What I wish I’d known before I started By Bernie Keogh, managing partner, Alternatives Elect

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After twenty years in business and now running a leading international executive search business based in Dublin, I’ve learned that opportunities arise, doors open and a path always emerges but the journey is more fulfilling and enjoyable if you are doing what you love.

This is why I admire artists of all kind & entrepreneurs so much. It takes unbelievable passion and conviction to choose the untrodden path, but their contribution to society is immense.


It’s not always the money & security

I come from a modest background and while there was a lot of love and encouragement, there was not a lot of money and I had to put myself through university. Recently, I realised that a lot of my early career decisions were born out of a desire for money and security. I followed my head and not my heart. If I was starting all over again, I wouldn’t choose money and security because, anyway, if you are starting off from a low base what do you have to lose?


I’ve no regrets because I’ve learned so much, have lived in different countries and continue to have great experiences and meet fabulous people. Frankly, no experience is wasted and there is enormous growth in adversity and challenge (even if it sucks at the time). I’m passionate about what I do and that’s what counts most – everything else will follow.


Be self-aware and confident

It sounds like a cliché but I love people and have a high degree of empathy – so naturally I thought that my EQ was high. However, when I completed my training in Henley University last year to become an executive coach, I learned that EQ is in fact more about your own degree of self-awareness (for example, understanding your impact on people and the degree to which you project your own insecurities onto them), and not just the ability to read other people’s emotions. I’ve met people in business who’ve told me they were overly aggressive in their management style or had a really negative impact on their colleagues and yet were genuinely oblivious to the fact until they got 360 feedback or coaching.  I wish I’d known before I started the importance of investing in coaching and finding mentors to support me and help give me perspective on my journey. As life gets busier professionally and personally and we juggle more, stress and tiredness can really skew our judgement.


Coaching has helped me challenge my own thinking about myself and others which has been really beneficial to my life overall. It also helps remind me that I am not God, all seeing and all-knowing. I can trust my gut, but not always my head!


Diversity Works

Now is a very exciting time to be in the talent business. Why?


Because far thinking organisations are suddenly starting to look at nerds, failed entrepreuneurs, dreamers, artists, travellers, serial learners and non-conformists and go, “hey they might help us think differently, pivot in another direction and even future-proof our business for the years ahead. They might have skills and a vision that will help us adapt, innovate or transform in the digital era.” Business is embracing diversity in a genuine way and it’s an approach that needs to be embraced.   The path doesn’t always run smoothly, diversity on the interview panel and training in unconscious bias (which we are all prone to) are essential to convert a corporate goal into a truly diverse corporate culture.


I advise my clients to interview a diverse range of candidates and a couple of wild cards to challenge them on what they think they need & to open their eyes to the profit potential in diversity – not just on gender but from a multicultural perspective, skills base, talent, thinking and ideas. That’s why we have set about building a business which can offer global talent. Ireland Inc. pitches on a world stage and it needs global talent to be successful.


It’s Personal

Technology is a great enabler especially and it’s great to live in the age of agile working, but ultimately business is relational and relationships are built on affinities, similar values and delivering a great customer experience. They are also built face to face. Years ago I realised that doing business by email was a cop out and certainly would never resolve a problem so I always prefer to pick up the phone or meet face to face. People are nicer to each other in person.


Chemistry Counts

Ultimately though, it’s always about the chemistry (between potential employer and employee that matters). If the cultural fit isn’t there it won’t work. It’s like swimming up-stream – eventually you’ll tire out and people can take a battering.


That’s why I spend a lot of time on fit – cultural, motivational and values, not just on technical skills and experience. The result of getting that right is rewarding for everyone concerned.


It’s never too late

Nowadays we live in society (albeit Western) where the opportunities to change careers or choose a different path are no longer frowned upon but actively encouraged at any stage. Pivoting or reinventing your career is possible at any age. That is why we need to embrace continuous learning in areas that interest us and to continue to build our skills throughout our careers. We never know when they might come in useful.