Saturday, 20 November 2010

Advice nuggets from a former career coach

I was a career coach for a number of years. I worked with a range of people in a range of situations. The high fliers I worked with already knew what they needed to progress their career - all they needed from me was a supportive oomph. And 'supportive oomph' makes up the lion's share of any coach's job description. I would also support people who had been made redundant when their particular employment sector had just taken a colossal nosedive (like architects during economic blips).

But the majority of the people i counseled were persistent low-fliers or non-fliers or people would approach me for private consultancy as they were perpetually frustrated at their low achieving status. I want to share with you 3 fundamental factors that would generally unpick the cause of their obstacles.

1. You need a new job - therefore you need a current job exit plan and a new job entry plan
Even though people have approached a career counselor or booked a career coaching session - so many people don't seem to realize that careers need action. They go to a CV workshop because they are 'unhappy' with their current working situation, they don't necessarily want a solution straight away - they want someone to acknowledge and understand their unhappiness. I don't blame them, being miserable at work can take over everything if you let it. But never have i conducted a careers workshop with a hat overflowing with great jobs for each delegate to pick one!

I ask a few questions:

- Is you CV up to date?
- Have you looked for any jobs/ registered with any agencies?
- What is your dream job?

The answer to these questions is usually: no, no and don't know. You might be thinking 'huh.. what morons!' Yet the commonness of this experience has made me think that a problem with a career is such an emotional thing, any facilitator has to apply similar nonsensical logic to that of a beaten wife who just won't leave her husband. So... what would an exit/ entry plan look like? Well, it would look different for everyone... but here's a gist of the things you should be asking yourself.

Exit plan - Why do you want to leave? Will that really get better somewhere else? Are you better off holding out there for 6 months that quit altogether? What kind of offer would it take to make you quit your current job? Are there sanctions if you leave your current role now? Have you spoken to friends about this? Who will you miss at your current job? How will you stay in touch with them? What will you miss? Who will you ask for references?
If you leave will you leave projects unfinished that could affect you references? When will you hand your resignation in - what will you say? Could you write a draft of your resignation letter now? What will you say in your exit interview? Where will you go for your leaving party? What will you do if they give you a counter-offer? What is your notice period?

Entry plan - Where next? Why? What kind of offer do you need? Where will you look for a job? Do you have any contacts? Have you communicated with your contacts? Does your CV sparkle/glow in the dark? How far can you commute? How soon can you start? How would you shape up for an interview - if it were next Monday? How would you make a good first impression? How will you excuse yourself from your current job to get to an interview?

In your planning, ask yourself whether you're running away from pain in your current role or running towards pleasure from a new role. Recruiters can quickly sniff out someone running from a bad situation - so even if you are in a lot of pain right now... focus on the 'to pleasure' side of the equation.

Remember that your plan won't actually work quite like you imagined. Sure, you'll get propelled forward, but maybe things won't work out at the speed you had in mind. You might have to apply for 60 jobs over 2 years to get the one worth waiting for. But having a good idea of how it could all come together is worth its weight in gold!

2. Stop Rationalizing
There's probably a big, dirty, fat truth that you're completely ignoring if you're failing to get where you want career-wise. Once you recognize it and admit it - and you've applied a bit of creativity you'll probably mitigate it to an extent that it no longer damages your chances. To give you a clue where you might find it - it's usually a balance issue. Maybe you're under qualified for the posts you've previously held. Maybe you've got a PhD but have only ever worked at a lowly call center positions. Perhaps you've only ever undertaken 6 month contracts but now you want a permanent job. Are your salary expectations higher than average in this industry?

If you actually address the issue - you can often spin it into a positive on your cover letter. If you're under qualified, you could say that once you get your foot in the door - superiors are impressed by how much you deliver and further responsibilities have naturally gravitated to you. Perhaps you were working shifts in a call center to fund your PhD, or support your living costs whilst you were writing up academic papers. People who undertake 6 months contracts are usually called 'interims' and paid even more. Your salary expectations maybe higher than average, because your skills are, indeed, higher than average.

Recognize the hole in your resume and explain it in a positive light - don't dodge it. Also remember that you need to break the pattern for future additions to your CV, so that you don't spend your whole working life defending this perceived 'imbalance'. Under qualified? Then get qualified!

3. Look the part
Do you look the part to work at a new company? Do you act the part? Do you have a similar lifestyle/aspirations/goals as your would-be colleagues?

It's true that recruiters sometimes want to shake stuff up and hire someone far out of their usual recruiting profile. But this is usually at the top level or when branching out into a new customer base and certainly not for every job. In fact, they're probably looking for someone just like them.

You need to have a stiff look in the mirror and think what you represent to someone who's never seen you before. If you're obese - a recruiter may think that you don't look after yourself so you're unlikely to look after their business. Inappropriate attire for the employment sector might mean that you're not taking the job interview seriously. Your body language/ your posture/ the briefcase or bag you bring to interview/ your hair/ your accessories... your ummms and ahhhhs between words will all be noted to a good recruiter. Anything that effects your core ability to promote their brand will ruin your chances. If the job involves a lot of phone work - no mumblers need apply. If the job is a salesperson - well, you need to sell yourself for a start! If you're going to work in HR - you need to show that your look approachable and can build rapport pretty darn fast.

Tips 2 & 3 are very useful, especially in competitive job markets... but really... if you only grab onto tip 1. Once you have a plan... life makes the rest happen!

My last point is: you'll probably have to apply for a load of jobs before something works out for you and ticks all your boxes. I once counseled someone who believed he was condemned to a life of unemployment because he'd been rejected from 4 jobs. I told him that many serious job-hunters get rejected from 4 jobs a day. It can be soul-destroying if you don't view this in a positive light. The four companies who rejected this guy did him a massive favor! It is entirely irresponsible to give people jobs when you have a strong feeling that it won't work out (for whatever reason) - they'll never be a happy ending if an employment relationship starts on the wrong foot. Believe me - they're angels in disguise!