Blog articles

The Interview

Last week I covered how I prepare for job interviews.  This week I am going to talk about how I approach interviews on the day to ensure that I make the best possible impression.   My biggest challenge is that I get very nervous, and this impacts on my ability to think clearly and quickly.  This is partly why I do so much preparation.  I have recently been made aware of this video which includes a lovely reframing of the experience of nerves and some suggestions about how to overcome them, so I will definitely be using these tips in the future:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/four-tips-from-elite-sport-you-can-use-in-everyday/p08lzh5j

There are ample resources on the internet about interview technique so I won’t try and replicate them, but these are my tips, which help with my nerves and to give me the best possible chance of success.  Of course virtual interviews have some different preparation requirements which were outlined in a link in my blog last week.

Tip 1:  Having undertaken plenty of preparation helps me feel more confident and I tend to take my preparation notes with me so I can look at them again before the interview starts.  I have also occasionally referred to them during interview when my nerves made my mind go blank.  I don’t think anyone has ever had a problem with that.  I certainly would not mind as an interviewer – who doesn’t want someone in a governance role who is prepared, thorough and keen to get things right?  But it is possible that some recruiters might not like it, so I use it with care.  When I did check my notes mid interview I simply explained I was nervous and that my mind had gone blank and asked if they would mind if I checked my notes.  They were understanding and having found my feet again I got back into my flow.  I didn’t get the job on that occasion, but the interview feedback was positive and the decision not to employ me did not seem to have been because I checked my notes mid interview.

Tip 2: I aim to arrive at the interview venue in plenty of time, so I plan my journey, know where I am going and allow for delays.  When I am confident I am very close to the venue, I find somewhere quiet to sit to have a cup of tea and to look at my preparation notes again to ensure I am feeling calm and in control.

Tip 3:  I know it is important to make a good impression on everyone I come into contact with when I enter the building, not just the interviewers.  I also know I have a tendency to frown rather than smile when I am nervous so this is something I have to consciously concentrate on all the time I am there.

Tip 4:  When the interview starts I try to remember to keep smiling, remember to breathe, relax and be myself.  Generally interviewers want you to do well and will endeavour to make you feel comfortable.  If I am interviewed by someone who is aggressive or tries to catch me out I would seriously consider whether I wanted to work for them anyway.

Tip 5:  During the interview I try to avoid the temptation to rush into answering each question.  A few seconds thinking about what I want to say is time well spent because it allows me to give clear and positive answers.

Tip 6:  One trick I try to use if I am asked something I don’t know about or have no experience of is to be clear that I don’t, say that I see that as a development area, and tell them what I can do, or explain how I would go about overcoming this if I was in the job.  This is a more positive response than simply saying I don’t know.  Knowing I can revert to this response if necessary helps me to feel less nervous about being asked difficult questions.  Also, because governance professionals in work will sometimes be asked something they don’t know and need to be able to give a reassuring and positive “I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you on that” response, this is an opportunity to demonstrate to the interviewers how you manage if you are put on the spot.

Tip 7:  Of course I have not been successful in every interview I have attended, even when it has gone well.  If I am unsuccessful I think it is a good idea to ask for feedback so I know what I need to work on for future opportunities.

Overall, I think the best interviews are ones where it feels more like a chat and an exchange of views.  To me this signals that the role would be a good fit.

These are my tips for interview success, what would yours be?

If you would like a no obligation chat about how coaching might be able to help you think about achieving something new in 2021 or getting a job contact me on lesley@lesleyward.co.uk.

Interview preparation

Last week I covered how I prepare job applications.  Hopefully doing this will result in an invitation to interview.  This week I am going to talk about how I prepare for interviews to ensure that I make the best possible impression.  There are lots of resources on the internet about interviews, but this is what I do.  I confess I find interviews very nerve-racking so for me the key is lots of preparation to help me feel prepared and confident on the day.

I start by re-familiarising myself with what I said in my application and the pre work I did before I compiled the final application.  This ensures I have plenty of additional examples of things I have achieved in previous roles or voluntary roles, so I can choose the most relevant one for each question I am asked.  If the interview is going to be a competency based one this is particularly important.  With these types of interview questions will typically start with phrases like “Can you think of an example of how/when……” so I ensure I have a good stock of examples in my mind.

I research the organisation and the sector they operate in thoroughly and learn key facts.  It may seem obvious, but if I have applied for a governance role I ensure I know who the chair, board directors and senior managers are and understand how the organisation is governed if this information is in the public domain.  If I have been told who will be interviewing me, I research them too.   This gives me background information which I may not refer to directly, but will help ensure my answers are relevant.  If I do directly refer to the information I have learned, it demonstrates that I have initiative and am keen to work for the organisation.

I also refer to LinkedIn to see if I know anyone who works in the organisation or in the same sector.  If I have a relevant connection I ask them if they would mind having a chat with me.  They will have invaluable knowledge about the organisation, the sector, the challenges, the strategic direction etc, all useful background information to help me make a positive impression.

There are lots of really good resources on the internet about typical interview questions and how to answer them and I use these to think about how I would answer all sorts of different questions.  I do this because when I am nervous I sometimes find it challenging to think of good answers on the spur of the moment.

I was once totally floored by one question I was asked at the end of an interview.  I think I had managed to answer most of the questions I had been asked well, but stumbled on a question about what my friends would say about me if the interviewer met them in the pub!  I was taken by surprise by the “outside of work” nature of the question and had concentrated my preparation too much on likely questions about the role, my experience and technical questions. We could have a debate about whether that is a legitimate question to ask for a governance related role, but they asked it and I needed to be able to answer it.  Whilst my stumbling response to this question may not have been the reason I did not get the job, it certainly taught me about the need to consider in advance all sorts of different questions.

At the moment it is likely that interviews will be virtual which requires a particular type of preparation.  This topic is covered well here: https://www.icsa.org.uk/blog/online-interview-tips

If there are other elements to the recruitment process such as presentations or tests I prepare for these too and practise any presentations I am required to make.

Next week I will talk about how I approach interviews on the day.

This is what works for me, what works for you?

If you would like a no obligation chat about how coaching might be able to help you think about achieving something new in 2021 or getting a job contact me on lesley@lesleyward.co.uk.

Making a successful job application (part two)

Last week I covered how I gather together all the information I have that demonstrates that I can meet the requirements of a role description and person specification when I am making a job application.  Today I am going to talk about the next step – pulling it together into a letter of application, editing my CV or completing the application form.  The aim of this exercise is to make it easy for the recruiter, by outlining how I meet all the requirements point by point, using the information I have gathered.  Sifting applications is tedious and there can be hundreds to go through, so if the recruiter can mentally tick off each requirement when reading my application, and understand clearly how any gaps can be overcome, they are more likely to put me on the interview pile.

My first draft application may be quite long, so I then edit, edit, edit until it says what it needs to as clearly and succinctly as possible.  This is important for any role, but as a governance professional it is likely that minute writing will be one of the skills they are looking for, so my application needs to illustrate that I can write clearly and succinctly.   If I am making multiple applications the good news is that eventually I will end up with a stock of paragraphs which I can repurpose for different applications, so the process becomes quicker.

I also spell and grammar check everything I am going to submit, several times.  Applications full of spelling and grammar mistakes will not get an interview.  When I was recruiting during the old days of handwritten applications spelling mistakes were surprisingly common.  There is no excuse now with easy access to spell checkers, but you still need to check that you meant you to say you were a manager, not a manger!

I always ask at least one person I trust to read the final product to comment on both the content and the spelling and grammar.

Finally before I submit I make sure I am providing all the things they have requested (e.g. application form, CV, other paperwork) and of course submit it all before the deadline.  If I state in my application that I have a high attention to detail and meet deadlines and then fail to do one or both that is a bit of an own goal.

If I do the above well I would hopefully be invited to interview and next week I will cover how I prepare for an interview.

This is what works for me – what works for you? If you are you a recruiter, would you appreciate an application which followed this point by point approach?

If you would like a no obligation chat about how coaching might be able to help you think about achieving something new in 2021 or getting a job contact me on lesley@lesleyward.co.uk.

Making a successful job application (part one)

Last week my blog looked at how to recognise when it might be time to move job.  This week I am looking at how to make a successful job application.  My approach to making an application is methodical and seems to work for me.  I almost always manage to get an interview.  This blog describes what I do.

If the application process is by CV or an application form I will always send a covering letter if the opportunity is there.  In this I outline why I think I am the right candidate for the role.  If this is not an option, I make sure my CV, or my application form answers are tailored for the role having, carried out the exercise outlined below.  Otherwise I would be expecting the recruiter to work it oLaut for themselves and they might reach the wrong conclusion!

First I read the details about the role carefully and jot down notes about how I fit the bill.  I even go as far as listing each item from the role description and person specification in one column and make notes in a second column covering the following things:

  • Do I have experience in each area and what evidence do I have?  Evidence is very important for a successful application because it is important to demonstrate clearly that I am the right person for the role.  E.g. if the role requires someone to ensure the organisation operates in accordance with the highest standards of governance, I would provide some hard evidence that I have achieved that before.  An example might be the fact that I had led a team which consistently achieved high assurance internal audit outcomes.  If they are asking for a team player, I don’t just say I am, I give an example of when and how I have demonstrated this.
  • If I lack some relevant skills or experience, I jot down what experience I do have and how is it relevant. For example, when I applied for my first governance role a key part of the job was pulling together board paper packs.  I had not done that before, but I had written board papers for some committees. These had been praised by the members for their clarity, so I mentioned that.  I went on to describe how this gave me insight into what was involved in writing papers, what was required by decision makers and how I would apply these insights to the role.  Or, if you are a lawyer looking for a career change into a governance role, there are perhaps some governance activities you haven’t undertaken.  But you are brilliantly equipped to research the issue and find the answer, so point this out.
  • If I don’t have work related experience for some of the elements of the role description, I consider whether I have evidence from outside of formal work. I include these and explain why they apply.  On one application there was a requirement to work with people who were geographically distributed.  In my work I only had experience of working with people in the same building.  But I had undertaken a volunteer role which had required me to work with people from across the country to deliver an event, so I mentioned that.
  • It is unusual to have prior experience, in or out of work, for all the elements of the role, especially when looking for promotion or a first role.  My approach has always been to be open about this and outline why this is not a problem!  For example I have a track record of learning new skills or gaining new knowledge quickly, so I give examples and say how I would apply these skills to quickly fill any gaps. I have even outlined other ways I would go about filling that gap if I was successful (e.g. do a course, find a mentor etc) so the recruiter can see I have thought about it.  Or, if I have supported someone else doing that task but not led it, I say so, but stress what I have learned from that and that I am ready and keen to challenge myself and lead that activity it in their organisation.

Once I have done this for every element of the role, I look at what I have discovered from this line by line review.  My application success rate may be partly due to the fact that if I feel the results of this exercise are a bit thin, I do not apply.  It seems I am not alone in doing this:  https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified.  This article illustrates how we should be careful about placing too much emphasis on this.  As a chartered member recently said at a Yorkshire Chartered Governance Institute branch event “Don’t’ cross yourself off someone else’s short list”.  I will definitely keep this in mind for the future.

I also look at my evidence through the eyes of the recruitment team.  What might concern them about my experience?  Have I managed to construct an argument about why they should not be concerned?  If not, I try again!

Next week I will cover how I use the information I have gathered to make a successful application.

If you would like a no obligation chat about how coaching might be able to help you think about achieving something new in 2021 or getting a dream governance job, contact me on lesley@lesleyward.co.uk.

Is it time to move job?

If you are in work, making the decision to move roles can be tough.  The certainty of what you have now versus the uncertainty of change can result in staying put, even when things don’t feel right anymore.  This is something I can relate to.  In the past I have ignored the signs that it was time for a change for far too long.  For me the signs were negative emotions such as worsening Sunday night blues, increased stress levels, worrying, irritability and sleep impact.  However, other warning signs might include boredom, self doubt, low energy, clockwatching, lack of promotion opportunities or being overlooked for promotion.

If these signs are there it might be time to think about a change.

Ultimately the decision will probably require a period of weighing the positives against the negatives, doing some research on what else is out there, talking to friends, trusted colleagues or people in your network or even working with a coach or mentor.

The decision maybe between deciding whether to settle for the certainty you have now, perhaps working to improve things there, or taking the plunge and changing job.  For me a turning point was working with a coach to understand my strengths and preferences.  I discovered that the role I was in simply did not play to my natural strengths which was why it was so draining and not enjoyable.

All the information you gather, perhaps pulled together into a decision making tool (many are available on the internet), can help you make the decision.   In the end for me the decision was obvious.

Next week I will cover how to make a successful application for that new job.

New Year, New Job?

I think we can all agree that 2020 was an odd year.  Personally, even though 2021 is starting much as 2020 ended, the prospect of returning to normal once the vaccine roll out is complete is making me feel considerably more optimistic about what 2021 can offer.  2020 felt like a year on pause and 2021 is an opportunity to spring into action and make up for lost time.

2020 impacted everyone differently but I suspect that a new job may be on many peoples to do list for 2021.  This might be because the events of 2020 has prompted a re-think, has resulted in redundancy, because new opportunities are available due to the rise of remote working or because some people are looking for their first governance role.

To support you if getting a new job is on your 2021 to do list I will be posting a series of blogs over the next few weeks on the following topics:

Is it time to move?
Making a successful application
Interview preparation
The interview

Chatting to current or aspiring governance professionals who are looking for a job, or those who are recruiting, has made me realise that there are some basics that can significantly increase the chances of success.  These are sometimes overlooked so this will be the focus of these blogs.

If you would like a no obligation chat about how coaching might help you think about achieving something new in 2021, including getting a job, contact me on lesley@lesleyward.co.uk.

Coaching and Mentoring – what is the difference and what do I need?

If you Google definitions of Coaching and Mentoring you will find a lot of different ones, many of which contradict each other.  For quite a long time this frustrated me.  I now think it doesn’t matter too much as long as you are getting what you need from the coaching/mentoring relationship.

In this blog I am going to explain what I think the difference is.

Climate emergency, diversity and the chief corporate governance officer – reflections on the 2019 ICSA Conference

The 2019 ICSA Conference had its usual mix of speakers and perspectives which it can sometimes take a while to synthesise.  A few days later I am a little surprised to find that what I took away from it can be woven together by a quote that Professor Sir Cary Cooper (Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester) used in his fascinating presentation about “The costs, sources and strategies to enhance mental wellbeing at work”.  Read more here.

Coaching governance professionals – common themes

I have been coaching and mentoring governance professionals for several years now and there are some themes that arise repeatedly.  In my next few blogs, based on my experience, I will share with you what those common areas are, the goals you can set in those areas and actions that can be taken to achieve your goals.

The common areas include:-

Click on the links above to read those blogs.

My career is going really well, why do I need a Coach?

I meet Governance Professionals daily as part of my work and I know what a confident, knowledgeable and together bunch of people you are.  You regularly hold your own in the boardroom; meet the daily challenges of the role without batting an eyelid; lead a successful team; garner respect and ooze authority and follow a well-planned career plan.  Many of you wouldn’t dream of thinking that you ‘needed’ a coach.  After all coaching is for more junior people who haven’t got this stuff right?  Or for people who are failing?

Wrong – if that was the case why do so many Executives have coaches?  Coaching is for high performers, at any stage of their career, to help them become even more of a high performer.  Find out more here.

Setting deadlines for board papers that work

Last week I blogged about negotiating deadline extensions if you are unable to meet deadlines set by other people.  But one issue that comes up time and time again during mentoring and coaching sessions is “how do I ensure that the Board pack goes out on time without a late night in the office?”.  A key element of this is of course setting deadlines that your executive team respect and meet.  On this one I admit I do not have a magic solution, but click here for a few suggestions.

LinkedIn article 25/1/19

Negotiating Deadline Extensions

Sometimes, despite having my time management strategies in place and having tackled my procrastination, I still find myself unable to meet a deadline.  At times there just are not enough hours in the day.  When this happens I need to be able to negotiate an extension in a way that does not negatively impact on my work reputation.  As a Governance Professional I think this is crucial – how can I expect others to take my deadlines seriously if I do not treat theirs with respect?  Click here for more information.

LinkedIn article 18/1/19

What if there is so much to do I just don’t know what to do first?

I think I am not unusual in sometimes finding myself paralysed with the sheer volume of things to do.  That feeling of when you can’t settle to one job, but keep jumping from one to another and end up finishing nothing.  I have a few tricks I use when this happens.  Click here to find out more.

LinkedIn article 11/1/19

Help – there are not enough hours in my day!

Most of us are familiar with this scenario.  You get into the office on a Monday morning.  You know what you need to achieve in the coming week (it’s board paper week) but by the time you’ve walked from your desk to the kitchen to make your first cup of coffee and back to your desk you’ve already had 4 new verbal requests.  Then you check your email – the Chair has been busy over the weekend and suddenly there are lots of other things to do.

How do you ensure that you can achieve them all and still get your board pack out in time?  Time management skills are crucial if you want to be an effective governance professional.  Click here to read about what worked for me.

Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ)

What is it, and how relevant is it in our role as Governance Professionals? (read more)

The Company Secretary – the HR Director’s best ally?

Being an HR Director can sometimes be a lonely business.  You are responsible for the people aspects of the organisations strategy, but in certain circumstances, such as the transformation of the Executive Team or senior talent management and succession planning, you may have to do this in a vacuum from your team.  Have you ever considered that the Company Secretary is in a similar position and building a good relationship with them could help you both to achieve your goals? (read more)

Can I fast track the development of soft skills required of a governance professional?

A series of blogs outlining how you can fast track the development of your soft skills required of you as a governance professional (read more)

A guiding hand
ICSA’s mentoring scheme offers bespoke, confidential support to help governance professionals fulfil their potential (read my article)
(article originally published in Governance and Compliance Magazine, www.govcompmag.com)

The Role of the Company Secretary – Reflections on the 2017 ICSA Conference (read more)
Having had time to reflect on the ICSA 2017 Conference a clear theme emerges for me – the Company Secretary role is much more than the glorified clerical role it can sometimes be seen as.  This statement will not be a surprise to any of my fellow Company Secretaries, but as we know, the role is still not widely understood and is often overlooked.

To illustrate this point here are some of the things the ICSA Conference speakers this year challenged Company Secretaries to do…

Free Mentoring via the ICSA (read more)
Being a Company Secretary can be both a rewarding and challenging experience and sometimes it can be helpful to speak confidentially to an independent third party to help you think things through.

Could company secretaries benefit from coaching? (read more)
In the following article I suggest that coaching is the ideal way of helping Company Secretaries build the skills required to realise their full potential, particularly in smaller organisations where there may only be one or two such roles.

Where was the company secretary? (read more)
It feels like every week there is a new corporate scandal, whether in the public, private or third sector. And every time a new one emerges, the first thing I think is: where was the company secretary?