What Your Career Coach Didn’t Tell You

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I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people in career transition – it’s actually my passion to help people explore what their future potential could be whether joining the military, leaving the military, starting a business, or switching careers.  There are common refrains that, while I know why I hear them, need to be unlearned based on how the new economy largely works and based on how I’ve seen actual people make actual changes in their professional lives.

“I need a graduate degree”

One of the most frequent things that people self-impose as a barrier to their career success is a degree (or course, certification program, training program, etc).  We were working with a woman who wanted to start coaching parents who have a child with a drug addiction (something she herself had experienced and come through successfully).  She stopped herself though and said that there was a certification program that she had heard of the certifies for this sort of thing – “I probably need that first”.   The question for her was “has anybody ever said, I would like you to coach, but not until you have this piece of paper.”  To which the answer was “no”.  Do not let a self-imposed need for a degree stop you from doing the work you are good at.  You will be amazed at how rarely people ask for your formal credentials.  If you are good at what you do – that is what matters.  Of course, do not expect to get this advice from the myriad of graduate programs and online offerings.

“I need help with my resume”

Lots of people think that the starting point for a new career is their resume.  The problem with this is that the vast majority of people that we speak with do not have a clear articulation of what they actually want to do.  A resume is irrelevant unless you have a clear value proposition for the kind of work that you want to be doing.  Even beyond that, 80% of jobs never get posted and so this idea that we can send off our resume into the world-wide-web and someone will call us, plug us into opportunities, and define for us what we should be doing professionally just never happens.  If you know what you are good at, go and start telling people how you can bring value to them.  Do it for free if you have to.  ‘Doing’ is the new resume.

“I don’t have the money to change careers”

We are taught to think that career is a linear progression: we do one job and then we start then next one.  We get fired and leave or are promoted and we stay.  The reality is that while this might have been true at some point the economy is far more dynamic, complex, interesting, and perhaps intimidating than it was before.  Companies are becoming aggregators of projects teams.  People come in and out based on the work.  The economy is shifting towards a free-agent economy where people can self-direct in ways previously not possible, and where traditional employment relationships are being upended.  The good news is that you can (and should) start doing things in parallel.  If you are serious about a career change, go find the time to immerse yourself in the new industry, content area, or role even if on a part time basis.  It’s rare that something perfect will come tee’d up for you to leave your job and step into.  If you are in marketing but want to be in non-profit management, join a board (or three) and commit your nights to networking, attending events, offering pro bono services, and learning the landscape.  If you showcase your talents and capabilities, a job will emerge.

“I’m open to new possibilities”

One of the biggest “letting go” processes we take our clients through is this idea that they want to be open to possibilities, and therefore broad, and therefore all things to all people.  It’s an ineffective strategy.  While it seems contrarian, the best strategy to a job search is to be very specific in what you do.  “I’m looking for a librarian position in a public university”  Great!  I at least know where to start getting you connected – perhaps through someone I know that attends or works at a public university. “I like coaching people and am good at helping organizations”  Hmmm… I’m not sure where to send you or what to do with you.  Many of the people that we see who are stuck have avoided a specific purpose statement in the attempt to not “shut any doors” but it has the unintended consequence of doing just that.

“I can’t afford to not get paid”

Money is a complicated and interesting variable when it comes to career search and transition.  While we recognize the seriousness of financial stress, it can often lead people to shut down and only look at opportunities that are neatly tied up with a compensation package, benefits, and the like.  People can be quick to ask questions like what is the title, the role, and the salary.  The reality is, from an employer perspective, things are moving too fast and are too dynamic in most cases to think about how to make your life easy.  They are focused on the work and on producing.  The better strategy for job seekers is to dive in, contribute, showcase what you can do, and work in earnest (‘give it away’) which creates a high probability that the people you are working with and helping will 1) feel an obligation to do the right thing and reward your efforts, and 2) offer you employment because you already seem to be a part of the team (something that mailing in a resume will never do for you).  If it seems strange to offer helping, try it.  You will be amazed at how many organizations, particularly smaller ones, will be open to it.