The U.S. job market seems to be recovering but that's small comfort for job seekers who may be finding it difficult to land work due to intense competition. Talented candidates are sometimes denied the opportunity to showcase their skills and experience to an actual interviewer simply because of the lack of an exact fit with a job description. That can be extremely frustrating.
If you feel that you are in a rut with your career, there is a way to get out of it, but it may require the help of a professional to get there. Here are five reasons a good career coach could be vital for your success in switching jobs or even just expanding your horizons.
You don't really know what you want
Do you know what you want? Most people think they do, but career goals are not always about making more money or attaining higher social status. For example, Wall Street is littered with rich and powerful but unhappy bankers. The ideal career is one that utilizes your biggest strengths, taps into your strongest passions, and one that offers you the right balance of personal satisfaction, financial compensation, creative challenge, and time flexibility that you need to enjoy your life.
Figuring out what you want is easier said than done, and can involve psychological factors, which is why you should be humble enough to seek help. The job of a career coach - at least an effective one - is not only to help you reach your career goals but to determine what your real goals are in the first place. If you think of a career coach as a benevolent business 'therapist', then the value of using one should be obvious.
Your path to success isn't clear
Some careers, like medicine, offer distinctly defined paths which a person can follow to achieve success. But career tracks in other fields may not be so well delineated and require out-of-the-box thinking in order for you to reach your goals. A sector like technology, for example, can offer incredible opportunities for smart candidates but has so many subsectors and functions that it can be difficult for job seekers to figure out the optimal path. The shortest distance to career satisfaction may not be along a straight line.
An experienced career coach can help to identify and explain your many options and help you start positioning yourself to reach both your immediate and long term goals. While it's tempting to think this is an easy task, it actually requires a deep understanding of the dynamics of different industries and job functions, the ability to project future possibilities (and challenges), and to make the connection between your personality and skillset to real-world market opportunities.
You're not a cookie cutter candidate
Your work experience may be valuable but varied, your skillset strong but eclectic, and your overall trajectory difficult to parse in the cookie cutter language of human resources in a large corporation. That's not a bad thing, but it can make the process of finding a job tricky. Human resources departments are usually overloaded with applicants and can sometimes look for reasons to reject a candidate instead of finding justifications to bring him or her in for an interview.
In general, the more diffused your resume, the more important it is to craft a coherent story for your career. If you find that employers can't easily grasp your potential, then you need to make the message idiot-proof. But that requires a truly objective assessment of your background as well as strengths and weaknesses, something that we're not always qualified to do ourselves. An outside perspective from a career coach can help to take the diverse streams of your career and tie them together into a compelling narrative that even a skeptical human resources professional would appreciate and value.
Your resume isn't as impressive as you think
If you've seen one of those Internet memes showing an athletic Daniel Craig in a tailored suit running smartly in a scene from a James Bond movie with the caption "What you think you look like when you're running" accompanied by the picture of an out-of-shape man in running shorts wheezing as he jogs, with the caption "What you really look like when you're running", you get the idea.
The power of your resume lies not just in the message but in how you communicate it. Just because you're impressed by your own work experience and education doesn't necessarily mean others will be too. The more competition there is for a job, the more imperative it is for your resume to jump out of the pile, but that requires a merciless assessment of how your resume will play with recruiters and an objective edit with the aid of a good coach. Given that your resume may be the only communication from you that many employers will ever see, it better be strong enough to get you an interview.
You don't know your own potential
This is possibly the biggest reason to use a career coach. Your capabilities go beyond what you learned in college or in your last couple of jobs, but you may not realize it. It doesn't help that most recruiters think in fairly uninspired terms about job qualifications, forcing candidates to ignore some of their hidden talents and focus exclusively on professional clichés and on sales volumes, funds raised, cost savings, and other quantitative metrics that only tell part of the story.
But unless you just want to be part of the herd, you need to uncover what you may not even know you have. As discussed earlier, a career coach is a business therapist whose job it is to force you to recognize (and learn how to present) your buried strengths, special talents, gathered wisdom, and untapped potential. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you're satisfied realizing only part of your professional potential or want to push the envelope and show the world what you are really capable of.
For all these reasons, getting a coach may not be a luxury or a superfluous exercise, but a very smart career move.
S. Kumar is a tech and business commentator. He has worked in technology, media, and telecom investment banking. He is not a career coach.