The Australian Career Book – Career Writer of the Month

As the Award Convenor of The Australian Career Book Award – supported by the Royal Society of Arts in Australia and New Zealand it’s my privilege to interview the writers of the finalist books for Career Writer of the Month.

I started off with the same list of questions, but each interview seemed to take off with a life of its own! It looks as though when you corner creative people they won’t stay in the box for you. As a qualitative researcher I’m always looking for emerging themes, and think I can see a number bubbling up from these interviews.

Lawrence Arnold FRSA


January 2019

The Career Writer of the Month for January is Hunter Leonard, the author of Generation experience: 8 steps for mature-age business success. Hunter has a strong background in business development, and is committed to helping others set up their own operations. He is a regular presenter at seminars, and online events.

How did you go about writing the book?Hunter Leonard and a work of art

I’d written a number of previous books so had some experience in the daily ups and downs of writing. I also undertook a 40-week entrepreneur development program through five one-day workshops that I found helpful. I’d also had a number of mature-aged people in my various businesses, and indeed as clients, and felt that I’d developed some insight into their issues. There were also business models that I’d implemented that clicked with the needs of the target group of older people who were keen to stay productive. It all came together, and I think I have presented a business solution to a personal problem. This is the book I’m most proud of because of the social issue involved.

What’s the most innovative part of the book?

I think the research element of the process has claims to being innovative. For ten years my business has been surveying business owners as part of our day-to-day processes of improving what we do to help them. Finally we had some 10 000 business owner surveys to rely on! I spent two years mining this data and developing our products and services, and discovered that there were eight recurring issues that worried business owners and that kept them awake at night. I based the book on these eight issues, figuring that if new business entrants knew the issues they had to deal with they’d be better prepared. I’m a conduit for business owners in feeding this research back to the business sector, and getting it out to the wider community. I feel that by connecting with the community I’m inspiring people to consider starting their own business, and alerting them to the big issues they will have to deal with to be successful.

What was one of the writing problems you faced, and how did you solve it?

There was such a wealth of topics it was difficult to make the decision on the precise content. The eight categories set up the structure, but the volume of information still needed to be ordered and managed. My strategy was to set out a list of all of the topics I wanted to cover, and then choose a topic of the day and work on that. I wasn’t bound by any sequence, but just chose the topic I felt drawn to that day. It all got done, and finally I had 100 000 words. The editor got it down to under 50 000. We took out things like the legal aspects that I felt were better covered by others.

Is there anything you would have liked to have covered in the book, but didn’t?

The book is a step-by-step guide on the procedural aspects of business start-up, but there’s an emotional journey for the person that is enormous. While STEP 0 deals with the big decision of starting an enterprise, this just the beginning of a life-changing emotional journey. This is unfinished business for me, so I’m developing a second book based on the emotional ‘8 Steps’. While I’m writing it after Generation experience, it’s a ‘prequel’ that completes the set.

Has writing the book changed anything for you?

There were a few surprises! Firstly, being approached by The Australian Career Book Award to nominate my book, and then being on the finalist list was gratifying. I know my readers find the book useful, but having some external acknowledgement is also good. My biggest surprise was taking a call from Paris to be interviewed on this universal problem of fulfillment for people who have another life-time of contribution to make. There is also interest from Canada and the UK. There also may be a new development in Australia. I was approached by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to put in a joint tender to the Commonwealth Government to set up a program for older people to start their own businesses. This is presently under discussion … so watch this space!

December 2018

The Career Writer of the Month for December is Joanna Maxwell, the author of Rethink your career in your 40s, 50s and 60s. Joanna has a background in journalism and law, and a strong track record in career coaching – helping the people she writes for. She has a present role in age discrimination policy development with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

How did you go about writing the book?

Career Writer of the month

Lawrence Arnold & Joanna Maxwell with The  
Australian Career Book Award

I had written the book before starting my aged discrimination role with the Human Rights Commission, so I wasn’t doing my day job and then writing at midnight. However, the book ideas had built up over many years of career coaching with older clients, so I suppose it was the outcome of my day job then. There’s so much crossover with the book and my policy role now. I feel that I’ve had the practical experience of working with real people, and that I can bring that knowledge and empathy into the world of government reports and national conferences. I can see the faces behind the documents and know that I’m still working for them in a new way, and on a bigger canvas.

What are the most innovative aspects of the book?

Some of the exercises are quite creative. I developed many of them over some years of working with clients, so I have confidence they will work for a wide range of readers. The life map exercise is one that really extends readers and forces them to dig deep, and then use that thinking to get clarity.

What were some of the writing problems you faced, and how did you solve them?

Putting a lot of information in order was a challenge. My instinct was to frame it with the data, but I felt this may have appeared too technical, and would put people off. I decided on an organizing principle of a ‘career client’ developing along a pathway that was getting more enticing in the direction of travel.

At a practical level, I found using Scrivener very helpful. I could see where things were and make decisions about where to drop things in. With a background in journalism, I’d polished my craft, and done the hard yards, so came to the task with a lot of experience in writing for different audiences. This also gave me confidence in negotiating with my editor, particularly on the personal stories.  Editors probably like to streamline the narrative, and straighten the highway so the reader isn’t distracted from the message, and the stories were a point of discussion. However, as a journalist I know a good story when I see one, and I used the stories, not as back roads but as bridges to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Is there anything you would have liked to have covered in the book, but didn’t?

I was clear on my aims for the book, and disciplined in framing my views on ageism in employment. I felt there was no point in standing on the high ground pointing out errors.  My aim was to help individuals with their next career move, and if the book got wider traction with the wider society, I wanted to explain to employers, and not alienate them with an enraged rant.

Has writing the book changed anything for you?

It’s given me a springboard in advocacy, and a higher profile in what I’m doing because I get a better hearing from people. It’s opened up a whole new world. I’m working on the same issue of recognition of older workers, but from a policy point of view. I’m still the same person with the same views, but I feel that publishing the book, the support of colleagues in doing that, and the recognition from The Australian Career Book Award and the Royal Society of Arts puts me at a higher platform on the tower – so I can have a bigger impact when I dive into the debate.