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Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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2.1 Telling my career story

A starting point for many career coaches is to focus on your career story so far. As Drake (2014, p. 119) explains, ‘the stories people tell about their lives are of considerable importance in coaching because there is an intimate connection between the ways in which people narrate their identities and enact their lives.’

In her book, Brilliant Career Coach, author and coach Sophie Rowan (2011, pp. 20–2) introduces a self-directed exercise she calls ‘What’s your story?’. She asks a series of prompt questions, which include the following:

  • What is your career story so far?
  • What have you enjoyed most and least in your career?
  • How would you describe yourself at work?
  • Which work relationship has been the most positive and why?
  • Which parts of your story make you happiest?
  • Which parts would you prefer to skip over or delete?

Narrating your story might allow you to recognise patterns or identify more clearly what type of work or working environment has given you the most satisfaction. The process will give you information that you can use when considering any future career path you want to take.

Rowan recommends taking a day to do this properly, covering an A4 page, perhaps in several sittings. She proposes that the story should be as positive and persuasive as possible, ‘…full of your skills, strengths, unique talents and all-round brilliance’. A strong story will help you to feel more confident about future career decisions and transitions.

Activity 2 Interpreting Tonya’s story

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

When you’re writing your own narrative, it can be difficult to pull out the positive learning points. This activity will give you an opportunity to practise doing that with someone else’s story.

Read Tonya’s story.

While at secondary school, I helped my busy parents to care for my baby sister, and I was good at it, so decided a job in childcare might be for me. I started a course but soon realised this was not what I wanted and left. My passion has always been for design and I’m a talented, creative person – so I started an interior design course, which I loved. Unfortunately, personal circumstances meant that I had to leave that course too and get a job. Eventually, I was lucky enough to find work in an interior design consultancy where I learned a huge amount. I realised that I thrive in a creative environment. I’m a strong communicator and able to understand and adapt a client’s brief effectively. I also realised that if I’m going to work in a small business, I need to be the boss. I’m not interested in constantly having to boost someone else’s self-confidence and pick up the pieces when things don’t go their way! I’m currently a sales representative for an artisan tile-making company. I travel all over the country on my own, selling to retailers. I have recently negotiated deals with two large department store chains. In the future, I plan to open a boutique selling interior design products.

In the box below, list five positive points from Tonya’s story.

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You could have chosen:

  • Tonya can make brave, pragmatic decisions, for example, leaving a university course that wasn’t right; leaving a second course because the timing was wrong.
  • She is creatively talented – interior design is her specialism.
  • She likes to be her own boss.
  • She is a good negotiator and can sell in competitive environments.
  • She is good with people – from young children to colleagues and potentially demanding clients.
  • She has a capacity for dealing with change, for example, moving from university to employment, changing employers etc.

For the sake of brevity in this activity, Tonya’s story is shorter than Rowan (2011) recommends. For example, she could have included much more detail about herself and what makes her happy, how other people would describe her etc.

When you write your own story, it might be useful to find a trusted friend or colleague to read through it with you. They might draw different conclusions about your strengths and abilities.

Taking some time to write your own narrative will allow you to discover all sorts of things about yourself. Remember, this is for you, not for an application form or CV, so there’s no pressure to do it a certain way or use key words that you think an employer might be looking for. Just be as positive as possible and try to get everything in.

Having said that, your story will be a useful starting point for future applications – allowing you to extract relevant information without having to start your thinking all over again.