Questions and Answers with Career Expert Heather Mundell
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Heather Mundell is a certified professional coach and founder of Dream Big Coaching Services
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What do you feel is the biggest mistake job-seekers make in terms of planning their careers.|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Failing to plan is a big one. Another mistake is when people underestimate their abilities and fail to “think big” enough. This is a key piece I assist people with and has a lot to do with how I came up with the name of my business, Dream Big Coaching Services.
Many people don’t allow themselves even to acknowledge how big a game they’d like to play in their careers, for fear that it won’t happen. For example, someone I know has an audacious, wonderful business idea that she’s not pursuing because she can’t see exactly how she’ll get there, and there seem to be a number of obstacles.
But so what? This business idea is amazing and is perfectly suited to this person. She owes it to herself to at least sketch out what would be the first steps, or even what would be the last steps. She might have years to realize this dream, and planting the seeds now is a smart strategy. She can work on the steps one at a time, and face obstacles as they occur; she doesn’t have to figure them all out now.
Thinking big about our careers is about recognizing all of our incredible abilities and talents and finding the energy and drive to push a dream forward. One of the best results from this process is learning we have so much more potential than we ever imagined, and so much less to be afraid of.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What consequences have you seen when people don’t plan their careers well?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| What I see frequently are people who enter a particular profession, work hard at it for 10 or more years, even when it fails to be satisfying, and then allow themselves to burn out.
When they burn out, they’re stuck, because they have no ideas for what else they might want to do, little energy to generate ideas, little optimism that they’ll be able to move to something more satisfying, and a high sense of urgency to do something, anything, to alleviate their current career pain. They feel trapped and powerless.
And it will take them longer to change jobs or careers because they haven’t updated their resume, haven’t met any new people, and haven’t thought in a very long time about what they really want.
Another consequence I see is when people feel trapped by the lifestyle to which they’ve become dependent. Typically these people are in well-paying careers they’ve been very successful in, yet at the same time they feel ambivalent about the nature of the work itself. It’s not related to what they’ve imagined themselves doing — the career just kind of “happened” to them as a result of their high level of competence.
They have big financial responsibilities and people who depend on them to keep bringing in this level of compensation. They feel that their career options are severely limited by the lifestyle that they’ve chosen to maintain. They believe they have to choose between being happy in their career and providing for their family’s financial security.
Being promoted and being highly paid are very seductive reasons to pursue a career path, but without real engagement, the seduction ends abruptly at some point. If you are in tune with what contributes to your career happiness and follow a path that supports that, you can avoid blindly following the money and the pain that can bring.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest myth about job-hunting?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| I think the myth that has the biggest impact on the most people is that job-hunting is something you do only when you really want out or because you were laid off.
When we job-hunt all the time — and by this I mean dream, aspire, plan ahead, meet and talk with people, learn new skills, prepare a current resume, and learn about other functions or companies we’re interested in — we are in a much better position to make a move when we want or need to. It can be difficult to find the time to manage our careers constantly and be “on the hunt” for what’s next, but devoting even an hour a week to the process will go a long way.
Job-hunting before we are truly unhappy or burned out is also a much more pleasant experience, and gives us a sense of control and empowerment over our careers. Too often people feel discouraged or defeated as they search for a new job while in the middle of a very stressful situation at work. They can feel desperate and make career decisions for reasons they regret later.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Thinking “outside the box,” what’s the best way for job-seekers to figure out what career will give them the greatest happiness?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Experiencing career happiness has a lot to do with the extent to which we get to use our key strengths on the job. When we are using our natural strengths we are more likely to experience “flow,” that is, a state of being during which we feel fully immersed in what we’re doing. Feeling an energized focus and success in the process of our work correlates very highly with career happiness.
The VIA Inventory of Strengths is a free online assessment, developed by nationally recognized positive psychologists, that reveals your top character strengths. A few examples of these 24 strengths include persistence, social intelligence, fairness, and humor. The assessment is a great starting point for job-seekers to identify what they really care about and what makes them feel engaged.
People are happiest in their careers when they are using they skills they really enjoy using, which feels very different from using skills that we’re good at, yet don’t enjoy. If it’s difficult to come up with a list of enjoyable skills on their own, I recommend that job-seekers use O*NET’s Interest Profiler, another free assessment that measures six types of occupational interests: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional.
O*NET offers another free assessment I think is really good at uncovering your work values — the Work Importance Locator. Both of these assessments from O*NET offer suggestions for specific careers for you to investigate, based on the results.
But beyond assessments, job-seekers need to take an honest look at their current and past career experiences and see what they can learn from them. What was going on when they felt really engaged? What elements of their experience felt toxic? Through this process themes emerge, such as “I really dislike working for a company larger than 100 people”, or “I love to see a project through from start to finish.” Job-seekers can keep these lessons from their careers in mind as they evaluate a new opportunity.
When job seekers have a brief, yet powerful list of their key work values and the key skills they enjoy using, they’re in a good position to accurately discern whether a particular job opportunity is likely to lead to career happiness.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest mistake job-seekers make that your advice could correct or prevent?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| The biggest mistake I see job-seekers make is they spend too much time applying for job openings that are posted online and not enough time maintaining and developing their network of contacts.
For some people I work with, networking is very difficult. They don’t know who to contact or what to say. They’re not sure what they can offer in return.
I advise people to start with their immediate circle of contacts and work out from there. Make a list or print out a list from your address book of every friend, relative, and current and former professional contact (to whom you are comfortable revealing that you are conducting a job search) that you have.
Call them (rather than email) and let them know what it is that you’re looking for and if they have any suggestions for who else you might contact who knows about that industry or knows someone in the company you’re targeting. Ask them to ask their friends if they know anyone. Then follow up, stay connected, have coffee — whatever seems appropriate.
The key is to stick with it, follow up with people, ask what they need, and do whatever you can to assist them.
I also advise people who are trying to break into a new industry not only to attend its professional association meetings but to become involved in the association on a committee or task force. This is how you will become known — by making a contribution and being visible.
If you just want some information about the industry, you can simply attend the meetings and talk with people casually. But if you are passionate about breaking into an industry, starting by making a contribution is a very effective and authentic way to make useful contacts and develop relationships.
Heather Mundell is a certified professional coach and founder of Dream Big Coaching Services, a national life and career coaching company based in Seattle, WA. Heather’s clients are successful professionals who desire career happiness. She blends extensive individual coaching experience with a background in corporate HR leadership to help her clients with career planning and career change.
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