Career Conversations by The Careers Company - Lifelong Learning

career coach career conversation the careers company Jun 07, 2022

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I live with my husband and we have been together for a long time. We don't have children, but we always seem to be busy. When I'm not working most likely I will be in the garden, doing some exercise such as walking or Pilates. I read a lot and increasingly over the lockdown I read more history than fiction, which has been a bit of a change for me. I love going out to new places and seeing new things. But I do love being at home. I'm quite a domestic person.

I'm one of three girls. My parents divorced when I was very young. My mum was a teacher and my grandma was a teacher. My mum and my grandma were incredibly strong characters in my family. For example, I saw my mum at times holding down lots of different jobs, but always managing to hold on to her teaching as well. And she was a fabulous teacher. And so that made a big impression on me. I mention that because it was just something significant about women working and about my mum being able to keep us together as a family. Those things were massively influential in my life.

Walk me through your career to date

I started off thinking I was going to make films. Production. I was really interested in theatre and film production. This is way back in the 1980s. So, I went to study a film-making course. In retrospect, I realise I needed a break from education to understand more about who I was. I dropped out of my course partly because I had started doing voluntary work in homeless shelters and that felt worthwhile to me. Over time I went from voluntary work into proper employment, particularly working with young people who were homeless, and who had experienced the care system and various things.

And as I did that, I also did some social work qualifications, nothing very academic. I went on to manage homelessness services for local authorities and quite quickly moved into management roles. Even though all the jobs I was interested in said ‘essential requirements must have a degree’, I didn't have one but I just thought I'll give it a go anyway. Those were easier days and I moved into various management roles and then I worked for probation on housing issues. 

I was always interested in people in crisis, people who had ended up somehow at ‘the bottom of the pile’ and were in desperate need. Then having worked with probation, I managed what was known as a Community Safety Project - there was an increasing interest in crime prevention through social measures and educating young people, particularly young people at risk and a growing understanding about how young people could go through education and come out unable to read and write which often led to them being at increased risk of offending or drug use or a combination of things. 

Not long after that I came across an MSc that I was seriously interested in. It was Social Policy Studies at the Bristol University School for Social Policy. So again, even though I didn't have a first degree, I just thought, well, I'll give it a try. They were lovely people, the academics, and they gave me a place on the course. It was part time and I was able to keep working full time. My husband supported me in so many ways! Working full time and studying got a bit much at times but he kept me going but he supported me during moments of complete meltdown! Anyway, what I realised was that I really love academic learning. And that's stayed with me.

“What I really love is helping somebody find the job, go for the job, get the job, 

and then I like working with them as they establish themselves in the job”

I got my Master's and it was a fascinating course. It was all mature students and there was some fantastic academic research input. I learned a massive amount. I became really interested in group processes and group psychology and what happens to people in a work environment. I became very interested in how work sometimes seemed like a dysfunctional, horrible family where people treated one another badly, although I have worked in some good setups too. I realised that if I wanted to progress down an organisational development/HR route I would need to get my HR qualification. And today in fact, I got my certificate for being 20 years a member of CIPD!

Describe your career transition to coaching

So having got my CIPD qualification I quickly upgraded to chartered fellow as I had lots of experience at a strategic level. Then I did an organisational development qualification. And that was the focus of my last job before I went independent. I worked for a county council leading their strategic organisational development activity for a long time - almost 10 years. As I was doing that I became involved in career coaching.

That happened because we set up an internal career coaching service in response to feedback from people who said one of the reasons they joined the council was because they thought that being part of a large organisation would mean lots of opportunities to move around, but it was so big and fragmented they really struggled to negotiate their way across services and often felt stuck. So as part of that I trained to be a career coach myself and I loved it. Training as a career coach also made me assess my own situation and I thought maybe now's the time to go independent. First, I went down to three days a week as a gradual exit. I did my executive career coaching qualification. I also did a lot of training around how people present themselves because I wanted to use that in interview techniques and so on. 

Then I started to work for myself. I did a lot of pro bono work. I needed that to get me going. For example, there's an international leadership development trust I had worked with in the past, nominating people for their programmes. They do such great work and I wanted to support them and be part of something more than just my own independent practice. All their facilitators work on a pro bono basis and there’s always a great team spirit. I knew that was important to me as well keeping me in touch with leadership development in a broader way. If I was just working on my own, even with associate work I felt like I could get a bit adrift. 

There’s another organisation I’ve worked with on a pro bono basis since I went independent that helps people who have been made redundant. That also gave me that sense of community and meant that from an early stage I knew I was helping people even before I had much of my own paid work. I needed that sense of intrinsic satisfaction. 

I was lucky too in that I'm in a relationship where we could manage with me not earning much - virtually nothing - for a while. But once it started to happen, it built up. Then I thought it was all going to collapse with the pandemic but it didn’t, it moved to zoom instead.  

Although I've done a lot of coaching, particularly career coaching, it was only doing my coaching qualification and really working at my practice that I came to understand, at least for now, what I'm best offering as a coach. I think it changes. Now I do quite a lot of leadership coaching with people, which I really love. But the bit I like most is the career coaching. I like working with people particularly where they have a sense that they want to make a change. What I really love is helping someone find the role they want, go for it and get it and then working with them as they establish themselves in the job.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to change careers?

Think laterally. Don't be put off. Don't think you have to meet all the criteria – you will have your own unique offer and you need to articulate that in terms that makes sense to the prospective employer. You can tell from my career, even though I know times are different, that if I'd been put off by not having a first degree I don't know what would have happened to me. In retrospect I can see that I was more confident about what I had to offer than perhaps many other people were. And I was very good at thinking about transferring my skills to another job and at thinking my way into the job. 

Work hard on developing and nurturing your networks - so many of my jobs came from people encouraging me to go for things, and they had evidently spoken to other people about me and encouraged them to give me a chance. 

I think one of the other things is to really think about what's most important to you. Of course, some of its practical stuff such as money. But even more important is to think about your strengths and what you love doing, and think about the values of the organisation, not just the espoused values, but try to understand what's really going on in that organisation, its culture and try to imagine yourself in there. You need to project yourself into the role to know if it is right for you and convince others that you are right for them! One of the ways I work with people when I coach them is to get them to interrogate what the job really is about in its essence and how it fits with their own essential criteria, not the organisation's essential criteria, their essential criteria.

We are all about conversation at The Careers Company. What are the most meaningful career conversations you've had? Who were they with? What made them meaningful?

I didn't really have a career conversation in my work until I did my career coaching course. The people who ran took us through the process ourselves as part of the training. They started off with nothing about a job, or the work we wanted to do. It was all about who we were, and what was important to us in life and when we felt at our most satisfied, most in the flow. Until then I really hadn't had a career conversation with anybody. It's shocking that people don't talk to the people they lead and manage about their ambitions and ideas. 

We expect a lot of people at work, and yet most of the time we seem to avoid any kind of conversation that goes beyond the current job. Apart from anything else people just love it when somebody shows an interest in them, shows they care. From the Careers Company point of view helping corporate clients invest in their employees with real integrity makes a massive difference strategically in terms of talent development and engagement. When a business, it doesn’t matter what the sector is, is sincere about career development it sends such an important message to employees.

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