How to Win from the Start :by David Royston-Lee

The book is described as “your number one career guide”, and essentially it aims to put readers in the most positive frame of mind in planning their careers and thinking of which jobs they should apply for in order to be successful. It is 128 pages long, with plenty of white space for notes, occasional cartoons and a generous lay-out, so that it is easy to take in the book as a whole fairly quickly.David Royston-Lee has adopted a fairly informal and chatty style, and he takes readers through a chain of thought, encouraging them to think of career planning as a process, to follow up certain approaches and to avoid blind alleys. He offers a dozen exercises and charts for readers to use in thinking about themselves and their environment.

In particular, the author advocates a three-question approach, arguing that readers need first to identify who they are, then where they are going, before finally how they are going to get there. These questions form the main sections of the book, and they are progressively shorter, as David Royston-Lee clearly believes that young people planning their careers need first to clarify what sort of person they are and what they fundamentally like and want, before going on to identify any specific job.

He is a business psychologist who has held senior positions in major companies, and he is therefore well experienced in the field that he covers.

In evaluating the usefulness of the book, I must acknowledge that I have not tried it out on any of its target readerships, and although I have interviewed thousands of people over the years, I am not a business psychologist. So please take my observations with a pinch of salt, and if any Webmag reader from the groups which the book targets would like to write a second review, please get in touch.

In my opinion the book would be useful to two main groups of readers. The first consists of students in the latter years at school, or in higher education, or young adults entering the job market. In particular it is suitable to people who want to plan careers and see themselves as aiming high, as the title implies. They will find it an easy read, and will be able to pick and choose the exercises they think will suit them best. I think that this group will find the book of real value and it will help them get their heads round the daunting task of thinking which field to work in.

Teachers advising students on career planning form the second group. The ideas in the book – such as thinking about oneself, one’s characteristics, likes, skills, values etc. – are important to anyone entering the job market, but there will be a sizeable percentage who would find it difficult to cope with the book on their own. (An unhappily high number of young people are functionally illiterate on leaving school.) By using sections of the book, though, teachers may well help students in this category to think about the questions the book poses.

For the readership of the Webmag, who largely work with children and young people who face a range of problems, such as disabilities, family and social difficulties and educational underfunctioning, it may well be necessary to reframe the contents of the book. The examples given all assume that the readers are going for top jobs. For young people at the bottom of the social heap the question is often whether they can get any sort of job, and whether they can hold it down if they get one. A lot of the jobs on offer may well be unpleasant or boring, with few prospects. For these young people, developing the motivation to work, the right attitude to be a member of a team of workers and the ability to cope with bosses are all important if they are to be able to cope with very basic jobs.

The book needs to be digested and reframed by adults for these young people. Indeed, a challenge for David Royston-Lee could be to devise a twin volume aimed specifically at this end of the job market.

Finally, two or three comments on the way the book is presented. I felt that, in an attempt to be chatty, the book became rather longer than it needed to be, and I do not think it would have lost impact if it were, say, 25% shorter. It is littered with words in bold; some of them are important, but quite a number are not, and I found this distracting and unhelpful, as if someone speaking to you shouted occasional words, and it undermines the system of subheading, which is not so heavily marked. I also found that the flow of argument meant that if I lost my place and came back to the book I had difficulty understanding the text without going back to pick up the thread.

One final point: I think that in urging readers to think about themselves and their environment it was an omission not to include a section on what they thought other people’s expectations of them were. Family members may expect them to work in the family firm or in jobs like their parents’ or siblings’. They may expect the readers to aim high – or not to get above the station. Friends may also exert pressures. In short, the expectations of those close to us can be encouraging, but can also be limiting or misplaced. In planning careers it is worth being aware of these expectations and thinking clearly how to proceed, whether one conforms to them or rebels.

However, if you are wanting to have advice on planning your career, do not let these criticisms put you off. The book is a lively read and if its challenging questions make young people think, it will have achieved its aim and they are more likely to have a rewarding career.

Royston-Lee, David (2010) How to Win from the Start

Artesian Publishing LLP

ISBN 978 – 0 9551164 – 3 – 8

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