During college–whether we realized it or not–we had access to some pretty unbelievable career resources. With on-campus recruiters, applications geared toward graduating seniors and career centers on tap, the job-hunting process was relatively linear and clear cut.
Fast forward a few years to post-grad life and things are a little bit different. With full-time jobs, less free time and other “real world” responsibilities, taking steps toward your next career move is not always at the top of your priority list.
Before working with someone, my idea of a coach was somewhere between a new-age, crunchy granola guru and Will Smith’s character from Hitch (but for job-hunting).
Well, spoiler alert–as you can probably tell from the title of this piece, working with a career coach was neither of these. (Although, if we’re being honest, I wouldn’t mind if Will Smith was any kind of coach for me).
Whether you’re feeling stuck in your current role, you’re ready to switch industries or you’d just like to build out a more explicit plan for your career, working with a career coach may be the tool you need.
Below you’ll find the most invaluable lessons I learned from working with a coach.
1. When thinking about your career, step out of the day-to-day and think “big picture”
Day-to-day life is so packed with responsibilities that it can be difficult to think about what you’ll be doing next week, never mind six months from now. In “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg recommends having an 18-month plan for your career. This could mean where you’d like to go within your current company, or it could be a roadmap for how you want to get to a new opportunity.
Working with a career coach helped me “get out of the weeds” and look at my career from a big picture point of view. This new perspective helped me to get back in touch with my goals and build a much clearer vision of the type of role I’d like to be in–and what I need to do in order to get there.
2. A lack of clarity is okay–but talking through it and having someone to be accountable to is extraordinarily helpful
At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay, ‘big picture’ thinking about my career sounds great, but what if I have no idea what I want to do or where I’d like to be?”
That’s okay–our generation is so driven, hyper-connected and forward-thinking that any kind of ambiguity feels very wrong. If you’re at a point where you feel very unclear about your next move, a coach will provide you with actual tools to help figure these things out.
We’re talking worksheets, reading materials and candid conversations with someone that is holding you accountable to deadlines. I found that I really needed that extra nudge when I got “stuck.” These tools and benchmarks will help you get clarity and focus so that when you do make a game plan, it’s aligned with your real passions and goals.
3. Your LinkedIn is crucial (but so are your other social and digital touch points)
Raise your hand if the last time you updated your LinkedIn was over a year ago. I was guilty of this and my coach helped me realize how critical it is to have an updated, polished and well-written LinkedIn profile.
Regardless of whether or not you’re looking for a job, a strong LinkedIn illustrates and catalogs the best parts of your professional experience. Furthermore, it helps you organize the big projects you’ve worked on so that when you are ready to make a move, you don’t have to try to remember exactly what you did three years ago.
While LinkedIn is key, it’s not the only way that future employers can find you. I’m not about to go into the “make sure the pictures of you doing keg stands are removed from Facebook” spiel, but depending on what field you’re in, having a Twitter profile that demonstrates your knowledge of current trends can be a great marker for your credibility.
4. Do your research. And then do it again.
While working with a coach can be a powerful catalyst, you truly get out what you put in. Your coach can only help you as much as you’re willing to help yourself. A coach can certainly act as a guide, but if you’re not willing to do the extra work, it’s not worth either of your time.
5. Be (extremely) organized with your materials and your time
For the type-A, color-coding, Google calendar devotees out there, this one may be obvious. However, if you’re more of the go-with-the-flow, “everything folder”, miscellaneous drawer type, this one is key.
There’s no easy way to say this–if you’re going to work with a career coach, you have to be extremely organized.
Yes, part of that is folders, stickies and Google Drive collections, but even more important is the way you manage your schedule. Research, outreach and planning take time–lots of it, and you’re going to have to do some clever calendar rearranging to ensure that everything gets done.
While these are five of the best things I learned, there are so many more valuable takeaways. Obviously, I’m partial to the coach that I worked with (Elephant in the Room Consulting), as he tends to be a strategist always inserting quips like “remember building a career trajectory is a game of chess, finding a job is akin to playing checkers. I want you playing chess not checkers,” but there are all kinds of options depending on your location and industry.
Just remember that if you’re feeling “stuck” or unfulfilled in your current role, it is critical that you take action. That may involve seeking out a career coach or taking a soul-searching trip to assess your goals and passions. I cannot guarantee that you will get your dream job by working with a career coach or taking that vacation, but I know exactly what will happen if you don’t… nothing.