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The 5 Minute Career Coach, April 2009 -- What are your Career Skills?
April 02, 2009

Helping Career Changers Around The World

April 2009


Welcome to the April edition of The 5 Minute Career Coach!

I have been rather busy with non-coaching work over the past couple of weeks, but writing this newsletter has brought me back to what I love to do most – inspiring and supporting other people as they make their own career change journeys.

Some people might say that I have drifted off focus for a couple of weeks, which could be seen as a ‘bad thing’. But I am very clear that all opportunities are potentially good ones. My alternative work has resulted in some interesting new contacts for me and the variety in my working life is one of the real benefits I have gained since I became self-employed. I have learned to always keep my eyes open for possibilities and opportunities in the least likely places. That is a good principle to apply to career change too!

To be effective, career change also needs to be tackled both practically and creatively, so in this edition of The 5 Minute Career Coach, I am offering you a bit of both. The main article focuses on helping you to identify your skills with a few practical exercise to help you understand better what you could bring to a new area of work.

On the other hand, the Career Change Question Career Change Question offers you an exercise that will really engage your imagination and tap into your creativity and intuition to help you build a compelling picture of the new career you want.

So I guess the message of this edition is simple. Use your head, use your heart and keep your eyes and mind open to possibilities!

With very best wishes.

What’s in this issue

Quote of the Day

I love some of the quotes and aphorisms that you find in careers and self help books. So often they seem to encapsulate something I have struggled with in my own life or have seen coaching clients grapple with. I hope they can inspire you too.

"Your diamonds are not in far distant mountains or over yonder seas, they are in your own backyard, if you but dig for them"
Russell H Conwell

You have all the resources you need to make your career change happen. They do not lie out of your reach. You just need to turn your attention inwards and acknowledge what is already there. You are more ready to make that change than you think.

So what skills can you offer us?

This is a classic interview question which I am sure many of you will have encountered before. It touches on an issue that lies at the heart of career change too.

Making some kind of skills analysis is a common starting point when working with clients on career change. It is something that clients seem to expect too – that any new career ideas will need to be based on the skills they have already developed at work.

This might seem like a simple exercise – if you have been working for a while, you surely know what you are good at, don’t you? So you just need to sit down and make a list...

Easier said than done! This can sometimes work, but usually if you ask anyone what their skills are they will look bashful and may come up with one or two ideas, but very quickly, the flow dries up and they are left feeling depressed with the disappointingly short list they have come up with.

The reality is that we are not as self aware as you might think. In many cases, perhaps more so for women than men, we are encouraged to be modest about our strengths. Stating clearly that you are good at something, is seen as a bit boastful and so we tend to avoid it.

So how do you tackle the skills question?

Different strategies work for different people. Take a look at these to get you started.

  1. Take each job you have done and brainstorm all the different things you did in that job. Just try to get as comprehensive a list as you possibly can without judging whether you did them well or not. Include the little informal things like being supportive to colleagues as well as the core responsibilities in your job. Then alongside the activities, make a list of the skills you were using as you did each task.

  2. Take this exercise a step further and apply the same process to what you do outside of work. This includes hobbies, socialising, clubs, community work etc. You develop important skills outside of the workplace that can be transferred into working situations. This is a vital step in helping you to free your mindset from the idea that your new career must be directly connected with your work so far.

  3. Sometimes just looking at a list of skills can provide a useful prompt. Take a look at the list on the How To Change Careers website and rate yourself according to how competent you are at the skills listed and also how much you enjoy using them.

    If you are struggling to rate your skill level, stop to think about the occasions when you have used that skill and ask yourself, if you stopped someone in the street and asked them how much experience of this they had got, would they be likely to have more or less that you? The answer is usually much less – and this will help you acknowledge the true level of your skills and strengths to yourself.

  4. Ask other people for their feedback. Choose a couple of people from work and a couple who know you well socially. Select people who you trust and whose answer you will respect. Simply ask them to come up with a list of the top 3 or 4 skills or strengths they can see in you. Give them a few days to reflect on the matter so you get a considered response.

  5. You will be pleasantly surprised to hear about the positive things that others identify. This kind of feedback is worth hanging on to, so when you are feeling negative, you can refer back to it and remember that others see you in a positive light.

Try some or all of these approaches to build up a comprehensive picture of your skills and strengths. Keep focused on these and make sure you don’t get sucked into worrying about the skills you haven’t got!

I hope you have set up a Career Change Project File to store your ideas in? Use this folder to keep notes about what you have discovered about your skills. This understanding can then be used alongside all the other research you do as you plan your career change to help you to identify the best options to explore in more detail.

The Career Change Question

Career change is not easy. It often requires a lot of hard and deep thinking about how you have been living your life up to now and how you would like it to be in the future.

Because I am a coach, I strongly believe in the power of asking challenging questions. Questions can help you explore where you are and where you are going.

These questions should not be given a quick and glib response, but instead you can just let them wander round your mind for a few days, or even weeks and see what answers unfold for you. They are designed to get you thinking in new ways and hopefully gain insights that may open your mind to new possibilities.

Here's my question for this month.

What would you write to yourself in a letter from the future?

Imagine that 2-3 years have gone by and you have made the career change you want. Everything is going well and you are creating a working life that is just right for you and your family. Now write a letter to you as you are now from that place in the future, talking about how you are feeling about your new life and describing what is special for you about where you are now and what has happened as a result of you making the change.

When you have written your letter, keep it in your Career Change Project File . Refer back to it regularly to keep you focused on where you want your career change to take you. Don’t get hung up on how you will get there. The purpose is to just build up a strong image that will ‘pull’ you forwards and inspire you to keep working on your career change.

Recommended Resources

This month’s recommendation is another book with a specific careers focus.

Go To Work On Your Career
Andy Gilbert, Nicky Frisby and Kathryn Roberts

If you like the idea of a very practical career workbook with lots of questions and exercises, then this is for you. It does not just look at career change, but gets you thinking about managing your career more effectively – which could mean a change or perhaps just approaching your working life differently.

It is divided up into small manageable chunks covering things like:

  • Assessing what is important to you
  • Achieving a balance
  • Defining your goals
  • Building a support network
  • Creating opportunities
  • And much more

You can use the book flexibly, either reading through systematically or you can dip in and out wherever seems right for you. It is a very practical book with lots of space for you to scribble ideas and reflections. Each section gives you a selection of suggested activities at the end to get you moving from passive reading to taking action.

So if you want a resource that will give you more encouragement to do something about your career, then look for this at your local book store or find it on Amazon.

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