No, it’s not easy. Yes, it is possible — even in the pandemic.
In my mind, there’s no better way to believe that something is possible (and learn how to do it) than by talking to someone who’s done it. That’s what I did with Robert, a recent “graduate” of the Career Pathfinder Coaching Program, who just landed his dream job.
I interviewed Robert about his career change and typed up the highlights to share with you, the A Path That Fits community. Our intention is to illustrate what worked for Robert so that you can apply the same strategies in your career.
Thank you, Robert, for generously sharing your story with us.
Case Study: How Robert got his dream job in the pandemic
Before & After: Where were you at in your life and work before The Career Pathfinder Coaching Program? Where are you now?
Before: I was an executive leader at a non-profit. My job was stressful and draining and it was spilling over into my personal life. I knew it was time to move on but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next or how to figure it out. I was also struggling to find time to prioritize making a career change because my existing job was so consuming. I was stuck.
After: For the first time in my career I feel like I am in the driver’s seat. That feels strange to say as a 56-year-old man, but it’s true. I used to be more reactive, meaning that I would take the opportunities that came my way. Now I’m proactive about pursuing opportunities that are a good fit for me because I know what I want and I’m confident in the value that I bring. I got my dream job as Chief Advancement Officer for an organization that advances racial justice and equity in the outdoor and environmental movement. Given my love for nature and the outdoors, as well as my interest in both social justice and fundraising, it’s perfect.
How did the pandemic impact your career?
The organization that I was working for was already in a challenging place financially when the pandemic began. The organization went through a restructuring and it was clear to me I was not going to be part of the organization moving forward.
While it was unsettling at first, it turned out to be the catalyst I needed. It led to me finding a new job that I love that also supports a much better work-life balance for my family.
What was different about changing careers in the pandemic?
This is going to sound strange, but not having as many jobs available right now was a blessing. It forced me to get clear about what I wanted and be more focused and committed. I was better prepared to communicate my value, why I was a good fit for the role, and to express my passion for the organization’s mission. I took bold action in a way that I hadn’t done in the past.
I found that people were more available to connect for informational interviews and networking during the pandemic. Everyone is more supportive of each other right now because we all know it’s a challenging time.
I also think that all the uncertainty in this pandemic creates an opportunity for employers and job seekers to be more creative about how they work together. In my case, I offered myself as a consultant instead of a full-time employee which made it possible for the organization to hire me. The work that I did during my consulting contract led to me getting an offer to join the organization full time in the role of Chief Advancement Officer. I had never thought to offer myself as a consultant and I couldn’t be happier with how it all worked out.
How did you get your new job?
I saw an opening for the role of Chief Advancement Officer at an organization that was aligned with my values and passions. I searched through my network and found that I was connected to the search consultant. She recommended me to the hiring manager and I went through the interview process. They ended up hiring another candidate.
When I wasn’t given the job, I wrote the CEO and asked her to reconsider me. It was bold. I had never done anything like that. It felt good to make a case for myself and I could do it because of everything I learned in the pathfinding process. It didn’t result in me getting the job (at that time) but I kept following the organization. A few months later, I saw that the person they hired was no longer there.
I reached back out to the CEO and re-started a conversation about their needs. I learned that they still needed someone to lead the fundraising effort but they were hesitant to go through the hiring process again. I ended up offering myself as a consultant ─ which was an idea that I learned from someone in an informational interview.
They liked the idea and I was hired as a consultant to lead a $1.4 Million fundraising campaign for BIPOC led youth organizations. I loved the work and gave it my all. A few months into my contract, I was offered the full-time position as Chief Advancement Officer. It feels amazing to have landed a role that truly feels like the center of my Venn diagram of passions, personality, and gifts.
What were the biggest challenges and obstacles you faced in the pathfinding process? How did you work through them?
#1: Finding the time.
I have two kids and a demanding job so it was a challenge to find the time to do the coaching activities and conduct a job search. I made the time by setting weekly goals and blocking off time in my calendar. I also made a mental shift: Instead of trying to race through the process, I tried to embrace it and enjoy the coaching activities. I can remember spending three hours doing the “Passions Quest” activity because it was fascinating to me.
#2. Narrowing down all the career options.
It helped me to think about some of the career possibilities as side gigs. That freed me up to entertain career ideas that I was passionate about but would likely take more time to develop into financially sustainable career paths. For example, I’m excited to pursue my passion for travel by taking a hospitality course at my local community college. I also want to act as a tour guide to lead hikes through the Marin Headlands.
#3. Procrastinating the most confronting activities.
Some of the activities forced me to dig deep and stretch out of my comfort zone. I knew they were necessary but they were also the kind of activities that I’d procrastinate if left to my own devices. I developed a new morning routine of “eating the frog.” Eating the frog is the practice of starting my day by doing the thing that I am most avoiding. It’s my way of tackling the important but scary things and it worked to keep me moving forward.
What were the limiting beliefs you faced and how did you work with them?
As my career evolved into leadership roles, I became more of a generalist. I began to wonder, “What have I actually done in my career?” I wasn’t sure what I had accomplished. There were a few coaching activities that changed my perspective. The first activity guided me through a process of identifying past successes and accomplishments. The next one helped me weave them into stories that proved my ability to meet the job requirements. This was hugely helpful in boosting my confidence and communicating my value in interviews.
My age was my biggest hesitation prior to signing up. I wondered if the online course was going to work for me as a 56-year-old. I had the belief that it’s harder for older workers to change careers and land good jobs. I worked through that by seeing the bigger picture. While there may be some truth that it’s harder for older workers to get hired, it’s also true that I have a lot to contribute, a great network to tap into, and a diverse skill set to draw upon. There are always things that you can control and things you can’t. I focused on the things that were in my control, persisted, and was confident about communicating my value.
What were the most valuable parts of the pathfinding process for you?
- The structure of the online course helped me break the big overwhelming idea of making a career change into specific steps.
- I appreciated the variety of approaches presented in the online course. There were so many diverse ways to discover my strengths and passions and translate them into career options. Different things work for different people and there is truly something for everyone in the online course. The following were key for me:
- I realized that in addition to the role, the organization’s values, mission, and culture were critical to my happiness. I hadn’t appreciated how important this was prior to this coaching program. This realization helped me focus my job search on organizations that inspired me.
- The chapter about informational interviewing produced one of the key insights that led to me landing my job. It transformed informational interviewing from something that was intimidating into something easy. The templates and examples were useful and the resulting conversations were incredibly valuable. For example, in one of my informational interviews, the person that I was interviewing explained that he created his own position by joining the organization as a consultant. He earned their trust and was then hired as a full-time employee. I used that same strategy to land my job and I might not have thought of it if I didn’t have that informational interview!
- The “Career Mad Lib” activity was especially helpful in getting more concrete about the type of work that I wanted to do.
What strategies and approaches were effective in landing your job in the unique climate of the pandemic?
#1. Getting clear about what I wanted.
It was more necessary than ever to be clear about what was important to me so that I could identify the right opportunities and be confident about going after them. The self-discovery activities in the online course helped with that. More specifically, the process of identifying my past accomplishments and using them to communicate the value that I bring made a big difference in the confidence and clarity I brought to the interview process.
#2. Offering myself as a consultant instead of a full-time employee.
I think offering myself as a consultant instead of a full-time employee made it easier for the organization to hire me. It’s expensive for an organization (especially a smaller one) to bring on a new employee and it’s a big risk in the uncertain economic climate of the pandemic. Being willing to start out as a consultant reduces the risk for employers (and for job seekers). Both parties get to make sure it’s a win-win before committing to full-time employment. This is also a great way to approach an organization that inspires you but doesn’t have an open position. Start a conversation about their needs and see if you can fill it as a consultant. If all goes well, the consulting role could lead to a full-time position.
#3. Using my network.
As soon as I saw the job opening, I searched through my network and reached out to my connections that had ties to the organization. Doing so resulted in direct referrals to the hiring manager.
#4. Proactively reaching out to organizations that inspired me.
I was bold about reaching out to organizations that inspired me to start a conversation about their needs. Even when I didn’t get the position the first time around, I stayed connected and followed-up. Doing so led to my job.
What else has changed in your life and work as a result of going through this process?
I’m more confident. I attribute this newfound confidence to getting to know who I am, clarifying the value that I bring, and identifying past accomplishments that prove what I can do.
My work-life balance has dramatically improved in my new consulting role. I’m grateful to be able to support my family with all of the changes brought about by the pandemic. For example, my two kids are distance learning and I’ve been able to be more engaged in that adjustment.
What advice do you have for other people looking for a new career path (in general and given the unique challenges of the pandemic)?
#1. Stick with it!
Changing careers is a process with the inevitable ups and downs.
#2. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.
Your career doesn’t have to be everything. As I mentioned earlier, it felt like a wise trade-off to explore some of my passions through side gigs and hobbies instead of trying to make a massive career change at 56 years old with a family to support. The pivot that I made put me in a new role that is financially sustainable, more aligned with who I am, and affords me more time for side gigs and hobbies.
#3. Make the pathfinding process your own.
You don’t have to do every activity in the online course to get clear about what career is right for you. It helped me to modify some of the activities, go deeper into some, and spend less time with others.
#4. Use the group coaching resources.
They were a great help. Leverage the Facebook group to connect with your fellow pathfinders for advice and networking. Gracie was tremendously helpful via the online coaching she provides in the Facebook group as well as with the extra (paid) session that I added with her. I was a regular on the group coaching sessions with Adrian and found his insight, vision, and mix of genuine positivity and empathy to be inspiring.
What else do you want to add that’s been an important part of your pathfinding journey?
It is a privilege to be able to reflect on your career and ask the question, “What do I really want to do?” I think it could be easily taken for granted and it’s important to be grateful for the opportunity.
I’m grateful for the course, your vision, the tone, and the community. Thank you.