By Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill
Career development is a funny thing. If you’d told me in the summer of 2010 that I was going to be a career coach 9 years later and have my own business, I simply wouldn’t have believed you. Where I am today wasn’t on my radar then. It wasn’t even on my radar in January 2019 before I had to unexpectedly resign from my full-time job and then launch this business to support my family. From the start of my career to this day, no two jobs I’ve held have been within the same industry, let alone the same function, however, everything I have done has prepared me to be the professional I am today because of the unique path I’ve traveled. If you don’t read another word of this article, I want you to know that you have the ability to find the thread in your non-linear career path, own your story, & build your brand around it.
Let me illustrate…
I had a client who is a very talented writer/content creator/storyteller. Across the span of her 15+ year career, she had worked for around 6+ different employers in 5 industries, held 6 different titles, and worked in 2 countries. Even though she was a storyteller by nature and function, she came to me neither able to identify nor articulate the whole created by the sum of those disparate parts. If you feel the same way, know that you’re not alone. Part of her challenge, as with any job seeker with a non-linear career, was that she was too close to her own story. Being the star of her own career movie, she only had her first-person perspective on how things fit together. It’s not that the thread wasn’t there — she simply couldn’t see it yet.
This client had worked as head of copy for a print & digital newspaper. She’d been a producer & scriptwriter for a tv studio, and she’d also spent time in corporate communications for an investment firm, to name a few. The most obvious thing connecting all of her roles was the focus on writing and content production, however, the environments, audiences, and goals were radically different. This was our starting point, but we had to go deeper in order to create a compelling narrative about who she was as a professional.
HOW TO FIND THE THREAD IN YOUR NON-LINEAR CAREER PATH
Many professionals get stuck trying to tell the story of their diverse career background when they focus too much on their responsibilities. The challenge is that responsibilities vary widely across roles. Focusing too much on your responsibilities is detrimental to both writing a good resume and telling a cohesive story about your career. Rather than getting lost in the weeds of your responsibilities, I find it critical to step back to look at 3 key things across all of your roles:
The problems you solved
The skills you used to solve problems
The impact you had & the value you added
FIND YOUR THREAD FIX 1: FOCUS ON THE PROBLEMS YOU SOLVED
Common across virtually all the environments my client had worked, she encountered a lack of organization, inefficient systems & processes, and a middling quality of work. The environments within an investment firm and a TV studio couldn’t be more different, but she ended up encountering similar problems while executing multiple different roles.
When it comes to positioning yourself as a candidate, it’s critical to know what problems you are particularly good at solving. Why? Because employers care deeply about hiring employees who can help them resolve their pain points. By getting crystal clear on the problems you’re good at solving, you can gear your search to target companies facing challenges that you hold the solutions to.
What makes you unique is the perspective you have on these challenges because you have seen and solved them in a variety of settings. This means that you likely possess solutions that they would never even think up — not in spite of, but because of your diverse background. Run. With. That.
FIND YOUR THREAD FIX 2: FOCUS ON THE SKILLS YOU USED TO SOLVE PROBLEMS
Having identified a common set of problems you experienced across settings, you likely had to rely on a similar set of skills across those settings to solve them. In meeting disorganization, my client leveraged and built strong organizational skills to create order. In the face of inefficiency, she created and improved systems/processes to help her employers increase consistency and productivity in workflows using her project management skills. In addition to leading by example through producing high-quality content/scripts/communications/productions, she also trained those around her and under her to perform better in their daily functions by transferring and capturing knowledge. She was a strong trainer and mentor as well.
Skills such as organization, project management, training, & mentoring, are transferable across roles and industries. If we solely focused on the fact that in one role she wrote scripts and in another she wrote press releases, we’d be missing the bigger picture. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that she did build invaluable experience writing & creating a wide variety of content well for different audiences. This would allow her to bring versatility to an employer that many candidates might lack. Run. With. That.
FIND YOUR THREAD FIX 3: FOCUS ON THE IMPACT YOU HAD & VALUE YOU ADDED
By solving the problems outlined above, my client had an immense impact, leaving each role and company, better than she had found them. Her actions led to increased efficiency and high production value despite tight budgets. She built better and more sustainable processes that remained in place after her departure. Her innovation created new ways of storytelling, facilitating better connections to audiences. She was able to improve the quality of work and content standards leading to increased engagement with the companies’ content. There is tremendous value in what she was able to both affect and effect through her work.
Efficiency gains, outsized returns from small budgets, product quality improvements, & innovation are results universally sought by employers because they ultimately help boost their bottom line. If you can demonstrate how your work consistently supported larger company goals across roles and industries, that is a rather attractive quality in an employee. Run. With. That.
By this point, I hope you can see that despite having played multiple roles in several companies there were a number of common threads that ran through my client’s career that became available once I helped her shift her focus. Essentially, she had elevated the work practices and creative/written content of every organization she’d been a part of. That’s a powerful brand.
No matter how non-linear your career path has been, you can find the connecting thread(s). Once you have found it, it’s up to you to own your story. You must believe in the path you’ve taken and why you took it, or no one else will. Once you’ve clarified the problems you solve, the skills you’ve used to do so, and the value you’ve added across settings, it’s up to you to create a platform based on your unique value and position in relation to your target employer’s needs.
In other words…
Create. Your. Own. Lane. & Run. In. That.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1700 episodes and “The No BS Coaching Advice Podcast” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council. “No BS JobSearch Advice Radio” was named a Top 10 podcast for job search. JobSearchTV.com is also a Top 10 YouTube channel for job search.
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