Why You Need Your Own Career Advisory Board, with Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 310:

Why You Need Your Own Career Advisory Board, with Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill

Airdate: August 25, 2021

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. Go to macslist.org/topresume. 

You will often have to make career choices where you lack experience or knowledge. 

You can make these decisions by trial and error. Or, says today’s guest, you can turn to a group of trusted advisors.

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill is here to talk about why you need your own career advisory board.  

Nii Ato is a holistic career coach for professionals of color and allies. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hamilton College and master’s degrees in psychological counseling from Columbia University.

He joins us from East Orange, New Jersey.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Nii Ato. Let’s start with the basics. What is a career advisory board?

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Sure, I would say that an advisory board is a support system at the end of the day. A collection of individuals who you have a good relationship with that you trust to provide you helpful advice and guidance, and with the specific focus of supporting you with your career development and advancement.

Mac Prichard:

Is this a formal group that gets together in a downtown hotel conference room, or is it more informal than that? 

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Definitely a bit more informal, especially nowadays, during the COVID world, like, getting people in person is a little bit more tricky. But putting COVID aside, I would say that this is a bit more of an informal group. I don’t see the need to necessarily convene, you know, four or five people who might comprise your board for a regular monthly or every couple months meeting. It’s more so having access to these individuals that you can reach out to at a cadence that works for both of you regularly or more ad hoc, based on what your needs are.  

Mac Prichard:

And why do you need to do this? How can having a board like this help your career?

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

I think, first and foremost, none of us have all the answers to any of the questions we might face as we develop our careers. We don’t have all the experiences necessary. We don’t have all the data available necessarily at a specific time in order to come to a good, solid, well-thought-out decision in the face of a specific task or challenge as we progress in our careers. 

So having a career advisory board is like building your own brain trust. It’s like doubling or trebling your brainpower, depending on how many people you get on board, who can support you in thinking through issues when it relates to optimizing a difficult work environment, whether it comes to trying to advance your career and gain promotion, whether you’re trying to think through a transition, or how to really level up your career to attain that next level of leadership that you’re looking for.

Having this advisory board can give you the input, the guidance, and the support that you need to find success in tackling the challenges you will inevitably encounter in your career progression. 

Mac Prichard:

Is this something for…it sounds like something that maybe senior executives or high-powered professionals might do. But can this be helpful to anyone no matter where they are in their career, or whatever their occupation? 

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

One hundred percent. I would say that no matter your career level- I don’t care if you are a senior in college and you just graduated, and you’re getting to your first career, or you are a CEO with thirty-plus years of experience- I think everyone can benefit from having this team of advisors available to you.  

I was thinking about someone like Kobe Bryant. He’s one of the best basketball players who ever lived. May he rest in peace. Michael Jordan, I would say, was part of his career advisory board, and if someone like Kobe can partner with someone like Michael to get advice, how much more the rest of us? And so, from that perspective, I think that we can all benefit from having individuals who can speak into our career life if I can coin that term? And allow them to give us insights and feedback that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to if we relied purely on our own resources and our own intellect.      

Mac Prichard:

Who should you invite to join your board?    

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

It’s gonna certainly look different for different people. But I wrote about four, sort of, main building blocks for your advisory board. 

The first is having someone who I call a champion, and this is not my own language. I want to be fair about that. But these are some of the terms that you might have come across. A champion, this is someone who really believes in you and is someone who is going to be taking an active role in helping your growth and advancement. They might bring up your name in certain rooms in front of certain people and really try to present you for opportunities, and this is ideally someone working within your current company if it is a place you plan to be for some time.

Next, you might need a mentor, and this is someone who would possess a broad set of experiences and knowledge. Might be a fair bit older than you, potentially. Who’s able to give you really sage advice, help you to brainstorm, and help you to figure your way through challenging situations. 

I also think it’s really smart to build people around your level. So we can call those smart contemporaries, and so these are individuals who might be at the same career level as you who are in similar fields or similar positions. Who are going to be rising with you, and it’s good to have individuals you’re progressing with. So you can share your struggles in the trenches together as you move ahead, 

And then, finally, I would say you might want a professional role model. This is someone who might be anywhere from three to five to more years ahead of you in terms of their career stage, and someone who embodies where you’d like to one day be, and it’s someone you can lean on in terms of helping to navigate that upward trajectory to where you want to go.     

Mac Prichard:

Well, you mentioned having someone who’s in your company, and also someone in your profession. But where else do you find these people, Nii Ato?   

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

I think you find them in all different parts of your life, to be quite honest. There could be someone that you work out with in a CrossFit group, or you work out with at the gym who might be in a completely different field from you, but they’re smart, they’re trustworthy, and they give good advice. That could be someone you could tap to be on your advisory board. It could be someone who works in a completely different industry from you or a related industry, an adjacent one, I should say, that is in a different function, but you would be able to gather insights in terms of how their world works that might apply to how your world works.  

It comes in all sorts of different shapes and forms. I think it’s about having an openness to viewing people as potential resources in this way, and also an intentionality in the terms of thinking, “I would like to build this board. Who are people in my life that I think would make good candidates to bring into this group?”  

Mac Prichard:

And what kind of expectations should you have for people who agree to help you? I mean, as you said, you’re not meeting in a downtown hotel conference room four times a year with agendas and action items. But what are you asking them to do, and how often, and what kind of time commitment are they looking at? 

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Sure, I think it can really vary. So I’ll give the example of my wife. My wife is a clinical director right now. She’s a social worker, and she has maintained contact with a former boss of hers at her last full-time role. And they had a very good relationship when she was her employee, and now that she’s moved on from that organization, they both have, in fact, they’ve stayed in contact and speak regularly as my wife has recently been promoted to this clinical director role. And though the contact has been informal to start, they’re actually in the process of formalizing that relationship and for her former boss to become more formally her mentor. So they literally have a document that they are going to be outlining. Their goals, the purpose, the frequency of their meeting, and I just share that example to show how formal it could be should the two parties choose to formalize in that way.

I think it also could be a bit more informal. So, for example, using myself. I have a group that’s on a Whatsapp thread. We are four coaches in total who coach in different areas. But we’re all at around similar stages, so we talk through Whatsapp, sharing challenges, sharing issues. We meet, we try to meet monthly, but it doesn’t always happen, and so we meet when we’re able. So that cadence is not as steady, but we’re there for each other through Whatsapp when we can’t meet on a Zoom on regular cadence. 

Then addressing the second aspect of what you asked me. I think that what you’re asking your advisory board to do is to support you in a few different ways. 

I think they can help you when it comes to giving you objective feedback about what it is you’re going through or giving you a reality check. If you’re like when your head might be not necessarily in the right place, or you’re misreading a situation. 

I think an advisory board can give you positive reinforcement. We might not always be getting the messages that we need from the environment that we’re in.

I think they can also provide you with practical guidance. You know around your development, your job search, and all of that.

And then, in the most extreme of cases, they can provide you with problem-solving or crisis support, depending on what’s going on.

And so those are things that I think you can ask of your board in terms of ways they can support you.      

Mac Prichard:

So, you know who you want on your board and what you’re going to ask them to do. What’s the best way to approach someone, Nii Ato? What’s your pitch? What do you say to them?   

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

I think it’s important that when it is appropriate, you ask directly. I’ll share a scenario where I was actually turned down. But this is part of the process as well. This gentleman who was my supervisor during grad school during my internship, and we had a solid relationship, as you know, a supervisor and supervisee. And years later, when I was building my practice, I reached out to him to ask if he might be actually sorry this was before I started my practice. But I asked him if he would be interested in being my mentor, and so he very kindly turned me down. But that’s because he didn’t have the bandwidth to do so at the time, and he thought that mentoring was a very serious responsibility he wanted to be able to give his all to. 

And so you can ask very formally as I did you might get a yes you might get a no. But it’s important to make the ask. 

In other cases, it can be something that might evolve more organically. Where you build a relationship, you’re in steady contact, and it evolves on its own into becoming a mentor-mentee or an advisory board type relationship. Where you regularly check in with this person for insight for advice. You update them, all of that, and so I think even in that scenario, you could just say, “Hey, you know we’ve been doing this for a while. Can we continue this? I really like how this is going? Can you remain on my advisory board? Can you be part of my advisory board?” and kind of name what’s going on for yourself. 

I think the pitch really comes down to the relationship, and so I can’t prescribe a blanket pitch that everyone can use. I think it’s about trusting your instincts and reading the nature of the relationship, and you would see that there is already some built-up capital in the relationship. There’s a good rapport, there’s trust, there is vulnerability and openness, and when you have a few of those as baseline ingredients, I think those are what make for a solid advisory board membership and relationship. And then that can lead to a formal ask or just continuing as is, and having that relationship that just formed organically. 

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. We’re going to take a break, Nii Ato, and when we come back, I want to talk about how a career advisory board can help you during a job search. 

So stay with us.  

When we return, Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill will continue to share his advice on why you need your own career advisory board. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill.

He’s a holistic career coach for professionals of color and allies. Nii Ato earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hamilton College and master’s degrees in psychological counseling from Columbia University.

He joins us from East Orange, New Jersey.

Now, before the break, Nii Ato, we were talking about why you need your own career advisory board, who you might recruit, what you might ask them to do, and how to invite them, and sometimes, why they say yes, and sometimes, why they might say no. 

Once you have this board in place, during a job search, how can it be helpful to you as you look for your next position?   

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Sure, one of the things that an advisory board can provide that is beneficial, both inside and outside of a job search is emotional and psychological support. It’s so important to remember that we are human, whether we’re at home or whether we’re in the workplace. And we’re going to have emotional, psychological challenges that we try to progress through our careers, and most certainly in the incredibly challenging, annoying, frustrating, isolating job search process. And so, having a career advisory board, in this aspect, can help in a number of ways. 

Number one, with the motivation and the emotional support, when it comes to suffering the slings and arrows that are inevitable during a job search. In addition, in other more tangible ways, they can support you as far as networking is concerned. Your advisory board will, hopefully, know people who might be well-placed to assist you as you try to reach into, network to specific companies, or make introductions for you with individuals in your field or within your industry that can support you in that process. 

In addition, they can help you to figure out your positioning. Quite often, job seekers are far too close to their own experience, and it’s important to have an external perspective to figure out, “Well, what is my value? What am I really good at doing? What problems am I incredible at solving? How would you pitch me if you were my agent?” for example. These are questions and input you can get from your advisory board that might help you to sharpen your career platform and help you be more incisive as you go out there and speak to people and try to match your candidacy to a company’s needs.  

And then, in addition, in the job search, it’s important to have people that can help you adjust your tactics and your strategy as you go along because not everything’s going to work all of the time, and you may run into roadblocks. And being able to do a post mortem of a particular conversation or interaction might be helpful. So you can readjust and do better next time around. 

And so, an advisory board can be really instrumental in assisting you with the different challenges of a job search and helping you to be more effective as you go through.  

Mac Prichard:

What’s the best way to both communicate and work with your career advisory board during a job search? Do you try to get everybody together on a Zoom call? Should you deal with them on a one-on-one basis, depending on their areas of expertise? What have you seen to be effective?  

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Sure, I think that, you know, once again, I think it’s even just difficult based on people’s schedules and all of that to get people all together on one call. The one scenario I can see that working is maybe if the individuals on your advisory board know each other already, or if you are intentional in maybe trying to connect them, and that might be a way that you can add value to the people who are on your advisory board, by making introductions on their behalf, and it might be to other well-placed senior individuals who are also on your advisory board. And if you can maybe cultivate relationships between all of them or a few of them, that might allow you to convene a call all at once. But outside of that, I think that convening with them one-on-one usually works the best.

We have a plethora of options these days with all the tech, you know, at our fingertips to connect. Whether it’s Whatsapp, like I mentioned earlier, you know, your iPhone, iMessage, FaceTime, Zoom, Slack, Teams, you know, I could go on. And this is not a plug for all these companies, but there’s so many ways that you can keep connecting with individuals on your advisory board. And I think that it’s your job, as the advisee or the convener of this board, to provide updates as often as possible. I think it’s great to get back to your advisors with how the advice they gave you turned out once you took action. 

I think it’s important to try to add value to them where possible, as I said, providing connections to your own network. Send them interesting articles. Give them a heads up about a conference or any other information that they could find valuable. I think it should be an exchange of energy, not just you sucking up their energy and receiving all their advice, without ever giving anything back.         

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad you brought that up. I meet many job seekers who worry, particularly after they meet someone for an informational interview, who’s given some advice, perhaps some introductions, and they worry, “Well, I don’t want to bother this person, she’s very busy. I’ll just, I’ll let her be.” But it sounds like you’ve found it useful to not only ask for help but to look for ways to serve people on your board, too.

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Yeah, definitely. I was listening to your last episode with Lav Chintapalli. I hope I got her name correct.      

Mac Prichard:

You did.  

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

And- wonderful. And so I remember her, you know, saying that when you are trying to add value to someone, it just takes a little bit of research. And so she used you, Mac, as an example. If someone wants to build a relationship with you, maybe they could suggest a really great podcast guest that you could reach out to, that they have a personal connection to, and they can make that introduction. That’s a way to add value to Mac before you ever ask Mac for anything in return. 

So if you get to know the people, well, obviously you know the people, and you should know the people on your advisory board, well enough to try to figure out you know what gaps do they have that I can fill? It could be informational, and it could be relational. It could be, you know, pick your word. There are ways that you have available to you at immediate disposal to add value because you have value.

So I think the main takeaway is that job seekers should not be approaching, whether it’s an advisory board member, or a potential one, or a networking contact, with their hat in hand and a very diminished, you know, beggar-like position. Pardon my language, but I hope the idea’s coming through. But you have inherent value, and you should be taking confidence in that and own that. As you approach someone, know that you could also be of help to them and that you’re not just someone who’s looking to extract, but you’re looking to exchange value.   

Mac Prichard:

So you’ve gone through your job search, you’ve gotten an offer, and along the way, the members of your career advisory board have given you advice and coaching and helped with introductions. Now, the search is behind you. Do you discontinue your career advisory board, or how do you work with it going forward, Nii Ato?

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

 Great question. When I originally wrote this article about, you know, creating your own advisory board, I wasn’t even thinking about the job search as a stand-alone option or context within which to form this board. I was thinking much more broadly, much more long-term, and I don’t even think I mentioned the job search, quite honestly, in that original article. 

I really think of the advisory board as something that you can carry from the start to the finish of your career. It’s going to evolve over time. Members may come in and come out. There might be some fixed members who are there with you for the long haul. But I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be disbanded. I think it’s something that might expand or evolve over time. But I don’t think disbanding is a part of the equation at all because you are going to evolve, your needs are going to evolve, and you’re always going to need external input to support you. None of us are, you know, an island unto ourselves, and this is why having the external input is so valuable, and I don’t know at what point we would never not need that. 

Mac Prichard:

And how do you see career advisory boards changing over time in your work with your clients and with others in the field? How does it change over the years?

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Sure, I’ll use myself as an example. I have a few people I’m in contact with who I would call my advisory board. I recently proactively formed, I call it, like, a Resume Writing Best Practices Circle, and so I reached out to my partner in crime, Lezlie Garr. We do our monthly LinkedIn live together, Behind Hiring, and also a recent guest- that’s Teegan Bartos– and I approached them and said, “Hey guys, you know, we’re all resume writers, and, you know, I know that I don’t know everything about this craft. I’d love to get your input, your critiques, and feedback on what I’m doing, and I’d love to do the same for you.” 

And so this was me practically building people, building my advisory board with two people I think can speak into what I’m doing, and I can also speak into what they’re doing. Who are at my career level and have actually maybe been doing their coaching thing a little bit longer than I have, and so at this phase, as I’m only two years into my business, having that type of support is really important to me. 

Maybe a few years down the line, or maybe a year from now, we might no longer need this Resume Best Practice Circle, but it might evolve into us sharing, “How do we grow our business? How do we market ourselves better? You know, how do we build new products? New services that we can offer to our clients?” That might be the natural evolution of what our particular advisory board is talking about because the natural evolution of our businesses as a collective. 

And so for the individual, their needs are going to change over time, and so the advisory board might, you know, change. Maybe you change industries, and, you know, one or two advisory board members you had are no longer relevant. Not that they’re useless to you. But they can’t speak into this new industry that you’re in because they’re not part of it.  

And so, as you progress in your career, I think it’s about being- having a board that can be responsive to your needs at the time. I’m not talking about doing a reduction force on your advisory board, per se. But you know there might be some times where things will naturally progress and change, as they do with our friendships outside of our careers.  

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Nii Ato. Now, tell us what’s next for you?  

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

Sure, so I, in my private practice, you could consider me a job search coach, and so the bread and butter of what I do for my clients is around resume and LinkedIn writing. I offer job search networking strategy, as well as interview prep coaching, and those are the core of my offerings that I love to support people in, in telling their stories. 

In addition, I’m really excited to say that I’m trying/in the process of building a group coaching program. I really want to try and be able to support more people in their job search efforts, and so scaling up my services is about being able to serve at a group level, and that’s what I’m excited to be looking to do next, and hopefully launching that in late September or early October. This group coaching program around the job search.  

Mac Prichard:

And I know listeners can learn more about you and your services by visiting your website avenircareers.com. We’ll include the link to your site in the show notes, and I know you also encourage people to connect with you on LinkedIn, and I hope when they do so, they mention the show and how they heard you.

Now, Nii Ato, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why you need your own career advisory board?

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill:

I think it all boils down to, don’t do things alone when you don’t have to do them alone. I know that asking for help can be very challenging, for different people, for many different reasons. I know that men might tend to be, on average, a bit more averse to asking for help. Many of my clients are women, in fact, in my career coaching practice. Women are a little bit better about asking for help when they need it versus us guys. But ultimately, it’s important to realize that you don’t have to do it all alone and that again, going back to the first piece, you don’t have all the answers, and so it might take a bit of humility. It might take a bit of necessity. But I’d encourage everyone out there to start thinking through, “Well, where would I start if I was going to build this advisory board? Who do I have easy access to that can help speak into my life, who knows me well, who’s got good intentions and will give me truthful and balanced advice?” And this is something that can do you nothing but good as you try to progress your career and get to where you’re going. 

I think if you were to interview a very successful, you know, leader or CEO, they would speak to all the people along their path who helped them, and so if they can do it, why can’t we?   

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Peter Paskill. He’s an author, radio show host, and the founder of CareerMakers. 

Peter says there are basic job search principles that we all need to know. Once you understand them, your job search not only gets easier, it gets you the results you want.

Join us next Wednesday when Peter Paskill and I talk about the ten truths of job transition.

Until then, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is brought to you by Mac’s List. Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson writes our social media posts. Our sound engineer is Will Watts. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo. This is Mac Prichard. See you next week. 

   

Networking is a great way to get input as you progress in your career, but networking alone can’t help you make specific decisions. The best way to get personalized advice, says Find Your Dream Job guest Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill, is by surrounding yourself with people who are invested in your life. These relationships can be formal or informal, and you can form them in your company and outside it. Nii Ato suggests being direct when asking someone to serve on your advisory board. And remember, no one goes it alone so ask for the help you need. 

About Our Guest:

Nii Ato Bentsi-Enchill is a holistic career coach for professionals of color and allies.

Resources in This Episode: