Enter my latest pro-bono tale. I was asked to run a Birkman assessment on a young man struggling to identify himself and begin a successful career path. Seth (not his real name) comes from a corner of Appalachia that prides itself on resisting 21st Century American progress on most fronts. This little corner is at the intersection of Northeast Alabama, Southeast Tennessee, and Northwest Georgia. There are no major corporations, few middle income jobs, making for a very traditional blue collar region. Seth’s story begins to warm the heart when one hears that rather than accept the less-than-desirable public high school education that was his right, Seth went to work in a local grocery store to pay his own tuition to a private christian school in Chattanooga - yes, he paid his own way through high school. While at the store, he progressed from bag boy to bookkeeper. He also worked at the local Chiropractor’s office and at the local newspaper in assistant roles. Seth is currently working on a degree in Business Management at North Alabama Community College and, true to form, working his way through school. He reluctantly states that he works at the closest Walmart where he started as a customer service associate but has recently been called into the office to be an accounting associate - he’s responsible for making deposits and reconciling each day’s revenue.
Seth’s Birkman Career Management profile showed him to be a young man who is strong willed, demanding, and expects much of himself. He has strong interests in administrative roles that may involve finance and persuasive roles within either a high tech industry or in the healthcare industry. He also has managerial potential. But Seth is young, yet somewhat hardened, and as you might have guessed, independent. He’s well spoken to strangers but shows signs of his foothill’s childhood. He moderates his southern accent. During his initial Birkman review, I asked Seth what his dreams were regarding his career - what unspoken visions he has for himself. He smiled, embarrassed of what I may make of his answer. ‘I don’t know what the career would be per se, but I’ve always wanted to work in a gleaming high rise building, where you ride an elevator to your floor and have your own office and do something that matters’. He’s only seen these types of buildings on the internet and during short trips out of the region.
In my latest correspondence with this busy young guy, he noted reviewing the many links provided in his Birkman Career Management Report. These links take the user to the United States Department of Labor’s O-Net, or occupational network. Seth’s scores have been scientifically mapped to job families and titles such as Finance, Accounting, and Healthcare environments. He agreed with the results but there was an exasperated tone to his email, …”but HOW do I take the steps to find myself in one of these careers?” I took this as a call for help - that he didn’t know what else to do besides work hard.
RedPoint Management offers professional coaching - to mid level managers and corporate executives. It’s effective in helping to improve productivity, job satisfaction, and engagement but it’s expensive. Yet career coaching is exactly what Seth needs. Whatever guidance he received in high school was minimal, leaving a smart, ambitious guy to figure things out for himself.
Seth is maxed out, he works, goes to school, and has limited access to a computer - at the local public library. He has obstacles, no doubt, including the mindset of the local culture that says he is likely to go no further than his blue collar roots.
Whenever I have a Birkman profile on a person and have been through the review process, I cannot help but walk in their shoes, if only for a moment. In turn, I become endeared to their life and work goals. Seth is going to get some much needed professional career coaching, no charge. To start, Seth has been given a list of assignments. He will create a personal elevator pitch that captures his story and indicates to anyone who asks -in 20 seconds - just where he is headed and why the other person should be excited too. He will be researching the full array of business finance related jobs, isolating a few in the context of specific industries. That will become the basis of his keyword search terms. He’ll find industry specific job boards. He will identify career fairs and attend industry related conventions - even if he has to slip in the back door. He will build out a thorough and attractive resume. He will learn to write compelling and relevant cover letters. Through these seemingly common-place activities, he will find a way to believe in himself and in his capabilities to perform work that matters. Using an NBA analogy, Seth is going to take his own road, land a spot in the D-League, work hard for a bench position in the pros, and with luck and hard work, be a valuable and contributing starter as a professional in his chosen field. Or at least that’s the goal of a do-gooder, or two, or many. Remember, it takes a village...