In Conversation with: Phiona Martin

I am Phiona Martin I am a registered Industrial Psychologist with a special interest in Career, Talent and Leadership Development. My key work experience has been within the consulting and education environment. As a consultant, I applied psychological principles and tools to design and execute Leadership Development programs for mid to senior managers within the corporate sector. In the education space, I have developed workshops aimed at empowering students to make informed career choices and coached graduates from across 42 African countries, to transition into the world of work. I am Zimbabwean but based in South Africa with my family.

How did you get into career coaching?

I have always been passionate about career development and during my psychology training I worked a lot in the corporate sector doing leadership and career development interventions for mid to senior managers and that solidified my passion and interest. I also have a focus on graduates transitioning to the world of work as this is an area that I feel is under-served by both universities and employers.

What made you want to be a psychologist?

Career development cannot be divorced from what I like to call a person’s V.I.P.S – which are values, interests, personality and skills (aptitudes). These are all psychological principles and I feel a deep understanding and training in these constructs enhances my capabilities to help individuals. I also like dealing with work that involves abstract thinking, using theories and frameworks.

If you weren’t a career coach what would you be doing?

Great question, my mantra is “If you ask me what I do for a living and what I do for fun – you will get the same answer” and those who know me know that my career is my calling, I can’t imagine doing anything else. However, apparently people with my personality profile are also well suited to do computer programming – so who knows maybe I may have been doing that. 🙂

What aspects would you say are essential for a successful career?

Hard work, professionalism, integrity and of course grace. Those for me, are the pillars!

What words of motivation would you say to someone struggling to find work, despite their best efforts?

I would say try and build skills another way in the meantime, through volunteering, job shadowing or running a small entrepreneurial project. In very difficult economic conditions, we do not always have the luxury of choice and sometimes a job that is not your ideal can be a stepping stone to furthering your career goals. I would also say continue to persist as the job searching is gruelling and disheartening sometimes, so hanging around with positive people as well as speaking to other job seekers and sharing experiences also helps. I would also encourage the job seeker to review their job search strategies as well as application documents as they may at times be the issue.

If you could give something up for a year what would it be and why?

I would say TV. It wastes a lot of time and I could do more productive things in the time I watch TV, though to be honest I do not have too much time for it these days. 

What is your view on self-employed / entrepreneurship and should more people be going that direction?

With rife unemployment, entrepreneurship is often the best means to earn a living. I, however, think that entrepreneurship is a very difficult road and it is many times too glamourised. Everyone likes the idea of being their own boss, dictating their own work etc, but to make that happen requires a different set of skills than those required in employment. There is a lot of unglamorous experiences entrepreneurs face behind the scenes which are not spoken about as much as the glamorous side. If high unemployment (especially for youth) was not an issue, I think entrepreneurship is a path that is not necessarily suited or desirable to everyone. I, however, think most people can be skilled to run an entrepreneurial venture, at the very least, at a rudimentary level.

Given the resources and opportunity, what one dream would you like to bring to life?

I would love to run career guidance programs for high school learners, tertiary students and entry level professionals – particularly those who do not have access to these services.

In your down time what do you get up to?

Downtime? What is that? Hahaha

What is the one thing you can’t live without?

On a superficial level I would say internet connection. On a deeper level, God and my family.

How do you stay motivated when are going through low moments in your life?

The testimonials that I receive from people help to keep me going work-wise. On a personal and fundamental level, prayer and reading God’s word. 

Who are the rocks in your life?

My family, my close friends and some members of my church community.

In your view how can one strike a work /life balance and just how important is it to one’s well-being?

Work life balance is probably the most documented and written about topic in Organisational Psychology because it’s something many people struggle with and perhaps seldom achieve. The one piece of advice I would give is be committed to your employer but be also committed to yourself and your wellbeing. You need to be selfish and protect your personal space from your work life. It’s not always easy as some workplaces victimise individuals who are firm about boundaries between work and life. For example – if your boss constantly emails or WhatsApp’s you after hours expecting you to deliver tasks while you are at home or over the weekend; how do you avoid that without aggravating the situation. My advice is to have those boundaries from the onset – I feel most reasonable employers learn to respect boundaries if you are firm right from the beginning.

Describe a typical day in your life.

I often wake up at 4.30am and pray and read my bible first. I must have a good cup of coffee to start my day. I then I normally attend to my personal development activities, this often includes writing for my blog, reading articles and curating content. I also use the 2-hour head start to respond to my ever-exploding inbox from messages I get through LinkedIn and other platforms. So, do not worry if I take a bit long to respond to messages, I always eventually get to them.  I then get ready for my day job and drop my kids at school. After work, it’s my kids’ routine and because I wake up early I try to go to bed early too. Next day – repeat!

What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?

Wow, this is a hard one, but I would say “God first”.

What is the best piece of advice you can offer someone struggling to get started or stuck in their career?

Careers do not always have a linear and straightforward path. They often have detours as well as ups and downs, ask any successful career person. So, where you are now should not define the rest of your career. 

How would you like to be remembered?

That in everything that I did for myself, there was benefit for others.

Social media

Twitter: @MsPhiona



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