Every now and then in life you meet someone who is just a born connector. Born to connect others for beautiful collaborations that will make for a better world. Born to listen to stories and to share their own in return. Born to share wisdom and knowledge. Not with any expectation of anything in return, but just because they have a genuine belief in the power of helping others.

Karen Thompson is that woman and I am SO excited for you to see the pearls of wisdom she is going to share with you in this interview.

With 40 years in recruitment, marketing and communications, Karen knows a thing or two about how to position yourself to stand out! If you are looking to ‘up the ante’ on your personal or professional brand and REALLY STAND OUT – then keep reading!

Karen – THANK YOU so much for being with us in this interview. Before we get stuck in though, can you please tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I love people and I love stories. And, I love helping people tell their stories. I also love connecting people who will benefit from knowing each other. Most of my career has focussed on helping individuals with their careers, education, professional development and/or their businesses.

When the Coronavirus hit, I, like so many others, was forced to pivot (don’t you just love all the 2020 buzz words?). After many years of working for someone else, I decided it was time to back myself and start doing what I always said I’d do “one day”. I founded Communicate U and now work with job seekers, professionals and entrepreneurs helping them understand, position, communicate and amplify their personal or professional brand.

I am also a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunty and friend. I love travelling and exploring the world, but of course, at the moment our adventures are a bit limited!

karen thompson

I LOVE the work that you do with your business Communicate U around assisting your clients to position and communicate their brand and stand out. What do you think so often gets in the way of people selling themselves with confidence?

That little voice in our head is what gets in our way (you know the one that is reading this saying, “what little voice?”).  That little voice that knows all our secrets, our fears and insecurities.

The other thing that gets in the way is the mirror. When we stand naked in front of the mirror, we see only our flaws.  We see ourselves in a totally different way than the rest of the world does. Many are surprised to discover that most of those super confident, dynamic, inspiring people we see around us have the same issues as we do. They too struggle with the little voice and the mirror but they feel the fear and do it anyway. Whilst it’s easy for us to compare ourselves with others, we really need to compare ourselves with our self. It’s all about me, myself and I. No one else.

What advice do you have for people when it comes to creating their personal brand? What are the key ingredients for success?

Everyone has a personal brand whether they like it or not.

We all know, and usually love, those people who are always happy and positive. We also know those that are constantly late, or always complaining, or who drain our energy with their negativity. Those traits are part of their personal brand.  Have you ever considered what are you known for? Or even what do you want to be known for?

The most important ingredient in your personal brand is authenticity. You have to be yourself. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “everyone else is taken”.  How well do you know yourself? Your values, your passions, your likes and dislikes, the causes close to your heart. Many people have never stopped and given themselves time to think about that. Personal branding starts with understanding who you are at your core. If you like what you discover, great. If not, you can consciously develop yourself into the person you want to be.

michelle and karen govt house

You are very much a connector, yet for many women the thought of networking makes their palms instantly sweat! What advice do you have around why networking is so important for career success, and also the best ways to do it in a virtual world?

Many people think of networking as a bunch of strangers in a room who are all trying to sell you something. In reality, building your network is about meeting people and listening to their stories. It is about getting to know people on more than just a superficial level and finding common ground. Sure, you’re not going to be best buddies with everyone, but you will find people that you want to connect with.

Great networkers understand that success is about giving.

I always recommend building an item bank, a virtual repository full of books, articles, podcasts, favourite TED talks, coffee shop and restaurant recommendations. When conversations take you to places where you can add value, follow up with emails or messages sharing information with your new connection. They will appreciate it and it will make you more memorable.

The virtual world has actually given us the ability to make more, and deeper connections. I love the fact that I can (or at least could) travel around the world vicariously with friends via Facebook and I can see what my business associates are up to with their LinkedIn updates. I also love that these platforms tell me every day who is celebrating a birthday. It’s a great prompt to send your best wishes and let people know you are thinking of them.

Many years ago, I wrote a magazine article on networking, and said the best time to build your network is before you need it. I interviewed a senior manager who said she wished she had known about the importance of networking earlier in her career. Whilst many of her colleagues were out at lunches or having conversations at the water cooler, getting to know key people, she was head down beavering away because she thought hard work would guarantee career success. Later in life, she realised that her colleagues who had been networking were given a variety of opportunities that she hadn’t known about because she was too busy working!

Networking is about who you know, and more importantly, who knows you.

murdoch alumni

With everything that has happened in the world this year, there may be people reading this interview feeling like they are completely stuck, or feeling a sense of helplessness and that they just don’t know what to do next from a career perspective. What advice do you have for them?

Breathe. Relax. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Give yourself time to think. As well as making people focus on what is really important – health, family, friendships, love – this global pandemic has shown us that we can adapt and work differently.  Ditch the old ways of thinking about jobs. Don’t wait for a job ad to appear on Seek, apply for it and cross your fingers, actually GO OUT and get it!

One of my favourite quotes is from Alice in Wonderland, when Alice comes to a fork in the road and sees the Cheshire Cat in the tree.

She asks him, “Which road should I take?”.

He asked, “Where do you want to go?”

Alice said, “I don’t know”.

“Then”, said the cat, “it doesn’t really matter”.

Think about what makes you happy when it comes to work. Look back at the roles you have held previously. Grab a piece of paper or a spreadsheet if you are so inclined and create some columns. Put in headings like: company, job title, what I loved, what I hated, and what I didn’t mind.  Go through each of your jobs and think about the various elements of that role. It could be the duties, your manager, your colleagues, the location, the industry, the hours, the socialising, even the colour of the walls. Let your head go and have fun. Then later, come back and analyse what you have written.

This is the first step in deciding what you want your future to look like, and what you don’t.

Have you ever experienced Imposter Syndrome or a time where you have felt like you weren’t good enough, smart enough, experienced enough etc? How did you deal with this and what advice would you have for other women who struggle with self-doubt and low confidence?

I have experienced Imposter Syndrome many times! In one particular case, I was asked by my university alumni office to be part of a panel discussion on corporate social responsibility which was being filmed for television. I said yes but when I saw my fellow panellists I wanted to turn around and run away – two were members of State Parliament and the other was a local mayor. Three highly experienced, well-spoken politicians and me! Funnily enough, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately researching my family tree and discovered I had ancestors and relatives who were in parliament, including a British Prime Minister. Had I known that then, maybe my confidence would have been boosted. As it was, I embraced the fear, focussed and by all accounts did a good job.

My favourite piece of advice is “be brave for five minutes longer” (thanks for this tip Todd Sampson). Don’t try and take on the world all at once. Focus on one thing at a time. Remember that most of us are stronger and more capable than we give ourselves credit for. Surround yourself with positive people who support you. And, don’t be afraid of knockbacks and failures. They provide valuable lessons and help shape our future.

meeting of the minds

The Eating your cake too methodology talks a lot about getting the f*ck out of your own head and your own way. Can you tell us about a time where YOU were the one getting in your own way, how did you realise it and what did you do about it?

I have had some health challenges in the last few years including major ankle surgery which put me in a wheelchair for three months and off work for nearly five months. A couple of years later I had heart arrhythmia issues which put me off work for a year. There were some scary moments and whilst I put on a brave (and always smiling) face, there were also tears. I was in and out of hospital and my future was uncertain. I lost a lot of confidence. I was frustrated that the life I had planned seemed to be disappearing before my eyes.  I didn’t know when, or if, I would get back to work and my career has always been a big part of my identity. I had, “why me?” moments but they turned into “why not me? I’m strong. I can handle this”.

I remember one day, sitting there thinking, I need to take back my power. I need to be in control of my future (well, as in control as possible). I need to reframe what work and success mean to me. And that’s what I’ve done. I have had plenty of lessons in resilience and I’m now using these lessons in the work I’m doing with my clients.

What do you think the top 3 skills are that women need to have in a professional sense to be successful?

I think the number one skill is communication.  It is vital to be able to communicate effectively in your career and in life.

Another essential skill is relationship building which ties in well with communication.  We don’t want our journey through life to be a solo one.  Build a strong network of friends, colleagues and associates. Nourish those relationships and they will help ensure your career and life is rewarding.

And finally, resilience. Life can be hard. Life is often unfair. Shit happens! We won’t always get what we want, and our life won’t always run smoothly.  We need to be able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and say, “Next!”

What do you think often prevents women from asking for what they want? 

I think thousands of years of conditioning is what often prevents women from asking for what they want. I have been in the workforce for 40 years (geez, that’s scary) and I have seen monumental changes but there are still so many gaps, so many biases.

When I was 17 my aunt gave me a copy of Dr Wayne Dwyer’s book, “Pulling Your Own Strings”. That had a powerful impact on my life.

Read, listen to podcasts, watch TED talks. Don’t let anyone else have control of your life.

My advice to the EYCT community – go to Spotify or YouTube, turn your speakers up as loud as they will go and play “I am Woman” by Helen Reddy (1971), whilst doing some of Amy Cuddy’s famous power poses. Enjoy!

Thank you again Karen for sharing such practical and helpful advice with us!

For each person reading this article I guarantee you there is at least one thing you can take and implement from it straight away to help yourself and your career.

Now, what are you going to take action on? 

If you want to get in touch with Karen, you can check out her website here.