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  • ► 5 ways to rev up your job search for autumn - September 2014

    We’re two weeks into September and autumn has most definitely arrived with misty mornings, falling leaves and the smell of wood smoke in the air.

    But far from slowing down like nature, some people see this time of year as a new beginning - a time to spring clean their life and turn their focus towards finding a new job. And as businesses tend to rejuvenate during autumn and start hiring after the slowdown of the summer months, now can be a good time to make your next move.

    So if you’ve decided to look for a new role, here are some ideas to help you make the most of this time of year:

    Take stock of where you are now.  Why do you want to move on from your current position? What do you dislike/like about it?  Do you want to work for a similar kind of organisation in the future or something completely different? Do the hours you currently work suit you and can you cope with your commute? How do you feel about the culture of your current workplace?

    Taking time to fully appraise the pros and cons of your current situation will help you avoid the risk of leaping into a role that won’t be right for you. It’s also possible that you may discover that you actually want to stay in your current organisation and seek a different or enhanced role rather than leaving altogether.

    Make sure you have a killer CV and tailor it to fit each job you apply for. If you suspect that your CV isn’t presenting your skills and experience in the best possible light, consider taking professional advice.

    Network like crazy. Take every opportunity to meet new people and to quiz friends, family and existing contacts about what they do. Do you have an idea of which organisation you want to work for? If so, do you know anyone who has a contact there who can help you find out what it’s really like to work there and whether or not any openings exist?

    Slice the elephant. Looking for a new role while holding down an existing job can be exhausting. Like slicing the proverbial elephant so that it can be easily eaten, make sure you break your job search down into manageable ‘bite-size’ tasks.  Record all the work you do towards achieving your goal. Seeing evidence of the progress you’re making in black and white can be a powerful motivator to keep going when times get tough.

    Don’t forget to set achievable goals. Hitting the goals you’ve set – both big and small – and celebrating when you reach them, will keep you on track until you hit the big one – the next rung on your career ladder.

    Good luck!

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► 10 tips for making tough decisions - June 2014

    Standing in front of the ice cream cabinet in my favourite supermarket can double the time I take to do my grocery shop. The minutes quickly tick by while I’m deciding between cookie dough, peanut brittle and chocolate fudge. I know I can’t buy all the delicious flavours I want to - there lies the path to ruin - but with so much choice on offer, making a decision is frustratingly difficult.

    Of course, making life’s big decisions are in a different league altogether. For instance, we find making career choices much more difficult as the stakes are so high. Do we accept the challenging new job or stay where we are? Will studying improve our career prospects or ruin our social life? Should we follow our dreams or stay put in an area where we’ve built up expertise?

    We often find it tough to make a decision because choosing one path means closing the door on others. But going round in circles and dithering for days or weeks is stressful and a waste of energy. So if you’re faced with a tough decision, here are some tips to help you make the right one:

    1. The more choices you have, the more difficult it is to make a decision and the more likely you are to regret the decision you make. Reducing the number of options you have is often a good first step. Eliminate the choices you instinctively feel or know are not right for you.
    2. Consider your personal values. How does each of the choices sit with these?
    3. Focus on the long term. Don’t ignore the short term benefits of each choice, but don’t give them as much weight when considering your options as you would to the long term benefits. Try to imagine where you will be in one, two and five years’ time for each choice.
    4. Take your time. Gather all the information you need. Do your research. Only when you have all the facts can you make an informed decision. But make sure you set yourself a deadline or you may procrastinate until you no longer have the choices you thought you had.
    5. Try to put some distance and objectivity between you and the decision. If it were a friend and not you facing the same choices, what advice would you give? Imagining this scenario can help take the emotion out of your decision making.
    6. Try to stop thinking about the decision for a while - go out for a walk or sleep on it - and let your subconscious have a chance to process the choices. You may find that when you next consider your dilemma your mind is already made up.
    7. By all means discuss your choices with other people, especially those who have no vested interest in the decision you need to make. When agonising over which of two schools was right for my son, I commented to a friend: “I wish we hadn’t had an offer from school B”.  “I think you just made your decision” she replied. Obvious, huh? But without her input, I wouldn’t have seen this and could have wasted many more days agonising over the choice.
    8. Imagine that you have made your decision – how does this make you feel?  The gut feeling you have now can be a powerful sign as to whether the choice you made in your imagination was the right one or not.
    9. You are more likely to make the right decision if you know where you’re heading. What is your ultimate career goal? Once you know this, it’s easier to decide if job A is going to get you closer to your goal than job B, for example.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Should you be more mindful to perform better at work? June 2014

    What!? Spend twenty minutes a day practising mindfulness meditation? Where do you think I can find the time? I have reports to write, emails to send, staff to develop and don’t get me started on what I have to do once I get home.  Are you crazy?

    Ok, ok calm down.

    That’s the usual reaction I get when I suggest to friends that practising mindfulness meditation could be a really useful way of relieving stress and improving their performance at work.

    Unfortunately the word ‘meditation’ instantly conjures up all sorts of mental pictures of sitting cross-legged on top of a mountain opposite a Buddhist monk chanting ‘om’.  And while mindfulness meditation involves none of these things, stereotypical images are hard to dispel.

    So what is this mindfulness thing – and can it be done without meditating?

    Mindfulness is certainly one of the buzz words of the moment. It’s a subject that’s being taken very seriously everywhere from 10 Downing Street to Oxford University via the NHS and many of the leading companies in the UK. Put simply, mindfulness means paying attention to what is actually happening in the present moment.

    As humans, we spend far too much of our time mulling over things that happened in the past and trying to predict what will happen in the future.  It’s easy to see how this was useful when we were trying to work out if the sabre tooth tiger that was prowling around yesterday is still going to be outside our cave if we stick our heads out this afternoon.  But the result of doing this in our modern society is that we spend far too little time living in the present - a major cause of stress and inattention that can negatively impact our lives.

    The constant chatter that accompanies living in the past and ruminating on the future can adversely affect our productivity, not least because it makes it so difficult to concentrate on the matter in hand and leads us to making poor decisions.

    Mindfulness training teaches a range of techniques to dampen down this chatter, to allow us to focus on what we need to do now, reducing stress and allowing us to make better informed decisions. Being mindful isn’t difficult - it’s a skill that can be easily learned - but it does need to be practised until it becomes a habit. The more you do it the more positive benefits you’ll get.

    Mindfulness mediation is probably the best way to acquire this habit, but if meditation per se is an anathema to you, here are some tips for being mindful without it:

    • Spend five minutes at the beginning of the day or before an important meeting or phone call simple focussing on your breathing. Close your eyes if you can. Inevitably your mind will wander, but just bring your attention gently back to your breathing.  Doing this will calm your mind and clear your head.
    • Focus on other people when they are talking to you. Really listen to what they are saying (and how they are saying it) instead of busily forming a response in your head.
    • Before an important meeting or phone call, take a few moments to focus on what you want to achieve. Decide what outcome you want and you will be more likely to achieve it.
    • When faced with a stressful situation, take some deep breaths. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
    • Take time before you go home to reflect on what happened during the day. Don’t judge, but ask yourself what you have learned, what went well and what you would do differently next time.
    • Look for other ways of practising mindfulness outside the workplace. Practice makes perfect – the more you do the better you will become.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► You’ve decided to look for another job. So what now? - June 2014

    We’ve all been there. The job that seemed like the answer to your prayers a couple of years ago has now become dull and routine. You’ve stopped developing, and after weeks of moaning to your friends and family, you’ve finally made the decision to go. But how do you turn your decision into action and find your next challenge?

    Well, in one respect you can relax and take your time - the fact that you’re already employed will make you more attractive to a new employer. But job searching while working in your current job can be tricky.  Here are some tips:

    1) Make sure you have an action plan

    Without an action plan there’s a danger that your enthusiasm will quickly wear off.  You could allow yourself to become distracted by your current job, only for your frustration to flare up again a little further down the line when you to realise that you haven’t made any progress. So, a good plan should include the following:

    • The direction you want to take – what do you really want and how will it help you achieve your ultimate career goal?
    • Gap analysis – do you have the skills and experience for the role you want? If not, how are going to get these?
    • Do you need to hire a coach to help you clarify what you want or the skills and experience you need?
    • A timeframe - how much times can you devote to your job search; when do you want to move and what short term objectives can you set to keep you moving towards your goal?
    • A ’to-do’ list – what needs to be done (updating your CV, references etc)?
    • Do you know where to look for a new job?
    • Do you have any contacts in the area / organisations you want to target?

    2) Keep your plans to yourself

    It may sound obvious, but confiding in your current workmates that you’re dissatisfied and thinking of looking elsewhere is never a smart move. But these days you also have to take care of what you say online - be very careful what you share on Facebook and other social media sites.

    LinkedIn can be a vital tool to help you find your next role, but it’s best to proceed with caution. Nothing screams ‘looking for a job’ louder than a sudden increase in contacts or regular updating of your profile. To avoid everyone in your network being notified every time you tweak your CV, make sure that your LinkedIn updates are private – that way you stay visible to prospective employers without the risk of announcing your intentions to your current employers.

    3) Keep up appearances

    Make sure you don’t use the time you should be working at your current job on looking for a new one. And don’t be tempted to use your office computer or email address for your job search either. Using your own laptop/phone away from the office during your lunch break is a different matter.

    Attending interviews when you’re already in work can be tricky. If you can, try to schedule interviews before or after your normal working day. If this isn’t possible, take a day’s holiday. Be aware that if you usually dress fairly casually, turning up in smart interview gear is going to give the game away.

    4) Stay enthusiastic in your current role. It’s important that you leave your current job on good terms and continuing working with a positive attitude can help you achieve this. Don’t do anything to damage the good reputation you’ve spent years building up

    And don’t forget, a reference from your current employer will be important to secure your next role – so make sure it’s a great one.

    Author: Jill Harris

  • ► Ten signs that it’s time to move jobs - May 2014

    To some extent we are all creatures of habit. We know that change can be stressful and because of this we’re sometimes tempted to stay put in a job that’s no longer good for us or our career.

    But unless a role is completely intolerable and the thought of doing it for another week is agony, how do we know when it’s time to move on? Well, sometimes there are clear signs staring us in the face.

    Here are ten of them:

    1. You lack energy and focus. You’ve explored all the options of making your job more challenging/interesting/rewarding and none of them work. Boredom with routine tasks and lacking the energy to get your teeth into new projects can be clear signs that it’s time for a change.

    2. You don’t feel valued. Perhaps your ideas are ignored or you’re not being given new projects or responsibilities. These, and feeling that what you do doesn’t really matter, are all likely to sap your confidence.

    3. You’re no longer learning and developing new skills. Stagnation in a role is a common motivation to find a new one.

    4. Your role is not well regarded.  If your role, or that of your team or department, is not valued by senior managers, this can be dispiriting and demotivating. It can also be a clear sign that when times are tough, the axe could swing here first.

    5. Your heart sinks at the thought of Monday morning. We all get the ‘Monday morning blues’ occasionally, but dreading the beginning of the working week and living for the weekend is a definite clue that things aren’t well.

    6. Your progression path isn’t obvious. If you can’t clearly see the role you want next or if your company seems to be constantly recruiting people from outside the organisation, you risk becoming trapped in your current job.

    7. Your health is suffering. The stress and anxiety of your job is affecting your health. Do you find yourself constantly moaning about your job to your partner, family and friends? Do you find it difficult to switch off from worrying about your work situation? Perhaps it’s time to think seriously about looking for a new challenge.

    8. The company’s vision and goals no longer excite or engage you. If there’s a mismatch between your own values and those of your organisation it can be difficult to see your future there.

    9. There are clear signs that the company is in trouble. Are there significant redundancies, reorganisations, changes in management? These could all be signs that all is not well.

    10. You join the office moaners. These were probably the bunch of people you tried to avoid when you started in your role – those who were constantly moaning about their jobs and/or the organisation. Becoming a member of this group can be a clear sign you’re not happy.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► How to thrive during your probation period - April 2014

    Well, you thought the hard part was behind you: you survived a round of gruelling interviews and got the job. But while you can feel justifiably proud and confident, there is still one more hurdle to jump before you can relax a little – your probation period.

    Whether you are aware of it or not, you’re highly likely to be closely monitored during this time, so here are some tips on how to pass your probation period with flying colours:

    • Be polite and friendly to all you meet. Your line manager will want to see that you can build positive relationships with everyone from your fellow team members and senior management to the people on reception, so it’s important to show that you can get along with one and all.
    • Be punctual - arrive in good time and don’t be among the first to leave at the end of the day.
    • Avoid taking time off if you possibly can. This may mean struggling into work if you feel unwell, but even if you have to go home later in the day; at least your new employers can see that you are genuinely ill.
    • Be absolutely clear on what is expected of you and be prepared to go the extra mile so that the person who recruited you can feel confident that they made the right decision.
    • Learn as much as you can about your new employer’s organisation, products, services and culture. Make sure you know what rules and procedures you need to follow. Read the employee handbook, pore over the intranet and carefully observe what others do.
    • Ask lots of questions, but make sure you do it in a polite and respectful way. Asking for advice and guidance can also help you build important connections and endear you to others.
    • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes - no-one will expect you to be perfect during your probation period. However, it’s important to admit your mistakes quickly; take responsibility and try to propose a way of rectifying them if you can. Showing that you can learn from your mistakes is also very important.
    • Ask for feedback regularly. Doing this could prevent unnecessary mistakes happening and nip any unacceptable behaviour in the bud. Act on suggestions for improvement and demonstrate that you can accept feedback in order to learn.
    • Keep your work area neat and tidy and prepare thoroughly for meetings.
    • Be humble  - one of the worst things you can do is make negative comments about your new team/company’s way of doing things based on your experience at your previous employer.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Tips for negotiating a job offer - April 2014

    Well done!

    You’ve made it through the interviews and been offered the job. Now you need to decide if you want to take it. Tempting though it may be to accept straight away - especially in the current economic climate – it’s best to carefully consider what you’ve been offered to make sure that this is the right move for you.

    When you’re offered the job, it’s important to express your thanks and reiterate how interested you are in the role and the organisation. If the news is delivered by phone, ask for the full contract to be emailed to you and let the person who has contacted you know when you will let them have your decision. Once you’ve received all the details in writing, you can set about reviewing the package and decide if you want to accept.

    Make sure you have all the facts and details - the hours, location, salary, holidays, bonus etc. It’s important not to let salary be the only focus of your attention. Consider the whole remuneration package and also the job itself. Will it help you achieve your long term goals? Are the prospects for promotion or professional advancement good? Can you picture yourself working happily and productively in the role?

    You may find that there are aspects of the package that aren’t satisfactory to you and you may decide to negotiate to try to improve these. Remember that there is always the risk that the offer could be withdrawn, so you need to be prepared for this and negotiate with care.

    Salary may be one of the things you want to try to improve - after all, once you accept the position, subsequent salary increases are likely to be small.  If you do decide to do this, there are several things you need to be aware of. Make sure that you’re being realistic and be prepared to justify why you are asking for more. Do your homework. Do you know the going rate for people in your field with your experience and in your location? Did you pick up any hints during the interview process that there may be room for manoeuver? Do the benefits on offer make up for a slight disappointment on salary?

    When trying to negotiate a higher salary be polite and professional. You could try asking if there is any flexibility on salary or saying you were hoping for something closer to X, but bear in mind that some organisations have strict pay scales and may not be able to offer you more. If you do get a disappointing response, you could try asking if your salary could be reviewed after six months. If this is acceptable to the other party, make sure that it is written into your contract.

    Work/life balance may be important to you and you may decide to try to negotiate a more flexible work pattern. This may be difficult if the possibility of working this way wasn’t mentioned in the job ad (even if it was, it’s best to wait until the end of the second interview before bringing this up).

    However, you may have picked up clues during the interview process that the organisation has a more enlightened approach to working hours and location. Are you aware of other employees who work flexibly there? If you do decide to ask for flexibility, tread carefully and gauge the reaction. As with all requests for flexible working, stress the benefits to the employer, not just yourself.

    At the end of the day, you may decide that if everything else fits – salary, role, benefits etc - it may be better to wait until you’ve been in the job for a while (and proved yourself a valuable and committed employee) before you try to negotiate a more flexible pattern – you may find yourself in a much stronger position.

    So, to recap – consider the job offer thoroughly, and if you do decide to negotiate, be professional and positive and do it with care and sensitivity. Good luck!

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Five Tips for Interview Success - April 2014

    Not many people relish the prospect of a job interview. Everyone knows they can be stressful and time consuming, but thorough preparation beforehand will give you a great chance to shine and land the job you deserve.

    Here are five tips to help you make the most of your next interview:

    Thorough research pays off

    Before your interview date, spend lots of time thoroughly researching the organisation you want to work for. Start with its website which will give you a good idea of the kind of organisation it is, its structure, markets and products. You should also be able to find out about the organisation’s goals, values and ethos from its website.

    Try to find out about the particular division, department or even team you’re aiming to work within. Make sure you know who the organisation’s competitors are and what they are up to. And try to discover as much as you can about the people who are going to interview you – look them up on Google. They will already know a great deal about you from your CV/cover letter and your own online presence, so make sure you are knowledgeable about them too.

    Prepare lots of questions about the role you’re being interviewed for – asking these will show that you’re engaged, enthusiastic and genuinely interested.  And don’t forget to ask questions about things that crop up during your interview itself, as this will demonstrate that you’re paying close attention and can think on your feet.

    Address those weaknesses

    Don’t forget, no candidate is going to have all the experience and qualifications asked for. But if there is a weakness in your application then you need to carefully consider how you will deal with this at the interview.

    Be honest with yourself – where do you fall down? Identify these areas and prepare your best response for when you are asked about them. Knowing that you can answer questions about your shortcomings positively will give you confidence and help calm your nerves.

    Make first impressions count

    We all know that people tend to make their minds up about each other within seconds of meeting, so when you arrive at your interview make sure you are being yourself, but be on your best behaviour. Your interview starts the moment you walk in the building. Treat everyone you meet with courtesy and respect - smile and make eye contact. Be polite, friendly and positive. Arrive 10 minutes early – no more - and don’t forget to turn off your phone before you enter the building.

    Do your best to build rapport with your interviewer by looking out for common interests. Your prospective employer will want to know that you can quickly establish a relationship with people you meet and that you will fit in with the team.


    Know your CV inside out

    Thorough knowledge of your CV is an absolute must, as is making sure you can back up the claims on your CV and provide concrete examples. Try to make sure that your CV tells a convincing story. Storytelling is a powerful communications tool, so make your story interesting and a good fit for the position you’re applying for.

    Feel free to have a copy of your CV in front of you during your interview as an aide-memoire (but don’t pore over it). And consider taking extra copies in case one of your interviewers doesn’t have your CV to hand.

    Learn from your interview

    Make an effort to record all that you can remember about the interview as soon as possible after it is over as the experience will still be fresh in your mind. Make notes on how you think you did. What went well? What didn’t? Which areas do you need to improve on for next time?

    Make a note of the questions you were asked and how you responded. Did any questions stump you? If so, how would you answer if you were asked them again?

    Make notes on what you learned about the interviewer and the role. These will be a great resource if you are offered a second interview.

  • ► How to ace your next job interview - April 2014


    All those hours poring over job ads, honing your CV/cover letter and networking like mad have paid off. You’ve been offered an interview for your dream job. Now the pressure’s on to perform well. Unfortunately, there’ll be no second chance.

    Everyone knows that the key to interview success lies in preparation, preparation and yet more preparation. But what is more likely than anything to tip the balance of success in your favour? Well, it’s a mock interview. It doesn’t matter how much research you’ve done, how many questions you’ve prepared answers to – this is the best way to increase your confidence and enhance your technique. And there’s no doubt that a mock interview is particularly important for those who are new to the job market (or for those who’ve taken a long career break) so that they can have a good idea of what to expect.

    So what are the key benefits of going through a mock interview? Who should you ask to do it? And is there anything you can do on your own?

    Let’s start with the benefits. Perhaps one of the most important is the positive effect a mock interview will have on your confidence levels. Nervousness during a real interview often stems from fear of the unknown. By practising your interview technique in a setting as close to the actual interview as possible, the real interview experience will seem much more natural.

    A good mock interviewer will give you valuable feedback – something that’s becoming more and more difficult to obtain from real interviewers. She/he will be able to identify your weaknesses which you’ll then get a chance to address before the real interview. A mock interviewer will also spot any nervous habits you might have – again giving you the opportunity to work on these before you come up against a real interviewer.

    A mock interview is a great opportunity to practise the questions you find most difficult to answer. Tackling these head-on in a benign setting will give you the confidence that you will be able to handle them during the real thing. And by going through the mock interview process you’ll be able to critique your own performance as well. For example, you’ll be able to identify anything important in your work history that you omitted to talk about so that you can make sure you mention it at the real interview.

    So who should you ask to conduct your mock interview? A career coach who specialises in interview technique is probably the ideal person. Investing in a couple of hours practice with a professional can put you in the best position to excel at the real thing. If this is difficult for you, then ask a member of your family or a friend if they are willing and able to do it. Someone who has experience of conducting interviews would obviously be a better choice. If you can’t find anyone to help you, don’t give up. If all else fails you can practise your answers out loud in front of a mirror. This will allow you to spot your own mistakes and also to see if you’re displaying any negative body language.

    If you would like professional help in preparing for your next interview you can find out more about the FlexiJobs career coaches here.

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► Do you have trouble switching off from work? - March 2014

    My own epiphany came one summer evening. I had picked up my daughter from school and we were heading home. “How was your day, sweetie?” I asked.  “Mum! I’ve been in this car for 15 minutes and that’s the first thing you’ve said to me.”

    I realised, with a stab of guilt, that although I’d left the office an hour earlier and was now physically in the car with my daughter, mentally I was still very much at my desk – ruminating on tasks unfinished and looming deadlines. I also recognised that this wasn’t a one-off. My constant failure to disconnect from work was in danger of affecting my home life, my relationships and possibly even my mental health.

    Over the last few years, the temptation and pressure to carry our work home with us has intensified considerably. The rise in smart phone and tablet use, to the point where these gadgets are now more or less ubiquitous, means that closing the door at the end of the working day can be nigh on impossible. We know we can carry on working at home and we also know that it’s often expected that we do this.

    But finding time for relaxation and rest away from the office is vital for our health and well-being and also for our continued professional success. So how can you resist the temptation to let work dominate your world 24/7?

    A good place to start is to make sure that you don’t leave any loose ends at the end of the working day. The Russian psychologist - Bluma Zeigarnik - discovered that people tend to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. Unfinished tasks at the end of the day are much more likely to pray on your mind during what should be your leisure time. Of course, it’s not always possible to finish everything before you leave work, but breaking a task down into doable parts will mean that you can gain a sense of closure.

    And using your time at work productively can really help cultivate a sense of achievement. Working as efficiently as possible – and taking a proper lunch break to help increase productivity in the afternoon –  will use your time wisely and mean that you’re less likely to reflect on work at home.

    Once you’ve left your workplace, try using your commuting time as a way of ‘decompressing’ back into your home life. Listen to music or catch up on missed TV programmes if you use public transport. And once you arrive home, it’s a good idea to focus on something non-work related that will absorb your attention.  If you don’t have a hobby, try to find another distraction. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it’s something that needs concentration and focus. Exercise can really help and will flood your body with endorphins which can keep you happily switched off from work.

    If you find your mind wandering back to work, make a note of thoughts and ideas that occur straight away. This way you won’t forget them and can therefore relax more easily.

    Turning off laptops, tablets and phones at least an hour before bed can help you get a good night’s sleep. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Washington found that using a smart phone late at night can affect your productivity the next day. Apparently, the blue light emitted by these devices can inhibit melatonin (the sleep-promoting chemical) and make it hard to relax sufficiently to get a good night’s sleep. And try leaving gadgets outside your bedroom - just in case you’re tempted to quickly check work emails before you turn in for the night.

    So did I practise what I preach? And was I able to switch off from work? Well yes, I did and it worked well.  So much so that I decided to take relaxation to another level and learn to meditate – but that’s a whole new blog post!

    Blog written by Jill Harris

  • ► The Great Multitasking Myth - March 2014

    Oh. Yes. One minute. Just finishing this email.  I must send this Tweet. Let me grab that call.

    Right, where were we? Oh yes, multitasking.

    We live in a world where there is temptation to multitask like never before. We pride ourselves on being able to do three things at once. We power through work by multitasking our way through the day. But do we think it makes us more productive? If so, perhaps we should think again.

    At a time when even some job ads stipulate that the successful candidate “must be able to multitask”, some experts are questioning whether it’s even possible to do this. According to Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, “The research is almost unanimous, which is very rare in social science, and it says that people who chronically multitask show an enormous range of deficits.”

    But we multitask every day, I hear you say. Well, it’s true that we can all walk, listen to music and chew gum at the same time – but this doesn’t count. Multitasking is actively thinking about more than one thing at a time.

    It’s easy to see why people try to multitask. Working this way gives us a buzz and makes us feel like we’re achieving a lot. We think multitasking gives the impression that we’re capable and proficient employees, juggling lots of projects with ease. We live in a society which admires busy people. Busy equals successful, right? Actually, it’s wrong.

    Switching back and forth between tasks leads to lower productivity. Working this way breaks concentration and it takes time to refocus and get up to speed with the new task.

    Multitasking can also negatively impact creativity. It uses large amounts of working memory – the part of the brain which allows us to hold and manipulate information for short periods of time. According to research from the University of Illinois in Chicago, people who try to multitask have so much going on in their brains that they find it difficult to daydream and come up with spontaneous ideas and solutions to problems.

    The truth is multitasking leads to mistakes and can sometimes be downright dangerous – think driving and texting at the same time. So how can we break the multitasking habit?

    One of the keys to this is avoiding interruptions – both in human and electronic form. Close your office door if you have one, or use a sign that signals you’re busy  and don’t want to be disturbed (by wearing headphones, for example). 

    Give yourself blocks of time to complete tasks. This can be 10 minutes or a half a day, but make sure you concentrate only on one task during this time. The often-repeated time management tip to only check your emails twice a day (oh, purlease) isn’t practical for most of us, but closing down your email programme while you spend 30 minutes on an important task will. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and your mobile phone.

    Are you the kind of person who loves to start lots of things? Well, here’s some news for you – it’s finishing them that matters. Use ‘to do’ lists so you get satisfaction from crossing tasks off as you complete them.

    And you can save time by grouping tasks together in a logical way. This should  mean that you get into a pattern of working which allows you to finish the tasks efficiently.  Doing related tasks at the same time is easier for the brain to accept. For example, researching and writing a report on the same subject can work, but writing the report while checking your emails or Facebook won’t.

    If you must multitask make sure you do it at times when you don’t need a great deal of concentration. Talking to your best friend on the phone while doing housework might actually be a good use of your time. If you really can’t break your multitasking habit, at least do it when it’s safe and productive.

    Now, will you excuse me while I spend half an hour on my emails?

    Blog by Jill Harris

  • ► Can regular exercise boost your career? - March 2014

    These days we’re all aware of the role exercise can play in preventing conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. But how many of us realise that regular trips to the gym, jogging around the park or playing tennis can have a profound impact on our work and career.

    There are several ways exercise can help improve work performance. Being physically active can give us more energy, improve concentration and make us more alert. Exercise increases production of endorphins – the neurotransmitters in the brain which make us feel good about ourselves. Regular activity can increase self-confidence. This, together with an improved sense of wellbeing that exercise brings, can lead to us making the most of opportunities to improve our career prospects.

    And being active can help in more direct ways too. For those who work in physically demanding roles, exercise increases stamina and physical strength, leading to fewer injuries and less tiredness.

    There are benefits for employers too. Researchers at Stockholm University conducted a study which found that people who exercised got more done at work even when some of that work time was devoted to physical activity. And a study by Bristol University showed that workers were more productive and better able to manage time demands on days when they exercised during their lunch breaks than on days when they didn't.

    So how much exercise do we need? And how intense does it have to be? According to the NHS website, adults should try to be active daily. One way of ensuring optimum benefit is to exercise at a moderately intense level – where you can still talk, but not sing the words to a song – for 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes a day. But don’t worry if you struggle to find that amount of time in one block during your day. A study by Boston University in 2013 found that exercising in bursts of ten minutes – as long as they added up to your daily quota of exercise – was enough to see real benefits in health and fitness. The study concluded that some exercise is better than nothing and that by adding up the small things you can make a big impact.

    No-one is saying that it’s easy to fit exercise into a busy schedule. But when you consider the benefits to your physical and mental health, and the boost it could give your career prospects, isn’t it about time you squeezed it in?

    Blog by Jill Harris

  • ► How to ask for a pay rise - March 2014

    According to an article in the Mail on Sunday magazine, 75% of women have never asked their boss for a rise (the figure for men is 66%). So why are women so poor at this? Do they think asking for more will threaten their jobs? This fascinating article points to several reasons:

    • Women fear displeasing or being rejected
    • Women tend to hope their bosses notice if they're going above and beyond their role
    • Women are more likely than men to undervalue their professional contribution
    • When offered a job, women tend to accept the employer’s first offer, while men tend to haggle

    So what can women do to become better negotiators? Firstly they need to get rid of ‘imposter syndrome’ – the feeling that they don’t deserve success and are about to be found out. Women tend to suffer from this more than men as they’re more likely to focus on what they can’t do rather than what they can. They often feel lucky to get a job if they don’t have absolutely all the skills required.

    Secondly, women should look at taking the emotion out of negotiating a salary rise or a change in working conditions and focus on the business case instead, ie, what they are adding to the business. They could give examples of where they have gone above and beyond the job description, the projects they’ve taken on and the problems they’ve solved. One contributor to the article even suggests taking out personal pronouns from the negotiation altogether – so instead of ‘I want’ try saying ‘this post requires’.

    If a request is met by a point blank refusal, don’t just walk away. Ask for specific reasons why the proposal was rejected so that these can be addressed and used to open up new negotiations. For women who are frightened to ask for more for fear that they may jeopardise their position, the article points out that it’s rarely in an employer’s interest to get rid of someone. Replacing staff costs time and money and generally they will be keen to keep you.

    Blog by Jill Harris

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    To read the full Mail on Sunday article click here - 2 March 2014