Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Making a Career Change: Step 6 Looking to Others

Previously: Step 5: Looking in the Mirror

It's amazing how good an exercise routine can make you feel isn't it? Especially after Thanksgiving!!

Making a career change is very much about putting yourself out there. In order to do so effectively you need to know how others see you and the best way to do that is to ask those around you.  Your colleagues are your best resource when it comes to understanding who you are and how you present yourself because they are the ones who see your personal and professional interactions from the outside.

Step 6: Looking to Others
Pick 3-5 people whose input and feedback you trust. Be sure not to pick all of your friends. It's OK to pick one friend but it will be infinitely more helpful if you are able to get the objective feedback of colleagues, supervisors, clients, customers and other people who have no vested personal interest.

Set up a time when you can have a conversation. Perhaps it's over lunch, coffee, after hours, or before work during breakfast. Just pick a time outside of the craziness of the work day so you won't feel rushed. When it comes time to have these conversations thank the person for joining you and then provide the framework for the conversation to take place by saying something like:

"I am trying to learn how others perceive me in the work place so that I can get a better understanding of what I do well and what areas I need to work on and I thought you might be able to help me."

From here you do not want to steer the conversation too much by asking specific questions. Just allow the conversation to happen and see where it goes. You want to hear the person's initial response and then perhaps ask followup questions for clarification. If they only speak to your strengths, after a while thank them and then ask for a few things you might be able to improve. Same goes for the reverse. Remember, this is just a conversation and not an interview. You are trying to learn how others perceive you so you need to allow them to communicate that perception.

It is likely that you will find that the hardest part about this process is to strip it of emotional and objectively listen to what the person is saying . You may need to fight the urge to rebut "I am NOT like that!" Remember, you've asked someone you trust for honest feedback. There are reasons they are saying what they are saying and it is up to you to figure out why. If you don't like what you hear, now is the time to change it but first you need to learn what "it" is and the person speaking to you is doing you a favor so don't argue with them.

After the meeting, write the person a thank you note (email is fine but I prefer hand written) and then head to your notebook and document the conversation. Note what strengths and areas for improvement came up. After you have had a few of these conversations look for trends and patterns.

Up Next: Step 7: Putting It All Together

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