Dr. Olaniyi Lucas fondly recalls the time her son wanted to be a T-Rex when he grew up. “He was crushed when he found out that wasn’t possible, absolutely crushed,” Dr. Lucas said. She told her young son about the field of paleontology and explained that it was a way for people to work with fossils and study dinosaurs. And while her son, now twenty-one years old, is currently pursuing another career, he undoubtedly benefited from examining his own strengths and interests at an early age.
Today, it is increasingly common for individuals looking to change careers to seek the expertise of a career coach or counselor. These professionals help uncover career avenues that are often within our reach, yet difficult for us to navigate on our own. Let’s hear three local counselors discuss today’s essential job skills, what career coaching is, and how to make the most of the experience.
First Step: Take a Personality Inventory
It’s Never Too Late To Change Careers
A counselor for more than fifteen years, Dr. Lucas recommends taking a personality inventory as the first step in selecting or changing careers. Many of these inventories are available for free online, and they provide helpful information such as your strengths, weaknesses, and overall attitudes.
“I know that I am not a competitive person,” Dr. Lucas said. “I am very introspective, and I need a career that values that trait.” Sometimes it is hard to see these traits in ourselves, and this is when an inventory can be especially useful.
Dr. Lucas truly enjoys helping people find careers that are a good fit, and she emphasizes the importance of understanding one’s emotional IQ and developing strong relationships and critical thinking skills. She also suggests doing plenty of background research and getting first-hand exposure to the desired career field as soon as possible.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts and planning, jobs don’t work out the way we hoped. When this is the case, we shouldn’t discount our time spent around negative bosses or in toxic jobs. They teach us more about ourselves, including what we don’t want and will not tolerate in our work lives.
“Years ago, I had a supervisor that I was not vibing with,” Dr. Lucas said. “It got to the point that I saw a therapist.” Dr. Lucas worked to understand herself better and determined the situation was not ideal for her. A new job was in order. “You have to be intentional and give yourself time and space. And most importantly, you have to guard your mental health.” Dr. Lucas said.
The workforce isn’t like it used to be, and people don’t have to follow traditional pathways. There is no limit on college education, and it’s never too late to change careers. “If you want to do something, it’s available,” Dr. Lucas said. “There is no expiration date.”
Develop Your Confidence
Find The Job of Your Dreams
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” said Dr. Sylvia Christian about returning to college after age 40 and eventually earning her Ph.D. “I remember my mom asking me how much longer it would take and her joking that she wasn’t going to live forever. I kept going until I got that degree. She was 90 when she attended my graduation.”
For more than twenty years, Dr. Sylvia Christian has been providing career guidance for women. One of the reasons for her success is her ability to relate to clients. “I know how they feel,” she said. “I was afraid of making a change at that point in my life, but I had an instructor who believed in me and helped me develop confidence.”
Confidence, as it turns out, is a critical element of making a career change. “You have to believe you can do it,” she said. This seems to be one of the biggest obstacles for women who leave the workplace to raise their children. While they are away from the workforce, things change and their skills fall behind.
Not too long ago, Dr. Christian worked with a client who had been out of the workforce for 17 years. She was going through a divorce and had a degree in graphic arts that she wasn’t using. After the client mentioned previous math courses as well as volunteer work that involved accounting skills, Dr. Christian pointed her in the direction of other jobs related to math. Today, this woman is happily employed as an insurance actuary.
Dr. Christian is living proof that it is never too late to find the job and life of your dreams. She takes time to figure out who her clients are and what they want. Individuals going through the career coaching process will complete inventories and exercises and answer questions about their childhood wishes and dreams. “I like to find out if there was someone they admired and why they admired them,” she said. “It’s as much about uncovering as it is coaching.”
Changing careers is a process and one that requires work on the part of the individual, as well. In addition to researching pay scales and job requirements, Dr. Christian also recommends shadowing someone within the profession. It takes effort, but it’s rewarding. Having a job that you look forward to is worth it, and meeting with a career coach might be exactly what is needed to make that change.
Take Your Skills to Market
Seek a Balance of High-Tech and High-Touch
Francina Harrison, founder of The Career Engineer, works regularly with female clients who are returning to the workforce. Francina said women often tell her, “I’m just a mom” or “I’ve only worked inside the home.” Part of Francina’s philosophy is to remove the detrimental “just” and “only” from these statements and emphasize the skills these individuals can bring to the workforce.
“All of these skills and talents are relevant: crisis resolution, project management. We have to find a creative way of getting them to the marketplace,” Francina said. Stay-at-home moms often need to make the best decision they can with the data they have, and that is a skill easily transferred to the workforce.
In addition to women who are re-entering the workplace after some time away, Francina also coaches entrepreneurs and career switchers. “There are a lot of unhappily employed people out there. Many feel stuck, robotic, and have lost all job satisfaction. They want to make a change, but they don’t know what to do or how to do it,” she said. “I enjoy helping them find a position where they can be successful doing something they love.”
For career coaching to be beneficial, clients must be open-minded and willing to do the work. “There is homework involved,” Francina laughed. “But if you give 100 percent, you will get it back.”
While there is no denying COVID-19’s impact on the economy and the job market, Francina wants people to focus on their own skills and attitudes instead of what they are seeing on the news. “Don’t focus on numbers; focus on you. It has always been a struggle for companies to find the most talented people,” she said. “That much hasn’t changed.”
But what has changed is the absolute necessity of technology and an individual’s ability to understand and operate it. Employees must be comfortable with video conferencing platforms like Skype and Zoom as well as e-mail and web-based software.
“I believe in a balance of what I call high-tech and high-touch,” she said. In other words, employees must be able to function well in the virtual world while still fostering and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Adaptability, mobility, and creativity are more important skills than ever before. COVID has taught us that we have a better chance of remaining viable if we can find new ways of doing business.
Once a new client decides she is ready for change, Francina asks that she answer one critical question: “What makes you most anxious about Monday morning?” That is the story Francine wants to hear and that is often when the career coaching relationship begins.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans make an average of twelve job changes in our lifetime. Thanks to career coaches and counselors, this isn’t as daunting as it used to be.
Oftentimes, an outside perspective is exactly what is needed to point us down a different path, one that leads to happiness and fulfillment. And most anything is possible in today’s workforce, except, perhaps, for becoming a T-Rex.