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Your personal advisory board
This proven process has been in place for organizations throughout history. So why not apply that same practical wisdom to individuals who are seeking to change their careers, move ahead in their industry or even figure out which path to take next?
“Anyone floundering about a career decision, or just needing good practical advice should consider putting together a career advisory board, consisting of a group of advisors—anywhere from four to eight people—who can help guide your career,” says Vicki Lind, a career counselor in Portland, Oregon.
So how do you go about forming a career advisory board? The first step is to go through your contacts and try to come up with the best candidates. “Choose people in your field or your desired industry with whom you have a warm relationship,” offers Lind. They can be former colleagues, managers, college alumni or senior business people who have expertise in the area you’d like to work in.
Lind helped facilitate one such “board” for a female client, a business consultant, who decided that she needed to focus on a specific niche within her industry but wasn’t clear about how to accomplish that task.
The client reached out to former work associates as well as personal friends who were familiar with her personal strengths and invited them to be on her board and participate in a brainstorming session. Lind had her write up a specific agenda for the meetings, including the particular issue the client was facing and what outcome she was hoping for from the session.
“Because these individuals knew my client’s strengths and weaknesses, they were able to help her figure out what type of clients she would best work with,” says Lind. “After the first meeting, the client chose to focus her work on the nonprofit sector.”
In order to get people to serve on your board, Lind suggests inviting your chosen group to lunch. Let them know the length of time involved and be careful to respect busy schedules by keeping the commitment to a minimum. Lind recommends asking for people to commit to three meetings a year at most, either in person or over the phone.
To play it safe, Lind recommends inviting more people than you might expect to accept. “While many people may decline participation, you’d be surprised at how many people say yes because they’re flattered to be asked,” she says. “Or, they might even be interested in making business connections themselves.”
A career advisory board doesn’t need to be too formal, says Linda Warren, a career coach in Northern California. “In fact, you don’t even need to tell people that they are on your board,” she says. “The most important thing is that you are bringing people together to talk about your career so you can capitalize on the synergy of a group dynamic.”
Warren once had a client who worked in the field of organizational management, and she wanted to go from working as an external consultant to working internally within a corporation. The client invited a group of colleagues she’d known for years, who worked in her field, to get together. After participating in a vibrant brainstorming session, she was able to see things about herself she had never seen before, Warren says. “People have blind-spots about their talents. They don’t see themselves as others seem them.” In this case, her colleagues were able to advise her how to capitalize on her strengths to move forward in a positive new direction. Not everyone can participate in the group dynamic, so in those cases, a one-on-one meeting can also suffice.
There are definitely some ground rules about how your board should function, says Warren. “You have to be careful about who you invite. Be sure to pick people who are not going to sabotage your dreams by being passive aggressive or judgmental.”
“You also want to make sure that meetings have clearly stated objectives,” says Warren. From the get-go, your guests should be aware of exactly what it is you want to accomplish. Write a focused agenda and hand these out to the group in advance. “If you don’t have a clear goal, you won’t get much out of it,” Warren says.
Examples of objectives may be: What are the best ways for me to market myself? What steps should I take to shift my career into a new area? Or, what’s the most effective way for me to move up the ladder at my company?
While it may take time and careful planning, the results of your career advisory board can be worth the effort, says Warren. “People often get stuck in their careers because they can’t see that they have lots of options. Getting feedback from your colleagues, friends and people that care about you can be a powerful way to break through that block and see what is possible for you.”