Flying high - coaching for success

As we continue our series of interviews with inspiring Individuals, former client Caroline Purdom tells Inspired Mums how our coaching helped her change careers after 19 years in the RAF. Caroline is now Bursar at the Prep School Davenies – a job which has given her the strong sense of community, influence and flexibility her coaching identified she needed.

Caroline PurdomCould you tell me more about how you started your career?

At the end of university I knew I wanted to go into administration management at some level but I was fairly indifferent about where I wanted to work.

The careers office suggested considering the Armed Forces. I decided to try it for a few years, travel a bit, discover more about myself and see where it would take me. And 19 years later I eventually walked out the gate and left the RAF.

What was your role in the RAF?

I was working at RAF Northolt and was effectively the Director of Support Services. My remit covered everything from finance, to personnel, training, property management, pastoral welfare and medical matters. I was responsible for a broad spectrum of areas, managing a team of 120 and a large budget. It had taken me 19 years to get to that role and I felt I was at the pinnacle of my career.

What made you decide to change career and leave the RAF?

I knew I didn’t want to go to Afghanistan and Iraq because of family reasons. My daughter was 4 and about to start school, and staying in the RAF would mean she would have to move schools every year or so. I suppose the driving force was that to progress my career in the Air Force would have meant a degree of compromise for my husband and daughter that I wasn’t prepared to make. We discussed it as a family and decided this was the time to go – if I left at this point I would have a chance to have a second career.

How difficult was it to leave the RAF?

The Armed Forces are a way of life, not just a job. It’s a real community, almost a family. Although it was entirely my decision to leave, I was left with a terrible void in my life – It felt almost like bereavement. My way of dealing with this was to try and go straight into another job. So on my last day of work in the RAF I signed a contract for a role in a new company. Unfortunately, I quickly realised this wasn’t somewhere I wanted to stay long term, so I decided to leave and took an 18 month career break.

How did you feel after your career break when you started to think about returning to work?

During a career break you do move into a different mindset and l felt I had lost some of my confidence. I really did question my judgment particularly as my first job after the RAF hadn’t been a success. I felt perhaps I didn’t know as much as I’d thought I knew because I’d only worked in one environment – the RAF.

What made you decide to go for career coaching?

When I was looking for jobs I was setting my sights too low – my husband told me I’d be bored in those roles and that I needed work in a dynamic environment where I could make a real difference.

To appease my husband - I went to a CMI talk about unlocking your career potential given by Inspired Mums. I loved Fiona’s approach, what she was saying really resonated with me so I contacted her afterwards to begin one to one coaching sessions.

What do you think was the main benefit of coaching?

The coaching restored my balance – helped me identify who my professional self was not just my “mum” self. It also enabled me to discover exactly what motivated me at work. Going through the coaching really increases your self-awareness and you learn things you didn’t know you knew about yourself. This allowed me to make good judgments about what jobs to search and apply for.

I think reassurance was one of the most important things that coaching gave me and this helped me to rebuild my confidence – which had taken a serious knock even though I’d only had 18 months out of a working environment.

How did coaching help to rebuild your confidence?

I was fairly dismissive of the value of my skills in the world of work outside of the Air Force. Fiona had a wider perspective – she wasn’t in the military so she looked at my skills from a completely different angle to how I looked at them. We worked together to identify my transferable skills so that when I was going for jobs and interviews I knew exactly how to sell myself.

Do you feel that your current role has fulfilled the needs you identified through coaching?

Yes –Davenies is a vibrant Prep School a charity with the right ethos. It allows me to be part of a wider community with a sense of belonging. Fiona helped me to understand that these were important considerations for me. The coaching also helped me realise that I don’t want to be the first leader, I want to be the first follower. I want to support the man or woman at the top – that’s my natural place. And my role as Bursar at Davenies allows me to do just that.

What advice would you give to others thinking about changing careers?

Don’t try and do it on your own. You need somebody who is your champion and is motivating you along the way to find the path. I know lots of people who have left the Armed Forces who use resettlement organisations to support them but you are just one of many. With career and confidence coaching, it’s the one to one element that is so valuable and makes such a difference. Fiona’s advice was invaluable - I really believe that a coach can help you remain more objective and true to your professional and personal needs.

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