How Colleagues Can Help

It’s thirteen years since I applied for a job. I haven’t been unemployed for the last thirteen years, but my last application was for a classroom teacher role (in 2002) since when I have been promoted internally four times; although I had to apply for the four promotions I am fairly confident that I was given the job based on my performance – a ‘devil you know’ scenario. Bringing in someone new is always a risk; I’ve appointed staff regularly during the last thirteen years and twice I have mis-appointed, making a rod for my own back, so I can appreciate the fall-back position of trusting an already established employee.

Now I find that, not only am I going to be applying for jobs again, but they will be jobs outside teaching. To help me prepare, I’ve registered on a MOOC provided by Coursera and the University of London entitled ‘Enhancing My Employability’.

What attracted me was the title. Employment has changed beyond all recognition since I last applied for anything other than teaching, and schools are all I know. Initial reservations have been quickly quashed; the resources are excellent and class discussion forums a welcome distraction when working in isolation.

This week I had to approach five colleagues and five friends and ask them to identify my top five skills (please note, not strengths), describe a time when I demonstrated them, and offer an anecdote of when I was at my best. I’m always wary of asking busy colleagues for a favour because – well – they are busy. Asking them to get personal – even though it is for professional purposes – is sensitive, requires careful consideration and can’t be done quickly. I expected at least some to refuse, but no one did.

It has been an eye-opener. I have been deeply touched by the diligence with which my colleagues approached the task, surprised by their clear appreciation of my abilities, found their observations on where to improve insightful and humbled by their generous professional judgements. Their responses have encouraged me to pay more attention; they have crystallised my own understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and shown me my value in the organisation. I was momentarily, almost, sad to be leaving. It’s a great feeling – I recommend you try it for yourself.

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