What I Learned Working With A Career Coach: Five Unexpected Steps On The Road To Professional Success

By Marina Kapralau

Last November, I received an invitation to try out for a position with Apple Music. I had recently decided to leave my career in management behind and pursue a new path in creative writing. Having just started my job hunt, I was excited by what seemed to be my immediate success.  I rushed to the Apple Music office in Los Angeles … and failed. The whole thing blew up in my face so badly, I bet Tim Cook himself heard the uproar. Feelings of futility and “action paralysis” took hold, and I soon lost the motivation to look for a job.

But with New Year’s approaching, the time was right to make plans and set new goals. One night, realizing I desperately needed someone to guide me out of this darkness, I sat under my Christmas tree with a sheet of paper and a pen in hand and diligently wrote a short to-do list: “1. Hire a career coach. 2. Find my dream job in the entertainment industry.”

On January 1, I had my first phone meeting with my new InsideTrack Career Coach, Kim Black. Here are the five most important lessons I learned from her.

1. Assemble your “Dream Team”
Assignment from my coach: Make a list of people who love me for who I am and not for where I work.

One of the very first things Kim and I discussed was the question of who would support me in my battles with the encroaching armies of other job applicants. Support from friends and family is vital to managing the stress of a job search, particularly in a job market where trends are rapidly changing. My “Dream Team” consisted of Kim (because a good coach is a good psychologist and a cornucopia of valuable information), my husband and close friends.

Outcome: I received tremendous help and encouragement from my loved ones. My friends, who specialize in graphic design, came up with a killer style and format for my resume and offered a shoulder to cry on when things were not looking up for me. My husband checked my progress daily — I applied for a minimum of three jobs every day and sent him screenshots of the confirmation emails. He also sent me links to interesting job postings, informative articles, useful literature and important events.

2. “Online Presence” and “Personal Branding” are not just fancy words
Assignment from my coach: Rewrite my professional bio and elevator pitch and add eye-catching visuals to my social media profiles.

As Austin Kleon wisely noted in his book Show Your Work, “In order to be found, you have to be findable.” So when all the standard procedures, like editing my master resume and cover letter templates, were finished, Kim and I focused on polishing my personal brand and online presence. I was already familiar with the essential rules of online behavior (don’t be a drama queen; don’t post reputation-damaging content; don’t talk about sensitive subjects; respect others), so we concentrated on more specific tasks. Kim analyzed my professional and personal social media accounts, and then we worked on a personal brand marketing strategy that would effectively demonstrate my skills on social media and attract positive attention from recruiters and potential employers. We added a creative touch to my LinkedIn bio to highlight my writing skills, promoted my professional projects, perfected my online portfolio and rehearsed my elevator pitch.

Outcome: The reward for all my hard work was astonishing. Z Publishing House, a small national publisher, offered to include one of my short stories in their new book, California’s Emerging Writers. Needless to say, the editors found me on Instagram.

3. Networking is the key to many doors.
Assignment from my coach: Create a detailed networking map.

You won’t believe the places I’ve been to complete this assignment. Alumni meetings, job fairs, “random” appearances at Walt Disney Studios gate …. I asked Netflix employees to coffee and even went to a cafe next to Apple Music’s office on a top-secret mission to introduce myself to five new people, hoping that at least one of them was involved in my dream industry!
Kim explained that smart networking is not so much about simply making connections, but about keeping and nurturing relationships with the right people. I brainstormed for a while and came up with an extensive map of former bosses, colleagues, influential acquaintances, classmates and friends that work in entertainment and could recommend me for a job. Then I wrote down everything I remembered about them, like hobbies, quirks, and their pets’ and significant others’ names. This helped me always know what to talk to them about and genuinely show that our relationships matter to me.

Outcome: As a result of careful planning and frequent escapes from my comfort zone, I became close with some cool people from Writers Guild of America West and was introduced to the vice president of sales and marketing at Warner Brothers.

4. Flex your “Unconventional Thinking” muscle
Assignment from the coach: Research or invent three new ways to apply for jobs.

At first, this assignment puzzled me. To get help completing it, I turned to my favorite creative and entrepreneurial gurus: Austen Kleon, Gary Vaynerchuk and Ann Handley. I studied their websites, read their books and watched their TED Talks until I made the following list of unconventional tactics:

1. Bypass HR and reach out directly to hiring managers.

2. Send a resume and cover letter by mail with a simple postcard. (For this one, it is important to know the exact address of the department and the hiring manager’s name).

3. Use video resumes when applying.

Outcome: So far, I have only tried the first method – I bypassed HR and sent a direct message to the creative director of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media with a question about the position I applied for. Although the response wasn’t 100 percent satisfying, it was quick, honest and inspiring. While working on this project, I realized that I should never fear to be bold, strange and persistent.

5. Roll with the punches
Assignment from the coach: Search for confirmation of my uniqueness and relevance after unsuccessful interviews.

Growing thick skin turned out to be a long and painful process. At the beginning of my journey, every email that started with “After reviewing your work and experience, we’ve made the decision to not move forward at this time,” evoked a flurry of self-doubt and emotional self-flagellation. When I shared my worries with Kim, she recommended I look over my portfolio and published work, re-read recommendation letters and thank you notes, and take out my awards and put them in a prominent place. And this technique truly works! Everybody has their small and big victories and when something doesn’t go in accordance with the plan, it is crucial to remember the successes that already happened and be inspired by them.

Outcome: I have 93 “you-are-not-the-right-fit” emails and 10 failed interviews on my personal “failure” list. But now I also have strong immunity to rejection.

A lot of exciting and magical things have happened since I started working on improving my career with Kim. I am still in search of that ideal job with great benefits, a creative environment, and endless opportunities to employ my professional skills. However, now I am armed with all the essential weapons to get and keep that perfect job. I have great support from my family and friends, resources, connections and an unconventional approach to problem-solving. And most importantly, I have the ability to take control of my career.  When I once asked Kim to describe her ideal client, she said, “It’s anyone who understands that a coach can guide the client in the right direction, but the client sits in the driver seat.”

Marina Kapralau graduated from UCLA with a degree in English (creative writing concentration) in 2016. Born and raised in Ukraine, she now lives in Los Angeles, where she works as an administrative director and an online journalist. She is an avid traveler, a social media marketing enthusiast and a fiction writer on the way to publishing her first novel.

This post originally appeared in Russian on the blog Simple + Beyond.

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