Most career advice is geared to help people please others. The most effective career advice I’ve received has come in two forms: practical and deeply personal. We all need a combination of both to forge our “career pathways.”
First, the practical. In a job search some years ago, a senior foundation executive took the time to review my resume pretty thoroughly. He told me that while my experience was interesting and my accomplishments were pertinent, what came through less clearly is the story of me with which I, as the author (and “liver” of the life on the page), wanted to leave him. It’s more than a personal objective; it’s a summary of who you are and what you do. At this point, I share this with others all the time. A resume is not only a chance to detail (and document) your experience, it’s also a chance for you to reflect on who you are and take the role of the developer and communicator of the message – about what skills and perspective you would bring to a role. In this light, the resume becomes a very different kind of document. To this day, in my role of executive search consultant, I see very few CVs where it’s clear that the author has told their personal story and made their audience connect to it. This has certainly changed my resume, and how I review them.
The deeply personal is, by definition, more difficult to conceptualize, but the good news is that it is ultimately easier for candidates to understand. Careers are best built when the jobs that comprise them are done well. People tend to do jobs well when they are in line with their values and what they want to achieve in the world. That’s how it is for me, anyway. When candidates ask me for advice in approaching an interview, I always say, “be yourself,” because there is really only one person any person can truly be, and even if that person doesn’t come out through an interview process, he or she will come out eventually. Hence, it becomes really important to know who you are, what you value, environments in which you work well (and don’t), and even being able to articulate in a clear and accessible way what you actually do day-to-day. Ultimately, it is these things which meaningful, fulfilling careers are built. Followed over the long term, these principles really do lead people to jobs in which he or she (or I) will be largely successful.
These personal/professional career building themes will be explored in the Council on Foundations’ new Career Pathways Program, and I’m thrilled that they are. Linking the practical and personal is receiving increasing amounts of attention, especially through the Career Pathways Program. Career Pathways is a premiere leadership development program aimed at recruiting and retaining diverse and excellent leadership in philanthropy’s most senior levels. The intensive one-year program will help up-and-coming leaders communicate their personal and professional stories, evolving as they receive feedback from colleagues with whom they develop a deep and trusting relationship through the program.
For me, it comes down to this: most career advice comes from the “outside-in”. But the most valuable career advice is that which develops you as a person, a colleague and a leader. Now, before I ask for career advice, I think about what mark on the world I’m trying to leave. The advice I get back is much more useful for me – and for the advisor!
Vincent Robinson is founder and managing partner of The 360 Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting firm that supports foundations and nonprofit organizations.