Who's That Gal: Career Coach, Jenn Walker Wall

Name:  Jenn Walker Wall    
Age:  33
Occupation:  Lab Manager and Research Associate at MIT; Founder + Career Strategist at Work Wonders Coaching + Consulting
Hometown: Keene, NH
Current ‘hood:  Adams Village, Dorchester
Favorite winter activity:  Ice skating
Currently reading:  The Alchemy of Race and Rights by Patricia Williams

Tell us a little about your background, how did you find yourself in a career of helping people with their careers?

I was working as an administrative assistant while going to graduate school at night. Part of my job was to support our Division Director as she hired adjunct faculty, but there was no structure or process in place for hiring or on-boarding, even though we were filling the same roles every semester. I can’t work in chaos so I jumped in to create some new systems so that our faculty were hired, paid and felt connected to our work and community. Eventually, I was tasked with doing that for the entire undergraduate college. I didn’t have any HR experience. I just figured it out as I went along and ended up on search committees and serving on our Affirmative Action committee.

When I returned to research a few years later (to actually use my graduate degree!) I realized I missed talking to people about their work. I started helping people with resumes and cover letters as a freelancer. It’s now grown considerably and now I work with people on a whole range of work related issues: launching a strategic job search, implementing work-life balance, making big career transitions, transitioning into new positions, dealing with difficult work situations, launching businesses or non-profits. It goes way beyond just helping people write their resume!

Fundamentally, I’m a problem solver and communicator. A lot of people don’t know what it’s like to sit on the other side of the table and read hundreds of applications for the same job or to interview a dozen candidates in a week so I love being able to share that experience with talented and ambitious professionals so that they can express themselves in a way that feels authentic to who they are and also meaningful to the hiring manager.

What does a day in the life of a career coach look like?

I have a day job that I really enjoy so Monday through Friday, I head to Kendall Square to my job at MIT. Sometimes I send out some emails to clients and tidy up some loose ends while I’m in the office, but I try to keep a streamlined business and compartmentalize as much as possible! I work at the Sloan School of Management and many of the researchers I work with focus on issues that my clients are experiencing so even though it sounds like I have a lot going on, there’s definitely a synergy between my day job and my consulting work.

I have to take advantage of evenings and weekends to make everything work. Often, I have clients booked 3-4 nights a week. Anything creative - writing, planning, curriculum building - has to be done in the morning, usually on the weekends, but I often take vacation days for big projects. I also have an assistant who has been a tremendous help at helping me maintain my site.

I try to take Saturdays off completely so that I can hang out with my husband and I do all of our cooking for the week on Sundays. Cooking is very relaxing for me so I like to give myself the time to do it on the weekends. That way I don’t feel rushed after work and before seeing clients. Working out is also really important to me so if I have a free night or a late client, I will sign up for something on ClassPass (I love B-tone!). 

There isn’t a really typical day, but I do try to focus on taking care of myself and the important relationships around me. My work is important, but not as important as my health or time with friends and family. It just takes some planning to fit everything in!

What has been the biggest challenge in launching your consulting business?

There have been lots of challenges! It was very scary to invest my own money and time into this business. And even though the business is growing and I’m feeling successful, every level of growth feels like it requires even more of a commitment. 

In a sense, it hasn’t stopped feeling like a risk. I’ve just grown more accustomed to making decisions that kind of scare me sometimes!

….and the most rewarding aspect so far?

Hands down, it’s watching my clients achieve their goals. I love getting texts and emails from clients where they land an interview or a job offer or they feel really proud of how they dealt with a difficult situation at work. 

This year I also launched small group workshops. That’s been really cool because I get to see people at different stages of their careers pitching in to help each other in the group setting. I love seeing a real sense of community emerge organically. 

What piece of advice do you find yourself offering most?

I’ve found that people tend to do a lot of black and white thinking when it comes to their careers. They think, “This job will make me happy” or “It will make me miserable.” Jobs are usually more complex than that. They might provide financially but not resonate with your values or vice versa. You might really like the work you’re doing but not feel a fit with your colleagues.

So I say a lot, “A bad day doesn’t mean you have a bad job.” But pay attention to those bad days because there is probably a pattern there that can tell you a lot about what you value and how you’re developing as a professional. And you’ll want to be super clear about your values and who you are as a professional before you start looking for your next job!

What’s next for Work Wonders?

In December, we’ll be partnering with Gilt City Boston. I’m really excited to share our services with their audience and to provide them at such competitive prices. If you’re looking for a career professional to work with, make sure you keep an eye out for that!

I am also upgrading the Work Wonders Career Bootcamp and we’re looking to grow the sense of community that’s evolved from our events. We’ll definitely be offering more group style workshops, both in Boston and online.

And of course, I am very excited to join Just Us Gals to blog about all things career, goal-setting and productivity related! I’m looking forward to taking questions from your readers and helping them take their next steps in both work and life.