who are you?

who are you?

"We are the veils that veil us from ourselves.."

R D Laing (1927 - 1989) psychiatrist and author

I’ve never been one to avidly follow current affairs but I’m always drawn to local news items on the TV. I think it’s something about the skewed perspective it gives, which ranks wholesale death, destruction and corruption world-wide, as well as ground-breaking innovation and discovery, on a par with the news that a cat was stuck up a tree for four hours before being rescued.

So it was that I was watching the local news the other day and up came an item about a serious fire two villages away from mine. A local resident was interviewed. ‘Ooh, that’s John!’ I thought, recognising him as a manager from my corporate career. But, what’s this? Though I recalled John as being a senior professional in his field, a good manager, a stickler for detail, loyal and with a neat sense of humour, he was simply depicted as ‘neighbour’.

I often reflect on the way that whole lives and personalities are thus distilled into one noun. Andy Warhol claimed that we all get fifteen minutes of fame and I’ve often wondered how my fifteen minutes of fame will mark me out for posterity – as ‘onlooker’, ‘survivor’, ‘daughter’, ‘motorist’ – whatever it is, it won’t describe all that I’m about - there’s more to me than one word! (Close friends will despair of my analysis into just one word, but will nevertheless, not be surprised).

Self-image is important – we will often go to a good deal of trouble to ensure that people see us in the way in which we want to be seen. It’s not just about behaviour – what we do, which is what the news items concentrate on – but it’s what we are.

This, of course, has relevance to careers. As a career coach, I’m not just helping people to find work – I’m helping them to define and make sense of what they are all about and the role which they fulfil in life, as expressed primarily through work. So when they come to describe themselves, it’s a big deal. Firstly, in the sense that they need to feel that they are described accurately; secondly, because they need to feel comfortable with it. The first doesn’t presuppose the second – it’s about emotional, as well as intellectual, acceptance.

This is important on a CV or covering letter, where the way in which an individual describes himself or herself sets the scene in the reader’s mind and paves the way for the next step – a conversation or interview. It probably has even greater importance for networking conversations – how individuals describe themselves on meeting new people.

Apart from that, it’s important in those early conversations with me, where an individual is beginning to make sense of themselves in the context of their career. Before they even start to consider their direction, they need to be clear about how they see themselves. This is crucial, particularly when they have been made redundant or have had unhappy work experiences. In this case, they are questioning who they are and how much their contributions are valued.

And of course, it’s not just a present focus – how they see themselves now – but how they want to be seen going forward. It’s about future potential as well as current reality.

Some recent research into identity for those making the move from corporate life into an independent career highlighted that there is some tension between ‘daring to be different’ and ‘acceptance by others’. This isn’t, of course, confined to those who work as independent consultants, I’d say that a question on most people’s minds when they consider any move towards a new role is about getting that balance between having something individual and distinctive to offer and fitting in with what’s already there.

Most people who’ve been out of work for a while or desperate to make a move tend to focus on the latter – ‘how can I convince them that I’m like them?’ – rather than the former, but you ignore your own distinct personality, values and identity at your peril – if there is a huge chasm between the two then after the honeymoon period is over you’ll wonder how you ever managed to think you’d fit! Then of course you’ll spend a good deal of time and emotional energy extracting yourself from the situation.

This brings me to the Personal Profile. You know, that bit at the beginning of the CV which describes you in a couple of sentences. Some recruitment agents don’t like them but I’m a great fan. Having looked at thousands of CVs in my earlier HR role, I appreciate a summary which can really give a flavour of the individual - not just what they do, but who they are. I begin to see the person behind the tasks.

They are not easy to write, though, especially good ones which are saying something meaningful. My advice is to leave the personal profile until the CV is finished then step back and see what picture is emerging – consider the themes and most salient points and pull those together in a brief summary which paints a picture of you.

Give it some thought. Instead of just writing a throwaway description which is based on what you’ve been doing – that is, lifted from your current or last job description, think about how you are comfortable with being described. You might have been in a managerial role, but perhaps you don’t want to continue with the emphasis on management. So you might more comfortably describe yourself in terms of your specialist expertise.

This also applies to verbal communication, too. In fact, I would suggest that, before you decide how you are going to describe yourself on paper, you practise describing yourself in person. Summarise where your key strengths lie and what you have to offer. If it sounds hollow and unconvincing, then that’s a sign that your heart’s not in it. Work at it until you feel comfortable, even if it’s a little vague. You’ll find that you refine your thoughts as you express them out loud. As you become more comfortable, your confidence will build. If you’d like to test it out on someone, try me! Give me a call and I’ll give you some feedback.

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Recommended book

First Impressions Ė what you donít know about how others see you

Ann Demarais and Valerie White
ISBN 1-843-04007-7; ISBN 0-340-83337-8 Paperback 230pp; £7.99

First impressionsHow often do you have an interaction with someone and leave it feeling that they didn’t really get to see the true you? We’re well aware that first impressions are important but also aware that, for various reasons, we don’t always show ourselves in the best light or even one that truly reflects who we are.

The authors of this book are psychologists who created a dating and consulting business, so you can be sure that their approach to the topic of first impressions is not just about theory and psychobabble. Sure enough, while they inject the text with a fair amount of background information, the whole focus is on real-life situations which you don’t have to get beyond the first page to recognise all too well.

The approach is to focus on how your behaviour makes others feel, which is a useful slant in order to help you to consider alternative ways of operating and the liberal use of Self-Check boxes ensures that you are constantly reminded of others’ perspectives. It’s thorough in detail and really goes back to basics to explain, for example, different patterns of conversation, different levels of conversation, different topics of conversation for each level, and the effect of using the inappropriate one in each situation but all the same it’s very readable. It’s the kind of book the proverbial visiting Martian would find extremely useful in order to figure out what’s exactly going on. .

Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk



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