Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Soft Skills

Tips for independent contractors to improve in-demand soft skills that IT hiring managers across Canada are seeking for all tech roles.

Don’t Let Knee-Jerk Decisions Destroy Your Career

Don't Let Knee-Jerk Decisions Destroy Your Career

We work with thousands of senior IT contractors. They have incorporated a contracting business and have been participating in the gig economy for years. As the economy gets challenging and contracts get halted, we’ve seen an increase in these professionals deciding that they’d prefer the lower-risk position of a permanent employee. They start seeking out these jobs and, because of their high qualifications, many companies are thrilled to have the opportunity to scoop up such talent. On the contrary, it’s common in economic downturns to see IT professionals who are typically more comfortable as an employee embrace the IT contracting side of things, and start to pick up these contract opportunities.

For some of these people, the change is perfect. Whether it’s the individual who gave up contracting or embraced it, the economic uncertainty forced them to review their career paths and do something they needed to do long ago. But that’s not everyone! If you’re considering this type of career change, you need to first ask yourself if you’re reacting too quickly with a knee-jerk decision that, although is a short-term solution, will have negative consequences down the road.

What happens when the economy starts picking up and operating at healthy levels again (and it will!)? If we consider the long-time contractor who transitioned to becoming a senior employee, are they going to want to get back into the game and leave the company high and dry, shortly after it invested significant time and money into that professional? Or, is that new-found contractor going to take the first secure permanent job opportunity they can, breaking whatever contract it is that they’re working on? In both of these cases, the results are angry companies, bad references and tarnished reputations for the IT professional.

We’re certainly not saying that IT professionals should remain without income and pass up opportunities. When you find yourself out of work, of course the best thing to do is to get back into the game. And when the economy is going through a rough patch, you have to take the jobs that are available. What you do need to ask yourself is whether or not you’re making a decision based on an immediate, emotional reaction without taking time to think it through — a knee-jerk decision.

The above is just one example of reacting to a situation without enough thought. Something goes wrong and we need to stop the bleeding so we implement a solution as soon as possible, without much analysis. The problem is, that quick a reaction opens up another problem which leads to another knee-jerk reaction and the vicious circle continues. It’s a common shortfall in management and leadership, with plenty of literature on that topic, and we also see it with many job seekers.

Suddenly quitting because a contract isn’t going your way, severing ties and burning bridges with recruiters because of one bad experience, or even picking up and moving the family to an entirely new city are all other overreactions that happen more often than we’d like to see. Next time you find yourself in a brutal situation where you are making decisions that you might regret down the road, consider some of these tips:

  • Take Time: When it comes to your career, very few (if any) decisions need to be made within hours. Often you even have a few days. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Before making any rash decisions, sleep on it and talk it through with others.
  • Understand Your Emotions: It’s important to know yourself and what kinds of triggers in your life might spark which emotions. From there, dealing with the emotions and understanding why you’re feeling them will help to put you in a more rational state-of-mind.
  • Don’t Judge the People: Too often we make decisions based on the other people involved. We have a preconceived judgement of that individual’s character and assume that their behaviour is malicious. The resulting reaction is unnecessary and out-of-place.
  • Ensure You Have the Facts: Taking time, understanding emotions and keeping feelings towards people out of the way are all steps you can take to gather the facts from experts and view the big picture.
  • Avoid the Herd Mentality: Related to gathering the facts, often we see people make bad decisions quickly simply because everyone else is doing it. They’re not always right.
  • Set Goals as a Guide: Great leaders look to their company’s mission and values before making important decisions to ensure their being guided by the right principals. Set goals today and know what you want. Then, when it comes to making that quick decision, you can look back on your original goals and ensure you’re following your guiding light.

There is a definite balance between making a quick decision and taking too long to make decisions. While some situations need faster action than others, always ensure you’re going through a rational decision-making process, especially when it comes to your career.

Stop Playing the “Blame Game” and Start Finding a Solution

Stop Playing the "Blame Game" and Start Finding a Solution

The “Blame Game” is a habit that humans pick-up at a young age. Kids are quick to learn how to pin their mistakes on their siblings, cousins or any other sucker who can get them out of trouble. As they get older, students push responsibility for their failures and shortcomings onto teachers, coaches and peers. You would think that as we mature this behaviour stops, but many adults are guilty of it… some more than others. We’ve all had those colleagues who are adept at dodging accountability and shifting responsibility — they’re experts at professional dodgeball!

There’s no single reason people point blame at others, whether it’s intentional or subconscious. It can be a natural form of survival as people try to hide their mistakes to keep their job and avoid consequences. Serial blaming may stem from insecurities, jealousy, office politics or simple dislike for others. It’s mostly irrational yet still all too common.

Blame culture, in the workplace or any other aspect your life, is harmful. The aggressive and attacking behaviour hurts feelings, damages relationships, and destroys reputations. It’s also contagious, meaning when one person starts laying blame, it begins a vicious circle where others get angry and point blame back. In the end, everybody’s now sidestepped accountability and, even worse, absolutely no progress is made on the project at-hand.

Putting an End to the Blame Game

The first step to ending this toxic behaviour is to take a look at your own habits. Things go wrong and mistakes happen, it’s a natural part of life. For IT contractors, a bad interview, not getting the interview at all, a project going off the rails — these are all cases where it’s easy to cast blame on the recruiter, manager or team member. While it may be true, there are some important steps to take in order to remain professional:

  • Point to Facts, Not People. Maintain the big picture of why things went wrong, including the process and environment. Avoid pointing to an individual unless it is absolutely something that was their responsibility.
  • Admit When You’re at Fault. Understand that nothing was 100% outside your control. Take an objective look at what failed and figure out what you could have done differently to prevent that situation and take ownership.
  • Know Your Responsibilities from the Start. Great communication prevents so many needless problems. When responsibilities are clarified at the beginning of a project, it’s less likely there will be mistakes and, if there are, accountability is clear. A tense argument over fault won’t be necessary.

While you should refrain from needlessly pointing blame, the same is true on the other side of the scenario — don’t be the person who always accepts responsibility for somebody else’s errors. IT contractors are in a position where you get blamed for more than necessary. It’s easy for clients and their employees to push responsibility for failures onto you. Even lousy recruiters will tell their boss that you flubbed the interview when, in reality, they didn’t prepare you properly. Sure, they all should have been more prepared and communicated better, but why damage their internal relationships when there’s a perfectly good contractor to use as a scapegoat? This is where preparation and documentation are key. Double-check responsibilities, ask many detailed questions, and confirm agreements by email, ensuring that if things go wrong, you can back up all of your work.

Whether working on a project or searching for a job, things are going to go wrong. Finding and solving the root of a problem is a difficult process that often includes accepting responsibility and addressing other people’s shortfalls… all without hurting relationships. That is not easy. What tricky situations have you found yourself in? Do you think you could have handled them better?

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic really became a reality for Canada in March, millions of Canadians were forced to work from home on a full-time basis, and many were setting up home offices for the first time. It was a big change, and understandably, productivity was expected to slip as we adjusted to a new way of doing this.

Eagle’s COVID-19 resources have had no shortage of work-from-home advice to help you get set-up and the Internet in general is overflowing with information to help you out. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that three months later, clients and employers expect that you should now be working at full capacity. If you’re not there yet, then it’s time to build a routine to get yourself moving. And you need to do it now.

Routine will bring a sense of normality back to your day. It helps you build a regular schedule and to-do lists which are going to prevent procrastination and help you avoid bad habits overall. You’ll also begin to develop some great habits and your productivity will return to a level you can be proud of.

Having a routine in place is also critical to your own health. Indumathi Bendi, M.D., a physician at Piedmont Healthcare recently told Apartment Therapy “Carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable. Preparedness is a key way to prevent stress.”

If you seek out expert advice on “the best morning routines” or “#1 work from home routines to make you a star” you’re going to be overwhelmed with different opinions and theories. The truth is, your routine is going to be different from anyone else’s. It will depend on your personal life (do you have kids hanging around the house?), your personal productive periods (everybody is more productive in different parts of the day), and hundreds of other variables unique to you.

Your best routine is going to mirror the regular work day you used to have — from waking up to commuting to working hours — as much as possible. Here are some elements to consider when creating your work-from-home routine:

  • Your Workspace: Your bed or the couch is not going to cut it. Even if you live in a small apartment without a private office, you still need a small area with a desk/table to keep organized.
  • Start/End Times: Setting specific “office hours” for yourself helps you build work/life balance and clients will know exactly when you’re available.
  • Breaks: Plan a regular lunch break and coffee breaks throughout your day, just as you’d have at the office.
  • Exercise: If you used to go to the gym in the morning or after work, continue to build those workouts into your routine at home. Don’t forget that walk you used to take from your car to the office. Even that void can be filled with a quick walk around the block.
  • Sleep: It’s easy to get into the habit of sleeping in a bit longer when you no longer have to worry about a commute or spending so much time getting ready. But that will creep up on you and, when the time comes, returning to regular office hours is going to be extremely difficult. Continue to wake up at the same time you used to and use that new-found time for yourself. Exercising, meditating or connecting with people are all amazing things we didn’t used to have time for but now the opportunity is there!

Your daily routine doesn’t need to be written down in stone and followed aggressively, but some sort of structure and predictability will do wonders for your productivity and mental health combined. What does your daily work-from-home routine look like?

Change the Negative Attitude That’s Destroying Your Career

Change the Negative Attitude That's Destroying Your Career

When we look back at all the reasons contractors have created a bad reputation for themselves, one common theme sticks out across the stories — a negative attitude. We all have bad days but there are some IT professionals we meet who are plagued with a negative attitude that hinders their relationships with not just recruiters, but clients too. In fact, there are situations when clients have asked us never to present an individual to them again because their demeanour was too sour.

Examples of negative contractors stand out through the entire job search and contracting process. Some destroy their first impressions with rude interactions when a recruiter first reaches out. Rude behaviour like immediately demanding “What’s the rate?”, swearing or hanging up mid-conversation are all behaviours that almost guarantee you will not be hearing from that recruiter again, no matter how much of a fit you are for the next role. You might argue that intrusive phone calls from random recruiters in the middle of the day warrants a harsh response, but there are certainly more polite ways to handle the human being on the other end of the phone.

Then there are the times a negative attitude suddenly appears from the qualified IT contractor who we’re working with to submit to a client. These individuals were amazing in the initial screening but transition into a monster. They refuse advice, telling us their resume is “good enough” and when they get in front of the client for an interview, they immediately start bashing previous clients and sometimes even the potential client! Then, when the inevitable decline comes in, they throw the blame back on the recruiter, claiming they were badly prepared or misinformed about the opportunity.

And finally, the most common example of negative attitudes that hinder a contractor’s career come when they’re at the client site. It’s usually something that doesn’t come out immediately, but then the client informs us that the individual is intolerable. The negative person takes a hostile approach to dealing with confrontation or has a “my way or the highway” frame of mind. In other words, customer service on the contractor’s part is clearly lacking.

Do any of these examples sound like you? Have you noticed that people are calling you less and less for opportunities? It might be time to take control and bring a more positive approach to your work. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

  • Recognize the negative attitudes you have and when they’re most prevalent. This is the most difficult part of the process and requires some uncomfortable self-awareness.
  • Identify the cause. Are you unhappy in other parts of your life? Are you under pressure or frustrated and reacting with too much emotion?
  • Understand how negativity is affecting your career. Recognizing the bridges you’ve burned will give you motivation and goals to create a change.
  • Evaluate how you speak. You may think you’re a positive person, but if you think back to conversations you’ve had throughout the day, your wording may have been perceived as miserable.
  • Force yourself to use positive speech and positive self-talk. Consciously adding more positive words and eliminating the negative words from your vocabulary will shift your way of thinking and your natural conversations.
  • Put yourself in positive situations. Indulge in more comedy, read more uplifting stories and, most importantly, surround yourself with positive people. You’ll naturally pick up a different approach.
  • Take on a “Change” mentality instead of being a victim. Rather than get angry at a situation, ask questions to see how you can make it better.

All of us slip up here and there. Sometimes you’re having a bad day and, frankly, sometimes you have to deal with ridiculous people who need to be put in their place. What will differentiate you as a negative or positive contractor is how you deal with each situation. Carefully thinking about your wording, recognizing when you mess up and apologizing, as well as understanding other people’s bad days will all move you into a more favourable spot with both recruiters and clients.

Handling a Recruiter’s Unexpected Cold Call While Maintaining a Positive Relationship

 

Handling a Recruiter's Unexpected Cold Call While Maintaining a Positive Relationship

IT contractors who have been in the community for long enough know that cold calls from tech recruiters are inevitable. Sometimes you welcome them, other times you find them a nuisance, but one thing you’ve learned is that they’re not going away.

Naturally, we prefer that you embrace these calls. Recruiters dream of calling a contractor who answers the phone on the first ring, drops everything to listen intently about the opportunity, provides all the information required and gratefully thanks them before hanging up and emailing an updated resume right away. Ha! We also understand the reality that you’re a busy professional receiving calls from other agencies too and you simply don’t have time to humour us all.

Great recruiters understand that they need to build respectful relationships with IT contractors if they want to do business with them in the future. Similarly, smart contractors are aware that it’s wise to build relationships with recruiters today if you want to increase your chances of getting a gig tomorrow.

Why Are Recruiters Cold Calling You?

When a recruiter contacts you out of the blue, they might have a specific job opportunity and are wondering if you’re interested or they may have some intelligence that a company or several companies will soon be looking for contractors with your unique skillset. In any case, they are not calling to offer you a job on the spot, but rather want to understand your current status and if you’re open to opportunities.

The Best Way to Handle a Recruiter’s Cold Call

If you pick up the phone and find a recruiter on the other end, the first thing is to remain polite, even if you’d rather not hear from them. Remember, it’s always important to build that relationship… plus they’re human and deserve respect. If you don’t have time but are interested, ask to reschedule at a better time. If you’re not interested at all, let them know that quickly as well, to save everyone some time.

When you have a few minutes and know you’ll be looking for a contract in the coming months, we recommend taking the time to listen to what the recruiter is asking about. A respectful recruiter will keep it brief and transparent. A few questions you should be prepared to answer include:

  • When are you available to start your next contract?
  • What industries and/or disciplines do you prefer?
  • What’s your current rate range?
  • What area(s) of the city do you prefer to work in?

If You Choose to Ignore That Call

Every recruiter would love it if you answered the phone but we understand if you don’t. Especially In today’s world, an unfamiliar number is usually somebody trying to sell you something or a computer notifying you that you’re under arrest. That said, the recruiter is almost definitely going to leave a voicemail and/or follow-up with an email. Do your best to respond promptly. Like you would on the call, briefly let them know your interests and availability for your next contract. Sending an updated resume is always a nice touch. Or, if you’re happy where you are with no intentions to leave, be open about that as well.

Every relationship has micro-opportunities that allow you influence it in a positive or negative way. A simple 3-minute phone call can make a huge difference in whether or not you hear from a recruiter down the road.

Build a Stellar Client Relationship by Managing Realistic Expectations

Build a Stellar Client Relationship by Managing Realistic Expectations

A reality IT recruiters face is that some gigs are going to go wrong. The contractor and client get off to a good start, and then a few months in, we get a call that things aren’t working out. There are a number of reasons IT contracts crash and burn — personalities, lack of skills, poor leadership — but many times, we learn that the situation could have been avoided if more clear expectations had been set up front. Obviously, the contract between all parties defines the project and deliverables, but a good working relationship has to be built on more than is typically written in a contract.

Failing to define realistic expectations with your client, your team, or anybody involved with an IT contract can lead to damaged relationships and unnecessary conflict. As the project progresses, all parties may make assumptions that drift further and further apart. Suddenly, when one person thinks everything is running smoothly, another is disappointed and angry at the status.

A standard contract will define the final deliverables, expected hours to be worked, location, duration and rate. But there are always other smaller expectations to be discussed upfront with your client. For example, you might ask your client for more details about the final deliverables, their own goals for the project, and milestones they would like to see met. It’s also the time to be upfront about your own limitations to avoid and scope creep. For example, which days you are unable to work and which skills you do not have (and never claimed to have).

Expectations are not limited to complete projects and should be set on a micro level as well. One example is meetings. These are frequently referred to as a waste of time because proper expectations were not set. If everybody attending is aware of the goals, desired outcome, expected duration and who will be in attendance, it not only helps them prepare, but you know if the meeting was successful at the end. When it’s a waste of time, everybody will understand why and can work to improve it.

How Can You Set Realistic Expectations with Your Client?

The earlier you can set expectations to ensure everyone is working towards the same, common goal, the more efficient the project will be. Here are a few tips to get you on your way:

  • Don’t assume anything. Put everything on the table and ensure you both clearly understand each other’s expectations, desired outcomes and definitions of success. Understand what’s a must-have and what’s nice-to-have.
  • Eliminate the fluff. We’ve posted many times about realistic SMART goals and expectations should follow the same guidelines.
  • Build your communication skills. It is impossible to understand expectations if you cannot communicate your own. You also have no control over other people’s communication abilities, so yours need to make up for their shortfalls.
  • Confirm it all in writing. Not everything has to be in a formal contract, but a follow-up email summarizing the agreed expectations can be invaluable.
  • Provide updates. Things are going to go wrong and off-track, and that’s ok. But if expectations were never adjusted, there is going to be disappointment when reality is revealed.

What expectations do you set with your clients before beginning a project? What about with your recruiter? Are there any discussions you like to have upfront before moving forward on an application? Please share your opinion in the comments below.

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz… I Wonder Where the Magic Is? Coping with COVID-19 Accommodations

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz… I Wonder Where the Magic Is? Coping with COVID-19 Accommodations

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

In Canada, winters are tough and as soon as we get past March, we begin looking forward to Spring… more light, warmer temperatures, a sense of waking optimism! That’s the magic of this season. Or, it has been in years past. This season feels a little (a lot??) different. Social distancing, doubt about careers, and worry for loved ones all contribute to a significant headwind against the optimism that Spring typically brings.

Some people take this all in stride — a grand adventure! “It’s not the situation, it is how you choose to react to it!” That’s fine and good for the folks who have the wherewithal to adopt this mental state and if you are one of these, consider yourself lucky. Mental Health has been given increasing levels of press these past years, thanks to the advent of Mental Health Week/Month and advancing education on this important subject. Eagle supports this by running a “Not Myself Today” campaign each year and, during these COVID-19 accommodations we are extending this. We’re working hard to ensure none of our staff are “left behind” struggling to cope with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, or stress. Sometimes the solution isn’t just adopting a tough mental attitude, people need more assistance.

As contractors, you are both “regular employees” and “business owners” With this, the stressors can be double. Uncertainty as a contractor isn’t a new thing, but this COVID-19 world that we live in elevates uncertainty to levels that can be hard to cope with. If you are struggling with this, you need to recognize that you are not alone in feeling this way. But with the necessary accommodations required to stem COVID-19, isolation is a bigger threat. Know that there is a lot of help out there for you. Any number of agencies, government or private, exist to give you the boost you might need to work through your challenges. You need not wait until you are overwhelmed by things to seek help; in fact, the earlier you begin the easier it will be to work yourself into the right mindset. Two terrific sources of support are MindBeacon and the Canadian Centre for Mental Health. MindBeacon is typically offered as a “for-fee” service, but during the pandemic, they have opened up their services free-of-charge to all Canadians that need their assistance and the CCMHS is always available for those Canadians requiring their services. And, certainly, there are other sources of help as well. A quick online search will find many such organizations.

If you don’t need immediate help, but the stress of these times are beginning to wear on you, I thought I’d share a YouTube video that I found to be helpful. It’s theme is pragmatism above pessimism (and even optimism!) I found that it helped to put things into perspective. These next months will be hard but we’ll make it through and it will be better on the other side. Spring magic may just have to wait this year.

I wish you all good health, safety and the perspective needed to persevere!

Building Self-Awareness Will Drastically Improve Your IT Career

Building Self-Awareness Will Drastically Improve Your IT Career

We published a post last October explaining how strengthening your emotional intelligence can make you a better IT contractor. Hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence is self-awareness. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), there are two categories of self-awareness: internal self-awareness is how we see ourselves, and external self-awareness which refers to our understanding of how other people see us. Building both of them will have extreme benefits for an IT contractor in your job search, during job interviews, while working on contracts, as well as throughout life in general.

Self-Awareness in Your Job Search

Being self-aware means that you genuinely understand your strengths and weaknesses, what you excel at and when you tend to drag your feet. When we search for jobs, it’s tempting to apply for opportunities that will have the most pay, the most prestige and the most convenience. Self-awareness lets you take a step back to evaluate the job description and know if you truly are qualified for the job. From there, you can create a plan to develop the skills that will let you achieve your career goals. When you recognize shortfalls but still want to apply to an IT contract, a good sense of self-awareness will give you the confidence to clearly explain the areas where you lack experience, your plan to develop those skills, as well as what you bring to the table to make up for the shortfall.

Self-Awareness in a Job Interview

More and more, recruiters and hiring managers are structuring an interview to look beyond technical skills, including to understand an applicant’s self-awareness. Demonstrate your self-awareness in how you answer questions and speak genuinely about yourself. Explain your decision-making process, how your emotions have influenced decisions, and how you overcome biases that you identified. When providing examples of past work, recognize the challenges you’ve run into, provide honest details on how other people perceived you, and be accountable for your actions and outcomes. Most interviewers will assume that the IT contractor who is the hero of every project and who does no wrong is really just lacking self-awareness.

Self-Awareness on the Job

Why do clients want to work with technologists with high self-awareness? Because self-awareness has been proven time and again to improve performance, especially if you’re going to be leading a team. In fact, a 2010 study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations discovered that high self-awareness often correlates with leadership success.

Knowing how others see you and how your emotions affect them helps you develop relationships with all levels of colleagues. Furthermore, when you know your weaknesses, you have an easier time delegating work to those who can do better. Finally, being known as someone with high self-awareness at work will help you with future opportunities. As noted earlier, clients and recruiters are looking for this trait more frequently, so when they call past clients for references, it will serve you well if they can speak to your self-awareness.

Self-Awareness to Improve Your Life

Those with high self-awareness are known to have increased soft skills that can benefit your job search, interviews, on-the-job performance, and life in general. For example, it can be argued that poor time management is the result of not being aware of how you spend your time in the first place. Taking a step back to breakdown your day helps you realize where you could have fit-in more productive behaviours. As well, self-awareness provides clarity in what you can and can’t control, and accept when it’s time to move forward rather than waste time on uncontrollable challenges.

Developing Self-Awareness

People spend years building self-awareness and along this journey there is always the opportunity to continually improve. There are a number of books available to help you, but a few quick tips include:

  • Ask for Feedback: It’s a difficult task, but getting feedback from people you trust and asking them to describe how they see you is a good exercise in getting to know yourself. Remember to ask people in all areas of your life and try not to take the feedback personally.
  • Journal: Reflect on your day, what went well and what you could have handled differently. This conversation with your thoughts will help you understand what strategies do and don’t work and will teach you to become more present.
  • Try a Personality Test: There are a plethora out there for you to try, but take them for what they are. A Facebook quiz or magazine article isn’t going to be scientifically accurate. Humans are also known for subconsciously skewing the results of these tests so they come out how we want them to.
  • Meditation: This in-depth exercise is a helpful way to build mindfulness. If you’re unsure where to start, search for guided meditation courses in your area. Eventually, you’ll learn to build your own routines that you can do at home.

We can all think of people we’ve worked with in the past who had absolutely no self-awareness and a few special people who excelled at it. What are you doing to improve yours?

Multitasking Isn’t Always as Bad as Everyone Says… But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking Isn't Always as Bad as Everyone Says... But It Can Increase Your Stress

Multitasking is not a new concept in the workplace and much research has been done on the topic for decades. Some people are proponents of it, digging for solutions on how to optimize your multitasking to get more done. Others hate the practice and there are plenty of studies proving that it harms your productivity. One thing all sides agree on is that multitasking can increase your stress levels and you need to keep that in check.

What Is Multitasking?

Taking a step back, for the purposes of this post, multitasking comes in two forms. First, there’s the practice of doing multiple items at once. For example, checking emails and writing code while on mute during a conference call.

The other, slightly harder-to-define, form of multitasking is alternating between tasks, without finishing one first. This is also the more common type of multitasking that is a reality for nearly all office workers. Many of us are checking email every 15-30 minutes while bouncing back and forth between projects.

How Multitasking is Stressing You Out

We won’t get into the debate of whether or not you should multitask. As already noted, for some, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it all together. It is important, however, to recognize that you need to manage it to reduce your stress and better serve your clients.

We first need to understand what the brain is doing when we multitask. Studies have shown that although we believe we’re thinking about many items at once, the brain is more similar to your web browser, going back and forth between different tabs. It can only focus on one tab at once. Each time you go to a different task, it must use energy to open the other one and reprocess what’s happening. Too much of this can cause burnout and even lead to anxiety.

If we agree that multitasking harms productivity, then we can understand how it causes more stress because you start missing deliverables, submit bad work and it can all snowball into more negativity. In addition, the result of switching between projects can deteriorate your focus and, in turn, your ability to retain information.

On the other hand, if we subscribe to the belief that multitasking has benefits and improves productivity, studies continue to show that stress is inevitable. Interestingly, one study found that even when multitasking makes you more productive, you’re still likely to feel as though you weren’t productive which, you guessed it, leads to stress! Being a master multitasker also creates habits of needing to check-in. This causes stress when you find yourself in situations where you suddenly can’t regularly check emails or work on multiple items.

Taking the Stress Out of Multitasking

Certainly, if multitasking isn’t for you, the best solution is to eliminate it. Monotasking takes more discipline, but as noted a couple times already, many productivity experts swear by it. They say it allows you to be present in the moment and complete tasks faster.

To make it more of a reality in your job, you can monotask by creating sub-tasks and mini-goals. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to focus on writing my resume and will not do anything else until it’s done”, you would say “For the next hour I’m going to focus on writing a summary of my Project Management experience in the Oil and Gas sector.”

If you want to continue multitasking, that’s great too. Here are a few quick tips that will help you get to where you want to be, and reduce your stress:

  • Use the right tools. There are plenty of apps to help you out with this and the most basic tool is a pen and paper. Write to-do lists and take notes on where you’re at with each task before switching. This prevents you from using energy when picking up where you left off.
  • Limit distractions. Multitasking is fine, but sometimes it’s toxic. Turn off your notifications so you control when you check email, not the other way around.
  • Know what requires your full attention. Sometimes you cannot multitask. Especially with more complex items or in subjects you’re still new and need all your brain power. Turn off the music, close out your email, and save all other projects for another day.
  • Practice! Like everything, practice makes perfect and multitasking is no different. Set your own routines and processes until you find a system that works for you.

Soft Skills Are More Important Than Ever When It Comes To Landing A Gig

Soft Skills Are More Important Than Ever When It Comes To Landing A Gig

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

With labour supply shortages becoming ubiquitous (in the local business market, provincially, nationally and around the world), forward-thinking companies with means are changing up the hiring strategies used even for technical roles… and especially for new, emerging, hard-to-find skills. When the world was in a “buyer’s market”, employers could ask for a shopping-list of attributes and, with a little patience, they could expect to hire close to an exact version of their “perfect candidate”. This is no longer true and hasn’t been true for some time now… and companies are coming around to the idea.

Progressive companies are more and more often hiring people using criteria that includes some basic level of education/experience along with a number of specific, highly valued, non-technical characteristics. We’re basically talking attitude, aptitude and business/people skills. These companies expect to train new hires to be able to do the jobs for which they are hiring. In this way, they are acquiring smart, motivated employees and investing in them to get them to where they need to be technically. The following chart from recent CompTIA research shows that only 3 of the 9 most desired skills are directly technology related.

CompTIA - Skills IT Managers are Looking for When Hiring

One such example of a company looking to invest in training, is AT&T. It has dog-eared $1 billion to re-train their staff to bring their skills sets up to what is needed by the company. Although this appears to be an enormous sum of money, they’ve calculated that it is cheaper to train than to release and (hopefully) re-hire people with the desired technical skill sets. The cost of releasing and then re-hiring is over 20% of the employees’ yearly salaries; and AT&T found that retraining staff has a smaller impact on the actual day-to-day business, they get to keep valuable knowledge-capital in the business, and there is significant improvements in employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.

For independent contractors this message should solidify a couple of things for you:

1) If you are a SME in a particular area and you are able to keep yourself on the leading edge of technological developments, the world is likely to be your oyster. You will be somewhat of a scarce resource and highly coveted.

2) If you find yourself with older, somewhat out-of-date skill sets you might try to emphasize the business/communication skills that you have built or the transferable skills that you are bringing with you. Through an understanding of the role for which you are applying, bring out these soft skills showing how they will help you to become the resource they need. With CRA rules being what they are, you may need to consider taking a permanent role so that the company can invest in your training.

Or… You can invest in yourself, upgrading your skills to better align with the business. But any way you approach it, know that hiring managers are more and more interested in the soft skills applicants bring with them. The following is a list (not exhaustive) of the soft skills employers find valuable. I encourage you to work some of this into your resume and interview conversations!

Soft Skills Employers Look for in People
Source: TIQ Group – Soft Skills Employers Look For In People