It’s a fear that goes largely unspoken. What happens if you get a Training Contract in your dream firm… and you hate it? Then what? Is your career over and you have to go live under a rock?
Well, I had the opportunity to talk to Hannah Salton about just that.
After graduating from Manchester University, Hannah joined BT and worked in graduate recruitment for five years. She then moved to Allen & Overy and led UK graduate recruitment there. And last year, she made a really exciting career change and started working as a career coach and consultant.
Not only has Hannah made some bold career moves herself, but she has guided countless graduates through the trials and tribulations of an early career change. So, if anyone can relieve your fears, it’s Hannah.
Hi Hannah, thank you so much for letting me interview you today.
Let’s start by talking about your career. What thoughts were going through your head when you started to feel like you wanted to move away from corporate recruiting?
I really loved working in graduate recruitment, but throughout my career I was always thinking “what next?” My first thought on becoming a full-time coach was ‘don’t be ridiculous’ – it felt like a very unstructured and risky career change. And I felt like that for a long time. It’s easy to stay put in a job if you enjoy certain aspects, even if you know it’s not what you want to do forever.
When I was going through the career change I received mixed reactions. Some people were really supportive and excited, and then other people were quite negative about it. And while sometimes the negativity came from a place of genuine concern, other times I think people were projecting their own fears and their risk aversion onto me and my choices.
People’s fears around career changes can often be over-inflated. When you get down to it and challenge them, and think “what’s the worst-case scenario?” – it’s very rarely as bad as you think. And there will always be a way to overcome it.
I read on your website that you went on a family holiday and had a sort of ‘ah ha’ moment. Was that when you decided you were going to take the leap into coaching?
It didn’t feel like it at the time, but looking back it was a bit of a turning point. I was at Center Parcs on a really lovely relaxing holiday, and it gave me the chance to step back and have a real think about my career. I really felt like I wasn’t quite on the right path. I wouldn’t say it was an ‘ah ha’ moment but something did shift. And while I didn’t make any specific decisions about what I was going to do, I did start to actively explore my options.
I had put off researching coaching and consulting for a long time because I was nervous that I’d realise I couldn’t do it, or I would start making a change and fail. I didn’t realise how scared I was of failure at the time, and I told myself I was just being practical and realistic by staying put. But once I took the very first step of exploring my options, every other step seemed easier and things gradually starting falling in to place.
Hannah, you specialise in early career coaching. Can you tell me why people at the start of their careers need coaches?
I’m a massive advocate of coaching. I’ve had two professional coaches myself and they’ve been amazing. I think there’s a misconception that coaches are there to fix people and help people who are in need. But rather than that, I see it as elevating someone from good to great. People in the first few years of their career are often ambitious and have high expectations of what they want to achieve, but struggle to create the focus and structure to achieve their big goals.
Some of my clients are graduate job seekers, and want feedback on things like their performance at interviews or how a recruiter might perceive their CV. But I also work with people who have gotten into competitive industries such as law or banking, and then realised it’s not quite what they want. They’ve worked really hard at university and have started their career with very high expectations, and then they realise it might not be the right path for them. It can be intimidating to even start to think about doing anything else. It can feel hard from a practical level, in terms of thinking about what else they could do. But it can also be challenging from an emotional level; realising that this wasn’t their dream job after all.
What advice would you give to graduates who are in that position? They’ve got a Training Contract in a firm but they’re not happy, or maybe they also feel like they’re not quite on the right path?
First and foremost, don’t panic. It is normal. I think pretty much every graduate has felt like that at some stage. Social media may make it look as though everyone is constantly happy, but no one loves their job 100% of the time. There will always be ups and downs.
The next thing you need to think about is – how bad is it? Not liking your job can range from “I’ve had a frustrating day” to “I’m not sure I like my career path” to “my job is having a negative impact on my mental health” – and everything in-between. I would encourage people to think about where they are on this scale, as it will help them to work out what next steps to take.
If you’re not sure if you’re on the right path, but you are getting on ok, I would probably recommend seeing your graduate scheme or Training Contract out with an open mind. You don’t have to work within that company or industry forever. Recognise what you are enjoying about your role, and reflect on how you could increase that focus in your next move.
Generally, it’s really important to lean on your support network. Make sure you’re talking about how you feel with your peers or your friends and family. When you struggle alone it can seep into your relationships and your hobbies, making you unhappy in all areas of your life.
And if it’s your first professional job, bear in mind that it can take a bit of getting used to. A lot of my friends struggled with the adjustment of not being a student anymore. [Rosie: I’m going to miss the 3pm naps]. It can help to acknowledge that it is a big transition. When I left university, I really missed being a student at first, but once I was settled and happy in a job, I actually preferred a lot about working life.
If you do decide to move, how do you ensure you find a job that you love?
It’s worth thinking about whether it is the nature of the role you don’t like, the company culture or the sector you happen to work in. It can be really easy to focus on all the things you don’t like about your job. This can push you to the extreme of thinking you want a huge move into something completely different, which isn’t always the case.
One of the most important things to consider is what you do want from your next job. Sit down by yourself or with a coach, and work out what are your strengths, values and priorities. Think about what type of work you enjoyed before and what environment you work best in.
To help explore options it’s a really good idea to talk to a wide range of people in the industry you’re thinking of moving in to. I certainly did that a lot when I was considering becoming a coach and approached a number of executive coaches, careers consultants and in-house coaches to ask about their experiences. It wasn’t necessarily the advice they gave that was so helpful, but the general insight of hearing about their own journey and perspective. I heard some really positive stories and some not so positive stories. But it all helped to build up a picture of what my own journey could look like.
Would you advise people to start networking and making connections even if they are happy in their current job, just so they’re ready to move on when the time comes?
Yes! I’m a big advocate of networking. I think you should prioritise connecting with new people all the time, whether you’re thinking about moving on or not. Ironically, I actually used to dread networking. I found it awkward and cringey, particularly when it was in a large and formal group setting.
[Rosie: And here are some of the things that can go wrong…]
However, I network in a completely different way now – it’s about getting to know interesting people and building connections in a curious and more human way. If I do meet someone at an event who’s interesting, I’ll often connect with them on LinkedIn and arrange a one-to-one coffee or Skype intro afterwards to avoid too much emphasis on the event itself.
When I reflect on the jobs that people I know I have gotten, it’s really staggering how often they knew someone from the company or had a loose connection that they could reach out to. Whether or not you like to think it works this way, in many industries it definitely does.
Do you have any practical tips for people that find networking difficult?
Networking can be hard, and it’s easy to see it as a chore. I think a lot of it is about mindset. If you go in curious and open to learning and getting to know people, it’s a completely different experience to going to an event with the pressure of a singular objective to find a new job.
The best advice I can give is to relax and be yourself. That might sound overly simplistic, but when we try really hard to put on a front and act certain way it can be draining. And many employers are looking for authenticity – they want you to be yourself and want to get to know you, so try and connect with people in a genuine way.
Also, it’s not necessary for you to come up with the most original or complicated question at a formal networking event (like a law fair or an open day). Remember that recruiters are human, and the last thing they want is to have long list of really complicated questions fired at them. The best questions come from a place of genuine curiosity.
I know that you specialise in helping people who are at the beginning of their career. Do you have any specific advice for early career changers?
In our parents’ generation, if someone was going to have a career change it would probably happen fairly late in their lives. But people are doing it earlier and earlier now. And even now, a career change doesn’t have to mean you are moving into an industry you will stay in for the remainder of your career.
My key tip for early career changers is to reflect deeply on what is and isn’t important to you. It’s easy to get influenced by family expectations, partner expectations or even just stories you hear from your friends. While it’s important to get insight from other people’s experiences, try not to lose sight of your own preferences and priorities. These will be different for everyone and may vary at different stages of your life.
Also, don’t settle for less than you want in your career. It’s easy to stagnate when you’re in a job that is OK – you’re getting by, and it pays the rent. But the longer you are in that situation the harder it feels to break out of it. And often starting is the hardest part.
As a coach, what do you spend most of your time doing?
For me, every client I work with has different goals and is at a very different stage in their career. It’s really important to recognise that up front, and work out exactly what the client wants help with. Sometimes I work with people that have very clear goals and need help refining their strategy and approach to achieving them. Other times my clients are at a real crossroads and don’t have a clue what they want to do next.
So a lot of my work is about helping people to identify their strengths and recognise when they perform at their best. This helps graduate job seekers succeed in recruitment processes, and also helps career changers work out what type of role they might want to move in to.
This is even more relevant now given the fact that strength-based selection processes are becoming more and more popular with employers. While competencies establish whether you can do the job well, strength-based assessments try to find out if you love doing it, if you are energised by it.
When I first heard about strength-based recruitment I thought, “why does it matter if a candidate loves their job so long as they do it well?” But there is an incredible amount of evidence that shows that if your job role aligns with your natural strengths, you’re more likely to be successful and stay with the company in the longer term.
Thanks Hannah! Any final words of wisdom?
Navigating the job market can feel lonely and frustrating at times. Proactivity and persistence are so important. And it’s vital to recognise that rejection is all part of the process.
If anyone would like to arrange a free 20 minute call with me to help them with their career, they can drop me an email to request one.