Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Things I do now I'm older Part 1 | Personal Shopping

There are 5 things I've started doing now I'm older...and I've realised that many of the questions I get via the blog and social media relate back to these things. So I'm going to do 5 separate blog posts over the coming weeks to talk about each one. Today's is Personal Shopping/Styling.

The biggest game changer for me since I hit my 40's is discovering the benefits of going to a personal shopper/stylist and I'm amazed more women don't do it.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Holly's Must Haves - The Denim Edit | Style | Ad

[Ad - Paid Collaboration with Affiliate Links]
Once again, I've been in to try on the new Holly Willoughby range at M&S ahead of the launch and I've been working hard since my visit to get this post ready to go live at the same time as her range drops onto the website so that you are armed with my honest opinions (and you get to see that boiler suit tried on!!) before purchasing online.
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Saturday, 23 February 2019

Getting Back into the Workplace | FAQ's

I mentioned a while back that I would write a post about my experience of getting back into the workplace proper after long break. I've done bits and pieces of social media work on a part time basis over recent years but this is my first time back in a role similar to what I used to do before the twins were born. When I talked about it on an earlier post, I had so many emails and messages from women who wanted to reignite their careers but didn't know how to. So here goes - I'm not sure if this will help massively because so much of the jobs game is about luck, timing and connections and no two situations will be the same. It's taken me an age to write it but hopefully bit and pieces of it will help a few of you out there.

I'm conscious that there are many of you reading this who never took more than the bare minimum off work and who work full time juggling work and home. Career vs Kids is such an emotive subject especially if you don't have a choice in the matter for financial or other reasons. It's a massive privilege to be able to stay at home with your kids and to have the choice to go back to work. Equally there are many reading who regret giving up their career and may feel envious of women who didn't, who are now flourishing in the workplace in their 40's. We're all in different situations and every woman out there is doing her best. No judgement. I've personally done all three - full time mum, full time working mum, part time working mum and I couldn't chose between them - they're all difficult and rewarding in their own ways.

Confidence
What I've found speaking to friends and reading your emails and messages is that the main barrier to going back to the workplace to do what you did before kids, is confidence. This can be for a few reasons. Some of us had a bad experience when we worked before. Maybe it was the motivator for you to leave. Others feel they've spent too long in a caring role to be able to function in an office environment again.

Confidence is your willingness to try....this was so helpful to read recently. Confidence is like a muscle - sometimes you have to get out there and push it to make it stronger. 

Like exercise, you can start to grow that confidence muscle with just one baby step. It's not about actually getting the job, that one step might just be sitting down with your computer and typing that word CV on the top of a page. Or calling out to a friend or an expert whom you know can help you with this because like exercise, it helps to have positive encouragement behind you from a coach, a friend or a life partner.

If you're really struggling, ask around for coaching recommendations. I had a session last year with Hollie from The Freedom Method and while it wasn't career specific, she did help me tease out what motivates me in my work life and it really helped focus my mind. She also helped me recognise my strengths and see the time I spent out of the workplace as a positive in that regard.

Shouting it out
Once you've decided you're ready to start looking, I urge you to call it out. Tell your friends, mention it on social media. Drop friends and ex-colleagues a friendly email asking them to keep you in mind if they hear of anything. Start a Linked-In profile and reconnect with work colleagues from way back when. So many temporary and contract roles are filled by word of mouth and if people don't know you're looking, they won't think of you when something comes up that needs filled fast. And a temporary job so often becomes a permanent one.

Applying for a job
Of course, while waiting for all the lovely referrals from friend and family, you'll have to start searching online applying for all the jobs that fit the bill. After a break, especially one as long as I had, you might have to pitch a bit lower initially and accept less money than you were hoping for, just to get your foot in the door. Also, don't get hung up on essential criteria - if you think you come close to meeting them, give the job a go. I was told recently that men are more inclined to disregard the criteria specifics and apply anyway in the hope that they can wing it at interview!

Register with a few agencies so that they come to you immediately if a suitable role comes to them but don't get too excited about any roles you see advertised online by agencies. My experience is that they're not great at updating online adverts and I came across so many that were already closed or even filled!

For that reason, I favour roles that are advertised directly by the hiring company. If you see something on an agency's site and it indicates who the employer is, go and look on the employer's website to see if you can apply directly.

When it comes to applications, there are still lots of companies that take a CV and covering letter. But it's become more commonplace to have to complete a competency based application form and in these situations you mustn't forget to answer to all of the essential criteria or you won't get an interview. Even if your application form has already detailed that you have a degree or 3 A-Levels in the education section...you will still have to talk about it again on the criteria section if it's one of the essential ones.

I can't say too much about interviews as I've only had one recently. I used a google list of typical interview questions and another google list of good questions to ask as an interviewee. I made a note of examples where I demonstrated the criteria  - initiative, leadership, team work etc - and brought them with me written down in a notebook, which I referred to a couple of times. And I smiled lots....I think that helps a bit!! No one wants a gurney bake opposite them in the office :)

Job hunting is a numbers game and you'll get better at the process the more you apply so keep at it and as difficult as it is, don't take the rejections personally.

Starting a new job
The practicalities of starting back in an office are another source of worry in your messages to me. With a good manager and team, you will adapt to your new surroundings quickly. Being in an office and being a full time carer are not greatly different. Negotiating, planning, communicating, finding ways around things and working hard. Only difference is in an office, you'll have peace to drink that coffee...and adult conversation.

Yes, you're going to struggle with the basics of logging in to a PC, working out how to do a spreadsheet again....and using printers hasn't gotten any easier in 10 years. Thankfully, I had a patient and knowledgeable 21-year old placement student to answer my endless questions and I had a manager who was clear in her expectations of me and the role for the first few weeks. It all really helped me to find my feet. I will assure you that not much has changed in the world of Windows since I was last in an office - 2 days in, and I was flying!


Coping when the going gets tough
And that's the thing - the first few weeks are actually comparatively easy because you're learning. People are making allowances for you and helping you. It's when you're a few months in that shit gets real. I've had a particularly difficult couple of weeks because I moved onto a new project and was struggling to get my head around it all. The goalposts were shifting and my manager wasn't available to help me. 

But it's back to the confidence thing again...it needed another kick up the backside to shift to the next level. I was so encouraged by lots of funny comments and DM's on Instagram where you told me you also felt like you were winging it every day and that this is ok. It's about reminding yourself every day that you've got this - you can do it....
......and perfecting the 'I am in control' face for meetings. 

What to wear
And finally....what on earth to wear. It's all business casual these days and it's a flipping nightmare! I've been relying on pleated or pencil skirts & jumpers, all worn with ankle boots or brogues but beyond that, I was really struggling - especially with trousers. So I set up a session with Katherin Farries at Victoria Square and she got me 3 pairs of work perfect smart casual trousers. Do consider asking for help from a stylist. Katherin does 1 hour express sessions ideal for this kind of thing.

A few tips beyond that:
  • If in doubt, dress up a bit. Always better to be over than under dressed. 
  • Don't show your toes in work. I have a MASSIVE bugbear about this - it looks so unprofessional.
  • Watch for cleavage and transparency of your tops. If in doubt, wear a vest
  • Another thing that hasn't changed in big offices is air conditioning...it's SO temperamental. Layers for the win - cardigans or light knits over a blouse are ideal.

Finally..,
I've not sussed it - I'm absolutely winging it in every respect. Down to writing this blog post in a convincing way. My house is a tip since I started and I have moments of panic every day when I think I can't do this. And I'm only part time in the office - though I am doing a day of self employed work too. But I keep reminding myself that I CAN do it....or at the very least, I'll do what I can and wing the rest.

Please do get in touch if you have any further questions or want to add to this blog post...you can comment below or email my on avril@alifetostyle.com.

Ax
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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

What I've been Wearing | Style

AD - Affiliate Links & Gifted Products as marked.
I've made a real effort with the photo taking over the past two weeks so there's a good selection of work and casual wear to share with you this time around...as well as a 'what's been happening in my life lately' bit at the end of the outfits. Hope you enjoy and as a reminder, I've marked anything that was a gift. If there's nothing noted beside the item, then I bought it myself. There are some affiliate links in the blog post too - hence the post is marked as an AD up front.

Starting with this outfit from a couple of Sundays ago when I attended the local blogger brunch:
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Monday, 11 February 2019

My Dermaplaning Experience 8 Weeks On | Woodford Medical

AD - Gifted treatment in return for this review
Before Christmas, Kerry who manages Woodford Medical in Belfast (where I buy all my Epionce products and highly recommend their lite peel - see link), asked me if I would review their newest treatment, dermaplaning. No obligation to blog but at the time, I shared it on Instagram Stories and in the 8 weeks since the treatment, I've had constant questions about it so I thought it would be good to have the process and the after effects all documented on here for people to read.
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Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The trouble with Zara.....

A journalist friend of mine was told by Zara this week that they were not re-opening their Belfast store. Well talk about panic as her friends (and mine) reacted to this news. It turned out to be the work of an ill-informed social media executive...more on that in a bit.

To give a bit of background, Belfast Zara closed in late August following the fire in Bank Buildings, right beside Zara's premises. The Primark store in Bank Buildings was completely destroyed and the building rendered unsafe so Zara was forced to shut up shop until Bank Buildings were stabilised and the safety cordon removed. 

So since August, Belfast's main retail thoroughfare has been split in two by a cordon, which didn't allow any traffic through, including pedestrians. In December, a pedestrian tunnel was created and some of the units further away from Primark reopened. However, Zara and the Tesco Express on the other side of Bank Buildings remained shut.

The fire has been really tough for the city - I hold my hands up and say that even though I made a concerted effort to support the city centre with my Christmas shopping, I didn't spend any money in the shops on the far side of the cordon from where I normally park or get off the bus. It's not intentional - more because there's this sense of divide, of difficulty to navigate, of sadness walking past the burnt out shell that was the beautiful Bank Building. Being really honest, there's not the same selection of shops the other side. Zara and Primark made that part of town a bit of a destination I guess so you were more inclined to keep going and maybe pop into H&M or Debenhams, while you were down there.

My immediate reaction to the news that the store might not be opening again was indifferent. It had begun to gall me that a store like Zara continued to get away with the most rubbish customer service on the high street and with creating poor quality clothes that fed our fast fashion addiction. They were the ones that started the speedy turnaround on collections. Short runs of clothing and multiple drops on a monthly basis drove an addiction to the brand for many. If you didn't get *that* Zara 'must have' today, it would be gone tomorrow. And everyone else on Instagram would be wearing it...the torture!
I know it's true because I got sucked in too. But strangely, every time I went into the shop, I found myself a bit disappointed. The fit and the quality was so hit and miss and it seemed I was almost forcing myself to buy something...just because it was Zara and that's where all the cool bloggers and stylish people get their stuff.

I often bought items that I rarely wore, that didn't fit that well or that I ended up returning. And don't get me started on their less than cheery approach on the till when you wanted a refund. Time after time, I found myself faced with grumpy faced team members who were mostly irritated by your presence. How dare you interrupt their very busy and important job in uber stylish Zara to look for money back or do an exchange? You indecisive woman!

I realised I was buying into a lifestyle, following a crowd, thinking that if I bought something from Zara, I had style...I was on-trend. It mostly wasn't. Maybe I bought badly but the amount of awful stock hanging on their sale rails last February (at still relatively high prices), confirmed to me that Zara wasn't what it used to be when it opened first.

In the end, early last year, after witnessing that sale rail fail and at the same time I started reading Lucy Siegle's book ' To Die For', I made the decision to stop buying from Zara. And it's not been too hard to stick to this. Admittedly, the closure of the Belfast store at the end of August took the opportunity away from me but I've not even looked online in that time and I don't think I've missed much. I've enjoyed buying unique, less ubiquitous pieces from local boutiques instead. Putting a bit more cash into less frequent purchases and supporting smaller businesses...and it feels good.

So I wasn't mourning the loss of Belfast Zara but then I was notified via my Facebook page that it IS in fact opening again in April 2019. In fact, they're currently prepping the unit ready for the stock to drop. Cue many happy comments!

I'm not going to be rushing in anytime soon but I am happy for Belfast and the surrounding businesses which will no doubt see footfall increase once Zara is open again - especially when it becomes possible to walk easily between it and the new wing of Primark (which wasn't damaged in the fire and has re-opened recently).

I'd like to finish with suggesting Zara's marketing team does a better job keeping their social team informed but I've a sneaking suspicion their employee communications are as bad as their customer communications.... :)

Ax


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Monday, 4 February 2019

What I've Been Wearing | Style

AD - Gifted Items - see each photo for details. If nothing noted, then this means I bought the item. In the case of House of Fraser and M&S, I've had a commercial relationship with both of these brands in the past year. If an item from either of these is not marked as a gift, I bought it myself. 

Before I get going, just to clarify on the AD tagging. In line with the ASA and CMA guidelines, bloggers must tag AD at the very beginning of blog posts if any of the following applies to their post - Paid for Blog post, Gifted Items, Affiliate Links or a commercial relationship exists with the brand in the past year, even where it doesn't involve the item being featured. So for every post, I'll tell you in the first sentence what applies in that post. I hope it's as clear as you need it to be - tell me if it's not. 

I'm back with another set of outfits from the past two weeks...I've been struggling with work outfits so they're mainly casual. The reason for the workwear issue is that I'm walking to work so my options are so limited. I can't really wear dresses or skirts unless they're short with opaque tights and jeans are too casual. But I have a plan...stand by for a post to come in the next week!
Coat - M&S (current sale)
Jumper - Berlin Boutique (current sale)
White Top - M&S (current)
Jeans - French Connection (past season)
Boots - Dune London (past season)
Parka - Hush Sale (AW18)
Handbag - House of Fraser (past season)
Jeans - F&F at Tesco (years old)
Boots - Cara via eBay
I paid a visit to The Bottom Drawer in Portadown a couple of weekends ago. I was in the town for a kids birthday party and just had to call in to check out the end of the sale....as you do!
Blazer - M&S (Current sale)
Jeans - as before
Boots - John Lewis
Bag - Boden (old)
Hanging out on the patio in the next photo - an all navy one, apart from this great scarf that I got a couple of winters ago from a local online boutique which isn't in business anymore sadly.
Jumper - LK Bennett Outlet (SS18)
Jeans - as before
Boots - Ash (AW16)
Parents' afternoon at the school and I went for a jazzy skirt...love this one I bought in Newtownards at the tail end of the summer.
Scarf - Hush Sale (current)
Boots - Primark via eBay (first wear...have them over a year!)
Skirt - Sarah Alexandra Boutique, Newtowards (SS18)
Faux Fur Coat - Guess Outlet, Banbridge (gifted)
Scarf - Zara (old)
Grey Jumper - as before
Jeans - Topshop Jamies
Trainers - Nike Grandstand 
Bag - Boden (old) 
Coat - eBay (past season M&S)
Hoodie - Hush (SS18)
Trainers & Bag - as before
Jeans - Coated Joni's - Topshop
And finishing with yesterday's outfit featuring my new bag which an Instagram friend bought on my behalf at the Hush sample sale last week! It's the Lucile bag which retailed at £139 and she managed to find me a sample for £40. Amazing. 
Coat - Hush (current sale)
Bag - Hush (sample sale)
Jeans & Boots - as before

And there you go - I'll try to show more workwear on the next one! Hope you're having a good week so far and I'll be back soooooon,

Ax

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