As I watch my clients and the MBA students I coach progress in their careers, I’ve learned that one key to being successful is vulnerability. Although it may seem counterintuitive, being vulnerable is actually fundamental to reaching your professional goals.
When searching for a job and building a career, one of the most critical things you have to do is to talk about your job search and your career aspirations with other people (aka: networking). Not only do you need to initiate these conversations with people in your circle, you must reach out to people you don’t know, and this requires you to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to embrace rejection, and to move outside your comfort zone.
It’s a proven fact: People who network as part of their job search consistently produce superior results compared to those who sit comfortably at home and apply for jobs online. Now I’m talking real networking here – having meaningful conversations with professionals in your field, not showing up at a local networking event and stuffing your face with cheese in the corner of the room (I’ve certainly been guilty of this fake networking in the past).
Yet no matter how many people I teach the importance of networking to, only about 20% of the audience puts the pedal to the metal and takes action. Why is this? If you know taking a particular action will give you a huge advantage in reaching your goal, why wouldn’t you go out and do it?
Because it’s uncomfortable. For some, it’s excruciatingly uncomfortable. Reaching out to people you don’t know requires you to embrace being vulnerable. Sending an email for help, advice, or time from someone you don’t know puts you in a place where it’s easy to feel judged, and even flat-out rejected. What if they ignore my email? What if they think I’m not important enough to meet with? What if they do meet with me and then tell me I don’t have the right skills to succeed in the field? What if they simply don’t like me?
When someone lands a great job, I often hear people around them saying, “Wow, they are so lucky that happened for them.” But what I can see from the perspective of a Career Coach is that it wasn’t luck at all. It was months and months of hard work. They were willing to be vulnerable and get rejected and to learn about themselves through the process. At times they even changed themselves to reach their goal, whether it be making more eye contact or communicating more directly.
Brene Brown describes vulnerability as, “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Vulnerability in your professional life looks like this: Reaching out to someone you don’t know and asking them for an informational interview when they may ignore you, or even worse, blatantly say no. Applying and interviewing for your dream job, a job that requires you to stretch beyond your current ability and convince the hiring manager that you can do something you’ve never done before. Asking your boss for a well-deserved raise or a promotion. Negotiating your salary and standing in your worth. Asking a friend of a friend for the inside scoop on a company you are targeting in your job search.
Job searching requires you to put down your guard and allow yourself to be judged – and that can be terrifying. Some people fear that rejection so deeply; they give up before trying for what they really want (but are uncertain they can achieve). Instead, they settle for the job they know they can get, because it feels safer.
In the short term it is safer, but in the long term there is a MASSIVE risk you take on when you decide to stay in your comfort zone. You risk waking up one day at the end of your career and realizing that not only did you not live your dream, you never even tried. And regret, my friend, is a terrible life companion.
In order to grow as a professional you have to be willing to do something imperfectly, to stretch beyond your zone of certainty and comfort.
Now being vulnerable in the professional world doesn’t mean that you should share personal details of your life with anyone and everyone. It certainly would not be wise to tell a hiring manager during an interview that you were fired from your job three years ago for being late every day. Just like on a first date, you still need to present the best version of yourself.
To achieve vulnerability, you’ve got to think not only about what could go wrong, but also about what could go right! Think about the possibility that you could ask for an informational interview or go for your dream job – and actually get it. Sure, you could get a no, but you could also get a big YES. And we don’t know the answer until we ask.
The reason we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable when searching for a job is that we need those answers. We need to know if it’s a yes or no so we know in which direction to move forward. We need to know if we are close or totally off base when we are applying for jobs. We need to know what it’s really like to work in a particular industry before we focus on job search, and the only way to find out is to go outside your comfort zone and talk to people in that field.
So today I challenge you to get outside your comfort zone and allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Action Steps for Success
- Today, (not tomorrow), today – email someone you are connected with on LinkedIn who works in your field and ask them to get coffee with you to catch up. If you don’t know them that well, tell them you noticed you are in the same field and would love to hear more about what they do and where they work.
- If they respond with a yes, meet the person for coffee. If they don’t respond or say no, contact another person until someone says yes (someone will say yes).
- Talk about your job search or your career aspirations and talk to them about theirs.
- Write a comment below and tell me how it went!