As many current mid- to late-career professionals will testify, proactively managing one’s career in today’s world of work is challenging. And, in these post-Great Recession years, recent graduates of undergraduate and graduate programs—even from top MBA schools like Darden—will readily recount the anxieties and challenges of landing that first job. It is old news that job security is a thing of the past and no secret that today’s labor market holds some harsh realities. The traditional “career ladder” of the Corporate Man era morphed into the “career lattice” of the 1980s through the early 2000s, and in the most recent decade has evolved into a “career jungle gym.” To add to the career challenges of professionals, today’s managers operate in thinly staffed and highly matrixed organizations that focus on short term financial results and allow them little time or budget to offer career coaching or professional development to their reports.
The jungle gym metaphor was referenced by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook in her 2013 book, Lean In, when she described her own career, “A jungle gym scramble is the best description of my career. I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today.” Experienced career consultants who have coached professionals from all career stages can easily relate to the jungle gym metaphor. The climber my go up a few rungs initially, and then find it easier to move laterally, and at times necessary to move down a few rungs in order to get to the desired position. The mental image of this metaphor conjured for those in the career management business will likely not resemble the newer, safety-proofed jungle gyms with the synthetic soft-landing underground surface, but rather the monkey bars of yesteryear, constructed of solid metal that stood on blacktop playgrounds and were much more unforgiving when the climber lost his footing. A fall from the old-fashioned monkey bars likely guaranteed that the displaced climber would arise bruised, dazed and unsure of where to get back on. This powerful metaphor is illustrative of how the generations in today’s workforce will experience their careers throughout their work lifespan.
Career obstacles and setbacks are frustrating, and require resilience to rebound and tenacity to get back in and stay in the game. Today, no combination of education, experience and natural ability can ensure an obstacle-free navigation through the career jungle gym. That is why many professionals find the need to reach out to a career coach for guidance at some point in their trajectory. Absent of a career development initiative or a mentor within one’s organization, seeking outside advice can offer the safe harbor of confidentiality for exploration without worry about repercussions from self-disclosure. Counsel from a competent career coach can illuminate possibilities and remove the emotional logjams that people face when they try to go it alone. Progressing to the next appropriate step in one’s career takes self-awareness, knowledge of the labor market, employing focused job search techniques and the execution of a strategic search plan. Of course, these efforts must be supported by the willingness to be accountable to one’s coach and invest sustained energy in the process.
Darden Alumni are fortunate to have access to the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services which offers them free career consulting services for life. This incredible resource was made possible by the establishment of the Alumni Career Services fund in 1998 and was developed with the inspiration and vision of Mr. Armstrong, a Darden School Foundation trustee and lead donor at the time of its founding. As the summer months come to a close and the final quarter of the year approaches, there often comes a time of reckoning for professionals impacted by the year’s corporate events or who feel the need to make a change. We thought it timely to reach out to our alumni as we enter into the fourth quarter of 2015 as a reminder of the value that the ACS can provide when you get “stuck” in your career.
Here are some examples of a few of the recent inquiries that have come into our ACS coaches:
- I was just laid off—where do I begin in ramping up a job search?
- I’ve been in my role in this company a year now and I’m miserable—I can’t figure out if I chose the wrong career path, or this is just the wrong company for me….”
- We just learned that our company is divesting my business in the coming months, so I need to update my resume…
- I just found out that I am a final candidate and have a face-to-face, on-site panel interview scheduled —how should I prepare?
- I did not get the final offer—can you help me rekindle my search?
- I’ve been at this search for several months and I’m not getting any traction—what am I doing wrong?
- Can you look at my LinkedIn profile and help me improve it so I that get more interest?
- I know that networking is the key, but I am very reluctant about reaching out to people in my network—can you help me get past this?
- I am stuck at my current company—it is evident that there are no more growth opportunities for me —what should I do?
- I am trying to “re-launch” my career after being out for several years to attend to family matters. My confidence is ebbing—can you give me some advice on things I should do to increase my chances of success?
Do any of these issues sound familiar? If the answer is “yes” or you could use support with navigating your own “career jungle gym,” consider reaching out to the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services to schedule an appointment with a career coach.
Shelby Olson, Interim Director of Alumni Career Services, The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business