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Careers

In times of crisis, it is common to feel stuck – even defeated. But one simple trick can help you move forward and, if embraced fully, reach new heights writes Neil O’Brien. Resilience is described as the ability to recover quickly from setbacks or disappointments, or the ability of a substance to spring back into shape. While this is true, it can be a little misleading and doesn’t communicate the full range of resilience. I have coached individuals and teams in business and sport for almost 30 years. At some point in our work together, I ask each client about previous setbacks and disappointments, and what they did to recover. On the face of it, they all did the same thing – but some went further and used their setback to reach greater heights. This article is about them: what they did, and what we can learn from them. But first, some background… Survival resilience It is human nature to get your act together in response to a crisis. It is part of the human condition, pre-programmed from prehistoric times. Setbacks effectively trigger a survival instinct, and we have come to describe this response as ‘coping’. So, in response to the current global pandemic, we all initially went straight into coping mode, which is precisely the right thing to do. In response to our sense of loss of how things should be, we set up new daily routines and new habits that require constant tweaking and adjusting. We are also hyper-vigilant because we feel like we are in continual danger. Because of this siege mentality, it is possible to be exhausted each day without actually having achieved anything. Welcome to the coping zone and survival resilience. This is the first level of resilience, but it is important not to get stuck here. How do you move on? The answer comes from my coaching clients, mentioned above. Strategic resilience I have asked people who suffered health setbacks, business setbacks, and career disappointments what they did to recover. They all said the same thing – they went back to basics. They acknowledged that their confidence was gone, and their self-belief had evaporated, but they also wanted to move on (from coping) so they knew they had to do something. The best investment, then, is brilliant basics – they did the basics of good health, good business, and career development so well and so consistently that they started to feel better. Then, when their mood changed, they began to think better. They then got their shape and discipline back, and their confidence and self-belief flooded back too. Neglect the basics and you will have a setback to deal with; they admitted this also. Strategic resilience is a daily commitment to brilliant basics – basics that are important to you. However, there is one other form of resilience that most people underestimate. Success resilience Having established that resilience is about never neglecting the basics, there is another chapter in the story. If we leave setback and disappointment for the moment and go to the opposite end of the spectrum, to effortless success and achievement, it turns out that brilliant basics are what separate the world’s best from everyone else. The most outstanding performers in any field are the best because they have achieved mastery through a daily commitment to brilliant basics. They make it look easy. They don’t have some magic ingredient that no one else has; they just never neglect the basics. As a result, they get better and better at them, and they don’t stop at strategic resilience – they keep pushing on. A professional marathon runner told me that in almost every race, he ‘hits the wall’ at around the 16-mile mark. He has a mental and physical crisis. Part of him says: “I can’t go on, I’m gonna quit”. He has learned to pick something 10 yards ahead, and the deal is that he will run to that point and then quit. And then he does it again, and again, and again until he starts to feel better. Amid a full body and brain crisis, the ability to do that is advanced sports psychology. This is an example of something really basic, a ten-yard race, that becomes genius. The crisis eventually passes and he gets his shape back in the form of great posture, breathing, and stride length. And sometimes, he even wins the race. Your ten yards I believe that the core basics of good accounting, of great sales, of top customer service, of excellent health, of top-class golf haven’t changed much. The question is: who is doing them better than everyone else? People will want to know their secret but when they find out what it is, they might even be disappointed because it’s so simple. There may be times in life or in work when you don’t feel like you can go on. If, in that moment, you can just cover your equivalent of ten yards, you will be doing genius work and effort. There will be days when we will champion gold medals, awards, and stretch targets. There will also be times when we should champion someone who has enough grit and toughness to keep covering ten yards, even when they feel like they can’t go any further. Neil O’Brien is Founder of Time2Fly.

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

As offices begin to re-open, some professionals are looking for ways to retain an element of remote working. In this article, Teresa Stapleton shares her top tips to persuade your employer and make the most of your new arrangement. The COVID-19 lockdown has allowed many people to work remotely for the first time, and explore if they want to do this long-term. While remote working doesn’t suit every business or every role, the lockdown has forced many companies to radically change working practices, opening up the possibility of working remotely for more people in the future. Having worked from home part-time for many years and managed teams in different countries, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The time and money saved by not commuting and the flexibility to adjust working hours around other life commitments are significant benefits. Offering flexible working arrangements is also a great way to attract, retain and motivate employees. One of the fundamental principles of flexible working arrangements is that they will only be successful if it is mutually beneficial for the business and the employee. If you think remote working is the right solution for you, here are some tips to set you up for success. 1. Know the terms  Companies offering remote working should have a policy document outlining the terms and conditions to ensure consistency and avoid disputes. This typically describes the aims of the policy, eligibility criteria, the application process, how decisions are made, the appeals process, trial periods, and notice timelines for altering working arrangements to support changing business needs. Remote working applications typically involve the completion of a thorough risk assessment to review potential health and safety issues. The remote working policy should describe how the risk assessment will be completed, who is responsible for providing and maintaining furniture and equipment, and outline any other relevant factors (such as core working hours, insurance, expenses, confidentiality, security, and data privacy). 2. Structure your day It takes time to get used to working remotely and find ways to stay productive. It’s essential to have a schedule and to stick to it. Having a designated quiet space where you can concentrate is also critical, as is good online connectivity with high-speed broadband, video conferencing, and access to company apps and data. Anticipate technology issues and have a back-up plan. For example, have mobile numbers ready so you can stay connected and keep working while offline. Discuss your remote working plans with family or housemates to minimise disruption and get their buy-in. Avoid getting into the habit of constantly checking emails or taking calls outside designated working hours, so you don’t get sucked into long workdays with no time for family, friends or anything else. To avoid cabin fever, take breaks regularly and go outside for walks or exercise to clear your mind, relax and recharge. 3. Set boundaries Many people say they work harder and get more done when working at home. This is sometimes a result of extending the working day, by using the time saved not commuting to get more done. Some find it easier to concentrate at home, with fewer interruptions than the office. Others work through lunch and don’t take many breaks by choice to finish early and free-up time for childcare or other activities. It’s common for remote workers to say that they feel a need to work longer and respond immediately to calls and emails over extended hours to demonstrate their commitment to doing a good job. This ‘always on’ mentality can be draining and may lead to anxiety, stress and even burn-out in extreme cases. It’s a good idea to set boundaries in terms of your availability and share the details with colleagues to manage expectations around reasonable response times. 4. Demonstrate results  Managers will only support remote working if they believe employee performance will be as good, or better, than if the employee was office-based. Having clear objectives and targets is key to any performance management process, but it is even more important for people working remotely when their contribution is less visible. Agreeing up-front the results that are expected and understanding how performance will be assessed are essential for remote workers to ensure that they are fairly treated in performance appraisals and rewards decisions. The most common concerns raised by remote workers during coaching discussions are losing out when it comes to rewards and career progression. Office-based colleagues have a natural advantage as they can interact face-to-face with management, enabling them to build stronger working relationships and raise awareness of their impact, aspirations, and potential. To avoid being left behind, make your impact visible to your manager and others involved in assessing your performance. This typically involves more structured reporting, regular update calls with your direct manager, frequently connecting with stakeholders, and looking for other creative ways to raise your profile. 5. Encourage teamwork  The main concerns raised by managers of remote teams are that teamwork will decline and employee engagement will drop, ultimately reducing performance levels and business results. It takes sustained, conscious effort by everyone to prevent this from happening. Implementing a communications programme at the individual, team, and organisational level is essential to keep people connected, collaborating and engaged. There is, of course, a risk that some employees will become disengaged, and some may miss social interaction with colleagues. Companies new to remote working should raise awareness of the benefits and pitfalls of remote working and explore ideas to make it successful for all concerned. Teresa Stapleton is an Executive Coach at Stapleton Coaching.

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

Emma Noonan, Chair at CASSI, shares her time management tips and the key to her early career success. What do you love about your job? There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy, particularly the learning opportunities, challenges, and variety in the tasks I am assigned. However, what I truly love about my job, and what I really value is the people. This is the real differentiator between each firm, and I have been fortunate to work with strong and supportive teams during my time in KPMG. When you are faced with a problem at work, it’s great to be able to turn to a colleague and reach a solution together rather than struggle alone. The teams I have worked with have supported me, challenged me, and taught me everything I have learned so far in my career. So really, I have them to thank for the love I have for my job. What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made? Deciding to study with Chartered Accountants Ireland to become a qualified Chartered Accountant was the best career decision I have ever made. When I was in college, I was on the fence as to what I wanted to do and I found the idea of studying for another three and a half years very daunting. However, my decision was final when I did an internship with Risk Consulting at KPMG, where I saw the direct benefit becoming a Chartered Accountant had on working life in terms of both career development and career potential. I am now in the midst of my contract and I am delighted with the choice I made. How do you organise your time? That is a great question, and I welcome all suggestions! Scheduling everything I must do for the week ahead (both professionally and personally) in my diary works best for me. It has become a habit at this stage, and I always have my diary with me – it’s a great way to get an overview of my weekly plans at a glance. Every week, I write down what I need to achieve so that by 5.30pm on Friday, I will feel as though I have had a productive week. This is something I learned from Pat Divilly and it is a really useful exercise when I feel like I’m not getting enough done. Every day, I align my daily to-do list to my weekly objectives and prioritise each item. To achieve this, I write down realistic and specific to-dos. The more specific I am with my to-dos, the easier I find it to meet my weekly objectives and, as a result, feel more productive. For me, it’s essential to distinguish between my short-term and long-term goals. I can’t achieve everything I want in one day, so I try to bear this in mind as I set my daily tasks to meet my weekly objectives. What has been the key to your career success to date? I have had some small wins in my career so far including passing my CAP1 exams, being elected as CASSI Education Officer, and being elected as the Chair of CASSI this year. My goal at the moment is to build a varied skillset, which will benefit my career in the future. To me, this means taking every learning opportunity I can get my hands on and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. What is the best career advice you ever received? That’s a tough one! I’ve received advice from several mentors and my team in KPMG. However, the one that stands out is: seek to learn. Throughout my career, and with thanks to my firm, I have been exposed to a number of learning opportunities. These range from working with high-profile clients to learning key technical skills such as SQL, POWERBI and Excel. Educational opportunities are extremely important to me and in terms of my career, I endeavour to continuously upskill – sure, that’s exactly what the training contract is for! If you were to change one thing about your professional life, what would it be? Ironically, it would be to have more time. As I settle into my new role as CASSI Chair while working and studying full-time, I find myself struggling to have some downtime. This boils down to time management and what I am currently prioritising. So for now, I’d change how long it takes me to re-order my priorities! What lessons did you learn about yourself, and your work, during the pandemic? I have learned several lessons from both a personal and professional standpoint during COVID-19. However, my two key learning points are: communication and work-life balance. The fundamental role of face-to-face interaction in my daily job became very clear to me as we shifted to working from home, full-time. I learned the importance of open and continued communications, be it client-related or simply a discussion with a team member. In such uncertain times, an email or weekly catch-up really makes a difference when it comes to clarifying the company’s direction of travel for the months ahead. It was interesting to see how smoothly we shifted to online platforms and this has been key to increasing the frequency of communication in recent weeks. That said, I look forward to getting back to the office to see my colleagues, as it’s hard to beat a face-to-face interaction. But for the time being, the likes of Microsoft Teams is an excellent substitute. As a result of COVID-19, I also found myself out of the routine to which I was very much accustomed. It came as a bit of a shock when I realised that working from home wasn’t going to be a short-term thing and I struggled with the uncertainty I was facing. From this, I learned the importance of building and maintaining a work routine as well as factoring in down-time to catch-up virtually with friends and family. It took some time to get used to my kitchen/office hybrid, but I’ve settled in nicely to my new routine.

Jul 22, 2020
Career Guide

Bring your personal brand to life before, during and after an interview with these ten tips from Áine Killilea. 1. Be clear with your key messages  Your cover letter should state clearly the position you are applying for, and make a compelling case as to why you are the best candidate for the role. These are the most vital objectives of any cover letter and while they should take priority, you also want your potential employer to connect with you as a person. Refrain from using industry business jargon – you may end up diluting your value and confusing the reader, which would make any form of human connection virtually impossible. 2. Show up as your best, authentic self We always want to put our best foot forward at an interview. “Be yourself” might be a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s excellent advice. If you shine a spotlight on your best attributes in an interview, in the knowledge that every word you’re saying is valid, it makes it easier to get into a confident stride. If you’re trying to oversell yourself, there’s a high chance you’ll end up even more nervous and could contradict yourself during the interview. 3. Refine your elevator pitch Your elevator pitch is a quick snapshot of your background and experience. It should be 30 seconds in length and inform your prospective interviewer who you are, what you do, and what you want to do. Communicate your elevator pitch by giving it a story structure; this makes it more interesting, both to tell and to listen to. And when you have finalised your elevator pitch, refine it to reflect the requirements of the particular role for which you are applying. To update and create consistent content across all of your communications, adapt and use your elevator pitch as the introduction on your CV, your cover letter, and your LinkedIn ‘about’ section. And include keywords from your elevator pitch in your LinkedIn headline to help prospective recruiters and employers find you among the masses. If delivered compellingly, your elevator pitch will help you build business relationships throughout your career. It can also help you connect more meaningfully with colleagues on day one of your new role. 4. Align your values Research the values of the company you wish to join. Consider which of your own values truly align with the company’s values, and include them in your CV, cover letter, elevator pitch, and in how you answer interview questions. This will help your prospective employer more easily envision you slotting in with the company’s ethos and culture. 5. Communicate your core messages Identify the core messages of your professional personal brand and incorporate them in your communication with the interview panel. Doing so will reinforce critical messages and ensure that you won’t have that rueful “I never told them I could…” feeling after the interview. 6. Prepare stories Stories connect us to people. The job description highlights the characteristics of the role you’re applying for, so prepare a variety of stories which demonstrate each of these characteristics. Give each story a beginning, middle and end. And keep them brief – this will make the remembering and telling of each story much easier. 7. Listen! In the rush to communicate your suitability for the role, it can be easy to forget to listen or to mishear what is being asked of you. Listen to what is being said, and take a breath before answering the question. Doing so will reinforce your value as a measured and discerning candidate. 8. Dress as if you already belong there Leverage your personal style by indicating through the use of colour that you fit in with the company. If possible, incorporate a colour used in the organisation’s branding in your interview clothing (if the organisation’s branding features purple, for example, wear a purple tie or handbag). This gesture creates a visual cue that you already belong in the organisation. 9. Manage your online presence Social media is a fantastic way to showcase your skills, interests and network. A recent study by the Society For Human Resource Management found that 84% of employers recruit via social media, and 43% of employers screen job candidates through social networks and search engines. The same study found that 36% of companies have disqualified job candidates after doing an online search or viewing an applicant’s social media! With this in mind, Google yourself and ensure that prospective employers will find only favourable information when they do the same. Also, review your social media accounts – including those you don’t currently use, but have in the past – to ensure nothing could go against you in the eyes of a prospective employer. Use your elevator pitch as your starting point and when posting online, reflect your values and highlight clearly what you have to offer to the companies you wish to be employed by. 10. Reflect your personal brand in VIRTUAL interviews Online interviews can also present you with opportunities to highlight your personal brand to companies before you even speak. Pay attention to your clothing, background and lighting as this will emphasise your attention to detail, which is a skill consistently sought by employers.   Áine Killilea is Director of Áine Image & Communications and Founding Director  of Evolve PR.

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

Jonathan Rockett, CFO at Ding, looks back on his career progression from his early days at PwC to his current role in a fast-growing company. What does your role as CFO at Ding entail? Finance is one area of the business that has full visibility from left to right across Ding’s different business lines, and also top to bottom in terms of operational infrastructure to support those business lines. In general, the CFO role can be quite broad and can look entirely different in different company contexts. My role is varied, but the core aspects involve reporting to the board on current and projected performance or KPIs; tax and treasury projects associated with geographic expansion; financial planning in terms of the short-term and long-term requirements of the company; and strategic decisions on the next phase of the company’s growth, as we are at a pivotal stage in our scale-up.  Finance touches all teams and projects in Ding. We are embedded in the commercial and operational running of business lines, where the global pricing function manages the pricing negotiations for new deals and amends pricing based on FX trends associated with the various currencies we deal in. To what do you attribute your career success? Attitude and a variety of experiences. I have always been driven and committed to succeeding in this industry, which has played a decisive role in getting me to where I am today. In terms of experience, I had the privilege of working in a variety of roles in several companies. The different skills I gained along the way have been instrumental in laying the foundations for my current position. At PwC Assurance, I refined my accuracy and attention to detail in working through technical accounting standards. In PwC Transaction Services, I gained exposure to project delivery under extremely tight deadlines and upskilled in the application of a commercial lens of analysis in the presentation of numbers. This ability to leverage data to deduce and communicate the real KPIs and value drivers across various industries has been invaluable, and I continue to build on this expertise to this day. At Paddy Power, I learned the importance of process and system automation to enhance team output in cross-functional departments. These experiences shaped the way I work and gave me the skills I needed to succeed in this industry. Ding went through an intense M&A period with three acquisitions, for instance, and my experience in transaction services was central to the successful completion of each deal from a finance perspective. Describe your career planning process. People advise you to look at your career in stages of three to five years. Whether by design or accident, I followed that process relatively closely. University was phase one, and my ambitions were to complete my bachelor’s degree in business and economics at Trinity College Dublin, followed by a masters degree in accountancy from UCD Smurfit Business School. I then wanted to work in a Big Four accountancy firm and gain my ACA qualification. During my first year in PwC, I also decided to pursue my tax exams. That decision has been particularly beneficial in my current role in a global operation as it has allowed me to understand potential tax implications. The second phase began after I completed my three-year training contract. I knew that assurance wasn’t my long-term target, so I applied for – and secured – a Transaction Services position in PwC. It was more commercial in nature, and built on the skills I developed during the previous four years. After interacting with company leaders on due diligence projects and getting a grasp on the business drivers of their growth and success, it didn’t take me long to realise that I wanted to work in industry long-term. The most important consideration for me was the company and the strategic direction it was moving in, and this marked the beginning of phase three. Paddy Power was in high-growth mode and offered me the perfect opportunity to deploy the competencies I had developed at PwC. It also exposed me to a more multifunctional team and operational environment. The ability to work cross-functionally is a critical competency that becomes increasingly important as you progress through your career. Most recently, phase four began when I was contacted about a role in Ding. I was immediately interested as the market opportunity was – and remains – huge. The role of Head of Finance, which I was first appointed to, was expansive, encompassing full profit and loss visibility as well as tax, treasury and financial operations teams. It allowed me to play a material role in the company story, and being a part of a fast-growing company in scale-up mode was very attractive to me. What do you look for when hiring or promoting talent? One of the key characteristics I look for when hiring is the desire and drive to improve and make a change. At Ding, our evolution and growth means that there are plenty of opportunities to grow and expand within roles if you have the ambition to do so. I always look to assess if new employees can evolve and take on new responsibilities as the company grows and expands. The phrase “surround yourself with good people” is underrated and is something that resonated with me in recent years. It underscores a team and a company’s ability to be successful. What is the best career advice you ever received? The best piece of advice I received is ‘never take a job, or stay in a job, you no longer learn from’. This has led me to ensure that every new job, new year and new quarter presents a challenge that allows for my continual development and improvement. If you were to change one thing about your career choices, what would it be? While I look back with fond memories of the different stages of my career, you only truly learn from the mistakes you make. So embrace the mistakes, learn from them, and continually aim to improve. Overall, there is nothing I would change about the  career path I chose. I feel incredibly lucky that, in every role and company I have worked in, I have continued to expand my skillset and learn from individuals operating at the top of their fields. All of these have brought me to Ding, which is an exciting place to be.  

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

Soft skills are already essential assets, but employers will look for particular aptitudes as the pandemic subsides and the ‘new normal’ takes hold. By Dr. Annette Clancy Coronavirus has changed how we work and how we live. The rapid change to online and remote working has challenged many of us as we juggle home, work, and caring responsibilities. This period has also helped to surface and refine new types of skills that will be essential in the ‘new’ world of work. Here, I reflect on just a few of them. 1. Adaptability COVID-19 forced companies to adapt and change with unprecedented speed. Change is always on the agenda, but the pandemic accelerated it. To succeed in the future, workers will need to continually update their skills and be willing to adapt and be flexible. Job titles won’t necessarily fully describe the breadth of roles. In job interviews, candidates will need to give clear examples of how they have put these skills to work because the traditional CV won’t convey the nuance of someone’s adaptability. The conventional cover letter will also need more thought and will need to be adapted to each employer’s particular circumstance. 2. Creativity and innovation Businesses have always had to come up with new ways to deliver services, but COVID-19 highlighted just how important creativity and innovation are to survival. The Abbey Theatre, for example, unable to present work on stage, created ‘Dear Ireland’ and invited Irish writers to write a postcard to Ireland – it asked them to imagine what Ireland might need to talk about during this time. The Abbey Theatre commissioned 50 writers to write monologues for 50 actors, each of whom performed on camera in lockdown. These performances were then broadcast live on the Abbey’s YouTube channel at the end of May (they are still available to view on YouTube). The Abbey Theatre performs work on stage directly to an audience, so this type of pivot was a gamble for the theatre. However, the quality of the idea, its passion for creating work for Irish artists, and the novelty of delivery carried this over the line. This type of creativity and innovation, commitment to care for employees, and desire to connect with customers will be a crucial skill in a post-coronavirus environment. 3. Managing remote teams Many of us have come to terms with Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom as part of our day-to-day routine during the pandemic. Some organisations such as Facebook and Twitter are now planning for permanent remote working. We are also likely to see remote working policies in many other non-technology firms in the future. The ability to manage remote teams effectively will be a critical skill in a post-coronavirus context, but this means more than managing a conversation with 12 people in a Zoom room! Research tells us, for example, that issues of trust are magnified when team members are remote (do you trust someone when you can’t see them?) Research also tells us that the maximum number for a remote team is 100. Beyond this number, it is difficult for people to engage in a task. Managing relations with, and between, people who will never be in the same room is a sophisticated skill that will be much in demand as remote working increases. 4. Critical thinking COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the world and due to the shortage of research and reliable information, fake news and unreliable data spread with comparable speed. Business leaders, politicians, and governments wanted to shift blame and avoid scrutiny. The capacity to parse information to determine what is accurate and reliable will be a valuable skill. Businesses need to know that objective and credible data inform their decisions. The capacity to critically analyse data to establish an informed opinion will, therefore, be valuable in the post-coronavirus world. 5. Trust-building and leadership There have been stark differences in the type of leadership exhibited by those charged with guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic. The unsuccessful leaders are those who tried to offer certainty by making false claims and offering false hope. The most successful leaders have built trust, admitted what they don’t know, and managed anxiety. Leaders do not always know the answer, but they recognise that followers are afraid in times of uncertainty. They also know that part of their role is to hold and contain uncertainty. In the future, this type of trust-building and containing skill will be more important than the ‘strong man’ version of leadership we have seen fail during this pandemic. 6. Emotional intelligence If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that anxiety is very real and it has severe consequences. In the future, employers will look for people who can assess the circumstances around them while also paying close attention to the emotional impact of decisions. Skills such as reflection and, more importantly, reflexivity will be critical. How well do you know yourself emotionally? How well do you know your impact on other people? What changes can you make to your management style as a result of knowing the answers to these questions? These are not intellectual questions that call for snappy answers at an interview; they are emotional questions that require an ongoing process, such as coaching, to answer. These six skills are not a definitive list, but they offer a baseline from which others can develop. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Jul 22, 2020