Career Mapping: An Interview with Ginny Clarke

Ginny Clarke is perhaps one of the greatest minds on career management. Her unique career mapping process is a result of years of experience as a partner at the global executive search firm Spencer Stuart, where she co-founded and led the diversity practice.

As an expert in talent and career management, executive coaching, and diversity in the workplace, Ginny integrated her executive recruiter experience with her own unique approach to managing her career. The result is the must-read book titled Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work.

I’m so impressed with Career Mapping that I’ve been recommending it to all my friends and family who want a fresh approach in managing their career and possible career paths. Below is my interview Ginny Clark, who was gracious enough to share her advice on how we can prepare for our next career reinvention or find our dream job.

Smart Lemming: Career Mapping is one of the best career management books I have ever read. Your point of view is inspiring, especially when you shared your own career track. Everyone who reads this book will feel validated that they haven’t had a “meandering” career. A job seeker’s disparate jobs and responsibilities were actually bridges to their future dream job. If you had to pick one mission critical thing a job seeker can do in pursuing their dream job, what would it be?

Ginny Clarke: Know the power of choice.  Educate yourself on the possibilities and choose two or three industries, functions, roles and many more possible companies to consider at any given point in your career.

Develop a rationale for why they interest you and build a case for a prospective employer as to why you have the competencies (though not necessarily the experience) to be chosen to perform the job. Oops, that was more than one thing wasn’t it?

SL: Yes, but sage advice for people looking to change industries. Your career mapping tool is invaluable for a job seeker. Based on your career coaching experience, do job seekers at each level (Entry level, Mid-level, Executive level, Encore level, and Detour level) face similar challenges as they brainstorm their career path? Or is there one level that’s a little more challenging such as those job seekers at the Detour route level?

GC: I would say “Detour” is probably the most challenging. Mind you, Detour can occur at all of the other levels.  I define Detour as someone who has been unemployed for more than a year, is returning to the workforce after care giving (children, parents, etc.), military service, an entrepreneurial venture or other activity that might have “derailed” them or shaken their confidence. The challenge and the opportunity is in knitting together the seemingly disparate parts of your past into something that makes sense for you in the future.  Only you can do that.

SL: The social compact between employer and worker has changed. Over the course of my career, workers can no longer rely on working at one or two companies, and then retire. On top of that, the Great Recession hits and all bets are off. Workers became even more disposable than ever as companies struggled to survive. How can your “free agent” approach help workers achieve their career goals?

GC: Being a free agent means workers always have in mind what they want for themselves and are not at the mercy of any one employer, or the economy for that matter.  A free agency mindset allows a worker to know their worth and not take things personally.  They realize they are in control of their professional destiny, have clarity of direction, and exude confidence.

SL: Your career mapping process is simple, yet elegant. Is your career mapping process and template a result of the shortcomings you saw in candidates you encountered when you were an executive recruiter? Or is it a result from your career brainstorming process when you decided to change careers?

GC:  Thank you; it is both.  I’ve learned that I am a systems thinker.  I studied linguistics and accounting and have always appreciated the order and the structure of systems, whether language, numbers or processes.  I enjoyed the rigor and structure of the executive search process.  While not complex, it is a process that is not well understood. I integrated the search methodology with the instinctive moves that I made as I explored opportunities in my own career.

SL: I think it’s great that you recommend StrengthsFinder 2.0 for people who want to identify themes in traits and tendencies that will help them define their competencies for their career map. What other advice would you give job seekers, who feel they have gaps in their work experience or skill set?

GC: Don’t apologize for the gaps. Anticipate the questions and be prepared by having plotted your work history, determined some of your aspirational roles and analyzed the gaps to know which you can fill and which you can’t.  Know the difference between competency and experience and be prepared to articulate your competencies to a prospective employer, even if you don’t have the experience.

SL: Personal branding has been all the rage over the past few years. However, I appreciate your personal branding framework because it’s comprised of four elements: Authenticity, reputation, image, and value. I’m constantly worried that younger workers think personal branding is only about their image. What personal branding advice would you give younger job seekers?

GC: So glad you see the difference. I dismissed the early references to personal branding as superficial, like the packaging of cereal.  My view is if you don’t have quality ingredients, a process that yields a competitive product, visibility and promotions that emphasize the usefulness and uniqueness of the product, you won’t be desirable.  Younger job seekers are often authentic, but might not appreciate their visibility through their activity on-line.  They tend not to be as aware of their image when it comes to dress, language, grammar, writing and social protocols.  Honoring some of these conventions isn’t “old school,” but how business is done and will likely continue to be done even in this casual, conceptual age we are in.

SL: Your book can be used for three different aspects of our work lives like finding our next gig, dream job, or career reinvention. What’s the most common goal that your clients are trying to accomplish? Next job, dream job, or career reinvention? Something else?

GC: I would say many are going for the career reinvention, which includes possibly staying in your current job, but redefining it on your own terms.  It can mean having clarity about what you want next and not settling for less.  It can mean learning how to tell people what you want – not ask-and always reassessing where you are in your journey and when it is time to move to the next thing.  This is exercising the power of choice, once again.

SL: When consulting with your clients, where do people experience the most problems? Preparing their career map, identifying their competencies, or preparing to network?

GC: Most people have more problems identifying their competencies.  These are the core, portable elements of who you are. We tend to just look at what we’ve done and not dissect the granular aspects of what you know how to do, how exactly you do it, and how it relates to what you want to do.

SL: What has the response been to your book? Anything about the response that has surprised you?

GC: The response has been quite positive.  I feared that people would look at many of the aspects of the book, many of which are not new (networking, resume writing, etc.) and not see the nuanced theme of discipline and choice that integrate them all. I am gratified that people can see themselves in the book and feel validated and worthy to pursue their dreams.

SL: There are so many networking and resume books on the market, but your advice in Career Mapping is probably the best advice I’ve ever read. Thank you for including it in your book! What are you working on now?

GC: I am working on building out my consulting and coaching business. My corporate clients are finding the mapping process appealing as a tool that engages their employees.  As for the coaching, I can’t do it one-on-one, so creating virtual products and services to be a substitute for me.  Those will be in the form of webinars, DVD’s. CD’s, and events that people can purchase to  build that free agency muscle themselves.  I am also working on an app so people can create their own maps on devices because it is a process you should do a couple of times a year. I want to be in the media as a voice to inspire and direct people on their journeys, so I’m exploring TV and radio.  And yes, thinking about the next book.  Much to do.

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