It’s that time again, my contract is ending and I am back on the job market.
I’m fairly optimistic this time, despite the fact that this is my third job hunt in as many years. I’ve developed a lot professionally, and built a stronger network. I am also able to learn from my past mistakes, and one of the things I have done to help myself this time is employ a career coach.
At my current job, one of the goals of our grant is to provide student services such as help with job hunting for graduates. I approached one of the people on that team to help me with my job hunt, and I’ve been very pleased.
My current job ends at the end of the year, and so I should be gearing up for the job hunt this fall. Unfortunately, I was finding myself unfocused and distracted. Working with a job coach has been really helpful in overcoming that. My coach has been helping me to:
• Identify my overall career goals, not just my next job move
• Assess and display my strengths on LinkedIn and my resume
• Strategize my activities for this job hunt- including aligning these activities with my overall goals.
There is no magic career fairy dust here. We’ve actually gone through some activities I have seen elsewhere, and even tried before. She is encouraging me to do the things I knew I needed to do already: update LinkedIn, ask for help in my network, attend networking events, and other activities that Bio Careers® bloggers mention regularly.
For me, the advantage of working with a career coach is two-fold. First, having the structure of a regular meeting (we meet every other week) has helped me actually do some of those important activities. In the chaos of a job hunt, it’s hard to feel like the work you are doing is going to help get a job unless you are actively submitting job applications and attending interviews.
My coach has encouraged me to take a broader view of job hunting activities, to include talking about my search with others, and doing assessments that will help me identify what type of work I am going to be happiest in. Because I know that I am going to be meeting with my coach, I will actually sit down and do my homework, including writing down what I am looking for in my next job. Those activities really are much more illuminating if you take some time and energy to explore them, instead of rushing into applying for a slew of jobs where you can’t quite describe why you are a good fit.
The second way that my coach has helped is that she brings an enormous amount of positivity to my job hunt. It’s hard not to succumb to self-criticism in the job hunt, which can promptly descend into a mopey, self-sabotaging attitude. “I’m not qualified for anything, I may as well just take this [crappy, boring, disappointing job with no opportunity for growth] so I can at least get paid.”
Not surprisingly, “self-sabotaging” isn’t a trait that most hiring managers are looking for, so keeping a good attitude can make a huge difference in the career hunt. My coach is very optimistic about my prospects, and tells me this regularly. She applauds my action, and encourages me to challenge myself.
When we were discussing my strategies for job hunting, we agreed that I should be networking more. She nudged me to make a goal of attending three networking events next month, and of meeting 6 people at each event that I can follow-up with. It’s a bit of a stretch for someone who is shy around strangers like myself, but I know I will be happy to report back my progress to her.
My coach isn’t a mentor or a sponsor, and she actually doesn’t know much specifically about my field. Having an outside perspective has been really helpful though. I recently sent her a very technical job description, saying that job sounded so fun, but I wasn’t sure I was a good candidate, and perhaps I should apply for a different job at the same organization that I might be more likely to get, and would applying for the one destroy my chances of getting the other? She wrote back, “Apply for all jobs you are interested in. Do not apply for jobs that you are not interested in.” It’s good advice, and it’s great to know I’ve got someone who can help me snap out of the overthinking that seems to come easily in the job hunt.
Lots of people have asked me about working with a career coach. There are tons of them out there, and it is hard to know who is a scammer, and who will really provide the help you need. Not everyone needs a career coach, and not all career coaches are created equally. One friend, in the midst of a slow motion career transition, described that he wanted a career coach who could tell him exactly what type of career he would be happier with instead, and tell him what he would have to do to get there.
That seems like a lot of pressure to put on a stranger, and a strange incentive to give someone who you pay hourly. My sense is that a good coach will help you answer those questions for yourself. For myself, I know that I have a lot more confidence in my decisions knowing that I have put in the work to refine and define the direction I want to take my career.
Sandlin Seguin, Ph.D. earned her doctorate in molecular biology in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently the Curriculum and Faculty Development Specialist at the Life Science Informatics Center at Bellevue College. She is seeking a new job bringing her strong communication and technical skills to an organization that positively impacts education or healthcare.