29 April, 2016

The mighty checklist


I don’t like it when I make mistakes. So I’m reading Atul Gawande‘s book, The Checklist Manifesto.

While on the one hand, most of our best learning comes from the mistakes we make, they are also really annoying/embarrassing and can cost time and money to fix.  In some jobs they cost lives or millions of dollars.  In Gawande’s book, checklists are crucial to engineers, builders, surgeons, anesthetists, pilots or project managers.  They do literally save lives, either through prevention or rapid problem-solving. “They are quick and simple tool aimed to buttress the skills of expert professionals” Gawande says and are “swift, usable and resolutely modest”. Most humans are prone to distraction and it is easy for the mind to wander in the middle of a process and for key steps to be overlooked.

If you are a job seeker, or making the transition to your first job, a simple checklist may increase your chance of success.  Not only can you prevent those show-stopping typos and spelling errors in your CV or cover letter, but you may address exactly what the potential employer is seeking and you might find that elusive, extra tangential thing that will make you stand out from the other candidates. Imagine if you just used a simple checklist for putting together and proofreading your job application, for networking with employers at a career expo, or for information visiting that dream company. There would be so much less anxiety around the process.  No waking up suddenly at 3am and thinking: “Oh sheesh! (or something to that effect).. I forgot to put my name on the bottom of the cover letter!”.

Checklists would surely also help you in your first day in a new job.  Is your clothing label tucked in?  Do you have lipstick on your front teeth?   For the first six months or year of a new job, mistakes are understandable because you’re on a learning curve but can knock your confidence considerably.  There is often a formal induction checklist so use that, but you could also have ones that help you to learn and develop good practices in your new role. For example, your checklist could be:

  • Have I done a final read of my e-mail before pressing Send?
  • Have I checked for potential misunderstandings based on tone or typos?
  • Who should be receiving this e-mail: should it be Reply or Reply All?

Who knows, you may very well come up with ideas to improve processes in your workplace.

To get ideas on what to put in your checklist:

  • Have I identified what has gone wrong previously? Be honest but forgiving with yourself.  Take ownership.
  •  So what I would do differently?
  • What could possibly go wrong? Do a quick risk assessment, look at the potential impact of a risk and the chances of it happening.
  • Where does each thing fit in the process? For example, writing, revising, proofreading, revising, proofreading, sending.
  • For what to put in your job application checklist, see Job Applications, Your CV and Cover Letters from our Career Essential series for starters.

How to make the checklist work for you:

  • Who can help me? Preparation and planning are a contact sport. Try to find a checklist checker a mentor or peers to check in with and make sure you have done each thing in sequence.
  • Is my checklist on one page, quick and usable? Maybe it’s in a notebook that you take everywhere with you or you keep it somewhere like One Note.
  • How will I check in with my checklist checker to confirm that I’ve checked?
  • Have I tested my checklist in the real world and amended it?
  • Will my checklist help others in my life? Try not to be a born-again zealot about this.  I have discovered that for some people, checklists are second nature and I was preaching to the choir.

OK.  Coffee drunk. Check. Blog written. Check. Spelling and grammar proofed. Second coffee. Check.

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Advice, Career advice, CVs, Job application, Jobs, Personal development


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