Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Personal Development

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to personal development.

Contractor Quick Poll: Which soft skills will you improve?

At the start of the year, LinkedIn released a list of the most high-demand skills for 2019, based on data they collected on their social platform. The list includes both soft and technical skills. Given the range of IT contractors who follow the Talent Development Centre, the technical skills they list may or may not be relevant to you. The soft skills, however, are relevant to anybody who works with people (that’s you).

Nobody is great at everything and we can always improve ourselves. LinkedIn lists five soft skills that companies look for most: Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we want to know where you fall short and intend to build. As we start the second half of 2019, which skill do you plan on improving?

The Dangers of Sitting Disease

Paper pushing, desk jockey office workers who sit all day are in danger! That’s according to this infographic by Alere Wellbeing (now Optum).

As the infographic states, “Sitting disease is a concept created by the scientific community to address the problems associated with sitting all day and living a sedentary lifestyle.” Although not recognized by all medical organizations, it explains how workers who sit for most of their job have higher risks of certain diseases and shorter lifespans. Fortunately, the infographic also offers ideas for employers and IT contractors to beat Sitting Disease and live a better life, all while continuing to do a supreme job at work.

The Dangers of Sitting Disease #infographic

Valuable Lessons from Children’s Authors and Illustrators

There are life lessons all around us and from all sorts of people. That was evident during the MASC Young Authors & Illustrators Festival that Eagle sponsored in Ottawa this past April. The event brings in hundreds of students from grades 4 to 7 who get to attend workshops with Canadian authors and illustrators.

Before the learning begins, the authors and illustrators take some time to address the attendees. Each professional had a unique message that, and although crafted for kids, they can easily apply to anyone, including an IT contractor.

Britt Wilson, Cartoonist and Graphic Novelist

Britt Wilson is from Toronto and her graphic novels include Ghost Queen, Cat Dad King of the Goblins, and Britt Wilson’s Greatest Book on Earth. In this short clip, she explains how although it’s great to have a life plan (she knew what she wanted to be since she was a young kid), it’s important to be open to change and follow new opportunities. Wilson comments that she keeps her eye on her main goals and is “still not done yet” as she may still accomplish her original dream. As a bonus, this speech also reveals how valuable social media and networking can be, as well as how simple skills matter in a job search, given her quote “Good handwriting can get you jobs.”

Cary Fagan, Author of Novels and Picture Books for Children

Cary Fagan is also from Toronto and wrote books including Mr. Zinger’s Hat, Danny, Who Fell into a Hole, the Wolfie and Fly series, plus his latest book for middle-grade readers, Mort Ziff is not Dead. Cory explains to the students that there is no such thing as 1st place, 4th place or any real “best” position when it comes to being an author. No, he’s not supporting the controversial “everybody gets a trophy” trend, but he is explaining that people have so many different tastes and preferences and each author has their own style. As a result, authors don’t bother competing but instead build a community, share stories, embrace differences and learn from each other. This is no different for IT contractors. Top technology professionals flourish depending on many variables including the industry, the project, and the people they work with. Rather than considering other contractors as your competition, take Fagan’s advice and work together to bring each other up.

Catherine Austen, Author for All Ages

Catherine Austen comes from Gatineau. Her teen thriller, All Good Children and her middle-grade novel, 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6, each received industry awards. In this final video, Austen reads a chapter from the latter book’s sequel, 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6. The title of the chapter “If you want to keep a secret, don’t post it on social media” speaks for itself and contains a valuable lesson about lies. Whether it’s through social media or any other route, you’re bound to get busted eventually. That is not limited to school because unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Eagle recruiters to catch skilled IT contractors fibbing about their experience, and when the lie is inevitably discovered, it has serious consequences to their reputation and career.

How to Deal with Difficult People on Software Projects

It takes all kinds of people to make the world work. Teams filled with different personalities, approaches and ways of thinking are the reasons for the incredible innovations that humans have created over time. If you’ve ever been on one of these teams, you know that there is also a downside — difficult people. For all the strengths and benefits that diversity brings to a team, it’s impossible to avoid clashing personalities.

Difficult people are especially easy to find throughout a software project. Product Managers, Designers, Project Managers, Development Managers, Developers and QAs come in all sorts of forms. Regardless of your role in the team, you need to know how to work with each one in order to achieve that common goal you all share.

Earlier this year, a team member received a newsletter from Recruiting Brainfood that contained a link to this fun, interactive page by Neil on Software. It’s embedded below so you can play around, or visit the page directly to get the complete experience. If you’ve been walking on egg shells because of an angry co-worker or pulling your hair out trying to get a teammate to do their part, this tool is your answer.

Tips for Beating Stress and Burnout

Tips for Beating Stress and BurnoutIt’s not unusual for IT contractors to burn the candle at both ends while juggling multiple clients and balancing their personal life. Everybody is human, though, and living such a lifestyle will only last so long. Eventually, stress catches up and burnout is inevitable, leading to a crash and all productivity being lost. While there is nothing wrong with taking on a lot to get the most out of your day, it’s important for your personal health to both recognize the signs that stress is building up, and then act on those symptoms before burnout sets in.

Fast Company recently published a series of articles on the topic of stress and burnout. In this post, the author researched medical professionals’ tips on recognizing four physical signs of stress:

  1. You’re tired in the morning but unable to fall asleep at night – chronic stress causes cortisol levels to become imbalanced so they’re low in the morning and then rise at night.
  2. You have a nervous stomach – stress makes it easier for bad bacteria to fester than good bacteria, plus it threatens your gut’s permeability. Those who are more stressed end up getting digestion difficulties, inflamed pores and acne breakouts, IBS symptoms and more.
  3. Your heart is in panic mode – Also known as “fight or flight mode” this increases blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and respiration which are supposed to be for short-term emergencies.
  4. Your mind is scattered – Stress causes people to have trouble accessing memories or information and minds have difficulty focusing.

Another Fast Company article continues to highlight the importance of recognizing these signs. In fact, its top tip for avoiding burnout is just that. It states that if you’re feeling like you’re coming down with a cold, it’s a challenge to get out of bed, you’re less interested in hanging out with friends, it’s hard to pay attention and/or if you’re grumpy and irritable, you may be on the verge of burn-out. Acting on these signs early is crucial to avoid it from getting out of control. In addition, the article suggests you can prevent burnout from taking over your life by:

  • Regularly assessing your vitals such as heart rate and cortisol levels
  • Getting out of the house and connecting with friends to build social support
  • Volunteering for an organization that you connect with
  • Adjusting your outlook on life, focusing on projects and items you can control, rather than factors beyond your control
  • Getting quality sleep by cutting out TV and other screens before bed and setting the room temperature to be a bit cooler

Finally, one other Fast Company article referenced a University of Michigan study to beat stress. It says that just 20-30 minutes in nature can cause cortisol levels to drop and will continue to drop for up to 60 minutes. The good news is that “nature” does not have to be the middle of the woods, but simply in your own mind. For example, relaxing by a tree on the street can have those effects.

Of course, many other websites and blogs discuss stress and burnout reduction techniques on a regular basis. Inc recently dug up a video of 28-year-old Bill Gates, claiming the secret to avoiding burnout is to add variety into your day and keep doing different things. And Glassdoor has this list of 9 tips to beat anxiety and stress in the workplace:

  1. Be Prepared – know what you get anxious for and prepare yourself before those situations
  2. Exercise – you feel less stress and anxious when you’re healthy, plus it helps clear your head
  3. Be with Friends – have a support network of people you can call to calm you down or tell you jokes
  4. Eat healthy – It keeps you healthy (see #2) plus junk food makes you feel tired and weak
  5. Relax – take a few minutes for yourself to listen to music or play a quick game and re-focus
  6. Hydrate – Drink plenty of water, not coffee as it will make you jittery
  7. Pace yourself – Set reasonable deadlines for projects and leave wiggle room so there is time to relax
  8. Meditate – Guided meditation, sitting in meditative poses and yoga help all ease anxiety and stress
  9. Professional support – Therapists and councillors will help guide you through tough times

Failure to manage your stress, anxiety and burnout symptoms means you are a train wreck waiting to happen. In addition to the tips above, it is recommended to plan for vacation and/or time between contracts where you can re-energize. Otherwise, it will not be long before your productivity and service begins to drop and you put your reputations as a quality IT contractor into jeopardy.

Fighting the Ongoing Battle Between Instant Gratification and Productivity

Every day we’re faced with a regular battle inside our head, as our primal urges for instant gratification compete for a spot against the drill sergeant that only wants us to focus on our goals and move forward on productivity. Both should have a spot, but the challenge is finding the balance and ensuring the proper one wins the battle each time. Sure, you could spend every waking hour working on client projects, updating resumes, completing grids, exercising and working around the house, but why bother if you’re not having fun? Vice-versa, constantly hitting the snooze button, binge watching Netflix and eating bad food isn’t going to get you to where you want to be too quickly.

So how can you come to a truce in this ongoing battle and get a high return on investment of your time, all while getting the joy you want out of life? This video by The Art of Improvement just might have your answer.

A Visual Approach to Setting SMART Goals

How frequently do you set goals? Monthly, quarterly, annually… ever? Setting goals is the first step to moving forward, getting to where you want to be, and ensuring you are not stuck in a rut. At the start of 2018, Crystal Nicol provided some tips to set goals and boost your career. Towards the end of the year, Alison Turnbull echoed her advice and advocated reflecting on the previous months to set more goals for 2019.

In both cases, the authors referenced SMART goals and how following that method will increase the likelihood your goals get accomplished. For those of you who are visual learners, we found this infographic put together by Professional Academy. Between its visuals, explanations and examples, you’re certain to walk away with some clear goals to advance your career!

A Visual Approach to Setting SMART Goals

Push the Boundaries to Go the Extra Mile

A little effort makes a big difference! When somebody asks a question and you go the extra mile to exceed expectations and deliver a truly great response, they notice. Alternatively, when you shrug them off or make up a bogus answer, they also notice.

Which method you use to deal with client and colleague questions is up to you, but we’re pretty certain the lazy-made-up-answer route isn’t going to improve any relationships or win you any contracts in the future.

To find out what kind of person you are and for tips on the best way to deal with questions or push the boundaries, have a look at the joint infographic below by The Muse and eTrade. To continue being lazy and unhelpful, ignore the below and just check out this long list of dogs on Wikipedia.

Push the Boundaries to Go the Extra Mile

Choosing the Right White Noise to Improve Your Productivity

Choosing the Right White Noise to Improve Your ProductivityMaintaining a productive atmosphere, no matter where you are, is difficult over extended periods of time. To fight these ongoing distractions, many companies, including Apple and Spotify, have created “white noise” apps and playlists to help their listeners/buyers create the ideal, portable, distraction-free bubble. The small problem is that Apple and Spotify are not the only companies on the white-noise bandwagon; so then, how do you pick the right playlists/apps to use? Here are a few things to consider:

The type of sounds you are downloading/looking at:

Many of the apps and playlists do not create actual white noise, which is defined as “noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities” to create a noise-cancelling barrier. Most popular apps and playlists create perpetual background noises such as waves, rain, birds, or even coffee shop noises (distant chatter and the tinkle of utensils/coffee cups).

The quality of the playlist/app you purchase:

Because the creation of “white noise”, or background noise, apps have become so popular in recent months, there are quite a few options to go with, including apps such as Noisli where you can pick, choose, and customize noise “playlists” that will play on repeat for extended periods of time. Experts say that ways to tell if the app is worth the install (or purchase), is the size of the app’s installation, as this will give an indication on the size of the sound file (essentially the bigger the file, the better, as all the megahertz’s will have been fully recorded and replicated).

The type of environment where you are most productive:

We can all think of a specific place/time where we are the most productive. The joy of having so many white-noise application/playlists is that most of these environments will have been replicated; you just have to search for it. For instance, Coffitivity offers three types of sounds: morning coffee shop, lunchtime, and university library. Users can pick what song they want and the never-ending background noises will play until the user presses “stop”. The sounds are authentic and the murmuring is quiet enough that it does drown out subtle/small noises in your immediate vicinity (i.e. people walking by your cubicle/desk/office). If you are a person who truly works better in pure silence, however, getting an actual white-noise app (there are no playlists for this type of sound), rather than a background noise app, should achieve that type of environment.

To download an app or playlist, that is the question:

Now that you’ve figured out what type of environment is the best for you, you’re able to start whittling down the what, where, and how of your noise-cancellation bubble. If you’re the type of person who concentrates best with background music, a playlist may be your best option (Apple and Spotify both have fantastic generic playlists for musical genres such as “classical”, “jazz”, and even “videogame/soundtracks”). If listening to noises, such as ocean waves, rain, or birds are more appealing then apps are a perfect choice.

What do you like listening to most when working? Do you have any preferred white noise playlists or apps? We’d love to hear from you. Please share your suggestions below.

Stop Saying these 2 Words and Drastically Improve Your Communication

Great communication skills are essential for getting ahead as an independent contractor. While just one word, “communication” encases so much! At the highest level, it’s being a good speaker or writer, but you also need to understand your audience (their generation or knowledge on a subject) and yourself (tone and approach go a long way). Right down to the specific words you use and, more importantly, don’t use.

Have you ever been in a conversation or listened to a speech and was baffled by how many times the speaker said “Um” or “Like”? Now, have you ever paid attention to how much you’ve been guilty of the same? These two words come out of nearly everyone’s mouth, and it’s not limited to any education level or seniority. You rarely notice if they’re not said, but when they are, they stick out like a sore thumb and affect a listener’s perception of you.

Put an end to (or minimize) both of those words in your spoken vocabulary by looking through the two infographics below. We found the first one on 9gag.com and it provides 11 killer tips to stop saying “um”.  More recently, we found the following infographic from Quid Corner that gives advice of no longer using the word “like” in the wrong places.

Stop Saying Umm Forever

Stop Saying Like All the Time