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- Current economic conditions are forcing many people to change careers.
- We asked experts who have made their own transitions — two coaches and a startup founder — for advice on doing it effectively.
- They mentioned the value of using other people as sounding boards and remembering that your next role doesn’t have to be your last.
- Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Joe Casey left his phone at home while he went running one Saturday afternoon in 2008.
When he got home, his wife mentioned that the president of Merrill Lynch, where Casey worked in human resources for 24 years, was calling him nonstop. Merrill Lynch, Casey learned, was merging with Bank of America. Casey was offered the option to stay on or to take an early-retirement package.
Casey thought about staying on, but within a few months, he knew he didn’t want to stick around much longer. He interviewed for an HR role at another organization, then backed out at the last minute. “My heart’s not in this,” he remembered thinking.
Casey had already been considering a transition to career coaching. He worked with an executive coach at Merrill Lynch and found the experience valuable. “If I’m really serious about coaching,” Casey told himself shortly after the merger, “Why not do it now?”
A year later, Casey started work as an executive coach. Today, at 62 years old, he runs his own coaching firm, Retirement Wisdom. From his office in Princeton, New Jersey, he works primarily with people who are retiring and helps them plot the next steps in their careers. Casey prefers to keep his business on the smaller side: In mid-March, he had 25 clients, including corporate partners. (Business has been slower in the pandemic.)
Casey’s trajectory is a prime example of how to spot opportunities for advancement when your career plans are foiled by factors outside your control. And there’s never been a greater need for instructive stories like his. In the nine weeks ending mid-May, nearly 39 million Americans filed for unemployment. Layoffs are sweeping nearly every industry, thanks largely to a global pandemic and the beginnings of a deep recession.
Many people who have lost their primary source of income — and their hopes of finding another — may feel as though they’re living out a professional nightmare. But it helps to look at the situation differently.
The next few months are an opportunity to take risks you wouldn’t have otherwise, and to tap into skills and interests you didn’t know you had. You may even find greater success in your new career path, or in entrepreneurial pursuits. NYU professor Scott Galloway previously told Business Insider that the best time to start a business is at the depths of a recession.
Business Insider spoke to three business owners — two career coaches and one founder who runs a career-development startup — about their transitions, and what other people can learn from them.
When Casey guides clients who aren’t sure what to do next, he tells them introspection will only get them so far. It can be hard to look objectively at your own strengths, so it helps to ask people who know you well what they think your main values and skills are. (On the precipice of retirement, one of Casey’s clients went back to his college roommate and asked the person, “What did you think I was going to become?”)
Alison Heisler, now a flow and clarity coach for individuals and organizations, used a similar tactic when pivoting to coaching. Heisler spent nearly two decades in magazine publishing when she started coaching part-time in 2010.
In the years that followed, as she was exploring her interests and considering her next move, she asked people who knew her well — including friends and former clients — what they considered her unique strengths and skills. They helped her recognize how much she enjoyed the interpersonal aspects of her work, and that she was drawn to more entrepreneurial environments. In 2018, Heisler joined the executive coaching and advisory firm Talentism.
Other experts recommend using friends and family as sounding boards when considering your next career move.
Tasha Eurich, for example, an organizational psychologist and the author of the book “Insight,” previously told Business Insider that everyone should have a group of “loving critics” who will be honest with them about their shortcomings in a way that helps them get ahead. Self-awareness, Eurich said, is key to professional success — and most people are lacking in it.
Spencer Rascoff, meanwhile, founder of real-estate website Zillow, previously told Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell that his wife is his “career mirror,” helping him clarify his hopes and frustrations about work. “Every career decision I’ve made has been because my wife told me to, because she’s held up a mirror to me,” Rascoff said. “She said: ‘Look, you’re unhappy. You may not realize it, but you’re unhappy doing this thing.'”
Know your personal tolerance for risk and uncertainty
When Heisler started coaching part-time in 2010, it wasn’t exactly an ideal time to make a drastic career move. The US economy was just coming out of the Great Recession; Heisler had four young kids at home; her husband was changing jobs, too.
“My reality was just that I needed to at that point stay in an income-earning position,” Heisler said, and “stay within a space where I knew that I had a lot of equity and connections.”
That didn’t mean she was stuck. Heisler identified the aspects of her career that excited her (networking and one-on-one training) and the areas where she wanted to grow, like learning about the mind-body connection. She took some positive psychology courses, enrolled in certification programs for coaching, and built her own small business on the side, teaching yoga. These were all ways to look for “evidence” of her skills and passions, she said, versus focusing on what she felt she “should” pursue.
More recently, Heisler took the opportunity to pursue coaching full-time when her employer consolidated and she was one of a number of employees who were laid off. (Heisler had already gone part-time and was planning to leave the firm.) She was able to make that move only because she spent the better part of a decade preparing.
Heisler’s transition was markedly different from Dave Fano’s experience launching Teal, which provides the tools and technology to help people build meaningful careers. Fano was the chief growth officer at WeWork; he took paternity leave in April 2019 and decided not to return to his job. Fano, 39, had already built several startups (one of which was acquired by WeWork, which is how he ended up there). He knew he wanted to pursue something entrepreneurial, but wasn’t sure what.
“I’m very comfortable with risk,” Fano said; he was that way even earlier in his career. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll succeed” at whatever you’re pursuing, Fano added, especially if you’re too comfortable with risk. But, he said, “I’m excited by the early, malleable nature of very young companies. It’s a very energizing experience for me and I really enjoy it. What for some may be overwhelming and daunting, those are actually super exciting for me.”
Heisler tells all her clients that an important component of a career change is adopting an “experimental mindset.” That means you’re trying out potential paths and gathering data, as opposed to making a single, drastic move that you’ll have to stick with for years.
Knowing that the next job doesn’t have to be “forever,” Heisler said, “takes some of the stress out of it.” That’s practical advice, to be sure, since you may not find your ideal role in a recession. But it also helps free up some mental space.
Heisler’s foray into coaching was part of her (ongoing) experiment in figuring out what she’s great at and how she can best help other people achieve their goals. That mindset left room for “unexpected possibilities” in her transition, she said.
For Casey, experimentation meant talking to already established coaches about their career paths, as a way to ensure this was something he wanted to pursue now that he’d left Merrill Lynch. Casey said some 21 of the 23 coaches he approached were glad to speak with him and share their experiences. “People were very generous with their time,” Casey said.
Now, Casey calls these conversations “life design interviews,” a term coined by the Stanford professors who wrote “Designing Your Life,” a 2016 book that’s influenced Casey’s coaching practice. According to the professors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, everyone should conduct life design interviews before changing jobs. It involves asking someone who’s achieved what you hope to achieve to tell you how they got where they are today and what it’s like to have their jobs.
Casey was careful not to ask any of the coaches he interviewed for a job lead, and he recommends clients don’t either, since they’re still in the learning and discovery phase. But in the current economic circumstances, people in your network will likely understand if you’re looking for work and need their help.
Fano’s advice for someone who’s just lost their job is to leverage their network. “Tell the world,” Fano said, and get over the embarrassment. “Right now the world wants to help more than ever.” But if you don’t ask for anything, “then they can’t help you.”
As for his own transition from WeWork to Teal, Fano said it was helpful to have a “pausing mechanism.” In his case, that pause was paternity leave, when he had a chance to think big-picture about his work life. In someone else’s case, it could be a layoff. Even if you need financial stability right now, meaning you need to take another job immediately, being thrown off course can give you a chance to reconsider what you really want out of your career.
“I’m usually quick for action,” Fano said. “So I intentionally forced myself to take a breath, process it all, and say, ‘What do I really want to do? This is going to be a big commitment.'”
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