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Career Advice from a Coach, Who Has Seen it All (Almost)!

Author : Dilip Saraf

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As a career and a life coach I often speak in front of varying audiences: some are fresh graduates entering the workforce, some are professionals attending a conference, some belong to a group of out-of-work professionals sharing information about todays job market and learning the tricks of getting hired back in the workforce, and many others. In almost all these encounters and some that entail phone calls and emails from individuals or from their concerned parents the popular refrain is, What advice do you have for career management?

Having now worked with more than 6,000 clients from many countries in a wide range of professional callings and having helped those from students wanting to know what courses to take and what degree to pursue to those wanting to know how to engage themselves productively in their retirement years I can say that I have seen a broad spectrum of clients and learned much myself from coaching them.

From a professional standpoint, when I started 16 years back in thismy fifth careermy initial focus was high-tech engineers and scientists from the Silicon Valley. This is because of my origins in the Valley goes back to these roots, so I felt comfortable in that space giving advice. Soon, I expanded my practice to many other industries and functional areas. Today my global clientele includes movie stars to physicians and surgeons, from entrepreneurial start-up CEOs to C-level executives from F-500 companies. The reason I am giving this list here is because through all these client encounters I found common themes in how career issues emerge, and in most cases, the approach to putting a client on a success track is often the same or similar.

In this blog Id like to share some of my own learning from these experiences to help those who want to know what the secret of success is for managing a career and what I have learned from dealing with this wide range of client issues!

Early Career

  1. In managing a career early choices have a profound effect in how one moves ahead in life. An apt metaphor is that of a spaceship that lunches with a very small aiming error to a distant planet, which can result in entirely missing the planet at the end of its trajectory. Although course correction is easier during the span of ones career the inertia of wanting to make a change and to manage that change often overwhelm what needs correction. So, uncover what your true passion is and seek early advice on what paths to pursue to fuel those passions. Do not be seduced by blindly following those who are successful because of their wealth, position, or power. Find your own ideal and create your own Path.
  2. After education (and even during) the people in your network matter more than what you learned in school. Even getting your degree in any field of your choosing what matters more than that is how you learned to learn new ideas, not just what you learned. The two most important factors after your education (how you learned more than what you learned) are your relationships and your network.
  3. During school and college years GPA is almost everything. Grades directly correlate with your IQ and diligent work (~100% correlation). Interestingly, however, in adult life the correlation between your IQ and your success is about 20%. In adult life success comes from mastering Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Political Intelligence (PQ), Cultural Intelligence (CQ), and Contextual Intelligence (XQ), all of which can be developed (unlike the IQ).
  4. Get yourself positioned for being known as the best in what you do and become a go-to person in your field of pursuit. This is hard work and this status can only be earned by the work you do and its quality. I think that the rule of 10,000 hours of hard work in your profession is a good guide to master something your care about. In my view that number is just a hygiene factor (a mere threshold to building your own mastery; a necessary element, but not sufficient). Also, see #4 in the last section: Always.
  5. Consider your professional reputation during the early career as your savings account, which should be your focus on making it bigger with each opportunity you get to showcase your professionalism. Let this account compound itself with each success you work for in building your reputation.
  6. Build trust within your ecosystem. Things happen for you in your life at the speed of trust. Warren Buffet, the famed investor billionaire, epitomizes this concept of trust and how it speeds up things in life. He was once buying a $30B insurance business from Wal-Mart. In most such transactions an army of lawyers and insurance experts would be doing the required due diligence for months on end before consummating the deal. Buffet did that in just a few days. After reviewing their reports he simply asked the question of the principals, whom he trusted: Have you told us everything we need to know about this business? When they said yes, he signed the agreement.
  7. Remember, throughout your career, especially in your early career, your reputation IS your stock in trade. Protect it and grow it in the right direction. It will serve you throughout your lifetime!

Mid Career

  1. If you follow the advice from the previous list and end up mastering your domain you still need to focus on knowing how to build relationships (EQ), how to navigate through delicate situations at work (PQ), how to deal with the diverse points of view (CQ), and how to know when to do what appropriately (XQ). Once again, these are learned skills and do not require any special talent to develop them.
  2. When I see new clients most of them (~75%) bring to me their relationship problems: Relationships with their boss, their peers, or others in their immediate ecosystem. Learn how to develop good and robust relationships with everyone that matters in your ecosystem. Learn how to assert yourself without being objectionable. Learn how to stand up for your point of view and your beliefs, without being offensive. Most clients do not know how to have crucial conversations with their boss, peers, and others. Read the book by this title and you will equip yourself with new skills in how to have these conversations. Find your own project and practice these conversations; they will serve you throughout your adult life!
  3. When things are not going in your directionyou feel as if you are driving the wrong way on a one-way-streetthe most common and instinctive reaction is to walk away from it and pursue something better, without knowing or learning how to deal with it. In almost all such cases of my clients when they come with these type of problems I coach them to confront these situations, learn from them, understand what works for them in such situations, and if they are not able influence a change, to go after something else, as a last resort, not as a first choice. In most cases the change they make in their own attitude goes a long way in changing others and this changes their relationship. If you encounter a situation that needs dealing with it, it is likely that you will encounter it again in some manifestation of it in another place. These situations stem from the all-pervasive human condition and not from some natures anomaly!
  4. One of the most common deficits my clients haveall the way up to CEOsis their ability to verbalize their point of view, articulate their concerns in a compelling way, and their ability to write a compelling message that influences others to see their point of view. I find that strong languageverbalskill is one of most underrated job skills in managing a career. Learn how to speak, write, and express yourself well. If you learn this skill early in your career you will move ahead of even those who are smarter than you, work harder than you, and are otherwise seen as rock stars.
  5. In my coaching I often emphasize career momentum. Career momentum can be described as a force that keeps propelling you with increasing levels of respect, responsibilities, and rewards from within your workgroup and within your own organization. It is this momentum that jumps out from what is in your rsum, your LinkedIn Profile, and from your reputation. So, do an audit of your own career momentum and work on getting it back if youve lost it (it is much like your own mojo.). Do not look for another job if you have negative career momentum, or even if your momentum is stagnant. Remember, good career momentum propels you to have the escape velocity you need to change your orbit!


  1. Do not lose your perspective in life by working so hard that you do not have time for your own welfare, your family, and what really matters to you. Work is endless and you can always do more. Draw a line and do not cross it to protect your own sanity.
  2. Keep your private matters to yourself. I once was working with a client, who was diagnosed with early stages of cancer. He told his close friend at work about it and before too long his boss learned about this condition. Despite his stellar work, he was in a group that got laid-off when the company needed to cut costs. He did not realize that his company was bearing the cost of insurance because it was self-insured.
  3. If you do not derive some joy from what you are engaged in at work, seriously dissect the problem and see what the root-cause of your lack of engagement is: Boss, company culture, work itself, or something else. Make a change by doing the right intervention and find your sweet spot. Life is too short to subject yourself to unbearable work conditions; your work must a source of your joy and energy, not a place you go to for their depletion.
  4. Remember, everyone has their genius and when they work with their genius turned on they create an Aha! in everything that they do. Genius is not a genetic part of our making, but manifests from the habits that we develop throughout our lives. It comes from maniacal focus on what you engage in. Practicing your singular skills day in and day outRobin Sharma calls in mundanityproduces exceptional, world-class results. Focusing on one single practice on one single skill over and over isolates a single neuro-circuit in your brain, which builds a new structure around that circuit, speeding up learning time and your ability to intuit, giving you amazing insights without deep study. These crisp and intuitive insights are not some gift that comes from God, but it is derived from simple daily practice of engaging yourself in what you do. This is what will make you world-class.
  5. Always work on selling yourself based on your genius and you can verbalize that genius in your rsum if you can capture that genius with Aha! stories of your accomplishments and then building your value proposition around it. For those skeptics worried about any skill so developed becoming obsolete, remember that it is not the skill that you are selling, but the Aha! stories that result from using that mastered skill. Try it and see how well that works for you!

Career management is not a mystery, but it is practiced habit and lifelong learning. Try some of the tips from above, depending on where you are in your career and see how they transform your existence!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.

Website: https://dilipsaraf.com/?p=2904


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