Jumpstart Your Next Career With Your Own Private Advisory Board

Copyright 2003, By Debra Condren, Ph.D.

In the chaos of the current economic downturn, more and more disillusioned professionals are embarking on a quest to discover what they were meant to do for a living. Many appear to have made it-they have impressive incomes or lofty job titles and have survived corporate layoffs. But they want a career that can provide meaning, as well as income.

They know their gifts are being wasted and they aren’t living up to their potential-and they are rapidly burning out! These people don’t exactly know how to put their finger on the problem; they just know that they don’t want the second half of their work life to repeat the first.

People who initiate an audacious search for meaningful work usually begin by saying to themselves, “I know people who have unique jobs that fit them perfectly. How did they even know that career existed?” No, the Tooth Fairy did not leave a note under their pillow telling them what to do!

Are you one of them? Perhaps you seeking a career that…

  • Uses your real talents
  • Provides more satisfaction at the end of the day
  • Tells you you’ve made a significant contribution
  • Ignites your passion, and
  • Injects more meaning into life.

    If this sounds like you, try this powerful career transition tool, which will make that search for a dream job immeasurably easier: Form your own informal board of advisors -a small group of inner circle confidantes who educate, mentor, offer fresh and diverse perspectives, and help steer you in the right direction. Used effectively, a board of advisors can be a high yield, cost effective, and fast track resource for advancing your professional or business objectives. It will dramatically increase your overall business acumen because it is geared to your specific career situation, level of knowledge, goals, questions, concerns, and dilemmas.

    To form your board, select four or five trusted friends, colleagues or mentors with expertise in a range of areas, who complement each other’s knowledge and can fill in information gaps. You want a group that can offer expert advice in as many business areas as possible, depending upon your needs: leadership and performance development, management, business plan development, long-term strategic career planning, marketing, finance, strategies for profitability, budgeting, accounting, sales, or customer service. Don’t limit yourself by choosing smart people, who are a dime a dozen. Select wise professionals with business savvy who are also aggressive movers and shakers-who can make things happen for you and show you how to make them happen yourself. Brainstorm a list of potential candidates, even people with whom you’ve lost contact.

    Don’t be reluctant to ask for help. Ordinarily, seven out of ten people will be happy to share their knowledge because they want to give back in some way, especially to someone in whom they feel invested. As for the other three, don’t take it personally; just move on to more enthusiastic supporters. If any of your contacts seem to be on the fence about participating, appeal to their pride: “I know you’re an expert at what you do. I’m sure I could learn a lot from you.” We all have egos that enjoy periodic stroking. What better way than to serve on the board of an eager up-and-comer? The ultimate goal is to surround yourself with an uplifting, inspirational team.

    Set up your board meeting as a pleasant experience for everyone. Take them out to a fine lunch or dinner. Splurge on a top restaurant with a private meeting room for you and your three or four advisors. In exchange for their undivided attention during the meal, you wine and dine your friends and associates. They will enjoy the food, company and intellectual stimulation-and the satisfaction of mentoring a high-aiming protégée. You will benefit from their pooled wisdom and knowledge, and, within only a few hours, have a gold mine of fresh, innovative ideas. This investment is worth its weight in gold!

    Bring a battery-operated tape recorder-test it first!-to record the entire meeting. This leaves you free to interact, brainstorm with the others, and jot down your own spontaneous questions and ideas on a notepad without having to worry about capturing on paper every idea that rapid-fires across the table. Go in with copies of your own informal business plan-a written summary of short-term to long-term objectives and ideas, goals, concerns, dilemmas-all pre-mapped out. This is thinking you want to do beforehand so you don’t waste valuable meeting time. With your business plan in their hands, you can focus the meeting and maximize precious time. Then, except for necessary questions and comments, keep your mouth shut. You are there to listen and take in the rich pool of brainstorming, expertise, ideas, cautionary tales, encouraging words, excitement and inspiration that will erupt with the free-flowing passion of a think-tank environment.

    In the weeks that follow, return to your audio tape and notes frequently, especially during transitions or planning phases. This process may sound repetitive, but it isn’t. Each pass through will yield additional information that you may have missed the first time around. Also, different ideas will resonate for you more strongly at different times, depending on the goal or dilemma you are currently facing.

    Beyond the dinner, build in longer-term accountability. Ask your advisors if they are amenable to periodic e-mails or phone check-ins, so you can succinctly ask for clarification of fine points, keep them up to date on your progress, or ask for advice about new barriers to your career advancement.

    Reconvene your board meeting quarterly. Think of it as your own mini-M.B.A. crash course, your ongoing career education track. These people will keep you from having to reinvent the wheel or work in isolation. The information gathered during these meetings will help you avoid costly mistakes and shorten the time between the inception and implementation of your professional objectives or business ideas. And the people on your board will not only enjoy themselves, but will often walk away with new information themselves to advance their own careers or disseminate to other protégées. You create a win-win situation, you solidify your professional contacts, and you build new friendships that may last a lifetime.

    Strive to identify the achievements you want to attain in your work life and the professional contributions you want to make during your lifetime. Then make the leap to an exceptionally rewarding career path, both personally and financially. You can only be great at what you do if you love your career-so tap your full potential by assembling your own board of advisors. When you are passionate about your work, when you are dedicated to it, when you creatively use all the resources at your disposal, and when you make a commitment to lifelong learning, you will become the best at what you do, in any industry.

    Debra Condren, Ph.D., is a business psychologist and president of HumanInvestment.com. 212.289.8900 (New York); 415.454.1234 (San Francisco).

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