What is a Career Coach?

What is a Career Coach?

What is a career coach

Go to school, sit your Leaving Cert, decide on a college course, complete your studies and settle into a career: that’s the plan for everyone but it is a plan that rarely works. Some are lucky enough to know what career they want from an early age. Others figure out during their Leaving Cert that they love a particular subject or set of subjects and dedicate their studies towards that. For many people, however, they never discover their true calling. They move from school to university and into a job without ever really finding a career that they can love.

It is probably true to say that people who love their work are in the minority. These people are the lucky ones. If you can sit down to your desk at 9am (or begin treating animals at dawn, or run a restaurant at night) knowing that the next eight hours or so will be enjoyable then work is very easy, it might not even be realistic to call it work. Instead, it is the part of the day that provides mental fulfilment and satisfaction. It is essentially what MihalyCsikszentmihalyi (1992) refers to as “flow” in his excellent book of the same name. Many people spend their time lying in bed at night and in the morning dreading getting up and going into the office. However, if you can find something you are passionate about, work becomes easy, and you jump out of bed and approach the day with energy and verve. Ideally, this should be what everyone looks for from their day.

A career coach is someone who can help you find that job that makes you sit up and enjoy your day. A good career coach will usually be a qualified therapist or psychologist trained in and familiar with the way different people think, and ready to help anyone. They shouldalso have experience in career counselling. They can help you find out what it is that makes you tick, by engaging you in understanding your thoughts and concerns and looking at your passions and experience, translating that into a set of skills and understanding that is relevant to the job market and prospective employers.

A career coach generally helps you by talking to you and helping you realise what it is you enjoy doing, helping you see the value in things you appreciate. When people are good at something they tend to downplay their achievements. They think that they’re good at it because they feel the subject is easy, “Ah, sure anyone could do that!” The reality is that if you think something is easy it is because you’re good at it and enjoy it. Most people would be baffled and have no understanding of the things you can pick up in minutes and do all day long.

What is a career coach?

A career coach will talk to you about these aspects of your life, engage with you in a series of psychometric tests, present options and give you a better understanding of careers, showing you how it is possible to take what you’ve learned from one career and move successfully into another. A good career coach will help you turn your passion into something you can spend your day getting paid for doing.

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The Winner Effect: The Science of Success and How to Use It

I was lucky enough to attend a breakfast seminar with Prof Ian Robertson about his new book the winner effect. Ian is a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist and Professor of the psychology dept in TCD as well as having numerous visiting Professor positions.  You can find him on twitter @ihrobertson

I was particularly excited about this talk as neuropsychology is a real passion of mine. If I wasn’t an Organisational Psychologist, I’d probably be a neuropsychologist.

Ian began the talk by presenting us with a mystery of cichlid fish, showing us a picture of two males, one, a brightly coloured, larger, more aggressive T male and the other a smaller, colourless NT male, which bears more resemblance to a female of the species. In fact, it can often be very difficult to tell the difference between an NT male and a female. Ian asked us to consider how the NT male can transform into a T male in the space of 24 hours. As an avid collector of cichlids for many years, I knew this happened. I have witnessed it with my own eyes but I did not realise it happened so quickly! Below is an example of a T male and an NT male. The difference is quite remarkable.


Ian left us to ponder the mystery of the cichlids and moved on by asking, what breeds success? The answer, of course, is success. Success increases our levels of testosterone and dopamine. The more successful we are, the more permanently our brains are altered because we produce more receiving areas for testosterone. This applies to women as well. Women produce testosterone too, just on a smaller scale than men. Failure, in turn, decreases levels of testosterone.

Success also increases our levels of dopamine, producing the same effect as cocaine. Dopamine acts as an antidepressant and decreases levels of anxiety. As a result, Ian suggested that we contrive to create small successes for our reports, our colleagues, even our children. Essentially anyone who we want to make feel better.

Home Advantage

Its long been known that “playing at home” whether in sports or business – in negotiations for example – gives us a significant psychological advantage but what is less well known is that it also gives us a significant biological advantage. Being “at home” increases our levels of both testosterone and dopamine, according to Ian, and maximises our chance of success.


Benjamin Franklin is widely regarded as a true genius. He discovered cognitive dissonance centuries before any psychologist. Although he did not call it this, he worked out the effect it could have and how he could use it to his advantage. He had an enemy in Government, a man who opposed everything Franklin was in favour of. It was known that this man had a treasured possession, a very old and rare book. Franklin toiled to find a way to get this man on side. Then, one day, he decided to ask the man if he could borrow his book. Somewhat to Franklin’s surprise the man agreed. This placed him in a state of what we know today as cognitive dissonance. Ian likened it to have an itch in your brain that you can’t scratch and it is very unsettling. The man could not change his behaviour as he had already given the book to Franklin so his only alternative was to change his attitude towards Franklin. Soon he was lending Franklin books without being asked. He eventually changed his attitude toward Franklin so much that he became one of his staunchest political allies.

According to Ian, the lessen we can all take from this is that if you intend to ask someone a big favour down the line, for example, if you want them to start buying your product or using your service instead of the people they currently use, you need to start by asking them a series of small favours. Then, when you come to ask the big favour, they are more likely to say yes.

Goal Setting

Setting goals for your staff is tricky at the best of times. If you set them too high, they will fail. If you set them too low, they will complete them with ease but will become bored and unmotivated. According to Ian, what we should aim for is the “Goldilocks” zone where goals are reachable but challenging and give people a real sense of achievement when they reach them. By doing this you have created a situation where they have been successful and, as we know, that leads to more success.

Wear Red

Red is linked to increased levels of testosterone and studies have shown that an athlete wearing red is significantly more likely to defeat an opponent who is not wearing red. A lot of this research has been carried out in the Olympics and specifically in Greco-Roman wrestling where individuals are assigned red or blue kit on a completely random basis yet the results of the fights indicate that the wrestler wearing red is statistically significantly more likely to win.

Let us relate this to something that most of us will be more familiar with. The main kits of Liverpool FC (18) and Man Utd (20) with 38 league titles between them, nearly twice as many as their closest rivals, are red.

What a lot of people will not know is that Liverpool did not always wear red as we’d assume. It was not until Bill Shankly took over as manager that he changed their kit to the famous all red that is synonymous with Liverpool today. Not long after Shankly’s colour change, Liverpool began to dominate English & European football for over 2 decades. Perhaps Shankly knew about the power of red before science proved it!

The same thing occurs in other sports too. Tiger Woods always wears a red top on the last day of a tournament and he’s the most successful golfer in history. Just last weekend, Bayern Munich won the Champions League, wearing red. Can we say that Liverpool would not have dominated football if they hadn’t started wearing red? Can we say that Tiger Woods would not be the most successful golfer in history if he didn’t wear red on the final day of tournaments? Can we say that Bayern Munich would not have won the Champions League if they were not wearing red? Of course we can’t, however, it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm!

Fake Power

According to Ian, adopting a power pose, a confident stance or taking up the whole couch when we sit down as if we own it, changes our brain chemistry. Interestingly, clenching your right fist has the same effect. So, if you don’t have any real power, fake it until you make it. Clenching your left fist should stop you from “choking” if, for example, you have to take a penalty which you must convert or your team loses.

Power, like success, makes you smarter, more decisive, more confident etc. It increases dopamine levels According to Henry Kissinger it is the most powerful aphrodisiac we have.

The Mystery of the Fish

Had you forgotten? T stands for Territory and NT stands for No Territory. So those fish with territory and probably females to protect have to be bigger, brighter and more aggressive. If a T fish dies and an NT fish happens upon the vacant territory, he will change into a T fish in a matter of 24 hours in order to guard and protect his new found success.

The Oscars

One final interesting point about success – people who win an Oscar live, on average, four years longer than people who are just nominated!

Acquiring confidence
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Confidence, does it grow with age or experience?

Acquiring confidence

Many of us recognise when we are feeling a lack of confidence; we feel helpless or awkward in a situation, feel unable to make a decision or maybe we apologise for ourselves, as we don’t feel confident about what we have said.

There are two types of confidence, the short lived kind which we can all experience and work on achieving e.g. psyching ourselves up to give a speech or perform at an interview but this can be short lived. The deeper kind of confidence comes from genuine self-belief and self-esteem, gives us a feeling of certainty about yourself and your abilities. It is more solid and self-assured, leads to greater satisfaction with our lives and it is likely that we acquired it at a very early age.

This deeper confidence is based on knowledge of ones abilities and comes from handling situations as they occur in our lives. We feel more confident doing a task if we have succeeded in doing the same in the past and perhaps learning from any mistakes. This means that both age and experience are relevant to our levels of confidence: As we grow older we have more experiences that we learn to handle and therefore become more confident. But it is also true to say that many people have to deal with more difficult experiences early on in their lives and doing this successfully can develop their confidence at a younger age.

Here are a few steps you can take to build self confidence and gain strength and courage:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has different abilities and people see, feel and think about things differently. Focus on your abilities and if you catch yourself making comparisons with others, then also give a thought to those who are worse off.
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people who value you.
  • Always make eye contact. Smiling can also boost our sense of wellbeing in our own eyes and affect the way we appear to others.
  • Healthy eating and exercise benefits your body and mind. It is a major factor in building self esteem. Endorphins released during exercise also increase our sense of wellbeing and confidence.
  • Recognising your fears and talking about them, is the first step to conquering them. If you are faced with a task you feel you cannot cope with, share it with and friend then discuss how you can tackle it step by step. Set yourself realistic goals to accomplish.
  • You could consider contacting a professional to assist you with executive coaching services. They can help you with techniques to build your confidence levels in a professional, unassuming environment.


It is certainly true that this deeper confidence is first instilled in us during our childhood. Parental and family encouragement and support play a key role in a child developing self confidence and esteem that is their passport to a healthy life. A child learns to be confident to try new things, meet new people and operate in new environment, from encouragement and support from parents or carers. If this environment is absent in the childhood years it can often manifest itself later in life when we are adults and lack confidence in our abilities. Although, for most people, confidence does increase with age and with the experience we gain through tackling life’s challenges, it is certainly true to say that a good foundation in childhood is vital for confidence to grow in later life.