The Human Touch! A True Story of Career Change
When a prospective client called me to say they were bored in their current role, but were not sure what they wanted to do, it's usually music to my ears! Being a career change specialist used to helping those looking for new career ideas, I thought "This is bread and butter to me"! I was to be proved wrong … Challenges lay ahead …
It transpired that she had been in the same middle management role for almost nine years, had gained some influence within the company, enjoyed the social aspects of the role but felt a little nervous in these situations (she worked for a private company funded by a Government contract – an unusual situation in the UK). Her role meant she was able to attend senior level meetings, sit on some important internal groups, and have the general day to day line management role. She was "comfortable" I guess you could say.
She knew that she wanted a change but really had no idea where to start. We started to work through my Kick-Start Career Change Program, but alongside this I was coaching her slight lack of social confidence, as I was very aware that this element would probably be a feature in any future interview process. What I mean is that the academic and achievement side of ones CV is one thing, but the ability to be social – naturally – is in my view equally important. It forms sometimes major components of an interview process, and I suggested that she needed to be prepared for this.
After a few weeks, she found a job that she liked the look of. It was a children and parents services type of role. The challenge was that it was outside her current field, and was a big step up too (Middle to Senior / Strategic Manager)! She felt she could do the job, and duly completed the application form, matching not only the "Essentials" but also the "Desirables" on the Person Spec. (Desirables can sometimes get overlooked, but can often be the difference between being on the yes or no pile for interview selection!). She got the interview! Unfortunately she was still a bit concerned as to her possible performance in some of the stages of the interview, particularly a stakeholder (Observers, Staff, Parents, and Children) evening 'get together' (Death by Vol Au Vent, as a friend of Mine calls it !!). Fortunately we had been spending time coaching through this kind of very thing, and constantly her concerns that had improved no end in her confidence.
The evening in question came and her and five other candidates entered a large hall containing bean bags, tables, and about fifty people. It was a semi-structured affair of chatting to stakeholders around the room across a broad range of subjects. We had talked about the importance of empathy with your chosen client group – or in this case the service user – ie Parents and Children. Rather than stay too formal, she decided to take off her jacket, kick off her shoes (an inspirational move!), And sit on the bean bags chatting to the parents and interacting and joking with the children. This earned some "over the top of the glasses" style looks from other candidates in the room! Of course, she also spent time circulating with, and identifying who she needed to impress in relation to staff also.
The interview follows the next day, and consistent of a battery of questions, and tour of the building (never reply a tour of the building, even if you know it well. It can actually help, as you may be introduced to staff members, Who may also in turn be involved in the decision making process). All of this went well, and I'm happy to report that she was offered the post.
We had a debrief a few days later, and I'd like to share the output of that with you. In essence I think it is really important to consider:
• Being simply personable. This is so key and yet so overlooked.
• Having real communication skills – appropriate balance of listening, talking, empathy.
• Being flexible and adaptable to the circumstances (The bean bag scenario, as mentioned above!)
• Ask people what they need during social events as part of a selection process- then provide an interview panel with the solutions.
• Sense of Humor – use appropriately. It can show your human side. Appropriateness is the key.
I hope that this journey has given you a few insights into the social side of the interview process. We hear so much these days about social media, but the face-to-face skills are what count extremely. Think about the social skills that you have; Hone them, be aware of your surroundings and act accordingly. Good luck to you in your career search!