Giving advice about careers is easier than taking it. People are always calling me on this — spitting my advice back to me at my most vulnerable moments. Like when I was late delivering my column five weeks in a row, and my editor said, “Remember that time you wrote about how being late is for losers?”

So I work hard at learning to consciously incorporate my own advice into my career.

The first time I did this was in an interview. I had just written a column about how the best way to end an interview is to say, “Do you have any reservations about hiring me?” If you say this at the end of an interview it gives you a chance to combat any misgivings — otherwise you just leave them there, untouched.

I remember sitting in the interview thinking to myself, “You should ask the question,” then I thought, “No. The question is so pushy and sounds like it’s right out of a book.” Then I thought, “You have to do it. Do it. Do it!”

So I asked the question and the moment unfolded like a textbook: The interviewer told me she was worried about my job hopping. I explained to her why I am a dedicated employee who delivers outstanding results wherever I go. And I got the job.

Now, I take my advice more often, though it’s still hard. Last week I was writing an email about a job I want, and I wrote, “Just checking to see if you had a chance to read my proposal.” Then I thought, hmm. That is not very positive and inspiring. So I changed it to, “Please give me a call so we can discuss how I can make your company launch a success.”

The second phrasing sounds a little crazy because I never talk that way to friends. But I really do stand by my advice that direct mail philosophies work, and requesting a specific action and providing a specific benefit are very important — Tell people what you want from them so they can give it to you. (Update: it worked. The person called, and I got a great partnership deal.)

Each of us has an advisor inside of us that we can listen to as a way to do better in this world. Hiring a career coach has helped me a lot, but my experience tells me that it’s also important to develop your own, inner coach. Here are four skills I have developed for coaching myself:

1. Talk to an imaginary coach.
If you pretend you’re talking to someone else then you have to explain what you’re doing in much more detail than if you were mulling it over in your head. The result is similar to writing down a problem – more clarity about the problem leads to more clarity about the solution.

2. Ask yourself better questions.
If you get stuck doing step one, ask yourself the most cringe-inducing question that someone else could ask you. Then answer them. The quality of the questions you ask equals the quality of the conclusions you draw.

3. Pretend to give advice to someone else.
Pretend someone else is asking you the same question. What would you say to them? It’s easier to give someone else a hard dose of reality than to give it to ourselves.

4. Believe in your ability to make positive change in your life.
You can’t coach yourself until you believe that you’re coachable. As always, believing in yourself is half the battle.


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28 replies
  1. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Love the first piece of advice. Hate the second.

    That’s a great way to close an interview. (A shy interviewer might find the invitation to be straightforward about a negative frightening. So don’t be argumentative).

    The tip to use bold direct commands at the eend of emails is (sorry) meaningless. That approach gets nowhere with me. The fact of checking in is enough to get your point across. The words you use are insignificant.

    I’ll close on a positive note. I read your resume story. It’s great.

    * * * * * *

    Hello, everyone. Please re-read this criticism of my post. It’s a great example of how to criticize someone:

    1. Open with something positive so that you get the person to pay attention, and let them know you appreciate them.

    2. Be critical in specific, meaningful ways.

    3. Close with something positive so that the person feels good about the interaction.

    Everyone should criticize me when they feel the urge. And everyone should do it with such flair :)


  2. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    If I feel like I don’t know what to do, I talk to myself. I say something like, “So here’s the situation. I have a friend who is facing X, Y, and Z. What should he do?”

    Strangely enough, the fiction usually works, and I can give the imaginary friend the advice that I’m too emotionally involved to give myself.

  3. Stephen Seckler
    Stephen Seckler says:

    I suffer from the same affliction. I dispense a lot of career advice but sometimes find it hard to take my own medicine. In addition to finding my own inner coach, I have found it very helpful to hire my own coach. It is difficult to be truly self reflective and I’m a big believer that even the coach needs a coach.

  4. Mitchell York
    Mitchell York says:

    I discovered your blog about a month ago and love it! I disagree with your advice to talk to an imaginary coach. A real coach will be able to challenge you with ideas you may not think of in your conversation with yourself. A real coach also has tools and experience to uncover obstacles and opportunities that you may overlook.

    * * * * * *

    Ah ha! I see you’re a coach. This seems like a good time to say that I’m a big fan of career coaching. Over the years I have hired a few coaches for myself, and each has given me input that has helped me to make changes much faster than if I had been doing it all on my own.

    It’s well worth the money to hire a coach. But I could say this once a day for ten years, and still not everyone would do it. And even the people who do hire coaches can’t have the coach by their side every second. We each need to stand on our own, as well.


  5. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Ai yi yi. This is a troubling compliment (above). And here’s why. I wasn’t being diplomatic. Although it looks like my criticism follows the “sandwich” pattern of compliment-criticism-compliment, there was no technique involved.

    BC is a good writer. She hands out four treats and one goes sour so when you tell her honestly what you liked and didn’t like it sounds like you’re being nice.

    I do however have a philosophy of criticism –specific to the blogosphere — which is completely undiplomatic. I see the blogosphere as a lawless, Wild West type of realm in which everyone is always up for a good fight and anything goes. Kind of like the WWF. That’s what makes it different and fun.

    In real life, my skin is as thin as anyone else’s but I’ve learned, to some extent, to align my reactions online to a more light-hearted philosophy and, to speak in BC’s earnest manner, I’m a bit of a better person as a result.

    You only know your weaknesses however when you’re tested. And that’s why tests are good.

  6. redteam
    redteam says:

    Good ideas.

    Part of why this works can be explained through the psychology of “narrative development”. That is, much of the development of our identity, personality, and what we believe occurs when we tell a “story” to someone. This process can be exploited for a variety of situations. In this case, your “story” concerns what your problems are and finding a course of action. The story is being told to yourself. In forming this narrative to expel and communicate to yourself, you analyze your problems and a way to approach them in a very effective, natural, and efficient manner.

    Your pieces of advice make a lot of sense. Particularly your suggestion in #1, your mention of writing a problem down, and your interview tip about asking if your potential employer has any reservations about hiring you. Great stuff.

    Thank you!

    * * * * * *

    Thank you for bringing up one of my favorite topics — storytelling. There is enormous power in the stories we choose to tell about ourselves. I write about this in terms of career changes and interviews, but it never occured to me that it applies to thinking about our own problems as well. You add fresh and very useful points about storytelling.


  7. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Great advice; I think the hardest part about it all is true removal of self. Even if in practice you’re really pretending to give advice to someone else with the same problem, you still are really just giving it to yourself. My only concern with that would be fooling yourself into thinking your advice was just the kind of stiff talkin’ to you needed, when in reality all the same bias are present.

    I do spend a lot of time talking myself through problems. I’ve even found that talking to inanimate objects or animals helps – the microwave, or my cat, for example. For me it provides a much needed direction for the conversation; if I can direct it at “someone” (even if their voice is just in my head), I am much better able to remove any personal filters I’d generally use on me. I don’t have any idea why that added object helps, but I think it’s because I can give it a personality. If it has personality it has an opinion, and various patterns of thought; armed with those I know right away when it’s (I’m) feeding me a line.

    * * * * * * *

    Thanks for the reality check, Jeff. I think you’re right that the self-coaching only works so far. If you need to make enormous changes — like, your presonality stinks — you are not going to come to that via self-coaching. It’s too hard to hear.


  8. carl griffith
    carl griffith says:

    a nice summary of the dilemma; this is particularly relevant when one is self-employed(such as myself, and many others in the modern economy) and so lacks traditional peer group reference points/benchmarks. this is our conditioning so when one is operating wholly solo we need to re-affirm these basic principles.

    i have undertaken some counselling with an associate ( and found its objectivity to be very useful and a way to reinforce this self-questioning of oneself.

  9. jasmina
    jasmina says:

    After looking for a job for over 6 months,having a “perfect” resume I am still looking.I have been working for over 10 years.All of my jobs were customer service related.Yes, I have had several jobs in past several years, not because I love going through interviews every now and than, not because I wanted a change but because of my personal life.For months and months my resume have been posted on several different webb sides.Daily I bealive I apply to at least 10-20 jobs.Being a single mother for several years I did do my best.Going back to school,taking courses,making sure I put my children through school.I’ve just red several comments from people that are in charge of hiring new employees.If this is true,and people like this are in charge,no wonder this is why good people that just are going through some bad times are not employed.I do bealive resume should be inpecable,but who nowdays ask for resume to be send or fax???If it is done via internet, all kind of mistakes may occure.(I would like to test those “in charge” people and see how their spelling is)
    In last 6 month I bealive that I sent over 600 resumes;was only contacted twice!!!I do bealive this has a lot to do with nowdays applying on line and ignorent recruters like some that commented Ms. Trunk article stating they will not hire people that have more than 3 jobs in past 6 years.Whey to go;hire criminals as long as they work at same place for over 10 years

  10. Barry Zweibel
    Barry Zweibel says:

    An application of your first tip might be, “Of all the things that I can think/feel/do next, what ones would make the biggest difference?” Go there first.

    To your second tip, as it applies to preparing for an interview, would suggest asking, “What’s a question that I really hope they DON’T ask me?” … and then figure out a decent answer should you BE asked it.

    Tip three stands as is.

    Re: tip four – sometimes behaviors affect beliefs, as in “Hmmm, I’m here networking here at this conference today (behavior) so maybe I do more networking than I realized(belief).” Other times beliefs affect behaviors – “It’s important to continue to network(belief), so let me go talk to that person over there right now(behavior).”
    The key to getting unstuck is to figure out which side of the equation – your behavior or your belief – is working against you so you can then focused your energy on the other side to break through.

    Hope that helps.

  11. Mary McKinney - Academic Coach
    Mary McKinney - Academic Coach says:

    This is a great post. And one of the reasons you can provide excellent tips on coaching is that you’ve hired coaches in the past.

    One of the things I aim for as a coach is planned obsolescence. Over time, I hope that my coaching clients (mostly junior faculty and graduate students) internalize my questions, advice and opinions so that they are able to coach themselves.


  12. says:

    I re-tweeted via @CareerCoach. Love the concept of self coaching:

    “You really don’t know a subject until you can teach it to someone else”… or, in this case, if you can teach yourself, that is just as good, right?

  13. Loretta Perry
    Loretta Perry says:

    This is great advice. As a globally certified career coach I am all about how something is worded to make the best impact and impression. In fact my blog at the moment is all about communication; on resumes, interviewing, wording, first impressions, body language, etc. Your tips are great and I enjoyed reading your post.

  14. careercoachkarl
    careercoachkarl says:

    Wow. Glad I stumbled across this. I try to keep a copy of what I tell others to do. Usually, it’s what I need to do for myself.

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