Category Archives: CV writing

Mind Management: Beat Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly – but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (” busy-ness”) when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “mind over matter”. Or mind matters!

Mind fabrication
I’m not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don’t know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase “drowning in my own thoughts” to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times ” being out of work for 2 years” and a need to explain a ” 2 year gap on my CV”. I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we’re now July 2009 – how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

Self sabotaging
At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was ” opting out” and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is – a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you’re reading this!)

Re-frame with questions
So if you feel that anyone doesn’t understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can’t see what you’re about – perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you’re choosing to work with. Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

Write things down
So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let’s pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

Track the message !
ORIGINAL THOUGHTHmmm… I should apply for that job” write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait… if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won’t know what to say … **then I’ll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview… **then they’ll know how useless I am..** then I won’t get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone….**then everyone will know I’m stupid and laugh at me.. **then I’ll let my whole family down… ** then I won’t get any job anywhere, ever… **then I’ll never work again… then I’ll have no money so I’ll be bankrupt … **then I’ll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I’ll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box … **then everyone in the world will hate me…then Hmmm … OK…. I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower …I’ll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Look at the facts
Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you’re a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn’t know you. Keep a job search log so you can’t convince yourself into thinking that you’re active when you’re not. Facts talk.

Reality check
The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink into job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don’t want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

Choose your words wisely!

Inspired by Wally Bock

Divided by a common language  

Chatting on Twitter the other night, Wally mentioned in passing that he was a vet. Wow I thought. He’s an international leadership guru , writer, poet AND a vet. That’s pretty amazing. I went into recruiter mode. Thoughts about wide ranging skill sets , the long years he must have spent in college and training, plus potential career paths all raced through my mind. Then I realised (just as quickly) that we were probably having a cultural mis-communication moment. In UK English “vet” is a commonly used abbreviation for veterinary surgeon, but in the US it tends to replace the phrase “war veteran”.

Word choice

It then occurred to me if two Anglophones can mis-communicate so successfully and we use vocabulary and word choice as a professional tool all the time, what are the implications for those that don’t? I’m not talking about advertising spin either, but just presenting our message in a succinct and positive fashion, that everyone can understand and easily digest.

The importance of word choice in communicating a message in job search strategies is a vital part of my coaching programme. It’s key in CV writing and drafting internet profiles not only to be identified by Applicant Tracking Systems, but to identify your personal brand, which is the essence of your message. Strong language is absolutely essential in developing a correctly pitched elevator speech used in direct networking and interviews. They all require precise vocabulary, but presented in different styles and formats. Living in an international environment where English is the global business lingua franca, I also see people both communicating and confusing in their second, third or even fourth languages every day.


I coached someone recently who used this phrase “Used to work in a multicultural environment : continuous contacts internally with US and European colleagues. Daily contacts with customers in Europe, Middle East and Africa mainly”

What he had actually done was this: successfully identified market development opportunities in key emerging markets,( some very challenging countries which I can’t specify for confidentiality reasons) created multi- cultural and cross discipline teams (requiring the management of significant cultural differences and business practises) to spearhead the launch of the product portfolio. The result was x increase( large number) to his company’s bottom line. Was that obvious? Not at all. Same role, but which one is going to attract attention?
I have observed over time that there are generally two parts to this communication process: communication with yourself (internal message) and then communication with others (external message). Sometimes it is only about the use of effective “brand” language ( vocabulary), but quite often it’s more than that.
So what needs to be done?
 Internal communication: this is about self awareness and self insight. You need to identify and understand your own challenges and achievements – I know I keep bashing on about this – but it is key. If you don’t know what you’re good at – how can you expect anyone else to know? You are your own best asset. Recruiters don’t have time to look for sub – text and to analyse the possible implications of what you’ve been doing in your career. We need to be told in very precise terms. Self insight also facilitates the interview process so you present yourself strongly verbally as well – this is your own brand development . It avoids the awkward pauses, repetition and embarrassing moments in interviews. But it is equally vital that you own your personal message. How do you define yourself? As the person in “daily contact” or the person who ” spearheads”?
External communication: Choosing powerful vocabulary and phrases to get your message across in the best possible way in all media is really important. This is not boasting (that’s about personality and delivery) or falsifying( that’s about lying). It’s your brand marketing. Would we buy Coke if it was advertised as a “brown fizzy drink” Probably not. Suggesting “refreshing” and “thirst quenching” or whatever else they say, produces a different and successful picture. Same about you! Use words such as: identifed, created, instigated, enhanced, extended, exceeded, generated, conceived, won, strengthened, secured, restructured, transformed to list just a few. Lose weaker words such as: facilitates, co-ordinated, set up, played a key role, contact etc. Let the facts speak for themselves and back up your achievements with incontestable examples or numbers.
If you are not a wordsmith, or English isn’t your first language, enlist support to help craft the most convincing CV possible to send a message you believe in. Why run the risk of being rejected because of some weak words?
You don’t want to be a “brown fizzy drink”!


“Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom” Aristotle


 Multi – tasking is our norm. Many of us are so caught up in corporate “busy-ness” that we operate on automatic pilot, lose focus and stop paying attention, not just to our surroundings, but to ourselves. We do as many things as we can at one time in and actually take pride in it. Even boast about it! Constant contact is often not only expected, but demanded by bosses, peers and our families. For the few remaining hours before we finally sleep, we field never ending demands generated by our partners, kids, parents, hobbies, friends, homes and any other relationships in our “free “time.

 Self help
At the same time there has been a marked cultural and economic shift to self- help. Many activities which were previously managed by a service provider we now do ourselves. Our personal hard drives are overloaded with processes we didn’t need to know before: shopping, banking, checking-in, ticketing and reservations, are all done on line. So our “busy-ness” has increased even further, but it has also led to a loss of basic daily interaction that makes us stop, think and engage with other human beings. A smile, a touch, an idle chat. Twitter is the new water-cooler time. Now, if we don’t pay much attention to ourselves, we pay even less to other people.

Missing focus
Scientists believe that as little as 1% of our brain is actively engaged in the activity we are presently “focused “on! I use the word “focus” lightly! This is not even when we are stressed when problems become our central focus when our capacity to pay attention is reduced further. According to Pareto, 80% of our activity generates only 20% of the results. Have you ever opened the refrigerator door and forgotten what you were looking for? No? Lucky you! You can see, with the complexity of modern living, how easy it is for “life” to take on a momentum all of its own, and how effortless it is, to drift. To re-act, not act.

David E. Meyer, Professor of Psychology, in the Cognition and Perception Program, at University of Michigan, writes extensively on multi-tasking. He believes that excessive multi-tasking “can lead to chronic stress, with potential damage to the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems”. He maintains that flitting from task to task interferes with demanding and complex mental activities such as reading, having conversations and planning. This all contributes to an increase in the incidence of error. Tasks then take as much as 100% longer than they should to complete. When we under perform and expectations (perceived and actual) are not met, stress levels increase yet again.

Find your own key
Clients in transition often expect me to write their CVs for them because they believe that I will do a better job than they would. Superficially, that might possibly be true. I could certainly write a successful looking document, but it would lack depth and as a career search tool its value would be for a limited period only. As I strongly believe “Find the key to yourself and every door in the world is open to you”, I have to refuse.

Do you know ” you“?
Some career coaches maintain that no one knows you like you do! I’m actually not so sure. My observation is that quite often people are so wrapped up in “busy-ness” that they don’t take/make the time to get to know themselves. So I always think it’s a good idea to at least check where they are on the “know thyself” spectrum. I ask clients to set aside some time, to do one small thing differently, anything that prompts them simply to think, to engage in what they are doing and to be in the moment they are actually doing it in. I encourage them to slow down and to get to know themselves, just thinking.

When I outline this idea many clients look at me askance, as if I’m asking them to sit cross legged in a corner, wearing orange robes, chanting and using “F” words ( no not that one – the other ones …Feelings.) ” What’s this got to do with my job and you writing my CV?” these hard headed executives ask. My personal belief is that it’s all key.

Mono – task
As coaches we all recommend different strategies to create some moments of focused thought – mono-tasking. To purists it’s not even mono-tasking – but I live in the grey world of approximation! Just eating, just jogging, just driving, just looking at a view, with no other distractions – only thoughts. Most people find it harder than they imagine.

We spend about 76000 hours in our lives working, so it’s important to get it as right as we can.

So what do I suggest clients should be thinking about?

  • What am I passionate about?
  • What do I believe in? ( values)
  • What are my life goals ( general)
  • What are my professional goals (specific)
  • What have my challenges in life been?
  • How did I deal with them? (Actions)
  • What did I achieve? (Results)
  • What skills did I call upon?

We then need to check that all these thoughts are aligned, so our chosen professional path is what we want to be doing, or somewhere close. I am passionate about tennis, but given my skill level, and any potential to improve being close to zero, clearly I can’t make a career out of it! So compromise and prioritising is required and some will be deal breakers and others won’t.

When we have completed this process and start to get to know ourselves, we can begin to take control and articulate our own message successfully and independently, in all circumstances. We might need some help – but no one can do it all for us. To make this happen, we need to be prepared to stop and just think.

For many of us, making even the smallest change can offer many new and exciting options.