I believe that quality careers education is an essential element of a successful working life in the 21st century. Companies need to be able to keep and grow their talent populations and use career conversations to help their millennials, diverse groups, women, senior leaders and technical experts align with their organisation and achieve a win/win. Here’s the story of my career path and why career conversations matter to me. In fact here’s why it should matter to us all. Manifesto alert!
Chapter 1: School
I was a swot at school! I had the specs, always had my nose in a book – I had an insatiable thirst for learning. At the small private girl’s school, I attended it was all about getting the grades. The expectation was that you would get good grades, go to an excellent university and on to a respectable graduate scheme.
The classic 20th-century middle-class career paradigm.
At school, I was torn. I knew I was a relatively smart kid but I also loved the arts. I wrote plays, told stories and won poetry prizes. Yet somewhere along the way, I got the message that academia was more highly valued than the creative professions. It left me pretty confused. I had lots of summer jobs and really enjoyed the freedom that work gave me, but wasn’t sure where my academic and creative interests could merge.
Career education wise, there was a vacuum. Our ferocious geography teacher (“My name is Mrs Starr and I don’t twinkle!”) doubled up as the careers adviser. At fifteen, we were all sat at the library’s sole desktop computer and put through a career diagnostic. It said I should either be a policewoman, a teacher or a radio presenter. I was even more confused – what did these roles have in common? Who was I and where could I find my home in the world of work? The silence was deafening.
Chapter 2: Higher Education & The Milkround
Fast forward to my final year at Edinburgh University studying Social History. I had really enjoyed my subject but really had no idea what it equipped me for! I attended the milk rounds but not much caught my eye. In the papers that week, I’d seen a fabulous role at Channel 4, a chance to be an announcer. But I got stuck. I didn’t know how to make a showreel (this was 1999 and voice memo’s and 3G didn’t exist yet) and besides, I had a story running that this was a ‘creative job’, for ‘proper’ creative people.
So I ducked out.
Instead, I applied to the Civil Service Fast Stream. It seemed a close enough match to my degree in social history and provided an opportunity for varied work that would be of service to others.
Besides, I thought, when I don’t get in, I can choose again.
So I took the psychometric. Then the assessment centre. Then the panel interview.
And I got the job.
When I got into the Fast Stream everyone except me was absolutely thrilled! It was so prestigious! A 100 to 1 chance! The work would be so interesting! I knew I should be pleased but I just had a feeling I had made the wrong choice. My experience during the interview was of a very formal professional culture. I wasn’t sure that my frizzy-haired, jazz handing, extrovert-self was cut out for that.
Chapter 3: My first day
I’m on Horseferry Road outside the Home Office HR department. I’m suited and booted. The building is a concrete bunker. I am stiff and uncomfortable in my suit. Across the road from me, I watch the trendy folks in hoodies across the road, bobbing up and down in glass lifts. They’re in Channel 4 building. I was on the wrong side of the road. But I took the job.
From the start, I felt like a square peg in a round hole. The work was interesting, but the fit was all wrong. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that the Home Office is the most conservative of all the Government departments. I didn’t know that sentencing and legislation, my section, was also bound to be the slowest and most deliberate section – after all, we were making decisions and laws that would have an enormous impact on people’s lives. Had I known a little more about what was out there and where there might be a need for a dynamic chatty fireball, I might still have been in the Senior Civil Service today!
The work was fascinating. I rewrote the corporate manslaughter legislation. I spent time in the House of Lords and the High Court. I learned how to brief ministers, write speeches, consult on policy and manage projects. Yet still, I felt I lacked the diplomacy to succeed. On sunny days I felt stifled by the bombproof windows.
I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me.
Why did I not fit in and what should I do about it? I liked the idea of being of service, but the Home Office was so far removed from the world outside our windows.
I just didn’t know what to do about it.
And I wasn’t sure who to talk to about it.
I couldn’t tell my manager as they would think I was disengaged.
I tried to talk to HR but they told me to just sit it out till my next rotation.
My parents wanted me to stay and see if the situation improved – although as entrepreneurs they did have some sympathy.
Being in the wrong environment started to make me ill. I got panicky, I felt trapped and I knew I couldn’t stay where I was. I tried applying for a few internal roles in different parts of the Civil Service, to no avail. I was signed off for stress. I couldn’t understand how, as a swotty student, I had so quickly fallen from grace.
Where could I find work that did suit me and that I could make the most of?
Chapter 4: The Pivot
Three months later I was a participant in a diversity training programme. It had a really engaging design and used industrial theatre to playback the dynamics and culture of the Home Office to the organisation. When I was headhunted by the training firm, I accepted without hesitation and left a fantastic career in the Civil Service behind me. I had lasted 18 months. The cost to the Home Office of my recruitment was over £40k.
Sometimes I look back and wonder if someone had intervened and had a career conversation with me, what difference might it have made to my career path? Or maybe if I had a quality careers education when I was at school or university, I might have made a suitable choice earlier.
Chapter 5: I get nosy
In my time in the learning and leadership sector, I became extremely interested in how we help to ensure that careers suit our personality and personal drivers. I wanted to help people to have self-awareness and job fit so they set themselves on the right course and make the most of the opportunities in the organisation they are in. I also wanted to help organisations save time and money by working with their employees to help them make the most of their career.
This is why I do what I do. I believe that when we really understand who we are and what matters to us, we are able to do so much more with our lives and to be both better employees and better citizens.
Long story short…
I spent many years in experimentation, training as a career coach, carrying out research with grads and undergrads at several universities through my social enterprise, The Life Project, travelling the world to look at transformational education methods as a Winston Churchill Scholar. My aim was to design an elegant solution to the problem of ‘knowing what you want to do when you grow up’.
In 2006 I started working with students at schools and universities to plug the careers education gap. I devised a range of employability, entrepreneurship and careers curricula and supported professional individuals to make career changes – across sector, industry and through internal mobility. After five years of coaching, workshops and keynotes, I finally came up with tools that helped caring businesses to use career conversations to get to know their unique talent.
Your Life Plan, the book I published with Wiley in 2014, is a distillation of this method. It is a combination of three things, biographical self-knowledge, the ability to research and know your options and the development of a career plan that sets out your personal milestones and equips you to take ownership of your path towards them.
Chapter 6: The Pilots begin
In 2011, I left the social enterprise space and began focusing on corporate leadership development and employee engagement. The data was fascinating. It showed that even companies that invested in employee engagement and truly wanted to empower their people, were still getting low scores when it came to navigating your career in their firm.
Alongside this, my career coaching clients were reflecting the changes in attitude toward mobility, freelancing, work/life balance and definitions of success. They were lawyers, accountants, consultants, bankers, operational experts, all of them looking for ways to opt out of the mainstream professions or move into something new.
Over and over again, I kept being asked to help companies improve their performance conversations and help them to retain their people. It seemed to be that careers conversations offered a ‘missing link’.
Chapter 7: What I did about it
Most people have never been asked what success looks like for them. My Career Equation™ makes it easy for them to find the answers.
Put simply, this equation enables you to define what aspects of your character, skills and values you want to bring to the world of work and how to optimise your career success through putting yourself in the environments where you do your best work.
The Career Equation™
Copyright © EricaSosna Ltd
With over 16 years now behind me in the leadership and development space, this equation is the pinnacle of my achievements!
The equation makes it easy for individuals to define what career fulfilment looks and feels like for them and to use these criteria to make informed, quality decisions about their next steps.
The equation also enables both managers, coaches and talent to open up a conversation about career fulfilment.
In itself, a career conversation is an engagement tool.
It drives retention because your people want to talk about their careers with you. Used in conjunction with a structured approach to career planning and career design- built around the equation, it becomes a way to improve succession planning, drive retention, increase performance and help each individual in your business to own their career and take charge of realising their full potential.
Chapter 8: And so it came to pass….
Erica Sosna’s Career Matters have been delivering tailored workshops, virtual masterclasses and group coaching around The Career Equation™ for three years now.
We’ve worked with engineers, bankers, insurance professionals, creatives, techies, sales heads, IT professionals, information professionals, designers, lawyers, property developers, pharmaceutical experts and public servants. This method helped every single person, in all of these arenas, to take charge of their career.
Why does it work?
I think because the methods that we use are fundamentally about being human. About embracing your own uniqueness and seeing your career as a narrative, an adventure and a series of choices, with you as the central character and the key driving force.
Sometimes the turnarounds are literally life-changing. Whether it is the clarity of your purpose, the sense of empowerment to navigate career choices or the ability to plan and manage a structured path to a dream job, we are delighted that this method equips your people to make the most of their gifts and their career, for a lifetime.
We’ve also helped managers and internal coaches to harness the power of these tools in their communication about potential career paths and their relationships with talent across the business.
Companies have thus enabled their people to both own their careers and keep their best people – simply by using our method to start a conversation and thus stay close to them.
I believe that once we understand who we are and where we are going, we can each of us become unstoppable forces for good.
We need more of that in the world.
I believe in helping our clients keep their talent engaged and pro-active and that this supports business continuity and the achievement of business goals. And I like the practical and measurable natures of our work – we can evidence ROI in terms of reducing recruitment costs, reducing staff turnover, drive up engagement, increasing internal mobility and productivity. Thus we have fitter, happier and more productive people – in your company and in our world.
This is my career path. And this is why career conversations matter to me. What about you?
To find out more about how our work can generate real results in your business, drop us a line, here.