Being a Career Coach Is Just Like Selling Pantyhose

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My first job was in retail, at a large department store.  I hoped to get placed in a department I would enjoy, or at least know something about.  I didn’t.  I was assigned to hosiery.  Disappointed, I accepted the job, needing work experience and the money.

I avoided pantyhose like the plague up until this point (and still do).  I had no interest in helping people choose the restricting garments, nor did I relish pressuring people to buy what was on sale.  I struggled at first – against my resistance to the job and trying to fit my nature into what seemed like a terrible fit for my values and personality.

Eventually, it got easier.  I found my rhythm. When people came in to buy hosiery, I would listen closely to what they wanted.  I’d match up their individualized needs with choices that might work for them, educating them on why these options would be a good fit. I taught customers how to find new choices and old favorites when I wasn’t working.  Finally, I let them know they could always come back and ask me questions, always encouraging them to trust themselves to choose what they thought was best.

I didn’t know it then, but that job was my first genuine expression of who I am at work.  Even though selling hosiery and being a career coach seem like very different roles, there’s a link – or what I call a thread.

Threads are the things about us that don’t change.  Things you do naturally.  Your gifts.  You couldn’t stop doing them if you tried.

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One of my threads is listening closely to people, educating them on options and encouraging them to trust themselves to make the right choice.  That has happened in all jobs I’ve had.

Retail: Selling pantyhose, posters, greeting cards and theater tickets

Corporate: Consulting internal IT customers on software choices

Non-profit: Supporting college students with disabilities in pursuing internships and jobs

Entrepreneurship: Coaching individuals on their next career step

You have threads too.  We all do.  While identifying them can take time, it can be a helpful exercise no matter what career stage you are in or what kind of role you are pursuing.

Consider these steps when searching for your threads:

  • Self Reflection
    • What have you been most proud of in your work life?  Most frustrated by?
  • Assessment
    • Take an assessment you trust and write about the results – when have you expressed those skills or characteristics?
  • Influential People
    • What are the messages from the work lives of inspirational family members or mentors that have stuck with you?
  • Get Feedback
    • Ask others what they see as your gifts and talents.

Using your threads as a foundation for your career builds confidence.  It simplifies your messaging and creates ease in interviewing. Threads help you understand what questions you need to ask to find out if a particular line of work would be fulfilling.  And threads help you articulate your value in performance reviews.  They help you create fulfilling work wherever you are now, and for the rest of your life.  Try it!

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