Forbes Coaches Council member John O’Connor came to coaching via a road that wound through creative writing, academia, and military service. After obtaining an MFA in creative writing, teaching for a while, and spending time as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, a serendipitous encounter with a resume-writer led John to enter career services. Now in his twenty-eighth year as president of CareerPro, Inc., John offers career services, corporate and individual outplacement, and talent and HR consulting.
John has always been driven by two desires: to improve himself, and to help others. Whatever knowledge he gains, he shares. As a kid, for example, he played in several sports; as an adult, he coached a new generation in those sports, and led some floundering adult “beer league” teams to champion status. He brings the same priorities to his work as a coach.
After twenty-eight years in the industry, John has accumulated plenty of experience, obtained multiple certifications, and demonstrated a long-term commitment to many, many clients — but he still likes to work “one project, one person, and one relationship at a time.”
“Success is a planned event,” John says. Below, he gives us some insight into the ways he works toward success and helps his clients to do the same.
I advise companies on talent and individuals on key career moves, and I speak to groups about talent best practices. I’ve met CEOs who were laid off; people transitioning from the military to civilian roles; and people experiencing great anxiety about life, career, and many, many other challenges.
We [at CareerPro] build relationships with our clients one organization at a time and one person at a time, helping them find a better way forward. By creatively building outplacement services, individual career search, and personal brand-building campaigns for clients, we create lasting value for people and urge our clients to pursue a mission for their business and their career based on strong values.
We approach each engagement knowing it really matters. We expect the people we help and coach to be better after a layoff, to respond positively to change. We create and build new networks and new ecosystems for our clients and encourage them, letting them knowthat setbacks are the perfect time to grow. From a coaching point of view, we push them to live up to their own standards and goals. We recognize career transition as possibly the best time to create change that positively matters.
On Finding Your Purpose
It sometimes takes a long time to realize your purpose, but you have one. Don’t stop pursuing it. I have heard this from so many different sources, and it has been the theme of how I coach people and lead groups.
It is never too late to work on your craft and mission. Your calling should not change even if your circumstances do. Hope reigns stronger with this mindset. Every year we get older, and every move in our lives impacts us. We are, and I am, not the same as I was, but I always need to be better — and better equipped. The journey to improve yourself and become better at what you are called to do should not diminish with time. I hope I continue to keep that attitude up.
I think being pretty relentless about pursuing goals may be my edge. Like my clients, though, I need to be sure I am focused on the right goal,and life can distract. But making sure those goals are worth fighting for, and are the best things to compete for. is the key. I think I can get caught up in being competitive about things that don’t matter. I try not to anymore — sports, hobbies, negative people, short-term setbacks. Things that matter to me are my family, my son’s special needs, my legacy, and my ability to help others in a greater way.
On the Rewards of Helping Others
My clients always provide feedback and the kind of conversations that lead me to believe we are making a profound impact on people — one person, and one organization, at a time.
When someone says and really means “thank you,” it matters to me and to anyone associated with us. (Thank you for providing me career guidance. Thank you for taking care of our employees whom we had to lay off. Thank you for helping us avoid HR issues, lawsuits, and problems. Thanks for challenging me and helping me become not just better at career change or advancement, but a better person.) Those occasional meetings, conversations, and moments of truth and trust matter. I am not looking for them and am humbled by them when they come.
One of my most introverted coaching clients took a fantastic job and he, after a month or so, demanded we go to lunch. We talked about the crazy ups and downs of rejection, interviews, challenging people, his life, his kids, and marriage. This big tough guy? We did something to change his life; gave him a sense of hope, he said. Wow. I thought I was just doing my job. I was. That is humbling.
At any age and experience level, you can make a big, positive difference for people and their lives. People are difficult. People have issues. But people matter. Their hope and future matters. We strive to make a difference every single time and with every single person.