My Way: Miranda McKearney, founder director of The Reading Agency

'Let who you are come through in your interviews'
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The Independent Online

Miranda McKearney is the founder director of The Reading Agency, www.readingagency.org.uk, a charity that encourages people to read. In 2005 she was awarded an OBE for her services to libraries and education.

What did you want to be as a child?

A famous writer, which was completely unrealistic as I wasn't that good at writing. But I was very good at reading and was so obsessed that my siblings had to wave their knickers in my face to try to distract me. I'm embarrassed to say Enid Blyton was my favourite author.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

I didn't actually know, I just thought I'd do something interesting.

You studied English, history and philosophy at the University of Exeter. Was it worth it?

It wasn't vocational, but it did hone my analytical skills, and because I got a First, I immediately got job interviews, which I thought was quite extraordinary. I joined an advertising agency as a graduate trainee and worked on advertisements for dental fixatives and hairspray for men, which was quite bizarre. Although I learnt loads, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the job. I remember a focus group where consumers sat on the other side of a two-way mirror and were asked about germs. I felt we were playing on people's fears and decided to leave and, with one bound, I was free.

What happened next?

I worked in marketing for the auctioneers Bonham's and then for the Commonwealth Institute, and that gave me my first taste of the public sector. I did a conference on Caribbean writing and loved it and began to see I could combine work with my passion for reading. I left to have babies and became a freelance consultant, doing development work with libraries. Then, along with two other women, I started The Reading Agency. We just thought, "hey we could do this, libraries need to modernise".

What did you need to set up the agency?

Not much, a telephone and a computer and a network of contacts.

Do you consider yourself successful?

Yes, broadly. You can't get an OBE and not feel you're being recognised as successful. But, oh boy, is there so much more to do.

What are your interview tips?

Prepare really carefully and get someone to do a mock interview as fiercely as possible. Conduct yourself honestly. If you don't know the full answer to something, say you're not sure but explain how you would research it. Let who you are come through.

What are your CV tips?

Don't make people wade through all your dreary educational qualifications in great detail, and make sure you put your main work achievements up front.

Who are your heroes?

Andrew Carnegie for endowing the library system. Writers such as Richard Mabey, Mark Cocker and Roger Deakin because they are carving out a new genre and the way they write about nature shifts our way of thinking.

How do I get to be where you are?

Be sure you're doing something you really mind about, and then work your fingers to the bone.

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