GUEST BLOG: How to be confident in the workplace

13/02/18

Entrepreneur and Ex-Apprentice star Claire Young shares her advice on how to have a confident voice in the workplace.

Claire Young was made famous by her role as the highly driven runner up on series four of The Apprentice where she was dubbed a 'Rottweiler' by Lord Sugar for her tenacious approach in the boardroom and drive not to quit. She founded 'School Speakers' the UK's. No 1 speaking agency working with schools, colleges and universities across the world.

Have you always been confident?

I am definitely a product of my home and school environments. My parents taught me from an early age that anything was possible with hard work and installed a strong work ethic. Our headmistress pushed us to be the best versions of ourselves and that there were no barriers to success. We were encouraged to have the confidence to be ourselves and have the courage to always speak up. I have been nicknamed a motormouth, chatterbox and big gob but ironically, I didn't actually start talking until I was 4 years old!

Tell us a little about your career path?

Twenty years ago I dropped out of studying medicine at university. Instinctively, I knew it wasn't right for me and I had the confidence to speak up and take action. I went on to study a different course and gained a science degree. I decided that I wanted a new challenge so applied for business jobs. After 83 applications, 76 rejections, I left university with 5 job offers. For the next ten years I worked my way up the corporate career ladder in the Health and Beauty sector. I was passionate about the industry and really do believe that you need that love for your work. You are not going to be successful in something which you are not interested in! I worked in brand and marketing for L'Oreal, sales and finance for Colgate Palmolive and Retail Buying for Superdrug. In 2008 I took a big risk and applied for The Apprentice, the rest is history! Since then I have launched my own business, am a government advisor and also work in the media as a journalist.

Why did you apply for The Apprentice?

I was bored! I was one of those people who watched the show religiously and would shout at the TV. I'm a believer that you put your money where your mouth is...if you think it, do it! The five minute application form on the BBC website changed life. The application process was 8 rounds of auditions and interviews so it was critical to speak up and be heard.

What do you need to survive The Apprentice?

You have to be able to operate on minimum sleep! I estimate that we had 5 to 6 hours maximum per night for weeks on end. You have to have absolute self belief in your abilities, good at team work and in the board room speak up! If not, people will walk all over you as a doormat and you will be fired. I famously survived five boardrooms as I did speak up for myself and I'm proud of that.

Alan Sugar famously threw you out of the boardroom for talking too much, how did you that make you feel?

That particular boardroom was brutal and I can remember him screaming at me that looking at me made him feel sick! He told me that I was a really bright business woman but I have to listen more and stop talking on. On reflection, he was right! Having the confidence to speak up is important but it's critical to consider who you are addressing, why you are doing it and when. Sometimes, the timing is key.

My ten top tips for speaking up in the work place...

1. Be prepared
Write down what you would like to say and practice saying it. Sounds basic but it works!

2. Have confidence in your ability
If you are going to speak up be have an authority in what you say.

3. Timing
There are good times and bad times, try to figure out the best time to approach someone.

4. Format
People respond differently to information delivered in different ways. For example, I know colleagues who prefer emails to face to face or likes to look over information before speaking.

5. Worse case, best case scenario
I always imagine which way a conversation could go and am prepared how to deal with both outcomes!

6. Listen
Speak up and have your ears switched on ready and waiting for their response. It's a two way street!

7. Be sensitive
Speaking up requires confidence, being assertive yet at the same time you don't need to bulldoze. Sometimes less is more.

8. Don't take things personally.
Speaking up can open up a dialogue which at times can be tricky. Remember, it's business and not to take things personally.

9. Volume
A strong voice doesn't necessarily mean a loud one. Sometimes the quietest voices have the biggest impact.

10. Do it!
The most important of all! If you never speak up then you will never know. There is only one way to find out how it will go...be confident and speak up!

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