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Interview: Melani Ward, M.A. M.Ed., ACCC, MyCareerFitness.com

Melani Ward, M.A. M.Ed., ACCC, Career Coach and owner of MyCareerFitness.com joins us to discuss uniting who you are, with what you do.

What is a career coach? What services do you provide to your clients?

A career coach is someone who explores work-related issues with clients and helps them connect to their purpose, passion and values. Coaches offer their clients career management skills to be used in future transitions and they help them develop a career plan to get them where they want to go. Some career coaches specialize in the career discovery and career development areas whereas others focus on the job search itself, which includes offering resume tips, interviewing strategies, and the logistics of how to find the next job.

I primarily work with clients on interview preparation and career discovery - or uniting who they are with what they do.

Many people stay in jobs that they hate because they feel secure or they are too afraid that they'll fail if they change careers in their current stage of life. Is there any good argument for pursuing a career change when you've already established yourself with an employer?

I think there are several good arguments for making a change. The first one being that if someone hates what they do 40+ hours a week, it is going to negatively impact almost all other areas of their life. Second, we only get one life - why would you choose to spend it doing something you hate when you have the opportunity to learn something new and perhaps contribute something very valuable to another organization or industry? Third, if someone has been able to establish themselves with their employer once, and if the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, then they are likely to be able to establish themselves again somewhere else.

This actually reminds me of a client I worked with. This person was going through a serious career identity crisis. She had spent her life trying to get into medical school but when she finally made it through, graduated, and established herself in her field, she realized she had no interest in being a doctor. She wanted to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an artist. Unfortunately, when she left the field of medicine to live her passion, she found herself paralyzed. She was so depressed that she could not concentrate on her art and she felt like she didn't know who she was because being a doctor was her identity. In working together she realized that she was far more than a set of job tasks and that just because she was no longer working in medicine and applying the science she spent so many years learning, the hard work, commitment, time, discipline, and drive that it took for her to get accepted into medical school and then ultimately graduate were still with her. That was who she was and that was worth celebrating. So, no matter what job we are doing, we are more than a set of skills and we can apply everything we have and learned into a new field if we want. Might it be a challenge? Yes " but that is often when the greatest growth and achievement comes.

What are the most common signs of career dissatisfaction?

Career dissatisfaction can wreak serious emotional, physical, and psychological havoc on a person. It is important to identify the signs and create an action plan to get back on the right career path. Sure, there are different levels of dissatisfaction ranging from someone who is simply unhappy about the types of projects they have been getting lately to people who see nothing redeemable about their current career path and have reached the burnout stage. So, for our purposes here, I am going to share several signs that indicate you may be headed toward severe career dissatisfaction or the burnout stage.

Signs that You May be Experiencing Career Burnout

  • When someone tells you that they love their job, you become really jealous and wonder why they have it together and you are stuck in your miserable job.
  • You constantly check the paper and Internet for job postings. You fantasize on a daily basis about doing something else " but are usually too overwhelmed to do anything about it.
  • You are always checking your watch when you are at work and the time is always earlier than you think it should be. You dream about all of the other things you wish you were doing.
  • You think that if only you had a better job, the rest of your life would be better.
    You begin to feel very tense or slightly depressive as Sunday evening approaches and you are anticipating the work week ahead. This is a sure sign that something is not right.

Signs that You May be Experiencing Excessive Career Burnout

  • You have feelings of hopelessness and you feel stuck in your current situation. If you have reached this stage, you know you need to seek some help and support. It is never too late to have your dream job and it is never too late to change your relationship to work.
  • Your lack of desire to work begins transferring to all areas of your life and you begin to notice you no longer desire to do things you used to love.
  • You lack energy and wish you could stay in bed all day and some days you do.
    You begin to use alcohol, drugs, or food as a way to soothe your pain.
  • You fail to see your strengths and begin beating yourself down with negative self-talk.
  • You are intensely irritable and every little thing bothers you or sets you off. You feel like you are always on edge and you expect the worst to happen. You lose perspective and assign all of the negative feelings you have about your job to all of the other areas of your life.
  • You have incessant headaches that seem to be getting worse over time and your stomach always feels like it is in knots.
  • You have trouble sleeping or all you do is sleep.
  • You find reasons to stay home from work or you are consistently tardy. While you are at work, your productivity decreases dramatically.

If you are experiencing severe career dissatisfaction, there are several steps you can take.

  • Seek the help of a professional counselor or coach and determine what course of action to take.
  • Change your perspective. Tell yourself that your current job is a temporary situation and you have the skills, ability, desire, and drive to choose a better path.
  • Create an action plan that includes discovering your life purpose; researching the market; assessing your skills, strengths and abilities; set up informational interviews; write a new resume that highlights what you have to offer rather than just a list of what you have done; and remind yourself that it is never too late to have your dream job.
  • Find out if your company has any job development or training resources.
  • Communicate what you are going through with the important people in your life. They cannot help you if you do not tell them what is happening.
  • Begin growing your network. Tell people, as long as it does not jeopardize your current situation, that you are looking to move in a different direction and ask for some feedback and resources. A career transition will not happen in isolation. It will not happen by posting your resume on a job board. It is a job in itself and in order to execute an effective career transition, you need to get others involved. Assume they will want to help you and then ask for help.
  • Remember that although this current career situation may not be your ideal, it is a means to an end and it has taught you some valuable lessons if you are willing to take them. It has prompted you to move closer to your dream and in the end, it may be the catalyst to living the life you always imagined.

When you're helping someone decide what career field they have the potential to both succeed in and enjoy, what tools do you use to evaluate their potential interests?

It usually depends on the client. There are a couple of assessments I might use such as the Enneagram or the StrengthsFinder but for the most part we just have a conversation. I start out by asking them to make a list of what they really don't like. Most people have no problem rattling off this list. It gets them thinking about past jobs, colleagues, work environment, responsibilities, etc. After we work out that list, we move over to what they really do want. This is usually more of a challenge. We try to address every element of a job or career such as the type of work day, geography, tasks, title, type of business, daily schedule, etc. I have them create this list of requirements so that they can really hone in on what they want. If people are able to be really honest about what they want, this exercise usually opens up a whole new bunch of options they never thought of. If they can take this one step further into actually envisioning themselves having exactly what they want, then this is often the light at the end of the tunnel they have been looking for.

What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes that people make when they're looking for a new job?

I think the biggest mistake people make is spending too much of their time searching for jobs on Internet job boards or in newspaper ads. Only 2-4% of jobs are actually found through those means and yet people still continue to spend the bulk of their day on that strategy " likely because it is infinitely easier to sit at a computer desk than it is to make calls and get out to talk to people. The only time I see this work is for recent grads who are simply looking for entry level work or when people research the job boards as a way to find out where the activity is, what firms are hiring, and what fields seem to be recruiting the most people. By using the boards that way, a prospect can then send a targeted letter to the company and increase the likelihood of making some contacts there. There is nothing wrong with using job boards, but they post hundreds of thousands of jobs every day. As a result, some boards average 40,000 new resume posts every day! What does it mean for the job seeker? It means that they are one of thousands who may be qualified and those are not the best odds.

The best way to find jobs, especially if you have been in the workforce for a while and even more so if you are changing careers entirely, is through networking. I know some people hate that word but it is where nearly 85% of jobs are found. You have to let people know what you are looking to do, strategically plan your networking tasks, and then get out there and talk to people.

The second biggest mistake people make is not being focused enough about what they want to do. It seems counterintuitive to limit your options when you are trying to find a job but it can truly cut your job search in half by doing it. You have to get specific about what you want to do and then talk to people about that. If you are speaking with one of your contacts and they ask you what you are hoping to do and you say something like "well I could work in HR because I have done that before but I also really like marketing so I could do that too. I guess I'd really be up for anything", chances are very little that something is going to come out of that contact. People are usually happy to help others out, especially if they see them as an asset; however, if you don't have a clear direction, it will be much more difficult for them to help. If, on the other hand, you say "I am looking for a job as an employee relations director in a non-profit organization���." then you have given it some teeth and the person with whom you are speaking has somewhere to go. If you do not get specific, you will often wind up responding to ads and jobs that are not the right fit and getting further off track each day.

So, be specific about what you want, let people know, and make an effort everyday to build, grow, and nurture your network.

What do you think are the most common and important questions that employers ask during an interview?

The most common question asked in any interview is "Tell me about yourself" or some derivative thereof and how you answer this question will greatly impact the rest of the interview.

The most important thing here is to remain relevant. The interviewer is not interested in knowing where you grew up and what you did as a kid unless it somehow specifically relates to the job at hand. This is your chance to give the interviewer a sense of the person that is behind the resume and cover letter. Many of your competitors are going to have similar degrees and academic credentials and maybe even have a similar career path but none has your particular experience, background, or perspective. So, you should prepare an answer that is approximately 2 minutes which will include 2-3 sentences about your years of relevant work experience, some of your knowledge-based skills and your most recent achievements. Then you would move on to what it is that you are bringing to the table and what you can offer this company, highlighting your strengths, transferable skills and any accomplishments related to them. Finally you will end with what you are looking for now. This is sometimes referred to as your "personal statement" or "commercial" and it is great to know it like the back of your hand for those times when you run into someone and they want to know what you are looking for.

  • Some of the other most common questions are:
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What are some of your weaknesses?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Why did you leave your last position?
  • Why do you want to work here? Or why should we hire you?

Then, the more behavioral oriented questions such as "give me an example of a time when you got into a conflict with one of your co-workers and how you handled it", are a big part of the interview. Because some surveys suggest that up to 75% of performance issues can be linked to the hiring decision, companies are putting much more time, effort, and resources into creating an interview process that allows them to get the most out of each interviewee and really assess their level of competence and readiness for the position.

Most people do not spend nearly enough time preparing for their interviews and yet when it comes down to getting the offer, it is the most essential piece of the job search.

How important would you say goal setting is in career planning?

I think it is essential, as it is for every area of your life. Countless studies have been conducted about the importance of goal setting and how much more successful people are when they set clearly defined, measurable and time-specific goals. When it comes to our careers, whether we are looking toward moving up from where we are or changing careers entirely, it is important to know what your end goal is and the steps you have to take to get there.

What are the steps you would tell a client to take in order to ensure that they meet their career goals?

Here are 5 steps that can be taken to meet your career goals.

1. Define what you want in as specific terms as possible.

2. Identify the people and resources that could help you achieve it.

3. Take a minimum of 5 steps toward achieving your goal every single day whether that means making a contact, sending a targeted letter, going to a networking meeting or all of the above. When you find yourself with choices to make throughout the day, ask yourself this question "will this take me closer to or further from reaching my goal?" and then make your choice.

4. Keep a log of everything you do during the job search. This log should include notes from interviews, resumes sent, contacts made (you never know if you will need them in the future or if you will be able to help them out as well), and any lessons learned. The longer you search, the better and more efficient you will become at it. You have to know what is not working in order to create the best plan.

5. Review your goals every single day and keep them visible. Most people, if they write down their goals at all, just do it and stick them in a drawer. Keep them out so you can see them and keep focused on what you want.

Most people site something or someone for the reason for not achieving goals. If you are able to put yourself in the driver's seat and take responsibility for what you can and cannot achieve, you will be amazed at what is possible.

What advice do you give people when they're searching for a new career?

Many people who have decided to change careers have spent years feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied. By the time they come to me they are so ready to change the trajectory of their career that they just want to jump right in and start looking for a job. Part of that is a result of the fear of not being able to pay the bills and part of it is they waited so long to do something that they feel they have reached their breaking point and if they don't see the change coming to fruition soon, they are going to explode.

Having gone through multiple job and career changes in my lifetime I can thoroughly relate to that mindset. However, I encourage them to approach this change and this decision as seriously as they did their decision to get married or have a kid or any of the other major life choices that have come their way. A job search is much like the quest to find the right mate and though there are probably some instances where jumping right into it and flying off to Vegas to get married has resulted in golden wedding anniversaries, I am sure there are many more that ended in divorce. To bring the idea into specific relief, I might pose this question, "would you rather jump in to the next job because it will satisfy your need to feel productive in the short term but will ultimately land you right back here a few years from now, or would you rather take the time to do it right and find yourself in the career of your dreams in as few as 6 months?" At that point, most are ready to dive in and take the steps needed to achieve the career of their dreams.

Studies have shown that most jobs are awarded to people due to referrals or networking. What are some of the ways in which people can begin networking with professionals in their field when they are making a huge career change?

  • As I mentioned previously, the very first thing someone can do is let people know they are making the change. There are so many different ways to network and you may have one purpose when you start out (trying to figure out what you want to do) and another purpose when you have determined your focus (ultimately find a job). So, here are a few ways to begin networking.
  • Talk to people you know who were in your field at one point but then went through a career change themselves " they will probably have a lot of good tips to share.
  • Reach out to your friends and family and let them know you are going to be going through a career transition. If you are still trying to figure out what you want to do, let them know that. Friends and family usually have "great advice" about what you should do next and while you might not follow what they say, someone may offer something you had never thought of before and it may be worth researching.
  • Once you begin narrowing your focus, ask if anyone you know knows anyone in that field that might be willing to set up an informational interview with you so you can learn more about it. This is not an attempt to get a job (although if a great one comes as a result, fantastic). It is a way for you to learn more about the industry or the job and some of the issues you might be facing as you look to make this transition.
  • If you are able to set up some informational interviews, never leave the meetings without asking for 3-5 names of other people who might be good for you to talk to. This is how you can really start to grow your network. Another great thing to do when you meet with someone in the industry is to ask them if they see any gaps that might get in your way or holes in your experience or education that might make it difficult to get in right now. You might choose to spend some of your time while you are looking for a job working to fill in those gaps. On-Line Degrees Today might be a good place to look.
  • Another option is to do your research and get to know what is happening in your industry and with the companies you are interested in targeting. Read press releases, research the principles, and find out what new initiatives the company may be working on. Then, send a targeted letter referencing what you learned and how you think you could contribute to the company. Ask for a meeting. Sometimes this idea intimidates people, but the worst that can happen is they will say no. Often however, the person is so impressed with your decisive action that they will agree to meet with you. They may not have a job for you now, but if you can get in front of them and wow them with your spirit and expertise, they are more likely to remember you if something does come up.

The important thing to remember about your network is that it is a living and breathing thing and if you don't nurture it, it will die. It is also a two-way street and it is good practice to keep up to date on what others in your network are doing so that when something comes across your desk that might be of interest to one of them, you can pass it along. There is nothing worse than the person who just comes to you when they need something or want a job. If that is the only time you reach out to your network, you will find it shrinking rapidly.

So, if you don't have an active network, take the steps necessary to grow it and if you do have one, continue to nurture it. The greater your network and the more initiative you are willing to take with it, the shorter and more successful your job search will be.

For more information about on the services offered by Melani and Career Fitness, go here to visit them online.

That concludes our interview!

Thank you Melani, for sharing and participating in this piece for Online Degrees 2.0


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