The Career Establisher

Video Resource: Yvonne & Amanda | R2Tech

Yvonne Daymond, TWNZ member, mentor and regular panelist, chats with Amanda Watson, TWNZ Council member, about what longevity in IT has taught them. 

This is a relaxed chat with a lot of laughing and also some excellent advice. Grab a cuppa and watch the video in bite size pieces. 

The video is 40 minutes long, so please break it up as it suits you as a viewer. 

Points worth the watch – key messages on:

  • Turning Up – literally! Clothing fitting is one of the anecdotes discussed when Yvonne tells about her personal experience as the interviewer and the interviewee
  • Reviewing the language that jobs in your industry are written in, and then apply that to your CV and cover letter
  • How to really cope with “constructive feedback” 
  • Being kind to yourself and well being / burnout etc 
  • Bit of emotional distance between roles that may have left a negative impact before moving into a new one 
  • Final thoughts in the last few minutes of the video; things to think about. 

Caroline Ferguson | Article for Career Establishers

Caroline Ferguson

Member of TechWomenNZ

Business Transformation and Innovation Director

Connect on LinkedIn

Solo parenting for the best part of five months was not part of the plan for when I returned to work full-time after having my second child. Although I was excited to be returning to work, my apprehension about day-care drop-offs, pick-ups and keeping the household ticking along, all while operating on broken sleep and trying to re-establish myself in a leadership role, was nearly all too much (and that was even before I knew how much of a doozy the winter bugs were going to be).

In reality we did it (well nearly… two weeks to go!), and although the wheels have nearly fallen off a few times, the apprehension was worse than the reality.

2022 has taught me a lot and I’ve experienced some significant capability development – both professionally and personally (some intentional and some organically). Ending up on an online margarita making class was a particular highlight and as it turns out, a skill that has been critical for the year!

This year has taught me that even when you are in the more ‘established’ part of your career, and you think things *should* be easier to navigate/cope with due to your experience, there are endless factors that will pull on your resources. For me right now it is two young children. 

For various friends and colleagues at similar points in their careers, it has been factors including dealing with a spouse passing away, supporting a sick family member, managing their own illness or going through fertility treatment. These all impact how we turn up to work each day, both physically and mentally.  

I loved the point from Tasia Stace at the TechWomen – Identity Fluctuation in the Technology Workplace webinar that we need to be aware of how our context and identity is changing and nurture where we are currently at

Having awareness of our context and nurturing ourselves can be challenging as it usually requires us to change how we operate (and change is hard!).  

We need to change from being in auto-pilot mode, pushing through and doing what is needed to just get by, to pausing and giving our mind, body and soul what it needs to be nurtured.

When I’m in auto-pilot mode, I end up simply surviving and not thriving. I also end up doing unnecessary and unhelpful “shoulding” on myself. I have thoughts like “I should be able to cope with this more easily”,” I should be doing more”, “I should be stronger” etc etc…

In case others also find themselves in auto-pilot mode, shoulding on themselves, and surviving not thriving, here are four things that have helped me to gain awareness, nurture myself and keep moving forward:

1)          Get present and breathe – my wonderful Grandpa Jock once said to me, if you are ever in a situation and you don’t know what to do, stop and take five deep breaths and then you’ll be in better shape to make a decision. He was right, andas it turns out, is backed up by science – the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows us to be calm, can only be influenced by one thing – our breath. I try and incorporate deep breaths whenever I can – whether it’s (nicely) wrestling my one year old into her car seat when trying to get out of the house in the morning, or just before a work presentation, taking a moment to properly breathe is a quick and easy way to get present and ready to do what’s important. For what it’s worth, this can also be a very helpful tool for job interview preparation and other challenging social situations.  

2)          Ask for/accept help – excuse the language, but this is something I have been perennially sh*t at. Through better awareness of my thoughts and related ‘stories’, I’ve discovered I really hate feeling like a burden on others. 2022 has forced me to ask for, and/or accept help, and it truly has lightened the load. I’ve felt hugely vulnerable asking for it on many occasions, but it has been better for everyone involved and led to better outcomes by getting the help required to keep things sustainable. I feel very lucky to have a couple of trusted advisers at work that I can reach out to. I know not everyone has this (and it might be that you are on the search for a new workplace) so I’m always open to people getting in touch if they need help with something I might be able to assist with. TechWomen NZ also has a great network of people and resources to tap into.

3)          Get curious and move towards your goals, not away – when things are feeling hard or not going your way, it’s easy to quickly get frustrated and disappointed. I’ve learned that in these types of situations, curiosity can be a super power. Over the last two years I’ve been honing my curiosity skills. Curiosity has helped me identify barriers I can create myself and reasons why I avoid certain actions. This awareness, combined with getting clear on my values and knowledge of where I want to get to, is helping me take more steps to moving towards what I want to achieve, rather than slipping into relief from temporary discomfort when things get hard. This is still very much a work in progress for me but I am feeling less stuck by certain things.

4)          Treat yourself as you would a close friend – if you start talking to yourself in a critical way, pause and take a moment to think about what you are saying and how you might say it differently if you were sitting down with a friend for a cup of tea (or margarita) and offering them support if they were in a similar situation – what advice would you be giving? I guarantee it will be more supportive than what you are subjecting yourself to! This has been a game changer for me this year.

It has felt uncomfortable and vulnerable writing this but I’m reminded of when I learnt to surf five years ago. To start with even just getting out through the waves so that I could get out the back and catch waves was a challenge. Now I cannot wait to get into the water, and getting through the waves is part of the fun. I feel that writing and sharing this article is part of me getting more aware and fluent at things that will help me better surf the waves of life. And I truly hope it might help others too.

Sarah Scott | Returnship: the ride of your life

Sarah Scott

Director Strategy, Apps & Services Communications at Xero

Returnship: the ride of your life

Sarah Scott has over 15 years communications experience leading teams across Australia and New Zealand, and is currently the Global Director of Strategy, App & Services Communications at Xero.

She holds an Executive MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at the University of NSW, Foundations of Directorship from the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and an Essential Management course from Harvard Extension School (USA). Sarah also holds a first class post graduate honours degree in Marketing and a Bachelor of Commerce and Administration (BCA) in Commercial Law, International Business and Marketing from Victoria University, Wellington.

Sarah has been a judge at the Mumbrella Awards, a guest speaker at UNSW and presented at Media Social. As a strong supporter of pro-bono charity organisation Dress for Success Sydney, in 2017, Sarah was recognised in the NSW Premier’s Volunteer Recognition Program.

Handing over my work baby was nearly as daunting as being handed my real ones. One minute I was in a role I loved surrounded by a like-minded work family; and the next I was handing it all over to become a mum.

Switching between careerhood and motherhood twice in the past four years, has been one of my most challenging, yet rewarding experiences. Sophia (4) was born in November 2018, and I returned to work in July 2019. Isabella (3 months) was then born in August this year. Within those four years I also started and completed my executive MBA at UNSW in Sydney; moved from the banking industry into a director role within a global tech company; and relocated back to New Zealand after a decade abroad. 

On reflection, although there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach, there are a few things that have worked well for me while on parental leave and helped my transition back to work. 

Staying connected 

Parental leave can be isolating. I really noticed this the second time around without a mothers group. So I consciously set aside time each week to seek new connections. I attended Mentor Walks, which provided access to female leaders; posted messages on local Facebook community groups; made friends at my daughter’s daycare; and signed up to the app Peanut, to connect with women at similar life stages. 

The best thing about being open to new connections was meeting other like-minded, professional mums facing similar challenges. From coffees and Zoom dates to WhatsApp and messenger, widening my connections beyond those in tech, not only broadened my own perspective and provided a platform for intellectual stimulation, it enabled me to share the journey and build friendships for me and my daughters. 

Keeping an active brain

One of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant with Sophia was enrol in an MBA. It was something I’d always wanted to do and starting the MBA while in my third trimester meant I could continue my professional development, while temporarily stepping out of the workforce. 

Quite honestly I didn’t know what I was in for commiting to an MBA. The first few months were seriously character building, from sleepless nights and mental fatigue, to huge amounts of self doubt as to whether I could do it.

One moment in particular will always stick with me. It was 10 days after I’d given birth to Sophia and I had to give a presentation to the entire cohort on ‘where I wanted to be in 5 years’. I’d barely left the hospital, had no sleep and was ‘thinking what am I doing here, I don’t know where I want to be next week.’ But somehow having Sophia made me more determined and there was no way I was leaving without a high distinction. What I learnt in that moment was that my mindset was my greatest asset and the single most important driver of my success. Although the beginning was tough, I never looked back and eventually course lectures became one of the highlights of my week. 

But it doesn’t have to be an MBA to keep your brain active; it could be tuning into industry news, doing something creative like a pottery class or listening to audiobooks. Listening to Ray Dalio narrate his book “Principles”, and tuning into Safi Bahcall’s “Loonshots” has at times proved just as thought-provoking as study. The key is finding what makes your brain tick.

Share the load

My husband and I shared parental leave. With Sophia I took eight months and he took three; and we’re early days with Isabella. While I know this is not possible in all family situations, in our house sharing parental leave gave us both an appreciation for the critical role of a stay at home parent. But sharing the load can be as simple as taking turns at the dishes, changing nappies or cooking a meal –– find what works to ensure a balanced household. For us, sharing roles evenly enabled us to support each other; remove any gender bias and set a strong example for our girls. 

Mastering your own destiny

Whether you’ve been out for 3, 6 or 12 months, chances are things may have changed or evolved in your workplace. So don’t leave your development or career up to others; build your own 90 day plan which provides focus, structure and clarity on expectations. Approach your return to work with a growth mindset and proactively seek regular feedback. And don’t be afraid to check that it’s working  ––  for you and your employer. Over the course of my career I’ve found people often find it hard to give feedback, so I’ve sought to make it easier by asking my managers and peers for “one thing I could do differently”. This has yielded great insights, however it only works if it’s timely, easy to give and you are radically open minded. Don’t wait for a performance review –– carpe diem!

Managing energy, not time

Time is a finite resource, so although you can’t increase the number of hours in your day, you can control how much you get out of them. Managing your energy shifts your focus from trying to get through a task list, to forming an awareness of how to get the most out of your time. If you know your most productive hours are mid-morning, then that’s when you tackle your ‘big rocks’. Greater self awareness enables you to work smarter, optimise your productivity and build your ideal day based on what works for you. 

But managing your energy is also about setting aside time to rest and repair and making a continuous decision to invest in your physical and mental fitness. If you’ve got nothing left in the tank, working longer hours only makes it worse. I can honestly say working full time, doing an MBA and having a toddler wasn’t always about working longer hours; it was about learning how to structure my hours for optimal capacity.

Attaching a value to specific hours

As a parent, not all hours of the day are considered equal. So after over a decade of working in consulting agencies, where we’d charge in 15 minute increments, I built my own model where I’d attach certain values to specific hours of the day (personal or work). For me, high value personal hours were between 6-8pm when the kids were home, with low value hours after 9pm when they were in bed. This meant I blocked out my diary during ‘family time’ but made myself available later if needed. Similarly high value work hours were from 9-11am, a time I reserved for ‘big rocks’ or complex tasks. Being in a global role, quantifying this enabled me to structure my day and night so I was completely present when it mattered and highly productive, while setting considered work and personal boundaries. 

Similarly low value tasks that took up time (like going to the supermarket) were outsourced to online shopping to make way for more high value activity. This enabled ruthless prioritisation at work and home and enabled me to maximise my productivity and focus my energy on the things that mattered.

Intimately understand your strengths

Investing time in understanding your unique strengths will enable you to very quickly add value when you’re back at work. Just like starting in a new role, quick wins matter. One way to uncover these is to take The Gallup Strengths Finder (online talent assessment), which helps you discover the unique strengths that have enabled your success. For me, gaining an understanding of my strengths (Achiever, Learner, Strategic, Responsibility and Self Assurance), was a game changer. I learnt that my personal drive and intrinsic motivation (Achiever) were key success levers, but if not managed carefully could result in burn out. Spending time on getting to know myself was a key factor in my successful ‘returnship.’

Removing the guilt

As a working parent, you’ll never have enough hours in the day to do everything to the standard you want –– at work or at home. It’s ok to use the 80% rule, and sometimes dinner will be on the table when it gets there. There’s no right age for a child to be in daycare, or the ‘best’ time to pick them up –– it’s what works for your family. And as a working mum, perhaps take comfort in the plethora of research that shows kids of working mums grow up to have successful careers (CNN). Be kind to yourself and celebrate your success. 

There is no right or wrong way to ‘returnship.’ Take time for yourself, connect with people and step back to find what works for you. You never know, stepping out, or transitioning back in, could just be the best growth opportunity of your life –– just like it was for me.