You’re unemployed, over 50, and wondering what’s next. You’re spending a lot of time on your computer looking for work, responding to job posts, and revising your resume. But you feel isolated and don’t see any progress. Now what?
Time for a career coaching group. Meeting regularly with others who face a similar situation can propel you forward by “crowdsourcing” your next career move. Marci Alboher, author of The Encore Career Handbook calls such transition groups “your own team of like-minded cheerleaders.” Author-career/life coach Barbara Sher dubs them success teams.
By any name, the benefits of such a group can be profound. Lisa DeMuro, who started a women’s career support group that has grown to six members, says, “I have found the group to be tremendously helpful in terms of getting feedback from others who are like minded, yet have different work backgrounds. It has also helped me to be more focused and motivated, as we set goals to accomplish between meetings.” Knowing she is accountable to the group “helps keep me on track.”
As with any structured group, there are best practices—and things to avoid. These tips, strategies and resources will help you start a career coaching group or enhance your participation in one.
Limit your group to five or six. This gives everyone the chance to speak at every meeting, says Nick Parham, a career coach in San Francisco. If a group member gets a job and drops out, replace him or her right away with someone who brings value to the group – look for great networking, social media or communication skills.
Choose members with shared interests, compatible backgrounds and ages, Parham says. For example, if you add a twentysomething to a group in their 50s, the older members will probably spend too much time educating the younger one, slowing the group’s progress. It’s good to have a mix of professions, though. For example, a corporate marketing executive might have a good job lead for a corporate videographer—and vice versa.
Look for risk-takers. “It’s wonderfully inspiring to talk with people who are in business for themselves,” DeMuro says. An artist in her group “will say flat out, ‘I’ve faced uncertainty many times before and somehow I always land on my feet.’ Those are powerful words spoken to the teachers (like me) in the group, who have always chosen to play it safe and have, perhaps, traded some career dreams for job security.”
Meet weekly. Parham recommends this to maintain momentum and accountability and keep group members from feeling isolated.
Start with an update. At each meeting, everyone should give an overview of what they’ve done for their careers since last time. Limit each recap to three minutes to keep the meeting focused, Parham advises. Consider sharing email updates during the week, too, about successes you’ve had and job leads to fuel everyone’s motivation.
Establish a discussion topic for each meeting in advance. After the initial check-ins, the discussion could focus on effective networking techniques; the importance of social media and search engine optimization in your online marketing; creating an elevator pitch; interviewing do’s and don’ts; how to negotiate pay, signing bonuses and benefits; and how to deal with age discrimination. Consider inviting guest speakers to share their knowledge or a professional career coach who can offer guidance and feedback.
Regularly rotate leadership. This reduces the burden on each group member and helps prevent one person from controlling the group, says Parham.
Attend networking events together. If you’re talking to someone at the event and that person isn’t interested in what you do, you can introduce him or her to another group member whose background is of interest.
Utilize these resources. Read Alboher’s book, and check out her free downloadable Transition Group Guide to get you started. Meetup is a good resource for forming groups, posting information about meetings, and sharing updates. Other career and job resources that can provide inspiration, discussion topics, lists of existing career support groups or advice on launching your own include The Riley Guide, Job-Hunt, and the Work Reimagined article, “Secret Weapon: Your Own Career Support Group.”
James A. Martin is a San Francisco-based writer who consults on SEO, social media, and online reputation. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin.
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