This time of year is often a time of reflection. It is a time of thinking about what you really want for Christmas – what items go on that famous Christmas list. What are the things you would really love Santa to bring you – and being Santa you can wish for whatever you want.
This year there were some practical things on my list – including an electric blanket and a pasta making machine (both of which I got – yay!). There were also though some wishes and hopes on the list. I have one wish every year and that is for donations and miracles for the dogs in the Bucov shelter that I support through Hope for Romanian Strays. With now over 1500 stray dogs living in the shelter (with an original capacity for 700 dogs) and of those over 300 puppies, there is never enough funds to help them all. The authorities do not provide enough food for that many dogs so it is up to us, and our supporters, to provide the additional food and care to try to keep the dogs alive. There are constant medical and emergency cases, like newly born puppies or injured dogs dumped at the shelter gates – essentially being left there to die. My wish did partly come true as thanks to some generous supporters and fundraising the dogs did get a Christmas meal. This is of course a drop in the ocean but at least they did not go hungry on that special day.
My other Christmas wish this year relates to work. Having left ZS in March I have gone back to working as a freelance consultant, culminating in an extremely busy December. However with my contract coming to an end in January I am again looking for the next opportunity. Whilst I would love the stability of a permanent job, the reality is there are not that many permanent roles for someone with my level of expertise and seniority. I also have such a huge passion (and depth of experience) for my area of specialisation (healthcare digital and social media strategy) that I have no desire to even consider anything else (except perhaps animal rescue!). I do also love the flexibility that working as a freelance brings and so I am putting feelers out again for some more contract work. As always it is a balancing act between finding new opportunities and meeting the requirements for the current contract – and this is one of the down sides of freelance work. I will have to start looking for the next opportunity whilst working flat out on the current contract – and find time to rescue dogs and take care of my health and personal life. I’m tired already just thinking about it! And so I make my wish and I hope that one of my tweets or posts ends up fortuously in front of the right person at the right time and I end up with a new contract for 2016. Fingers crossed ….
Linked to the above wish is another work related wish – a new laptop in the shape of the new Mircosoft Surface Pro. Sadly this is not a wish that Santa was able to grant this Christmas because Microsoft decided that Europeans are second class citizens compared to the US and that we have to wait 6 months to get our hands on this new shiny gem. My wish will have to continue being a wish only until March when I hear the Surface Pro will finally go on sale in the UK. Annoying.
My final big Christmas wish of course has to be health related. If you follow my posts then you know I have an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s. I think most patients with autoimmune disorders wish for improved (or at least stable) health. When I am happy and love what I am doing (and get plenty of sleep, eat well, etc.) I have no issues whatsoever with my condition. Sadly if I get over-stressed, sleep badly, or slip up on my food (e.g. eat something with Gluten in) I end up feeling pretty pants. Of course I plod on but there will always be a wish for that magic pill to come along and make life easier – or indeed cure my condition. That will stay a wish for a long time though as that is unlikely to happen! My other, more realistic, wish therefore is that more people are educated about the reality of autoimmune diseases, including doctors.
I got to spend my Christmas this year with my family, including my brother who is a GP. I was really saddened to hear that he had no idea the impact gluten (and diet in general) can have on patients with autoimmune diseases. I am not sure if he took my gluten free diet that seriously – I suspect like many doctors he felt that just taking my pills should be remedy enough. This makes me sad as I know the difference lifestyle makes on quality of life, and disease progression, for many patients with autoimmune diseases, but if doctors do not provide information or even support in this area then life just gets that bit harder. There really is nothing more frustrating that having your condition dismissed by your doctor – or indeed your online research either. Yes there is a large amount of incorrect and bad information online, but there is also a huge amount of life changing, accurate information out there. The fact that some of this comes from patients makes it no less valuable or accurate. Afterall how can a healthy doctor really understand what living with an autoimmune condition feels like and who are they to judge how we feel if we make lifestyle changes? And so I wish that more doctors listen to their autoimmune patients and try to understand their needs and conditions better. I wish more autoimmune patients had access to a great doctor like I do here in Switzerland.
If I could have my wish for a healthy 2016 and a new contract or opportunity to come true then I can also help make my first wish come true – I would be able to make a large donation to my charity and thereby rescue the lives of more vulnerable, neglected dogs in Romania. So should you hear of any opportunities (perm or contract) then do let me know … and you can do your bit to help my wishes come true!
Having recently joined the job seeker pool I was buoyed by a number of really positive articles talking about how this year is going to see an increase in recruitment as well as a skills gap and employees having more choice and higher negotiation powers. Awesome says I!
There is then fact that I am an expert in social media in pharma, an area that is also growing and where there is a blatant need for more talent. Many pharma companies still have no social media presence, strategy or even dedicated headcount and very few are approaching this main stream communication channel as strategically or as seriously as they should be. This is after all now one of the main communication channels for a large chunk of healthcare stakeholders, from doctors through to patients. This is where people turn to for health information and news and yet many pharma companies are still conspicuously absent from this space.
I was therefore very positive when I left ZS that I would soon be picking from an array of opportunities. However things are not always as they seem! Firstly given many pharma company’s lack of strategic approach to using this channel most of the jobs are at a very junior level – more focused on content management rather than being a strategic leader, relationship builder or internal change manager. Secondly the very fact that many pharma still have this unfounded fear of social media they are also not looking to employ in this area.
This brings me onto my second road block – being “too experienced”. Given the wealth, depth and uniqueness of my experience I am often too skilled, or more to the point too expensive, for the roles available. People always ask what my current salary is and then tend to go very silent and end the conversation. No matter how much I explain that passion for my work and work life balance are more important than salary it seems to be a discussion closer (before the discussion has even begun). That said I recently had a discussion for what sounded like a perfect role for me … until they mentioned the salary which was half my current salary, and less than I was earning over 5 years ago – I am flexible but not going to sell my experience short either.
Things are not always what they seem then. This also goes for other areas in life and in fact is something I have also been mulling over recently. The other day I was walking down Bahnhoffstrasse here in Zurich and saw a very anorexic looking woman on the street. The same day I saw some photos online of some obese women. Prior to my own diagnosis with a thyroid condition I would always automatically have thought the anorexic women “needed to see someone about her mental problems” or that the obese person “should lay off the hamburgers”. However things are not always what they seem. I now appreciate that either of those groups could in fact be dealing with health issues which are having a significant impact on their weight. As a result of my thyroid I put on close to 15kg – and I was a physically active, salad eating slim woman.
I also now know all too well that that friendly, smiling person may in fact be feeling desperately ill, depressed and miserable. Many autoimmune patients, for example, struggle daily with the effects of their disease but put on a brave, happy face for the outside world. They do not want to burden people with their misery or they feel people will not understand and they will lose their friends and will feel even more alone.
So I always remember now that things are not always as they seem. That dream job may take a bit longer to find, no matter how great the market or your skills are. That seemingly happy, or weight-challenged person may in fact be suffering from a horrible disease and may be feeling desperately alone, miserable and in pain. This is why I try these days not to make assumptions and I always try to smile at people. I may be going through a bad day but that person may be going through far worse. My smile may not mean much but I hope it helps make things seem a little bit sunnier to that person.
As many of you will know I recently decided to part ways with ZS in order to find a role where I could use of my digital and social media expertise. I have spent years building up the expertise and I am extremely passionate about how digital, and in particular social media, can have an impact in healthcare. Whilst I did some very interesting projects at ZS, and certainly helped many teams with my expertise, there was just not enough projects that really allowed to use and grow my expertise. And so we parted ways and I have started applying for jobs and looking for relevant contract and consulting opportunities.
When I first joined the job market the process of applying for job more often than not involved sending your CV to the recruiter via email. Gradually more and more companies started using online portals, to the extent that now some recruiters will respond to an email with a CV with a link to the portal and ask the applicant to apply online. In theory this is a much better, and more equitable solution. Everyone has equal opportunity to apply and the company slowly builds a database of CVs. The problem is that most of these portals require you to create an account in order to submit your CV.
I don’t know about you but I am up to my eyeballs in log-ins and usernames and passwords. Some portals want you to use your email, others want you to create a username, and they all want a password. I used to try to have a special job portal username and log-in but invariably I ended up forgetting it so when I went back to the said job portal years later it would inform me that I already had an account and would send me my new password – but to an old email address. Then there is the issue of password. We are always told not to use the same password across accounts but I’m sorry I just always forget them so I have resorted to just a few that I use. This is especially true for something I will not use regularly as there is no way I would remember a random password for a random portal.
Today I have been particularly frustrated by one company’s job portal (I won’t name names but it is a medium sized pharma). I logged in, using my now standard username and my standard password. I started to complete the application form but as my laptop is currently being a bit temperamental (it must be the Spring air) I decided to save my progress. This of course then kicked me out and I had to log-in again (why I have no idea – seems like a silly thing to me). But low and behold – as I tried to log in, using the username and password that I used minutes before to create the account, the dratted thing told me that I had got it wrong. Now having only just created the account and having used my standard username and password I knew I had not got it wrong. I nonetheless tried various alternative password options but to no avail. I finally clicked the “forgot password” link and about 5 minutes later (yes minutes not seconds) I received a temporary password and tried again. This time I was told I had been locked out. Fantastic.
In the meantime I received a “Welcome” email to tell me that my account had been set up. From this I presumed therefore that the system they use does not create the account automatically but takes several minutes to do this – which in this day and age I had not expected, but this probably explained why it did not recognise me – the system was painfully slow.
I clicked again on the “forgotten password” link and this time it only took a few seconds for the new password to be sent to me. I am now extremely happy to report that I have regained access to my application. If I should get this role one of the first things I think I will do is have a chat to HR about their system – job applications is a two way thing and if a company makes it too hard or too painful then highly skilled people may simply give up. We often talk about all the shiny new digital tools, like the latest wearable tech, but we should always also remember the importance of getting the basics right. Your digital assets, including your job portals, are often the key place that people form an opinion of your company – do not make them angry or disengaged by not getting the basics right.