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.

 

3 steps to take before writing your personal branding statement

A personal branding statement is super short—just a few lines. It shouldn’t take you long to whip it out, right? We’ll see.

A personal branding statement might be one of the most important pieces of writing you create as a job seeker or professional. What is a personal branding statement? A personal branding statement is a brief written statement which explains who you are as a professional and touts your value as a job seeker or employee. In your statement, you toot your horn (without being obnoxious, of course).

Why should you write one? How can you use it? You should write one because you need a personal branding statement for almost every social media site. You can use it on your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter profile, and your Quora profile. You can add verbage to it and convert it into a brief bio. You can use it when writing your elevator pitch. You can include it when writing content for articles on your blog. You can even use it as the signature at the bottom of your email if you like. There are many ways you can use your personal branding statement to brand yourself and help others understand who you are and what you’re attempting to accomplish.

There are three crucial steps you need to take before you actually write your personal branding statement, whether you choose to write it on your own or with the help of a career coach like me.


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  1. Define your career goals.

Do some quiet brainstorming and reflecting about your short and long-term career goals. Don’t think about where you see yourself in five years. You might be a realist like me; that’s a terrible approach.

Instead, think about where you’d like to be in five years if boundaries, finances, health, and family constraints were not concerns for you. Where would you be working? Would you work for others or yourself? Would you live in the same geographic location or not? Create a vision board or at least a vision card or document, jotting down words which capture the ideal career you have in mind. If five years doesn’t give you enough time to plan this ideal career, think 10 years out.

Then bring yourself back to the here and now—where your hands are. Within the next 12-18 months, how can you get closer to that long-term goal? If you feel baffled when considering this question, you might need a career coach’s help in seeking a promotion, a job or career change, or simply some training or professional development to gently push you in the direction of your goal.

  1. Select your target audience.

Who do you want to work with on a daily basis? Are you already working with those people? If so, great. Document your target audience. Once you see your audience listed on paper (or electronically), it’s easier to understand how to write your personal branding statement so that your wording is not too abstract or too concrete. You want to hit the sweet spot and ensure that your audience understands exactly what you’re saying and relates to the way you’re saying it. All good writing does this well.

  1. Identify your greatest assets.

Poll your colleagues, former supervisors, and mentors. Ask them to help you identify your greatest professional assets, values, ethics, soft skills, hard skills, and unique abilities in the workplace. Which problems do people regularly bring to you, knowing you’ll solve them more quickly and easily than others? Work some of these keywords and talents into your personal branding statement.

It’s easy to get stuck when writing a personal branding statement. You may be cursed with verbal diarrhea and find it difficult to limit the number of words you write. If this happens to you, don’t freak out or give up. Just reach out to me for help and schedule a free consultation for branding coaching. I’m a professional writer and a career coach—I’ve got you covered.

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.


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  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 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.


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  • 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.

4 reasons you might need a career coach

We live in a contradictory world. An interview with a woman who constructed her entire home DIY-style via YouTube instruction went viral recently. On the other hand, many of us hire experts to take care of our every need and desire, ranging from preventing our wrinkles by injecting Botox into our foreheads to varnishing our toenails to scrubbing our toilets and changing the oil in our vehicles.

The exhausted, overworked, “I just want to zone out, watch countless episodes of my favorite show, and consume a pint of ice cream” feels relieved when we learn that career coaches exist. The proud “I think I took a course about this in college or at least read an article about it online” part of us frowns upon the notion of hiring an expert to walk us through any part of the career planning or job search process.

You’ll have to decide which part of you ultimately wins out, but I’ll respond to four of the most common myths and hesitations you might have about working with a career coach. I think you’ll find there are at least four solid reasons here why you should consider working with a career coach.


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Myth #1: It’s way too expensive to hire a career coach.

You might be right. And you might be wrong. It depends on a number of factors, including the specific career coach you hire, how many hours the coach spends working with you, your level of experience, the variety of services provided, and even where you live. As the saying goes, it’s never safe to assume; you run the risk of… well, you know the rest.

Do a little research instead. Check out at least three career coaches’ websites. Request free consultations. You will likely find that their pricing models vary, sometimes vastly, and their services may be similar or quite different. Chances are, you’ll find a career coach with a very logical, affordable pricing model. You need to find a coach whose qualifications, services, and pricing model work for YOU; you also need to work with someone who feels like a fit. Even if you work with someone remotely (via phone, Skype, or email), you will interact with your coach quite a bit. Never work with someone who makes you feel rushed, judged, unimportant, or uncomfortable, even if the price is right.

Myth #2: You already know everything about job searching or have your future career mapped out. There’s really no need to hire a career coach.

You’ve taken personality and skills inventories. You’ve mapped out your career plan. You’ve determined which companies to apply for and updated your resume. You have already created a LinkedIn profile. What else is there? You have no need to hire a career coach. You even read articles regularly posted on The Muse site. You might as well brand yourself with the hashtag #careerexpert.

While that may seem laughable to some, it’s not a far cry from how many of you feel. It’s okay; stay with me. There’s beauty in recognizing you don’t know everything you think you know. If you work with a career coach, you might find that the resume you recently updated and have proudly paraded around is, in fact, sorely lacking in its ability to sell you to potential employers. A career coach has expertise in interviews and can prepare you to not just answer standard interview questions but to also tailor your responses when preparing to interview for specific positions (hopefully when interviewing for your dream job). And a great career coach—one without a gigantic ego—will refer you to another expert if she sees you need help with a specific issue outside of her coaching expertise.

There are so many genuinely legitimate reasons to work with a career coach even if you believe you don’t need help. Most of the people who believe they don’t need help are the people who need it most.

Myth #3: You’re satisfied with your current job or career field.

Why would you consider hiring a career coach if you’re happy where you are?

Even if you have no intentions of changing jobs, working with a career coach to improve your workplace communication skills, conflict prevention and resolution skills, or writing skills can significantly improve your work performance, time management skills, and team effectiveness.  While you’re happy now, you’re never promised tomorrow. How many times do we read stories of companies closing their doors unexpectedly or of giving employees nothing but the minimum number of days’ notice before shutting their doors?

In addition, it’s great to be prepared for fabulous opportunities for promotion within your company or organization. Right now, many Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving vacant upper-level positions. Who’s going to fill their shoes? You are, if you’re prepared to apply and have your ducks in a row. You need a polished resume, a great cover letter you can tailor as needed, and solid interview skills. You need to brand yourself well right now; ideally, you shouldn’t wait to establish your social media presence when you begin searching for jobs. And if you aren’t already building a professional network in the workplace and beyond, get busy. If any of this gives you pause or intimidates you, reach out to me for help.

Myth #4: You’re a high school or college student. You have free help available, so why would you hire a career coach?

This myth is the closest to a truth of the four in this article/video. In fact, at least 8 times out of 10, I find that students who come to me for help don’t need my help or the help of another career coach because they can receive adequate assistance through high school or college counselors or career services professionals if they’ll only ask for it.

There are always exceptions, but I encourage students to start by reaching out to the professionals closest to them. I worked in career services at two institutions in the past; I believe career services is highly beneficial to most students in most cases, and I’m a huge advocate obviously.

If you’re currently enrolled in school, reach out to professionals on campus for assistance. This help is included in the price of tuition. It’s not actually free. You’re paying for it. If you’re receiving a scholarship, grant, or loans, someone is paying for it, or you’ll be paying for it eventually. Take advantage of the benefits available to you before paying someone to provide you with similar services. While working with a career coach isn’t the same, I personally don’t feel it’s ethical—as a career coach—to work with you without asking you if you’ve given career services a chance. If you’ve reached out to career services or counselors and have been disappointed in the help they provided, come back to me, and I’ll be glad to help.

Do you have more questions about whether career coaching is right for you? Request a free consultation and let me answer your questions.

6 reference tips for your job search

It’s a new year, and you’ve probably already set goals, counted calories, or reevaluated your priorities. Whether you’re applying for graduate school or scholarships, considering making a major career move, or applying for job openings, take time to check out these six tips related to asking people to serve as job search references, creating your reference page, and maintaining positive relationships with your references.

  1. Ask before listing people as references.

The cardinal rule of reference letters and listing people as references on job applications is to ask for permission. This sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people simply list a few contacts on their job applications, assuming they’ll be glad to receive automated emails from companies and colleges. This is a major no-no and a great way to burn a bridge with someone who might otherwise be glad to serve as a reference.

Try to ask people to serve as references face-to-face. This gives you the chance to read their body language, observe facial expressions, and listen to their tone of voice. If you observe any hesitancy or negativity, don’t list the person as a reference. Ever.

2. Keep your references updated.

When you begin a job search, notify people who’ve agreed to serve as references. When you are up for a promotion, notify your references. Periodically ask your references for updates on their own job changes, too. Keep in touch with people who are helping you along in your career!

3. As much as it depends on you, remain on good terms with everyone.

The best way to ensure you receive glowing references from anyone a potential employer might call? Stay on good terms with everyone, including your supervisors and coworkers. Maintaining positive relationships is part of good networking–and strong networking skills will benefit you in your job search.

4. Remember that Google matters.

Did you know that about 94% of employers admit to searching for candidates online before inviting them in for face-to-face interviews? Let that haunt you while posting online late at night.

5. Brand yourself well online.

There’s more to branding on social media than locking down your scantily clad photos. Are you interacting with potential employers? Are you participating in Twitter chats related to your field of study? Have you joined groups for job seekers on LinkedIn? Do you follow companies of interest and pay attention to job openings? Do you make thoughtful comments in a timely manner? If it’s searchable, it may be found by potential employers. Be mindful of your interactions online at all times and be proactive in putting your best foot forward.

6. Create a strong reference list.

Maybe you didn’t have a great relationship with your last supervisor. Compensate on your reference list by listing other notable contacts. List supervisors in other departments who worked closely with you or cross-trained with you. List your boss’s boss if you had better rapport with him. Consider listing coworkers who have since been promoted. Understand that your former supervisor may still be contacted, and there is little you can do to control that. However, you can always do your part to create a strong impression by creating a strong reference list, a killer resume, and an impressive cover letter.

And when your future boss interviews you, you’ll nail it.

Need help managing your job search? Reach out to me for help.