Consistently moving forward in your career is a challenge and the IT field is particularly daunting. Because it includes so many facets, you must be constantly learning and growing -- and doesn't leave much time for professional development.
If you are feeling like something is missing in your career, you're not alone. Seventy percent of employees are not engaged or inspired by their work, according to Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace Report. While there are many IT professionals who are just happy to muddle through the day and complain about the way things are, there are others who are ready to take up the mantle of professional and personal growth that's necessary to get to that next level in their career.
Whether you're trying to switch to another position, trying to get hired or just thinking about long-term improvement, a career coach can help you find out what you're good at and where you need to improve, as well as help you formulate a plan for future success.
What It Takes to Be an IT Leader
"The foundation [of IT leadership] is always delivery; it's table stakes for becoming a leader in any organization," says Nora Grasham, head of strategy, Business Operations & PMO of eBay. "The next step is moving away from simply delivering what is asked, towards understanding both the customer and the problem statement, so that you're delivering what is needed. Then you need to be able to influence and deliver through other people -- whether they work for you or not. Finally, you fold in strategy, both understanding where your business is headed and aligning your IT strategy, as well as influencing that business strategy."
That's a lot to accomplish, but you don't have to go it alone. If you dream of making it to the upper echelons of IT, the reality is that building a plan for your career and professional development is critical for long-term success and relevance -- that's where a career coach comes in.
"Most IT professionals are technologists. We need to be business-oriented, effective communicators and strategic in nature. IT professionals can no longer hide behind the mystery of technology as the consumerization of IT, mobility, public cloud etc., has empowered the business to go around IT if needed to accomplish objectives," says Doug Saunders, director of information technology with Republic Services.
What Do Career Coaches Do?
Career coaches are not necessarily there to help you find a new job. "A good coach can hold up a mirror in which you can see yourself and your situation with newfound clarity. Career coaching focuses on your professional growth and development. It enables you to improve your awareness of your goals, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, desires, aspirations, barriers, etc. It may include finding a different job in or outside your company. It may include improving your performance in your current role. It may also focus on reframing how you view your situation to enhance your satisfaction or reduce your stress," says Bob Kantor, senior IT coach and IT management consultant with the Kantor Consulting Group.
One of the recurring themes that JM Auron, a resume writer with Quantum Tech Resumes, says he frequently hears on the Internet, LinkedIn groups specifically is, "No one knows your career as well as you do."
According to Auron, however, this is simply not true. "Very few of us know our careers or really have a sense of what we've done that's most critical -- and most valuable -- to an employer. Working with the right career coach can help a client clarify those accomplishments, and gain real confidence in approaching an interview," says Auron.
Do They Need to Specialize in What I Do?
A good career coach can help someone in any industry or profession, but someone who speaks the same language you do can now doubt take some time off of the learning curve. "A career coach with personal experience in your selected field can often help you more quickly than one without that experience. To the extent that the coach can bring industry-specific stories and examples into the conversation to illustrate issues and opportunities, they can enable you to see your situation more clearly and more quickly," says Kantor.
How IT Career Coaches Differ from Mentors
You may be thinking that you already have mentor so why do you need a career coach, too? A coach is generally comes from outside the industry and works with people at all levels of their career. But there can be overlap.
"Most mentors are more-experienced professionals who offer advice to less-experienced professionals on how to handle situations with which they do not have as much experience. Coaches, on the other hand, focus more on facilitating self-discovery and problem-solving. In actual practice, many effective mentors do some coaching and many coaches with solid industry experience do some mentoring," says Kantor.
What Can IT Pros Expect to Gain?
Bob Kantor offers this analogy, "Think of the fitness coaches on the TV show, "The Biggest Loser." While they help train their clients in how to work out and eat better, they also help inspire them to achieve more and give their all, especially when the going is very tough."
According to the experts the ages, the roles or positions, the objectives and goals are as diverse as the people themselves. As a result objectives vary from person to person according to what they want to achieve and their level of experience and expertise.
6 Benefits of Using an IT Career Coach
"The most important thing coaching can provide is clarity - both on past accomplishments and on future goals," says Auron. Not having clarity on where you've been, where you're going and where you want to be is a common issue with many job seekers not just people in the technology field. Working with a good career coach will help facilitate a broader perspective on your situation and how you respond to it. They should work with you to uncover that clarity, set goals and to identify and take advantage of new opportunities.
"I quickly learned I needed to become more strategic vs. tactical in my activities, how my current and future roles led to solutions that positively affected revenue or efficiencies, how to navigate and understand the political underworld of the executive suite and how to approach a job search and interview for an executive position," says Saunders.
This clarity can help uncover what truly motivates you. It could also help you uncover a career path you hadn't considered previously. "Know what things motivate you, and always keep them in mind. For example, it's easy to take a people management role because it's "the next logical step," but you have to make sure that it's also a good fit for you. People management doesn't have to be the only path to success," says Grasham.
The right amount of confidence can help you to stand out when interviewing for a new role. "Knowing what you've done - knowing what you've really delivered - makes the interview process a different thing. Being able to clearly articulate one's achievements, one's real value, immediately sets a job seeker apart," says Auron.
3. Achieving Goals Faster and More Consistently
"The one common benefit I see is that IT professionals who work with a coach achieve their goals and objectives more quickly and more frequently than those who don't. I've seen people improve how they manage their teams, engage with peers, partner with customers, manage up, drive innovation and change, manage complex projects, influence colleagues, communicate, relax and handle stress, work life balance, their relationships with their kids and significant others, and on and on and on," says Kantor.
Another big difference between a mentor and a career coach is that mentors work within the same company you do, and will provide input to your manager and/or HR organization related to your career development. "Coaching agreements, on the other hand, expressly create a "cone of silence" and assure you of complete confidentiality between yourself and your coach," says Kantor. Auron agrees, "Career confidentiality is absolutely critical for coaches and resume writers - I take protecting that confidentiality very seriously - and don't generally give references for that reason. The wrong word - that a given person is looking for a job - can have serious consequences."
5. Access to New Tools and Techniques to Enhance Job Performance
It's hard to improve your skills if you don't know where you stand to begin with. A career coach should work with you to uncover your strengths and weaknesses and help you build a plan to bridge the skills gap, as well as, exploit your strengths.
6. An Accountability Partner
Working with a career coach will help you to make and keep your commitments to yourself.
Finding an IT Career Coach
When searching for a career coach try consulting with a few to find the one that you feel you have the best chemistry with. They should be able to demonstrate that they have in place a structured process for efficiently learning about you, your situation and your objectives. Here are some questions that might help:
- Ask the coach for a brief synopsis of their experience.
- Ask if they are a credentialed.
- The number of clients with whom they have worked?
- How do you structure your coaching programs?
- How will we measure success?
- What area if any do you specialize in?
- How long do you typically work with clients?
References and word of mouth are a great way to locate reputable career coaches. "Ask friends and colleagues, industry leaders, writers and experts. Often your own HR organization can refer you to resources. You can also search LinkedIn and industry publications for articles by career coaches, and look for them to be making presentations at industry conferences," says Kantor.
What's most important, say Auron and Kantor, is ensuring that the correct relationship/chemistry is there. "The most critical aspect of a coaching relationship is connection. So I think it's important to talk for at least 20-30 minutes to determine if that connection is there. If not, it's better to move on," says Auron.
Another great way to start is to find prominent career coaches who blog and follow their content. When you find a particular blogger who resonates with you, reach out to him or her.
If you are interested in working with an IT career coach, here are some starting points:
- Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches
- Career Directors International
- Career Thought Leaders
- National Association of Resume Writers
- Career Coach Academy
Rich Hein is Managing Editor for CIO.com. He covers IT careers. You can follow Rich on Twitter, Google+ or connect on LinkedIn. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.