Siddiqi Ray photographer

An interview with Siddiqi Ray: A vision for entrepreneurs

Each business owner discovers the road to entrepreneurship differently. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, Siddiqi Ray, about her unique path to successful entrepreneurship.

Siddiqi Ray is an internationally acclaimed photographer, speaker, and coach. Prior to stepping out on her own as an entrepreneur, Siddiqi garnered experience in editorial photography, marketing, customer relations, graphic design, and higher education. Although Siddiqi didn’t start her own business immediately after graduating from college, she shares that her mentors planted entrepreneurial seeds in her as early as age 16 when she attended The Arts High School in New York.

“I’ve always been really good at seeking out mentors—either people who were where I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do, or who had another quality they embodied that I realized I needed,” Siddiqi shares.

The importance of mentors

This led Siddiqi to pursue internships and career-related positions throughout high school and college. Her tenacity helped her land great positions later in life with organizations like The Mayo Clinic and with clients like The Navy SEALS and The Dalai Lama. However, as Siddiqi points out, translating impressive work experience into entrepreneurial success is often a struggle.

One of Siddiqi’s most noted mentors, who pushed her to pursue a career wholeheartedly in photography, was a professor at Tish School of the Arts at New York University (NYU). While Siddiqi entered the school expecting to pursue a career in videography, her professor noticed her true talent—photography—and urged her to take her camera and “go out and experience the world and live your vision.”

So she did.

Siddiqi notes that her professor’s words, care, and mentorship impacted her profoundly.

“That was such an amazing revelation—to have someone care enough about me and to see something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.” Siddiqi mentioned other mentors, friends, and colleagues who have impacted her similarly.

Discovering our own strengths & weaknesses as entrepreneurs

Siddiqi Ray photographer
Siddiqi Ray, internationally acclaimed photographer

“Sometimes we have that knowing, but it’s hidden in plain sight,” she muses.

When starting and growing businesses, many entrepreneurs struggle with inadequacies. For some, it’s their own soft skills or interpersonal skills, and for others, it’s character strengths and weaknesses. Siddiqi admits she wasn’t immune to this struggle; she grappled with one soft skill in particular which was both her greatest quality and the “bane of her existence”—and that was vision.

Siddiqi defines vision as the internal sense of knowing, a gut instinct, and a big picture ability to see where she wants to be and what she wants manifested in her career, business, and finances. Not all entrepreneurs and business owners possess this soft skill—that’s for certain. Many business owners are simply not big picture thinkers. Many, instead, muddle through details and have difficulty with even the simplest questions, like “Where do you see your business in five years?”

Not Siddiqi. She admits that the hard work for her happens in the space between the vision and the now. She shares that she often feels frustrated because she is not truly goal-oriented even though she is vision-oriented; she can get frustrated in the translation.

Siddiqi Ray’s advice to budding entrepreneurs

Siddiqi advises budding entrepreneurs to pursue, find, and believe in their own vision yet hold it loosely.

“Hold it loosely because something better may, and probably will, occur,” she encourages.

Siddiqi notes that it’s important to keep refining your vision as you take action steps toward your vision.

“When I focus my energy and concentration, I focus on the baby steps right in front of me. I don’t worry about spanning the distance. A lot of people I work with are really busy trying to figure out how to fix it and make it work. That’s not where the mojo is. That’s not where the magic is. That’s not where the miracles live. There is vision, and there is what is going to organically happen on the way to our vision,” Siddiqi reflects.

 

If you need help developing your ability to see the big picture, reach out to me for help.

Siddiqi Ray is an internationally acclaimed photographer, speaker, and coach whose work merges intuition, creative vision and pragmatic analysis to help people come into their own power, connect authentically, and build trust through visibility. Siddiqi has worked for over 30 years with entrepreneurs, Forbes 100 listed corporations and billionaires, and spiritual leaders, including The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, several members of the Kennedy Family, and the Navy SEALS.

 

Learning from everyone in the workplace

I once joined a professional organization with a diverse membership. We met weekly and discussed industry-related research. Every member sought to grow professionally; most attended at least one yearly conference hosted by the organization so the members grew pretty close. But one of the members drove me nuts, honestly (isn’t that always the case?) She arrived late, laughed hysterically at inappropriate moments, and insisted on interrupting people. When she shared information, it didn’t seem to add value or substance. I whined to my mentor, who was a fellow member. She turned to me and smiled.

“Bethany, you learn something from everyone. You either learn who you want to be or who you don’t want to be. I guess you’re learning who you don’t want to be.”

Ugh. YES. But I didn’t WANT to learn from her! I wanted her to go away. She didn’t.

But I did learn from her. For a few more years, I sat through meetings with the obnoxious woman, who continued to exhibit the same behaviors. Nothing changed about the woman’s behavior. The only thing that changed was my attitude toward her.


If the video is not playing properly click here.

It was a great lesson learned. I probably learned more from her than from many of the solid, professional, appropriate, timely, well-behaved members of the organization who had their ducks in a row. Now don’t get me wrong–I learned plenty from those people. We need excellent role models and mentors in the workplace. Without them, we’d have no idea how to behave appropriately, how to carry ourselves through crises, how to prevent and manage workplace conflicts, how to handle harassment and other touchy situations, and how to seek promotions without steamrolling others along the way. By all means, we need great leaders and strong colleagues who have it all together.

But we need to learn from our colleagues who are barely making it, too. We need those people who have so many personal problems that they’re doing well just to show up to work an hour late, hair disheveled, tear-stained mascara across her cheeks. We need the colleagues in the cubicles next to us who take 10 phone calls per day from their elderly parents with dementia. We need the supervisor who is a micromanager, unable to let go of counting every single bean. We need the one who simply cannot stop telling crude jokes (and gets himself fired as a result–please, dear God).

We need those people because we learn our best and hardest lessons–often gaining soft skills–from the people who are most intolerable, most obnoxious, most needy, and most broken. Do you know how I learned how to communicate competently in difficult situations? By working in difficult situations, time after time, with very difficult people. Want to know how I learned how to prevent conflicts while interacting with volatile people? By working with emotionally disturbed teenagers with criminal backgrounds and a history of abuse.

We often do not choose to learn difficult lessons in difficult moments and situations. But when we find ourselves in tough situations, we have a choice. We can let those situations make us better or bitter, as the saying goes. We can either learn and grow through the situation, or we can whine, complain, and claw our way out as quickly as possible, refusing to accept that there may be anything we could possibly learn from the people and conflicts surrounding us.

I’m not suggesting you should wallow in suffering or willingly expose yourself to demeaning, inappropriate, or dangerous situations at work. If you find yourself in a hostile work situation, fraught with harassment, bullying, or conflict, you ought to immediately take appropriate action (whether that means contacting your human resources director, filing a legal complaint, filing a police report, or searching for a new job). But if you’re just feeling disgruntled or miserable because you don’t like the people you work with, or you find that a few of your colleagues or supervisors rub you the wrong way, or you’re not fully appreciated in the workplace, perhaps there’s something you can learn or gain.

Remember that obnoxious woman I dealt with in the professional organization? She never quit attending organizational meetings. She even attended conferences with us. She never changed. But my attitude toward her evolved. I stopped expecting her to change, and over time, that helped me see her in a softer light.

Most importantly, I learned deep lessons: acceptance, tolerance, patience, and compassion for a woman who had some significant personal struggles.  Hear this: I didn’t have to like her, and I never did. Her struggles didn’t excuse her professional pitfalls. But extending kindness to her didn’t harm either of us. And offering a simple prayer on her behalf didn’t hurt me either.

What are you learning from your most difficult colleagues (or supervisors)? What are they learning from YOU?

If your organization needs a speaker/presenter on workplace communication or other soft skill, reach out to me to discuss scheduling.

Before an informational interview

You might need to learn more about a career field to determine your degree path in college. Maybe you want an “in” with a particular company. Or perhaps you’re considering changing careers or seeking a promotion into a career zone that’s unfamiliar. Whatever your reasons, requesting an informational interview can feel pretty intimidating. Here are some tips to ease your nerves and help you prepare.


If the video is not playing or displaying properly click here.

  1. Ask the right person for the right reasons. Do you know how many people randomly ask professionals to meet with them for 30 minutes for an informational interview yet don’t give adequate thought to why they’re asking? Many—and this is why some mentors and seasoned professionals are a bit aloof when you ask for an informational interview.If you’re going to ask someone for 10 minutes of talk time, be sure you’re asking the right person first. Do you want advice about starting a consulting business? Ask an entrepreneur who’s started her own consulting business. Are you considering leaving teaching as a career? Ask someone for advice who’s already been there, done it, and is happy with the outcome (and ask someone who wishes he’d never left, too, because balance in perspective is crucial when making career decisions).
  2. After you’ve identified a great person to interview, nail down your purpose for the interview. Notice “purpose” is singular—don’t ask more than 3-5 questions unless you’re sending questions via email. And even then, respect your interviewee’s time by sticking to a clear, concise plan. Don’t forget to clearly communicate your purpose when requesting the interview. Most people don’t want to agree to spend 30 minutes with a pseudo-stranger unless there’s a stated purpose/plan or perceived benefit.
  3. As much as you need to be clear and concise, you also need to be flexible. If your interviewee offers you a tour of her company’s manufacturing facilities, by all means, say yes! Does that mean you’ll spend an hour and a half there instead of the 30 minutes you expected? Yes, and that’s fabulous! Leave your schedule open for at least a 2-hour block of time when you schedule an informational interview; however, try to watch the clock and wrap up your line of questioning in 30 minutes unless your interviewee is obviously enjoying herself and rambling. Let her go on and on if she likes. She’s the expert/mentor, so sit back, listen, and absorb her experience and knowledge.
  4. While we’re on the subject of time management, remember to arrive on time. There’s simply no way to make a worst first impression than to arrive terribly late. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, call ahead to let your interviewee know what’s happening. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, ask if he would rather reschedule or continue with the interview. Be prepared for him to request to reschedule.
  5. Prepare your list of questions (3-5, ideally) and bring a hard copy with you. It’s very distracting to talk to someone while she’s clicking or scrolling on an electronic device. Put your phone down, leave the laptop at home, and break out a pen and paper for informational interviews. This allows you to make better eye contact and display your soft skills, including active listening and mindfulness.
  6. Be prepared to tell your interviewee a bit about yourself, too. Create an elevator pitch and practice in advance to avoid stumbling over your words when he asks you to tell him about your own career background and goals.
  7. If you plan to share information learned during the interview in an essay, an article, or a post on social media, get permission from your interviewee first. And good grief, NEVER record someone without his permission either.
  8. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. If you’re meeting on-site at a company or office, dress professionally (business casual). If you’re meeting for coffee or lunch on the weekend or in the evening, tone it down slightly. But remember, just as when dressing for job interviews, you’re not trying to show off your assets during an informational interview. This meeting is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you by selecting flashy or provocative clothing.Dress comfortably, not just appropriately, because sometimes we can’t predict how far we’ll walk from the parking lot to the building or whether we will climb three flights of stairs. An informational interview isn’t the time to wear new shoes or a tight, straight skirt.
  9. Follow up and express gratitude. This should always be your last step. Don’t walk away from an informational interview, shake hands, and forget to send an email or thank you card (I prefer thank you cards). Connect on social media, too. This makes it easy for you to regularly touch base with your new contact, mentor, and friend.

An informational interview can be a great strategy in your career development or job search process. But knowing when to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and how to pull it off can be tricky. Contact me if you might benefit from networking coaching or an interview prep session.

Helping, not hovering: Career assistance advice for parents of Gen Z students & recent grads

mom and sonDo you cringe when hearing the term “helicopter parents?” Nobody wants to be that parent—hovering over her child, offering unsolicited advice, attempting to thwart minor failures or skinned knees, and purchasing countless expensive gadgets and devices (because saying no is really hard!). But let’s face it. We’re all guilty of this occasionally–hovering, enabling, and causing  problematic behavior so prevalent in Generation Z students and recent grads.

Many experts in academics, career services, career coaching, and talent acquisition agree that by the time many Gen Z students graduate from college, they are simply not equipped with a strong set of soft skills. They’re often not confident about entering the workforce of today and contributing strongly to employers. Or worse, they’re overly confident.

Rather than spend time pointing the finger at our co-parents, blaming our school systems or higher education programs, or shaking our heads while gazing hopelessly at our own children and shrugging our shoulders, it makes more sense to ask ourselves that age-old question: “What’s my part in this problem? And how can I help ensure that my child is well-prepared for the world of work so that she finds a great job (and retains it) after graduating?”

cindy folmerCindy Folmer, Senior Human Resources Manager at L’Oréal USA, manages, coaches, and trains interns and entry-level employees daily. L’Oréal USA hires over 100 interns each summer. The company offers many of them the opportunity to join the Management Development Program. The program cultivates managers in distribution centers, manufacturing facilities, corporate headquarters, and other locations.

Folmer understands firsthand the challenges facing employers today in working with Gen Z college students and recent grads. “Proper manners, etiquette, ability to engage, and patience are all areas I see as challenges facing recent grads in the workplace. There are attitudes and behaviors, at times, that indicate those just entering the workforce believe they don’t have to put in the effort their parents did to move ahead as quickly. The challenge for employers is to engage this group so they are willing to learn and stay where they are in order to bring value to an organization. We’re committed to meeting this challenge at L’Oréal.” Folmer asserts.

What can parents do to prevent their children from developing attitudes like this to begin with? How can parents help their children develop strong soft skills?

  • Help children develop soft skills by encouraging the soft skill itself rather than by scolding the child for exhibiting its negative opposite. For example, if your child constantly procrastinates and never turns in homework on time, praise him when he turns it in on time. Visit with his teachers to open lines of communication; if you know when he’s submitting work on time, you can more easily encourage him. When he saunters downstairs one minute before it’s time to leave, express gratitude that he’s dressed and ready to go rather than making a snide comment about the way he fixed his hair (or didn’t brush his teeth).
  • Consider a technology-free zone in your home, a tech-free vacation, or a tech-free hour as a family. Model this behavior as a parent. If your child sees you with your nose in your phone, she’s not going to be inclined to put hers away. When you eat dinner—whether at a restaurant or at home—why not toss all your cell phones in a basket and engage in face-to-face conversation? This is a great way to encourage communication skills.
  • Teach children the art of waiting. Although we definitely need to stay ahead in the area of technology, we’ve made it easy for our children to get what they want when they want it. For instance, if they want to watch a specific television show they missed, we can jump onto In Demand,” suggests Folmer.
  • Encourage your children to find suitable career mentors and to explore their career goals early in life. This doesn’t require an extensive, formal assessment. Even elementary students can create vision boards and enjoy job shadowing and site visits. Most professionals absolutely love sharing about what they do, and chances are, your own friends and family members work in various career fields. Supervise this process to ensure your child’s safety, but don’t dictate which career fields your child chooses to explore, or you’ll take the fun out of it.
  • “Encourage them to absorb the pleasure of finishing something instead of jumping to the next activity. Give them something to do that will take time, such as learning a new sport, one they don’t really want to do. On the job, there will be tasks we don’t want to do; we have to do them, though. Then take a look back and talk through lessons learned, challenges overcome, and the excitement of success of each of these,” Folmer notes.

There are countless ways to help children learn soft skills and become confident in themselves. This confidence helps students, upon graduation, become candidates who are sought after by employers.

What if your child is struggling in his job search? How can you help? And should you help?

6950093_orig“College is a time for exploration, to learn, and to show that an individual can do things on their own,” said Matt Krumrie, a professional resume writer and career adviser who works with entry-level job seekers seeking that first job out of college. “Recent college grads should ask their parents for advice – but that’s it. They shouldn’t ask them to come to interviews – that really has happened – or expect them to lead their job search, or mention what they tell them in an interview.”

“Employers want to hire people who can think on their own, make decisions, and show they can get a job done without relying on someone else to always guide them,” Krumrie goes on to say. “When parents hover, or overstep boundaries in the job search, employers notice, and that hurts the job seeker. They wonder how much this will continue if hired, and in reality, it impacts hiring decisions. Once students graduates, it’s time to spread their wings, and show they are their own person ready to make an impact – without relying on mom and dad to lead them.”

Folmer agrees. “It’s very important at the stage of applications for parents to give their kids the opportunity to go it alone. I’ve seen too many kids come into the workplace with no idea how to complete an application. They also struggle with completing paperwork or making decisions. Be supportive, talk things out, and give them the tools necessary to go to the next level of their life.”

Each parent needs to decide the appropriate level of involvement with her own child. Whether you pay for career coaching for your child, encourage your child’s educational institution to offer soft skills training, send a career-related article to her, or offer no career advice and simply love her, the fact you took time to read this article means you’re a loving parent trying to do your best to help her—and she will be just fine in the end, no matter which path she chooses.

Contact me to discuss soft skills training programs, presentations, and opportunities for partnership with your child’s educational institution.

Finding freedom: Forging a new career path

Recently, a colleague introduced me to a group of college students during a presentation about networking skills as “Career Coach, Bethany Wallace, who is going to share with you tips about networking and her story about how she has reinvented herself in her career.”

Wow, I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve done, isn’t it? Sometimes we need to see ourselves through others’ eyes in order to appreciate our hard work, creativity, risk-taking, and perseverance. My mentors and colleagues always help me recognize and appreciate my career achievements.

happiness-1866081_1280One of the most intimidating career decisions I’ve ever made was the decision to leave a fabulous job as Content Manager of College Recruiter in 2016 shortly after starting my own career coaching business. I certainly found lots of career freedom as a result, but the pathway to this career freedom was like a roller coaster—full of ups and downs, and I felt sick half the time while on the ride.

While attempting to decide whether to leave my full-time position, I knew I needed to pour more of myself into my career coaching business to make it grow and give it a chance to succeed. I also wanted more scheduling flexibility. Staying home with my daughter, who was three years-old at the time, mattered to me, as did returning to the college classroom part-time. But the notion of leaving a well-renowned company in the job board industry, which afforded me the opportunity to earn a solid income and provide benefits for my family… ugh. I felt torn about this for months.

I finally bit the bullet and eased my way out of my position, transitioning from full-time to part-time over the course of a few months. While making the decision was difficult, it gave me total career freedom and autonomy. I now manage my own business, create content solely to promote my own business, market and sell my own services, and work directly with my clients. This arrangement might not be a great fit for everyone (or we’d have a nation full of entrepreneurs), but it’s the right fit for me.

Here are a few tips I’d offer anyone seeking more autonomy and freedom in their career.

  1. Live below your means.

Leave yourself open to changing careers—or even changing jobs or relocating—by simply living below your means. If you rope yourself into purchasing a new car every time you earn a small promotion at work, you’re tying a noose around your neck financially. You don’t leave yourself the option to pursue completely changing careers if your values and goals change. If you buy the nicest house you can afford in the best neighborhood of your city, your family and friends will be very impressed. But your options will be limited if you find that over a period of two years, you become increasingly less interested in your career field.

Not always–but often–when you change career fields, you take a step backward in terms of income because you have less experience in that particular field. Setting aside some of your income each month prior to switching careers is a good idea. In addition to saving money, it’s also a good idea to become comfortable with living way below your means. You will feel much less freaked out when you’re earning little to nothing for a while if you’re temporarily unemployed, underemployed, or acquiring clients when you start a new business.

  1. Eliminate as many risks as possible.

To follow up on #1, we’re in a true gig economy. Check out FlexJobs, for example. There are a myriad of great gig positions and part-time jobs available, many of them affording you the option to work remotely. Before you jump ship and start looking for a position in a brand new career field—going for months without income—why not land a great gig or part-time job to help supplement your period without full-time income?

I taught one online course for a community college during the first several months of my business being open. This was a lifesaver. Adjunct faculty members don’t earn much (newsflash for those of you who thought we were highly paid professionals!), but the extra income did supplement our overall family income, and it helped ease my financial fears while I worked diligently to market my services and attract clients.

  1. Stick to your guns in terms of pursuing your dreams and passions.

When you make a major career change—whether it’s switching career fields entirely or starting your own business—you’ll find that you’re surrounded by a mixed bag of naysayers and cheerleaders. Focus on the cheerleaders and ignore the naysayers.

Obviously you need to make calculated, wise, strategic decisions about your career. That’s where working with a career coach comes in. You should also consult your career mentor when facing major career decisions, and you should take other steps to assess your level of contentment, create a budget, etc.

But once you’ve taken the plunge—thoughtfully and carefully—don’t look back. You don’t want to lose momentum by focusing on negative tidbits others feed you about how you are killing your career, or how hard it’s going to be for you, or how unsure your friends and family are about your potential to succeed.

Separate yourself from negative people. Focus on pursuing your original career goals. Map out your career plan in manageable bites so you will not become overwhelmed, and then start pecking away at that plan slowly but surely.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing the exact things you envisioned yourself doing when you began dreaming about your new career. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be doing those things sooner rather than later.

Career freedom is right around the corner—but you have to pursue it.

For help making a career change, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation.

 

Making the most of working with your career mentor

I’ve never regretted one minute spent listening to my career mentors. I learn so much when we meet, chatting over pancakes at Bob’s Diner or pizza in downtown Little Rock. Sure, I do some of the talking–opening up about where I’m at in my career, asking questions, and even sharing about troubling situations in the workplace in hopes my mentors will offer potential solutions. They always do because they’re brilliant women. I picked great career mentors. One owns her own business, consulting small business owners who want to market themselves and attract better clients. The other manages recruiting for a telecommunications corporation. My mentors have been where I am in many ways. They know what I’m going through, and even if they haven’t found themselves puzzled by an identical client or partner, they have likely been in similar situations.

That’s the beauty of working with a career mentor. A career mentor is a mentor you ask to guide you through your career journey–not just from point A to point B during one stretch of your career or while you strive through the most difficult mess of it. Your mentor learns all about you, and your career mentor can give you very pointed, detailed advice. Since your mentor doesn’t work with you in your workplace–unlike a workplace mentor–she doesn’t care about office politics. She only cares about seeing you succeed in the long run. She sees the big picture.

If you already have a career mentor, you’ll want to watch this video with three tips/reminders about making the most of working with your career mentor. You’ll find ways to apply this advice to the relationship you already have with your mentor. If you don’t have a career mentor, think about a few people you admire while watching the video and reading the article. Maybe by the end, you’ll have narrowed down your list.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

  1. Remember, your career mentor isn’t a fairy godmother (or godfather).

    Your career mentor won’t float out of the sky, pixie dust sprinkled in her hair, announcing her desire to guide you through your career (but wouldn’t that be great?!). You’re going to have to break down and ask someone to mentor you. Sometimes mentoring relationships evolve naturally. This happens in the workplace and in higher education; you might fall into a relationship with your career mentor if she’s your professor or boss. But most likely, you’ll find someone you admire who works in your dream job or similar career field. You will observe this person to ensure she exhibits character traits you admire. Then you will ask her to serve as your career mentor. Asking can be difficult, but acting against your fear of rejection is important. You potentially have so much to gain from a great career mentor.Also, we can often believe our career mentors are fairy godmothers in the sense that we place them on pedestals. We think they’re professionally perfect. But they’re definitely not, and learning from your career mentor’s failures and defects can be just as helpful as learning from your career mentor’s successes and assets.
  2. If it’s not working, make a change.

    It would be great if everyone’s career mentoring relationship lasted for a lifetime. Some do, and some don’t. If you work with a career mentor for five years, and you find yourself growing apart, accept that it may be time to seek a new career mentor. Some relationships–even professional relationships–are only meant to last for a season. We all grow, change, and develop, and as that happens, we often grow apart. Trying to force a fit doesn’t feel natural and can make a mentoring relationship very awkward. If you’re asking questions and not receiving answers which feel aligned with your values, ethics, or goals, it might be time to seek a new career mentor.
  3. Don’t expect your mentor to serve as your career coach.

    Unless your mentor works in career services, career counseling, or career coaching, your mentor will probably not feel comfortable providing you with detailed assistance with your resume, cover letter, interview preparation, branding, networking, job search assistance, or other areas of career coaching. While your mentor can certainly share her unique experiences in these areas, your mentor won’t pretend to be an expert in an area outside her realm of expertise. And she shouldn’t! If someone comes to me for personal counseling, I don’t pretend for one minute I’m licensed as a professional counselor. I immediately refer that potential client to a qualified professional.Seek your mentor’s advice and ask her to share her experience, but don’t drain her either. Remember that your mentor probably juggles work, family, and personal interests, including mentoring you (and possibly other mentees). Respect her boundaries.

    If you need help determining how to find a great career mentor, how to ask someone to mentor you, or how to seek career coaching help from a professional rather than from your mentor, reach out to me to schedule a free consultation. 

How do you make decisions about your career?

When contemplating changing jobs, applying for promotions within your company, quitting a job to spend time with your family, or other major career changes, how in the world do you make those big decisions? And how do you make major career decisions without undergoing stress and anxiety?

Here are seven steps I go through when making career decisions (or other big life decisions, for that matter). Decision-making is a soft skill you need while navigating your career journey. It’s also a “must have” soft skill employers look for in candidates during the hiring process. You’ll notice that many common interview questions are worded to ascertain your ability to make good decisions. “Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough decision.”

My personal decision-making process may not work for you; that’s okay. I’m sharing it with you because it might encourage you to find a process that does work for you. Take what you like and leave the rest. The important thing is to develop your own personalized decision-making process. If you need some help developing a decision-making strategy, let me know.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

  1. Pray. Make conscious contact with your Higher Power if that’s part of your lifestyle. This works well for me because spirituality is a major part of who I am. If you don’t feel a connection with a Higher Power, spend some time mindfully meditating or quietly contemplating the options you’re considering.
  2. Consult mentors. Don’t try to fix the stuff in your head with the stuff in your head. That typically doesn’t produce great results. I made many poor career decisions—large and small—by relying too much on my own thoughts and feelings.Talk to people who have lots of experience and expertise. Seek a real career mentor if you don’t already have one. It takes guts to reach out and ask for help, but eventually you’ll surround yourself with experts who are kind and supportive. And you’ll give back to others, too. That’s what networking is all about!
  3. Make a pros and cons list. Get it on paper and out of your head. What if you’re weighing two really good options? Then weigh the pros and pros instead. I once had to consider whether to remain a full-time faculty member or to leave my faculty position to accept a position as content manager of a company I had admired for over a decade. I loved teaching—but I loved that company I’d admired and the people who managed it, too. It was a tough call!
  4. Do research thoroughly, whether it’s researching a company, a position, the financial impact of your decision, or the impact of your decision on your family. Simply perusing a company website isn’t going to cut it. You should reach out and talk to people who work at the company you’re considering aligning yourself with. Crunch numbers. This is due diligence, and if you don’t do thorough research, you may regret it. 
  5. Release outcomes. Whether you simply mentally let go of outcomes or spiritually let go of outcomes, understanding you’re not in control of whether you land jobs—even if you do ALL the right things—is important. One of the prayers that helps me when making decisions is, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.”This helps me stop worrying throughout the decision-making process. I can do all the right things, but there are many X factors involved in the hiring process. I often have no way to know what recruiters are really looking for, whether or not I’m the best fit for the position or company at the time, and whether the company already has an internal candidate in mind for the position.

    I’d like to believe my destiny rests in my hands, but that’s not realistic. Sometimes other people have a big hand in outcomes which affect me. I have learned to do my best—that’s all I can do. If I’m not happy with the outcome, I move on and knock on other doors of opportunity. Eventually, I’ll find a great fit.

  6. Wait before responding to invitations or job offers. When making decisions, responding rather than reacting is key for me. Impulsive decision-making is almost always a poor idea. Don’t burn bridges with recruiters or hiring managers if you don’t get hired. Recently, a client of mine was not offered a position he’d applied for. Less than 24 hours later, the recruiter called back and offered him the position because the “first choice” candidate rejected the offer. Had my client reacted negatively to being rejected, there’s no way he would have been called back and offered the position. He had to swallow his pride knowing he was the second pick, but who really cares? He got what he wanted in the end, and he was mature enough to handle himself with dignity.Waiting before responding to job offers also gives me time to consult experts and mentors and do more research. Sometimes I need to negotiate salary and benefits because I’m not being offered what I’m worth, and if I react impulsively out of excitement, I may not see the offer realistically.
  7. Take action. If I don’t eventually take an action, and do the next right thing for me—whatever I can determine that may be at the time—I will get stuck or paralyzed in fretting about trying to make perfect decisions. I have to understand that I’m imperfect and will make mistakes throughout my career. And boy, have I made some big ones! However, I’ve learned from every mistake I’ve made. All my mistakes have helped me coach other people in similar situations. As long as I continue to learn, I don’t carry regrets, so there’s really no losing in the learning process.

If you find yourself stuck in making decisions and need guidance along your career journey, reach out for help.

How to improve your soft skills

Whether you just graduated from college—congratulations!—or have accumulated years of work experience, you are just like the rest of us—you can always improve your soft skills. While soft skills are certainly a combination of talent and ability, you can always improve upon the ability portion of the soft skills you possess—that’s the good news.

In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, training expert Bruce Tulgan defines soft skills as “a wide range of non-technical skills ranging from ‘self-awareness’ to ‘people-skills’ to ‘problem-solving’ to ‘teamwork” (8). Tulgan, author and founder/CEO of RainMakerThinking Inc., reminds us that “soft skills are all about the regulation of the self. They must be fully embraced in order to be learned” (Tulgan 29). Tulgan’s book provides a road map for employers and organizations interested in training and developing employees’ soft skills.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

  • Identify which soft skills matter most to you.

Don’t take a shotgun approach to improving soft skills. You can perform a Google search and find countless lists of which soft skills matter most, but what you need to determine is which soft skills matter most to you. How do you determine that?

When you work with a career coach, you’ll be asked multiple questions to help you determine your priorities. Some of these questions might include:

  • “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years in terms of your career?” Understanding your career goals/journey can help you determine which skills you need to add or improve upon.
  • “What feedback have you received during performance reviews and job interviews (or during follow-up conversations with recruiters/hiring managers)?” If you pay attention to feedback about your performance instead of blowing it off, you may pick up clues about which soft skills you lack or need to tweak.
  • “Which soft skills does your company value and emphasize?” If three particular soft skills matter most to your current employer, take note. To succeed at work, earn a salary increase or promotion, or simply feel content with your daily job performance, align your values and mission with your employer’s.
  • Determine where you stand before you begin training/developing your soft skills.

After determining which 3-5 soft skills matter most to you, evaluate yourself in terms of performance/ability of each soft skill. If communication skills matter to you, where do you measure up on a scale of 1-5, 1 being poor performance and 5 being excellent, consistent performance? Are you able to communicate verbally, non-verbally, and in writing clearly, consistently, concisely, comfortably, effectively, and appropriately in almost every situation? If not, this is a soft skill you might want to develop.

How should you evaluate your ability to perform each soft skill? You can do this in a variety of ways. Work with a career coach to use various assessment tools (some tools you must pay to use, and others are free). Search online for free assessment tools; proceed with caution when using free assessment tools because some are more valid than others. As Tulgan mentions in Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, you can informally assess your own soft skills by measuring your soft skills against others’ soft skills. I explain this strategy at length in the video. In his book Bridging the Soft Skills Gap, Tulgan notes the importance of having an “external objective standard against which to measure one’s reflection” (70).

Take stock of where you stand in each of these soft skill areas one way or another—using one assessment tool or another—but be sure you use some external objective standard. Simply put, we can’t fix the stuff in our heads with the stuff in our heads. That doesn’t work well in life, and it won’t work well when assessing and improving soft skills either.

  • Develop an action plan.

Once you determine where you measure up in each of the 3-5 soft skills you’ve selected to work on, develop an action plan. First, check with your employer/organization to determine if they will provide/fund soft skills training or professional development for employees. Many companies and organizations understand the value of soft skills in the workplace and will help employees in this area.

If your company will not fund soft skills development, you may have to pursue soft skills training/development on your own. Reach out to a career coach for assistance. If you can’t afford to pay for soft skills training, check out the array of blog posts and videos available online. You may not make as much progress on your own as you would with the assistance of a coach, but any attempt at development is better than none. And finally, don’t forget to seek the help of a career mentor if you don’t have one already.

  • Assess your soft skills after you’ve completed the training process to determine if more/different training is needed.

After you’ve put your plan into action and worked to improve your soft skills for a period of time, assess your soft skills again, using the same or similar tool(s) you used at the beginning. Where do you stand now?

Assessing yourself after training is important. You need to determine if training worked. If it didn’t, why would you pay for more training? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. If something isn’t working for you, try something new or different. If you assess your soft skills and find that you’ve grown in 2 of the 3 areas, that’s wonderful! Keep up the hard work. “When you combine the necessary hard skills with the right soft skills, the added value is so much more than the sum of its parts” (Tulgan 58).

If you need help identifying, assessing, or improving your soft skills, reach out to me for a free consultation.

5 ways to connect with alumni at networking events

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, and you’re not connecting with alumni from your college or university (or alma mater) at networking events, you’re skipping over one of the most valuable networking resources available to you.

Alumni care about helping you. You already share something in common so you’ll find it easy to strike up conversation. And most of the time, your college or university hosts networking events on campus, in the community, or even virtual networking groups/chats online. There’s no reason to sit back and observe any longer. Here are five ways to start connecting with alumni.


If the video is not playing properly click here.

Don’t be intimidated by alumni.

Alumni often have earned impressive job titles, have years of experience under their belts, and have polished their soft skills. Don’t let those things intimidate you (or at least pretend you’re not intimidated when networking with alumni). Believe in your gut that alumni want the best for you. They do. Sure, they attend alumni events to network with other alumni. They also attend alumni networking events to network with college students and to give back, to share their experience, and to mentor others.

Spend more time talking to alumni than to your fellow students.

It’s easier to chat with other college students than to launch into your elevator pitch seven times while shaking hands with alumni. It’s also probably less lucrative in terms of ROI. You’ll invest the same amount of time at the networking event talking to other students as you will talking to alumni. Why not invest that time talking to professionals who may add long-term significant value to your current or future job search?

Connect with alumni online immediately following networking events.

During your job search, if you don’t apply for job openings within 72 hours after positions are posted, your chances of being considered drop considerably. The same goes for following up after networking events. Reach out to new connections within 24 hours after networking events if possible. Send an email or invitation to connect on social media. Personalize your greeting whenever possible because at networking events, alumni meet multiple people and may not remember every college student’s name or face.

Consider asking alumni for advice or to serve as mentors.

If you meet someone and make an immediate, genuine, strong connection, don’t be afraid to invite that person for coffee and visit about the possibility of mentorship. Finding a mentor is key in the early stages of your career, and workplace mentors are not the same as career mentors. How great would it be if you could identify a career mentor while still in college? Even if you’re not sure you want to ask someone to serve as your mentor, there’s no harm in asking someone for an informational interview or running a few questions by a person who has great bits of advice to share. Be sure to meet in neutral, public locations and to arrive on time, respecting the other person’s work schedule and/or personal time.

Follow up and say thank you.

No matter what, follow up and say thank you. There’s no act of kindness too small that you should ever brush it off. Always say thank you. The same goes for following up. If you’re timely, gracious, and grateful when networking, you will rarely fail to make and maintain genuine relationships.

If you need help building your networking skills, preparing an elevator pitch, or understanding the ins and outs of mentoring or informational interviews, reach out to me for a free consultation.

Giving to your network during the holidays

‘Tis the season for giving, and who better to give back to than your professional network?

We’re all thankful for people who have aided us as we’ve searched for jobs, sought promotions, and struggled in our professional lives. Here are some quick, easy, affordable gifts to give to your connections this holiday season.

  1. Updated contact information

Have you recently provided your contacts, particularly those who frequently serve as references during your job search, with updated contact information? Send your closest contacts a greeting card along with your updated contact information. Don’t forget to ask them for their updated contact information, too.

2. Letter of reference

If you haven’t already endorsed and recommended your contacts on LinkedIn, do it this week. Consider writing a genuine, old-fashioned letter of reference, too. Email it in PDF format to your connection. He will appreciate it the next time he begins searching for a job, and who knows, he may reciprocate and send you one in return!

3. Offer to collaborate or partner

Do you have connections who are trustworthy, hard-working, dependable, and share common career interests? Consider partnering with them on research projects, fundraisers, or other tasks. Collaboration is very 2017.

4. A listening ear

Everyone in your network appreciates a great listener. If you ask someone how she’s doing, listen to the entire response, and then respond thoughtfully, you will deepen your connection with your contact.

5. Your mentorship

If someone in your network has recently graduated, taken on a new role, or transitioned into a new career field (and you have years of experience to share), offer to mentor this person or at least share your experience if desired. Most of us have been mentored professionally by our supervisors, colleagues, or other generous professionals. Take the time to give back to your connections similarly.

6. Volunteer work

Does one of your contacts manage a non-profit organization or volunteer for the board of a non-profit organization? Consider volunteering alongside your friend. Not only will you become better acquainted with your connection, but you’ll also form new connections with other volunteers while donating time for a good cause.

7. Sharing causes

If you feel comfortable sharing your connections’ social media posts related to various non-profits and other great causes, share away. Your connections will thank you for spreading the word about their events and for raising awareness, and you’ll be doing some good in the world, too.

8. Spreading good news

Has someone in your network contributed to the world in a valuable way? Has she earned an award at work recently or donated her time to Big Brothers Big Sisters? Brag on your contact by sharing this good news on social media. Tag your friend. This helps brand your contact in a positive light, and it demonstrates that you share positive news, too. Everyone wins.

9. Showing support during tough times

Be mindful of those in your network who may be having a tough time during the holidays, too. It never hurts to send a “thinking of you” email or to ask someone who’s experienced a loss how she’s doing during the holidays.

10. Coffee and cookies.

If all else fails, just bake some cookies and buy great coffee. You really can’t go wrong with these two full-proof gifts.

Enjoy the season. Enjoy one another. Enjoy life.

If you need help navigating your own career journey, email me to schedule a free consultation. Start 2017 out right.