Eliminate 5 Disastrous Self-Talk Moments to Fine Tune your Career

By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia

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One of my clients was a former Rhodes Scholar. You can imagine how nervous I was throughout our first meeting.  ‘What can someone so smart ever gain from working with me?’ was my negative self-talk at the time.  Yet, despite his clear intelligence, “Bob” did need help with his next career steps. Our sessions were inspiring to me, but also clearly valuable to Bob.

I guess what I am saying is that even the most astute person can make big career mistakes. I often hear it surface in their negative self-talk.

What do I mean by ‘negative self-talk’? Where does it come from? And what can you do to overcome it?


Knowledge is Power

‘There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.’
Socrates 469BC – 399BC

Sometimes this destructive self-talk comes from a lack of knowledge. Let’s look at the following examples…


1. Hating your workplace but thinking that there are no other options

‘I’ll never get the same money in the private sector as I do in Government so I’m stuck in my current job.’

Generally, people in government roles in Australia up to the $100,000 mark are paid far more than for similar roles in the private sector.  Yet, staying in a job only because you are well paid is fraught with danger. All too often, it has a negative effect on both future career prospects and relationships with family and friends.

I can always remember working with employees from an oil refinery.  They would tell me with a beaming smile that they were paid 20% more than market rates and that they’d never get that money again.  Their cheeriness and common sense meant they easily picked up new roles and just got on with their lives.

So, what to do if you hate your current government job? 

  1. Accept your previous high levels of pay with gratitude, move into the private sector and understand that you will probably be paid less.
  2. Look to other sectors that may match your pay rate. Generally, local government offers the same salary premium as government and their culture is similar.
  3. Improve your selling skills (résumé, job search networking and interview skills) so that you easily pick up a role in another government department where you will maintain your high salary.

 In summary, it is always possible to move on with the right skills and attitude.


2. Restricting your job options.

‘I don’t meet all the key elements of the role, so I’m not going to apply for that job.’

I used to say quite flippantly that job ads are written as if you have to be God to be able to do all the tasks and that if you are actually able to, you will be told that you are over-qualified!

So, most career specialists pluck the magic figure of 80% out of the air to help clients to decide whether to apply for an advertised role. What they mean is that if you meet 80% or more of the essential elements of the job, you should throw your hat in the ring.

It is a bit more complicated than that, of course.  It will depend on:

  1. The buoyancy of your job market.
  2. How well your written documentation highlights transferable skills.
  3. How sensitive you are to rejection (Some people have the hide of an elephant and don’t get fussed about receiving the ‘No’ email; the confidence of other people is quite dented by rejection, which can send them into a downward spiral).

In summary, reverse the classic 80/20 rule and start applying for those roles.


Turn Dreams into Self Belief

'Believe you can and you're halfway there.'
Theodore Roosevelt 1858 - 1919

Other times, the destructive self-talk comes from a lack of confidence and faith. It tends to surface in the following situations.


3. Missing out on up to $1 million over your career.

‘I’ve never been very good at salary negotiation so I don’t do it.’

There are some truly frightening statistics that are quoted about the economic ramifications of poor salary negotiation.  Whilst this issue is often important, I come at it from a different angle. 

Done properly, there is no downside to salary negotiation. If it works, you get paid the salary you deserve and impress your future employer as someone who has to be taken seriously.  If they say no, at least you know that you behaved bravely and with skill.  You take the job or else decide to move on to another employer who will pay you appropriately. Either way, you are a stronger person.

In summary, do your homework on salary, prepare your pitch with skill and then force yourself to start the negotiation.


4. Playing Safe

‘I don’t have any experience in that industry so what’s the point of trying?’

Industry experience is a funny thing.  Many employers will ask for it, of course. Most Recruiters insist on it (more’s the pity and more’s the shame).

Yet, I picked up work as a Careers Specialist with no previous experience.  When I train clients in Job Search Networking, I always use this example to highlight both how it works and how it can lead you to a wonderful new career.


At the moment, I am working with one of the most strategically determined people I can remember.  She has no experience in the area that she is targeting, but she is not daunted.  What has she done?

  1. Started formal study in the specific technical area
  2. Learned how to do correct job search networking
  3. Reworked and refined her networking technique so that she constantly improves and fixes up errors


In summary, there are tried and true techniques that work if you want or need to reinvent yourself.


5. Dropping Plan A far too early

‘The job is interstate and I don’t really like it but there are no jobs here.’

Whether you are impatient to leave your current role or whether you have lost your job and want a new one as soon as possible, it makes sense to have a Plan B.


However, it doesn’t make sense to move to Plan B before you have properly explored Plan A. 

Why let go of your dream before you give it a real chance? Why settle for second best if you don’t have to? 


The job market in Australia is very good at the moment, even in Adelaide, capital of the so-called Rust Belt State.  The people I work with all get good jobs pretty easily.

In summary, establish your dream, construct a strong career marketing toolkit and have faith.


Knowledge is Power and Confidence is All


We’ve all heard the platitudes…

…What do you want to read on your gravestone? …You’re at work for 8 hours a day. Why not be happy there?

Yet, these quotes are common for a reason: careers are important.  


Luckily, it is surprisingly easy to overcome negative self-talk that comes from ignorance or from self-doubt. To overcome knowledge gaps, Google provides you with endless expert advice at your fingertips. And you should know at least one person who will help to boost your confidence.

Don’t let these two issues damage your career happiness. Even Aristotle understood it all those centuries ago.


‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.’



Catherine Cunningham is the author of My Career Rules! and is one of Australia's leading career experts. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's Careers, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au


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