Seeing “value” in our work

November 30, 2018

I was recently asked to deliver a session on “Communication and attitudes at work” for interns working in my office. In order to assess their needs better, I sent them a short questionnaire before the session.
Answers to my first question — where do you see yourself five years from now — were as follows:
1. Not sure!
2. Not in a precarious work situation;
3. In a position that I appreciate and feel challenged to do more
4. See value in what I do.

The responses provided a good beginning for the session.
Not being sure of your goal cannot be an option. Every road will take you somewhere if you don’t know where to go. In fact, being in a precarious work situation is often a result of not having a clear goal in mind.

The third and fourth points are critical. People need to appreciate what they do, feel challenged to do more; and see value in what they do.

How can we see “value” in our work?

See the bigger goal: At times our work looks trivial, mundane, or meaningless. But actually it is never so. Step back and think. There is always a larger purpose. When we keep the larger picture in mind, we value our work, no matter how small it may appear.

Accept challenges: Challenges at work help us grow. They may be different: tight deadlines, unsupportive colleagues, a rude boss, multi-tasking, not achieving the desired results etc.
The success lies in handling them, not giving up. Remember the old saying – a calm sea never makes a good sailor!
And, when the going gets tough, take a break. Take a walk. Enjoy the nature. You will come back refreshed, rejuvenated, and raring to go again.

Do what you like: In one of my earlier posts — find relevance in your work — I had shared the story of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. Knight was failing as a salesman, not because he was not good at selling, he was not selling the product he was interested in. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled. So, we should look for the work that we like to do.
Pursuing a goal that we believe in gets the best out of us.

What makes a good CV?

September 29, 2015

Are there instances when you applied for a job but were not shortlisted? — was the question I asked at the beginning. I was facilitating a session on “Preparing CV and succeeding in Interview” for my office interns recently. Several hands went up. We deliberated upon possible reasons and ended up discussing what makes a good CV.  I shared the following five points:

CV should be tailor-made to the post:

Like you dress up differently to suit the occasion, your CV needs to have a fresh look and appeal to be attractive to the post you are applying for.  A participant rightly asked how to do this as job descriptions often ask for a number of essential and preferable competencies. It can indeed be challenging. My suggestions were: review the vacancy notice carefully and write down 3-4 key requirements. If you think you fulfil these key requirements, highlight them clearly in the CV.

Give an honest description of yourself and your work:

Be honest while describing your qualification, work experience and personal information.  Don’t write things you were remotely associated with. Don’t use big words or jargons, unless you really have  a hands-on experience of them.  For example, don’t say you edited a document if you simply proof-read it. Don’t say you developed a strategy if you were just a part of the process.

Provide specific information about your knowledge, skills, and contribution:

Your work experience should be written in a way that highlights your specific role and contribution to a team/project or the organization you worked for in the past.

Keep it short:

A good CV is short. I would not prescribe a page limit to this but would say keep it as short as you can. Reviewers don’t like to read long CVs. The points raised earlier about being honest and specific would help you in keeping it short.

Update the CV and check for errors:

Make sure that your CV is updated in terms of address, phone numbers, skills you acquired recently etc.  And before you submit, make sure there are no errors. It will be better to give it to a friend or a colleague to read. Another eye may spot an error which you may have overlooked. And you might get some good suggestions as well.


Keep your promise!

January 31, 2015

Abraham Lincoln once travelled with a Colonel. After covering some distance, the Colonel took out a bottle of whiskey and asked him if he would like to have a drink. Lincoln politely refused telling him that he never drinks whisky. The colonel did not insist further. After a while, the colonel made another offer, “would you like to smoke with me? Lincoln then shared an incident of his childhood with the Colonel.

‘I was about nine years old then. My mother was very sick. She called me and said, “Abey, the doctor tells me I am not going to get well. I want you to promise me before I go that you will never use whiskey or tobacco as long as you live.” I promised my mother I never would. And, I have kept that promise. Now would you advise me to break that promise to my dear mother, and take a smoke with you?’

The Colonel was touched; felt it was the best promise to be kept.

Drug and alcohol addiction mostly start with an experimental use in a social situation. Then for some people, the use becomes more frequent and becomes an addiction. And, we all know what happens as a result.

It pains most when you see a promising career coming to an end due to an addiction. A young man once shared in one of our AIDS conferences, ‘I studied in a very good school. I didn’t realize that the first shot of an injection offered by a friend would change my life for ever. I could not live without it and became a drug addict. I had to often steal money at home to buy what was offered free in the beginning.  My grades dropped and I had to leave the school. And, now I am living with HIV.’

I asked this person after the conference which is your bigger problem: HIV or drugs. He said, ‘Drugs, because with treatment for HIV, I am doing fine but despite several rehabilitation courses, I find it difficult to fully come out of my drug-using behaviour.’

I wish this man, too, had politely refused his first shot like Lincoln did. The lesson from Lincoln’s sorry is for all to remember: If you say no politely, based on a conviction or a promise you have made to someone, your friends will not mind. In fact they will respect you.


Internship: how can it lead to employment?

October 31, 2014

Having read my previous post – Five ideas to make the best of your internship, one of my interns requested me to share some ideas on how to move from internship to employment.

Two questions that bother most interns are: When should one start applying for jobs? And, where should one look for jobs?

I would offer the following tips:

  1. Internship is a way to pretest your career option:  You may decide to seek employment in the same field or sector; or explore another area. Some even decide to go back to school and pursue something entirely different.
  2. Remember, you are making a career choice: People look for different things in a job: a high profile organization to be associated with (it looks fantastic on the CV!); a preferred country to work in; convenience etc. All this is ok but the main issue to ponder over is: does the job provide a good learning opportunity in the chosen career? After all, you are making a career choice. Therefore, the scope of work is more important than the name of the organization. Often, smaller organizations provide greater learning opportunities.
  3. Internship and job hunt go hand in hand: Don’t wait for the internship to be over to start the job hunt. I really appreciate the Syni programme that aims to enhance employment opportunities and collaborates with different organizations. They have a good policy. Their candidates are supposed to work for 80 per cent of their time in an organization and commit the rest of the time to job search: preparing applications, updating the CV and attending various trainings to enhance skills.
  4. Know your organization’s policy with regards to interns: Some organizations have a policy of not offering employment to their interns for a fixed period of time, following the internship. Get to know the policy of the organization you are interning with and plan your strategy accordingly.
  5. Develop your professional network: The main advantage of an internship is that you get to know professionals and develop a networkThis network can provide you important information on potential job opportunities as well as guide you on how to go about it. Remember to take a letter of recommendation from your supervisor. Also, check with the supervisor/others if you could put their name as a referee on your CV.

Finally, how you write your internship experience on your CV is very important.  You must be honest and succinctly capture it under two areas: what was your main contribution? and, What did you learn during the internship?

Five ideas to make the best of your internship

September 29, 2014

Internship is the first exposure to work for many young persons. They enter an organization to learn, to gain experience and enhance their career prospects. Unfortunately internship does not always go well. Interns get frustrated due a number of reasons: lack of clarity in what they are supposed to do; not doing substantial work and being reduced to just another helping hand; supervisor not giving enough time or guidance etc.

Here are 5 ideas that might help:

1. Spend time knowing about the organization particularly in the first week
Read as much as possible and interact with people. Get to know the organization’s vision and work. The first week is ideal for this as interns usually go through an induction, and specific work is not yet assigned. As time passes, it often becomes difficult to spend time on this.

2. Seek clarity on what you are expected to do
Generally there is an agreed ‘Terms of Reference’ but often it is too broad and specifics are not defined. This creates confusion and causes problems. Have meetings with your supervisor and seek clarity on what is expected of you. Make sure to have regular meetings with your supervisor and agree on deliverables as your work may change from time to time.

3. Connect the dots and develop a broader perspective
Understand how your work is connected to the work of your team and the overall scheme of things. Interact with colleagues from other teams and appreciate how different departments work together to contribute to the organizational goal(s). Earlier you understand the importance of inter-dependence and team work, the better it is.

4. Learn and enhance Skills
Make the best of all learning opportunities. You may learn how to develop and execute strategies and plans, organize meetings, workshops or events, training etc. You can also learn how organizational processes are organized. Remember no task is small. Even if you learn how to write minutes of a meeting, it is going to help you forever.

5. Identify role models and mentors
Observe your colleagues. What makes them successful? What do they do differently? You may find role models and mentors. Learn from them and keep in touch with them even after the internship is over. This contact will help you at different stages of your career.

Before I end, I must add that it is also the responsibility of supervisors to ensure that internship is a good experience for interns.

Five things that interviewers appreciate…

May 30, 2013

I wrote my previous post on tackling a specific question in a job interview. Readers have reiterated the issue of “being honest” in the interview. This prompts me to write a few more points on how to conduct oneself during a job interview. I would offer the following five:

  1. Honesty is certainly on top of the list. Interviewers appreciate honest answers. “I don’t know” is a better answer than bluffing and attempting a vague response. One needs to be honest not just in the interview but also in writing the CV and application. Questions are often asked based on what is mentioned in our CV. I know a person who failed to get a job after a number of interviews. He was unable to provide convincing answers to what his CV had described him as. Writing an impressive CV by taking the help of experts may help in getting short-listed but not in getting the job.
  2. Confidence: Interviewers look for a confident person. They may try to ask some irrelevant questions or give the impression that they are not convinced with the answer. It is important not to get hassled, lose confidence or get nervous. Here it is important to mention that one should not come across as over confident either.
  3. Demonstrate not just knowledge but how have you applied your knowledge in a given context. Interviewers like to hear about practical examples of application of knowledge and skills.
  4. Clarity in answers:  Precise, clear and short answers are always appreciated. Clarity of expression is the key to success. Interviewers judge you not only on how much you know but how well you can explain what you know.  It is very important to check the tone, volume and speed when you speak and make necessary modifications. Good communication skills always come in handy.
  5. A positive attitude: Job interview is a test of attitude. There may not be direct questions on attitude, there may not be a psychologist sitting in the panel but attitude is always under observation. People who come across as solution-oriented, flexible, respectful, helpful and responsible are preferred.

Hope these points are useful. Before I end, I like to share an instance. We were once interviewing for the post of an office assistant. We were almost done with a candidate. I asked him if he wanted to ask us anything. He asked, “so, what time should I report to work tomorrow morning?” We laughed at the question but liked him for his confidence and innocence. He got the job and over a period of time we realized that we had made the right choice.

Answering that ‘last question’ in your job interview:

April 28, 2013

You are almost through with your interview. You have answered questions to the best of your ability. But hang on! The interview is not over yet. You are asked by interviewers: Would you like to ask us anything? This question has become very common now.

A friend recently sought my advice on answering this question. I remembered when I was asked this question. I was not prepared. I said, “If you have to mention the top three skills that a person must have to do this job well in your organization, what would those be? The interviewers answered. It actually led them to ask a few more questions. I got the opportunity to let them know a bit more about myself. I shared situations in my professional life where I had learnt and demonstrated those skills. It must have helped because I was hired.

I also ask this question in the interviews that I conduct. Recently, I was interviewing a person for a short term consultancy. She said, “How would you describe successful completion of this consultancy”? We had discussed the ‘terms of reference’ of the assignment but she wanted me to articulate it again in practical terms. She was hired as well.

These two examples have a common thread and provide a clue to respond to the question. Show that you are a serious candidate; want to know more about the requirements of the post; and the organization. So, I would suggest the following when interviewers give you an opportunity to ask them something:

  1.  Though I have seen the Terms of Reference/job description, what are the critical skills you are looking for in the person in the context of your organizational vision and work culture?
  2. Seek clarity on any question that was asked and you could not answer well. This gives you another chance to offer a better answer.

These questions demonstrate your attitude to work. Interviewers appreciate this. Last but not the least, be honest in all answers. Knowing about the organization and thinking about the requirements of the post should be part of the preparation for the interview.