The New Year is a good time to review your career

The lunar new year is a good time to take stock of your career and develop some plans for it. This is particularly important if you feel in any way that your job is not a good “fit” for you, or that you have little or no passion for it, or you no longer experience any challenges in it. Even if everything seems to be ok with your current job, your career will still benefit from an occasional stock-take.

Most people unfortunately do not have a career plan – instead they ‘drift’ from job opportunity to job opportunity, and while this can work out alright a lot of the time, they miss out on obtaining the jobs and positions that would give them more satisfaction and fulfilment. To ensure happiness and fulfilment in your career, you need to take control of its direction.

If you don’t already know the type of work, responsibilities and environment that will be most satisfying for you, you should talk to a career coach who will assist you in identifying these [see articles on this site in relation to finding career direction] – this issue is beyond the scope of this article.

If you think that you are in the right career for you, and even the right job, taking stock of where you are and developing a plan for where you want your career to head in the next five or so years will be invigorating.  Here is what you can do.

Revisit your job description and determine if you are currently carrying out all the tasks and responsibilities detailed in it. If not, should you be? If doing more, then you have a case for a salary increase or a promotion. From the person specification, have you got all of the main and desirable requirements to do the job excellently? If not, the deficiencies are the basis of your career development plan and you should talk to your boss about how you can obtain the skills and/or experience needed.

Before seeking promotion, you should ensure that you are currently carrying out your job in an excellent manner.

Then you should look to the future. Where do you want to be in your career in five years’ time? Is that position just one step above your current one? If not, you need to identify a position (or positions) that would be a stepping-stone to it. Identify the requirements in terms of qualifications, skills and experience needed to be eligible for your desired position(s). Again, the gap between your current qualifications, skills and experience, and those required for your next position, form the basis of your development plan. At your next performance appraisal, the gaps you identify for both your current and next position jobs are what you tell your manager you need to develop over the next couple of years.

This exercise will give your career direction and a development plan. Have a great new year!

Access MBA Fair 2019

As this MBA Fair is relevant to many of our readers, we agreed to announce it on our website. The following is from the organisers of the event:

“Join the Access MBA Tour and connect One-to-One with world’s best business schools. Find your MBA match with the help of our international team of business education experts.

Hold personal meetings with Admissions Directors from prestigious MBA programmes, get advice from our MBA consultants and GMAT instructors, and learn about 2 million euros in scholarship opportunities.

Some of the participating schools: INSEAD, IE Business School, ESSEC Business School, Strathclyde MBA – UAE, Singapore Management University, Duke University – The Fuqua School of Business and many others!”

Date: Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Time: From 5:00pm to 10:00pm (upon invitation)

Place: Sands Expo and Convention Center, Marina Bay Sands

Address: 10 Bayfront Avenue, Metro Station: Bayfront

 Register today on:

Managing Your Stress Levels

Take control of your stress.

Modern life has many stress inducing factors from those which are work related to family responsibilities to simply commuting from A to B in a busy city. Some stress is inevitable and even helpful, such as the stress associated with preparing and delivering a talk in public – the stress or anxiety ensures we prepare properly. However, much of the stress in people’s lives can be harmful – too much stress can cause physical and mental health problems.

People deal with stress in different ways – some healthy and others unhealthy. Drinking alcohol to excess causes more problems than it solves, and the release is only temporary anyway. Smoking and taking non-prescribed drugs are obviously bad for health, and behaviors’ that become obsessive as a result of stress or a way of coping with it play havoc with social relationships and mental stability.

Healthy approaches to relieving stress and coping with it include practicing Tai Chi or yoga, or engaging in some form of physical exercise. What these healthy approaches have in common is their effect on breathing – they cause the person to breathe more deeply than usual and more methodically. But you can do a breathing exercise anywhere – it doesn’t have to be as part of a formal practice such as yoga or related to physical exercise – and it can be done while sitting at your desk in work or on your way to a meeting you feel anxious about. Here’s how to do it.

Sit comfortably if possible, but you can do this standing up as well. Breathe in through your nose, neither too fast nor too slow, bringing the breath all the way down to your abdomen – make sure the breath pushes out your belly. Make sure to breathe in through your nose as the nose is designed to catch impurities in the air. As you complete the in-breath, hold it for a few seconds – if new to deep breathing, start with holding the breath for just two seconds (to a count of one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, etc), and later build up to three, then four seconds. Then breathe out through your mouth more slowly than the in-breath – with practice, you should aim to breathe out twice as slowly as the in-breath.

Breathing like this for a few minutes will calm your body – it lowers cortisol levels which is the stress hormone – and importantly, calms the mind as well. If you have trouble sleeping, slow breathing like this before bedtime will help prepare your body and mind for sleep. Slow breathing is also how professional speakers prepare themselves before standing up to present. If you are at a stressful meeting, such as a job interview or a performance review, slow breathing will help improve your performance.

Regulating and deepening breathing is just one way that physical exercise helps reduce stress, but physical exercise also has an effect on our physiology. After a bad day in the office, if you go for a brisk walk or jog, within a few minutes your ‘bad day’ feeling is gone. This is because the physiology of exercise is different to the physiology of a bad day, and our physiology influences how we feel. So the next time you are stressed or having a bad day, notice your physiology and change it to a more useful one. For example, most ‘bad day’ and stress physiology is downcast – head bowed and body slouched. So change it to an opposite pose – sit upright, lift your head up, expand your body, and do slow breathing.

Now you don’t have any excuse for feeling stressed or down – you have a way of changing how your body is by breathing deeply and slowly, and by adopting a more upright physiology!

MBA Fair, 11th April, 2018

An MBA event with some useful ‘freebies’.

As many of our readers are interested in the topic of an MBA (Master of Business Administration degree), we have agreed to advertise this up-coming MBA event in Singapore. This event is free-of-charge.

For those who are considering doing an MBA degree or have an interest in the topic, there are some ‘freebies’ you might be interested in such as a one-on-one chat with business school admissions directors, GMAT instructors (probably worth going for this alone!), and scholarship information (another worthwhile attraction!).

The event will at least give you much information on a range of MBA and Executive MBA courses that the organisers are ‘marketing’ and a chance to talk with someone from those universities who will be able to answer questions relevant to their institution. Another valuable feature of this MBA event is that there will be panel discussions featuring school representatives and alumni – the alumni will be able to give you the real picture of the pro’s and con’s and the up’s and down’s of each of the programmes being marketed.

The information ‘flyer’ we were sent is as follows:

Join the Access MBA Tour and connect One-to-One with world’s best business schools. Find your MBA match with the help of our international team of business education experts.

Hold personal meetings with Admissions Directors from prestigious MBA programmes, get advice from our MBA consultants and GMAT instructors, hear from school representatives and alumni during Panel Discussions, and learn about 2 million euros in scholarship opportunities.

Some of the participating schools: INSEAD, IE Business School, ESSEC Business School, HKUST and many others

Date: April 11, 2018

Time: From 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm (upon invitation)

Venue: Orchard Hotel Singapore; Address: 442 Orchard Road

Metro Station: Orchard

Register at

To secure your place at the event, you would be well advised to register at least 10 days before the event.

This is your opportunity to take the first step towards your MBA journey!

A Strengths-Based Approach to Career Direction Finding

Your ‘strengths’ are those skills you are good at and enjoy doing

Finding Career Direction

When trying to determine career direction, it is best to use multiple perspectives including psychometric inventories (such as the Myer Briggs Type Inventory better known as the MBTI, and the Strong Interests Inventory) and a values-based one. Another approach that augments the output of the other perspectives is a strengths-based one. Essentially this is a full identification of your skills – your work skills and other skills developed through your involvement in hobbies, leisure pursuits or sports – and these skills are then categorised.

Skills that you are good at

Everybody has skills, some of which you are good at and others not so good. It makes sense when looking at possible future careers or jobs to focus on those skills you are good at – if your work involves skills you are good at, you are going to do well in that job and progress. However, for those skills that you are good at or strong in, there are always some that you don’t particularly like doing. A job centred on skills that you don’t like doing is one that will eventually cause you stress and unhappiness.

Skills that you enjoy doing

Then there are skills that you are both good at or strong in and enjoy doing – these we call your ‘strengths’. A career or job that utilises your strengths is one that you will do well in because you are working to your strengths – those areas that you are good at. Obviously doing things that you are mostly good at will get you noticed in work, will lead to increased responsibilities, quicker promotion, and continual salary increases. Furthermore, when your work involves doing things that you enjoy doing – whether that is working with people either as colleagues or as customers, uncovering facts and figures through detailed research, using your hands to help make something, etc – your work will bring you contentment, gratification, and joy. Working to your strengths brings fulfilment, job satisfaction and happiness.

Using strengths in career direction finding

There are two ways your strengths can be used in the career direction finding process. Firstly, when you look at your strengths as a group, ask yourself do these suggest a career or job – or what career or job would facilitate you in using most of these strengths? You may have to do some research for this. Talk to family and friends about it. Discuss your strengths with a trusted mentor or teacher. Look at an occupational database such as which will allow you search jobs with various keywords. The effort involved is well worth the outcome – finding a career or job that will bring fulfilment and job satisfaction.

The other way you can use your strengths in the career direction finding process is using them as criteria to evaluate whether various jobs will be suitable for you. If you have a shortlist of jobs, ask yourself which of them will facilitate you in using your strengths? And which of them will allow you use your strengths most? If such a job has already being judged suitable to your personality type and core interests, wouldn’t that be your dream job?

When you feel you don’t “fit” or something is not quite right about work

A lack of “fit” with your work causes stress and unhappiness

It is not at all uncommon for people to feel that there is something not quite right about their career or their job. Perhaps it is a feeling that their job is not a good ‘fit’ in some way, or that they have no idea where their career is going.

Sometimes this manifests itself in a lack of ‘passion’ for their job – they literally ‘drag their feet’ to work or dread Monday mornings. Nothing about their work excites them. They may feel envious of and amazed at friends who seem to love their job, and who talk quite passionately about it.

For others, their career is a series of mishaps, or it seems to them that they just didn’t have any luck with that job or that boss or that company. They are not promoted after five years or see others who started at the same time as them leap up the promotional ladder. They leave looking for a better job or better company to work for, but that one seems no better either.

They know something isn’t right but can’t really articulate it. Friends or their spouse notice that they are not happy with their work, but they too don’t know why.

These are all symptoms of a lack of ‘fit’ between a person and their career or job. Unfortunately many people in this situation will not think to go and talk with a career coach or career counsellor who can help them see what is happening and why. This lack of ‘fit’ is usually due to one or more of the following causes:

  1. Their career or job simply does not suit their personality. Psychometric inventories or personality assessments such as the MBTI (Myer Briggs Type Indicator) identify careers that people of a particular personality type find satisfaction in – they also identify those jobs that people with their personality type least enjoy. Regrettably many people did not have the benefit of structured career guidance in school or college and ended up in a career that is unsuitable to their personality.
  2. The second cause is similar and indeed associated with the first one, and that is a lack of synchronisation with their core interests – what they do in work does not overlap with the kind of things they are interested in. Again, a psychometric inventory such as the Strong Interests Inventory (SII) can quickly determine this.
  3. Everybody has a set of skills and some of these skills they are pretty good at, and others they really enjoy doing. When people list their skills, only some of those that they are good at will also be those they enjoy doing – these are a person’s strengths. When a person’s job involves using their strengths, they excel at their work and feel happy and content. Unfortunately people are frequently asked to do tasks that they are good at but just don’t enjoy doing. If they have to work at tasks they don’t enjoy too much, this creates stress and dissatisfaction at work.
  4. Values are what are important to people about various aspects of their life. Their work values drive their behaviours and motivate them – they determine what people focus on and spend their time on. Most of the time they are not aware of them, but then something happens and they immediately know that their values have been infringed and their boundaries violated. If people’s values are not being met in work, they feel that something is wrong and this nags at them over time. Sometimes they feel that the job or the work environment has changed, and they become dissatisfied and demotivated. Having a competent person elicit their work values clarifies the situation and provides direction for future action.

Don’t kill your presentation with these mistakes

Don’t kill your presentation with too many slides or too much information on them

Have you ever sat through a presentation and wondered why the presenter didn’t just e-mail their document to everyone instead of almost reading the whole thing out to the group? Or didn’t actually hear what a presenter was saying because you were too busy reading all the words on the slide behind him? All that you, and others, remember of such presentations is what an ordeal it was to have to sit through.

And how often have you been at a meeting, seminar, conference, or anywhere people are presenting, and been pleasantly surprised that they finished early or even on time? Usually the opposite is true – either the presenter runs so much over time that they have to rush through their last number of slides without anyone but themselves understanding what they were about; or, where there are a number of presenters, the last one has their time drastically cut because the previous speakers ran so much over time.

And how often was the presenter in any or all of the above scenarios you?

Two of the greatest presentation killers are trying to present too much information and running over time. Neither adds to a presentation and both actually ruin it. Running over time is both rude and disrespectful to both your audience and fellow speakers. Reading your conference paper or document is no better – it tells your audience that you couldn’t be bothered preparing your talk properly. So don’t do either!

When making a presentation to explain a publication (e.g. at a conference) or a proposal of some kind, your purpose should not be to go over the entirety of your paper – your audience can read it if they choose to. Your purpose is to get them to choose to – to have them wanting to know more!

No matter what the subject matter of your presentation is, aim to have only three or so points. Ask yourself: “If I can only make one point in this presentation, what will that point be?” Prepare that point and have a little story about it – make it real, but make it human. Then ask: “If I can make just one more point, what will that point be?” Again, have a story to explain and elaborate the point – your audience will never tire of listening to stories! Check how much time you have now used out of your allocated time. Remember in your timing you need to introduce your talk (tell them what you are going to tell them), and you need to close or conclude (tell them what you have told them!). If you are still well below your allocated time, you have time for one more point, but make it a story – then leave it at that. Leave it with them wanting more – ‘cos everyone wants another story!

Preparing your presentation should never involve PowerPoint – if it does, your slides are a crutch for you and not to help your audience assimilate your points. Slides with lots of information on them are not for your audience – they are for you! If you have lots of words on a slide, your audience is reading the slide and not listening to you. These are the kind of presentations that your audience wished you had sent them the slides and saved them the bother of having to attend. So prepare your presentation before thinking of how slides could augment it. Actually, a little story can usefully replace a number of boring slides. Instead of words on a slide, could a graphic or photograph make or elaborate on your point better?

The starting point for networking is knowing exactly why you are doing it and specifically what you want to get out of it.


People network for many different reasons and most have more than one purpose. Some of the more commonly cited reasons include finding new opportunities, finding a job, help with career, building your reputation, raising your profile, making new contacts (especially sales contacts), finding a mentor (or someone to give advice and/or support), etc.

Whatever your reason, you need to be very clear about it and what you want to get out of networking. Knowing exactly why you are networking is important from three perspectives.

Firstly, it provides direction and focus for your networking. Most people’s networking efforts concentrate on collecting contacts – building the number of connections. But in networking, quality is far more important than quantity. Having hundreds of people in your network is pointless unless they can help you achieve your objectives, whereas having just a handful of people who can help you get what you are looking for will.

For example, a network of family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, former classmates, etc, can easily contain over a hundred people. If your objective in networking is to have a support network, then this would be an excellent network. However, if you are looking for a job as a trader in a bank, then unless one of these people can introduce you to a person in a bank who employs traders, they offer no value to you.

So you need to ensure that the people you are trying to attract to your network are people who can help you achieve your objectives. This will also provide focus as to where you should expend your networking efforts. Where do the people who could help you ‘hang out’? Do they go to certain events? Do they participate in particular forums on the internet? Do they blog or use Twitter? Wherever they ‘hang out’, you should too!

The second perspective in knowing what you want from networking – and the benefits you expect to get from it, is motivation. Networking takes effort and brings most people out of their comfort-zone, especially face-to-face networking. Knowing precisely what benefit you will get from networking provides the motivation to go and do it – you know the payback exceeds the cost of the effort.

The third perspective is if you don’t know exactly what you want from networking, people can’t help you achieve it! You might have many willing and helpful people in your network, but if you can’t tell them what you want, they can’t help you get it.

So make sure to put some thought into clarifying your objectives for networking.

Should You Fit In Or Stand Out At The Workplace?

be different at work

Should you stand out or fit in at work?

The short answer to this question, according to Stanford Professor Amir Goldberg and Berkeley Professor Sameer Srivastava, is that it depends:

  • If you are different culturally, such as wearing clothes that are different from the norm at your workplace, then you should try and fit in structurally (by having a close set of colleagues at work).
  • And if you don’t fit in structurally and are not part of any cliques at the office, but instead have a broad network throughout the firm, then you should aim to fit in culturally.

The modern workplace, especially tech companies, rewards people who stand out from the pack. Creativity, diversity and innovation are valued.

However, at the same time, fitting into the organisation and having a common sense of identity is also important.

This creates conflicting demands on employees.

According to the researchers there are 4 possible approaches to handle this conflict:

  1. Be high on culture fit and low on structure fit.
  2. Be low on culture fit and high on structure fit.
  3. Be high on culture fit and high on structure fit.
  4. Be low on culture fit and low on structure fit.

fit in or stand out at work

Assimilated Brokers are most likely to do well and Disembedded Actors are the most likely to be fired.

Assimilated Brokers are great networkers and are well connected with various people across departments. They are not part of any particular clique and don’t limit themselves to only knowing people in their department well. However, they do blend in culturally.

Disembedded Actors are not part of a dense clique and interact with people outside their department. At the same time, they don’t fit in culturally as well. So while they interact with people in the organisation, they aren’t able to relate well to them and cannot make a connection.

In the end, you need to find the right balance for yourself.

Either maintain your place as part of a tight-knit group but stand out by behaving a little weirdly, or be the smooth networker who knows what’s going on across the organization but also knows how to blend in culturally. You want to distinguish yourself from the pack without making anyone in the pack uncomfortable.” says Goldberg.

An Easy Way To Improve Your Creative Problem Solving Skills

creative problem solving

Creative problem solving is an important skill to have.

And there are ways to improve your skills in this area.

Consider this hypothetical scenario. Your boss asks you to find a creative solution to two different problems. You have three ways to go about this:

  1. Switch between the two problems at specified time intervals.
  2. Use part of your time on one problem and then spend the rest of your time on the second problem.
  3. Randomly switch between the two problems whenever you want.

Most commonly, people would opt for the last option because it allows for maximum autonomy and flexibility.

However a study at Columbia Business School (by professors Jackson Lu, Modupe Akinola and Malia Mason) suggests using the first approach and setting specific time intervals when working on problems.

So, why does regularly working on and off a problem work?

That’s because when we do an activity that requires creativity, we often hit a block even if we don’t realize it. We often find ourselves coming up with the same ideas and can’t seem to move on. Switching between tasks can help reboot your thought process and enable going at the task in a new way.

To reach their conclusion the researchers conducted a few experiments

  1. First, while attempting to find the right solution to two problems, participants were assigned to one of the three approaches. Those switching between tasks at specified intervals were much more likely to find a solution to both problems compared to their counterparts who switched at their own discretion.
  2. Another study then measured the creativity of ideas when it comes to solving a problem. Problems that had no right answers were given to participants. Similar to the first experiment, participants who switched back and forth came up with more creative ideas.

Other research also defends that creativity is higher when people take scheduled breaks. Stepping away from your task helps you find a new perspective, instead of circling around the same ideas.

Disagreeing With Your Boss The Right Way

disagree with boss

You’re in a meeting with your supervisor and he suggests something you know is infeasible.

Or perhaps your department head sends instructions for performing a task you’ve already scouted out and know there’s a more efficient way to accomplish things and still stay on budget.

Whatever the situation may be, at some point or another in your career, you’re going to disagree with someone more powerful than you. So what do you do when this situation comes?

It might be logical to toss your ideas aside, get in line and do what your superior believes needs to be done. That may not be the best idea.

There are certain circumstances where you must put your fears aside and speak up. What happens if the issue is going to cause problems by going significantly over budget? What if the project will obviously blow up in your team’s face at some point during the process, or worse, after delivery to the customer?

However, before you go charging into your manager’s office, take some time to evaluate your argument and consider these practical tips from Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and author of HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work.

Contemplate Your Opinion and Approach

So, you know how to do something better than your boss does. Great!

Don’t assume that your insight into the issue is more valuable than your superior’s insight, and don’t automatically write off their approach.

When you have an opportunity to speak to your supervisor, carefully lay out your disagreement and alternative approach.

Use figures, examples or hypothetical scenarios that support your argument.

Frame the Conversation

Don’t get cocky about your argument and believe in your idea alone.

Often, disagreements are a great inroad to compromises that work better than any one idea alone would.

Before you even open your mouth, ask some probing questions about the issue at hand and listen to your superior’s perspective.

Then, before you insert your differing viewpoint, ask whether it’s okay for you to share an idea that contradicts the one to which your boss adheres. Getting his or her verbal buy-in will help the ensuing conversation to go much more smoothly.

Body Language and Speech

Your body language speaks volumes before you even finish crossing the threshold to your boss’s office.

Don’t walk in with your arms crossed and appear unwilling to listen. Nor should you walk in like you own the place.

Conversely, if you’re nervous, fake confidence in your stride and posture to let your boss know you mean business and believe in the proposal you’re about to put forth.

It can be intimidating to have a disagreement with a superior, but you don’t want to erode your position before you even open your mouth. Don’t tap your feet or physically shrink away from the conflict.

The way you speak, too, can belie your confidence. Focus on speaking in measured tones, placing enough emphasis on your words and keeping your volume level in check. People tend to raise the pitch of their voice and speak too quickly when they’re nervous, so try your best to control these tendencies.

Again, if you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum and feeling particularly angry or agitated about the situation, take care to control the tone of your voice. Measure your words and keep your voice down. Raising your voice and using poor word choices can escalate the situation, and that may have many negative effects on your conversation.

Think Through the Consequences

Think through the ways that the conversation could go, and try to come up with a defense for the best parts of your argument.

Similarly, think about what might happen if you don’t address the issue. Will your boss’s method of handling the situation cause your team to implode? Is the company’s reputation at stake? Are there significant financial ramifications to doing it your boss’s way, rather than another way?

There may be conversations that you can sit out of because not all disagreements need to be voiced. Learn to pick your battles carefully.

However, if you see that you have a solution that could save your team or your company from running into a serious problem down the road, you need to address it. Most reasonable managers will see the logic behind a better solution and shouldn’t let their pride get in the way of considering a new approach.

The Email Closing You Need to Get Replies

best closing for emails

Whether you’re reaching out for help at work or need to change an online order you placed before it ships, you need to send email messages that get a response.

While writing the body of the email may seem like the tough part, signing off is probably not really on your radar.

However, your closing is just as important as anything else in the email, according to new research. Does your “Regards,” “Thanks,” or “Just Keep Swimming” really make much of a difference? If so, what kind of a difference? Is “Best” really best?

An evaluation of 350,000 email closings revealed that the type of closing you use really does impact the response rates to those emails. For the study, researchers at Boomerang evaluated messages from the archives of 20 online communities and found a large base of messages with a wide variety of subject matter, response rates and closing types.

Often, people determine their closing based on the content or setting of the email that they’re sending. While “Love” might be appropriate for a message to your spouse, it’s likely not the closing of choice for emails sent in the professional environment.

The most popular closings in the sample taken were:

  1. Thanks,
  2. Regards,
  3. Cheers,
  4. Best regards,
  5. Thanks in advance,
  6. Thank you,
  7. Best,
  8. Kind regards,

So, which one corresponds with the best response rate?

Overwhelmingly, closings that indicate thanks, including “Thanks in advance,” “Thanks,” or “Thank you,” received the most responses and highest response rates over any other closings. In fact, emails with thankful closings saw response rates of 62 percent. An expression of gratitude in an email’s closing resulted in a 36 percent relative increase in the response rate.

These results echo the results from a 2010 study entitled “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way.” This study found that cover letter editing requests were more likely to receive attention when the request email included the line “Thank you so much!” This indicates that recipients who feel that their response is valuable and appreciated are more likely to respond to emails that demonstrate as much.

So the next time you sign off on an email, think about the message that you’re sending. While “Thanks in advance” may seem a bit forward or presumptive, it’s likely to get some attention and a response from the recipient.