Shannon O'Brien

Shannon O’Brien founded Whole U. Career & Life Strategy in 2012, after working 7 years at Harvard and MIT, where she advised both graduate and undergraduate students. Previous to working in Higher Education, Shannon earned two Master’s degrees: An M.A. as a Rotary World Peace Fellow in Tokyo, Japan; and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation & Education from Harvard University. Ranked #1 Career Coach and #1 Life Coach on Yelp, she is truly invested in the growth and success of Whole U.® Students. Born in the U.S., she grew up 10 years in Europe and has traveled to 36 countries (including 6 countries in the Middle East, which was the regional focus for her graduate studies). Shannon continues to open her mind to new people, cultures – and most importantly: What is inherent in each of us.

What Are Bad Recommendations You Hear In Your Profession Or Area Of Expertise?

I think the “kiss of death” when it comes to your career . . . is not having a clear understanding of what you mean by “success.” (Otherwise, you are literally chasing NOTHING. )

In The Last Five Years, What New Belief, Behavior, Or Habit Has Most Improved Your Life?

The best habit I’ve implemented is delegating and/ or automating tasks that used to consume countless hours of my life.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

I have traveled quite a bit, and find that travel is always a worthwhile investment because it introduces us to new people and gets us out of our comfort zone.

If You Could Have A Gigantic Billboard Anywhere With Anything On It — What Would It Say And Why?

“Live a Balanced Purposeful Life.”

There's really nowhere to "get." Rather, it's all about the journey - so just try to enjoy the ride.

Shannon O’Brien

What Careers Advice Would You Give To Your 21-Year Old Self?

People are busy . . . so you likely won’t hear back after the first knock on someone’s door (metaphorically speaking) . . . so be persistent, and keep knocking.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

A florist. A carpenter. Interior designer. . . anything that beautifies our surroundings.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

Always remember: there’s really nowhere to “get.” Rather, it’s all about the journey – so just try to enjoy the ride.

Where do you see your industry in the next 5 years?

Career and life coaching has proven to be recession-proof, and now pandemic proof, and I think it will only grow.

Tell us about someone you admire and why you admire them?

I admire my parents. When you become a parent you discover a new-found respect for parenthood and how difficult it is, and yet how crucial.

What is the most common mistake you see people make when applying for a job?

Making the reader do all the “work” to try to figure out who you are, and what your value proposition is.

What is a 'hack' you have for careers or interviews that most people don't know about?

Be yourself. (Seriously, most people don’t know that, because they’re instead trying to be someone they’re NOT).

What is a useful skill someone could learn in one minute?

Breathing techniques (like alternate nostril breathing)

Can you give us your most important formatting tips?

I like to keep resume formatting simple. I think it should look modern and up-to-date, but the reader’s focus should be on your content and experience! The resume design should simply draw their attention to the content. There’s a saying in sports that if the referee did a good job, nobody talks about the referee. I think resume design is the same. If your resume design is good, then nobody’s talking about your resume design; they’re focused on the words.

Are Resume's Dead?

I am surprised that resumes are NOT dead. But I have observed that they are indeed alive and well. Resume help is the #1 most popular requested service I get. And companies and hiring managers do still want to see that document that encapsulates your work history. It is (or should be!) a good conversation starter.

Top things to AVOID putting on a resume?

Any words that are confusing, unnecessary, or do not ADD anything. . . (Think: Less is more).

How has Covid-19 changed your industry?

The pandemic has created an uptick in interest in my industry. As a career advisor, people come to me when their position has been eliminated… they are applying for a new job… or they’ve decided to make major changes in their life. With the major shifts in the economy, those events are happening at an exponential rate.

What's your favourite holiday destination?

In my 20s I would have said Ibiza, Spain… In my 30s I’d have said Bali, Indonesia. Now in my 40s, I’m keen to discover a new favourite.

What popular celebrity do you admire the most and why?

I admire Meghan Markle, because she seems thoughtful, articulate, and dedicated to causes much larger than herself.

What one thing in life do you consider to be overrated?

College degrees

What's your star sign?


What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Brioche toast with Avocado & olive oil, and apple-flavored Hint® water.