How do I figure out what to do next with my career?
June 14, 2006 8:31 AM   Subscribe

What do you think about professional career coaches / executive coaches / life coaches? What about other methods of figuring out what you want to do NEXT in your career when you're unsatisfied with what you do NOW?

I hate my job and want a new one. I've worked for multiple companies in my industry, and I've come to realize that it is more the function of my job and the nature of the industry that I dislike, and not just this position. The problem here? I don't know what it is that I want to do next. Before I start job hunting, I need to figure this out. I'm in therapy for other things, but I'd like specific help with the career issue. I know that professional career coaches exist, I just don't know anything about them. Actually, they kind of seem like they'd be a ripoff, but I also desperately need guidance that I can't seem to provide for myself. Does anyone out there have experience with this type of coach/counselor? Any recommendations on what to look for, how to go about finding some thing legit? How about other methods of figuring out what you want to do (assessments, books, methods of self reflection - anything, really)? Thank you.
posted by echo0720 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Me too. Sorry for not answering, just seeing a good deal of myself in this question (just not the therapy part). Additionally, I am the sole breadwinner for an increasingly expensive family. I'm always afraid to make a move in case it doesn't work out, I bring the whole family down. So I spend each day somewhere I hate. Maybe I do need therapy.

To try and answer the question, my boss was given a professional coach by the company (to help him interact better with his peers), and at least in this case it seems to be a ripoff. The coach seems overly interested in discussing company gossip than teaching skills. This has soured me to this form of coaching at least.
posted by genefinder at 8:45 AM on June 14, 2006

I heard about the Johnson-O'Connor Aptitude Test somewhere, Asked MeFi about it, and got some good answers. I haven't taken the test, though, so I can't give a first-hand account. I'm too old for it to be much more than a curiosity (what, I'm going to switch to being a conceptual performance artist if that's what I'm cut out for, after engineering and law? I don't think so!). But still, it could be pretty interesting. If it's legit, maybe I'll give my kid a chance to try it when he's getting closer to finishing high school.
posted by spacewrench at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2006

I'd start with the free or cheap options before paying for private: the government, alumni services (if you went to college/university), or non-profit orgs are a good place to start. This gov't page has some good info. It looks like career councillors can be accredited, so you should definitely look for that, if you go the private route.
posted by carmen at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2006

While legitimate options exist, I'd check out Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Bait and Switch", as she has a lot to say on the subject, and some statistics to back it up.
posted by hermitosis at 9:03 AM on June 14, 2006

I think with life/career coaches, you need to be careful. There is no real licensing process per se (I think there are some certifications, but it's not regulated like therapists are). I went to one who seemed very accomplished: before she had kids, she was an executive at a couple small companies -- career coaching was her part-time career after having kids. Basically, a lot of our sessions were about her bragging about her career and how I should want a career path like hers (which I wasn't interested in). She was not capable of relating to me or able to help me figure out what *I* wanted to do next, even though we hit it off well when I interviewed her.
I think good people probably exist out there, but as with most things, I don't know how to find the good ones except by referral.
I've also tried to go through the "What Color Is My Parachute" book and "The Pathfinder" book, but would get frustrated with them and give up. I know a lot of people recommend them, though.
posted by j at 9:04 AM on June 14, 2006

Sometimes, when I wonder what I want to do when I grow up, I play the What's your desk like? game. This game is pretty self-explanatory, but it gives a hook on which to hang your self-reflection about what kind of job / work environment / workplace / etc.

So you sit and think about whether you want a:
  • busy office or a quiet one
  • busy desk (with lots of emergencies) or a quiet one
  • computer as the central thing your desk or not (and then it's fun to think of jobs where a computer does not feature prominantly, and what that might be like, at least for me since I sit in front of a machine all day everyday)
  • Phone? Special phone with a headset, becuase you're in sales or something? A huge old-style phone, because you're the "boss"?
  • Same desk everyday? Work in different offices? Work outside? Work in another country?
This advice is just to get you thinking about things you do like or do want out of a job / career. It's unclear that there's a direct correlation between knowing what your desk looks like and then, what jobs have that kind of desk. So that's probably a downfall of this technique -- you wind up imagining yourself in an imaginary job whose reality does not turn out as you thought. But hey, it's a way to get started.
posted by zpousman at 10:01 AM on June 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

Timely question for me too.

I'm in sales and I hate my job. I hate the metrics, the micromanaging, the two-facedness of my peers.

You know what I'd really like to do? I'd like to stay home with my kids during the day and then be a part time bookseller at Barnes and Noble. It's silly, right? But I love books and I think I'd be happy there.

It should be an easy answer right? Go get a job at B & N.

But it's not, especially when you're part of a two income family and taking a job and B & N means a $ 20K pay cut when there is a mortgage and bills to be paid.

Sorry about not answering your question, but I hope you're able to find what you're looking for.
posted by obeetaybee at 10:23 AM on June 14, 2006

I've just started working with a coach. I found her through a friend who does career counseling.

Before I hired her, I was very dissatisfied with my job and wanting to make a change professionally. However, as I completed the exercises she gave me in preparation for our sessions, I came to realize that my frustration is as much personal-based (organizational issues, conflict avoidance, etc.) and home-based (unbalanced relationship, baggage, crap) - but I was focusing on work because it was the easier target.

We are doing a 16-week program, but we've only met one time so far. And now that the focus seems to be shifting away from work, I'm less certain about what my goal is. I expected to walk away with a clear vision of my next job and the steps I need to take to get there - and I still may end up at that point - but I may end up in a completely different place altogether. It's early in the process, still, and I think this will develop kind of organically. At least I hope it will.

Her approach is similar to CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) from what I've seen so far: small steps, lots of affirmation, identifying and owning up to things that need to be changed.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 10:59 AM on June 14, 2006

Try starting with a book or two on the subject, just to get you thinking and get you started on figuring out what you want. If a coach seems increasingly to be a good idea, then the time and work you've put into the books might help you hit the coaching sessions running, instead of starting from scratch.

It's possible, though, that a few good coaching books will get you started on going where you want to go.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 12:00 PM on June 14, 2006

Your local community college may have a guidance cousellor whose services are free for a one-time visit, even if you're not a registered student. Maybe you could try this first to find out if you really like the idea of having a coach or counsellor, or whether you're more of a DIY type.
posted by Quietgal at 12:16 PM on June 14, 2006

Most life coaches are (although they would deny it) lay clinical therapists who deploy unregulated alternative clinical methodologies. If they are ethical, they will not engage you as a client while you remain under conventional therapy.

What you need is a career transition consultant. They have the ability to work with both great insight into your capabilities and insight, and great practicality as to what kind of moves can be achieved given your current skill and experience set.

Good ones are expensive, but that makes sense because transitioning careers is a very hard thing to do successfully. (Transitioning professions is easy if there is a gateway graduate school for the new profession -- the problem there is the years and expense and the starting-over-at-ground-level that it entails.)

You should diligence potential consultants very carefully: demand references from former clients and call those references to find out how, and how expensively, the consultant orchestrated their move.
posted by MattD at 12:36 PM on June 14, 2006

An agency that laid me (and quite a few others) off hired a career counselor for us. It was not useful. Very well-meaning and kind, but too trendy, jargon-y and unrealistic.

Read What Color is my Parachute, and some Barbara Sher. The public library should have a good section. The Unemployment Office may (or may not) have resources, this varies greatly by state and town.
posted by theora55 at 1:04 PM on June 14, 2006

My husband just went to a career counselor and it really helped. She is a former boss of mine and chose him for her class "project" (she's getting her master's degree).

He took the Myers-Briggs test, as well as skills and interests assessments. Also, she redid his resume and helped him come up with a realistic plan to change careers (he used to be a butcher and is now going into healthcare).

I think it really helped him define what he likes/dislikes about work and determine a practical course of action. It helped in that we knew her and she did it for free (the process can easily run $2-3K).

I truly hate my job as well. obeetaybee, you nailed my dream job but I can't afford to do that either!
posted by sfkiddo at 1:05 PM on June 14, 2006

I tried a life/career coach, but the person did not seem to relate to the skills and experience I had built through my MBA. The coach seemed to have a hard time understanding that I wanted to transition from my existing career path and go after higher paying positions in other fields. The coach kept telling me that I should pursue my passion and not money. I tried to emphasize that I'm good at a lot of things and that I find passion in many parts of my life and that I simply wanted to also find something that was also more financially satisfying. (I am perfectly capable of determining whether I would not want a particular job. I simply wanted help in figuring out what higher paying positions I would also enjoy.) My coach had a really hard time understanding that I was now very well versed in "hard" subjects and kept saying that it was my work experience in "soft" areas that would open doors. I think my coach was very well meaning, but, without any university education or executive-track experience, was unable to relate to my position. The coach did help me revamp my resume and get interviews, but they weren't the interviews I wanted -- they were very female ghetto and I wanted out of that.

So, I dropped my coach and found a short-term mentor. The mentor was an executive with an MBA and a kind spirit. He was able to help me figure out my career path and to let me know how to package myself. I then got another MBA colleague (a VP at a local firm) to give me some resume pointers. As a result of those interventions, I found myself being offered more attractive positions and contracts. And I didn't have to pay those mentors.

I think my coach might have been the right person for someone else. But the coach wasn't the right person to help me at that time in my life.
posted by acoutu at 1:22 PM on June 14, 2006

"Take Time For Your Life" by Cheryl Richardson helped me a lot. I found it to be a great guide to freeing up time/money to do what I wanted. I think the author is one of the few really effective life coaches out there.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:47 PM on June 14, 2006

(mmmm... don't try to post as you run out of the house for the day. That link I was trying for was this)
posted by carmen at 5:18 AM on June 15, 2006

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