Blog post header image with text saying Career Stories: Careers Consultant. Posted by Charlotte Whitehead, Career Coach at Career Practic.

Moving from Paper Conservation to Career Coaching

Recently I asked a few colleagues to tell me about their career stories. Those stories illustrated some of the theories of career development that inform my work with clients and provided examples of theory turning into action. The stories were also inspiring so I thought I’d share a few here as a series of blog posts. To start this off, here’s my own story of career evolution.

This is what happened before I became a career coach

  • Initial training as a secretary on leaving school; started degree in French & Spanish (terrible!).
  • Worked as secretary in an architectural firm (ok… but wondered ‘Is this it for the rest of my career?!’).
  • Took a week of annual leave and did a life drawing course; loved it so much, I decided to go back to college for one more year.
  • Completed a foundation course in art & design; hoped to follow this by a fine art degree specialising in sculpture; got rejected from all the courses I applied for! 
  • Stumbled across a course in something called ‘paper conservation’; had gut feeling this might be the right thing; looked into it and got accepted onto the course.
  • Completed 4-year training in paper conservation (books/archives/art on paper) getting paid work experience along the way in public and private practice (UK) and libraries/museums (Australia).  Did some back-packing too!
  • On completion of my training, I got a job (somewhat unexpectedly) in the USA; worked there for 2 years. Realised I didn’t want to be in the USA permanently.
  • Not enough work in UK when I returned – had to rethink how to earn a living. Spoke to career counsellor and decided to move into university admin based on my existing skills and aptitudes.
  • HOWEVER, I was so struck by the positive experience of career guidance that I wanted to do it myself.  That niggly feeling stayed with me for years…
  • Worked in university admin for 16 years or so all the while wishing I could do something that helped people (and more specifically, wondering whether I could actually retrain to be a career counsellor). 
  • Eventually did retrain in career guidance/coaching while working f/t. Got certified as a Gallup CliftonStrengths Coach and completed British Psychological Society’s Test User Certificate in Ability/Aptitude testing. 
  • Finally took the plunge to become self-employed as career consultant and got trained as a Gallup CliftonStrengths coach.

What my story illustrates

Vocational orientation: broadly speaking there are three vocational orientations: people, information, things. Right from the start I wanted to help people. But I was working with things and systems for the first half of my career. Sometimes it takes time for one’s vocational orientation to become clear.

Planned happenstance: my job in America came about because of a letter I wrote to the company there expressing an interest in what they did. I wasn’t actually looking for a job because I still had another year of study to go. But a year later they got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in a job. This sort of ‘luck’ is something that can be created more intentionally if you’re changing career. It’s called ‘planned happenstance’.

Tip #1: If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, it’s probably for a good reason.  Don’t delay.  Get on with investigating it.

Tip #2: Enjoy the process of change.  It takes time to try on different types of work but once you find the right ‘fit’, it’s worth it.

Tip #3: The things we do today can have positive and unexpected repercussions further down the line.

If you have a story you’d be willing to share on this blog in order to help others who are shifting career, I’d love to hear it. Alternatively, if my story has got you thinking about your own career, get in touch to arrange an initial discussion.

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