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One of the toughest careers around

One of the toughest careers around


Our career coach talks about how to navigate the ultracompetitive world of real estate and what to look for in a professional career counselor

Dear Ed,After relocating from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale last winter, I bounced between bartender gigs and waiter jobs. A buddy of mine who is a local real estate salesperson talked to his boss (the real estate agency owner), who has given me a job as an agent in his office, basically taking a chance on me.Six months later I've only sold a couple of small condos, which hasn't put any great amount of money in my pocket, and I'm finding it difficult to make ends meet. Sometimes I think, from what I'm seeing in the field, that the surge in South Florida real estate has hit a plateau and that I missed out on riding the wave of low mortgage rates and the run-up in housing prices. This leads me to believe that I chose an industry profession at the wrong time.I would really appreciate hearing whether you believe my career assumptions are true--that it's time to throw in the beach towel on this line of work.Many thanks for your thoughts,Handy Man SpecialDear HMS,Real estate sales wouldn't necessarily make it to my top 10 "mad cool" careers list. It's a tough business to break into or get to the point where you make the big money. Statistics show that, on average, less than 20% of real estate agents make a middle-class salary in this highly competitive line of work. And talk about competition: Less than 20% of all the brokers in a given agency make 80% of all the deals--this 20% are the well-established agents. Consensus agrees that to get to this moneymaking level, agents have to work outrageously long hours and that seven days a week without a break is usually the norm for them.Let's look at the basics of real estate sales wages: As you are finding out the hard way, it is normally either commission-based with a small salary draw, or 100% commission-based. Depending on your sales location, it could be difficult to maintain a comfortable lifestyle based on commissions. Congratulate yourself on closing two condo deals in your short career; usually it takes six to 12 months to close deals and see commissions, so you need to assume that you'll have to support yourself in other ways before you receive any commission checks. A tough task to manage, to say the very least.A few real estate salespeople here in the New York City area (still a very hot real estate market after many years), whom I've spoken to claim to have had another banner year in 2004. However, they can't guarantee this momentum will last forever, and they are concerned about prospects. The federal government continues to raise interest rates, and we have yet to see how these increases will affect the housing market. Perhaps your experiences are signs that you should reconsider all your career opportunities.In closing, if you're not willing to accept the real estate industry's nature, it's probably advisable to consider career alternatives that you are willing to accept.Dear Ed,I am in the process of moving home and looking for a new career. I have experience working in security- and surveillance-type jobs: I spent four years as a surveillance supervisor in a casino, one year as casino security, and one year as a correctional officer. You've written about how one needs several parts to successfully start a career path, and I was hoping you could further clarify. I have thought about going back to school, but I have absolutely no clue what to go for. Should I talk with a career coach? How do I find a good career coach to work with?Thanks for your advice and any help you can give,TwixterDear T,Regarding career coaching, the best advice I can give is to consult a known and established career coach before committing your time and money to any coach or program. Seek those with the professional and educational background in specific career coaching processes. Just as it's always best to consult with physicians before beginning a diet or exercise program, the same holds true for career coaching initiatives.Given your situation, you may be feeling confused, stuck, or that certain issues or behavioral patterns are holding you back. Perhaps you are wondering if you're at an impasse in life. Whatever the reason, you've decided it's time for a change. So what to do about it? The answer, my friend, is to ask yourself some important questions.Career coaching and so-called life coaching are unregulated industries. I've seen individuals with no related background whatsoever take a "How to Become a Coach" weekend seminar or home-study course and hang their shingle as a career coach, career counselor, career adviser, etc. Information is your best friend, so ask questions, and don't feel apologetic or defensive about asking---how else can you assess your options and arrive at an educated, informed decision?You deserve to know enough to feel comfortable or not about a potential coach and/or coaching program you consider. You also need to know what you're looking for. These are your starting points.--Why are you seeking a career coach? The more clearly you define how you want your current employment situation to change, the more likely you are to find a coach or program that supports your needs. Whether you want to make more money, experience more fulfillment, gain greater skill-set opportunities, whatever--define your needs. If you cannot, that is your first goal. Find out who you are and where you want to go.--What have you already tried to solve your career problems? Is there something that you haven't thought of? This could mean a weekend workshop or seminar, or conventional therapy or counseling with a licensed mental health professional.--What goal(s) would you like to achieve through career coaching? It's best to have one or two (but no more than two) primary goal objectives you'd like to immediately work on. Once again, the more clearly you can define your wants and needs, the better.--Why are you considering a particular career coach or coaching program? Is someone pushing you? Choose for yourself. While a positive change in your lifework could benefit those around you as well as yourself, be sure you are attending for you, not someone else.--Upon what foundational principles does the career coach or program work? Are they secular or faith-based? Do they contain a spiritual component? Are they confrontational and authoritarian or supportive and compassionate? Are these principles accepting and inclusive? No matter what your objectives are, coaches should be able to clearly articulate their principles. Be careful of programs based on only one person's teachings and those associated with highly structured dogma.--What is the coach's professional and educational background? In general, the greater the program's depth and scope, the more important the coach's background needs to be. If a coach promises dramatic lifework-changing results, you should have complete confidence in that coach's professionalism and ability to deal with emotionally charged topics. Ask about their professional and educational credentials.--Do potential clients undergo a screening process before beginning coaching? What kinds of people go through this program? Are prospective clients screened for suitability? Under what circumstances are people accepted or turned down? Beware of programs whose basic screening processes do not seem stringent, such as merely checking whether you can afford the program fee.--How qualified is the career coach? Is he or she formally trained? Has he or she worked in a relevant capacity? Any one career coach who takes on a client should have appropriate educational training and professional experience. They should also understand the ethical, legal, and psychological implications and responsibilities of working with clients.--Have you thought through the possible consequences of your choices? Anytime you consider a life-altering decision, base your decision on as much information as you can reasonably obtain. Just as you would engage in research and soul-searching prior to financial investments, attending a school, or making a big purchase, apply that same approach to career coaching decisions. You'll find it much easier to trust a coach or a program when your questions are met with direct, responsive answers.The following list of red flags are what to look out for concerning the above points. If one of these red flags jump out when you're considering a career coach or program, step back--ask more questions and resist pressure to make a decision. If you discover two red flags, I recommend that you avoid the coach or program like the plague. If you encounter:--secrecy about the coach's or program's processes and techniques (Note: This is very different from protecting the confidentiality of any participant's work, which should be absolutely sacred.)--your own uncertainty about fee structures and hidden costs--their refusal to talk to or coordinate with your therapist or counselor--your own uncertainty about the coach and/or the coach's content--combative, defensive, or dismissive responses to your questions--vague or overgeneralized promises of participants' successes--hard-sell tactics, or--pressure to recruit and/or refer more clients.So how do you inform yourself before deciding on a coach and/or program? Get on the Internet, go to the library, discuss pros and cons with people you trust and respect. And remember, when you face any potentially life-changing decision, fear and anxiety are natural reactions. However, if after all your work you still have fears about the coach or program's content, keep looking.Indeed, pay attention to your gut reaction when you talk to a potential coach. What is your emotional read on that person? If words like integrity, professional, respectful, ethical, trustworthy, or skilled come to mind, these are good signs. If words like salesperson, defensive, evasive, pushy, slick, or aggressive come to mind, you should probably keep looking.If you are in therapy or a 12-step program, please discuss with your therapist or counselor how the career coach or program will affect your therapeutic progress; listen carefully to their opinions, assessments, and advice. They might be unaware of specifics about the coach or program, so it's a good idea for them to inquire about them. Ideally, you and your therapist or counselor can coordinate with the coach/program to help reach your desired goals. If you decide on a particular career coaching choice, plan to continue your therapy as aftercare and support.Of course, we haven't come to the issue of fees and costs: Career coaching programs can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands. If one really helped you to consciously create the career of your dreams, what would that be worth to you? Only you can answer that. (Program length varies as well-usually from one day to several months.) No matter what the financial cost, realize that you must invest a considerable amount of time and emotional energy as well.If a career coach purports quick fixes and fast results, rely on a healthy dose of skepticism. Get familiar with the program's content and look over two or three coaches (at minimum) and their staff (if they have any). Your growth is a process--one coach, process, book, or philosophy cannot possibly move you from where you find yourself today to optimum career happiness in a short period of time. Anticipate that your growth will be accompanied by plenty of struggle and resistance, accomplishments, and successes.If you choose to be an informed advocate for your career goals and objectives, you will end up finding the best coach or programs to assist you in your quest for self-authenticity. And be patient and persistent; look not only for coaches with appropriate skills but those who possess integrity and commitment. These coaches will keep your best interests at heart.

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Ed Vladich