A teacher, a writer and Wonder Woman. Sounds like the opening to a fantastic joke. In truth, those were my childhood career goals. I’ve long since given up on my superhero fantasies, realizing that spandex and unearthly strength were not in my arsenal, but I figure that two out of three isn’t bad, and since I get to help people every day I have at least taken the spirit of Wonder Woman with me.
I didn’t plan to be a career coach; when I started my career, I planned to be a history professor. Nine years into my education, however, I realized that no matter how great my talents may be, the market wasn’t with me and I would have to figure out how to create a post-academic career in a time before the term post-academic even existed.
Completing my PhD gave me 5 great gifts that have shaped my career and my approach to it:
A willingness to take on any job that would help me along my way. As an impoverished graduate student living in Chicago, expenses were high and income was low. Naturally I jumped at any opportunity that came my way, which would keep me financially afloat. I was fortunate to network my way into a role managing an internship program for four years. I loved that job! All of the things that I loved about teaching carried themselves over into that role, and helped me to learn that I didn’t have to be a professor to use the skills I was developing, or to get the same level of satisfaction.
- Transferable skills. Don’t underestimate their value, whether you have a PhD or not! I know how to organize and deliver career programming because I spent six years in the classroom teaching multiple courses. Each group or class has its own character, and I have learned how to recognize it and adapt to it so that participants get the most out of the experience. I’ve used my transferable skills in every role I have had since university, and my employers have flatly stated that they hired me because of them; I brought something unique to their teams, and it wasn’t always subject area expertise.
- Failure. Yes, I count this as a gift, but I did want to give it back at the time. After I graduated, I couldn’t get a job no matter how hard I tried. I read the books, scoured the job boards, and submitted hundreds of applications. I felt like I somehow should have intrinsically known what to do. It couldn’t be that hard to get a job – everyone else did it, why couldn’t I? It took a long time to accept my “failure” and reach out for help from the woman whom I now consider my mentor: my career coach. After working with her, and learning better strategies and techniques, she casually mentioned that I would be really good at her job. Talk about an ‘aha’ moment! Fast forward several years, and her prophesy came true when I joined McMaster University in 2010 as the Alumni Career Coach. If I hadn’t “failed” to secure a job, I never would have entered this career path because I didn’t know it existed. Failure can lead to opportunities if you are open to them.
- Understanding. I know what it’s like to feel lost in your job search, or stuck in your career. Been there, done that (didn’t celebrate with a t-shirt, though). What can I say, I’m stubborn, and I had to learn the hard way. I became a career coach because I am genuinely committed to helping people, and treating them with the respect they deserve. I didn’t have that for most of my early career exploration, but I want to make sure that you do.
- A lifelong commitment to learning. I went to college after my PhD. No, not immediately and not because I had an insatiable need for more letters after my name. I enrolled at college in order to learn more about my profession and to complete the appropriate credentials for my field (Career Development Practitioner/CDP). Since then, I have attended and presented at conferences, webinars, events, and completed more professional development. Learning keeps me engaged, inspired, and fresh. That’s why I read a lot in between bouts of more formal professional development (check out the Off the Shelf section of the site for reading suggestions).