Strengths vs Flow

My career coaching clients often come to see me because when it comes to work, they are either unsure of what’s next or don’t know how to make the next thing happen. And a voice in their head is saying “you can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t”.

Those minds of ours – they can be cheeky, always looking for evidence to prove what it thinks is true. If your voice is saying “I can’t, I won’t, I shouldn’t” then your mind is looking for evidence to prove that all to be true. Scientists call this confirmation bias. 

So, I ask my clients to play a trick on that cheeky mind and to search for new evidence. They write down 5 things that they are AWESOME at, particularly at work (in a job interview they are called strengths). And each day over the next week, their homework is to find two pieces of evidence for each strength. 

By the end of the week they will have 70 pieces of evidence to support their awesomeness- which may just trick that cheeky mind into flipping the script to “I can, I will, I should”. High fives all around.

But the exercise doesn’t end there. We also need to pause to reflect on each of these strengths. You see, there is a big difference between the things you are awesome at (your strengths) and things that put you in flow.

You know flow right – when you are working on something and you are so completely absorbed, that time floats away. Positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi popularized the term in the 90s. In flow, you are both feeling and performing at your peak. 

And if we confuse our strengths with the things that put us in flow, well then we just might find ourselves wondering why we are feeling drained  – even when we have been leveraging our strengths all week. YUCK.

So, in week 2 of the strengths exercise, I ask my clients to observe and record moments/tasks/projects where they find themselves in flow, and observe and record moments/task/projects that leave them feeling drained. And then we ask, “are most of my moments/tasks/projects in flow or draining?”, and  “which strengths put me in flow and which strengths drain me?”.

And here is the big one: “how can I spend more of my day in flow, utilizing my strengths”.

BOOM! Now we are getting somewhere BIG! Why not give this strengths exercise a go? And if you get stuck, you know who to call, your favorite people whisperer.

Until next week,

Cover letter 101

This post was requested by many of you. Writing a cover letter. It’s enough to spark fear in even the most talented writer’s eyes. Yes, it is an awkward form of writing, but composing kick-ass cover letter doesn’t have to be a painful experience. So today dear reader, I am going to outline how to write a compelling cover letter, and the general what to include.   

*please note – there will be specific things that vary industry by industry – so this is a general outline for you to use as a starting point.

First and most importantly, I want to share the why behind this form on writing. What is the purpose of a cover letter? Is it to torture you? Yes…. Kidding!!! As an applicantthe purpose of your cover letter is to make a compelling argument to the reader that you are the best person for the role- or at least a “must interview”. Remember those argumentative essays from school? That’s a cover letter! Surprise!

When you know the why behind a cover letter, it becomes easier to work out what to put in and leave out.

Before you sit down to write the cover letter, there are a couple of steps to take. This will make the actual writing easier.

First, make a list of your strengths and skills. These will each become paragraphs that you can tailor for different cover letters. Each paragraph should start with the strength or skills and then give an example of how you have leveraged it. 

Now look at the job ad. What are the key selection criteria? What strengths/skills/experience is the employer looking for? 

Finally, pick your strengths and skills that align with the key selection criteria. These paragraphs will become the body of your cover letter. 

Now you are ready to put your cover letter together! Here is the general structure: 

  • Introduction. Explain that you are applying for xxx role. Make your argument that you are the best person for the role. Include an I am statement that summarizes your relevant strengths/skills 
  • Body. This is where you address each of the key selection criteria. Use the strengths/skills paragraphs that align with their desired strengths/skills/experience. The number of paragraphs will depend of the number of selection criteria. 
  • Conclusion. Restate your argument- that your skills and experience make you uniquely suited to the role. And then don’t forget to end with an invitation to talk further. This is so important! Let them know that you would be delighted to discuss your application, and how they can get in touch with you.

Reminder: the above is a general outline, and again different industries have different norms/expectations around specifics. 

Were you wondering if you need to write different cover letters for each role? The answer is YES…..Andnotice that there is a formula to this. Your introduction and conclusion will rarely change (except for the title and organization). Your strengths and skills don’t really change. What changes with each cover letter is the selection criteria to which you are responding. So, if you have the introduction and conclusion ready to go, and you have strengths/skills paragraphs that you can switch in and out, you have a template ready to go! 

Phew- suddenly it isn’t quite as scary, or as hard. Now go write a cover letter! And if you need a hand, you know who to call.

Until next week,

The candidate experience

It’s been an interesting week at RARE HQ. Some of my career coaching clients have been on the receiving end of some bad behavior from prospective employers. Today, I am going to share a little about their experience, so that you as a leader can learn what NOT to do when hiring people, and instead how to show up with respect for candidates during a job search.  

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Here are two examples of candidate experiences from my career coaching clients. 

One client had a telephone interview and then was called in for a second interview. It went well and my client followed up with a thank you note. They hadn’t heard back from the company a week later, so they followed up with an email. Crickets. They followed up with a phone call – left a voicemail. Three weeks later, they still haven’t heard back. I think this is what the young people call ghosting. 

Another made it to the last round of interviews, was in the final 2, thought everything was going very well, even met the CEO and executive team. And then received an automated email saying they were unsuccessful. 

Cue me slowly banging my head against the wall…  


This kind of thing is just not okIt’s poor form, disrespectful, and ultimately, bad for business.

When I am working on employment branding for my business clients, we pay very close attention to the candidate experience during the recruitment process. The hiring process actual serves 2 purposesYes, you are looking to find the best person for the role. AND it’s an employment branding exercise – telling the market about what it is like to work in your business. The aim is to leave every candidate wanting to work with you. Regardless of whether they land the role. 

Remember friends, the recruitment process is a two-way street, and candidates are interviewing your business as much as you them.  So, to keep a healthy talent pool, you need for each candidate to be willing to apply for roles with your business in the future. It is part of positioning your business as an employer of choice. And key to it all, is treating candidates with respect. 

There are many different tools, strategies and interventions we can use to help clients improve their candidate experience. But my baseline, non-negotiable rule for any recruitment process is this:
If you have conducted any interview with a candidate – on the phone, via Zoom, in person – and they are not moving on to the next stage, this information needs to be shared in a phone call. And the person making the call needs to be the person who interviewed them. Period.

You can follow up with an email of course, but a phone conversation is a simple mark of respect. And it costs NOTHING! 

Here’s the thing about having that phone conversation: it can be uncomfortable. For many of us, telling someone that they are not moving on to the next phase can be hard. I get it! Especially when you have met them. We worry about hurting people’s feelings. But the kindest and most respectful thing you can do is to be clear and have the conversation. Being willing to have these tricky conversations shows candidates that you respect them, that you value their time and that the culture of the workplace is one where people are valued.  The tricky conversation is very important in making sure that every candidate leaves the process still wanting to work in your organization. 

Shameless plug alert: I just announced a people whispering masterclass called Tackling Tricky Conversations with Your Team. If you are interested in learning more about tricky conversations and practice getting comfortable with those uncomfortable moments, this workshop is for you. You can find out more about it here. 

Now, back to the experience that my career coaching clients had. I am biased, for sure, but my clients are extremely talented, smart, emotionally intelligent and hard working. And you know that birds of the feather thing, right? My clients tend to mix with other people who are also talented, smart, have high EQ and are hard working.  And this experience which they have probably shared with their friends, has left a bad taste in their mouth. So not only will these talented clients never apply for a role at those organizations againNEITHER WILL THEIR TALENTED FRIENDS! 

These businesses just shrunk their future talent pool, my clients are feeling like they dodged a bullet, and it all could have been different with a simple phone conversation 

Until next week,

Day One

So, you have found your perfect new hire! And after some negotiations, they have said yes to your job offer. Congratulations! It’s such an exciting time, for you and for them. So much possibility.    

Question: do you have an on-boarding plan and/or process? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: showing them their workspace and closing the door isn’t going to cut it! To retain this wonderful new hire, you need to have a plan.  

A good on-boarding process will help get your new hire up to speed, increasing their productivity and effectiveness. Depending on your organization and the role, the on-boarding process can take anywhere from 90 days to a whole year. What the first days/weeks/months will look like will vary depending on your circumstances. But the first 30 days are CRITICAL. They are make or break in terms of employee engagement and retention. If things have not gone well in this crucial period, your new hire will likely be plotting their exit.  

So today, I want to focus on my non-negotiables for day one. The things that absolutely MUST be in place – to get things off on the right foot – both in terms of productivity and effectiveness, but more importantly, to retain this precious new hire. And it’s pretty simple.  

You as the hiring manager and supervisor need to be there on their first day. First week really. And you get to be in control of that! When deciding on your new hire’s first day, make sure that it is a day that you are available (ie not a day full of meetings or when you are on vacation). And when you are arranging their start time for their first day, make sure it is a time WELL after you usually get in. You don’t want your new hire to arrive before you (think running late/stuck in traffic situations).Make sure they know where they should come on that first day, and if it is the reception desk, let the receptionist know that a new hire is arriving at xxx time.    

When your new hire arrives, show them to their work space and then show them around the work environment. Make sure they know where the restrooms are. Introduce them to the team. They probably won’t remember everyone on the first day and that’s ok. Having a chart that shows who is who in the zoo will help with this. And if you are in a shift work environment or have a remote workforce, send out a ‘welcome to xxx” email to the entire team.  

Make sure your new hire’s work area, desk, computer, email addressare up and running. This is really importantBonus points for having things like name badges and business cards ready to goTheir work area needs to be ready for them.

You want everything about that first day to say: welcome, you are wanted, you are needed, we are excited to have you, you matter, this is going to be great. It’s the first step in an effective on-boarding plan. A plan that gets your new hire up to speed, increases their productivity and effectiveness, and crucially, increases the likelihood of retaining them.  

Because you went to great lengths to find the right person for the role, your team, your organization. And getting the first day right is critical, and also pretty simple.

Until next week,

Position descriptions – the why.

This week, I released my Position Description Workbook. It’s a free tool that will help you get clear on the responsibilities, tasks and key stakeholders for each role in your organization. If you haven’t already, email to get your copy. 

Today, in true Helen fashion, I wanted to share the why. Or at least one of the reasons why. Why having clear position descriptions that place each role into the context of your organization and its mission, is critical to a healthy and collaborative work environment.  

So here we go.  

When your people know where their role starts and ends, when it is clear who is responsible for what, your team can work together to achieve common goals. Because each person knows their role and can play their part. The rules of engagement are clear. 

In contrast, when there is a blurring of responsibilities, when it is unclear who is responsible for a task, a project or an outcome, when your people do not know what role they need to play to achieve the common goal, well nothing much gets done.  And the stuff that does get done is less innovative, creative, efficient and productive.  

Because when there is a blurring of responsibilities something really interesting happens: people start to grab onto the things they can control. And they hold on super tight. People may not trust that others will get things done. People may not trust that they will get recognition for their work because it is unclear who is responsible for it. Lack of trust = alarm bells. Hello toxic work culture. And now collaboration becomes impossible.  

It’s counter intuitive I know, but I have seen it over and over again. Business leaders have excellent intentions. They want to create a culture where everyone is willing and able to help each other out. Where no one will feel “too good” or “too important” for a task. Where everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They want flexibility. And so, they resist position descriptions. Too prescriptive, they say.

But in not having clearly defined roles, they are depriving each of their people of the opportunity to do their thing, do it really well, and collaborate with others who are doing their thing really well, and then together producing something wonderful. 

So, what to do?  

Be super clear with each of your people about what their role is. Have position descriptions. And make sure that the descriptions place each role into the context of your organization and mission.  

And if you need a hand, give me a shout. That’s why you have a people whisperer in your life. 

Until next week,

Back to work

This week I launched a new coaching program called Returning to Working After Baby. The program is designed for people who have welcomed a new child into their family and are now navigating the transition back into work.  

I developed the program because it is the support I needed when I transitioned back to full time work after the birth of my son Arthur. A little background:

Arthur was born in Australia where there is an 18-week paid parental leave scheme – the government pays the primary care giver an allowance equal to minimum wage for 18 weeks. (I know, I know – that sound you just heard was the collective jaw dropping of readers in the US). I loved my job, and my boss was incredibly supportive. So yes, I was extremely privileged. For that I am beyond grateful. 

So, I took 18 weeks.  And for me, it was both too long and too short. On the one hand, I needed to go back to work- both financially and mentally. I needed something that started and ended and things that made me feel competent, like I was doing a good job. Because I felt like I was failing with the parenting stuff. But on the other hand, I also needed more time to settle into my new role as a parent.  

I fumbled through my return to work as best I could, and today I want to share 2 key moments in my transition that helped me navigate this new normal.  

Here we go: 

  • Before Arthur was born, I had all these plans about what going back to work would look like. I had planned to work from the office 3 days a week and from home the other 2 days. I hadn’t factored in that this new human would have his own personality and needs and didn’t care much about the plans I had made. But I was very attached to my expectations. So attached, that I wasn’t present to what was. And this made my return to work waaaay harder than it needed to be. Because what was actually happening was that I was that I was struggling to produce enough milk to ensure there was enough for Arthur when I was at work. And working from home 3 days a week instead of 2 would have made a huge difference. Eventually things got to a point where I simply had to ask for what I needed. And my boss who was wonderful said “of course!”. Game changer. Key take away: It was only in letting go of my attachment of what I thought it would be, that I could be present to what was. 
  • After Arthur was about 4 weeks old, he stopped sleeping. Like ever. After a few weeks I was desperately looking into sleep schools – they all had long waiting lists. And my dear, wise friend and mentor, Sarah, gave me some sound advice. She said suggested hiring a sleep consultant to come to our house. Desperate and unable to wait for a space at a sleep school, I found a sleep consultant, who saved us. Kate became my cheerleader. She was there during every transition, including my return to work. Yes, she was there to help teach Arthur to sleep, but her visits were also a wonderful pep talk. My time with her gave me confidence. She reassured me that I was doing a great job, both at home and at work. Key take away: Find a cheerleader.  

Ultimately, Returning to Work After Baby is born out of these lessons. I support parents in doing the work to let go of expectations so they can be present to what is. We disrupt habits that are no longer serving you, so you can create new possibility. And I hope to be that cheerleader, supporting you through, and navigating your transition back into work.  

Until next week, 

On hiring recent graduates

It’s almost the end of January – I know, how did that happen already… Can you hear that sound? It’s the sound of seniors scurrying to get their post college plans into place. And the sound of employers rushing to hire the best talent graduating this Spring before they get snapped up by someone else.  

Hiring people right out of school. When I have the right role, when it is the right fit, when I know I have the time to dedicate to the new hire, it is the most wonderful, rewarding, impactful experience. The first year out of school and into a job is a major transition. It is an honor to walk someone through it. And I take that responsibility very seriously. 

In my time, I have seen new graduate hires that have worked and some that have not. And the outcome is rarely because of the new graduate. The outcome is closely linked with the supervisor and the resources (including time) that they have dedicated to the new hire.   

I know… Ouch! 

But here’s the thing: showing your recent graduate to their office, booking in your weekly catch up and closing the door isn’t going to cut it. It doesn’t cut it for any new hire, but this is especially true for early career practitioners. Early career professionals require their manager and/or organization to dedicate time and resources to their development.

Hiring a graduate is a partnership. It is a commitment and investment, because the on-boarding process can take up to a year. And, I have found that if you make that commitment, your business is better for it. Because today’s early career professionals are highly educated, extremely bright, deeply insightful and just plain talented. And seeing that talent flourish and contribute to your team – well it can be a game changer.  

So, how to get it right? First there are questions to ask yourself in the hiring process. 

  •  Is this role suitable for an early career professional or does it need a more experienced professional? 
  •  Do I as a hiring manager have the resources (including time) to dedicate to an early career professional? 

Answer the questions honestly. If the reason for hiring a graduate is that you can only afford to pay an entry level salary, but the demands of the job mean that you actually need someone with more experience – well, alarm bells. I see this over and over. Spoiler alert – this scenario doesn’t work for anyone – not the recent graduate, not the hiring manager and least of all, the organization. 

But if you can answer yes to the above questions, then go forth! Hire an early career professional, a recent graduate!  

And once you find your prefect new graduate, here are some things to consider when designing their on-boarding plan. These are some things that have come up for recent graduates that I have managed, especially when the role was their first 9 to 5 gig: 

  • They may want more face time with you than other team members. And sometimes they may need more face time with you, but not realize it 
  • They may need you to provide a space to test ideas, ask questions, think out loud  
  • They may need you to provide a space to learn how to plan their day/week & the rhythm of the workplace 
  • They may need to you to help them understand their own work style, learning style and needs 
  • They may need you to teach them that they, like all of us, have a customer to serve. And that sometimes the customer is their boss
  • AND of course, learning the technical skills of your discipline. They may have learned the theories and skills in school, but this is where they put them into practice in the real world. There may be shades of grey, or nuances to learn. Or it may just be a case of needing time to see how things play out. 

Then there is all the stuff that they will need to learn about how work…well… works! Email etiquette, time and priority management, seeing office politics for the first time – there is a lot to learn. Throw in the fact that (in the US at least) they have likely moved to a new city and are navigating that transition for the first time, it can be quite overwhelming. So, check in with them regularly. Ask them how they are doing. Be FOR them. 

Want to know why I love supervising recent graduates and why I take it so seriously? Doing this work is an incredible opportunity to model what it looks like to be a strong, empathetic and effective leader. Because these guys are going to lead teams of their own one day. Modeling people whispering is my little way of making future workplaces better for everyone.  

And that is what it is all about. 

Until next week,

Feeling stuck

Many of my career coaching clients come to see me because they are feeling stuck or maybe even trapped. Stuck in jobs, patterns, habits that are no longer serving them. 

They know they could be doing something else, that there is something more out there for them, but they can’t quite put their finger on what it is. And they can’t see a path through. 

It can be a pretty sucky place to be in. A voice in your head saying over and over again “I can’t, it won’t work, I shouldn’t, this is how it is always going to be”.  

The truth is, you can, it just can might work, and most importantly- IT ISN’T ALWAYS GOING TO BE LIKE THIS. 

Let’s pause for a second to take that in.  

No feeling is permanent. Nothing is forever. And it isn’t always going to be like this.  

But when you are feeling stuck, all this possibility can be hard to see. I know. Oh, how I know. I have been there. I have found myself in jobs where I have felt stuck, trapped even. Roles that were out of alignment with my purpose, that just didn’t fit. And I couldn’t see a way out. But my mentors helped illuminate a path through. 

In our sessions, I help my clients get really clear on their why, work out what is and isn’t working about their current role, and what else is possible. It could be asking for a raise, applying for a promotion, a job change, a career change, or even launching a business of their own. Or something else entirely! And we work to illuminate a path through. It’s a process of cocreation.  

Many of us get stuck in “Should Land”. I should be here, I should be doing this, I should…Fill in your own shoulds – we all have them. And when we are overcome with and led by the should, we find ourselves in jobs that serve the should but are out of alignment with our greater purpose and vision. And then, we are left feeling stuck. 

So, I work with my clients to dial down the volume on the all the shoulds, while turning up the volume on the vision, on creating what’s possible. And they can trade in stuck and trapped, for purpose and possibility. 

Good-bye “Should Land”. You weren’t that great anyway.  

Until next week,


Living your values

Companies talk a lot about their values. Their mission. Their core beliefs. Their purpose. Many organizations proudly and prominently hang their values on their walls. They have a section on their website devoted to their mission. They showcase them in their strategic plans and annual reports.

With all this talk about who an organization is, what they stand for, and why they do what they do, you would think that employees working in values based organizations would report great employee engagement, high employee retention.   

And yet…. and yet. That’s often not how it goes.

Here is what I have found: 

When vision, values, mission, purpose statements are developed, they often have the end user, the customer, the consumer in mind. They are developed thinking about how the work will be done and how it will be received. And this is really important.

But too often, values based organizations forget to employ people from that same values base. These same values need to extend to how the business works with its most important asset- its people.

Sometimes I see organizations favoring the values which describe the technical skills of their operation, whilst minimizing the values that govern how employees interact with each other. They care very much that the accountant does good accounting work, because that aligns with their value of excellence & accountability for example. But they don’t seem to mind that the accountant isn’t particularly kind to the people on the reception desk, despite teamwork being a core value.

As a business leader, developing a clear mission, and values is important for your organization. This is widely accepted. It can help to give everyone purpose and guide the ship in a unified way. But the real magic happens when those values, that purpose, is lived in every part of the business. Especially in the ways in which the business relates to its people.

So, what are some practical ways that organizations can live their values, not just for their customers but for their employees too? Here are some jumping off points:

Job descriptions – how are the values of the organization expressed in each job role? Are there KPIs linked to each value? How will this be measured? 

Job ads – your job ads serve two purposes. One is to let the market know that you have a position open, but they also serve as an opportunity to declare to the world who you are as a business and what you stand for. 

Interview questions – during an interview, you might share you vision and values with candidates, and ask behavioral based questions that link back to each of your values.  

Rewarding good performance – too often organizations recognize excellent technical achievements (think a programmer solving a complicated coding problem) but don’t reward employees living out their values. 

Professional development plans – when planning out employees’ growth and development, making sure that training links back to organizational values, as well as technical skill development. 

Vision, values and mission statements are great on walls, in annual reports and strategic plans, but they are even better when they come to life, lived in the day to day of the workplace, especially in how your people relate to each other. 

Until next week,

It all changes

Here is a sentence that appears in organizations all too often: But we have always done it that way.   

Urgh. I can’t even type those words without twitching. And those cries that you hear in the distance are sounds of innovation dying.   

Here’s the thing: nothing stays the same. Nothing. Trends change, people change, technology changes, needs change – IT.ALL.CHANGES. What works today may not be right for tomorrow. Something that serves a need today may be obsolete tomorrow. Something that is wanted today may be unnecessary tomorrow. You get it, right?  

And so, if you are not constantly evaluating, working out what is and isn’t working, considering if what you’re doing meets your why, then you are not evolving to meet the change around you. And suddenly you will be in one place and everyone else will be somewhere else, with you left scratching your head about why it isn’t working.   

At this time of year when we are in reflection mode and making resolutions for 2019, I invite you to evaluate the year at work, the year with your team. What worked, what didn’t and why you do it all in the first place. And if you find yourself saying “we always do it like this”, then that is your cue to pause and instead take the time to evaluate. And maybe through the evaluation process you decide to keep doing things the same way because they are working – great! Now you have your why. And if you discover that something isn’t working, that’s great too – you can re-route to something else. 

Here is a people whispering tip. Go and find the newest hire to your business and train them on a process. Spend time asking them questions, getting their perspective. New hires, especially people who have been with your business less that 6 months can offer valuable insights, holding up a mirror to all your processes. When they ask why things are done in a particular way, notice your reaction. Is there a why? Or is the answer simply because no-one has ever asked before.  

Workplaces that have a culture of continuous improvement, where reflection and evaluation are encouraged, fostered and rewarded, also tend to be places where employees are engaged, curious, creative, and innovative. Places where people want to work. And that is something I can get behind. 

Until next week,