Husnara Begum Head & Shoulders ImageWhat do you excel at? What do you genuinely enjoy doing? What would you rather not be doing? What do you need to become better at, or perhaps you already have what it takes but it hasn’t quite yet registered? And if not, what steps do you need to take to make it happen? Can you learn on the job, or pick it up through hobbies and interests? Can you teach yourself? Or do you need to gain a formal qualification or even go back to university?

These are some of the most important questions anyone considering a change in career direction or a complete re-invention should be asking themselves. It also works for students who are unsure about what they want to be doing after university. I like calling this process a ‘skills audit’.

I finally completed a skills audit on myself before quitting journalism and found the process very revealing and indeed cathartic. I discovered that though my writing skills are pretty solid the thought of spending my entire working day sat in front of a computer bashing out stories about law firms hiring new partners or opening overseas offices made my heart sink. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying that when asked by my former editor to write lengthy 2,000-word features about law firm finances it often made me feel nauseous.

My skills audit confirmed that it wasn’t the writing I loved – it was hanging out with my contacts and trying to convince them to spill the beans. Not only did I love it – when it came to relationship building, I was a natural and pretty damn good at it. Incidentally, some self-praise during this process is not narcissistic and should be encouraged because it’s also a great confidence booster, which in turn will help with those all-important motivation levels.

Similarly, my legal and journalism backgrounds have also gifted me with strong research skills and I’m naturally curious, hence love to discover and learn about new stuff. But again, if given the choice, I’d rather do this by chatting to people and attending events as opposed to doing desk-based research that doesn’t involve interacting with others. Indeed, my idea of hell is having my head buried in statutes and case law or sifting through data to spot trends. That said, I do rather love Excel spreadsheets when it’s in the context of organising events. But even then, when it comes to conferences and roundtables I’d rather be the speaker, facilitator or designing the content.

Reflecting on all the jobs I’ve done since graduating, the aspect I found most rewarding and pleasurable was without a doubt dealing with people. As a City lawyer, I really enjoyed interacting with clients and when working in recruitment I found the process of getting to know candidates much more stimulating than the arduous process of marketing them to employers. What’s more, when combined with one of my core values of ‘helping others and making a difference’ moving into career coaching quickly became an obvious choice for me.

However, after making the decision to extend my business into coaching, a further audit of my skillset soon revealed a significant deficit that no level of CV embellishment could ever fix. If I wanted to be taken seriously by clients, I’d need to complete some further training. So, after much deliberation and budgeting (coaching courses can cost thousands of pounds!) I took the plunge and enrolled on an intensive executive coaching course. I combined this with tonnes of reading around the subject as well as listening to podcasts and watching webinars etc. Thankfully, the investment both in terms of my time and money worked because the significant gap in my CV was soon done away with.

Personally, doing a skills audit was a game-changer. It helped me to gain absolute clarity about the future direction I wanted to be headed career-wise after years of feeling a bit stuck and drifting. It also gave me a more precise steer on some of the steps I’d need to take to move forward.

I now run a consultancy on my own terms, supporting some great clients who I genuinely love spending time with and doing work that offers me mental stimulation and energy. What’s more, launching in June 2020 with my brother has also enabled me to go back to my journalism roots. The big difference this time is that I get to write about stuff I care about.

Historically, and like so many of the clients on my coaching programme, I planned my career around sectors and high-profile employers. For example, after deciding to pursue a career as a solicitor I only wanted to join a magic circle firm – not because I was desperate to work as a corporate lawyer or felt the people and culture would be right for me. Rather, at the time, having a well-known and prestigious brand on my CV was my idea of success and something to feel proud about.

But I now know, for many of us, fanciful employer bands don’t count for much if your day-to-job responsibilities leave you feel unfulfilled. That’s exactly what would’ve happened to me had I followed the paths taken by most of my former journalism colleagues and moved across to a national newspaper or joined a high-profile City law firm’s PR team.

As such, the next time you hear yourself saying I want to work for a start-up, charity or for a business that’s a household name – I’d recommend asking yourself what does that actually involve?

Husnara Begum, associate coach and contributing editor