Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not Knowing, Career Coaches, and the Quandary of Self Discovery

In August 2013, I entered my MBA program not knowing a thing about business. Risky? Yes, but I wanted to learn. I wanted to walk away from Department of Defense contracting and into corporate America. I wanted to work for a company that wouldn't send me to a third world country for 14 months and I wanted to be in a workplace that values independent thought. Good steady pay would also be nice.

But that's all I knew I wanted. All the other career details I figured would unfold as part of the learning experience.

"Your MBA will open a lot of doors," everyone said. I looked forward to that.

As I come to the final few semesters of my MBA, I have learned a lot. I know what a balance sheet is and how to read it. I know supply and demand curves. I know what a marketing plan is, how Google Analytics works, and why both are important. I know Porter's Five Forces and have learned many other strategic decision-making tools.

While taking these classes, I've always looked through the prism of my experiences and to the future. I knew I had quality analytical skills from my time in the Military. I knew I had project management, process analysis, and documentation experience. And I also knew I had knowledge of the global environment in part from experience and in part due to my first Master's in International Affairs.

I had a bag of pieces and no idea how to put them together.

When I started my MBA, a job in financial analysis sounded good. I read articles on analysts traveling and investing in companies based on research and political outlooks. Then I realized how rusty my math skills were and how steep of a mountain that would be to climb. I also learned the process required several licenses and years of training.

To quote Dr. Seuss, "Oh, the stuff you will learn".

While some of the roads have been revealed and some eliminated, there are hundreds, if not thousands. that remain.

So it was with great interest that I read Dorie Clark's recent article on professional transitions on the Harvard Business Review website. Entitled "Find the Career Coach Who Is Right For You", the article gives advice on finding a coach who can help transition a professional from one career to the other. Clark writes about looking at coaches' reputations, their past work, and deciding what knowledge you want from them.

But what if you don't know?

What if I had hired a financial career coach knowing I hadn't taken a math class since college algebra? What I thought that was a great career path because I read a few articles in Forbes or Fortune? Would a good career coach had advised me away from that path? Or would they have taken my money?

Or would a career coach had looked at my resume, found key words and skills that could be applied to certain fields, talked to me about my personal goals, and suggested a way forward career-wise? While we may have eliminated career choice number one or two, perhaps career path three would still get me to the lifestyle I wanted to live.

(Again, I'm not looking for self-fulfillment or anything like that. I'm looking for a good job. Something challenging and with potential for professional growth. If I have that, then the house, minivan, and white picket fence should take care of itself.)

The biggest problem with Clark's article is that considering a career coach is another case of not knowing what I don't know.

Thank goodness for university career centers, proactive professors, and veterans' transition offices, all of which have given me a lot of insight and networking opportunities. To be honest, I'm not clear yet on the career I will settle on. Every few months, I feel the need to explore another path, usually after failing to get even one interview after dozens of job submissions to a certain field. My idea is that if one path doesn't work, perhaps another will. But each path change takes effort, energy, re-networking, and resume rewriting.

Hopefully if I knock on enough doors, one of them will open. And whichever opportunity opens, I will be successful in.

That I know.