Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Identify Your Core Purpose for Career Planning

Here is an explanation and examples of how to use a projective technique known as "laddering". It is often used in market research, but is a valuable approach also for professional development and/or career planning to improve your personal awareness on directions for future goals and work.

Bringing your CV to life

Nowadays, when you write an application for a job or contract, it's not enough that it contains all the facts and figures of what you have done and achieved. With increasing competition in both employment and business arenas, you need more and more to communicate what you are about and why you made the choices you did.

While a CV or resumé needs a clear structure and be professionally presented and organised, a covering letter or personal statement (within or separate) can relay something about your passion, purpose and goals in terms of your subject interests, career aspirations.

What I look for in a person's CV is a strong commitment in one or two directions, relevant range of qualities, skills & experience (generic and specific to the role/job/career), a good work ethic (doing productive activities, providing value/service to others). In my son's school, the Headmaster recently articulated in his end of year speech what he looks for in a potential student or staff member - three things: energy, integrity and intelligence.

Developing a personal awareness of these aspects - your "why" if you like - will allow you to bring some of these together in a personal statement as an addendum to your CV.

Why personal awareness is important

Well, in thinking about a career, what you need to dig deep about first what is your 'why', particularly how your early and current interests fits with your qualifications, university degree or work experience you may have done.

Can you clearly articulate a coherent picture of what gets you excited/interested in something? It's sometimes a tough one to put your finger on, so you need to spend some time pondering.

It is not until you scratch beneath the surface of things you've done (sometimes over many years) that you may well find there is a connection between all kinds of interests and choices you've made through your life.

Try talking this through talk to people who know different sides of you - personal and professional, educationally and community, so you start to think about what makes you tick at a deeper level and what others see in you (that you may not know/notice yourself!)

Asking the right questions

In coaching and mentoring, we use a projective questioning technique called 'laddering.' It's also used for product market research to discover what lies beneath people's buying decisions, to identify their emotional triggers that you can speak to in an advert for instance or in a sales presentation.

Laddering is an intriguing and very powerful technique that raises your personal awareness. You can develop a set of questions and ask these of yourself, but it's best done with another person so you don't let yourself off the hook too easily!

Laddering can be used to explore why you do what you do, how you make decisions about your life, study and work, even why you buy what you buy, why a particular 'thing' interests/excites you. Essentially, it's a drawing out process.

Very simply put, you use a series of questions that keeps digging - or rather, climbing the ladder - towards discovering your own emotional triggers for why you do what you do, why you like what you like, and what drives you & motivates you.

Sometimes you can play the laddering 'game' in an irritating way - like a child who keeps asking why, why, why... and the parent eventually ends up with the "because" answer, because it's sometimes very hard to understand and articulate one's reasoning, if much of it is instinctive or tacit knowledge.

Yet in laddering, you must keep pushing yourself to find the deeper rationale. You do this by breaking the general 'why' question into a series of smaller bite-sized prompts. This takes you down a road, but does not try to make you talk about the destination in one trip. (If it looks like a road leading nowhere, you can back track and try a different path.)

The skill in laddering is the ways in which you draw a person to go each step further, asking essentially the same question in different ways. You can try asking the questions of yourself, or get a friend to push you.

The kinds of questions you pose are intended to help someone to articulate their inner reasons, and sometimes you need to reword a question to build on the previous response.

Start with what and work towards why

Start with some of your known interests, e.g. picking something out of your CV about your study or even hobbies. If you like, say, history/art /animals/ engineering/ snowboarding, etc, I'd ask you to tell me what you like about that... and we keep going until we find your real emotional triggers.

These triggers indicate the kinds of emotional end-benefits all of us seek when we choose to do something or take a particular decision/direction. It is nearly always about what makes you feel good about yourself and will tell you a lot about your true motivations.

So you need to keep laddering the questions until you reach answers that are essentially about what raises your self-esteem.

You can repeat the laddering across different aspects of your CV activities, your degree choice/work experience/personal interests etc... and you should find some patterns.

Doing the laddering will push you to dig deep. You can find it very difficult and even uncomfortable. Sometimes it's pretty personal stuff you are revealing; sometimes it will be the first time you've thought about it, said it out loud or admitted it to anyone!!!

In that way, you have to have strong sense of trust on both sides and this is about helping someone think, understand, articulate - no-one is judging the responses, because there are no right/wrong answers, it's about being an "intelligent mirror."

The technique is a kind of therapy - you are not offered solutions but helped to reach conclusions yourself, to make sense of emotional, value driven attitudes and actions, and to find a clearer set of personal drivers and direction that will assist you in your life, career, relationships.

How to get started with a laddering conversation

I've done laddering with people in person or via email and Facebook messaging. It's probably best when questions are asked in real time, but that doesn't need to be face-to-face or verbally spoken.

A laddering conversation can be done via email. There are benefits and downsides of giving a person more time to reflect. They may need time to think things through, write out some lists, or simply find it easier or preferable to write their answers not talk through them. You can annotate a written response with follow up questions at a second stage.

Getting started is simple. Use broad prompts and questions to get things rolling, such as: "what do you like to do in your spare time", or "what kinds of subjects work interest you the most".

Follow up, secondary questions would be more about understanding what's behind the answer: "why do you like that", "what is it about that that you like", "how does that make you feel", "why is that important to you". You can ask the same kind of question in two different ways: "why did you particularly think that was a great idea? what did you like about that exactly?"

Here's some examples of an initial question and follow up questions:

1. Tell me what subjects you did in school/university.

and follow up with:

a. What is it about this that interests you most?

b. Why is that important to you?

2. When you go on holiday, what do you like to do most?

a. What else do you like to do?

b. Why is that important to you? (or if similar, why are those kinds of things important to you?)

c. "When you do [name of activity], how does that then make you feel".

3. What kind of work experience have you done?

a. Why did you choose this?

b. How do you know when you're successful at something like that?

c. How does that make you feel (when you achieve that)?

4. Tell me about someone you admire/respect/love in your life?

a. "What is it about that person that you like?"

b. "Why exactly, tell me more" or "can you say more about that... "

Try it for yourself

There's no right or wrong way to do this, but there is a skill in laddering things to help someone tease things out. You can use all kinds of combinations of the above follow up questions - whatever makes sense to take someone towards an emotional end-benefit of what makes them ultimately feel good about themselves.

Be prepared to take a number of paths through what comes up - note them to follow up later. Some unexpected themes and issues can emerge! In one line of questioning I did with a university graduate, she talked about how her parents suggested she do a science degree, so we actually ended up exploring her confidence in making decisions herself!)

How about you have a go on these questions via email or in real time (one at a time) using facebook messaging. There is a string of questions... answer each separately in turn, the follow on questions are intended to open this up a bit more.

If you do it via email, even after you answer the question, each time you've reflected, try to go a bit deeper - imagine I am then asking you to explain using some of the follow up questions/prompts.

It's sometimes useful to have more time to reflect, but often your first instinctive answers are the best ones - don't over-think, and above all, you have to be honest (not just say what sounds like you ought to say), because the answer will then be real - revealing and enlightening.

Benefits of laddering to your career planning

This process is a useful way into exploring the outcomes of some career planning motivation and aptitude tests, which ask what you like in terms of work, life, hobbies, leisure, usually they focus on three strands: people, information and/or things.

It's probably best to explore a variety of your interests, go down different paths with the questions (or up different ladders if you like!), then analyse across the responses to pick out what common themes start to emerge.

What's important about doing this is (1) you'll discover a focus that motivates you and (2) you'll put a much more compelling story together when you approach job applications, proposals and interviews.

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