Jobs, Learning

How do you hire?

I always ask about the thing you’re most proud of and the thing you’re least proud of, and sometimes it could be a four-part question, because they’ll give something personal and professional for each of them. I’m listening for whether they talk about their accomplishments with “I, I, I,” or what their team was able to do.

This is from an interview with Lloyd Carney, CEO of data handling company Brocade.

I’m currently in job application purgatory and often find myself wondering ‘what do these people really want to know’?  Little cues like this seem pretty useful to me.

Advice, Learning

Getting To Grips With Your Social Media Self

Of late, I have been on a Twitter ‘sabbatical’.

This sabbatical was not the product of a conscious, thought-out decision in which I actively decided to remove myself for complex reasons of social network activism or in an attempt to reconnect with the ‘good old un-connected days’. Rather, it happened slowly and without me realising, until one day, I logged on to Twitter and realised that I hadn’t engaged with the network for over six months – my account was just sitting there, quietly waiting for me to come back, asking me what I wanted to Tweet about next?

It would seem that my Twitter sabbatical coincided with a period of time in my life in which my goals and career focus were in a state of flux.

A year ago, my Twitter ‘space’ had a clear identity.

I was actively engaging with a relatively defined community of people (those working in or interested in the cross-section between Africa, information, technology, media, development, human rights) and most of my followers were (or still are) from that community. The rest all probably have something to do with coffee, the other passion which made it regularly into my Twitter feed. My network, by and large, was relatively ‘bounded’.

In my days working in the newspaper industry and studying at SOAS and the University of Oxford, I used Twitter as a professional and career development resource. I have blogged before, on this very page, about how I used Twitter as my ‘rolling online CV’. I Tweeted my own ideas, I engaged, I re-tweeted, I live-Tweeted at events and conferences, I hashtagged, I plugged blogs I had written, I got jobs through Twitter, and I came across endless accounts of people and organisations whose work I still follow and admire. Essentially, I became an expert in how to curate a useful, successful online community network – and I gave you guys nine tips so that you could do the same!

It seems strange to re-read that ‘nine tips’ blog now, in the context of now writing this one. At that time, I wrote: “Watch what you Tweet – If you imagine your Twitter page as a rolling online CV, you automatically become more aware of what you allow on to your feed” (this statement remains true, by the way).

Because the thing is, that in order for Twitter to serve this purpose for you – for it to be used as a way of tapping into a specific community (whether that be #globaldev or otherwise) – you have to have a very clear idea of who and what that community is, and what your role is and could be within that community. By knowing those things, you can ‘curate’ your Twitter feed to cater to that particular audience.

Every Tweet becomes a clearly-made choice and every interaction is treated as a key step in building new professional relationships. You become a hyper-aware manager of your online presence. You constantly criticise, and critically analyse, whether your online Twitter ‘self’ is an accurate reflection of your offline non-Twitter self, and if it could be improved. For those of us on ‘the bottom rungs of the ladder’, those choices carry that little bit more weight.

But what happens when that network needs some re-shaping? If you move to a slightly different ladder? What happens to your carefully-defined Twitter then?

The totally brilliant Danah Boyd writes extensively about the ways in which we manage identity in different contexts (online and offline) and coming across her work while studying for my Masters at the Oxford Internet Institute was one of the many revelations of my postgraduate degree. My main takeaway from her extensive work is that the Internet has confused and disorientated the ways in which we have historically, or traditionally, always managed our identities. We haven’t ever had just ‘one’ identity; we are a complex set of identities, which we have always been able to manage and curate between different contexts relatively easily.

Back in the day, would we have let our friends, grandparents, employers and ex-boyfriends all see the same set of holiday pictures? Would we have included on our CV a short section titled ‘Political Views and My Attitudes Towards Gender, Race and Religion’? Probably not. We would have navigated our way between these different contexts and presented the aspects of our identities, of our lives, that were appropriate to each of those contexts.

Life on the Internet completely throws those contexts into disarray. Boyd describes these contexts as becoming ‘collapsed’ – i.e. that those contexts are no longer as easily defined or ‘bounded’ and are therefore harder to navigate.

Do I accept this work colleague on Facebook? If I tweet about this salted caramel brownie, will this very impressive and important consultant unfollow me on Twitter? If I share this article on the EU Referendum, will I have a bunch of random people I worked with five summers ago and haven’t spoken to since all start to judge me for my political views?

Maybe not everybody asks themselves these questions, but I do.

There are two points to this blog, really. One was selfish – to force myself to write some of this experience down; to put academic ideas of ‘collapsed contexts’ and ‘online identities’ into actual practice and everyday experience; and to explain to anybody who wants to read this why I disappeared off the map for a while.

The second is to add a final, tenth ‘tip’ to that blog I wrote three years ago:

10. Don’t let your Twitter, or any social network, define you. Twitter and social media are great resources for putting ‘who you are’ onto the professional map, but if that ‘who you are’ changes – don’t panic. Human beings are dynamic, not static, and so too should be our social networks.

For the record, I do now intend to be back, re-defining and re-curating my Twitter space. Maybe some people will drop off that network, hopefully new people will join. I think that’s kind of the whole point.


Phrases You Email When You’re Trying To Get That Internship

Saw this far too real post on McSweeney’s called ‘Let me translate my emails for you’. Highlights:

“I’m just checking in.” = Where is that thing you promised I’d have by now?

“Sorry to bother you again.” = Why can’t you do your fucking job?

“Sorry if I somehow missed your email.” = We both know you never emailed me.

There is probably no really polite way to harass HR departments to give/confirm an internship for you. But these are a couple of handy euphemisms that will at least let your passive aggressive side out.

See more:

Advice, Jobs

The Professional Skill All Interns Need But Don’t Get Taught

I am reading a really interesting paper on ‘intercultural competence’, a once rare skill that most job advertisements now list under ‘Requirements’ in some form or another.

Receiving training and figuring out how to work with people from many different cultures – national, regional, religious, organizations etcetera – used to be the preserve of the well paid and highly experienced. The authors frame the problem:

“In an increasingly global business environment, managers must interact effectively with people who have different values, behavioral norms, and ways of perceiving reality. Many jobs now entail an international dimension, so the challenge of communicating ideas and making decisions with people from different cultural backgrounds is no longer limited to a relatively elite group of expatriate managers who develop skills and knowledge by living abroad for years at a time.”

We live in an interconnected world where you interact with your line manager over Skype, the people sitting on the next desk might work for a different company all together and monthly office hot-pots are a walk into the unknown. Now everybody has to learn these skills, not just managers.

Interns, office managers, technical support – everybody.

I spent last year working for a startup in Nairobi. Our small team worked in four or five different time zones and supported clients in almost 30 countries. Intercultural competence was not only expected, it was practically a pre-requisite for the job. This may just be my own educational experience but I don’t remember getting any lessons on its importance to the job market. So how do you learn it?

The paper (in quite some depth) has solid advice.

“The core elements of intercultural competence therefore include an active awareness of oneself as a complex cultural being and the effect of one’s own culture on thinking and action, an ability to engage with others to explore tacit assumptions that underlie behavior and goals, and an openness to testing out different ways of thinking and doing things.”

Read the full paper here.


HT @espiekermann


If only cover letters were so simple…


The People You Work With Should Help You Grow

A growth culture

By Maia Koytcheva

Have you ever found yourself wondering where you will be in 5 years time?

It’s a question that should be defined by more than your abstract career goal of becoming the next Ban Ki-Moon. It’s important to think about what makes you personally happy and what kind of environment you will thrive in professionally. You have to figure out how you work.

Over the years I have realised a few things about myself and what I want from my future. I have worked for a number of very different organisations – from small think tanks to large international organisations. But the one thing that, above all, has defined my career choices were the people I worked with rather than the different jobs and positions I have had.

When you start a new job, be it in a small 10 people team or in a huge organisation with thousands of employees, it will never take long for you start feeling a certain way about your colleagues, the team and ultimately your job.

This might be obvious, but you should not be filled with a sense of dread when you leave the house on Monday morning to head to work.

It will never be good for you to feel like you contributions at the work place are not valued – it will affect your productivity and the quality of your work. You should look for an environment that fills you with a sense of worth and excitement. A new task or project should not make you want hide because you feel it’s pointless.

On a side note, the lack of worth and challenges you may experience at one point or another in a job is not necessarily your own fault. Often it will be a result of bad management and a lack of understanding of the employees and the company needs.

What you should keep in mind is that you will learn much more in a workplace that accepts your questions and where you are allowed to challenge things – it’s the best way to grow professionally. You don’t want to belong to the 87% of people that don’t enjoy going to work.

You might be thinking that you prefer working by yourself in your home office, but I would argue that is simply because you haven’t had the luck to experience a truly great work environment.

A good team and company will be able to push you to a new level and you will gain much more than by working alone.

I have found myself in positions where I saw no future for myself in that company, not because of bad colleagues or my “boring” job but purely because of a lack of company culture that made me proudly want to say what I do and who I work for. (This is an interesting look at company culture and it’s different definitions).

The value of your labour and the intrinsic motivation attached to it are very important drivers for how well you work and how happy you will be.

I have been very lucky to have worked for some fantastic organisations, as well as some that have been less good. This has taught me to spot a few clear warning signs of a bad company culture.

Here are some questions you should be asking.

  • Have you spoken to people that work for that organisation, if so, what was their reaction to being asked about their job?
  • How often do people leave the organisation, how long have your boss and your immediate colleagues been there? (It’s always a bad sign if no one has been there for more than a few months or a year.)
  • Does a company value it’s interns (and for that matter also the secretaries and lower level office staff) and their contribution or are they just nameless, ever-changing elements to help with the more menial tasks that no one really wants to do?

These are questions you can quickly find out about during an interview or by talking to someone that already works there. You can even start finding answers by reading about the company values or their vision statement.

Ultimately I would say that beyond the immediate experience you might gain from a great position, there is little value in risking your own happiness and sanity for the sake of that experience if you cannot see a future for yourself in the company and cannot wait to leave the office every day.

You will gain a lot more by becoming a part of a team that values you and your efforts. There is no better feeling than achieving something together and feeling proud of your work and the organisation you work for.


Things to remember as you volunteer or conduct research in a developing country this summer

Some fantastic tips on working overseas in a developing country.

An Africanist Perspective

Rafia Zakaria, on Al Jazeera America, writes:

My friend Jack likes to tell his favorite story about a summer he spent volunteering in Colombia. He recounts that story anytime he’s handed the opportunity, at parties, lunch meetings and airports. He highlights varying facets of the story on different occasions — the snake he found in his tent, his camaraderie with the locals and his skills at haggling. The message to his audience is clear: I chose hardship and survived it.

If designer clothes and fancy cars signal material status, his story of a deliberate embrace of poverty and its discomforts signals superiority of character. As summer looms, many Americans — college students, retirees and others who stand at the cusp of life changes — will make similar choices in search of transformational experiences. An industry exists to make these easier to make: the voluntourism business.

As admirably altruistic as…

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