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SPARKIN is an executive recruitment agency with a difference. We care more about your optimum fit than about making a placement! We are focused on aiding and abetting your career progression and optimization. Our primary target audience is strategic planners of all persuasion. We work with allies in key centers in the United States and around the globe. Our experience is based around the importance of relationships and becoming an expert at building them and through them attaining personal and career goals.

Dealing With Self-Doubt

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will’ (Suzy Kassem)

In an average week I will talk with strategists who, whilst they excel at what they do, have an on-going struggle with confidence in either the value or quality their delivers, or both. Having high standards and pursuing constant improvement is to be applauded. However, in the pursuit of excellence there can be a of perspective about ones ability. In the worst cases over time, one-off doubts can become something more.

 ‘Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.’ (William Shakespeare)

Clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen defines imposter syndrome (IMS) as

“a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” Or, at the very least, a feeling of not being worthy.

A range of studies suggest that this is a fairly commonly experienced phenomenon, some suggest as many as 70% of individuals experience IMS at some stage of their career.

Clearly there is a difference between doubting oneself from time to time or lacking confidence versus a psychological phenomenon that arises from an incorrect assessment of ones’ abilities compared to peers. A lack of confidence that exists despite a range of academic and professional accomplishments that illustrate ability and effectiveness. Is this you?

Some of the typical symptoms highlighted by Business Insider:

Focusing on what’s wrong versus what’s wrong versus what’s right; Thinking it’s too easy/anyone can do it; Thinking it has to be difficult to be worthwhile; Believing that what you’re doing is never enough.

If you’re unsure take the test below:

In her article on ‘self-doubt and the confidence spectrum, Lee Lin Yang emphasizes scenarios in which the maximum feelings of self-doubt typically occur, both when an individual uses non-core skills and when working with individuals with greater experience or authority. Whilst the stakes are higher in both scenarios IMS at least in worst case scenarios leads to a lack of confidence which transcends all tasks and interaction, a cloud of uncertainty pervades. “The ensuing self-doubt leads either to avoidance, fear of failure, or it leads to procrastination.” (Leon Seltzer, 2017) It becomes a tightening straight-jacket that prevents an individual achieving that which their talent deserves.

Steps to Understand and Redress the Impact of Impostor Syndrome

Draw a line in the sand – Understand that many others in positions of authority feel the way you do. Consciously decide your narrative is going to change and you are going to make a case in your own mind, for the positive impact you make versus the impact you don’t make! 

Self-Awareness/The Questioning Antidote – Examine your self-doubt and understand what your ‘self-critic’ is specifically critiquing with a view to trying to objectively tackle it. Ask yourself, is the critique fair? And…Why am I doubting myself? Is it the comments of others? Because of something that happened, or didn’t? Because of feedback? Certain situations? 

Performance Metrics/Information Analysis – Is your internal commentary focusing on a specific performance metric? To improve your confidence levels, you need something specific to address. Have this and you will feel you are not addressing an amorphous monster but a tangible target. Are you doubting your: Technical ability, (or part of it) your social skills, (perhaps worse in different contexts), your ability to deliver a desired result. Bottom line, establish mutually agreed performance metrics with your boss, as these are clear indicators as to your actual effectiveness versus how you feel you’re performing.

Learning versus Performance Mindset  ie) Making mistakes is a basis for improvement not self- immolation! And If you didn’t perform to your own standards did you really do as badly as you’d expected (Kim Watson, MD)

Coping Mechanisms/External Support and Validation – Emphasize feedback from others. Seekout colleagues and/or peers to validate who you really are rather than who in your weaker moments you think you are.

Play to your strengths – There will be times when you experience greater degrees of self-doubt than others. When you feel more vulnerable, aim to default to areas of greatest expertise and experience. Protect yourself from downside impact to your confidence. Building your confidence levels will be an iterative process.

Embrace fear – Easier said than done! Understand that your inner critics’ job is to keep you on the straight and narrow. But remind yourself that very often, the straight and narrow is not enough!

For more context and direction on addressing IMS, please click on the attached link:

If anyone is struggling, please contact me and at the very least, I promise to be a good listener.

Confronting Ageism

Age discrimination is real and ingrained in certain industries, such as advertising. That said, when rejection occurs, we shouldn’t assume it’s just about our age.

A regular conversation with individuals feeling frustrated in their search for their next career challenge   “Stuart, I’m just not getting considered. I’m pretty sure this is an age thing!” “They said I have too much experience!” What should I do?” “What can I do?”

Age Discrimination Defined:

‘Treating an applicant or an employee less favorably because of his or her age.’  (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

Some truths:

In certain industries, such as advertising, it’s endemic.

We are all capable of discrimination and being discriminated against. Is it legal? No. Is it right. No. Is it a reality. Yes.

We discriminate consciously and subconsciously.

Age related discrimination is something we will ‘all’ experience, whether we know it or not.

The older we get and the more experience we have, the more we tend to discriminate/Not have an open mind.

In person age related discrimination may well be greater as age related stereotypes are reinforced – Some people look older than they are

Is what you’re facing actually discrimination based on age?

Be sure that you are not being considered because of your age. It’s conceivable there is another candidate that is better qualified. The classic justification for age-related discrimination is often related to desired experience levels.  Too much – ‘Old-age’ discrimination); Too little -(‘young-age’ discrimination) Although of course, you can be an older person and simply not have the required experience.

Age based discrimination rejects what?

Retention and winning of business – The employer believes that relative to other candidates, that you/your experience will be less effective in either retaining or building on existing client business.

Culture – The employer believes that your over or under experience will adversely effect interpersonal dynamics of the existing team and/or culture. I.e. The feeling is that you will on some level be disruptive.

If you are confident of discrimination (legal recourse aside) what can you do?

1. Ensure you are presenting your case optimally – Be sure you are communicating the value you would actually deliver versus the ‘perceived value.’ This said, understand that some potential employers (and clients) have in their mind a belief that a certain age is ‘not for us.’ The reality is:

2. In person meetings are key – If you really are someone that has energy and experience and an ego in check, you may just be the person that will make the previously ‘age’ biased would-be employer reconsider. Why?

3. Money talks – If anyone can understand your combination of experience and energy (versus the perception of someone at your age) and they are focused on building business first, you have a decent opportunity of being hired.

Employer/Hiring Perspective

All employers want to hire in the most time/cost effective way the best individuals needed to build their business. The reality of cost and time pressures means that in hiring candidates, decisions will be made very often to quickly hire capable versus the optimal candidate.

All employers that are building teams, need a range of employees but who they need to hire in terms of experience will depend as much on the existing employee and client mix they have and how they feel this aligns. They may have plenty of ‘you’ already! So, you need to tell a better story and make them see why you’re different to the other ‘yous’.

An Approach to Circumventing Age-Related Stereotypes and Maximizing Your Success

1. Take Responsibility  – Discrimination is real. That said, many I speak with do not take responsibility for giving themselves the best chances to actively considered.

2. Understand the business and culture of the organization where you’re are applying for a job – Very often individuals haven’t done enough homework. Obtaining a clear understanding of the hiring company, its’ culture, where it makes money now and might in the future allows you to make (or know you can’t) a compelling case that far from your age being a reason that would hold the hiring company back, you are the right person to propel them forward.

3. Be The Anti-Cliché  – Don’t live the clichés of ‘being old.’ Key, always assume (despite all your experience) you know a little less than ‘nothing’ every day. Have an open mind/Be keen to learn.

The Future

We have an ageing population which might indicate greater product/service opportunity for more mature employees. At the same time, there is a real shortage of experience which gets greater each year. And, societal obsession with youth is if not being changed, it’s being tempered and with it will the black and white perceptions of what old and young means. And, digital is no longer the domain of just the young.

For more information and articles on the subject follow the link and feel free to sign up to the ‘Narrate’ newsletter.

Miami Ad School, Parkin ‘Empathy Award’ Winner

The ability to work seemlessly with creatives or for that matter clients, (or consumers) starts with a ‘determination? and/or ability’ to effectively understand others. This ’empathetic’ gene is key for effective creative strategists. 
A Huge congratulations to Danilo Prado Alves, the newest Parkin ‘Empathy’ Award winner of $1500 (plus $500 coaching).
The award is judged by the students on the course as well as the strategists that teach the course; (Not the school; Not me)
It was also a pleasure for me to sit down with each of the other fifteen students participating in the Bootcamp.
#MiamiAdSchool#ParkinPrizeWinner#Empathy#AccountPlanningBootcamp#LifeSkills#EmotionalIntelligence#DerekParkinAward#Winner#CareerOptimisation#Advertising#SparkinCoaching#Careers#KnowYourAudience#ActionNotWords#ConnectWithPeople#BetterLife #LifeSkills #SparkinSearch#CreativeStrategy#AccountPlanning#Diversity#Meritocracy#Inclusive

Poor Mental Health Can Afflict Anyone

Almost like being fired at some stage of you career is a ‘right of passage,’ experiencing excessive stress is also something most of us face. We need to collectively support those at this stage. Why?     

Because it could easily be you. However calm your life journey is, if placed under sustained and excessive stress, ‘you’ may well at some stage experience adverse mental health and in the worst cases, breakdown.

One mid-level creative strategist I spoke with recently, who works for a large advertising agency, described both a lack of organizational preparedness for her hiring or management support once she’d been hired. The irony is that this is someone that is extremely capable. As she explained, after starting her job she quickly became trusted to take on extra work and responsibility, initially welcoming it but then after it happened a number of times, engulfing her initial job description but with no additional support, she felt increasingly helpless. She had tried to communicate but no one appeared to be listening. The effect was someone with no prior ‘mental’ health issues, becoming anxious, seriously starting to doubt themselves, struggling to get their work done each day. This is far from uncommon.

Positive mental health is defined as ‘Coping with normal stresses and having psychological well-being.’ Fair enough, but what are normal stresses? And, what is psychological well-being? A simple answer might be that whatever your challenges, if you feel in control, even though under pressure, you are functioning effectively and your behavior is rational.

A 2018 Forbes Survey reported that 48% of interviewees experienced mental health problems. While another survey highlighting the effects of sustained mental stress, found that 29% of employees had shouted at their cohorts because of stress! (Tinypulse, 2016).

The American Institute of Stress cited the main causes of stress in the workplace listed: 46% workload, 28% people issues, 20% work/life balance and 6% lack of job security. Other factors certainly causing extreme frustration included: Low wages, lack of personal development and having no say/not being listened to and worse, being mistreated.

I should state, I am ‘not’ a mental health expert but what lead me to write this article is regular conversations with extremely stressed individuals, either desperate to make their current situations better if not to completely escape them. I have also experienced what I am writing about remembering as a young man, having after months of intense pressure at work walking out of my office, teary eyed. I’m still embarrassed as I think about this! But, people shouldn’t be!

On what appears to be ever increasing pressure on businesses and employees, what seems immediately evident is this: As an employee, if you’ve given management and/or HR repeated opportunity to understand your situation and nothing has changed, why put up with this? If those with the authority and ability to change things haven’t, even when understanding your situation, then either they can’t or don’t want to do anything differently and you must draw your own conclusions. Why would you remain an employee in an agency where you are treated this way?

The corporate answer to mental health is, ‘it’s complex’ and to be fair, it is. There are often many factors in play. Then again if you want to set individuals up to be the best they can be for themselves and the agency, it isn’t complex at all! It’s a matter of priorities and most important, effective communication and resource deployment. This is down to management.

Critically, whatever the cause of high stress levels, if not checked the positive psychology of individuals becomes vulnerable to feelings of failure in absolute or relative terms.

How to stay ahead of the Curve – Positive Mental Heath – Some Steps We Can All Take

At Work

1.    ‘Never’ feel trapped. However much the money is needed, or you fear not getting another job, or fear the recriminations from leaving the job or how bad leaving might look on your resume, ‘if the stress level in your work situation is out of control’ and having spoken to others (boss/HR/mentor/peers) things are not changing, then understand, there are other jobs! Your psychology is number one priority. Be prepared to walk.

2.    Talk – Stay ahead of the stress – Many of those I talk with, simply want to be heard. More important, aim to communicate with those that have the wherewithal to redress the causes of your stress. Let your boss know what’s happening/how you’re feeling – Many of us don’t do this either because this communicates weakness and perhaps a sense of failure, or because you don’t think anything will change – The realty is, nothing can change if those with the authority don’t know what you’re going through.

3.    Let someone else know – If you can’t communicate with you boss, then find a mentor, someone you can trust, that can atleast listen.

4.    Understand your areas of vulnerability – For instance you’re stressed by certain work situations or feel relatively weaker in a skill area. Talking this through is a key step to developing coping mechanisms and reducing stress.

5.    Are you being fair with yourself – So much of the causes of stress relate to our own standards and expectations, our perceived feelings that we are either simply failing or more insidious, we are failing relative to are peers.’ The best antidote to this is to understand that it’s extremely difficult to have a ‘fair’ like-for-like comparison with your peers. So, the best course is to avoid the comparisons. I know, easier said than done.

6.    Set yourself up to succeed – Much of the cause of work-related stress is related to helplessness. So, break your work down and set yourself discrete goals that can be achieved. It’s not the whole job, but feeling you are progressing on some level is key.

7.    Goal Setting – If the goals are causing the angst, let those that need to know why they will be difficult to achieve.

Away From Work

1.    Non-work mentor – Talking with someone that is not vested in your workplace, that can listen to you without an agenda. If nothing else, this an opportunity to be actively heard.

2.    Exploratory meetings – There’s nothing worse than feeling trapped and undervalued. Having exploratory meetings with other potential employers will often reveal both that you’re not trapped in your current role and that your expertise and experience is valued in the marketplace. If nothing else you will feel more confident at work knowing you could work elsewhere.

3.    De-Stress – If you’re working crazy hours often you can’t find time, but whether burning up emotional energy on the treadmill or releasing safety valves via tai chi, the safety valve needs to be released!

4.    The power of the ‘all absorbing’ – Pursue an interest/s that completely absorbs your mind so freeing it from thinking about work. Having a ‘real break’ is a key ingredient in the positive mental health of those that seem to be able to compartmentalize different areas of their lives. As a priority, find what allows you to switch off.

What woud you suggest as the one key thing to do in managing or mitigating the effects of stress?

For more detail on this topic –

Your Dance. But Which One?

‘Life is the dancer and you are the dance.’ (Eckhart Tolle)

So will it be the funeral March, the salsa or the samba?

Your life, Your choice.

Moral of story, know to what end you’re working for.

If it’s the joy of the job; Great If it’s hard work but it helps you climb the ladder; Fine.

If it’s torturous work and taking you no-where, get out. As even if it’s all for the family, in this context you will suffer and so will they.


Are you a good listener?

Are you a good listener? For communication to even be functional, a number of steps are required. Effective listening is one of them yet an underrated skill as where in the curriculum is it taught yet,

“Every human being needs to listen consistently in order to live fully.” (J. Treasure).

Yet, even if you are an ‘all-star’ listener, remember what you’re hearing has everything to do with what ‘you’ may have already communicated.

So, when you are not hearing the response you want from others, don’t make your first act to question them better, take responsibility and perhaps listen with the context in mind and with greater focus.

On Getting Your Ideal Next Job

Some thoughts resonate more than others from conversations with account planners/creative strategists.
Don’t wait for others to bring you a job – Know what you want from your next job and why you want or need it, learning/growth opportunity to the fore of your calculus.
Don’t take any job or a job for the wrong reasons
– You can never outrun the frying pan! If things don’t work out where you are, stop, reflect, conceive a plan and then have a concrete reasoning for the next job you accept.
Know why you will be a success in the new job
– If you don’t know with some confidence why you should better still will succeed, don’t pursue the job.
Know why you could fail in the new job
– Perhaps the culture gives you pause for thought or your potential new boss? Key is to have mandatory things aspects of the job you’re considering , such as an employer that values the role of strategy! Or perhaps a client known for buying great work, or a place with high quality creative output. Know what’s key for you and where the trade-offs are.
Know who can help make you a success as well as who could prevent it
– Meet those people the interviewing agency/consultancy want you to meet   ; Also, ask to meet anyone else you feel that our key to your success and know having met them you are making a truly informed decision.
Know that you never have enough information about your future job
– The clients you will be working with, the personalities of all key stakeholders, the hidden skeletons relating to the relationship with the client. You can never ask enough questions, so ask away. And even when you ask all the questions, you will never have perfect information as things constantly change, but you should still ask away!
Accept change as an inevitable factor and that it is your choice to accept and embrace it or to try and obstruct it. If the latter approach, ensure your stance is on the side of current if not future revenue.

2018 VCU Parkin ‘Empathy’ Award Winner

The ability to understand someone else’s perspective doesn’t necessarily make you the smartest or the nicest person in the room (although empathetic souls are usually high on both counts) but empathy is an increasingly important skill to have particularly for a strategic planner, but actually for anyone!
A huge congratulations to Chorong Kim, this years VCU winner of the Parkin ‘Empathy Award,’ which goes to the most empathetic MSc Branding graduate. The award is judged by the students on the course as well as the strategists that teach the course; (Not the school; Not SPARKIN)
It was also a great pleasure to have lunch with Chorong and two other graduates, who always inspire me.

#VCUParkinPrizeWinner #Empathy #LifeSkills #EmotionalIntelligence #UberTeamPlayer #ParticipantsDecide #DerekParkinAward #Winner #Passionate #CareerOptimisation #Advertising #SparkinCoaching #Careers #KnowYourAudience #ConnectWithPeople #BetterLife #SparkinSearch #CreativeStrategy #AccountPlanning #StrategicRelationships #CoreSkills #Diversity #Inclusive


20th Parkin Account Planning Award Winner

Huge congratulations to Tasha Palaez, the 20th Parkin Award winner of $1500 (plus $500 coaching).
The award goes to the most empathetic account planning graduate. The award is judged by the students on the course as well as the strategists that teach the course; (Not the school; Not me)

Why Personal Branding Is Key For You

Optimizing career opportunities –

What is a brand if not something that ‘solves a problem’ you have or in some way helps you to take a step toward the life that you want? Above all else the key words we all want to experience with any product or service we acquire are, ‘rely on.’ And, great brands are the most reliable and have great reputations.

In the world of entertainment, you can rely on the ‘The Rolling Stones’ to rock your world. Similarly in the sporting world, Roger Federer can be relied on to provide a tennis masterclass. In turn, ‘The Stones’ and ‘Federer’s reputations are leveraged by food, cosmetics, apparel and beverage companies, amongst others, to amplify the reputations of those company’s products and services.

Despite people obviously acting as brands, some in the advertising world are queasy about the idea of ordinary individuals ‘acting’ to promote themselves believing it to be borderline narcissism. Business and brands products don’t rely on word of mouth and actively shout, ‘look what we have,’ ‘consider us,’ ‘we can help you.’ We don’t think of this as narcissistic as those entities are providing something that might have value to others. And this is key. Making others aware of a skill you have that can help them, is not seeking attention for attentions sake, which is narcisscim.

Key Considerations for You Thinking Like a Brand

1. Seek Greater Recognition – Just because people (or products or services) are not famous for doing something well, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t act with the intent of achieving greater recognition. That’s simply good business!

2. Great Work Alone Is Not Enough – Great brands deliver compelling solutions but they don’t rely purely on third party recommendation – Doing great work should speak for itself. In theory great products or services should dominate; Word of mouth should be enough but smart companies don’t rely on it, and nor should you.

3. Tell Your Story – Long term career management is today atypical – As companies become progressively more transactional in their operations, in their hiring and firing of talent, so they become less focused on the development of your career. Unless you are fortunate to have a great boss or engaged HR team, it becomes imperative, for you to tell your story/ (as well as doing a great job)

4. Provide a differentiated offering – Telling a story is important, but telling one that showcases your ’adding value’ is key! Highlight what differentiates your expertise. Do something brilliantly and ideally something creative and unique.

5. Be consistent – In all matters relating to the delivery, aim to provide a consistency of service or product quality, whether providing the service as an employee or a business.

6. Non- believers of the ‘Personal Brand.’ – If you don’t believe you might benefit from thinking and building your brand, think instead about your reputation with others.

Reputation Management

A great reputation with others might be the difference between you getting or not getting an amazing career opportunity you’ve always wanted, so it’s key that you have a good one!

1 Understand the reputation you have and why you have it – Do you have a great reputation only because of what you do and those that have experienced it? Or,

2. Is your reputation stellar because of third party recommendation, because of those that have been told what you’ve done whilst not having experienced your product or service directly?

3. Shock News/Double whammy – Doing a great job combined with effective promotion is the double whammy that leads to an enhanced reputation. Companies build brands and businesses by doing both!

4. Great reputations lead to more work and more opportunities – If you can handle the fact that you have a reputation to manage, you may well be close to navigating the short stroll to acting like a brand.

For more reading on this subject check out the latest ‘Narrate’ –