How to get that elusive motivation.

Motivation is a valuable tool for all sorts of work. Whether you are revising for big exams, working towards a fitness goal, or simply at work, motivation is always conducive to productivity. Motivation can come from really valuing the outcome of a task, finding enjoyment in it, or just really wanting to get to the end! The important thing is that when we feel motivated to work towards our goal, momentum makes the time go faster and the work more enjoyable. Also increasing our productivity, there is no doubt that motivation is hugely valuable, but just identifying the value doesn’t answer the real question; how on earth do you get motivated?

Particularly with difficult or less enjoyable challenges, motivation can be very hard to conjure and even more difficult to sustain. This is hardly surprising, given that most of us approach a huge project without first determining its benefits. The first hurdle to overcome is identifying the worth of the task at hand. Ask yourself what will change once you have completed this task. That way, rather than just ploughing through tasks, you can focus on their eventual benefit. Perhaps they will lead you towards a personal gain, create a feeling of accomplishment or simply bring you a step closer to your greater goal. Whatever it is, being able to work towards an acknowledged goal goes hand in hand with motivation.

It is human nature to take on a whole task at once – the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll finish. This approach however can be incredibly de-motivating. Breaking work down into smaller chunks or separate goals increases motivation. Feeling you have accomplished something is a huge boost, so regularly crossing things off your list is n undeniable help. Embarking on a plan to “exercise for half an hour, three times a week” for example is much easier to maintain than aiming to simply “exercise more”. One technique is to write short to-do lists including just three points per day. Only add new things to the list once all three tasks are completed. This way, you can ensure you get through several vital tasks each day and avoid getting overwhelmed by a never-ending list.

Another benefit of breaking work down into smaller tasks is that it makes your progress easier to track. It is important not only to track progress you make, but also to recognize it. Looking back over past sections of work and seeing how you’ve improved is perfect motivation to go on and improve even further. With revision (or other work that can easily be broken down into chapters or sections), spend some initial time looking into exactly what work needs doing. Although seeing that you have 16 chapters to get through may be off-putting at first, it is useful to know exactly what you have ahead of you and even more importantly, what you’ve already done! Looking at your record of accomplishments will also boost self belief and confidence, making you even better equipped to complete tasks.

A great way to recognize achievements comes through perhaps the best known – and arguably the most successful – motivational technique; giving yourself rewards. Decide on rewards from the beginning of your revision, project or fitness drive and stick to your system. Allocating rewards depending on the difficulty of tasks will make harder tasks more appealing, also decreasing likelihood of procrastination! Make sure to also make time for fun. Nobody can work endlessly and well deserved time off is one of the very best rewards.

It would seem that complete awareness of the task at hand through thorough planning is the best way to find motivation. For all sorts of tasks, taking things step by step and acknowledging the good work you’ve done as you go is the best technique to keep up spirits and stay motivated throughout.

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Social Media privacy: So who exactly can see my personal information?

Since the birth of social media sites such as Facebook, parents have internationally spent many an hour worrying about what exactly strangers can see on their children’s profiles. Today, however, social media privacy is not just a worry for anxious parents. Recent privacy breaches and ever-changing social media privacy laws have brought privacy on such sites to media attention of late. According to a recent survey, a staggering 50% of social media users report to have had problems concerning privacy. It is clear to anyone paying the smallest amount of attention that the popularity and growth of sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn show no signs of slowing. With consumers sharing a growing volume of increasingly varied content, there is a growing awareness of the need for stricter rules concerning privacy. So what can you – as a user – do to keep your information private?

I was extremely shocked recently when I read about a new smart phone application (developed in Russia) called “Girls Around Me”. Combining details made public by Facebook, Foursquare and Google Maps, the app (targeting young men) plots a map of attractive girls currently in the area surrounding the user. For an application to be exposing the whereabouts of individuals (while they have no idea whatsoever) just seems completely wrong. But is it really? Millions of people around the world regularly make use of social media, but 68% of American users say that they don’t understand what information they are sharing or who they are sharing it with. You could argue that if social media users are willing to share their personal data without ensuring that they completely understand privacy settings, then more fool them. Yes, all networks do offer default security settings, but in general these are fairly loose. They will not – for example – protect photos that you have been tagged in if a recruiter searches your Facebook profile. Many users are in fact surprised by just how little information is protected by the default settings. There is nearly always an option to customize privacy settings, enabling users to limit who can see what. Job seekers in particular would be wise to look into customizing their settings if they don’t want their next interviewer to see those photos.

We have all heard that hiring managers may well search our social media profiles before an interview to see what extra information they can find. It surprises me just how many avid social media users I have heard pondering over what exactly a recruiter or potential boss could see. Fully aware of the consequences, many of us still do not check what we are sharing with others, or take two minutes to adjust our privacy settings. It is clear that there is a real need for users to educate themselves on exactly what they are sharing through their use of social media. Did you know, for example, that every time you click “I agree “ to use a new Facebook application, you are agreeing to a new set of rules on sharing your information. Sure, nobody ever reads Terms and Conditions, but perhaps it is worthwhile taking the time to delete apps you don’t use and to look into the privacy settings of those you find useful. This may make you think twice about which applications you really need.

Given the nature of the information shared, Facebook is usually the network causing the most concern regarding privacy. The undeniable growth of social media motivates us to share more and more information. “Check-ins” on location-based services are a more recent addition to social media. As the “Girls Around You” example clearly illustrates, users should be very wary when using such applications. Countless stories in the news of youngsters mistakenly advertising the address of parties they are hosting to thousands of strangers perfectly illustrate the need for care. In an ideal world, it is best just not to use location-based services. Being quite this strict however does put restrictions on your use of social media.

So to really be safe, users can set up specific email accounts to use for social media (to avoid directing any spam brought about by social media to your main email account). Furthermore, it is advisable to make passwords as strong as possible (with numbers and letters, upper and lower case, no memorable names or dates…) and to change them regularly. To go even further, those really concerned about social media privacy could simply share less. If you don’t want the world to see a picture, don’t post it. If you’re not sure about the privacy settings of an application, then don’t use it. Simple! Such a strict approach however is easier said than done.  If you follow all the advice out there, your profile will be well protected, but probably not nearly as much fun. Really making the most of today’s social media experience necessitates a certain lack of privacy. Yes, it’s unwise to share your details through location-based apps, but how many avid social media users are honestly going to pass up the opportunity to take part in social media’s latest trend? It’s up to the individual to weigh up their own priorities and to decide what they value most highly; their social media freedom, or their privacy.

DOs and DON’Ts : The CV

Along with your cover letter, your CV is the very first impression of you that recruiters or potential employers receive. Research has shown that recruiters will form an opinion on a CV within just six seconds. This means that devoting time and attention to yours is absolutely vital, ensuring that the areas where their attention will be focused are absolutely perfect. We’ve all heard the supposed rules for writing your CV; don’t let it exceed a page, give them your references and so on. But should your CV really follow these rules? There are of course also many other less discussed rules that should not be forgotten…

DO have a focus. Your CV is your chance to show hiring managers just how suitable you are for their job. Every job is different, so it is clear that your CV should be tailored to show your suitability for each individual job. Despite this, many of us send off one CV and cover letter for numerous, very different roles. Statistics show that 71% of hiring managers prefer a tailored CV. A good way of keeping this majority happy is to keep one “tailorable” CV saved with all of your past experience, which you can then edit to emphasize experience suitable for the job at hand. If you choose this option however, you should take care to keep only truly relevant information, as an overly lengthy CV will only decrease the amount of content that employers read.

DO be clear. There is nothing more off-putting for a hiring manager than receiving two pages full of prose, worse still three or more pages. Be succinct – why use 20 words when five will do? While the aforementioned one word CV rule may be a little excessive, it is wise not to exceed two pages. If you think you have more than that to say on your CV, then the chances are that you’re including irrelevant information.

DO use keywords. Thanks to recent developments, employers increasingly use technology to screen candidates, namely making use of keyword searchable databases. As a candidate, you can’t possibly know that your CV will be screened in this way, but it is better to be safe than sorry. No matter how good a candidate you are, your CV could well slip through the net if you don’t express your suitability using appropriate keywords.

DO be thorough. Pay attention to detail and check your spelling and grammar and ensure that formatting is consistent. A CV where the bullet points change halfway through or where a candidate misspells important words will leave a bad impression. Even if you aren’t applying for a job where written English is of high importance, a lack of care is never attractive to employers, so make sure to iron out any the mistakes.

DON’T hide your skills. With limited time and often hundreds of CVs to sort through, readers pay the most attention to the first third of the first page. It is advisable therefore to include a clear “profile” section at the top of this page, featuring all your key information including a name, title, photo and key skills such as languages.

DON’T mention your references. Stating that you have “references available on request” – or even listing them – is a bit of a waste of space. After all, why would you be looking for a job if you didn’t have references? Recruiters will presume that you do and will ask you for them when they need to.

DON’T flatter yourself. Describing yourself as a dynamic, enthusiastic employee doesn’t really do you any favours. Anyone can describe themselves this way on paper, so you are far better off keeping the content of your CV quantifiable and waiting for your interview to show in person that you really have these qualities.

DON’T use clichés. Again, anyone can say that they are a team player or have good leadership skills. Why should a reader believe this? If you genuinely feel you do possess these skills, show them through the work that you’ve done. Describing the contribution you’ve made to a team project or the success of an initiative you led will show off your skills on paper far better than just words. Another word that gets thrown around is “experienced”. Anyone can claim to be experienced, whether they have been in a job for 10 days or 10 years, so by describing yourself this way, you may be doing yourself an injustice. A short description of your experience will paint a more realistic picture.

Anyone can write a CV. It is attention to detail and really thinking about the requirements of each job that will really enable you to tailor your CV to show yourself to be suitable for a role.

Good Luck!

The LinkedIn mistakes that you need to avoid.

In a job search – perhaps even more than in private life – it is close to impossible to avoid social media. We all know by now that sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are invaluable job search tools. Whether you share your details or not, it is safe to assume that your interviewer will google you at some point in the interview process, if they don’t go straight to LinkedIn and look up your profile directly! These are both easy ways for potential employers to use your online professional presence to get a feel for you as a person before they even meet you. For this reason, it is vital that you keep all social media accounts relevant, professional and up-to-date. As arguably the most valuable of all such tools, keeping your LinkedIn profile up to scratch is absolutely vital.

As is the case for all types of social media, LinkedIn is a tool to enable interaction; be it making new connections, developing existing professional relationships, or discussing content. In signing up for a LinkedIn account, users are stating that they want to make new connections and get noticed. This won’t happen if you lay low and just wait for the right person to stumble across your profile. LinkedIn Groups allow users to form communities based around a particular centre of interest; sharing and discussing content. This is an easy way to make connections and get noticed for your knowledge and opinions – and isn’t that exactly what we all want potential employers to notice? So post content and ask questions that you think might interest others to generate discussion. Make sure to show that you’re active too; reply to comments sent to you and let others know when they’ve made an interesting point!

As is human nature in many day-to-day situations, many LinkedIn users tend to hang back to see what others are doing before putting themselves out there and engaging in discussion. While this is wasting a valuable tool, it is also unadvisable to go too far and interact too much. LinkedIn allows users to link tweets to the site – in other words showing everything you write on Twitter to your LinkedIn connections too. While this might seem like a great way to step up interaction, it is a risky choice to make. LinkedIn and Twitter serve very different purposes and while Twitter can also be used as a valuable job search tool, many of us post more personal content on Twitter. Is that really relevant to show to connections you are making to further your job search? Instead, choose to link just relevant, selected tweets to your profile.

It is also important to avoid over-selling yourself. So you’ve sought out a connection, great. Wait a while before bombarding them with messages, queries and requests for help. Better still; see if they will contact you. While it is definitely unwise to sit back and wait for things to happen to you, you don’t want to put all your new connections off before they’ve even had a chance to look at your profile! Have patience, but do get in touch after a while if it’s suitable.

Your LinkedIn profile is a virtual representation of you – the only impression others can get without actually meeting you! While it may seem obvious, many users ignore just how important it is to ensure their profile is complete. An incomplete profile will make you come across as sloppy and unprofessional. We have all heard that profile photos are important, but countless users nevertheless ignore this completely. The eye is first drawn to the space usually taken up by a photo, so a lack thereof is noticed straight away, perhaps also suggesting a lack of attention to detail.

A complete profile gives you the best possible chance to come up in searches, optimising your chances of the right people finding your profile and developing the right connections. Another tool offered by LinkedIn that many of us refrain from using is recommendations. You can leave a recommendation for a past colleague, which will usually prompt them to leave one for you. Just like a review for a book or film, LinkedIn recommendations encourage others to believe in your profile.

Finally, many users are unaware that Linkedin offers personalised URLs. This means that your whole name or keywords describing your profession can come up at the end of your URL rather than the jumble of letters and numbers that are generated automatically. Not only does this personalisation look more professional, it also helps your profile’s SEO (helping your profile feature highly in searches). This change can be made through a quick adjustment in your account settings, so there’s no excuse not to! Key words are enormously helpful for your SEO, but not just in your URL. They are also useful in descriptions of what you’re looking for and previous work experience.

LinkedIn is undoubtedly a fantastic job search tool. Pro-activity will ensure that you get noticed by others for your interests and opinions and a complete profile will help you come up in searches. With just a little time and attention, your profile will be optimised to support your job search.

Good Luck!

Can stress be a good thing?

At work – as in all walks of live – it is an absolute given that stress is considered a bad thing. Humans have a competitive nature and we are programmed to strive to achieve the highest results possible and to be the best at whatever we do. It is clear then why we as humans are also prone to stress. As a word, stress has all sorts of bad connotations; from hindering performance to causing health issues. So what exactly are the problems caused by stress? Can stress actually be a help as well as a hindrance?

Image via jetheriot (Flickr)

Stress can be caused by a whole range of things; pressure to perform at work, problems with family or relationships, tight deadlines – the list goes on. It is no secret that feeling stressed and under pressure leads to nerves, which can in turn affect performance. Nerves often affect how we think, causing us to over-think tasks and scenarios and clouding our ability to deal with them. Nerves and stress complicate tasks that should be easy and energy is wasted as nervous energy. There are of course plenty of methods of dealing with minor stress, from herbal remedies to breathing techniques. Athletes deal with the threat of stress and nerves through extensive preparation, by analysing the competition, getting to know the court and of course through a lot of practice. This tactic can be applied on other occasions when people are prone to stress. A good example is exam preparation; students practise papers under exam conditions, simulating conditions as close as possible to those of the exam to find out how they cope under stressful circumstances. Even with preparation, nerves are rarely kept completely at bay. Despite this, being as prepared as possible will without doubt reduce the number of unknown elements of a task or situation to feel stressed about. Effects of long-term stress are harder to deal with. Unhandled, stress can eventually lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, exhaustion and depression. It is absolutely undeniable that stress can bring about problems, but can we channel stress to work for us, rather than letting it develop and become a real problem?

So if we forgot all the negative connotations for a moment, what exactly would stress be? A burst of energy and concentration on the requirements of a particular task. Through all the nervous panicking that we do due to stress, we often ignore the fact that stress hormones also bring about a faster heartbeat, sharpened senses and adrenalin. In other words, exactly the things that help you get a task done. Considering these physical manifestations, stress can be viewed as your body’s way of telling you what needs to be done. A moderate amount of stress gives us a short term buzz, enabling us to work efficiently and perform tasks to a high level. After all, when is it that most of us get things done? It’s usually when we are under pressure from a looming deadline! By looking out for stress and using it to complete tasks as opposed to running away from it, we can channel stress into productive energy, turning it into a help rather than a hindrance.

Stress does of course affect everybody differently, so how it can be used to positive effect depends on the individual. I’m not suggesting for a moment that serious stress should be ignored completely; this could of course have severe implications. A little extra energy used as motivation on the other hand never hurt anyone. It’s all about analysing the situation and taking control rather than letting stress take control of you!

What to do while you are unemployed.

We are all aware of increased levels of unemployment thanks to the current economic climate. A further issue that those currently unemployed have to deal with is the fact that periods of unemployment currently tend to last longer than before. Job seekers often worry therefore that large gaps between jobs will look unimpressive on their CV and that employers will be consequently less likely to hire them. Is this really something that could hinder your progress in the job search? What should you be doing while you are unemployed to increase your marketability?

According to a recent survey, 40% of current job seekers have been out of work for more than six months. Many of us worry that such long gaps will hinder our chances of landing a job. The same survey suggests that this is not an issue however, stating that most employers are sympathetic to gaps on candidate CVs. This is the case particularly in the current climate, with 85% of employers stating that they are now more understanding of job gaps post-recession. This is not an excuse to sit back and rest on your laurels, however. Agreed, you can’t job hunt constantly – being on the hunt eight hours a day, seven days a week would drive you mad – but this time is valuable and can be used to benefit you and your job search in a broader sense. Filling these gaps with activities and experience that broaden and develop your skill set will encourage employers to look past your gap in employment and to focus on your increased suitability for the role.

So the general consensus is; don’t sit around waiting for the perfect job to fall into your lap, as the chances are it won’t! Skills can be lost if they are not utilised, so find temporary or volunteer work through which you can develop them. This shows employers that you enjoy using your skills, are raring to go and have made the most of your time. Similarly, taking a class is useful to broaden your skills. This could be your perfect opportunity to develop a relevant new skill, learn a new language or try something out that you have never had time for before. Taking a class shows employers that you are serious about what you do. Not only that, but it is good mental stimulation and gives focus, while helping to keep spirits up.

A period of unemployment is understandably a great time to network. Taking a class or doing temporary or voluntary work relevant to your field is a perfect way to do just that. As well as making new connections, you will be showing others what you can do and getting yourself known; far better than falling off the radar and sitting at home refreshing Monster! Another way to network is writing a blog. As well as helping you to network without seeming desperate, a blog will give you motivation to stay up to date with current issues relevant to your sector.

The overall goal for anybody looking for a job is to be marketable. Developing relevant skills and increasing your experience ensures just that, so a period of unemployment is the ideal time to come closer to this goal. Use your time wisely and it may well lead you to just the job you’ve been looking for.

Good Luck!

DOs and DON’Ts : The Interview

So you’re through to the interview stage in the competition for a job. Now you really have your chance to make a great impression on the hiring managers and to show them exactly why you’re the best person for the job. It goes without saying that this is an opportunity that should be taken seriously. Think in advance about the best way to approach the interview. By doing this, you will be able to present yourself in a way that shows the interviewer that you tick all the right boxes. No matter what interview you are going to, there are certain things that should always be considered…

DO your research. There’s nothing worse than being hit with a question you have no answer for or a topic you know absolutely nothing about. Make sure to read up on the company in advance of the interview and think about the kind of questions they are likely to ask you. This way you will show your interest and preparation.

DO make a good impression. From the very point of meeting your interviewer, show them that you are keen and interested in what they have to tell you about the job. Give them your full attention and show your interest by being attentive throughout and asking questions where appropriate.

DO dress appropriately. Think about the industry that you are interviewing in. Dressing appropriately for this industry shows that you fit in and are taking the position seriously. Do err on the side of caution however; it’s better to be too smart than not smart enough if you’re unsure.

DO pay attention to body language.As I have discussed previously, body language makes a big difference to the impression you make on others. A positive handshake and a good level of eye contact will communicate your confidence in yourself as well as your enthusiasm for the job at hand.

DON’T talk negatively about former bosses or colleagues. To put it simply, talking negatively about former colleagues will do you absolutely no favours. If you left a job due to bad relationships, keep it short, without going into the details. Negativity about others will only shine a bad light on you, making you seem unprofessional and casting doubt over whether you might talk about this interviewer in the same way should they hire you.

DON’T include irrelevant content. We all know that having worked in loads of different places and had all sorts of experience over the years is a very valuable thing for a job search. This does not mean however, that you need to tell every interviewer about every place you’ve ever worked. Think in advance about your experience and decide what is particularly relevant for this particular job. Only mentioning the experience that will help you with this particular job will make more of an impact, so don’t dilute what you’ve done with irrelevant details.

DON’T be afraid to mention potential weaknesses. Skipping over your weaknesses when asked about them is a bad move. If you present yourself as perfect, you run the risk of the interviewer not buying it. It’s much better to acknowledge your weaknesses and discuss what you are doing to improve on them. That way you show awareness of yourself, your skills and the ability to improve.

DON’T be late! Not only does arriving on time show your ability to be punctual, but it shows that you are an organised person, who is taking the job seriously. It’s simple; you absolutely cannot afford to make a bad impression in this way. Do everything possible to ensure that you’re on time, even if it means arriving early and waiting in a cafe around the corner!

If you consider all of the above in advance, you should be well prepared for a great interview.

Good Luck!