The differences when times get tough!

So my first full year out of the Army started terribly…

 My relationship of 5 years broke down when my Fiancé decided to leave me. I was devastated. If this wasn’t heartbreaking enough that I had lost my partner in life there was now the added pressure that I had also lost my financial partner too and I was one person on a mediocre wage with a lot of financial commitments. Life was suddenly very uncertain…

 There was no option of moving back into the block to cut my outgoings, I had a mortgage which I had to pay or I was going to lose my home. I had a large car that I couldn’t afford to run on my own and had various other outgoings that had to be paid. After the initial shock had passed and I simply had to get a grip of myself and my life! So I sat down and went over my finances with a fine tooth comb – something I thought I had done already to the n’th degree when I had left the Army. However, it’s amazing what you can cut down on when there is no alternative. I found a new mortgage deal, sold my big car and downsized to something more affordable, I changed my energy supplier, cancelled some non-essentials like my gym membership & changed where I shopped. In the space of a few weeks I had gone from not being able to afford my home and everything that came with it to my finances being fully in order with a little to spare for me. Easily the scariest and most sobering few weeks of my life…

 Another thing that I noticed about the breakdown of my relationship was that there was also no endless amount of people around me that were willing to support me and help me drowned my sorrows. Every break up I’ve had in the Military, the people who you live with rally round you for a bit and drag you out partying for a few weeks until you’re back on your feet or deeply immersed in some ridiculous rebound relationship!! I was on my own. Another thing was, with previous break ups whilst in the Army you kind of get a bit of leeway with stuff – people know you inside out, they know you intimately so they know you’re not at your best so cut you a bit of slack if you’re a hungover or a bit grumpy or not at the top of your game professionally. I didn’t want to run this gauntlet on Civvy St though as losing my job would only make things worse so stayed well off the booze and stayed relatively focused and was as professional as I could be given the circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, the people who I work with were fantastically supportive and my boss was amazing but when you leave your place of work to go home on a night, you are on your own – left with only your thoughts and as I stated in another post for someone who has suffered with mental health issues in the past or for anyone who is hurting that is not a good thing.

 So, in lieu of my Military colleagues around me on a night I decided I needed to do something to get me out of the house…something to keep me occupied on an evening. I chose to rejoin my old ladies football team and went training at the local 3G all weather pitch. The first training session was going so well. I was happy, laughing and joking with friends and then I fell over and heard the mother of all cracks from my shoulder. A first responder, an ambulance ride, a long wait in A&E, copious amounts of morphine later I was diagnosed with a Grade 3 fully separated acromioclavicular joint – In short I had smashed my shoulder to smithereens! I was told to expect to be off work for approx 6 weeks and then to possibly expect surgery after that! Another set of worries…Was I entitled to Company sick pay? If so how long was my sick pay entitlement? How do I apply for SSP if it my company sick pay runs out before I can get back to work? In the Forces you are so used to being paid unconditionally for however long you are off that but again this is very different on Civvy Street. I had never felt so much pressure to heal, there was no way I could live on the SSP! In the end it turned out I had a good period of company sick pay so when I returned to work after 5 weeks I hadn’t lost out financially, it was such a relief to get back to work, a real weight lifted from my mind.

 Now you may think that I am complaining about the last 4 months of my life – I’m not. In fact, it’s probably exactly the opposite…The last 4 months have shown me that being as heavily reliant on the Military machine as I was, wasnt a good thing. It has shown me that I am more than capable of sorting out my life even when going through the worst possible time and that with a bit of grit and determination and with the RIGHT support from family and friends you can literally get through anything. It has shown me that I have an inner strength that I never knew I had. It has also taught me that being fit and healthy is paramount and that I need to look after myself a little bit better…so unfortunately for Middleton Park Ladies FC, Im hanging up my boots in search of a less physical non-contact sport!

 So on reflection I initially thought that 2014 wasnt going to be the year for me but now I’m back on my feet financially, officially loved up with an amazing man, almost healed after my accident and now job searching for my perfect role as a stronger, happier & more accomplished person I think its the exact opposite – watch out world cos Lucy is coming to get you!!

Job Interview – Part 1 (Preparation)

I was called out of the blue by a Recruiter who had seen my CV online at cv-library.co.uk.  He explained that he was recruiting for a vacancy and he would like to put my CV forward to his client.  I asked about the role and he gave me a brief description of what I would be expected to do.  I decided I had good experience of most areas of expertise they were looking for and agreed for him to forward it on. 

A couple of days later I received a call back saying that the Client was interested in me and would like to call me forward for an interview.  I was ecstatic!!  At this point he gave me the details of the Company.  I immediately went online and had a look at both of their Company websites.  An industry leading International engineering firm – I was very impressed. 

I went out and bought a suit from Next, nothing too expensive but it looked good, smart, but the most important thing was I felt comfortable in it.  I bought a nice portfolio from Staples to house all my certificates in so they were presentable should my potential employer ask to see my qualifications.  I also placed an up to date CV in the front of the portfolio and some business cards I’d had made.  Shoes with a sensible heel and a professional looking bag topped off the look. I now had all the material things I needed.  All I had to do now was learn about the Company, learn about the job (especially the things I had no experience in) and practise those interview questions. 

The Company I was interviewing with was huge so I decided to learn a small part about where and when the firm originated and how they started out.  I then looked at what they do now and where they do it but just within the UK.  I also read and learnt their Vision, Mission and Values verbatim.  I would later align these points with my own personal Values & professional Mission when the ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ question if it came up. 

I then googled the Company to find out what else was going on away from the Company specific website.  Here I found out about some Charity/Voluntary work that the Company were doing in the Community and also about some current Redundancies that were taking place on one of their other sites in Daventry.  I would incorporate these finds into my interview to show that I had researched the Company on a wider level.  I printed all the useful information off and made a little interview pack that I could take with me and read over on the day just before going in.  I then re-read and re-read this information until it sunk in. 

Then I practised my interview questions using the STAR method.  This is a good format to use when answering competence based interview questions (ie Please tell me of an occasion where you dealt with conflict in your working environment?) as it helps you avoid rambling and enables you to provide structured, concise, relevant answers. It breaks down as follows: 

  • Situation  (What was the situation?)
  • Task (What needed to be done?)
  • Activity (What did you do?)
  • Result (What was the outcome?) 

I now just needed to put together some relevant questions about the Company that didn’t revolve around money or benefits and I was sorted!  I’d chosen to ask if the Company would support any professional development I wanted to do in the future and also if the Redundancies down South could move to the Huddersfield site.  I’d hope that these questions would show I was ambitious and that I was up to date with current affairs. 

Find out how I got on in my next post…..

The Telephone Interview

The phone interview…It’s no big deal, right? Easiest thing ever as I talk to people all the time on the phone, right? It will be a piece of cake, wont it? How wrong was I?! 

One morning I received a phone call from an unknown number, I always assume it’s a potential employer calling so I answered as clearly and politely as possible.  It turns out its a Recruitment Representative from Jet2 with regards to a vacancy I have applied for.  I couldn’t for the life of me remember the details of the post so I explained it wasn’t the most convenient time and asked them if it was possible to phone back in 10 minutes.  They were more than happy to oblige.  This gave me enough time to whizz upstairs, open up my job application spreadsheet, click onto the link to the role and have a quick read over the job specification.  By the time the Rep called back 10 minutes later I was completely clued up and feeling confident with my notebook and pen at the ready. 

After the initial pleasantries the Rep then got straight to it and started asking me a lot of competence based interview questions…What could I bring to the Role?  How would I rate myself on Excel?  What project work have I done in the past? I was completely unprepared.  I’d not done any prep on the Company or the role and it showed.  I was trying to base my answers on the job spec I had in front of me on the computer screen, trying to tell her what I thought she wanted to hear, it was all a complete bluff.  I could feel myself getting more and more flustered and found myself giving long winded answers that weren’t even relevant to the question – I was quickly talking myself out of the job by waffling!  

Once the realisation hit me that I was letting this amazing opportunity slip away, I somehow found it inside me, mid-telephone call to compose myself and just speak, normally.  I started to give clear, concise and short answers to the questions and even better, I provided examples of times when I’d performed certain tasks.  I was back on track! 

The call ended about 20 minutes later and in the end it had gone well but it was a big wakeup call that perhaps this job searching wasn’t going to be as easy as I had originally thought.  I had very nearly wasted a good chance of getting a job that I was more than qualified and wholly suitable for because I couldn’t get my act together over the phone.  After this event I did a lot of research on commonly used interview questions and pre-planned my answers carefully using examples of each competence to prove I was capable/experienced. 

I was called back a few days later and was informed I had made it through to the next round of screening.  On this occasion I was lucky, very, very lucky but I vowed never to be that unprepared for anything ever again.  The Military talks a lot about the 7 P’s – stick with em!

Applying for Jobs…? Get Organised!!

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The following post is about my experiences of applying for positions and a few things that I have found handy.

In the early days of my Resettlement leave I wasn’t applying for too many jobs, just the ones that I really fancied or a random one that sounded interesting or a role that was a bit of a stab in the dark.  So, as you can imagine it wasn’t too hard to keep a track of what I had on going.  However, as the weeks progressed and I came closer to my discharge date I was applying for more and more jobs and was worried about losing track of my applications.  Could you imagine being contacted for a position by an employer and not having a clue which role they were talking about?!  Not the most  impressive or professional way to start with a potential employer!

So, I decided I needed to be organised and made myself and excel spreadsheet with the details of all the jobs I was applying for.  This information was collated from the initial job advertisement and the receipt of application email normally sent.  My column headings were as follows:

  • Job Title
  • Recruiting Agency/Website
  • Recruiter Contact Details
  • Web Link to the Job (if applicable)
  • Job Reference Number
  • Salary or Hourly Rate
  • Date of Application
  • Current Status of Application

I filled this spreadsheet in religiously as I went along and even went as far as using colour for the status of the application. For example.  Red Cells if it was longer than 6 weeks since application or I had a rejection letter/email, amber cells if I had just applied for the position and green cells if there was some interest from the employer.  This made it then very easy to see where I was at with each individual application and also if the phone rang I could just hop on the computer and be completely happy with which position I was discussing and who I was discussing it with.

I also made a ‘Job Applications’ folder in my Professional email Inbox (you have made a separate professional email account right??) so that I could keep all my applications together.  That way as I needed certain emails they were easily and quickly located and I wasn’t trawling through hundreds of emails to find them with an employer/recruiter hanging on the phone.  And once that application was ‘redded out’ for whatever reason I could delete them.

I found that this system is simple and effective and it proved that it worked when I was called by a Recruitment Representative from Jet2 with regards to a position that I applied for BUT that is a different post all together!

Network, network, network….Professionally!

So I had decided that I was going to leave the Army and many people had said to me ‘Network as much as you can’ when it comes to finding employment.  Well, I kind of knew that but how?!  Did they mean knocking on Companies doors with CV in hand….Well, possibly but this is how I viewed it.  We live in a digital age and employers are so easily accessible these days, how is best to promote yourself to these Companies/Organisations without spending a fortune…? 

So where to start?  The first place I suggest you start is Linked In.  This is a professional networking site where you can connect with people you know professionally.  It is free, it’s very  easy to build a profile if you have a CV concocted already (it will take a little bit of time if not) and all you need to get going is an email address.  Linked In then allows you to give a Employment Title, a personal statement, your employment history and it allows you to showcase any qualification/key skills that you have.  You can also give and receive online recommendations from people you have worked or trained with.   This site also has Groups for like minded people, allows you to follow individual Companies you have an interest in, advertises jobs to suit your profession/location and gives you the opportunity to ‘Update your Status’ to let people know what you have been up to Professionally.  There is also the option to upgrade your account which gives you a lot more access to other peoples profiles, you can see the salary of the jobs advertised and it lets you see (in full) who has looked at your profile.  This website is very, very good and allows you to completely separate your personal and professional life online which is VERY important when job searching these days.  There are tons more benefits to having an account on here and one that I have personally taken advantage of is putting the link to my Linked In account on the top of my CV, therefore allowing future employers see a full, in depth, extended profile of me! 

The next thing is make a professional Twitter profile….Now, I know a lot of people out there have tried Twitter in the past and have said ‘I just don’t get it’ or ‘it’s not for me’ but trust me, there is so much going on, on there at the minute that you simply cannot afford not to have an account.  Like Linked in, its free and all you need is an email to start.  Lots and lots of Companies now advertise jobs via their Twitter accounts as do Recruitment Agencies, you can keep abreast of any recent developments within your chosen profession and you can also follow training providers to see what courses they are running –  I’ve even seen Courses advertised at reduced rates due to lack of attendance.  Take the opportunity on Twitter to advertise yourself by uploading a good head and shoulders profile pic (nobody likes to follow an egg) and write a short, sharp and effective bio.  Also on your bio add a link to your Linked In profile, that way anyone that is interested in what you tweet can then be wowed by your amazing Linked In profile!! 

The next one is Community Sites – These are sites that are run by particular Companies or Organisations for their delegates and clients.  An example of this is as follows:  I am enrolled on a CIPD Human Resources qualification that is being run by a Training Provider called Development Processes Group.  They have a Community site where people that are undertaking their training can come together and chat, blog, share experiences and generally network….I’m sure there will be some discussion about the courses too eventually but it’s a great environment where engaged professionals can come together informally.  A big thing that they hold on these Community sites too are Webinars – Online seminars about a particular subject and you can contribute as much or as little as you like, free, low stress and extremely educational. 

Another thing that I have found useful is to make an about.me profile.  This is just a webpage about you! You can choose your own background, font, colour of text, size of text, upload a picture and write a small bio.  You can imput where you have been educated or trained and also put links on there to websites of your choices.  The main thing I have found this handy for is housing all my professional networking profiles under one roof so to speak as from here people can access my Linked In profile, professional twitter account and my blog.  This one I would say isn’t necessary but is more of a nice to have! Definitely worth a look, especially with the death of the CV looming – be creative and set yourself apart from the crowds! 

Now, just let me stress to you that simply having these profiles is not enough…You have to go on your accounts regularly and be active within groups, conversations and forums.  For example.  One week I didn’t go on my Linked In account at all and I received around 3 views to my profile, the following few weeks I was on there around an hour a day and my profile received over 50 views.  Don’t fear online networking, most platforms have an Android or Apple application which makes it easier to access – make it work for you and as long as you allow time for your Networking you will be successful at it!

www.linkedin.com

www.twitter.com/career_woman

www.about.me/lucysaunders83

 

Facilitation Course, 10 – 12 June 2013

So there I was nearly at the end of my terminal leave and edging rapidly closer to my Discharge date and I heard about the APMG International’s Facilitation Course via the company Explosive Learning Solutions on Twitter – There were some last minute places going on the course and was I interested? My first thought was – 3 day course, decent price and another qualification to add to the CV…I was sold!

Then a few days later whilst I was tootling down the M1 to Oxford I started to actually think about what I was going to be doing? What was a Facilitator? What exactly was I going to be learning? I thought about what Facilitation meant to me…To facilitate meant to enable something, to aid where possible and support something to happen. Mmmmm, I worked in a customer facing role, I did that all the time right?!?!

Monday morning came and I arrived at ELS HQ. The building is modern with great facilities and is ideally located at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus just off the A34. I settled into the classroom of 6 students and we started our introductions. I was pleased to find that there was a good mix of ex-Military and Civilian personnel on the course and also on the ELS team. I felt instantly relaxed and knew the outcome of the 3 days would be extremely positive.

As it turned out this was the first EVER Facilitators Course to be run…in the entire world!! I was excited…So, I wondered, what was it all about? After a post introduction cuppa we then got down to our learning and over the next 2 and a half days we covered a vast amount of information from the text books we were provided. There was an excellent mix of presentations, discussions and exercises with regular breaks for refreshments. A fantastic lunch was also provided daily. Without giving too much away of the course material it is all about the thinking behind being a facilitator, the different models, tools and techniques that a facilitator can employ when assisting a CEO/MD/Manager with a Meeting, Event or Workshop. The emphasis on the course is all about Process or ‘Green Thinking’ and getting to the bottom of that ‘wicked problem’. The course also covered a lot of other things that can be applied in other forms of life, be it professional or personal, such as identifying Conflict and the Management of Conflict, Personality Profiling and how to be a good Active Listener. It was all interesting stuff!

Before I knew it Wednesday afternoon was upon us and it was exam time – 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in 40 minutes….Exam done and after an agonising wait whilst our instructor marked the papers we were called back into the classroom and all informed that we had passed. We were 6 newly qualified Facilitators armed with a fundamental knowledge of facilitation, we were all ecstatic.

For me this course was so intense and so very different to any other course I have ever been on in my life, there was so much information to take on board and the civilian terminology made it all the more difficult BUT I had passed, I had done it! I had passed the most challenging qualification I had embarked on during my whole life and it made me feel so proud of myself, not only that but it gave me an increased level of belief in myself and gave me a renewed level of optimism that now anything was really possible. I had met some great people and worked with a great company, I would thoroughly recommend Explosive Learning Solutions to anyone whether you are a Service Leaver embarking on a new career or whether you are just looking to do some professional development.

I’m already looking forward to booking my next course!!

http://www.explosivelearningsolutions.com/
http://www.apmg-international.com/
http://www.enhancedlearningcredits.com/

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