Category Archives: Career Strategy

Questions to Help Uncover A Purpose Driven Career

Questions to Help Uncover A Purpose Driven Career

Gavan Ambrosini –Executive Career Coach, PCC

November 16, 2016

California Career Development Association Quarterly 2016 Fall Edition

“It is not the answers we get, but the questions we ask that can help guide someone to understanding passion and purpose. Career practitioners can help clients see themselves as unique and positive contributors to the collective community of work and life. Learn to ask questions to prompt discovery and help them see what it means to have a purpose driven life.”

How do we help today’s youth understand that success is not all about “being” something—a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or astronaut. And it is also not just about having a fat paycheck, or about being a boss, owning your own business or winning the lottery. It is about finding a way to “have it all” without having it all.

It’s about creating work/life balance.  It means finding out who you are, and discovering ways to share your gifts with the world. Decide what moves you into action and translate that into purpose.

How do we do that?  When kids have been conditioned for 13 years to follow 1 set of rules, one path in hopes of getting an A—and that an A is what defines you as successful or not—how do we unlearn this strongly ingrained societal standard of excellence?

As adults–we have come to know what defines us; it is what we experience — and essentially how we respond to those experiences. Thoughts and feelings about those experiences get stored in our memory banks, and based on our past experiences we will move toward or move away from doing more of the same. If we can tap into this level of conversation early on—we can help youth better understand their uniqueness is what will help them stand apart.

Today’s youth need to understand that what makes them different is what can bring them success. They need to see themselves as unique and positive contributors to the collective community of work and life.

Many MBA students I work with believe that an MBA is an automatic ticket to a $100,000 job.  They are so focused on convincing employers they have a golden ticket that proves their worth and value.  They believe they can be molded in any way, and are disillusioned when they get passed over for high paying jobs by their peers.  Many have this mindset that having an MBA is proof enough they can handle whatever the business world throws at them.  This may be true,  but it is not enough.

Employers are looking past the MBA and want to see what prospective young employees are truly made of.

My advice to students is that an MBA a tool — much like a Swiss army knife — you may have access to many different functions—but it does not mean you are the knife and it does not mean that each function of the knife is particularly strong—even if useful.

The key factor students miss is that employers want to know their personal strengths more than their skills.  Skills can be taught, but natural talents?  That is what comes from within—and if discovered early can be honed into strengths and overall productivity and engagement.

Sometimes I put it this way to them: “If you could be any function of that knife—what would it be?”

Equally as important, employers are starting to understand that knowing the person inside is as important as what potential job-ready skills they bring. They want to know what drives them. What truly engages them? Many employers realize that a paycheck is not going to keep motivated and happy in their work as long as a job that utilizes their strengths and keeps them motivated and engaged.

The question now becomes this: “As professional career development practitioners how can we help our student populations discover who they are. Connect their individual talents, experiences and skills—find a way to communicate that individuality and create a more compelling path towards a purpose driven life.

It might help to describe working life as a buffet.  Many choices, many things to try and discover—and though we may want to choose everything—there is only so much room on the plate.  Rather than focus on all of what is available—let’s turn the tables and focus on what our clients enjoy.

Here are seven questions to ask students to help prompt the process of self-discovery and start to build the composite pieces of their colorful mosaic.

  1. Tell me a story about a time when you achieved something, felt most excited or happy. Describe everything you felt, saw and experienced at that moment using all five senses. (Prompts: achievement, vacation, holiday, birthday, sports, activity, outdoor activity, hobby(Values)
  2. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in this world what would it be? (What problem would they like to see solved in this world? (Vision)
  3. What makes you stand out from others? What makes you different? What is your “x” factor?  (What are they known for, what do they enjoy doing? (Passion)
  4. Tell me about a time when you worked really hard on something and failed to do well. (What does this story tell me about their ability to learn from failure (Growth vs. Fixed Mindset)
  5. Tell me about a time when you worked hard on something that you weren’t very good at and surprised yourself by doing well? (How comfortable are they with uncertainty?  How determined are they to improve your skills (Grit/Resilience)
  6. What are you naturally good at? Describe for me a time when you worked really hard at something and you enjoyed the process so much that you lost track of time (Discover what puts them in “flow” or in a mode of pure engagement/enjoyment –(Strengths)
  7. What does it mean to be happy?(

    Another values

    based question, however instead of experience focused, it is future focused and can help determine- (Intrinsic extrinsic motivators, self-efficacy and agency)

The big question then becomes—how can we take all of this and apply it to the world of work?  Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, we can look at clients with unconditional positive regard—completely capable of aligning their gifts with opportunities for continuous engagement and growth.

Gavan Ambrosini is a talent broker and executive career coach in Sacramento, CA. She currently works with MBA Students at UC Davis as a career coach and facilitator. She is an NCDA certified Career Development Facilitator Instructor and an ICF professional certified coach (PCC) with a private practice. During the past 10 years, she has helped over a thousand people with the job search and is a regular speaker in the Sacramento area.



In Career Transition? How to Network Comfortably Through the Holidays

In Career Transition? How to Network Comfortably Through the Holidays

By Gavan Ambrosini   

It’s that time of year when family/friends and neighbors gather to spread some holiday cheer—but you are not feeling so joyful.  As you end the year out, without a job to call home, you dread the idea of having to answer the inevitable questions coming your way.  Fear not – there is another way to answer those questions that will encourage the specific help you need.

Here are some common questions you may be asked over the holidays from friends, acquaintances and loved ones and suggestions for how to answer them.

  1. Question: “How’s the job search going?”

The dreaded question. Sounds innocent enough right?  But you feel deflated or defensive when asked.  Has it been three, six, nine months and you are still on the hunt? We need you to reframe this as a positive.  Answer with the idea that people really do want to help you!

Suggested answer:  “It’s plugging along.  I am exploring different avenues and possibilities and just appreciating the blessings as they come (more time to work on the garden/spend time with family and friends/finish a home improvement project…etc.)

  1. Question: “Wish I could help you somehow-but how?”

Perhaps they can! Be truthful when you are struggling with something. And don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Suggested answer: “Maybe you can help.  I am looking at getting into healthcare.  Do you know someone who works in the field that might be willing to talk to me about the industry?

Innocuous enough, and frankly all you want is 15 minutes to ask a few questions of this person.  Referrals to companies or people in those companies are your best chance of getting noticed by them.  Referrals are so powerful! Expand your network by actively seeking out conversations with people in your targeted areas.  You might even start with job seeking groups that have a large alum base.  The folks who have been hired—remember the spot you are in now—and are more likely to help you when needed!

  1. Question: “Have you had any interviews yet?”

Feels kind of pushy—and could definitely get the defenses up either way if you have or haven’t had an interview—but again, people want to help, and are mostly trying to gauge where you are in your job search.

Suggested answer: “Great question—I have had made some good connections lately, but no interviews yet.   I think I need practice mock interviewing.  Do you have some time to practice an interview with me?”

  1. Question: It must be really tough. How are you holding up?”

Be specific—and keep your emotions in check.  It’s important to stay positive through your job search, but if you’re having a hard time with a particular aspect of the hunt, it’s perfectly okay to be truthful—You just may be able to gain some useful advice in the process of sharing.  Just remember that people ask out of caring concern but they can’t help you if you are in a negative mindset. Always try to keep things in as positive a light as possible—and save your true gripes with very closest and trusted circle.  Using words like “never” and always” pin point you as negative—and give others the impression that you may stuck in a fixed mindset. Nobody wants to help a curmudgeon, so keep it light!

Suggested answer:Actually I’m having a hard time with…” and share what your frustration might be?  (Applying to the Black Hole—not getting calls back, getting contacts in an industry, finding relevant openings at companies you are targeting) and ask with a question for their help “Do you have any suggestions?” and allow them to opportunity to share their ideas.  People want to help you!  Let them at least try.

  1. Question: “So where have you been applying?”

And you don’t want to disclose because you haven’t been applying anywhere—or because you are applying like crazy and getting nowhere! Either way—there is a way to dodge that bullet:

Suggested answer: “I have been expanding my network and in talks with a few people—putting my feelers out in different places in (this industry) and (that industry)”

If they press for where specifically—say

Suggested answer:  “I don’t want to jinx it by sharing just yet-but I will definitely let you know if I land something!  Thanks for asking!!”

And then turn the conversation back to them.  “So how have you been?” Hopefully they get the hint and move on too.

  1. Question: “Have you checked out xyz company?”

Maybe you haven’t heard of the company—or it is one you wouldn’t consider, you should always remain gracious and be as honest as possible. 

Suggested answer:  “Thanks for the tip! I will check them out.  What I am looking for is abc”

You run into your contact again and they are following up on that great tip they shared with you.

  1. Question: “Did you ever look at xyz company?”

Suggested answer:  “You know, I was planning on doing that—and got completely sidetracked.  Thank you for the reminder!  Looks like an interesting company/opportunity”

Or if you did and it is not something that felt like a match—be honest as it will help them understand what you ARE looking for.  Remember-this person is actively looking out for you—and they can act as your radar for other opportunities that may be a match.

Alternative suggested answer: “It wasn’t quite what I was looking for—but I so appreciate you keeping an eye out for me! What I am really looking for is this….”

And give them specifics.

  1. Question “So what have you been doing with yourself now that you are unemployed?

Part of you may want to scream “Not sitting around watching Dr Phil and eating bon bons if that is what you mean?”  People seem to think that you will magically have all this free time now that you are not working and wonder what you are doing with it all.  It may or may not be the case—but you will find that your time will get swallowed up easily by other things.

Suggested answer: “You know what they say about looking for a job: Finding a job has become a job”

Or you can tell them about some of the projects you are working on—even if not related to the job hunt.

Suggested alternative answers:

“I am in recon mode and exploring new avenues.  It’s been an adventure for sure.” and share a story or two.

“Finally, I have some needed time and am so grateful for the opportunity to take care of some personal business!”

And feel free to share some of the things you have been working on.

  1. Question: “Have you found something yet?”

It might feel like an attack—but trust that people are just curious and want to know that you are ok.  Perhaps they aren’t in a position to help—but they do want to check in with you.  You don’t need to ask for help-but do let them know you appreciate them checking in.

Suggested answer: “It’s going a little slower than I anticipated, but I’m keeping at it. I’ll be sure to let you know when something changes!”

       10. Question” So why do you think it is taking so long?”                                           

“Really?” you think. Your first reaction might be to react defensively–like are they suggesting there is something wrong with you? Truth is, they probably think you are pretty great–and wonder why others don’t see the same thing.

Suggested Answer:  “It’s a process!  Apart from researching jobs, sending out applications and interviewing—it’s a numbers game. But as I keep hearing, networking is the number one way to find a job.  I have been working on opportunities to expand my network. Do you know anyone I can talk to in the xyz field that can give me some insight on what’s happening in the industry?”

The bottom line is—don’t hole yourself up at home in hopes of avoiding the unavoidable.  Remember, people don’t like you because of your job—they like you for you—and the job is just one piece of a very large picture of who you are and your place in that given community.  Look for the opportunity in the conversation even if it is to turn it around and get caught up in what is happening with them.  It’s a 2 sided street and people will appreciate you asking.

What are some other questions that you dread people might ask and some ways to answer them?  Let’s hear from you!