We often feel we’re supposed to have all the answers, says Harvard Dean James E. Ryan in his book “Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions.” But asking the right questions matters more.
Anne Fisher, Monster contributor
In an increasingly complex and dynamic career market, the days where you simply upload your resume online and submit a cover letter for all the roles that seem to fit you are long gone. Identifying where you fit in the career puzzle is about having an in-depth understanding of the people, places, and your own value proposition in the world of work that you are looking to enter.
It is estimated that the average graduate today will have approximately 17 career roles across five different industries. Taking ownership of your career has become more important than ever and it is never too early to begin.
Navigating career transitions takes authenticity, courage, perseverance and the ability to maintain your enthusiasm. A challenging proposition for most, however the return on investment is waking up feeling more alive, purposeful and fulfilled by the work you do.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the word needs is people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman.
In my role as a Career Development and Personal Branding Strategist spanning twenty years, I’ve had career conversations with people from a diverse range of nationalities, ages, and professional backgrounds. Here are a few things I’d like to share:
On any given day, you constantly make decisions about how to best use your resources – your time, your money and your energy. You make everyday decisions which involve prioritising – at work and at home. It’s no different when you are in career transition.
I often tell my clients that they will most likely get their next role through who they know rather than through their qualification or work experience. The role you are seeking may never hit the market.
It is estimated that between 70 to 85% of people find their next career opportunity through their network, or their network’s network.
So, if you are being strategic, where should you spend your resources to get the best return on investment?
Common-sense says that you should be focusing your career transition efforts connecting with others. That is where you are going to truly build your knowledge as well as get yourself on people’s radars.
That means conversations over coffee. Many, many cups of coffee.
While LinkedIn, Google and social media should all be part of your overall career exploration strategy, it’s the face-to-face career conversations that will make all the difference. Widen your network of people who can potentially help. Connect with others, be vocal about your interests and career goals.
Let everyone in your life know you're looking for a new role and give them an idea of what it is you are seeking. Prepare some simple eight second introductions that you can tailor depending on you who are speaking with that clearly state how you can add value. One that I use is:
“I’m a Career Transition Coach who helps people gain clarity and confidence around what makes them come alive”.
And you don’t need to start by having career coffee conversations with total strangers.
Start with your inner and outer circles. Ask your friends, clients, colleagues, referees and people you meet through study, sport, or professional associations, if they know anyone interesting you should meet who could help with your career change, and would they would mind facilitating further introductions. Remember that favourite former boss or colleague you keep meaning to catch up with? Now is the time.
From my experience most people are happy to help and really do like to “pay it forward.”
My next piece of advice isn’t rocket science. Be PREPARED. This is key and will prevent you from wasting people's time, and ultimately make for a more productive and enjoyable coffee conversation. It’s the age-old adage "the more you put in, the more you will get out."
Here are a few tips to help you feel prepared:
1. Be clear about your own strengths and preferences - Clarity on what you can do, and how and where you will fit is essential. If you don’t have the answers to these questions, then you can’t expect that others will be able to answer them for you.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”
If you haven’t already done so or if it has been awhile, I strongly urge you to invest in having a personality profile assessment with a certified professional to better understand your natural preferences and strengths and challenges. The Myers-Briggs type indicator is a great instrument for increasing your self-awareness.
Reflect on past positions and think about what you enjoyed and didn’t enjoy about the role, your manager and the organisation. Try and come up with some common threads. Identify your transferable skills (you will need to showcase these in your resume) and do a values inventory to understand your critical needs to gain more clarity on what is important to you in a role and company.
2. Be intentional and focused - Take time to reflect on what you are you looking for over your coffee chats – introductions, information, or an opportunity to find out more about a career. Don’t let the coffee drag on for long and remember to always be respectful of people’s time.
Have a few questions prepared that would be interesting for the other person to answer and that could help with your career exploration.
3. Be honest - Tell the other person upfront that you would like input on a career move. Chances are there are people out there who have already done what you are thinking of doing.
4. Don’t ask for anything - No selling, no pitching, no interviewing. The other person’s time, advice and their story is all that you can ask for.
5. Be an active listener - Be genuinely attentive and interested in what people have to say. The best coffee conversations involve topics that you are both invested in.
6. Stay humble – You may not like or agree with all the information you hear, but don’t be dismissive. Remember this person has generously given their time to help you.
7. Take notes – Bring along a small notebook. You never know what little gems you might discover!
8. ALWAYS remember to say “thank you” - Express your gratitude afterwards via a short email or text thanking them for the positive impact of their advice. This will give you credibility and make you a better professional, and person, because of a simple gesture.
I am a firm believer in what goes around comes around. If that coffee conversation is done with the intention of mutual generosity, it will create a meaningful relationship based on trust and respect. And who knows where it might lead down the track. $4.00 for a low-fat latte (my personal preference) is a small price to pay in exchange for half an hour of a person’s time. And even if they can easily afford their own coffee, I am sure that they will appreciate the gesture.
I hope this article helps you get one step closer to landing your dream role. Rethinking your career involves investing time and energy to fully understand the market and yourself so that you find a role that makes you come alive.