The transition from college to the professional world can be full of uncertainty; the same goes for changing careers. Even if you have a good idea of what you want your career path to look like, you will inevitably face bumps along the road. But you don't have to take on these issues by yourself.
Creating a personal advisory board can help you make the best choices and guide you when you feel unsure of how to move forward. You'll not only benefit from the wisdom of their experience, but you might also be inspired to reach for bigger and better things than you would have on your own.
On a more practical level, a personal advisory board can also help you network and make connections that could be vital to your professional growth (especially during a job search or career shift). Using your network wisely can set you apart from what could be a very large pool of applicants. Or if you're changing careers, your network can help jump-start your transition by providing information, insights, and introductions within your new chosen field.
While your board is really just an informal grouping of advisers, mentors, and people you trust—having them sign contracts would definitely be overkill—approaching its creation in a structured, professional manner will ensure you have a range of wisdom and connections to draw upon.
Figure Out What You Want—And What You Need
First, you'll want to determine what you want to get out of your personal advisory board. In order to do this, take an honest look at your circumstances. What areas of your life do you feel most confident about and what areas could use improvement? What are the specific skills you want to learn more about? Are they hard skills, like how to spruce up a résumé, or soft skills, like how to become a better communicator? What steps do you think you need to take to make the transition from where you are to where you want to be?
Once you've given some thought to your current situation, create a profile of your ideal advisers—people who can fill in any gaps you've identified. While it would be nice to get Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Oprah to assist you with your career decisions, chances are their schedules will be pretty full. So where do you start?
You'll certainly want to have at least one person who has been successful in the field you're hoping to enter. But don't be afraid to add people you consider to be smarter or more experienced than yourself from different fields or professions. Such people will provide an outside perspective that could help you approach a situation in a way you wouldn't have thought of on your own—and they may be helpful networking resources.
Now, it's time to approach your prospective advisers. Remember that even if the role of adviser isn't an actual job, you'll still be asking for a commitment of time and energy—and some people may not have enough of either resource to sign on. You may not end up with your dream team, but if you keep your candidate profile in mind, you'll still have a useful board.
Once you've identified what you're looking for, think about people you already know with those qualities—an inspiring professor, a successful family member, a supervisor or boss you'd like to emulate. You can also reach out to people you have a connection with and see if they can put you in contact with people they know. And remember, your board isn't set in stone; keep your eyes open in the course of your day-to-day life—you may hit it off with someone that would make a great addition.
When you talk to someone about becoming an adviser, be professional and personable—keep in mind that these people may be putting you in touch with business contacts. And make sure you're very clear on what the responsibilities of the role will be; you don't want someone agreeing to become a part of your board without understanding exactly what the role entails. Be clear about how and when you'll want to meet with your advisors, what you'd like to discuss with them, and if there are any other potential responsibilities, such as using them as a reference.
A personal advisory board of people you trust, with a diverse set of talents and credentials, is a great resource you can rely on not just as you start you professional career, but as you work your way up the ladder as well. Their knowledge is out there—you just have to take advantage of it.