When it comes to evaluating career advice, few people are in a position to hear so much of it—and evaluate how it works out for the practitioners—than career coaches. Since they help their clients pore over strategies to advance their careers and look for their next jobs, they’re front and center when it comes to what works and what doesn’t.
Here, six career coaches share the best advice they ever got and how it helped them move forward in their own careers:
Let them tell you “no”
Too often, fear, impostor syndrome, or other challenges lead us to talk ourselves out of opportunities before we even have a shot at them. A better way: “Let them tell you ‘no,'” says Angelina Darrisaw, founder and CEO of C-Suite Coach, a firm that sources and trains coaches. “Getting a ‘yes to every promotion, raise, etc. is not likely, but a ‘no’ is certain if we don’t pursue it at all.”
Instead, embrace the risk it takes to pursue your goals or take a shot at something new, she says. Even if it doesn’t work out, you could get yourself noticed and open doors for future opportunities that may be a better fit. “Asking for things we feel unqualified or unprepared for is understandably risky and scary, but if we tell ourselves no, we will never get to hear a yes,” she says.
You’re human: Act like it
Early in her career, a manager had some advice for Jackie Mitchell: “You coworkers will relate to you and respect you more when you don’t hold your personality back.” Mitchell, now an executive career coach, says that sometimes we’re so buttoned-up and ‘professional’ that we “forget to have personality in our interactions with others.” Once Mitchell let more of herself shine through in her job and let herself show vulnerability, she found her relationships deepened and she expanded her circle of influence, she says.
Being vulnerable also nixes perfectionism, which undermines so many in the workplace, she says. Once, when she had to facilitate a tense meeting about project funding and budgets, her “nerves took over,” she says. “So, what did I do? I said, ‘Sorry, but this is an intimidating topic, especially since we’re over budget and I need to ask you for more funding.’ One of the executives said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re all nervous.’ This broke the ice, and we were all a bit more relaxed after that. And yes, I got the additional funding I needed for my project.” Being “human” on the job can make us more relatable, approachable, and successful.
Be a “good leaver”
Sometimes, a role or manager creates a situation that’s untenable, and it’s time to move on. As tempting as it may be to set the bridge ablaze as you walk out the door, it’s almost never a good idea, says career coach Kay White, author of The A to Z of Being Understood: Make Your Voice Heard and Your Conversations Count. “‘The person you throw under the bus today could be driving it tomorrow.’ That quote from Glenn Shepard encapsulates the best career advice I’ve ever received,” she says.
Sometimes, paths cross more often than you think. “Suddenly, as if by a cruel twist of fate, that person is working for the exact same person or team they thought they’d left behind. Or, that boss you wanted to leave behind, leaves too. Then joins your new firm, as your new boss, again,” she says. “One time, after a merger, when the teams were combined, the first person to be let go was the person who flounced out of our company to join the one we’d just merged with. The boss never forgot nor forgave.” Leaving on good terms may also leave the door open in case your new job isn’t what you expected and you end up wanting to return to your former employer at some point.
Your next steps are up to you
After a brutal layoff left her “crushed and shattered” roughly two decades ago, a simple question from her therapist changed Kathy Caprino’s life. “He said, ‘I know this looks like the worst crisis you’ve ever faced in your adult life, but from where I sit, it’s the first moment you can choose who you want to be. Now, who do you want to be?'” she recalls.
That pivotal moment set Caprino on the path to becoming a career and leadership coach and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. While she had no idea what else she could do professionally, she realized she wanted a career that would allow her to help others. Her therapist shared some Master’s degree programs in marriage and family therapy and she found the subject matter fascinating.
The reminder that she could choose her next steps, along with her therapist’s encouragement and suggestions, unlocked a new world of possibility for Caprino. Sometimes we forget that part. “[It] also gave me permission, finally, to believe I could build a happier career–that it was possible to have great success doing meaningful work that mattered to me,” she says.
Never stop interviewing
Years ago, career coach Mark Anthony Dyson, host of the Voice of Job-Seekers podcast, scoffed at his former boss’s advice. She said that no matter how satisfied she was with her job, she always interviewed at another company at least once a year because those conversations kept her in touch with the skills she should be developing. The process also kept up her own interview skills in case she needed them.
Later, Dyson realized how relevant that advice was, especially in a turbulent job market. “It is hard to know-how industries will fare through remote work and an unexpected economic downturn from year to year. The practice of job interviewing helps you remain instantaneously marketable in any economy, even if you’re not on the market,” he says.
Believe in your own worth first
Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, now a career coach at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business, felt very unsure of herself and her job skills early in her career. She turned to a career coach for help. The coach’s advice was simple, but life-changing: “In the job search journey, if you don’t believe you are hirable, you likely won’t be hired.”
Each week, her coach asked her: Why should someone hire you? “I had to give one new reason every meeting and over time, I practiced believing I could be hired, which led me to being confident enough to advocate for myself in hiring conversations and thus, successfully land a job,” she recalls.
If you don’t believe in what you are selling—especially when it’s yourself—it’s going to be hard to convince others to be interested, she says. And by strengthening her belief in herself and practicing through role-play, informational interviews, and formal interviews, she became a more confident professional, which led to promotions and peer recognition.