For this month’s Q&A we spoke with J. Matthew Becker, certified coach and owner of Authentic Excellence LLC, a career and life coaching business. J. Matthew Becker is passionate about helping others find fulfillment in their careers. He uses his coaching skills to help clients find their natural passions and strengths so they can achieve their career and leadership goals.
We all have natural passions and strengths that can be shared with the world. But today’s stress of finding and having a job can often lead people to lose sight of what they really want to do. And although having a job is great, when you know what you love, you can apply this awareness to finding a fulfilling career.
Read on for J. Matthew Becker’s advice on how to connect with your strengths and passions and use them to find authentic excellence.
How do people end up unsatisfied with their career? How can students prevent this from happening to them after graduation?
There can be several reasons someone would become unsatisfied in their career. However, in my experience this typically happens because the individual choose his or her career path for the wrong reasons. It may have been the career their parents wanted them to pursue or one they thought would be lucrative. One of the best ways to prevent this is to look for work that you find engaging, challenging, and fun. If you’re excited to get up and go to work every morning, then you’ll be willing to put in the hard work it takes to be successful.
How can students identify their natural strengths?
One approach I often suggest is completing the StrengthsFinder assessment. The assessment will help you identify a way of thinking or behaving that comes very naturally to you. I also recommend an activity that was first described by Marcus Buckingham in his book Go Put Your Strengths to Work. The goal is to spend a few weeks tracking the moments in which you feel excited, energized, and strong throughout the day. Whenever you have that experience you want to write down exactly what you were doing, with who, and how it made you feel. Once you have done this for a while you can look for themes as well as how it compliments your StrengthsFinder results.
What job search techniques do you recommend for students who want a career that matches their natural strengths?
That is a good question. Unfortunately, many job postings aren’t going to use the same language you might use to describe your strengths. After you complete the exercises I described above, you need to analyze why these activities are energizing for you. You want to get as specific as you can while at the same time consider how those types of skills and abilities might translate to other roles or industries. Finally, I recommend networking with people working in these roles. Through informal interviews you can assess whether your strengths are truly a good fit.
Why are leadership skills so important? How can students work on building their leadership skills?
Leadership is about what you do, not about your position. We have a lot of managers in this world but not enough leaders. Every individual can and does exercise leadership. Even though an individual might work in an entry-level position, outside of work they might be raising a family, serve as mayor of their town, or run a business on the side. The best way to build leadership skills is to step forward and volunteer to lead. Whether it’s a special project at work, a committee at church, or coaching a sports team these opportunities will allow you to experiment with what it means to be a leader as well as discover what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to realize that you will never lead perfectly and that regardless of the situation leadership is always about relationships first and foremost.
What resources do you recommend students use during their career planning process?
You can use assessments like the StrengthsFinder or the Strong Interest Inventory, but I think it is more important for you to get clear about what you enjoy. This requires self-reflection and patience, which isn’t always easy. In addition to the activity mentioned in the second point above, I would recommend writing about your most significant accomplishments in life. That can be from work, school, or community service. As you reflect on these experiences, identify what you did, why it was meaningful, what skills you used, and who you did it with. Again you are looking for themes that will provide insight into the type of roles that might be most fulfilling for you.
What are some common misconceptions people have before starting their first career?
I think the biggest misconception is that this role or industry is where you are going to be in 30 years. While this has definitely changed a lot over the last couple of decades, it is still very natural to think you have to find a job that fits what you studied in school. When finishing school in your early 20’s, you still have a long life ahead of you full of many different experiences. You never know what passions and interest you might discover along the way. If you don’t remain open to those opportunities that emerge for you, you might find yourself unsatisfied and unfulfilled 20 years later.