Author Archives: luke JCR

8 Myths and Half Truths about Creating a Coaching Business

We go into coaching because we love it. We have experienced the power it has and are eager to work with our clients so that they can experience it too. One guesstimate is that there could be as many as 15,000 independent coaches in the UK. How many of those are making a decent living from it? Probably very few. The barriers to entry are low and this often tempts people in. However, in even the most saturated market there will be businesses that are thriving. When I work with other coaches on how to develop their businesses, I find that many are making the same flawed assumptions and some revamped thinking helps put them back on track.

Myth 1: Coaching can be a hobby business

Truth: it can’t. You are either running a business and serious about it or not. If you have a comfortable income from other sources and imagine that you can pick up a bit of coaching now and then, forget it. You need to see a coaching business as just like any other small start-up, meaning that it will take roughly 18 months to get to take-off, during which time you will be working all day, every day on business development, for instance investigating competitors, expanding your network, building your coaching hours through offering free sessions if necessary, burnishing your website and finding out for real what clients will buy.

Myth 2: I can coach anyone on anything

Truth: possibly you could but the market does not believe it. Coaching has become specialised. It is better to do what other businesses do: segment your customers then target them. Where are you credible? What type of coaching do you love? How would you define your typical client (age, role, sector, region)?

Myth 3: My former company will feed me clients

Truth: yes, they often promise this as a way of helping you get started, but you can’t rely on a continuing stream of clients beyond about a year. Sooner or later you will seem too associated with the past to know what the current issues are and too lacking in experience of other organizations to be useful. Start with those former colleagues but then use them as a platform to find clients elsewhere. Ask them: who do you know outside this company? Can I use your name as a recommendation?

Myth 4: Clients will be impressed by my qualifications, tools and techniques

Truth: they are not. Very many coaching websites are eagerly clotted on their home pages with mention of the Myers Briggs and other psychometrics, NLP, the names of the coach’s qualifications – and so on. Clients do not care about any of this. In fact they will rightly resist any idea that you are practising ‘techniques’ on them and will not know one way or the other whether your diploma from the University of Tschichwawa is any more impressive than one from the College of International Super-Coaches. Take all mention of this stuff out of your home page and avoid coaching jargon such as ‘unleashing the client’s inner resourcefulness’. We coaches know what that means, but to a potential client, I promise you, it is a turn off. No client comes to a coach in order to release their inner resourcefulness. Talk instead about the practical results your clients get.

Myth 5: I’ve got the qualification, now I’m launched!

Truth: congratulate yourself on getting the qualification. The best of them involve hard work and dedication. But you are just at the beginning. The qualification makes you safe to practise, it gives you the basics, but now you will find that in the RealWorld, clients do not conform neatly to what you learnt on the course, they are trickier, more varied, more rewarding and less rewarding. Their motivation may or may not be strong, they may disappear without a word despite your emails and phone calls. This is the first tough test of your own motivation, to keep going despite such setbacks. When you reach 200 hours of experience you will feel more aware of what you don’t know and what you can’t do and may decide to invest in some further training and to get a good, tough supervisor who will be honest with you. At 1,000 hours you will know who you can work with well and who scares the pants off you. At 5,000 hours you will understand the limitations and the power of coaching and there will be few surprises in what clients bring you. You will have prudent confidence in yourself and in the coaching process. But it takes a lot of grit to get to that point. If you do, well done: coaching is a word of mouth trade and your business will be thriving.

Myth 6: I can earn a living just from coaching

Truth: probably not. Most successful coaches mix coaching with facilitation, training and consultancy. These feed you coaching clients and vice-versa.

Myth 7: A low fee will give me a competitive edge

Truth: Pricing is a fine art. If you price yourself too low, potential clients may assume that you offer poor quality. Also, if you start low, you will find it hard to raise your fees later. When you do sell your time cheaply, you will find that you have to work very hard to make a living. But if you price yourself too high clients may decide that, much though they would like to work with you, they cannot afford you. Look carefully at your competitors: most will tell you what they are charging and to whom. Listen to what the market is telling you: the market decides your worth. In the end it is all about what clients will pay to have their problems solved. This is why, incidentally, it is pointless to drone on about the processes you deploy in coaching. These are features, not benefits and clients don’t pay for features, they pay because they believe they will find solutions.

Myth 8: There is a big market in ‘life coaching’

Truth: there isn’t. The market for coaching is in executive coaching and this is normally reserved for the most senior people in organizations. This is why to be a successful executive coach you ideally need to have been a senior manager yourself, plus have deep knowledge of organization behaviour and culture and feel confident that you can deal with the giant egos that so often conceal vulnerability and uncertainty.

To learn more: you can order my book Developing a Coaching Business, published by the Open University Press. Email; price £18 plus £2 p&p

The 8 common delusions of coaches

Coaching is a young profession – if indeed it is a profession – see later.  I have been a coach for nearly 25 years and a coaching supervisor and trainer for 18, and have met, mixed with and trained many hundreds of coaches, often following their progress over a number of years. I notice that we coaches are peculiarly prone to certain common delusions.

Delusion 1. People know what coaching is

They don’t. Here is a typical scene. I am on holiday in Spain, alone, so it is essential to make nice conversation with the other folk there.

Person A: What do you do?

Me: I’m an executive coach

Person A (politely): What’s that?

Me: (attempting to explain)

Person A: But what do you coach people IN?

Me: (courteous reply but essentially give up at that point having seen blank expression on person A’s face)

Delusion 2. All coaching has a happy ending

It doesn’t. Much coaching ends in half-success, some ends in failure. A lot of clients fail to complete their coaching programmes. Some clients are rightly critical of the service they get. Doctors don’t expect all their patients to be cured or to love them, lawyers expect to lose cases as well as to win them. Why would coaching be different from any other profession where some failure and mediocrity is par for the course?

Delusion 3. Everyone can benefit from coaching

Not really. The client has to be ready to change, has to be able to take responsibility for their own behaviour and to be in a resilient enough frame of mind to do both. Depending on what is going on in the client’s life, coaching may or may not be able to help them and they may or may not feel that it is likely to be useful.

Delusion 4. Anyone can be a coach

No they can’t. You need high levels of self awareness, the self discipline to keep yourself out of the client’s way, tolerance for ambiguity, a high degree of insight into human psychology, curiosity, warmth, maturity and the ability to suspend judgement. These qualities are rare. And even when you do have them you can still, as I know all too well from my own experience, make what are frankly beginner mistakes. Coaching is a high level skill but when done well it looks deceptively simple.

Delusion 5. There is a big market for ‘life coaching’

No, there isn’t. If there is a market at all it is tiny. This myth is peddled by companies who offer suspiciously cheap ‘introductory’ courses, dangling hope to sometimes desperate people who have been made redundant that all you need to do to become a successful ‘life coach’ is to ‘like people’. The market for coaching is in organizations. To be an executive coach you need business nous, track record as a boss yourself and a deep understanding of organization behaviour. This is to add to all the other things you need, see above.

Delusion 6. Qualifications make you more employable

Well yes – to some extent. It depends on the quality of the training and whether or not you have individual accreditation rather than just getting through a batch process. Some so-called ‘credentialing’ is frankly sloppy. Employers may ask for qualifications but mostly this is as evidence that you have taken your own development seriously enough to invest in it. Employers  have a well-founded degree of scepticism about how far a qualification guarantees the quality of your work. It gets you over the doorstep, that’s all. And with individual clients I have yet to be asked by a single one whether I hold a qualification. They buy on word of mouth not on certificates.

Delusion 7. All professional coaches have frequent supervision

Actually they don’t. When supervision is provided as a continuing part of your training, ie is paid for already, coaches do get supervision. After that, if as a coach you have to pay for it yourself out of your coaching income, which may be very small, my guess is that you buy it very infrequently, if at all.

Delusion 8. Coaching is a profession

Not yet. We’re still many years away from fully professional status. We can’t screen people against a national standard reinforced by statute, reprove, punish or expel miscreants in any meaningful way. The word ‘coach’ is not protected in the way the word ‘nurse’ or ‘doctor’ is and probably never will be.


Resisting the charm of finding a scapegoat

As a coach I have worked with many clients who have been caught in blame games. For instance there was the clinician given responsibility for reforming services that had been appallingly neglected for more than a decade. When she failed to produce the ‘proof’ that these services had magically improved after only a year in her post, she was put through a disciplinary process and fired. She is just one of many with similar tales, often involving services that have been inappropriately politicised. I have been glad to help these clients get their careers back on track, usually through encouraging them to avoid the toxicity of tribunals, negotiating a quiet exit and successfully applying for a job elsewhere. But it is dismaying to see so much pusillanimity at the top of so many of our major organizations.

The human urge to find a scapegoat is deeply embedded in our collective psyche. How much better it is to find a focus for our anger, fear or misery than to accept that there is a shared responsibility or that the causes of a problem are muddy and complex. In the Old Testament, the scapegoat was a literal goat chosen for the Day of Atonement and sacrificed. The whole of Christianity is based on such sacrifice. Finding a scapegoat is part of how groups work: picking on that human ‘goat’ quenches our thirst for revenge and neatly externalises all our discomfort. It is someone else’s fault and someone else gets the punishment- so we can escape.

I watched the recent magnificent BBC programme on ‘Baby P’ wondering anew how human beings can be so very very stupid. Peter Connelly, a 17 month old, was murdered in 2007 by his mother’s boyfriend and his brother, with his mother’s acquiescence. Yet as the programme showed with utter clarity, the ‘murderers’ according to the Sun newspaper appeared to be Haringey Social Services Department, accused of incompetence and neglect. As a result of this appalling hounding, innumerable people who might have made truly trivial and only-human mistakes, lost their careers, their homes, mental health and marriages. Some became destitute and unemployable. The most startling revelation in this programme was that the inexperienced paediatrician who apparently ‘missed’ the child’s broken back and left the medical register as a result, may not have missed it at all because it could well have been inflicted only hours before his death and after she had examined him.

In fact, as the programme showed, every agency that had some responsibility for child protection let themselves down, including the sainted Great Ormond St Hospital, Ofsted and the Metropolitan Police. Few of those in the media or politics who were involved in this case can feel happy with what they did, and the very few who had the guts to face the camera squirmed under its scrutiny. The evidence that was there for the looking was suppressed, denied or mysteriously ‘lost’.

The truth is that we prefer simple culpability to looking at complex underlying causes. We are lazy in our thinking. We panic and seek to push the guilt elsewhere. Often, the last person in the chain is the one who gets the blame so in the case of Baby P, a paediatrician who should never have been given so much responsibility, is held accountable for the deep-seated managerial neglect which had resulted in dangerous understaffing. It is easier to believe that the boundaries that matter are the ones delineated by your own organization, forgetting that crossing such boundaries to solve jointly-held problems will always matter more, but that it takes more effort, more skill, more determination and more imagination to do so.

What would help would be to learn from the aero-nautical industry. When there is an air disaster, the automatic assumption is that this will have a systemic cause. It is assumed to be unlikely that there will be any one person whose ‘fault’ it is, far more likely that weaknesses in the whole system have fatally combined. This does not mean that there is no individual accountability but this is usually located much higher up the hierarchy and involves far more people than is comfortable. Often, as in the case of Great Ormond St, there is someone who has pointed out the potentially deadly weakness but they have not been heard, or if they have, they have received the all too frequent fate of whistle-blowers and have been punished.

The long term consequences of the Sun’s actions have been severe. Their monstering of Haringey Social Services must be at least part of the reason that so many social services departments are finding it hard to recruit and retain their staff. Many of the people so unfairly accused have not worked since and have faced threats to their and their children’s lives and have been forced to move house several times.

And still there have been 260 children murdered by their parents or carers in the years since Peter died.



Job seekers be aware: nothing so quaint as the recent past

In my local Oxfam shop I picked up a copy of David Lodge’s entertaining novel Therapy. It was published in 1995 so probably written in 1994, not so long ago, surely? But actually it feels as bizarrely other-worldly and strangely unfamiliar as any novel from much earlier eras. In the novel people write letters, they visit libraries, they use landlines (except that they don’t refer to them by that name, they’re just ‘phones’), they send faxes, go to bookshops. Hospitals are dirty, vast numbers of the population watch the same TV channel at the same time, most people have proper jobs, trains are late, men wear ties. There are a few passing references to computers, but there’s no Google, no mobiles, no social media, no Netflix, no Amazon.

Working as a coach to people looking for jobs, I am struck by how many are innocently operating on equally outmoded assumptions. If you are also a career coach or someone looking for a job, watch out for all of these traps:

  • Employers can see for themselves how brilliant I am
  • Sending out my CV to as many employers as possible will land me a job
  • Recruitment agencies will find me a job
  • Most jobs are advertised somewhere, it’s just a case of keeping on looking
  • I’m looking for a job with long term security
  • If I can’t do every aspect of the job an employer has described, the employer will train me.

All of these assumptions are mistaken. To get a job you have to see everything from the employer’s point of view. No employer will hire unless there is a problem they can’t solve in other ways. They expect you to show them how you can spot and solve these problems. Sending out a CV randomly means it is headed for the recycling bin; you have to target and tailor your CV. Better to send out one carefully crafted CV than dozens of standard ones.

Recruitment agencies find people for jobs, not jobs for people. Mostly they are interested in mass recruitments and not at all interested in solving your career problems. If you find one with a consultant who really appears to care, cherish them.

The best way to find a job is through your network and if it isn’t big enough then spend time expanding it. Be very clear what it is you are looking for, ask everyone in your network for help and advice, though not for an actual job. Develop a simple script which will tell an employer what you can guarantee to do for them. Be prepared to take something temporary as an excellent route to finding something with a longer contract. See each job as a preparation for the next and an opportunity for learning.

Update your LinkedIn profile frequently and make skilful use of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

And if none of this bears fruit, then maybe think about starting your own business.

Life has changed since 1994.


Making Friends is Hard to Do

The recent study by Relate reveals that one in ten people in the UK do not have a close friend and 19% have not felt loved or cared for in the previous two weeks. This was not news to me. Over the years, many of my coaching clients have described exactly the same thing. The reasons vary but they include the deaths of old friends, divorce, children leaving home, the death of a spouse, moving to a different part of the country and having to make friends all over again in a new organization.

Many of these clients will say that they have lost the art of making friends. Once it was easy. You got close to people because you grew up together, because you shared the same corridor at a Hall of Residence, because you were all young parents together, or because you were one half of a couple who did absolutely everything together including finishing each other’s sentences.

This was in my mind as I listened to a coaching client, an actuary by training.  With merger on the cards, it was clear that his job was at risk.  As he asked himself the question, Should I leave my firm, he said,

‘I can feel myself quaking inside just at the thought!’ 

This client was honest in naming his fear. This was twofold. First he feared that his skills were unique to his organisation and therefore not transferable.  Secondly, he realised that the organisation had become not only his place of work but also the focus of his social network: the summer barbies, the conferences and the evening entertaining were all with colleagues or clients. He said he even enjoyed internal meetings, however pointless and badly-run they turned out to be, because there he got recognition and a kind of simulated friendship.

Many large organizations can provide the same kind of ersatz companionship. I am no longer surprised by how small and gossipy they can seem with so many overlapping layers of contacts and professional connections. It is easy to forget that friendships made at work are like the status you get from your role: fragile flowers that mostly crumple swiftly after you leave.

This client decided he had lost sight of what real friendship was. He said he had forgotten how to make new friends and had no clue about where to find them. The very idea that skilled effort was needed and that some of this might result in rebuffs and disappointments was intensely alarming. A good chunk of our coaching was therefore usefully devoted to how to find, cultivate, nourish and cherish a new friend.

My client left his job, and a generous package is enabling him to think through his options, but in the meantime he has set himself the task of finding three new friends a year – the number gradually increasing to take account of age-related attrition.  He has invented an algorithm to do this – your age divided by five for each half-decade of your life, the result squared then divided by… but my eyes glazed over at this point.  As he reminded me triumphantly, actuaries are people who find accountancy too exciting.

Managers and Professionals: can the Twain Meet?

When, as I do, you coach doctors, accountants, architects, lawyers and the like, you can’t help noticing the striking differences between the way their brains work and the typical thinking style of people who opt for a managerial career. No wonder there are so many problems – for instance in health services where each side accuses the other of uncaring incompetence. So to doctors, ‘The Suits’ (managers) are obsessed by performance indicators (watch how a doctor’s lip curls as he or she says this last phrase). To health service managers, doctors are addicted to ‘shroud waving’, yelling ‘patients will suffer’ while all the time being just out for themselves or unmanageable troublemakers who lack corporate loyalty.

The trouble is that different types of people are drawn to these roles and their assumptions about work are strikingly different.

Professionals believe in a relationship based on mutual trust honed out of many years of shared high quality training where access to the profession is stringently controlled, based on tough exams with constant re-accreditation. There is a carefully cultivated mystique born out of in-depth knowledge whether it is science, as in medicine, or a complex understanding of case law as in the higher reaches of the legal profession. Many of these professions involve taking risks where only an individual can decide what to do: a barrister in court during a high profile case, a surgeon faced with an emergency during a routine operation. Self regulation is at the heart of a professional’s attitude to work. How could it be possible for instance for a manager to make a decision about the best treatment for cancer when the manager knows nothing of the clinical complexities? To the true-born professional, management is irrelevant and most meetings are a waste of time, possibly they are about ‘politicking’, something the professional detests because he or she does not understand it, and because meetings take you away from your ‘real’ work – ie being an expert.

Professionals value the acclaim of other professional experts. The ideal reward is a Nobel prize but failing that, speaking at conferences, writing books and getting merit awards will do nicely.

Managers see their work as being about getting large numbers of people to do what they would otherwise resist. Management is about alignment not individualism. They like the idea of objective measures of performance because how else can you judge whether the organization is thriving or not? They believe in audits, controls and guidelines. Expert opinion is fine, but it is just one source of data, not the be all and end all. They resist individual decision-making because they recognise that it can be hijacked by mavericks. They dislike the black or white thinking of some kinds of professional, recognizing that in what they like to call ‘reality’, there are only shades of grey. Entry to management as a profession is easy – the barriers are low. You can start young with a small range of responsibility and if you don’t like it you can change careers readily. 

Managers like tangible reward – the office with two sets of windows, the impressive title, a decent bonus. They understand that influence is everything and that means reaching out to people in other departments, organizations or countries. Meetings are the glue that keeps the organization together, they are all part of the consultation process which gets buy in.

What helps?

No wonder these two sets of people find it so difficult to work together. The truth is that the world needs both. Left to themselves, professionals can descend into a whirlwind of chaotic competition and individualism with their professional associations stultifying as conspiracies against the public interest. Left to themselves managers can forget that the only true purpose of the organization is to serve its customers, clients and users and can become isolated, obsessed with pompous jargon and meaningless targets.

  • First, recognize that these differences have value
  • Openly acknowledge and name them rather than pretending they are not there
  • Arrange ‘shadowing’ and secondments of and to each other’s jobs and functions. This is usually enlightening and reduces the tendency to see evil and malign forces where there are none
  • Offer professionals training in managerial skills but make sure it is tailored to their needs. Make sure that managers get regular stints as helpers in whatever the core business of the organization is, whether this is as porters in a hospital or runners in a media company
  • On any project, make sure you have representatives of each role and discipline
  • Chair meetings using expertly applied facilitation skills, for instance spotting and managing any tendency to sulk or show off
  • Create and commit to regular informal review processes to ask, ‘How are we doing? How far are we getting the best that each of us can give?’


7 Myths and Half-truths about Writing Non-fiction

Probably many people would recognize that writing a good novel is challenging. There are ‘creative writing’ courses everywhere, from universities to your local community college. Yet somehow writing non-fiction does not get the same close attention. Perhaps this is because there are so many unhelpful myths and half truths about it. In a career spanning many decades as a writer, commissioning editor and editor, here are some that I have noticed

1.You just need to know your subject, then it’s easy

There is some truth in this because if you don’t know your subject, your book will be a non-starter, but knowing your subject just creates a mass of other questions. Who is your target reader – another expert like you, or someone who is a beginner? The bigger the gap between your expertise and your target reader, the harder it is potentially to pitch the level right

2. You should write the book first and then find a publisher

No – don’t do this. If you do you will waste a lot of time. Always approach a publisher first with a proposal. If it intrigues them they will guide you on how to make it the right book for them

3. You can’t approach Commissioning Editors direct

Indeed some are very haughty and pride themselves on their inaccessibility. But most are just youngish people making their way in publishing and keen to hear about saleable ideas. Of course you can approach them direct and it is dead easy to find out who they are

4. You should always have an agent

This is true if what you propose is a cookery, self help, history or health title because these are over-populated genres. If this is the kind of title you want to write then it could be as difficult to find an agent who will take you on as it is to find a publisher, but once you do have an agent then things could look up. If your proposed book is not aimed at the popular market, then you do not need an agent

5. I’ve always loved writing so I’m sure I could write about my special subject

Hmm. Perhaps. But as a commissioning editor and series editor I have seen at first hand that people who ‘love writing’ do not always write well. The most common mistakes are these: thinking that long words will make what you write seem more weighty and serious, whereas in fact they just get in the way; writing in a over-personal tone; a mass of grammatical errors often involving apostrophes and weirdly constructed sentences

6. My students tell me my course is fantastic – I think it would make a great book

Trying out your material on a live audience is certainly a good way to get feedback, but this is not the same as writing a book. Beware especially of trying to create a book directly from your handouts. As an exasperated reader of one such tome said, ‘If I’d wanted to buy a book with lists of bullet points on every page I’d have done it!’

7. My PhD thesis is fascinating – it’s all ready to be turned into a best seller

Yes, could be. But your PhD thesis was written to impress a tiny readership of sceptical academics with your breadth of reading and your ability to do impressive research. This is quite different from the person who wants an accessible read on an interesting subject. It means developing a totally different style and tone – and abandoning all those intrusive references.

If you want to know more, I am, running a one day course for Guardian Masterclasses called Planning and Pitching Non-Fiction on these dates: August 13 and 11 October. For more detail see

Not Such Flat Hierarchies After All

One of the buzz phrases of the early years of this century was flat hierarchy. Hierarchies were to be abolished! They stank! Layers were to be removed! And all organizational problems would be solved at a stroke.

How strange then to find that hierarchy is alive and well. The layers have crept back in.

A coaching client is describing the frustrations of his job. He is a lively, talented man but feels that there are invisible ropes preventing him from implementing anything much. He has ‘targets’ but, mysteriously, it seems impossible to meet them. He agrees a particular course of action but then nothing happens – or if it does, it happens with such a massive time interval that the need for that particular thing has dissipated and a new problem has taken its place. This is a man in a senior role and with an impressive sounding title in a large public sector organization. I give him a bowl of pebbles of different sizes and ask him to arrange them symbolically according to where he sits in the official structure. Soon he and I are helpless with laughter. My table is barely big enough to accommodate the many layers of his department. There are six levels above him and six below and that doesn’t include non-managerial people such as PAs. Some of these so-called ‘managers’ have all of two people to ‘manage’ or in one case, none. They all have nice titles though, Senior this, Executive that, Head of something, Director, Deputy Director of another thing, Associate Director. Every decision seemingly has to pass through the filters of many other people’s in-boxes and each inbox could represent a delay of anything from a few hours to several weeks if the person happens to be on holiday and is sensibly not reading emails.

These ridiculous hierarchies develop for what may seem like good reasons at the time. Bosses like to create what they fondly describe as career ladders, even if the rungs of these ladders are so shallow that no one could truly tell the difference between one and the next, with minute additional salary but no true additional responsibility. But the real reason is having the wrong people in the wrong places. Bureaucratic layers grow as a response to incompetence. If you have clung on to poor performers, the temptation is to work around them by adding barriers to their freedom with endless checks on what they do.

In many cases it would be sensible for these layers to be dismantled. In my client’s case there were twenty people involved. Of these twenty, his own estimate is that six do nothing of value – they merely process paper from each other and three of them are renowned poor performers. Of the twenty, he feels that there are at least another four who are incapable of doing the jobs they have been hired to do. If some judicious moving on were to happen this would leave a group of around 12 who could all report to one person. The boss would then have a proper job and could delegate appropriately. More would get done. People would feel more motivated and stretched. Service users would benefit because their needs would be met more quickly and efficiently.

When these meaningless hierarchies are created, the results are dire. A culture of fear and blame develops. People understand that their own freedom to act is severely limited. They quickly become skilled at delegating upwards moaning all the while about the lack of enjoyment in their work. The poor performers hang on in there denying a place to the good performers who should be replacing them. The existing high performers get thoroughly demotivated and leave. The senior people become a decision bottleneck for their staff because no single person can make all the decisions that now need to be made. Or else they end up doing the jobs of the people one level below them, neglecting their proper jobs, meaning that there is no one making strategic decisions at the top. Soon the whole organization becomes dysfunctional and its performance suffers catastrophically.

My client realised that he could not single-handedly rescue his organization from the labyrinthine stranglehold on action that it had created.

He left.



8 Mistakes Never to Make with your CV/Resume

What is a CV/resumé for? Its purpose is not to get you the job as a lot of job-seekers believe. Its true purpose is to attract the attention of an employer and to get you in front of them so that you can impress them in person. Over the years I’ve been working as a coach I’ve probably seen more than a thousand CVs and a good half of them fail the first impression test.

Here are eight things to avoid at all costs

1. Don’t use clichéd words like professional, self-motivated, enthusiastic, team player in your summary paragraph. If you’re not these things you don’t have a hope anyway. Write about the problems you can solve for an employer, the uniqueness of your experience plus any quirky aspect of your working style that would be a recommendation

2. Don’t try to play it safe as the result might be that you just look dull. See yourself as a brand and a brand is successful when it differentiates itself from the competition.

3. Don’t waste your first page with lists of qualifications and education (unless you are in a qualifications-led profession such as the law or medicine). The first page is the one that is read most carefully so put your most attractive information there.

4. Don’t ramble on. Keep to two pages. Yes, I know everyone knows this in theory but I see a lot of people who cheat by fiddling with the margins on Word and using a tiny typeface. The CV is a piece of advertising copy, so learn from advertisers and keep it crisp with clear headline messages. A long rambling CV gives the impression that you are a rambling self-obsessed person – not the kind of hire an employer wants.

5. Don’t spend your two pages describing your responsibilities. Talk about achievements – good things that happened because you went beyond what was being asked of you

6. Don’t send out the same old CV to any potential employer. Always tailor it to what that employer says they want. Use their language, match your experience to their competencies

7. Don’t lie by bigging up your degree or experience. It’s easy for employers to check on qualifications, job titles, salary and the majority now do. Tell the truth. There is a difference between putting the best possible face on your experience and lying. If you lie the chances of being found out are high – and rising all the time

8. Don’t ignore your Internet presence. An employer who is interested in you will google your name. Make sure that what they find is consistent with the professional image you present in your CV, no indiscreet chats or photos of you drunkenly cavorting at your wedding. It is easier to monitor this all the time than to remove compromising material later. 

There is more on this and other aspects of job search in my latest book Facing Redundancy: Surviving and Thriving


8 Ways to Recover from Interview Failure

You were shortlisted for the job but you didn’t get it. There’s no way around this: you will feel, even if only for a very short time, that you have been humiliated. Regardless of knowing that it was your fit with the job that was being assessed not you, the core person, it usually feels exactly as if your entire being has been deemed lacking. Fortunately there is a lot you can do to shorten the time to recovery.

1. Ask for feedback, even if it is unlikely that you will get anything that is helpful. Employers are often cowardly and sometimes they fear being sued so mostly you will hear soothing platitudes or straight lies such as ‘if we’d had two jobs you would have got one of them’. Always phone for feedback and don’t wait for it to be offered. Ideally ask for it at the same point that you get the bad news that you have not got the job. Good questions here are, ‘What did the successful candidate have that I lacked?’ and ‘What advice would you give me about how to be more impressive next time?’

2. Did nerves get the better of you? If so, learn some simple skills to control your breathing. This is more than just ‘deep breathing’ which may lead to hyperventilating – essentially it’s about making the out-breath longer than the in-breath and doing it without raising your shoulders or bunching up your chest

3. For your next interview reconsider the amount and type of research you do into the job and the organization. I find that many candidates underestimate how much of this they need to do. Others waste time and effort by reading up on the organization’s history, business plan or the background legislation which might possibly affect its future. This is all interesting but it is theoretical. Usually it is better to focus your attention instead on its competitors, its culture and the not-so-obvious problems that it may be facing

4. Think back to how you answered the ‘why do you want this job?’ question. This is the most important single question in the interview and in coaching strong candidates for their interviews I notice that this is the one that people most often get wrong. Start your answer by talking about the company and why you want to work there. To do this successfully you will need to have done real research described above, ideally by talking to people who already work in the department you want to join. Never start your answer to this question by talking about how getting this job would solve your career problems, eg that you are ‘ready for a new challenge’. The employer has no interest in providing you with new challenges. They are only interested in what you can do for them

5. Reconsider what you wore for the interview. How did your own outfit compare with what your interviewers were wearing? If there is any discrepancy, for instance that they were more formally or less formally dressed than you then you may not have looked the part. If you have never had colour and grooming advice now might be the time to invest in it

6. The interview can never be a test of your knowledge – if the employer wants to check up on this then they should assess it in some other way. What a job interview does test in your social skills. Did you smile? Do you have a good handshake? Were you enthusiastic and entertaining? If not then do a practice with a friend and listen carefully to their feedback

7. Learn how to use storytelling technique to demonstrate that you already have the skills the employer needs. Every answer should be a tightly-packed mini-story. By mini I mean something that lasts no longer than 3 minutes. Time yourself and see how your typical answer compares. Less than one minute is too short, more than four is going to be rambling and too long

8. Did you really want this job? If you were doing it ‘for interview practice’ then this will have guaranteed that you did not get it. This is another reason for thorough research before continuing with your application. If what this research reveals suggests that you would not like the job or enjoy working in that organization, then withdraw.

 There is more on all of this in my book Job Interview Success, available on




10 Tips for Finding a New Job

Whether you’ve been made redundant or fired or just decided to resign there is a lot you can do to make it easier and quicker to find a new job

1. Take stock of your life and career. Leaving a job gives you the chance to reconsider direction, to re-weigh work-life balance, to ask yourself whether it’s time to promote a hobby into a job – and so on.

2. Create a ‘brand statement’ for yourself as you will constantly be asked by recruiters who you are and what you’re looking for. Don’t be one of those people who stands slack jawed trying to work out the answer on the spot. What’s unique about you? What values would you never compromise at work? What’s your passion? What work would you do even if you were unpaid?

3. See employment from the employer’s perspective, not from yours.  This means seeing yourself as providing a service for a customer: in this case an employer, rather than coming across as someone who is entitled to a job because you’re worth it. What problems can you always solve for an employer? No employer ever hires unless there is a problem they can’t solve without spending money on people

4. Explore your network. Do ‘research interviews’ where you ask a contact for help in finding out how people get work in their company or sector, what the trends are, what kinds of people are being sought and what skills or experience they have. Don’t ask straight out for a job – in fact don’t even take your CV to these meetings. Listen and ask for advice – and another contact. This is far more likely to lead to an actual job than applying for formally advertised jobs

5. Be prepared to consider interim and temporary work if it gives you the chance to broaden the scope of your CV and to sample life in another company or sector

6. Don’t get over concerned with job titles, for instance whether or not they have the word ‘senior’ in them – they rarely have any meaning to people in other organizations

7. Don’t get fixated on a particular salary, for instance a sum ending in a specific round number – after tax it may make little difference to what you actually take home

8. Keep going during periods of unemployment by having a job search strategy and putting a lot of energy into implementing it. Get some training in an area of interest if it would boost your skills and confidence.

9. Volunteer: this shows willingness to work even if you are unpaid – as well as commendable community spirit

10. Prepare carefully for job interviews: all the likely questions are highly predictable. Practise with a friend and listen to their feedback.

Read more on all of this in my new book Facing Redundancy: Surviving and Thriving available on







Has ‘curating’ got above itself?

I first noticed the strange new use of the word curator when the King’s Place performing arts centre at Kings Cross in London opened a few years ago. They began a tradition of devoting Monday evenings to the spoken word, calling it Words on Monday. But I was baffled to see that the initial round of lectures, poetry readings and interviews with authors was described as being ‘curated by The Guardian’ (whose sparkling new offices are on the floors above). What did this mean? And who was doing this actual curating, whatever that was? Did it mean that The Guardian newspaper was sponsoring these events, or arranging them? How could this have anything to do with the honourable profession of being a curator, a title earned because of deep and specialized expertise involving objects crucial to cultural heritage?

I have since seen publicity material for film, poetry and music festivals allegedly curated by some person or institution. Where does just being an impresario, organizer, director or producer stop and curating start? When I went to the Barbican recently to hear the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, I was relieved to see that no one claimed to have curated this enjoyable event, though they might have, since someone needed to have chosen the programme and the running order.

And when, exactly, did the noun curator become a verb, to curate? Maybe pretty recently because typing this I see that my up to date version of Word does not recognize it and adds wavy red lines to all its verbal forms.

But my suspicion is that it is only a matter of time before the word curator is annexed in even more provokingly pompous ways. Maybe in the same way that a local council decided to call its lifeguards Wet Leisure Assistants or how bin men have become Waste Disposal Technicians, and museum guides, who obviously need to watch out for jealous rivalry from Curators, have become Coordinators of Interpretative Teaching. People who devise and sell pornography could probably make themselves seem a lot more respectable as Adult Entertainment Curators; Transport for London could re-badge their useful travel advice as Journey Curating.

That this development is possibly already true came home to me when I was making my way through the vast fashion department of John Lewis’s Oxford St store in London. A selection of clothing had been put on elegant hangers with fancy tags and labelled, yes, Curated. These were, allegedly, not just quite nice bits of up-market clothing from a variety of brands that someone from the merchandising team rather liked, they were precious objects worthy of being handled reverently by virtue of being curated, in order to justify their high prices.

So I think now I’d better do a bit of curating of my own. I can start with my wardrobe – that can do with some serious curating which will involve a trip to the already very well run Cancer Research charity shop where they might helpfully re-label their more expensive designer donations as Curated to Cure Cancer. Then I am giving a supper party for my family soon and there are some needs that are difficult to reconcile: the two veggies, the roast dinner addicts, the person who claims that anything ‘spicy’ makes her ill, the one who never eats vegetables, the baby who is still on stage 1 of solids. Clearly only a very expert Food Curator could possibly sort this out so I’d better get down to it to see if I can make the cut.