Category Archives: Seminars

GradIreland 2013 – Self Esteem and Your Career

 Good Afternoon! My name is Paula Coogan, I am the owner of The Aspirations Coach, which has recently rebranded at The Quarter Life Coach, and I work with individuals in their 20’s and 30’s to help them discover their passions and make life work on their own terms!

I’m here today to talk to you about Self Esteem and Your Career.

 You may be thinking that self-esteem is a strange topic to cover at a Graduate Fair and I could have spoken to you about networking, how to choose the right course for you, how to figure out what you really want to do in terms of your career, interview techniques but instead I decided to talk to you about self esteem because to be honest, right now for many people it’s more important.

In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. From my own work with private clients and also from speaking to my coaching colleagues, I know that this is an area that people are really struggling with!!!

We all know that the current economic climate is challenging. Some of you are in the process of looking for suitable employment, some of you are currently working but you all have something in common. You’re here today because you are trying to find a way to bridge the gap from where you are now to where you want to be.

It can be a scary place to be, looking out to the horizon, trying to figure out the best way forward. No one wants to waste time and money if there’s uncertainty about whether it will be the bridge you’re looking for. I don’t know if you’re anything like me but I spent 5 years in college, worked in my qualified profession for 3 years and then realised it wasn’t for me. I woke up one day and said ‘Oh crap is this it?

It was in a vicious circle- I knew I had to do something, I hadn’t a clue what ‘something’ was going to be, questioning myself, doubting myself and constantly comparing myself to others who seemed to have it all figured out! My self esteem was taking an absolute beating!

From my own experience and my work with private clients, I‘ve seen the effect that self-esteem can have on your career and the decisions that you make. Your levels of self esteem come across in your CV, it can come across when you’re networking and of course it comes across in interviews.

This is why I felt that I wanted to address this with you guys today. We’re going to do a crash course on the main areas which I would work with clients to address their self esteem and also to ensure that they had a strong and healthy appreciation of what they offer and the value of who they are.

 We’ll discuss 3 main areas:

1. 2 Questions vs. 4 Questions

2. Your Job Titles vs. Your Transferable Skills

3. Overcoming the Gremlin aka That Little voice in your head

We’ll dive straight in!

When it comes to our career, most of the time we ask just 2 questions. They are

 Just Two Questions

What do I want?


How Do I get it?

But the funny thing is that often, we’re not 100% sure what we want so we look around us to try and figure out what we should want. We’re told by others what we’d be good at, what constitutes a ‘proper job’. We are influenced by our friends, our families, our parents, media and our culture. web mentions We are conditioned to move towards things that we’re told we should want.

For example, if you were very academic in school, you’re pretty much guaranteed that you would be shepherded towards a ‘high points’ career choice such as medicine or law!

So many people make decisions based on what they think they should want or in other words, based on their conditioning.

So anyway then we ask the second question, How do I get it? We’re told the path- it’s generally work really hard, put your head down and keep going. So we duly oblige, we work really hard and pursue that path only to get there and realise that it doesn’t really fit us!

If we’re lucky and have the resources, we may be able to go back a step and ask the first question again’ Ok, what do I want now? And what happens, we spin ourselves right back into the same loop again.

 Just Two more Questions

I was spinning for a good while before I realised that I needed to ask 4 questions, not two. These 4 questions honestly changed my life and have changed the lives of so many people that I’ve worked with.

The four questions you need to ask, in this order are:

1. Who Am I?

2. What Do I want?

3. Why do I want this?

4. How Do I get it?

 1. Who Am I?

How could we forget this most basic question? The first time I asked this of myself I hadn’t a clue! I couldn’t answer it without just saying I’m Paula. But really, the question is all about getting to the core of you. What makes you tick? What do you enjoy? What’s most important to you in your life? In your career? What do you value? What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about other people? What do you believe about the world? What shapes you? What did you love to do as a kid? What makes you you? You are completely unique! You have a unique set of skills, life experience, passions, characteristics, traits, thoughts and emotions to anyone else in the world!

Do you think it might be worthwhile to figure yourself out first before you decide what you want to do with your life?

 2. What do I want?

We’ve met this question before but I assure you that the answer for a lot of people is quite different if they’ve taken the time to really figure themselves out first. There is clarity, confidence and a huge boost to your self esteem when you ask this question aligned with the knowledge of who you are.

 3. Why do I want it?

This is the safety net question. If the word ‘should’ is in your answer then I want the Star Trek Red Alert noise to play in your head! By asking this question, you are making sure that you ‘own’ your decision! To make sure that there’s no influence or interference from people who are not you! To make sure that it is in sync with who you are.

 4. How do I get it?

If you approach your career asking the above questions, you’ll have greater clarity about who you are and what you want to offer the world, you’ll know exactly what you want and what you need to prioritise, you’ll know the motivation behind your desires and that will be the driving force to get you to take action and because of your confidence, focus and passion, you will figure out how to do it.

(Note: If you haven’t already done so, please visit and on the homepage, subscribe for my free ebook ‘The Secret to Quarter Life Happiness’ – I discuss these 4 questions in much more detail!)

 2 questions vs. 4 Questions.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is one of the most powerful and simplest ways to take control of your career path and how you feel about the decisions you make and more importantly how you feel about yourself!

Anyway, we’re going to move on to:

 Your Job Titles vs. Your Transferable Skills

How does a lack of self-esteem show up in your career? What would be a tell-tale sign? Well for one thing, it can have you box yourself off from certain roles or opportunities because you don’t believe that you can actually do it.

So often, I work with individuals who are seeking a new direction or new role and they look at their past job titles and based on that, they decide what positions they will or can apply for in the future. They completely box themselves off from other career choices and opportunities.

This is so important I need to repeat it- You are not your Job Titles– they do not define you or indicate what you can or cannot do.

What you need to look at are your ‘Transferable Skills’.

In terms of options open to you- you are your transferable skills. Transferable skills are those skills that you have picked up in your current role or in previous roles; that you can actually ‘take away’ for use in future roles. Looked in this way, your past becomes a mere prologue to a future full of possibilities. Everything you did in the past remains with you, for it has been added to your transferable skills piggy bank. Nothing was wasted!


Transferable skills help you:

  • Clarify what it is you have to offer
  • Target the right roles
  • Make your own unique sales pitch
  • Tell people what you are about
  • Summarise your career to date to an interviewer
  • Maximise the impact of the profile at the top of your CV
  • Highlight any skills gaps that may require up-skilling on your part


In order to demonstrate this properly to you, I’m going to use one of my past clients as an example. Names and details have obviously been changed!

Susie came to me because she had aspirations to move into a career of interior design. She had a huge passion for it but she couldn’t see how, how she’d even get a look in, how she’d get anyone to talk to her, how she’s even get started. What she was doing was looking at her job titles and she just couldn’t see how interior design and what she had done to date could relate. She was boxing herself off.

What we did was to analyse and clarify her transferable skills.

I broke her skills down from her different roles in the past. This is what she actually did there. They are the skills that she had developed and the situations in which she had demonstrated them. The aim is to break it down so that we can see which of these skills can ‘be lifted’ and taken away for use elsewhere in a different role, situation and context.

Soft skills

What we also considered were Susie’s soft skills. Soft skills are our set of skills which influence how we interact with others and all things being equal- it is our soft skills which will determine whether we our chosen for a role over another candidate.

Deficit to Abundance

Susie had gone from a place of deficit in terms of 6-7 job titles that had boxed her off from what she wanted to do. When we sat down and went through her transferable skills, it opened the whole world up to her because she could see how many roles her skills could be transferred to. Now she could see the link between what would be required in an interior design role and what she already possessed. And she could see where she needed to upskill- she felt so much more confident in investing in a further qualification as she could see that it would be enhancing what she already had to offer!

This gave her such a boost in confidence and in her self esteem. She was able to start making connections; she was able to see that her past was a mere prologue to her future and that nothing had been wasted. Before this, she had been looking solely at her job titles and seeing them as a huge weight around her neck which would prevent her from moving forwards and keeping her firmly stuck where she was.

She now owned her transferable skills; she got really clear on exactly what she had to offer. She acknowledged her skill set, appreciated it and valued it. When she spoke to people in the industry with this new-found clarity and appreciation for herself and her abilities- people responded so well to her. They were open with their advice, support and encouragement because they could see she was passionate, talented and valuable. Pretty soon, she had offers of freelance work and apprenticeships and is now well on her way to doing exactly what she wanted.

She now believes that if she had stayed were she was, looking solely at her job titles- that the interior design industry would still be boxed off for her.

I know that transferable skills is a big topic, it’s quite meaty and to actually clarify your own transferable skills will take time. However I would highly encourage anyone who hasn’t done it yet, to make the time to do this. It makes such a difference in terms of how you feel about yourself, in your ability to present yourself and in helping you see clearly the areas that you need to upskill and give you an understanding of what qualifications will enhance what you already possess.

So we’re going to move on to one of my personal favourites!

 Overcoming the Gremlin aka That voice in your head

Self-esteem was always something I struggled with. It’s a pity I never joined a debating team because by the time I was in my late teens, I had plenty of practice! There was a never ending debate in my head about everything; it was as if I had a split personality. I would want to do something but then I’d have that little voice in my head saying ‘Oohh, be careful- you could screw it up and make a show of yourself’.

The more I wanted to try, grow, learn and experience, the more that little voice spoke up. It got to the point that on many occasions, I actually listened to it and I held myself back. When I left college and was looking for my first real job, there were so many occasions that  the little voice in my head told me I wouldn’t be good enough, that there were going to be so many better candidates and that I was going to be rejected so there was no point in even putting in an application.

Listening to that negative voice in your head leads to self-doubt which is that feeling of uncertainty about your ability to accomplish something. It can be like a dark shadow of insecurity that follows us around and it can lead to hesitation and indecision. If we don’t do anything about it, it can cause us to abandon our dreams or radically lower our expectations of ourselves.

I really want you to know that what you say to yourself has an enormous effect on your entire being. It affects your energy levels, your physiology and of course, your self-esteem.

It’s important to know that everyone has their own little gremlin inside their head! Call it what you will- your saboteur, your inner critic, mind monkeys- whatever! Often people think that their inner critic is who they really are and who they ever will be and that is a lie. It is simply doubts and fears which you have learnt and adopted as you went through your life and ……..anything that you have learned, you can unlearn.

The people that you admire who seem to ooze confidence and charisma has simply learnt how to deal with their own gremlins! There are strategies and techniques that they have used or are using and I’m going to share with you some strategies that myself and my clients have found useful for dealing with your inner gremlin!


1. Recognise and acknowledge your doubts

You cannot overcome something until you first recognise and acknowledge its existence. If we ignore self-doubt, it will still be there whether we like it or not and it will stop us from moving forward. Bottom line, you need to deal with it because it won’t go away unless you sacrifice your progress. The better you become at identifying hidden doubts, the easier it will be to overcome them.

Ask yourself ‘What triggered this and why am I feeling this way?’ Information is power and you are beginning to take back your power.

 2.  Is there a pattern?

You probably know the answer to this already! Doubt tends to have favourite places to hang out so the chances are that you have experienced it in a similar situation before. Think about it, public speaking?  Talking to your boss? Ringing to enquire about a vacancy? Networking?

Is there any situation that you’ve experienced doubt before but you overcame it? If so, what did you do? What steps did you take? If not, what could you do differently next time around?

3. Create a plan

So now, you have acknowledged its existence, you are aware of the patterns and you have a good idea as to what you could you differently. Now, I want you to sit down and plan out a strategy for defeating your self-doubt. For example, if you have an interview, then make a plan to prepare and practice your interview skills until all your doubts are obliterated and you know that you are capable playing at your best. Make an educated decision about what to do next? Ask for help if you want, two heads are always better than one. Put your plan in writing.

4. Take action and be flexible

Once you have your plan in writing, try to identify some possible challenges along the way and decide what you will do about them. This will add to your confidence as you will feel more prepared. Using the above example of an interview, hire a professional interview coach to help you or ask a friend. Sometimes, a little support and encouragement is all it takes.

So that’s our mini crash course for today! My intention was to demonstrate to you the importance of the link between self esteem and your career.

We talked about:

 Two Questions Vs. 4 Question

Who Am I?

What Do I Want?

Why Do I want It?

How Do I get it?

 Job titles vs. Transferable Skills 

How by focusing solely on your previous job titles, you can box yourself off.

Look at your Transferable Skills instead

In terms of options open to you, you are your transferable skills.

We talked about:

 Overcoming the Gremlin aka That Little Voice in Your Head

Listening to that negative voice in your head can lead to self-doubt, hesitation and indecision.

We talked about how everyone experiences that inner gremlin and we discussed some strategies for overcoming it.

1. Recognise and acknowledge your doubts

2. Is there a pattern?

3. Create a plan

4. Take action and be Flexible

As I said at the beginning, in the current climate people’s self esteem is taking a beating and when an individual’s self-esteem is low- it shows. It comes across in your CV, it comes across at an interview, it comes across when you’re networking, and it comes across in the decisions you make in your day to day life.

That is why I felt that I wanted to address this with you guys today and provide you with some strategies and tools that you can use to boost yourself up whenever the need arises. It’s important that you feel good about you.

Remember the cat, the mirror and the self portrait!


Having strong self-esteem says a lot about you. When you smile, you’re showing your self-confidence. When you look someone in the eye, you show that you respect others and aren’t easily intimidated. When you give someone a firm handshake, you show that you are sure of yourself. As a candidate, you need to show an employer you are proud of who you are and what you have to offer.

You want to show employers that you have faith in yourself and that you know that you’re going to find a company that will be worthy of having you on board.

So to wrap up, I just want to say thank you so much for your time, your energy and your effort. This is just the 5th time that I have spoken in public like this and coming into it, I was quite scared. All week, I’ve been using the strategies and tools that I’ve speaking to you about so I hope that by my being here instead of under the duvet as my inner gremlin was suggesting I do, acts a just a little bit more evidence that these strategies are valuable.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks again!


P. S

Please don’t forget to claim your free copy of ‘The Secret to Quarter Life Happiness’report 1 available from the homepage at