Who Should You Listen to? Why?
Americans love to listen to experts. In fact, the only thing we love more than listening to an expert is being an expert. Trust me. Being a career expert gives my parents plenty to brag about at parties.
But who should you trust when you are making career decisions? Why?
When searching for more fulfilling work people seek articles, books, and conversations. There is no shortage, free or paid, of folks happy to opine. But you need to ask yourself, why should I listen?
A dose of healthy skepticism should be there because people often end up taking advice from everyone. They get overwhelmed by conflicting opinions or engage with someone who offers advice that they do not respect or cannot hear for a variety of reasons. I promise the work you do at the beginning of this process will make you more successful and happier later. It all starts with finding someone with standing.
Standing is a set of attributes or experiences that give a person credibility. It means you think they should have experienced certain things to understand you or your journey.
When you are initiating a process to locate a coach, and I help people do this at least 10-15 times a month, I ask about the following:
Professional Experience Worked in a role, industry, or sector. Worked at an employment level. Had a unique professional transition (for example, they have moved from visual artist to forensic accountant, and that is a little like what you want to do).
Lived Experience A shared identity, including race, gender, orientation, age, etc. but can also include a specific phase (i.e., currently has a child under the age of five.)
Communication & Work Style Directive vs conversational, task oriented, only communicate during scheduled sessions times, etc. How do they hold you accountable?
Training Can you only envision working with someone who is the product of a particular kind of education or specific program?
Cost/Availability If this is paid support, what do they charge and what can you afford? If this is free, how available will they be to you and for how long?
Those details, like a Venn diagram, construct who will serve you best. I work with less than 10% of the founders or job seekers I meet with, long term. Most of the time after a conversation or two I consider who would be a better fit and share names.
Another kind of advice sought is about understanding a role or industry. I prefer that people engage multiple role or industry experts so they can synthesize multiple opinions. These are the people doing that work that you aspire to or are curious about.
When I am speaking with someone who has decided on, or is deciding between, a career/role in banking, running a franchise business or being a rodeo clown, I want to help them understand the day-to-day in that role (and the long-term job market). I do not know enough, and one conversation gets you only one person’s experience.
You need to first know what matters most to you in your next position and develop a core set of questions you use with all of the relevant professionals. Then hold 6-8 conversations using those questions and note where there is agreement across conversations and where there might be differences of opinions. I have found this approach to yield great results.
For example, in some of my current work I have the opportunity to engage with venture capitalists. Many of them achieved initial success through a combination of hard work, good luck, a good network intelligence and timing. Ratios vary! Some of them, who have had success, believe that their approach is a one-size fits all answer to all start-up problems. Speaking to multiple experts helps you gain confidence about what’s true vs one person’s certainty based only on their lived experience.
Finally, let me present to you your historians. These are the experts in you. Sometimes, they are close friends, family, or a partner. Other times they may be current of former colleagues that you speak to irregularly, but they have a perspective on you that was earned over time and experience.
This experience matters in some pivotal life moments. I will often direct people to consider a group of 4-10 that they respect, have solid communication with, and have no baggage that will make you dismiss their opinions. They are the people you turn to in those moments where you ask yourself what am I good at, when did I seem happy at work, or what are some things that I should consider doing next? These are your trusted historians.
Thanks for reading. I hope the next time you need advice; it will be easier to know who to turn to.
—Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.