Monday, February 26, 2007

Should I Sleep with the Boss?

I just signed a deal a few weeks ago to write a book called Should I Tell the Truth? And 99 Other Questions about Job Hunting

Anyway, I liked the title of the book so much that Cyan Books and I have just inked a deal to write yet another book, which brings my total up to 16! And this one will be called Should I Sleep With the Boss? And 99 Other Questions about Managing your Career.

Of course only one of the questions will tackle the title of the book; the other 99 questions will tackle topics such as how you can inject more fun into your work, dealing with office politics, chasing promotions, tactics for pursuing your work and life goals, deciding when you should quit a job, and so on.

So that's TWO books I have to write between now and mid-May now. I better get a move on!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Being a psychologist and Freud

I'm a business psychologist. The 'business' bit being as important as the 'psychologist' bit. But any time I tell people what I do, at least half the time, the only bit they hear is the word 'psychologist'.

Ask anyone to tell you what they think a psychologist looks like and they'll probably describe an older man with a white beard. Ask what a psychologist does and they'll probably say that we get people to lie on couches and tell us about their innermost thoughts.

At parties I'm constantly getting asked if I can analyse people's dreams or read their body language or tell them what I'm thinking. But as a business psychologist, I don't do any of that! (Actually, no psychologist can tell what a person is thinking - those people are called telepaths and only exist in the world of science fiction!)

It's all Sigmund Freud's fault of course.

The general public has been hugely influenced by Freud's theories. So we've heard of terms like the Oedipus complex or the notion of penis envy (allegedly something women experience) or castration anxiety (allegedly what motivates men to behave the way they do). But, in recent years, many psychologists have been coming to the conclusion that Freud was talking a load of old rubbish.

Basically, he wasn't a scientist. He didn't collect data from lots of patients before coming up with his theories. He used to interview just a small handful of patients and then come up with a label to apply to everyone. There are plenty of books on the subject, but a new one has just been reviewed and summarised quite nicely by a writer in the New York Sun.

I could go on about the flaws in his methods for ages, but I won't.

Anyway, the lesson is this. The next time you meet a psychologist, please don't ask him or her to analyse your dreams or read your body language. And don't ask if we ask people to lie on couches!

Writing: Celebrating 10+ years

Now here's a blast from the past. I found a link to an old article I wrote for New Scientist magazine back in 1996. I think it was the first time I ever got paid to write an article

I was researching my PhD at the time. And I had a particular interest in sports and the effects of exercise on psychological well-being. There are theories that exercise kicks your endorphins into high gear, which makes you feel good. There's even good research indicating that exercise can be as effective as drugs when it comes to treating moderate clinical depression.

Anyway, I wrote to the editor who commissioned me to write the piece. A few weeks later, I delivered the article, which was a couple of thousand words long. I was pretty proud of it.

And the editor hated it. Said it was awful and academic and unreadable!

But the editor spent a while coaching me and explaining how to write properly and in a non-academic style. So I'd been taught at university to use phrases such as: 'Research indicates that exercise is good for you'. But the editor explained that I didn't need to say 'research indicates that' when it comes to writing for the general public as opposed to crusy academics. Just say 'Exercise is good for you'.

It sounds so obvious now. But it wasn't obvious at all to me when I'd only written essays as part of my studies.

The editor helped me to to rewrite my article and eventually it was good enough for publication. But, more importantly, I learned from the editor how to write. And from that start, I learned enough to write for newspapers such as the Financial Times and Guardian. And then I started writing books. So the fact that I'm now writing my 14th book is basically down to the coaching I received from that editor. I wish I could remember the editor's name so I could write to say thank you!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Job interviews: 'Why are you looking to leave your current job?'

Here's some advice if you're asked this question at a job interview.

The way to answer this question is to talk about why you want to join the interviewers' company rather than talking about why you want to leave your current job.

So side-step the question and talk up the positive qualities that attract you to this specific opportunity at with this particular company. You want to come across as a positive person.

Imagine how negative you could sound if you answer this question as it is asked by whining about what you didn't like about your current employer.

NEVER talk about why you want to leave your current job. ALWAYS talk instead about why you want to join this specific company.

Monday, February 12, 2007

How do you get a team to work?

As a columnist for various magazines, it can sometimes feel like a struggle to come up with enough new topics to discuss. However, I was recently asked to write on the topic of effective teamworking, which is a topic that (speaking as a business psychologist) should never go away. Because the truth of the matter is that most supposed 'teams' don't work terribly effectively together.

But if you want to read more, here's more of my thoughts on the matter. You'll need to click on the jpeg images below to enlarge them enough so you can read them:

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Job interviews: 'How would your colleagues describe you?'

In response to this frequently-asked interview question, you might be tempted to present a rounded picture of how your colleagues might see you. However, you should instead answer this as if you had been asked: 'What would your colleagues see as your strengths?'

Remember that an interview is ultimately a selling process. So don't do yourself down unnecessarily. There is no benefit in mentioning your own weaknesses unless the interviewer specifically asks for them.

But, it can appear quite big-headed if you simply list lots of positive qualities! So, try to back up your claims with any objective evidence you have - for example if your boss gave you certain positive comments in your last appraisal or if you've received comments from a 360-degree feedback process.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Actions speak louder than words

They say that actions speak louder than words and I've blogged about the importance of body language in communicating qualities ranging from humility to charisma before.

In fact, a psychologist with the suitablly professorial name of Albert Mehrabian established that the gestures, movements, and expressions that make up our body language actually account for 55 perent of our communication effectiveness. Another 38 percent comes from the tone and quality of our voice. And only a mere 7 percent comes from the actual words that we use!

Think about it. Imagine two people giving the same presentation. One person gives the presentation but stands stiffly still while reading from his or her notes in a flat voice while avoiding eye contact with the audience. The other person points to interesting points on the screen, smiles, pauses, occasionally drops their voice to a conspiratorial whisper to underline key points, and makes great eye contact with the audience. Which would you find more compelling to observe?

Same goes for job interviews. If one candidate shifts uncomfortably from one butt cheek to the other, and speaks while fidgeting with his or her watch or a ring, it almost wouldn't matter what he or she's saying. Whereas another candidate could say the same thing, but look the interview in the eye, sitting up straight and perhaps counting key points off with his or her fingers. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to show that the second candidate is going to make the better impression.

All of that sounds obvious. But my point here is that research actually shows that your body language makes up over half of the impact you have on other people. So whether you are preparing to give a big presentation, impress colleagues in a client meeting, or wow an interviewer for a job - make sure you focus on the unspoken message that your body is communicating.