In this article a recruitment consultant interviewed Mary Anna about the role of coaching in supporting career progession and her journey into coaching.
Q1. If people talk to me about career transition I say it’s impossible. What’s your view?
The truth is pretty much anything is possible. One of the reasons I’m a coach is my total belief in human potential and the power of coaching to catalyse major changes for my clients. Of course some career changes are easier than others.
When my clients talk about changing career, I start off asking them what it is about their current career that makes them want to move on. Then we think through what attracts them to the career they want. Many people who sift carefully through their thoughts find that actually it isn’t their career that needs to change. It’s the environment they work in, a conflict with a colleague, a stressful project or many, many, other factors. Coaching is all about listening, questioning and scrutinising. Then when the bare bones of the reality is unearthed, plotting out a plan of action.
For example, many people say they want to be a teacher because short working days and long holidays would fit around their children’s needs. A quick talk to a teacher can easily dispel the myth about the work involved – the breakfast clubs, after-school activities and endless homework marking. Actually, what the person may really want are flexible working hours. There are lots of alternatives to a straight career change. The right to ask for this kind of flexibility is becoming embedded in employment law across many parts of the world.
Another good example is an Accountant I worked with. He had a successful career in banking, but was passionate about music and desperate to work in the music industry. His dream was to become a record producer, but had no skills or training in that area. However he had a degree and Masters and ten solid years’ experience in financial services. When we unearthed those bones of reality, we found that actually he wanted to work in a different environment. He felt the music industry was creative and energetic. When it boiled down to it, he was embarrassed to talk about his current work – he felt it was dull.
When I’m coaching I sometimes ask challenging questions. I wondered why, with this passion for music, he hadn’t been producing records already? Why wasn’t he spending his free time learning the craft? After working together he realised that his skills could be of real value to the music industry and actually he could do the work he was fabulous at already, but in a different environment. He is now the financial manager for a company that travels the world providing top end equipment for huge music events. His working environment is dynamic and inspiring, and his experience highly valued.
Q2 My experience is that people just want clones?
We do hear a lot about transferable skills and competencies, but in a way you are right. Experience counts for a lot. In my previous role, when I advertised jobs I was sometimes inundated with applications. It’s natural to skim off the most recruitable by scanning for job titles and employers. However, new ideas are highly prized too. So if an applicant can explain why their experience is valuable and justify their career narrative then they can be at an advantage. The trick is to get your application through the filter and that takes care.
There are a few key things to consider:
- Transition can take time. You can’t quit your job as a chef on a Friday and turn up to work as a surgeon on Monday. Plan, ask people doing the job you want for advice, get training, demonstrate your passion.
- Applying for jobs can take a lot of time and effort. Sometimes it’s worth ringing: “I’m very interested in the job, I’ve got x,y,z experience and skills that could be very useful to you because of a,b and c. But I realise that I’m probably not the type of candidate you were expecting, would you be interested in seeing my application?”
- In terms of transferable skills, just about any senior level job needs what I class as the top three. They are communication skills, financial management and soft skills (influence, resilience etc). Get all the evidence you can about your expertise in those three areas, and your attractiveness to any recruiter is stronger.
Q3. Can you give me any examples of how career transition might work in practise?
Well my story might be useful here. I was a horsey girl who grew up in the country and became passionate about environmental issues. I studied Marine Biology and then my social life took off. I got into rave culture, dancing all night at big outdoor events. I loved the sense of connection and meeting like-minded people. We all wanted to save the world. I did a Masters in Human Ecology about how we interact with our environment then a thesis on rave culture which became a PhD on cultural change – a kind of neuro-sociology. This was part funded by me doing freelance writing, when I finished PhD I had an impressive portfolio of published work and got a job as a journalist for The Independent in London.
I hadn’t planned on a journalism career, and still had a hankering to save the world. Writing about things wasn’t enough, I wanted to change things. So I decided to side step into campaigning. I saw a job with senior management responsibility for an environmental charity that had a great reputation. The salary was tiny and I had to live away from home, but it was a great introduction into the charity sector. With that role under my belt, I was a far more credible candidate and soon got a better job back in London. My last role was for an inner London Council. I started off doing PR to encourage behaviour change, like recycling and sustainable travel. I was promoted and ended up as Head of Communications.
Deep down, I knew I wanted to work for myself. My husband is from Ireland and when we started a family he desperately wanted to move home. The behaviour change work had introduced me to coaching and I was totally blown away by the experience. First I did a couple of terms of evening class to see if I had what it takes to become a coach myself. As the field was becoming more professional, I discovered that to have any clout I would need proper international accreditation. I researched the best courses, got a bank loan, negotiated on fees and made a deal with my employers. I paid for the training and was given time off to attend courses.
I clocked up 100 hours coaching while in full time employment by working with clients before and after work. As my coaching skills improved I worked alongside the HR team with organisational change programmes. I spent weekends reading and writing assignments. When I was awarded my accreditation I took annual leave to mentor on a coach training programme in Ireland. A few years later we made the move and I felt like I stepped into a network of people I already knew. I also feel like I’m going full circle, because I am now exploring equine facilitated coaching to use for specific breakthrough sessions with senior leaders to help them connect to their vision for change.
So from personal experience and from the clients I’ve worked with, I can say that career transition is possible if you are prepared for some hard work. But remember, the journey itself may take a long time so make sure you enjoy the ride.
The four key things that helped me are:
- Frank conversations with my employer about where I wanted my career to go and how I could be of use to them while I got there
- Being prepared to take loans, volunteer, negotiate fees, give up holidays, do overtime and whatever else was needed to pay for training.
- Networking – I am now Vice-President of the International Coach Federation here in Ireland. Being a member has made me feel part of a team, developed my professional skills and helped me embody my new career
- Being true to my values and developing a career path that still excites my passion