mentors and sponsors
  • Being prepared to challenge assumptions, and embrace uncertainty
  • Openness to diverse experiences, and opportunities offering growth
  • An orientation to ongoing learning, and acquisition of new skills
“The reason I don’t have a plan, is if I have a plan, I’m limited to today’s options.”  Sheryl Sandberg

What can you learn from Sheryl Sandberg’s career progression? Are you limiting yourself to the traditional or more obvious choices? Do you need to challenge your approach?