Set goals, not resolutions

Happy new year!

A new year brings a fresh start. It’s a great time to commit to making positive changes, both personally and professionally. Many of us set new year’s resolutions, despite the harrowing statistic that 80 per cent of them fail by February.

Want to avoid becoming a statistic and make lasting changes this year? Try setting SMART goals rather than simply making resolutions.

What’s a SMART goal, you ask? SMART goals are:

Specific – Call out the who, what, when, where and why. What exactly do you need, or want, to do?

Measurable – Numbers are everything! Without metrics, you won’t be able to know if I’ve achieved a goal, or how far you need to go to get there.

Attainable – The end result needs to be attainable based on your skills and experience.

Realistic – Be honest about what you can achieve. Consider your workload and available time to tackle the steps you need to take.

Time-bound – Map out the milestones between now and a deadline for achieving the goal.

Find out more about setting SMART goals here.

Goals, career, job, resumeAt the start of 2018, I set a goal to gain recognition of my project management expertise and skills. I applied the SMART model to this goal so that I knew when I achieved it. Success meant obtaining my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification by February, and applying my knowledge to manage a significant project at work from March to August.

This year, I have some new goals on my mind. They are to dedicate more time to Pencil Skirts & Punctuation (as a reader of this blog, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that one!), and to run a 10 km race in June. My next step will be to make these into SMART goals.

Have you set goals for 2019? Take a few moments now to jot down what you’d like to achieve. Follow the SMART model and make it more likely that you’ll get there.

As we move through the year, I’ll continue to check-in to see how I’m progressing toward my goals. Hopefully, I do well enough to share my progress here. Until then, I wish you a healthy, happy 2019!

Image credits: Pixabay.com.

Freelancing: Friend or foe?

A recent Fast Company article on the current state of the freelance job market revealed, at least in the eyes of this media outlet, that “working for one’s self used to be the definition of the American dream – and, apparently, it still is.”

The article reports on the Freelancing in America 2018 study, which concluded that “Americans increasingly prefer to work where they want, when they want, and on the work of their choosing.” One in three American workers freelances, and 61 per cent of freelancers said they’ve chosen to work this way versus working in staff jobs more by necessity. Millennials are leading the pack. Forty-two percent of of 18-to-34-year-olds now freelance, up from 38 per cent in 2014.

The report on the study results makes it seem like freelancers are eating their cake and having it too. It reports that full-time freelancers are 21 per cent more likely to say their work also allows them to live the lifestyle they want (84 per cent of freelancers say this versus 63 per cent of non-freelancers).

Freelance, resume, job, career

This paints a rosy picture of freelancing as one’s primary form of employment, which appears to be coveted by younger workers. But what the researchers don’t seem to ask is what about the labour market has made freelancing float to the top? And, has it become more common by choice or necessity?

According to Forbes, the driving forces behind the freelance job economy are becoming more prevalent. These include education not meeting the skills that employers need, using “gig” workers to reduce employment costs (freelancers are often paid low wages and don’t receive health benefits), and bringing freelancers in to meet short-term project needs. The availability of communications technologies that support freelancers is making the growth in this job category possible.

Twitter responded by highlighting the complex issues at the heart of the study results, while also calling out Fast Company’s use of the word “deciding” in their headline. For example, @RevEricAtcheson explained some of the reasons that freelancing is a necessity, not a decision, for some. He said:

“Deciding to freelance” sure is a funny way of spelling “navigating a job market that has eliminated pensions, affordable health insurance, cost-of-living raises, and many other trappings of steady employment our parents and grandparents benefited from for decades.”

Freelance, career, resume, cover letter, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation

That said, freelancing has other pros and cons that should be considered. It can be a way for people to generate an income for their side hustles. Or, freelance work could allow a person to gain experience and references in a new industry as a stepping stone to a career shift, while still working full-time elsewhere to make a living. Saving time, energy and money on a daily commute by working as a remote freelancer might be a perk for some people, while others might miss being around colleagues on a daily basis.

So, although freelancing’s attributes are a good fit for some people, for others it’s likely done out of necessity if a full-time position, along with its security and relatively higher pay level, can’t be obtained.

What are your thoughts on the growth of the freelance job market? If you’re a freelancer, what advice would you give to others? Share in the comments.

Image credits: Pixabay.com; Twitter.com.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

3 things not to say in a job interview

Picture yourself at a job interview.

You might be seated across from a hiring manager in a boardroom, or sitting with your potential new boss in their office. You’re wearing your favourite interview-appropriate outfit. You’ve prepared for the interview based on tips from recruiters. You answer the interviewer’s questions and clearly, concisely and convincingly share information about yourself, your capabilities and your accomplishments. You convey why you’d be an awesome fit for both the role and the organization.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

But keep in mind that while you’re in this interview, there could be a few things that you want to know about the job, or that are motivating you to apply for it, which you should keep to yourself. Otherwise, you could risk tarnishing your image with the interviewer, or risk your likelihood of being hired.

Here are three things to never ask about or say in a job interview:

  1. Don’t say the job you’re interviewing for is a stepping stone to another job. Think about if you were dating someone and they told you they were waiting for someone better to come along – you’d feel pretty bad. That’s how a potential employer would take it too.
  2. Don’t complain about your past employer. It can indicate that you’re immature or unable to build professional relationships.
  3. Don’t ask about vacation time. You may seem like you’re already eager to step away from the role and your responsibilities. You’ll learn about (and maybe even be able to negotiate) vacation time if you receive a job offer.

Can you think of any other things to avoid saying in an interview? Share in the comments.

Image credits: Pixabay.com.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

Pitch Charming: How to create an elevator pitch

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?”

This was the question that Steve Jobs of Apple posed to John Sculley, an executive who was working at Pepsi, who Jobs wanted to take on the role of CEO at Apple. Despite being offered a generous salary and impressive stock options, it was this one line that stuck with Sculley and made him take the job at Apple.

On his CBC Radio show Under the Influence, marketing and advertising authority Terry O’Reilly described this example as the “best elevator pitch in history” in an episode of the same name.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine JaremeyWhat’s an elevator pitch?
An elevator pitch is a short, concise encapsulation of an idea. But, it’s so compelling, that it ignites action. It’s an icebreaker that will hopefully lead to having a more in-depth dialogue in the future.

The most important thing about an elevator pitch is its length. Think about it as how you’d describe something to someone in the brief time it takes to go from the first floor to the second floor in an elevator. However, some people say it can be as long as 60 seconds. My rule of thumb? The shorter, the better. There’s only so much the audience can digest and remember in a brief amount of time.

O’Reilly describes the elevator pitch as the test of an idea. If you can’t short-form your idea, it lacks focus and clarity. This is why an elevator pitch is a core communications tool that’s often used to describe companies, brands and marketing campaigns.

Pitching your personal brand
When it comes to your career and marketing yourself in the job market, an elevator pitch can be a compelling way to express your personal brand. Your personal brand is the image or impression that you can establish about yourself and your career in the minds of others, including contacts in your network, your employer or potential employers. Learn more about cultivating your personal brand here.

Distilling this information into an elevator pitch can convey that your career has a clear direction, that you understand your strengths, and that you know how you can provide value.

What will your elevator pitch look like? Here’s a simple recipe:

Step 1: Start with what you do
Step 2: Then, add context to convey the value you bring
Step 3: Finish with where you’re going next

When you add these together, the finished product can look something like:

“As an accounting expert with my CPA and five years of experience working at a global accounting firm, I’m now focusing on increasing my management experience while providing counsel directly to clients.”

“I am a public relations specialist with three years of experience in the technology industry. I’ve worked on award-winning campaigns and have secured top-tier media coverage. Now, I’m building my project management and strategic planning expertise.”

If you’re struggling at first with creating your elevator pitch, don’t worry. Distilling an idea – or something as complex as your career – to its very essence is an art. For inspiration, listen to the full Under the Influence episode for examples of the elevator pitches created by leading companies and brands. Try running drafts of your elevator pitch past friends, family members or peers at work and ask for their constructive input.

Want to learn more about crafting an elevator pitch for your personal brand? Find more tips here.

When you’re done, and if you’re feeling brave, share your elevator pitch in the comments!

Image credits: Pixabay.com; Pexels.com.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

Job recruiters share how to get hired

If you have a job interview coming up, you probably want to make the most of your face time with the company. Whether you’re working with a third-party recruiter or an in-house hiring manager, these nine tips from recruiters, compiled in a video by Buzzfeed, can help you prepare for your interview. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to watch the full video!Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine JaremeyTip 1: Don’t lie
In an interview, people might say that they’ve worked at a company when they haven’t, or that they have a degree when they don’t, thinking it will give them a competitive edge in the hiring process. If the recruiter, hiring manager or the company’s pre-employment screening department are thorough, it’s likely that the truth will be revealed. Depending on when that happens, you may not get a second interview, or a job offer can be rescinded. The worst part of that scenario? You’d never know if you would have been successful with the company had you just told the truth.

Tip 2: Nail your resume
What are recruiters’ top tips for a great resume? They include:

  • A resume shouldn’t be longer than two pages (or one page double-sided)
  • Highlight the things you’re most proud of first, then list your work experience
  • Avoid using unprofessional fonts like Comic Sans or symbols like Wingdings
  • Only include information that’s relevant to the position, without oversimplifying too much

Tip 3: Do your research
Find out about the company and the role that you’re applying for. Learn as much as you can by visiting the company’s website and social media channels, look them up on Glassdoor, or have an informational interview with a current or former employee. Know what about the company makes you want to work there. Bring print-outs of your findings (like a recent press release) to an interview to demonstrate that you did research and understand the company.

Tip 4: Don’t come in sick
If you have a communicable disease, like pink eye, a cold or the flu, be honest about it with the recruiter, hiring manager, or other person who arranged the interview. Be as flexible as you can about rescheduling it.

Tip 5: Dress appropriately
Do research on the company’s dress code as you prepare your outfit for your interview. Then, dress one “notch” above it. For example, one recruiter described his office as “business comfortable” and would want a candidate to demonstrate that they fit into the dress code. Depending on the industry you’re in, wearing a three-piece suit to an interview may not be appropriate. Find more tips about dressing for a job interview here.

Tip 6: Know your greatest weakness
This question can indicate how honest and self-aware you are. Recruiters or hiring managers can generally tell if you’re being genuine. When sharing an actual weakness that you want to work on, be sure to follow it up with how and why.

Tip 7: Know when to negotiate
Be transparent about your salary expectations from the beginning so that both you and the recruiter or hiring manager can find a salary level that all parties are happy with. However, be aware of the salary band for the role you’re applying for. It’s unlikely that a company can exceed the band’s upper and lower limits.

Tip 8: Ask questions
Have at least three questions to ask the recruiter or hiring manager at the end of the interview. Where do you start? The following questions are helpful because the responses can serve as a “cheat sheet” for what to do in the first three months on the job if you get it.

  • What can I do in the first three months to be successful?
  • What do the first 30 to 90 days look like in this job?
  • How can I immediately add value in this role?

Tip 9: Keep calm and carry on
Sometimes a person who isn’t hired may overstep when engaging with the recruiter or hiring manger after getting the bad news. Requesting a Linkedin connection is fine, but following and messaging them on other social media channels or showing up at their office won’t be well-received. If an opportunity doesn’t work out, stay calm and professional. The recruiter may end up having another job that’s a better fit down the road.

Do you agree with these job recruiters’ tips? Share in the comments.

Image credits: Pixabay.com; Buzzfeed.com.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, science communication, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

Science communication 101

My professional role is Communications Specialist at CCRM, which is a Toronto-based leader in the commercialization of regenerative medicine technologies, and cell and gene therapies. Part of my role involves learning about the science and innovations that happen in the lab and translating them to the public. This practice is known as science communication.

The craft of science communication is becoming more common as researchers, engineers and others working in science increasingly want to make the public aware of their research and results through social media, media interviews (which lead to articles in print or online media, or segments on TV or radio news broadcasts), in videos, at exhibitions and in presentations. Although science communication falls within the larger domain of communication, there are specific nuances and approaches that science communicators must be aware of to be successful. Canadian universities even offer courses on science communication so that people can start to master the practice early on in their careers.

By examining the transferrable skills I’ve gained as a public relations (PR) strategist working in an agency setting in past roles, I understand how these skills can be applied to supporting folks in the science community as they delve into science communication. Although experts know the facts and figures behind their projects and results, a communications specialist like myself can successfully translate this information to public audiences who are interested in science, but may not share the same technical prowess.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, science communication, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

If you’re a communications professional who is providing counsel to a science communicator, I have a few tips for you to pass along. The advice noted below comes from posts that I’ve composed as a guest blogger on Signals Blog, which provides an insider’s perspective on the world of stem cells and regenerative medicine, and is managed and edited by CCRM.

Tip 1: Hone your message for media – Sharing messages with media has the potential to increase their reach and credibility. However, scientists must adapt their messages to ensure that media can easily understand and effectively incorporate them into an article or broadcast. How? Cut the jargon, get to the news early in the pitch, and tailor messages to resonate with the audience. Learn more about these techniques here.

Tip 2: Incorporate storytelling principles – Good communication is essentially storytelling. When crafting messages to report on scientific research or a new discovery, using the six elements of a great story can lead to more compelling messages. The six elements to add are a hook to pique the audience’s interest, characters to captivate the audience, the right setting, small details that convey implicit messages, inside information in layman’s terms (see cutting the jargon, above!), and surprise to drive engagement.

Tip 3: Pick the right channel – The communications channel you use can depend on what’s being communicated or who the target audience is. It might take a bit of creativity to think of how a non-expert would best absorb the material. For example, exhibitions, like the ones at the Ontario Science Centre, are good ways to engage children and youth. A Facebook Live broadcast, like this one that I helped produce at CCRM that shares an engineer’s work and career path, can engage social media-savvy adults.

What if you encounter someone who’s skeptical that science communication even matters? Let them know that in some cases, effectively sharing research results and their implications can be a life-or-death scenario. If you think I’m just being dramatic, watch the below video that explains some science communication fails from history, and their ramifications for the public’s health and well-being.

What other science communication tips do you have? Share in the comments.

Image credits: Pixabay.com.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

Make productivity great again

Do you ever find yourself facing a mountain of things to do at home without knowing where to start? What about having hundreds of unopened emails in your inbox? If you’re nodding your head, don’t worry – I’ve been there too.

If you need a hand tackling your to-dos, I’d like to share a few learnings from a fantastic resource – a book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. Getting Things Done provides a paradigm-shifting way to think about your work, your tasks and your deadlines. The takeaways from the book are helpful for not only being organized at work, but at home too.

GTD e book photoI was first introduced to the book and its methods in a training session at work. I was pleased to learn that some of the practices were already part of my daily time and task management routine. Since, I’ve read the book and I’m more aware of how the principles positively influence my productivity, and I’ve improved how I use them.

Both life and work can throw a seemingly-endless stream of stimuli at you every day. Take your email inbox as an example. Emails can be nerve-wracking because each one varies in the level of engagement required from you. They can demand an answer to a question, include a message that you’re CC’d on only for reference, provide a document or presentation that requires your detailed review, share details for a new project, or even alert you to a crisis. This can be overwhelming without a system that enables you to filter them based on importance, urgency and priority, and then apply your attention appropriately.

The system that can help – with both email, and everything else you need to do – is the Getting Things Done methodology.

This methodology is the key to productivity. It makes you appropriately engaged with the tasks at hand so that they can be managed effectively by understanding the one next step that you need to do. This doesn’t mean that every item on your plate is completed immediately, but instead, you take the right step that ensures you’ll get those things done when they need to be. At the same time, you get them off the laundry list of to-dos that are running through your head.

Why is it important to free up space in your mind by relying on a system, rather than your brain power, to manage your daily to-dos? You can gain a feeling of control and focus your attention where you need it. This will provide the mental capacity to be creative, solve complex challenges, think of new ideas, and focus on being stress-free.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

The philosophy behind Getting Things Done is summed up nicely in the following quote:

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” – David Allen

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how the Getting Things Done system works. The below Workflow Map demonstrates how random inputs are filtered as actionable or not actionable, and the possible steps you can take based on context, time available and resources.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

What are some of my Getting Things Done habits? I boost my productivity by:

  • Writing actionable to-do lists – It might be intuitive to think about the things that you need to do in terms of entire projects. Rather than just listing my projects on my to-do list, which can be both overwhelming and not actionable, I break down those projects into the immediate next steps that I can take. For example, if I need to write a media coverage analysis report, there are many steps that need to be complete before writing the actual report. For example, a first step would be to compile the coverage and the associated metrics into a chart, and a second step could be to ask my colleagues for similar reports that were completed in the past so that I can start with a template. Writing these micro actions down provides me with a snapshot of all the steps that go into a project and how long they’ll take, so that I can move the project forward while managing my time effectively.
  • Acting immediately – This doesn’t mean that I immediately finish each task. Instead, when something new is put on my plate, I take the first step toward getting it done right away. If I can complete the task within two minutes – like sending a short email response or providing availability for a meeting – then I’ll do it right away. If not, I’ll either delegate the task and set a reminder to follow-up with the person regarding their progress, or defer it by adding it to my to-do list (broken down into actionable steps, of course), setting due dates in my calendar and filing emails/files to reference later.
  • Keeping a clear email inbox – My goal at the end of each work day is to have an empty inbox. To achieve this, I consistently review my emails and move them to designated folders that are based on my projects. If emails include an attachment, before filing the email I’ll save the attachment to my computer or the company shared drive to refer to later. If there’s an action item that I need to complete eventually, I set a meeting or a reminder in my calendar. Find more tips for managing your emails here. This helps reduce the potential for chaos in my mind because I’ve already addressed each email appropriately.

Resume, cover letter, job interview, career, public relations, project management, Pencil Skirts & Punctuation, Laine Jaremey

Want to learn more about Getting Things Done without reading the book? Check out two videos: an animated book summary and a TEDx Talk by David Allen on the high-level principles.

Have you tried applying the Getting Things Done system to improve your productivity? How did it work for you? Share in the comments.

Image credits: Pixabay.com; Laine Jaremey; David Allen & Co.