Top Ten CV Blunders

When I say, “My Top Ten CV Blunders”, I don’t mean the obvious blunders – the phone number missing, the spelling mistake, the dates that just don’t add up.

I mean those blunders that make your CV OK – OK enough for your friends to say it looks good, OK enough for you to feel confident as you put hndreds of them in the post, OK enough to make it into a that big pile of CVs that are the long-list for the job of your dreams.  But the problem is, it’s just OK. And it is going to end up in a pile of a 100 CVs, which are all mostly OK.

It’s so totally just OK that the bored HR Assistant will drift off as he reads it, get to the end, remember nothing about it, put it in the “no” pile and move on.   HE will go on reading that long-list, that pile of over 100 CVs that are mostly just OK.  And most of those OK CVs will end up in the bin.

Because if you are applying for advertised jobs, you are competing against 100s of other applicants.  Your CV needs to be more than OK, it needs to be stand-out fantastic!  And these are the hidden blunders that you might not even know you are committing:

1. Failing to link the CV to the job description. If the job description asks for experience with spreadsheets, experience of interviewing people, experience of managing a diary and experience of report writing, then this is what should be in the first half page of your CV – all these skills, with examples of how you have used them.

2. Writing about your employers and your job description, rather than what you actually brought to the job role and your  achievements in the job. Anybody can work for an interesting employer with an interesting job description, but describing what was in the job description doesn’t tell the reader if you were any good at it.  Most people fail to extract the maximum impact from their achievements when they write their CV.  Graduates, for example, often fail to make the links between the skills they developed (maybe through writing a dissertation or carrying out practical work) and the jobs they are applying for.  And many people describe themselves using really weak action words like “assisted with, helped, sorted out, reviewed, completed, collated, inputted, talked to” when surely they should be using more dynamic words like “responsible for, organised, re-designed, led, managed, co-ordinated, marketed, researched, analysed, interviewed, consulted” instead (don’t be afraid to use these words – everyone else will be!)

3. Hiding the best bits on the back page of the CV. The employer will read the first half page of your CV with full attention, but if the first half page doesn’t grab them, they may never make it to the second page.  Use a CV format that allows you to put your best achievements in the first half page.  This might be a profile (a few lines about what you have to offer), an Achievements section or a Skills section.

4. Not putting your name and the page number as a footer on every page of the CV. It’s really easy for pages of a CV to get mixed up, and having a footer means that if this happens, the hapless work experience student doing the photocopying will be able to reunite the pages of your CV rather than hide them in the recycling box.

5. CVs that are too long. Remember that poor HR Assistant with 100 CVs to read…  A CV should not be more than 2 pages long (unless you are an academic or techie geek with a lot of research/projects to list).  Anything that happened more than ten years ago can be summarised.  You don’t need to repeat your skills when describing each job you have done – once you are back a few years, only list skills that are relevant and that you haven’t used in more recent jobs.

6. CVs that are full of tiny font and dense text – it’s not very inviting to read, especially if you are that bored HR Assistant. Use headings, font size 12, Arial, and leave plenty of white space between the sections and columns.

7. Writing Curriculum Vitae at the top of the CV, and then emailing your CV with the file titled “CV”. What if everyone else did this too?  That HR Assistant would have a folder full of files titled CV.  Use your name and the job title as the file name, and put your name at the top of the CV.

8. Putting lots of irrelevant personal information on the CV. You don’t need to put your date of birth, your ethnic origin, your photo (unless you are an actor), your marital status, your health problems, your age, your sexuality, the number of children you have, where you were born, your wedding date or when you plan to have children.  All of these things are potential reasons why an employer might discriminate against you, so don’t give them the opportunity.  However, if you have spent time outside the UK, you should state that you are a British Citizen or that you have the right to work in the UK.

9. Failing to use key words in an electronic CV. If you have been asked to send your CV electronically, the company may well do an initial search electronically, with the computer simply looking for key words from the job description or person specification.  If you don’t use these key words, you won’t make it past the first sift.  Some naughty jobhunters even type loads of potential key words in white text in all the blank bits of the CV just to increase their chances (although I wouldn’t recommend this strategy, as an employer may not feel kindly disposed towards you if they spot it).

10.  Dodgy email addresses, like or  Keep it professional!  And while you are at it, keep your answer machine message professional too.  And google your name to see what comes up (25% of employers will do this, you know!)

Help! Job Interivews Just Make Me Go To Pieces…

Q.  I get really nervous in job interviews, and I just go to pieces.  My mind goes blank, my voice shakes and I just can’t think straight.  Consequently, I never get the job, even though I feel I’m well qualified for the jobs I’m applying for (and I am getting interviews).  Help!

A. Job interview nerves are very common, and you need some strategies to get them under control.  Many people hate job interviews, and few people look forward to them without any nerves at all.  However, a little adreneline can be a good thing, prompting you to prepare properly, think fast and rise to the occasion.  Your task it to get your anxiety levels down to the level where they are working for you, rather than against you.

What sort of conversation do you have in your head about job interviews?  Chances are, it goes along the lines of “I’ll never get the job, I’ll make a fool of myself, I can’t do it, I’m going to mess it up.” Well, it’s time to change that, because this sort of negative talk just puts you in a very unresourceful frame of mind.  It’s the perfect excuse for messing up.

You need to replace this negative conversation with something more like “I’m well qualified for this job, they must think I can do it because they’ve invited me for an interview, I’m just going to go in there and do my best, and I’ll show them all the skills I’ve got and why I could do the job really well.” It’s not enough to say this to yourself once, you have to say it consistently until you believe it.  Whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, replace them with positive statements.  Put reminders to yourself around – post -it notes on the mirror, an elastic band on your wrist, so you do this consistently.  This way, you can use your “self-talk” to put yourself in a more positive state of mind.

The other key thing is to prepare really well.  Read all the information you are given and research the company to get background information.  Think about why you want to work for this company, and what you could contribute.  Look at the key skills and experiences that the employer is looking for, and think about how you can demonstrate that you have these attributes.  Finally, think of three key reasons why you are the best person for the job, so you can be absolutely sure to weave these three things into your answers.

Practice talking about your skills and experience with a friend or in front of the mirror, so you are actually saying it out loud.  As you practice, pretend to be a more confident version of yourself, who doesn’t suffer any interview nerves.  Then try recording your answers and play them back to yourself until you do sound like this more confident version of yourself. It’s really important to say things out loud so they become real to you.  The more often you practice, the more likely it is that an answer will come to you even if your mind is a bit blank.

Put some care and attention into how you dress on the day.  You should dress a little smarter than you would actually dress for the job (so smart casual for a nursery nurse, suit for an office job).  You want to feel smart, but comfortable, and if you do, it will add to your confidence levels.  A good haircut and a new suit that fits you really well might earn their keep.

Practice relaxation exercises in the run up to the interview.  Try deep breathing – slow and deep breaths will calm your body down and reduce the physical feelings of anxiety (the shaky voice, the butterflies in the stomach).  Sit in a quiet place, and breath long and slow for a few minutes a day until you get used to this way of calming yourself.  Another relaxation exercise is to lie comfortably (perhaps on your back) and then tense and relax each part of your body in turn.  Then lie quietly for five minutes, with your body fully relaxed (remember the muscles in your face!).  There are also many relaxation and self-hypnosis CDs that you can relax to.

On the day, you can use deep breathing as you travel and while you wait to be called in for the interview, and this will reduce your physical feeling of anxiety.  You could also do a full body relaxation before you leave the house.

Once in the interview, smile and greet the interviewer/panel.  Remember they are only human too. Some people say you should imagine the interview panel naked, but I wouldn’t recommend that – too likely to lead to a fit of the giggles, and no good at all if the panel are unexpectedly attractive!  But it is worth remembering that the panel may be as nervous as you are, if they don’t have much experience of interviewing, and you should think about how to put them at ease.

If your mind does go blank, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a question to be repeated (better than answering the wrong question).  If your voice is a bit shaky, stop and take a deep breath, then start again.  Remember to speak slowly.  It may not be the end of the world if you do confess to being a little nervous, as a good interviewer will try to put you at ease.  Afterall, almost everyone gets nervous about job interviews, so you are only being honest.

You might also think about doing a course or getting some one-to-one help, particularly if anxiety or a lack of confidence impact on other areas of your life:

  • Yoga, tai chi and mediation – all would help with reducing general anxiety levels and increasing your sense of calmness and wellbeing
  • Drama or public speaking – would help with confidence in making presentations and appearing confident in interviews
  • Hypnosis or Neuro-Linguistic Programming – would help you train your mind into a more positive and resourceful state
  • Careers advice – to help with preparing for tough questions and perhaps practicing in a “mock interview”

Good luck with this!  Remember, you are getting interviews, so you do have the skills and experience to do the jobs you are applying for.  An employer wouldn’t bother to interview you unless this was the case.


emotional intelligence in career guidance

The concept of Emotional Intelligence first entered the public consciousness with Daniel Goleman’s journalistic account of the research that neuro-psychologists were doing to identify a new kind of “intelligence” that seemed to be a better predictor of success in life than the traditional IQ.  Emotional Intelligence can be broadly defined as the ability to be aware of emotions (both your own and other people’s) to control them so as to manage your relationships with others and your own emotional life well.

A little thought soon leads one to the conclusion that Emotional Intelligence is a key part of successfully navigating our career decisions and working life.  Emotional Intelligence gives us the skills to aim high, to put our plans into action and to be successful in education, training and the workplace.

The ability to regulate our own emotions is essential in the workplace.  Without some self-control, we would soon end up in conflict with others. Many Careers Advisers will have seen clients who cannot sustain a job or training place because they always end up having a row with the boss or with colleagues.  Those who have the ability to put themselves in a positive, cheerful mood are better team players and find it easier to stay motivated at work.

Many people suffer from “job interview nerves”  or worry about going into new and unfamiliar situations.  Being able to manage our own anxiety so that it does not prove an insurmountable barrier is another very useful skill.

Managing emotions is also key in managing larger transitions successfully – leaving school, redundancy, promotions and retirement.  Although these transitions inevitably trigger feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, those who are more emotionally skilled may move through these negative emotions more quickly and suffer less, managing the transition with greater ease.

The best career plan in the world isn’t much help if we don’t have the motivation to follow it through.  We can all think of people who are “stuck” in unfulfilling  jobs because they lack the motivation to do anything about it.  Motivation is also a key issue in working with many young people and unemployed adults who have lost the motivation to seek work or more fulfilling activities.

The ability to defer gratification (do something unpleasant now in order to achieve something better in the future) is necessary when we choose to study at a higher level or take on an apprenticeship, and delay the day when we can enjoy a higher standard of living.  Those who are able to delay gratification are also more likely to apply themselves to study rather than give in to the temptations of surfing the net!

Hope and resilience give people the ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks when things don’t work out the way we planned.  Those who are optimistic and hopeful tend to try harder and persist in the face of barriers and difficulties, rather than giving up at the first hurdle.

Self-efficacy (our belief in our ability to be successful in a given task) plays a key role in career decision-making.  We are more likely to set ourselves goals and apply ourselves to tasks that we have high self-efficacy beliefs for, which leads to a positive cycle of increasing skill and success, followed by growing interest.   We are all more likely to choose careers in areas where we feel more self-efficacious.  There is a potentially negative cycle here too, where someone may have poor self-efficacy beliefs for a particular task, and therefore does not set goals or develop themselves in that direction (for example, girls may get into this negative cycle if they lack confidence with maths and science, despite having high ability).

Emotional Intelligence is so key to career success, and the good news is that there is a lot Careers Advisers can do to help clients develop their emotional intelligence:

  • Tactics to manage anxiety about job interviews or new situations
  • Tactics to manage anger in the workplace
  • Challenging negative self-efficacy beliefs
  • Helping clients recognise the value of deferred gratification
  • Recognising the role of intuition in career decision-making
  • Giving support to clients to increase resilience, confidence and hope
  • Using role models to increase self-efficacy

I recently ran a workshop with Careers Advisers exploring these skills and tactics, and was really pleased to find that within days many of them could give examples of how they were already weaving these ideas into their guidance interviews.  Simply paying more attention to the role of emotions in making transitions immediately gives more depth to the work with the client and enables the adviser to give support and help the client build confidence and motivation.  The advisers also found it very useful to pay more attention to the sources of self-efficacy beliefs – relevant experiences, encouragement or lack of encouragement from others, role-models amongst friends and family (or lack of role-models) and to use this to challenge inaccurate beliefs about the client’s abilities.

The Advisers were particularly interested in the concept of differing intelligences – for example, most Careers Advisers are rather Word Smart (good at verbal and written communication), Self Smart (self-aware)  and People Smart (good at managing relationships), but a lot of our clients are more Body Smart (good with their hands), Picture Smart (good with images), Sound Smart (good with music and sound), Nature Smart (good with plants and animals) or Logic Smart (good at maths and logical problems).

The traditional careers interviews is very Word Smart (lots of talking and a written action plan at the end) and also People Smart (two people relating to each other).  It doesn’t necessarily suit every client’s preferred learning style.

Some of the best careers work caters to the client’s own learning style.  For example, taking young people out around the shops with their CVs is more Body Smart than writing CVs in the careers centre.  Using more diagrams and pictures is Picture Smart.  Helping young people write a rap song about their skills is Sound Smart.   A lot of Labour Market Information is Logic Smart (as are lists of Pros and Cons).  Once you start to use your imagination, the possibilities are endless.

If we want good outcomes for clients (as opposed to knocking out large numbers of interviews with good written plans), we need to be more creative and not be afraid to enter the world of the emotions, to help our clients develop the motivation and the emotional skills to put their plans into action.

Should I Become A Poker Pro?

Q.  “I’m bored stiff with my job, and considering jacking it all in to start a new career as a professional poker player.  At the moment, I play poker online and in a friendly game, and show a small profit.  I also play bigger  stakes games in my local casino, but I’m not doing so well there.  What do you think?”

A.  In the last few years, poker has become incredibly popular and you are more likely to find yourself sitting down to a game with computer programmers and maths professors, instead of the dodgy used-car salesmen and criminals that some might expect.  So, yes, it’s becoming a respectable way to earn a living, and there are increasing numbers of people doing just that.  Poker is a combination of luck and skill, and if you are the best player in the room, you won’t win every time, but you will show a profit over time.

However, it’s often said that poker is “a hard way to make an easy living”, and you have to be extremely skilled and resilient to succeed. You will need:

  • Mental maths – the ability to calculate or at least estimate odds in your head, under pressure (the calculations can be very complex)
  • Good observational powers – you have to spot not just facial tics and body language, but the betting patterns of your opponents.
  • The ability to outwit your opponents – to bluff and double bluff and never let anyone work out what you are up to
  • Decision-making skills – knowing when to trust your gut feeling, and when to do the maths
  • A calm clear head – to play well under pressure
  • The ability to reflect on your game and learn from your mistakes (and be willing to study the game)
  • Stamina – to play for hours and days at a time without loosing concentration
  • Resilience – to bounce back from set backs (because no matter how good you are, some of the time you will lose)
  • The ability to cope with an uncertain income and erratic way of life

If you think you have got all these skills and qualities, then think about where you are at the moment.  Keep a spreadsheet detailing all the money you spend on poker (entry fees and online fees, and then travel and refreshments) and how many hours you play for.  At the end of a month, total up how much you have spent, and how much you have won, to work out your profit.  Then divide this by the number of hours you have played to get your hourly earnings.  If you are getting anywhere near your current hourly rate (or what you need to survive on), then it could be a possibility.  If not, don’t give up the day job!

If you are making anywhere near a sensible hourly rate, and you want to give up your job, you’ll need to think about where else you can play to increase the number of hours you put in.  Of course, you can play internet poker whenever you want, but you probably want to combine this with some live action (other casinos and tournaments).  The higher stakes, the more you can win, but high stakes games will attract better players, so may not be the most profitable for you.  Keep records, so you can work out what sort of games work best for you.

Remember that professional players are not the only people making a living from poker.  The casinos and websites are making a very nice profit out of poker’s increased popularity, and poker has its own media (from magazines, TV to the internet).  Many poker players supplement their income in another way.

Before you just leave your job, you might want to consider working part-time, to keep some steady income coming in.  This will work best if your employer is flexible.

It might well be that with a bit more thought and reflection, you change your mind about becoming a poker pro.  After all, it’s a big jump from a few friendly games and a bit of internet poker, to trying to make a living.  You probably need to be showing a profit on the bigger stakes casino game before being a poker pro is realistic.  You may well decide to stick with the games you are playing and just concentrate on improving your skills for the time being.

If you decide that a poker career is not for you, you might still want to think about a career change, as you say you are bored stiff at work.  Think about what appeals to you about poker.  Is it the excitement and the social life?  Is it the maths and the problem-solving?  Is it the competitive nature of the game?  If you can isolate what really interests you, maybe you can find another career that also includes this element.  (A good Careers Adviser can help you do this).

For a brilliant insight into the poker industry and the highs and lows of life as a pro, I recommend Victoria Coren’s autobiography, the very enjoyable “For Richer For Poorer”.  She doesn’t shy away from the describing the downs (the empty bank account, the addition to Black Jack, the loneliness).

Who’s Got The Power?

I was at my book group last night, and after a few glasses of wine, we got onto talking about power.  Linzi, who is never afraid to ask a seemingly naive question, asked “So, do I have a power base?  What’s my power base?”  At this point, everyone chipped in with their view of what her power base was – that she was well liked, that her seeming naivety was disarming, that she had interesting and quirky viewpoints that people liked to hear.  She’s a psychology teacher, and the rest of us find her insights interesting.  And this got me to thinking about the management theory of power bases, which supported everything that people had intuitively spotted.

French and Raven identify five main sources of power:

  • Reward power – people have this if they can give rewards e.g. financial rewards, more enjoyable work, better environment, stars on a star chart, inclusion in the  “in crowd”
  • Coercive power – people have this if they can punish other e.g. sacking a team member, giving less pleasant work, writing a poor appraisal, docking pocket-money, criticising, bullying
  • Legitimate power – derives from the position one holds e.g. as a manager, teacher, chairperson, captain, parent
  • Referent power – comes from personality and charisma, so that others want to identify with the person or respect that person
  • Expert power – derives from the perception that the person has expert knowledge, information of value and “knows what they are talking about”

So, what was Linzi’s power base in the book group?  It was late, there were a small group of us left, and it was raining.  We didn’t fancy the walk home, and Linzi had her car with her.  Immediately, Linzi has some reward power.  When it comes to the decision of whether to call it a night or open another bottle, Linzi has a power base that the rest of us don’t have – she can offer us a lift home.  However, our hostess Rebecca also has some reward power – she can open another bottle of wine and reward us (or perhaps not, if she is ready for bed).  The popular and forceful personalities in the room have referent power – they will be listened to and will influence others in their decisions, whether we are conscious of it or not.  If Sarah says, “Sod it, let’s open another bottle”, the prospect immediately becomes more attractive, because she’s good company.

When it comes to discussing the book, some members of the group are acknowledged experts (particularly Liz, who teaches English and Alison who is a librarian), and they can use their “expert power” to influence the rest of us.  Those who have been in the book group for longest have an informal “position power”, and their thoughts about how   should be organised are often deferred to.

My idle thoughts about power bases in the book group got me to thinking again about power bases at work.  Managers sometimes find themselves in the situation where they ask/instruct/tell  their team to do something differently, and the team respond with “That’s not my job.  I don’t have time…” or perhaps say they will make the change, but then ignore the instruction.  It’s one of the most frustrating and eventually demoralising dynamics between a manager and their team.  The manager can see important tasks that must be done or improved, and yet they are powerless to make the changes they need.  This situation is all about power and distribution of power across the team.

It’s important to note that power bases are based on perception of a person’s power.  So if the team do not believe that their manager can offer valued rewards or unpleasant sanctions, then the manager has no Reward or Coercive Power.  The reality in large beaurocratic organisations is that team leaders often do have very limited ways of rewarding staff.  If they can’t give bonuses or perks like “shopping days”, if they can’t allocate better work to the team members they want to reward, if they can’t give “gold stars” to the best performers, their reward power is limited.  Yes, they can praise and recognise good work, but not much more.

And Coercive Power is equally limited.  Sacking a member of staff or even using formal performance management may be a lengthy and beaurocratic  process that has to involve senior managers.  And if they punish staff by allocating unpopular jobs, staff will quickly look to policies on grievance, bullying and harassment.

Some managers may be experts in their field and most managers soon become aware of the “bigger picture” because of the meetings they attend and the information that gets sent their way.  Experienced managers should be able to wield a fair bit of expert power, as long as they share their expertise with the team, so the team respect and value their knowledge.  But new managers may feel that they have very little Expert Power, and even that the team know more about the day-to-day work than they do (the team have the Expert Power).  Experienced managers may become out of touch with the day-to-day reality of the team’s work if they are not careful.  Expertise needs to be developed over a period of time, and then maintained.

Managers may be left to rely mainly on their Position Power (which they do have, as they are formally in a position of being a manager) and Referent Power (personal charisma and generally being well liked and respected).

So what is going on when a manager asks the team to do something, and they simply say “It’s not my job…”?  The team is rejecting the manager’s expert power (they think they know better than the manager what their job is).  There’s also an implication that they don’t really perceive the manager as having any reward or coercive power, as they don’t expect any sanction for not doing what is asked.  There may be other members of the team, who are perhaps forceful personalities or simply popular, who have more Referent Power amongst the group than the manager and are able to use this power to lead a rebellion.  If they have been in the team for a long time, they may feel that they have a very strong power base.

These informal team leaders can also confer to other team members (and the manager) the informal rewards of being well liked, being party to interesting gossip and information, being invited to social occasions, being praised, being part of the “in group”.  Informal punishments can range from the very subtle (not sharing a joke or leaving someone out of the gossip loop) to full-on bullying of team-members that don’t comply.  The norm on the team can soon become to defer to these informal leaders.

The puzzle for the team leader is then how to maximise the team’s perception of their own power base, for example, by making quite clear what the rewards and sanctions could be, and at the same time, to either get the informal leaders on their side, or to reduce the power of the informal leaders.  Most managers would prefer to get the informal leaders on their side; it leaves everybody happier, and people comply with instructions because they understand the reasons for them and support the manager in what they are trying to do.  Sometimes, however, it just can’t be done, and then managers have to follow the less pleasant route of building their own power base at the expense of those who won’t support them.

The Decisive Moment

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book by Jonah Lehrer, “The Decisive Moment”, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested in how people make decisions or wants to make better decisions (about anything from shopping to playing poker to career planning).

“The Decisive Moment” summarises all the latest research from neuroscientists, who can now track which parts of the brain are being used in different types of decisions, and mixes this with really interesting anecdotes about good and bad decisions made, taken from sports, gambling, airlines, firefighting, shopping and financial planning.

It’s clear from the evidence that he presents that there is an important place in good decision-making for both intuitive “gut feelings”  and the more  rational decision-making processes, and they work best when used together.

Our intuitive responses to situations and decisions are based on the analysis made by the unconscious mind, which can compute thousands of factors, consider all our previous relevant experience and learning and put it all together, communicating this to the conscious mind with an emotional “gut feeling”, which we can then choose to follow or ignore.  This unconscious mind is an amazing thing, and we ignore it at our peril!

However, it is vulnerable to making certain kinds of mistakes and is easily taken in by clever advertising or sales techniques.  It favours instant gratification over long-term benefits.  It also looks for evidence to support beliefs already held, rather than being open to the unfamiliar.  It’s also rather “loss averse” so when a decision is framed in terms of loss (e.g. the money you will lose if you buy something) it tends to avoid the loss.  Intuitive decision-making works best when the decision-maker has a lot of relevant experience for the unconscious mind to draw on.

We can either act immediately on our intuitive feelings, or we can choose to stop and use the conscious, rational part of our mind (the prefrontal cortex) to analyse them further, looking at the pros and cons of the decision.  The rational part of our mind is very good at logical and mathematical decisions, and is less vulnerable to being taken in by advertising or pressure from others.  However, unlike the unconscious mind, which can analyse unlimited factors, the conscious mind can only look at a limited number of factors (about seven), so is less able to deal with very complex decisions.  It also finds it harder to put a value on how important certain factors are (for example, in buying a house, the conscious mind might not know which was of more value – a short commute or an extra bathroom).  Using the rational brain for complex decisions can lead to poorer decision-making.

So what is the best way to make really complex decisions?  Lehrer suggests that we should first do some work with the rational bits of our brain – listing all the options, listing the important factors, researching the options, gathering all the relevant information, doing the maths.  Then we should go on holiday, or do a relaxing activity that allows the conscious mind to forget about the decision, and let it “marinate” in the unconscious mind, so that an intuitive feeling can come to the surface.

Lehrer doesn’t mention any career decisions in his book, but there is clearly lots of relevance for career planning.  Most career decisions are very complex.  Choosing a university involves choosing the right course (both interesting, realistic and leading to the right career), choosing a good environment and making financial decisions.  Changing jobs involves a new job role, new colleagues, a new journey to work, changes in pay and conditions.  These are certainly complex decisions that the rational part of the brain would find difficult to accomplish alone.  To make these decisions, we need to make good use of our intuitive feelings and let the unconscious mind to a lot of the work for us.

However, that is not to say that we should unquestioningly go with our gut feeling, because intuitive feelings can lead us astray.  If intuitive feelings tend to prioritize short-term gratification over the long-term, we should be aware of this.  For example, if you are sixteen and you are offered the choice between a job in fast food place, paying the minimum wage, and an apprenticehsip with a mechanic leading to a qualification, but only paying a training allowance, you may  intuitively favour the instant gratification of the job and the better money.

The intuitive mind is also “loss averse” and if taking on a new job role or going to college is framed in terms of loosing friends, the intuitive mind may not go for it, preferring to keep the security of existing friends rather than leaping into the unknown.  Lehrer doesn’t talk much about peer pressure, but I am guessing (from his descriptions of how we respond to sales and advertising) that peer pressure may influence intuitive feelings about a decision, and again, this is something we should be wary of.

Lehrer suggests that if we want to get better at decision-making, we need spend more time analysing the decisions that make, so we can become better at knowing when to trust our intuitions and when not to.

A key part of a careers interview is often looking at past career decisions made, to see what can be learnt from them.  Were they made on the basis of gut feeling?  Was it a logical, pros and cons analysis?  Or did the client just “go with the flow” or follow advice from others.  If previous decisions haven’t worked out too well, the careers adviser may ask the client what they would do differently next time.  Typical answers include finding out more about a course or subject before choosing it, or paying less attention to what friends say, which suggests that some poor career decisions (particularly from younger people who have less experience to draw on) are based on using gut feeling without enough rational analysis and research to draw on.

However, many adult clients are very satisfied with “gut feeling” career decisions, perhaps because they do have more life experience to draw on and use.  The most common flaw that adults seem to find in their previous decisions is too much “going with the flow” rather than taking control of things.  This may be because the intuitive mind favours the instant gratification of the familiar rather than plunging into the unknown.

Another aspect of the book which I found interesting is the research into how the intuitive mind handles complex tasks well, when the performer is very experienced ~(Lehrer uses the example of an opera singer) – and when that experienced performer starts to think more consciously about what they are doing the performance goes down hill.  Inexperienced performers, however, do better when they use their conscious mind.

This got me to thinking about the training of Careers Advisers, and why it is that when experienced Careers Advisers start to analysis what they do in Careers Interviews, they often do less well than when they just get on with it.  In contrast, trainee Careers Advisers (and Careers Advisers learning new skills) do need to use the rational, conscious part of the their brain to introduce the skills and tactics they are taught, because they are not embedded in the unconscious mind.  It’s a bit like driving a car – once you start thinking about parallel parking, you just can’t do it any more!

I found this book really thought-provoking and it got me to thinking about all sorts of decisions I have made – from moving house and changing jobs to the more trivial shopping choices.  It should be required reading for Careers Advisers and anyone who is interested in making better decisions.

I wonder if anyone has done similar research specifically on career decision making (if they haven’t, then it would be really interesting area for further research).

A Robin Hood Tax To Save Public Services

If you read mainstream newspapers, you could be forgiven for thinking that “slash and burn” public sector cuts are necessary – tough for all of us, but the only way out our current financial predicament. But what if there was an alternative?

I’ve been a member of Unison (the trade union representing public sector and local government workers) for as long as I’ve been in work, and I was very interested to see that they are backing a “Robin Hood Tax” or Major Financial Transaction Tax.  According to Unison, this tax on currency speculation and the selling of stocks and shares could raise £30 billion pounds a year.

It’s not a new idea; it’s based on the Tobin Tax, proposed by Nobel Laureate winning economist James Tobin, in 1972.  He was concerned about the way that currency speculation destabilizes the economies of poorer countries, and wanted to create an internationally agreed tax on currency conversions.  This tax would reduce currency speculation and raise enough money to tackle world poverty in the process.

Now, I’m not an expert on economics, and there are plenty of experts writing about the Tobin Tax on the internet.  I would recomend a very detailed account of the pros and cons in Wikipedia.

However, it’s clear that many experts do think that some variation of the Tobin Tax could work.  Various economists have puzzled over the right amount of tax to levey (most agree on something close to 0.5%).  Indeed, in 2009, EU leaders called on the IMF to consider a global tax on financial transactions, so it is still very much on the mainstream agenda.

Obviously a global tax needs some international co-operation and this can be hard to secure.  But interestingly, according to Wikipedia, 58% of currency speculation takes place in just three cities – London, New York and Tokyo.  However, even if these three countries couldn’t co-operate, there are versions of the Tobin Tax that can be implemented in just one country.

Yet I am sure that most people I know have never even heard of the Tobin Tax.  If a tax levied only in Britain could raise £30 billion pounds, surely that is worth discussing and considering.  Why aren’t we hearing more about it in the media?

The alternative is 725,00 jobs lost in the public sector (according the CIPD), leading to 6.6 billion in lost tax revenue and £8.8 billion pounds on the welfare bill (according to Unison’s figures).  And that doesn’t sound good to me.

Unison are running an excellent campaign – A Million Voices – for people who are concerned about public sector cuts.  I would urge anyone who works in the public sector or cares about the public sector to add their name to the campaign.