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Unhappy in your work? Here's some advice from a career coach

Tracy Ward has set up her own career coaching business during the Covid-19 shutdown. She says it’s been challenging but rewarding and she has advice for others.

IT WAS OUT of necessity and passion that I started my own business at the peak of this pandemic. And perhaps, rather naively, I see no reason for it not to succeed. I say that now, but of course, I’ve suffered from the inevitable wobble and moments of pure unadulterated panic associated with leaving a secure corporate job in London and going it alone.

I had always hoped to set up my own career coaching business but hadn’t envisaged doing so in the middle of a global pandemic. Then again, most of us have probably found ourselves facing similar life choices in this, the most surreal of times. Lately, as I work long into the night, I have been cursing the ‘wasted hours’ spent trawling through various office spaces in an effort to find the perfect base.

Why I believe now is a good time to start this kind of career coaching business is that in a strange way, a global event such as this Covid-19 shutdown can force people to take a look at their lives, their jobs and where they want to go in the future.

Tough financial times are here for many, there’s no doubt about that, but a person’s career spans their adult lives and taking time to look at it, when you have that time, can be a hugely helpful experience.

Why career coaching?

The modern jobs market is competitive, volatile and tough. It has changed hugely with the disruption of technology. A hard copy of a CV is no longer all you need. Active LinkedIn profiles and non-controversial social media accounts are now taken into account. Traditionally, many people view their career as an extension of their education. The message has often been ‘now, you’ve got your piece of paper, here’s your career’.

Beyond updating CVs and developing interview skills, we don’t do much more preparation for career changes. This can often mean a person gets ‘stuck’ within a company or an area of work and feels helpless when it comes to making a move.

It can also mean some will continually move into the wrong roles without giving it much thought. It’s easy to think, “I’ll apply for that job because I’m not happy in this one”, but what is it you really want and will the new job be the answer? That kind of approach can bring an endless cycle of stress for employees, and indeed for employers.

Career coaching is a relatively new area and has been borne out of the rapid changes in the jobs market. A coach will guide and counsel a client and help them take an honest look at their skills and experience. They work solely with the client and prepare them for a job search.

A coach will encourage the client to ask themselves what it is they want, what they need workwise that will fit into their lives and where they want to go. The ultimate goal of a coach is to build up the client’s confidence and help them see the value they can bring to any role – we hope to give them options they didn’t know they had.

The essence of a coaching relationship is the rapport built between coach and client, where the client feels they can trust the coach. It’s not unlike a form of ‘career counselling’. We spend so much time in the workplace and when it’s not working, it can feed into the rest of our lives. Finding fulfilment in our work is hugely beneficial.

The virtual session

The traditional coaching setting is purposely held in a neutral space, hence the hours spent sourcing the right location. As a result of the shutdown, we have moved online. Unsurprisingly, holding coaching sessions online brings challenges for both parties. For me, someone who has yet to find comfort in having her photograph taken, nevermind being the face of a Zoom or Skype call, it’s been a new departure, and that’s before we take technical challenges, of which, there are many, into consideration.

This online change has forced me out of my comfort zone and onto Zoom but more importantly, it’s allowed me to broaden my scope. No longer am I restricted to creating clients in one city, thanks to everyone’s newfound familiarity with working online. I can now offer and work with anyone from anywhere.

Although coaching someone while their partner, children, flatmate or dog intervenes can bring distractions, the sense that we are in it together makes it all the more manageable. Homeschooling duties and uncomfortable makeshift workspaces aside now could be the optimum time to explore your own long-held career ambitions and devise a plan on how to bring it to fruition.

pjimage(2) Shutterstock Shutterstock

Online interviews – some tips

Make no mistake, companies are actively hiring, despite Covid-19, they’re just doing so in a different way. Zoom, Skype, Teams and Google Hangout interviews are the new norm and look set to be for the foreseeable. As there’s no way to avoid them, it is best to find ways to embrace them and take the necessary steps to set yourself up for success.  This is especially true as unemployment figures continue to rise in the wake of this global pandemic, resulting in greater competition in the jobs market.    

Interviews are only a terrifying prospect if you’re unprepared, so along with the usual steps you would take to get ready, outlined below are several additional points that need to be taken into consideration when preparing for an interview conducted online: 

  • Use your real name or at least a professional-sounding username. ‘Gonzo92’ won’t help you land that much sought-after risk manager role.  Similar attention is required with your profile picture, consider whether or not your favourite photo from last year’s hen/stag party is the most appropriate one to use.
  • Set your workstation up correctly, check your position on the screen and pay attention to lighting. Do a test run with a friend prior to the interview. The greatest distraction in an online interview is technical difficulties, so knowing that everything works on your side will lend itself to a greater sense of confidence and allows you to focus on the interview itself.
  • Ensure any background distractions are kept to a minimum. If, for example you’re working from your kitchen table, try to position your screen so it’s facing a wall or window and not a pile of dishes from last nights takeaway. I appreciate that at the moment, many of us are at home with small children and in cramped homes. An employer in this climate will allow for some of this, but try to take control of your surroundings as much as possible in advance.
  • Personally, I’m not a fan of the integrated background screens and find interviewing someone to the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge slightly off-putting. Keep it straight and play it safe. If you do choose to use a background, ensure you choose something that looks professional.
  • If your WIFI is patchy, sit close to the router to ensure optimum internet coverage. In the current climate, with the best will in the world, a connection can be lost, so interviewers will, I’m sure, be accommodating and understanding. To avoid creating any unwanted stress or panic during the interview, take note of the interviewer’s contact details so you can easily contact them should you be left stranded on a freeze-frame.
  • Dress appropriately, and by this, I mean fully dressed. A suit jacket with pyjama bottoms won’t work and whilst your interviewer may not get a glimpse of your bottom half, as happened poor Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan this week, being suitably attired from head to toe helps put you in the right frame of mind and avoids any mishaps.  
  • If you choose to use the mute button during the interview, use it consciously and unmute yourself when speaking. It’s always best to assume you’re not muted, just in case.
  • Interviewing online does have its advantages allowing you to have prompts and reminders readily to hand.  Write out the top three points you want the interviewer(s) to know about you and don’t end the interview without having shared them. You could also have a copy of your CV to hand, although there really is no excuse for candidates not knowing this by heart. 

Starting a new business? Here’s some advice

  • As a starting point, discover your ‘Why’. Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why do you want this business idea to work? Why? Why? Why? Keep drilling down until you reach the root cause of your purpose. Knowing your ‘why’ helps to form your sales and marketing strategy and can be used as an anchor when you feel you’re going off track.
  • Next, look to your network for support and ask for help. Can’t start a business as you’re not tech-savvy enough? Tap into your network, reach out to the IT guy you worked with two years ago, people will often help. In exchange, think about offering either a discount or a skill swap to minimise start-up costs.
  • Accept that the time has arrived to befriend that uncomfortable feeling that 80% is your new perfect. Let your customers know it’s a start-up they’ll expect, and more importantly, forgive imperfection. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
  • Finally, take three deep breaths and believe in yourself.

Tracy Ward is a career rejuvenation coach helping clients gain clarity to navigate their career in a direction that leads them to personal success. Find her at LinkedIn and 

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