Returning to work with style and confidence
For coach Sue Courtney it is not enough simply to help people understand what they want from life and how they can achieve it. She believes they may also need to change the way they present themselves to the outside world to get where they want to be.
That is why she not only coaches people who want to change their lives and jobs, but also offers style advice on how they can look the part.
Most of her clients are professional women and many have taken years out of their careers to raise families. They often lack confidence going back into the workplace. Sue says looking the part of the role they are being interviewed for can help to boost that confidence. “They need to dress for the role they aspire to,” she says.
Sue knows from personal experience how coaching can help you refocus your life. She used to be an infants teacher. As ICT coordinator she was sent to an ICT conference where one speaker was speaking with great passion. “I thought at first that I didn't have any similar passion for any of my subjects. Then I realised I didn't have a passion for teaching. It occurred to me it was something my mother wanted me to do,” she says. “It was good while the children were young, but they were growing up. I started reading coaching books. I did all the exercises, but I wasn't really making any changes. I had to rewrite the maths curriculum in my school and talk to parents. I thought I'd far rather be talking to them about setting their own personal goals.”
Sue started being coached by a leading coach and says there was a big difference between that and reading coaching books. “I started moving forward and being held accountable,” she says.
She was given the opportunity to train to be a coach with a coaching academy. She realised that, though she was changing the inside of a person through coaching, she was also interested in changing the outside. She trained to be a stylist on one of the first women and men's styling courses. “I believe you have to deal with the whole person inside and out, that there's an overlap,” she says.
She was still working full time as a teacher when she started her training. “I had to be thoroughly organised,” she says. “I wouldn't bring work home from school because I had homework to do for my training. I managed for a term and then left teaching four years ago. It was a risk, but I either had to jump or my coaching work would have petered out. It would have been a huge waste of all the money I had invested. Also how could I say I wanted to be a coach when I couldn't sort my own life out?”
She started writing articles for a local newspaper in Surrey and got her name out as a coach. That boosted her confidence.
She says confidence is one of the major issues for women returning to work after a career break. She advises her clients of the importance of projecting the right professional image and offers them access to a cv expert who can show them how to put their parenting and other skills in business terms. She is also now looking at developing online branding advice via an expert. This would cover, for instance, how to use blogs to present yourelf as an expert in your niche. “It's about taking a different approach and being up to date,” says Sue.
Her coaching involves getting people to question what their values are and how they can find a job which fits with those values. This might mean adapting how they look to fit the part, but it doesn't mean losing their own individuality, even in a very traditional sector. Subtle changes such as adding colourful accessories to a sober suit can mean you both look the part and keep your own identity.
Sue says the recession has meant many women are being forced back into the workplace before they intended or perhaps they may never have envisaged going back. It's a very competitive market so she counsels that they may need to be flexible – either go into a different area than they intended or take a lower status role temporarily. She advises them to develop expertise in a particular area and says getting a foot in the door at a lower level need not be perceived as a step backwards. “You may need to go backwards to go forwards and up,” she says. “Sometimes it is worth stepping back to build up expertise in the area you want to specialise in. It's important to have a strategic plan and follow it.”
Once one of her clients gets a job, she continues to coach them for 30-60 days to help them move forwards and to encourage them to stick to the plan. Some stay in touch and offer regular updates on how they are getting on. Sue says she tailors what she offers to the particular client.
“It is not always work-related. I've coached people who are considering moving abroad,” she says. You just need to be able to ask the right questions.”
*Sue will be writing occasional articles on coaching and styling issues for Workingmums.co.uk. Her free book "The Ultimate Guide to Personal Rebranding for Professional Females Climbing the Corporate Ladder" can be downloaded as a pdf or sent as a paper copy from www.freepersonalrebrandingbook