WOKEN – The Art and Science of Career Exploration With Rachel Serwetz

On today’s show, we have Rachel Serwetz from WOKEN to talk about career exploration. Rachel is an expert in this subject and we’re excited to have her here.

She’ll break down the process of career exploration to determine your ideal role, ideal industry, and ideal environment. We’ll talk about the path an individual can take and what it means for both job-seeking as well as internal mobility.

Listening time: 30 minutes


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William 0:35
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Rachel on from WOKEN and we’re gonna be talking a lot about career exploration. And I’m really excited about the topic, and also to have her on because she’s an expert in this. And without any further ado, Rachel, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and WOKEN?

Rachel 0:58
Absolutely. I’m excited, thanks for having me. So I guess I’ll introduce WOKEN first and then I’ll tell you about myself. So WOKEN is a web-based platform in addition to live coaching, where we guide professionals through a step-by-step process of learning and reflection to clarify their ideal career direction. We also support with job search. But you know, our niche, our forte is really creating a practical process to help you gain confidence and clarity in your ideal role and industry and environment that you want to work in. And so that’s WOKEN in a nutshell.

And my background, I started out in the finance world, I was at Goldman Sachs, and then Bridgewater, and then from there, I needed to figure out my next steps and I didn’t have the right support. So I realized I had been informally helping others with their careers. And I eventually got coaching training certified. And that was sort of the minute I realized, I could systematize and digitize some of these unique frameworks that I’ve been seeing. And really, I had been just seeing patterns in challenges of what folks were facing over the years. So came up with some new tools and solutions. And then now it’s been about three and a half years of making that better and better. And essentially just trying to make it more efficient for people to be proactive and intentional with career choices.

William 2:20
I love that. So so you probably have a different mode, or maybe you do or don’t let so let me not be too assumptive here, but like internal to the company, and career exploration versus, you know, a pivot, you know, outside of light. In fact, I remember 100 years ago, when I did my MBA, a lot of people use their MBA as a pivot.

You know, they might have come in through financial services, that was our background, but they wanted to come out and do consulting. So they use that experience as a way to kind of pivot themselves. So the question is, is how do you think of kind of internal to the company exploration? And or how do you coach people, you know, in terms of outside the company exploration?

Rachel 3:08
Right, that makes total sense. And, by the way, I also did my MBA, and I typically say that an MBA is a very expensive way to figure out your career.

William 3:19
That’s exactly what it is.

Rachel 3:21
Well, but unfortunately, it shouldn’t be. That’s the problem. Is that career coaching isn’t this common popular thing? And so, you know, if you need to figure out your career, find a career coach. And if you want an MBA, you should figure out exactly why and whether that makes sense. You know, it’s not a one and the same, but that’s how we treat it, unfortunately. So. So that’s the first answer. In terms of internal mobility versus, you know, external, what I always say.

And by the way, I have a ton of clients who are actually working, and they do this in addition to their jobs. So what I usually say is go through career exploration, in the most open-ended possible way to figure out your ideal role, ideal industry, ideal environment. And then we would assess, okay, is there something internally, that makes sense, given what you’ve uncovered would be your ideal direction? Right.

And so you know, it’s exploration first, and then job search second. And job search could include internal search right at your company, or external, right or both. And so the only way, you know what I’m saying, you can go to patient objectively and then secondarily, assess whether something internally would be a fit. Versus—

William 4:34
Do you think that was internal and this is. I want to get your take on this. So hierarchical firms, so like, I came up through advertising and PR, which are very hierarchical, you start off as an intern, coordinator, manager, you know, like 19 levels of stuff. And what I found in that in those industries is that it was easier to jump firms, to then get to that next level. Then it was within one firm.

So like we were at J. Walter Thompson and you were a coordinator. It was, for whatever reason, it was difficult for you to make that next level to get to the next step. You know, which is less about exploration more about internal mobility. But I’m thinking, and why I want to ask you the question is, with internal mobility, and people kind of coming to that being self-aware and going through a process, working with a coach and discovering that there is something else that they’d like to explore. What hurdles do they face internally about just getting other people to believe that they both want to and can do that other job?

Rachel 5:46
Yeah. So here’s, you know, the thing. Is that, oftentimes, when we interview, whether it’s internal mobility, or just for a job, we’re usually applying to various types of roles, in which case, we show up to an interview, and we’re telling them what they think, what we think they want to hear. Versus exploration is really a process of essentially reverse engineering all the questions you’re going to get an interview so that you can answer them independently for yourself in a way that’s honest and authentic.

And that way, when you show up to interview, not only is your job search more targeted, and focused and efficient in terms of who to network with and which roles are a right fit for you. But then when you show up for the interview, your story is actually make sense. And you’re the best candidate in the room. Because you know why that role is a fit for you. Because you had to answer that question for yourself. First.

Versus, you know, I’m applying everywhere show up for this interview, I tell them what I think they want to hear, right. And that’s what most people do. And most people struggle in job search, because they’re applying to too many types of roles, right? Versus take that step back, figure out what you actually think is a fit for you. And then the minute you show up to that interview, it’s like, those questions are answered in a way that is really authentic, really believable, because you had to answer them for yourself independently of having any interview at hand. Does that make sense?

I mean, that’s a little different than I know, you were asking a little bit about like, growth internally, and promotions and whatnot. But I think about just, you know, how and why exploration is so helpful to career pathing. Whether it’s internally or externally, because you actually know, genuinely, and thus can prove why you’re a fit for that role, and why you’re going to excel at it, and why you’re going to be great at it, and why you’re going to thrive doing it and why you’re actually interested to be there. And all that stuff is authentic. Right versus like we show up to these interviews, we check the box, we make it up in order to get the job versus, you know what I’m saying? Like,

William 7:49
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s the age-old question of just because you can do something, should you do it? You know, which, which begets the, you know, how do you know, when self-exploration is a good journey for you? Like, what do you advise your clients, when they’re thinking about starting this process? Like, what are some of the triggers? Are they burnt out? Are they using a lot of vacation time? Are they maybe not performing at a certain point? Like, are they not as, you know, excited or passionate about what they’re doing? Like, what or what, or is any of that? And maybe, maybe I’m misreading it, but what are the triggers that then lead or should lead to self-exploration?

Rachel 8:30
Totally, I mean, it is a lot of what you just said, but it’s really just the person knowing themselves. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why they may feel unfulfilled. It could be the role, it could be the industry, it can be the environment, or it could be a combination of those factors. But you don’t have to get really understand what isn’t a fit or why it isn’t a fit as long as you know, yourself. And you know, how you feel right?

Like and reflect on a time in your life, when you’ve been in flow, and you’ve been energizing, you’ve been doing a project that you actually feel sort of good doing and interested in, you know, sort of checked in and intrigued and you feel like it’s suitable to you and your affinity for work. And, you know, you kind of know those feelings. Hopefully, you’ve had a project singular at one point in your life. And, and I always say, think about a project you chose to do. Right?

Or, or what was the best possible project, right, like compare, you know, if comparing helps you, you know, you could think of it that way. Or, usually when people are ready for a role change, they just kind of know it, right? You just kind of feel that you’re ready for more. Or you could say, you know, what percent of the activities Am I doing in my day that I actually like versus what I might not like?

I mean, look, to find a role that it’s fitting for you it doesn’t mean it’s like a walk in the park. It could still be challenging and difficult. But you still know when it’s a fit for your style. Know what fits with you versus like, I’m just not good at this. I don’t like this. Blah blah blah blah, right? And again, you know, think about those levers: role, industry, environment, there could be multiple pieces. And so if you’ve had any of these thoughts and feelings, it never hurts.

You know, a coach is just a sounding board to think through it. And I think people worry like, oh, like, Am I gonna quit? Pivoting, it’s this big deal. Like, just, you know, take a deep breath and know that coaching is just, at the bare minimum, it’s a wonderful sounding board just to figure out how you even feel. But if you’re thinking any of these things, you know, that’s something enough to listen to, you know.

William 10:34
So I’ve talked to a lot of recruiters lately that are hiring. They’re adding into the mix potential or potentiality. And they’re looking at candidates through the lens of historical experience and skills and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But they’re also looking at transferable skills in a different way than I’ve ever seen recruiters and HR look at transferable skills. What are you? What are you saying on your side as it relates to your clients and even their coaches?

Rachel 11:08
You know, that makes me so happy that they’re doing that, finally, thank goodness.

William 11:12
It’s only 100 years late.

Rachel 11:14
Right? Exactly right. It’s like we’re just starting to figure out hiring, little inch by inch. In what I say is. Amazing, thank goodness, right? Because, yes, we have transferable skills. And yes, we have potential. We used to judge people so much on oh, what have you done, Do you already know how to do this, you know, transferable skills are something people don’t even understand what that is.

So first and foremost, for a candidate, understand which of your skills are transferable. That’s an exercise unto itself. And then of course, understand where you want to go, Why? Why you’re a fit for it. And then lifelong learning, like get a course, get a certification, upskill. Figure out how to move yourself in that direction. We have to be a little fluid with our career paths, and not so fixed.

And it makes me happy that you’re telling me that recruiters are sort of looking at it, hopefully in that more fluid fashion. Because that is how you find the best fit. It’s not always the person who on paper has done the thing. It’s the person who transferably can prove that their skill set their affinities, their strengths, their natural tendencies, you know, the way their brain thinks the way they operate, the things they love doing the things they’re a fit for, is is what that role is seeking.

Right you want. And you’ll know it when you hear it from that recruiter/interviewer’s perspective. So I’m really glad they’re figuring out new ways of assessing that. And for us in the future, we hope to be actually a tool in that process, right? Because we’re helping people objectively figure out their right path. Could we later help employers to then say, Oh, these candidates have actually, you know, we’ve vetted these candidates to say they actually already know what they’re fit for? So, you know, could we help people in the future to do better hiring? We hope so.

But yes, I would say, it’s great that that’s that that’s happening, I think, for a candidate, they need to understand their ideal direction, and what skills are transferable and then what skills they have to gain to push themselves forward. But that means opening yourself up to exploring what’s right for you and opening yourself up to the idea of gaining more skills. And, you know, we’re out of this world where your undergrad is enough. We have to stay fluid.

But the hope would be is that in your ideal direction, you would enjoy gaining those skills, you know, that you know, if it’s in line with the direction you want to pursue, right? So that’s why we try to take it from step one of what would be a great fitting suitable exciting path for you. And then what does it look like to get there, and hopefully, that journey is also enjoyable as well.

William 13:47
So, so starting, you know, by the way, probably should have started with this, you know, if someone when they kind of have this epiphany, or maybe leading up to it, is it best, you know, cuz like we probably in high school and college, we did these career assessments, and I think I was supposed to be a garbage man at one point, but like, where do you Where do we? Where do they start?

Like, where do you suggest people once they feel like, okay, the indicators are there, you know, I kind of feel it in my gut. Intuitively, it’s probably time for me to think about, our I’m falling in love. My wife. A great example of this is she’s a landscape architect for 20 something years, and she just fell out of love with it. Decided that she wanted to spend time and do something completely different. And, you know, but she was, I mean, you know, she was also really self-aware. And but where do you suggest folks start the process?

Rachel 14:51
Totally. So we have developed a process. I’ll explain it to you, and part of that process is leveraging some best practices. But part of it leverages some of our proprietary, you know, tools and frameworks that, you know, we’ve been working on for years to make sure we can help people be efficient and focused with this. But if I were to explain at a very high level, what is career exploration?

Well, first and foremost, I’ll just define it quickly. It is a step-by-step process of practical action-based steps of learning and reflection, to learn deeply about your options, while simultaneously learning about yourself in order to compare and contrast and prioritize and narrow in on the best-fit role and industry for you. And that process should always come before any job search begins. Right? So that’s kind of high level, but the journey, here’s how it sort of goes super quick, right? So first and foremost, you have to commit, right? It’s, it takes a little bit of time and effort. But you got to say to yourself, you know what, I’m in a mode of literally figuring this out. And here’s how much time I want to give to this process. So that’s A.

Then we have a unique career assessment that we built. But if you were to do this on your own, you want to start reflecting on what are the functions, the skills, the tasks, the projects, the sort of verbs and actions that you love doing? Secondarily, what are the content areas that you love the problem areas, topic areas? You know, who do you want to help in? And with what? And then thirdly, is what environment do you thrive in?

So then what we help somebody to do is translate those functions into potential roles and content areas into potential industries. Now, that’s another important separation that not many people try to merge those things together. So once you’ve come up with options, and again, to the fact that that assessment, spit out one answer for you, we want somebody to say these are options that feel most relevant to my interest. But I may add something to the list, I may take something away, it’s a very fluid journey.

So after you come up with those options, then it becomes learning mode. Most people don’t know what path they want, because they don’t know enough about what these paths really look and feel like. So then you go through bite-sized steps of research and networking, which is a whole other thing. How do you do networking properly, as well as sometimes experiential hands-on learning and reflection, but you do it in an iterative fashion.

So you know, almost like design thinking, where you learn, you synthesize what you’re learning, you reflect, and you iterate. And you say, Okay, what sounded good, what didn’t sound good? Who do I want to talk more to less to, and you pivot throughout the process. And you keep going through those loops, learn, reflect, iterate, until you get to the point of feeling confident in the direction.

And I always say, if you still have options for roles or industries, you haven’t done either enough learning and or reflection. And so you, you know, people just don’t understand that it’s feasible, to actually feel confident. But if you know that, it’s possible to get to that outcome of gaining confidence in your direction, fueled by the learning of what do these roles actually look and feel like?

What are these industries really, like, you know, then then you’ll keep persisting on that journey of learning and reflection until you gain that confidence. So it’s just something people aren’t aware of, they don’t even know what’s possible, right. And so that’s, that’s why people don’t go through it. But if you go through it in a fixed timeframe, and say, I will keep learning and or reflecting until I have that confidence, then it really becomes feasible.

So we make that easier, you know, provide structure support accountability, you know, it’s nice when you have some support through it. But that’s super quick, high level, what the dirty would entail.

William 18:22
So two questions kind of come off of that. One is, because we’ve talked about it through the lens of the individual, right? What do you feel the responsibility of the corporation is? In terms of helping employees, you know, discover these things, or make available opportunities and experiences to learn some of this?

Rachel 18:45
Yeah. Look, it takes a special company to provide really amazing skill development and mentorship and personal development opportunities. And if a company provides that, then that’s amazing. I think it’s the responsibility of the recruiting department to assess people well. You know, when I think about employee engagement, how Gallup measures it is that the root is who you hire an employee engagement, you can’t Band-Aid fix that.

You have to assess upfront strong fits better, right to get people who are engaged at work, who do well who thrive who are a culture fit, and a skill fit. So I think recruiting is where the responsibility exists to create stronger fits. Now, you know, for once you get in now, internal mobility, that’s another department that often doesn’t exist in any role. And I think that that’s a huge downfall.

Like, I don’t know if I should call this out, but when I worked at Goldman, like they lost me when I went to Bridgewater because they should have put me into HCM and they didn’t. So even if a company wants to think about retention, then they would be smart to think about what does this how do I get to know my employees? How do I help them assess what they want? And how do I maybe find a place for them to be in this company to stay within this company. Especially for young professionals who are just figuring that out.

So I think there’s ways that it could benefit the company to find great fits to retain talent, etc, etc, if they can help. But I don’t know if it’s a responsibility, like, you know, it is the responsibility of a human being to think about their journey and their place in this world. It’s unfortunate that career coaching as an industry is not the best, right? It’s not the most popular, effective, cost effective, etc, etc. Right? So that’s just the unfortunate reputation.

And why there’s many reasons why career coaching isn’t, you know, as effective and scalable as it should be. But I think it’s it’s a person’s responsibility to take ownership of their journey, their outcomes, their job search. And by the way, also interviewing the company back. It’s a shared assessment of fit. So I don’t know if it’s really the company’s like responsibility, per se, but I think recruiting has a responsibility. Internal mobility has a responsibility, skill development. But look, it’s the age-old, like, how much better, you know, productivity and innovation do you get out of somebody when they are in the right seat? I mean, that’s where it, it becomes just a strategic, right for the company.

William 21:17
So three questions left. One is, I want to get your take on because we’ve talked about the personal development, excuse me, the professional development, and I’ve seen a lot of LMSs is a lot of content providers kind of blend. The of you know, okay, you want to be a Python developer, And oh, by the way, you want to be a, learn about drone racing? Well, we have courses on both. So one is clearly you know, that would be beneficial to the corporation and to yourself, but one’s personal, and it’d be beneficial, because you want to learn that, etc.

So I’ve seen that on the learning, training, and development side, as just kind of a move towards, okay, instead of providing content that’s just about their professional, blend in personal interest. So what are you seeing, from both your coaches and for your clients? In terms of kind of that blend? Or do you see a blend between professional and personal?

Rachel 22:20
It’s a really good question. Because oftentimes, people forget that their choices of hobbies can be a really great signal into potentially professional strengths. Yep. So I like it, because anytime you give somebody that choice, to develop in one way, shape, or form, it helps them assess what they want, what they’re great at, you know, learning new things.

And by the way, you know, a varied, multi-skilled individual becomes more creative. And, you know, I love that right? Advanced in any and all ways that you so choose. Um, but, you know, it really depends on kind of the nature of like, if you’re asking, how should a company help somebody determine what skills and courses to choose? You know, from a personal perspective, choose whatever you want.

But as it relates to professional skills, I think people often just say, Oh, I should learn Python, or I should learn Excel. And it’s like, again, don’t do anything that you think somebody wants you to do, like, what path do you want? And what skills do you need to get there? Right? It sounds so obvious. And yet, it’s like, we’re just trying to, you know, all these popular skill sets and code languages, and it’s like, but if you hate it, don’t force yourself to do it. Because then you’re just either not going to be good at it, you’re not gonna be happy, like, what’s the point of this? Right?

William 23:39
So let me deal with in this next first question, question, the stigma, or at least historic stigma of coaching. And it was that that was coaching was for a select group of people. The one percenters, the high potentials, high performers, people on a succession plan, etc. So coaching was for a specific group of people. And obviously, things have changed, thank God. But there, there still is some stigma around coaching. So first of all, destroy all that. Tell me, tell me, tell me, please tell me that things have changed. And things are better, but but also that that maybe this segment has moved, and it changed. And you’ve and you’ve seen it with your own eyes?

Rachel 24:25
Yeah. Well, the way I can destroy it is like, of course, there’s trends that coaching is increasing in popularity, and that’s because there’s lots of great startups out there that are trying to make it more accessible. So the trend is there, right? So I could tell you that much. But the other way I can destroy this for you is to try to help educate anybody listening, which is coaching is, sounds, you know, maybe fluffy, but learn about what it is before you create an opinion about anything, right?

But it can be one of the most powerful things. Like I want to go. I’m a coach, and I have a coach. I want a coach from now until forever, right? Like, think about this, okay, we have a therapist to understand who we are, why you know, our fabric exists, and maybe to undo some things that didn’t develop the right way. A coach is a matter of what’s on your mind, what are your goals? And how do we sort of push you forward? How do we make sure we’re looking at the life wheel of how you’re doing, how you’re feeling? What’s you know, what’s serving you? What’s not, and what do we do next? It’s very forward-looking.

And it’s extremely powerful, that a coach can very simply use active listening and questioning, to help you come to your own realizations. Push you forward versus, you know, what we typically do, it’s like, we think about our goals, and we feel it and we want to do it, and then we delay for years and like, why? That’s you wasting your own time and potential.

So a coach is literally there as your copilot in life. In whatever it is you want in career and you name it, there’s a coach for anything it could be, you could get specific with it. Or you could have a more broad holistic coach, and why would we not want that copilot? Because we’re constantly in our heads all day worrying, right? This is an objective sounding board, who can literally help you hear your own thoughts and push you forward? And I just can’t understand anything bad about that. Now, you know, do you have to assess what type of tool what type of price point and coach for you, etc? Of course, yes. But is it anything but valuable? I mean, it can only be a good thing. Like, that’s right.

William 26:35
Yeah. And I think one of the things that to think of it, for the audience, is to think of it as a way to be more inclusive when you recruit. So the, you know, again, thinking of this is a way for people to have a sounding board, and have someone that’s thinking about them and thinking about helping him get to that next place. You know, this is also another way to kind of when you when we recruit folks, this is another way of being inclusive. So I love it. Thank you for destroying that, A.

And the last thing I did I did have a question about is, do you see things in the data so so far, that supports people that are more, people that are more open and willing to be coached? Versus maybe people that are a bit more reluctant? And I’ll just throw out some stupid examples. But men in Texas. I’m from Texas so I’m making fun of myself. Men in Texas, in general, avoid therapy. Right? So that’s just kind of you can just go into trouble when you’ll find the same thing that I knew, should know to be true. Whereas women in Texas don’t.

So you have it’s, there is a kind of a gender disparity of like people that are open to it. And that’s what I’m doing with therapy, which is different, of course, do you see anything in the data right now there’s suggest, age, gender, any, anything that kind of pulls out to says, you know, what, this is the group of people that maybe they grew up with it? Or maybe they’re just more open to it, etc.

Rachel 28:21
So yeah, you know, I would have to refresh myself. I know, the International coach Federation does a great annual survey of like, Who’s, you know, receiving coaching and things like that, and age and gender and, you know, you could definitely see the trends there, from what I remember, you know, it was, there was definitely a millennial, you know, population. I would have to refresh myself on the gender, but I would probably assume, maybe slightly, if not more, trending female.

But look, there’s any number of factors we could talk about, and, of course, where somebody grows up and what they believe to be potentially helpful. But, you know, it’s our job as an industry to try to educate people on what we do and make it you know, I think it’s, it’s an individual’s job to know what is available to them in their life and to learn and explore and decide whether they feel that they are in a growth mindset and can grow and adapt or not, and whether somebody is interested in that, and there’s so many societal things we could talk about, you know, or another.

William 29:20
Well, and, you know, it did come from a good place because it’s, it’s dealing, you know, with the perception again. There’s really no bad outcomes here. You’re having someone review and help you and guide you and just be probative, to help you to see around the corner and things like that. There’s nothing bad about that. And again, kind of breaking down any barriers that might be there for people I think is just smart and for companies to think about that for their employees.

You and I could talk and solve all the world’s problems in about another hour. But I know that you’ve got to, you’ve got to get on and I. Rachel I absolutely appreciate you coming on the show and explaining. You’re basically explaining career exploration but also explaining a little bit more about WOKEN.

Rachel 30:08
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

William 30:11
Well, this was a fantastic show and thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. And until next time, thank you.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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