Its spring and its job hunting season. University and High School students all over are graduating and looking forward to their next new venture. In the midst of this sea full of applicants, there are people interested in changing their career path. With a degree in one hand and hope in the other, thousands of people are gearing up for a journey of online applications, in-person interviews and an anticipating time for a callback. But all too often there is a pivotal piece that’s forgotten in the process, you.
Whether you’re a job seeker, someone who wants to grow in their career or an entrepreneur, self-presentation and personal development is important. Personal development yields professional development. If you know who you are, what you like to do, and what you value, you’ll be able to work and build with purpose. If you know your strengths and skill set you know what you bring to the table. So instead of just dressing professionally to get a job, you ARE a professional.
I believe half of what holds people back is their lack of knowledge. Not resources, but knowledge. They want to move forward, but they just don't have the "know how" to do so. As it's said, people don’t know what they don’t know; but with the help of resources and connections with people who are knowledgeable and willing to teach, it’s an opportunity to move forward instead of remaining stagnant. There are qualified people and services out there that are designed to help in whether it is searching for a job, promoting your business, or bettering your skill set; and sometimes, help is really just a phone call away. Getting around people who can coach and encourage you is a perfect opportunity for growth and today, we’re going to talk to one of them.
With us today is Toni Cunningham, a personal/professional development consultant and the Managing Director of Per Scholas, a non-profit organization committed to creating opportunities for individuals from often overlooked communities.
What do you think is the biggest pitfall when it comes to trying to progress in a career and/or business?
I would say lack of understanding. The biggest challenge we have nowadays is that there are some foundational things that people typically get whether they get it from their mom or dad, even if you’re not following it, it gives you a solid foundation, then you have something to build upon. So if you want coaching, the basics are already covered. Now we’re running into people who don’t have the basics. Individuals who have the best of intentions, desire, and motivation but just don’t have the foundation. Now you have to start with things that is to some people, no brainers.
How did you get started with your company?
Years ago, I got involved with coaching and mentoring with girl organizations. I always wanted to help little girls build confidence and self esteem since those were the things that I struggled with as a young girl. Image and personal brand is a part of that. My thought was if I can help others, they wouldn’t have to go through what I went through. I started out doing volunteer work. Then, people would ask me to talk to their daughters, or help them with their own look. So I started off doing things just because I loved it. Then eventually, when I left Corporate America, I decided to start my company. Once I had the time to really explore it I understood that there was a whole market for life coaching, image consulting, and building your brand. Not just people who are rich who get an image consultant but more about people who are in transition and want to “figure it out”. What is my brand? What is my image? How do I want to present myself? Most often the answers are already inside of the person, they just need support to bring them out.
What resources do you recommend to individuals who want to better themselves in their area of interest and presentation but lack the money to do so? For those who are building right now
I suggest following bloggers to start. People blog on all types of things related to professionalism. I would also say they should find a mentor, someone who is where they want to go; someone who they can emulate. When I work with clients regarding image and style, I share ‘Toni’s Top 10’. There are 10 essential items that you should absolutely have in your wardrobe. These items are things you absolutely have to spend money on, no cutting corners, as you will be purchasing staple pieces to last for several years.
Black pencil skirt, structured blazers, black slacks are all key items that you spend more for. These are the things you need to find that are high quality. Your blouses, tanks, accessories will come and go. It’s called investment shopping. Some things you’re going to be replenishing like white button ups but some things you want to get every 2 years. Thrift store shopping is good, however you should invest in your basics and thrift for your “pop” of color.
What are some tips that would be helpful for individuals who have a business?
Before you put yourself out there, be sure to have your back office set up. If you’re as compelling and passionate about your product as you should be, that passion is going to draw people to immediately look you up. In the age of social media and technology, people expect to be able to ”google it” to find out what they want to know. All the pieces have to be put together. One of the worst things you can do is over promise and under deliver, as you only get one chance to make a first impression. I tell people you have to plan from A to Z. Not A to P, not even A to S. Its okay to tweak the plan as you grow and learn, but people are so impatient now to get out there, that they don’t realize that if they go out there half-baked it’s going to hurt you more than if you would’ve just taken your time and had a full launch. I’m big on strategy and infrastructure because activity doesn’t mean productivity. While you are birthing your own “baby”, figure out who your village should be. Is it a business coach? Is it a financial adviser, a branding coach? Make sure you have your team, and then listen to them.
What resources have you used to aid in your own development?
Lot’s of trial and error LOL!. I really do think that wisdom comes from trial and error. Then I started following outside resources. There’s a life coach, her name is Valorie Burton, and I stumbled upon her book “Listen to Your Life” which talks about things you’ve been through and experienced, good or bad, and how you need to start to piece them together and see what the common theme is. It may reveal your purpose, your personality, or what you attract and then you can figure out from there, once you have that knowledge, what shifts you want to make. So I started reading stuff about purpose and I really tried to identify what my point is so I could begin to operate in that. Reading books, listening to motivational speakers, and TED talks. I also read a Myles Monroe book called In Pursuit of Purpose; it totally shifted my perspective and ignited my passion to walk in my purpose.
Any last advice?
Be true to yourself. It took me a while to get it, and I wish I would’ve gotten here sooner, however my journey is my journey for a reason. Figure out your purpose early and then be true to yourself. I think we compromise way too much for various reasons. Whether we want to be liked or loved, so we try to conform to what we believe someone likes or what is acceptable so that we can have the love, or position we think we want. But what people are really attracted to is authenticity. Be authentic. Figure out who you really are authentically, be that person and grow that person.
Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. Proverbs 22:29