A new year brings new resolutions – or at least, a renewed commitment to prior resolutions. While the majority of Americans resolve to improve their diet or exercise habits, or to spend less and save more, savvy business-minded women are also considering their next career steps.
Lisa Prior, a 20-year leadership coach and change consultant, is the author of Take Charge of Your VIEW: Career Advice You Won’t Get from Your Boss. Her company, Prior Consulting, has worked with a variety of clients, including Harvard University, Citizens Bank, and Staples. Prior is also on the Steering Committee of the Executive Development Roundtable at Boston University.
We asked her for some practical tips to help women who want to be successful at work, make a career change, or enter the world of entrepreneurship.
How women can find work they really love
“I honestly believe it is less about finding work and more about creating the life and work you love in an integrated way,” Prior tells HER Magazine. She provides four steps for taking charge:
- Reflect on what you really want from your life and career. Then create something visual and keep it near you. Draw a picture, write a mission statement or a few paragraphs in your journal; make a collage. Don’t skip this step! It’s the essential touchstone for guiding your actions, whether it’s taking a new full-time job, staying home, or getting certified to boost your credentials.
- Gain deep insight about what makes you unique. Create an elevator speech about what you have to offer. Ask for feedback from co-workers or friends who know you well. Take a free strengths survey. You may learn about strengths you didn’t realize you possess. Practice talking about your positive qualities and experience.
- Pinpoint the nexus. Imagine two circles that overlap. Your vision for your life and work is one circle. The needs of a customer or organization is the other. The overlap is the nexus, which means connection. Doing work you love creates connection. You feel connected to a bigger purpose; connected to the person who benefits. The larger the connection between the organization’s needs and your vision, the more win-win.
- Show up. What’s something in your life or work you want but are shying away from? What would it mean to take that on? Fortify the inner resources that enable you to act with courage in pursuing your dreams, and to bounce-back when plans go awry. “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” said actor WC Fields.
Advice for women thinking about a career change
When thinking about changing careers, it’s important to be thoughtful as opposed to being rash. Preparing for the change can help to ensure a smooth transition. Prior recommends researching certifications, experience, or skills that will be needed in the new line of work.
The right people can also provide guidance and support. “Create a circle of mentors, friends, or a ‘board of directors’ who can offer advice, connections or resources,” Prior says. “Also, consider social media possibilities—from blogging to networking.”
Since you’re launching into a new area, you should also “get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Prior says. “You may have grown accustomed to knowing the answers, but that may no longer be true as you turn the page.” Seek out friends, coaches, and even books to help you push past those uncomfortable feelings, which Prior says can be turned into productive energy.
In addition, don’t forget to plan for the more practical elements. “Identify the things you need in terms of physical support or technology—desk, equipment, space.”
Career advice women won’t get from their boss
Mentors – especially gender-peer mentors – can be invaluable in advancing your career. But often, women don’t have the benefit of mentors or coaches. Prior shares that she recently coached a woman executive who didn’t feel the career advice from her boss was in her best interest. “He had to focus on the whole department, and taking his advice would lead to better outcomes for the company than for her,” Prior explains, while adding that this is not uncommon.
“Also, most managers in most organizations don’t see it as their job to help you figure out a personal vision for a more integrated life and career.” For one reason, what’s best for you might not be best for the company. Perhaps it’s in your best interest to leave the organization, but if you’re a valued employee, don’t expect your boss to encourage you to leave. Prior says that a good boss might suggest that you devote the time to think about your personal vision, but likely won’t have the time, resources, or the tools to be of much help.
Marrying your career goals with those of the company
If you plan on staying with the organization for a while, make wise use of your time there. “See your job as a goldmine of development opportunity, since changes are reshaping work at a breathtaking speed, faster than at any time in human history,” Prior says. Even if you don’t change jobs, she says either the nature of your work or the organization itself will likely change. “How can you grow with that change? What can you learn about yourself or about working with others in your current role?”
Prior relays the story of a woman who loved her job and felt that the company’s CEO valued her work, but the woman still wanted to leave the company because she felt that her boss was holding her back. “As we talked, I realized she was avoiding a conversation with her boss, and I encouraged her to see the situation as an opportunity to build self-awareness and skills for dealing with conflict,” Prior says. This is particularly important when dealing with one of the six types of mean men. “By just jumping to the next job, she might be depriving herself of an opportunity to learn a valuable skill for advancing her career goals.”
Also, while your boss might not be a good source for career advice, this individual should be able to help identify the types of projects or tasks that can help you build an impressive work history.
“If your boss doesn’t have ideas, you should prepare a pitch, propose a project, volunteer, or job-shadow,” Prior says. Suppose your boss doesn’t accept your proposal or ideas? Prior recommends learning from the experience and then trying again.
Advice for women who want to be their own boss
Before starting a business, women need to be crystal clear regarding how they will monetize their time and energy, and Prior recommends obtaining advice from organizations that specialize in this area. “For example, the Center for Women and Enterprise serves several New England states and can help you write a business plan and consider your financial needs.”
She also offers the following three tips:
- Be clear about the problems you help solve and what you will offer. Identify the “three things” (products and/or services) that you do best and that can fulfill a need in the nexus.
- Find or create a room of your own. Don’t try to run your shingle from the kitchen table or the local coffee shop. It may work at first, but eventually you will need the quiet space to take your business to the next level.
- Throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks. Over the past seventeen years, I’ve worked through at least two economic downturns. As the economy changes, the needs of leaders and organizations change. Keep a finger on the pulse and experiment.