Advice is never short in supply and career advice is especially abundant.
Everyone’s got their nugget of gold they want to share. While some of them are truly golden, many are not.
So how do you tell the difference and where do you go for career advice to help you both define and achieve your career goals?
All these approaches have their advantages and they can all help you.
It’s important to remember that all advice comes with a health warning. If you don’t have some inkling about what you want, what you’re struggling with or what you need to know you’ll never get the help, support or information you need.
That means it’s not just about where you go for career advice that matters, it’s how and what you ask for when you get there.
You may be wondering why you need career advice at all. And to be honest, if you know what you want, know how to get it and believe you can make it happen all by yourself, you probably don’t need it at all (though getting support with your strategy and approach will always speed your progress).
But if you’re stuck in your career, aren’t sure what you want or whether your aspirations are realistic or how to get where you want to go, career advice will be very helpful.
Other situations where career advice can be helpful include when you want to relocate to another area of the country or to another country altogether, when you want to change career, when you’ve been made redundant (or fear you may be made redundant) and when you’re having a problem at work that means you need to switch jobs fast.
In these situations, career advice can help you assess your CV, your options and what's right for you. It can help you apply for the right jobs in the right way, implement your plan and perform better at the interview stage.
Above all, career advice and the support of a career consultant or career coach will give you access to support, information and accountability so you get on with making your move rather than getting stuck in procrastination.
Once you’ve identified that career advice could be helpful for you, your next step is to decide who's able to give you the advice you want. Here are some options.
If you’re considering a career change, it’s possible that those close to you may resist the idea. Perhaps they enjoy your status or your salary. Maybe they think you’re taking a risk and want to protect you.
If you’re in the process of choosing your career after education or if you’re looking to settle into a career after a period gaining some early work experience, your ideas about what you want to do may not fit with those of your friends and family. This is why it’s worth being aware that whoever you speak to will have their own perspective on what you do.
But there are pitfalls to asking those around you.
You can probably judge the kind of advice you’re likely to get from someone you know based on:
You want career advice based on what you want, not on what someone else thinks will be good for you. That means you need to be careful who you approach for career advice.
Not all career advice is equal: some is better than others. Some people are good at listening and giving the right information and advice at the right time. Others aren’t. In the same way, there are good places to go for advice and not so good places. But wherever you go for advice, be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Since you’re here now, you’re already aware of the option of getting advice from a professional career consultant. However, there are literally hundreds of professional career consultancies and choosing the right one – and the right service – can feel challenging. So make sure you do your research and make the most of free and low-cost opportunities to try before you buy.
If you’re not clear about what career you want to pursue or whether your choice is right for you, speaking to a career consultant will give you the information and support you need to examine your options, make a career plan and follow it through.
There are personality tests that will help you identify options based on who you are as a person. Such tests could throw up ideas you’ve never considered before. And if it’s been a while since you took any careers tests, it’s worth doing some again because you'll have changed as a person with more experience and different ideas now.
Also, the tests have become more refined. That means you may be presented with an idea you’ve never considered before. Or they could present a suggestion you’ve seen before and dismissed but find it makes sense to you now even if it didn’t before.
Here’s the thing…
The more you know about yourself, the easier it will be to choose a direction to explore. A good career consultant will help you research opportunities and talk through your findings with you. That kind of feedback and support can be instrumental in clarifying what you want to do. It’s more than advice. It’s a process that helps you discover what you want, what's truly right for you and the best strategy for getting it.
If you’re working in a large organisation, want to change direction, are on a career development pathway, in a training position or simply have a manager who supports your advancement, you’ve can discuss your career options with your manager or HR department.
There may be secondment opportunities or the chance to do additional training or gain new skills to apply for roles in other departments. If you discuss this with your line manager, you may get support and guidance on making the transition. Of course, the risk is that your manager may not support you so it’s worth sounding him or her out first.
Free advice from a careers website or government agency is great if you have a simple question or want some straightforward help with getting a standard role such as an administrator, sales person or plumber. But if you need help finding work doing something that’s less easy to identify or shaping your CV or devising a strategy, such advice may be too general to be of much help. Free advice will only get you so far and you’ll need to invest in personal career advice to get the help you really need.
Professional bodies offer advice and information about different career options you can take as part of their specific area. They can offer advice on what skills you can gain and what options may be open to you within their area of interest. This is great if your career is in law, accountancy, education or medicine, for example. But it’s not so useful with creative or less well-defined career paths.
Sometimes the best people to ask for career advice are those who are already a success in the career that interests you. They will have insights, information and contacts that could help a lot. Taking the time to consult such people can also be very helpful if you’re choosing your career straight out of college or if you want to make a career change. Think carefully about how you approach them and the questions you ask.
College career departments are a great resource for information and a good opportunity to take career tests. However, what you get out of them is often in line with what you put in. If you make a last-minute dash for the careers service just before you graduate, you probably won’t get the help you need. It’s far better to consult with them earlier so you can form ideas and research your options. The other advantage is that you can identify any skills or experience you can gain via college clubs or holiday work that will support you in launching your career as soon as you leave full-time education.
It’s a good idea to talk to someone who’s doing the work you want to do so you can find out what it’s like and whether it’s right for you. Approaching someone you don’t know can be daunting but if you do it the right way, it can be a great experience for both of you. Here are some things that will make people more likely to want to help you.
There's a reason why you’ve chosen to speak to this person so let them know what it is (you admire them, they’re doing the work you want to do, etc). Let them know you’ve taken the time to find out about them and not picked their name out of a hat.
This will help them understand what help you’re looking for and whether they're the right person to help you. It also shows you’ve thought about this and aren’t casually asking them for their time. If you’ve prepared specific, well-considered questions people will be far more willing to say yes to helping you. Avoid asking questions you could have answered by doing a bit of quick research.
Tell them you’re happy to ask your questions in the way that’s best for them: email, phone or even face to face. Make it clear you understand they might not want to answer all your questions so they don’t feel they’ve been backed into a corner.
Never take anyone’s time or advice for granted. Make a point of thanking them formally and letting them know how much they’ve helped you. The best way to do this is to email them or send a letter or card.
You’ll only get the career advice you’re looking for if you ask the right questions, such as what one skill will make it easier for you to stand out in the industry and what you can do to prepare for a career in the industry you’re interested in entering or advancing in.
In truth, the best career advice is often not advice at all. Because great advice isn’t about someone else telling you what to do, it’s about having someone help you to figure out what you want to do. That means speaking to someone who makes you think, challenges your limiting beliefs, cares about your future, helps you see yourself in a new light and supports you in achieving your goals. But whatever advice you get, it’s only good advice if it helps you move forward. So, although it’s great to listen to others you also need to make sure you listen to yourself as well.
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