When you picture the day-to-day job of a career coach, plenty of things come to mind. Helping clients polish their resumes or online profiles. Preparing them for interviews or negotiations. Even just being a resource for them for all the strange questions that come up during the job search process. For me, that also draws on my years of experience as a recruiter and hiring manager – giving my client the “inside scoop” on what the person on the other side of the desk is likely to be thinking. A career coach can help in a a lot of ways!
However, there’s far more to my relationship with my clients than that. I would find my job pretty boring if all I did was review resumes all day. Instead, I find my job exciting and exhilarating because I get to do so much more. Here are a couple of out of the box ways a career coach can help you with:
Turning Ideas into Specific Action Plans
One of the common ways that successful clients get the most out of their relationship with any career coach is by turning good-but-general advice or wisdom into a specific action plan for their circumstances. You see, there’s a lot of good advice out there. Plenty of people are kind enough to dispense wisdom and experience in the form of articles, books, etc. But it’s really hard to figure out which pieces of the advice are good for your specific situation. And how to apply it in exactly the right way for you.
You’re a unique person with a unique circumstance. Unfortunately, mass-market advice naturally has to be written to a broad audience and may lack nuance. Taking the vast pool of advice floating around out there and sifting through it for the gold and then turning it into actionable advice for my clients’ specific situations is a large – and satisfying – part of what I do.
Which means that when you find a great piece of general advice, your career coach can help you strip away the layers. They help you find the best actionable elements, and figure out how they can best apply to your unique situation.
Maybe you’re stuck in what I call “motivation fog”. This is when you’ve surrounded yourself with positive voices and influences, but it all blends together. Instead of being helpful, it becomes a “fog” where you can’t decide which thing to latch onto and work towards; nothing has substance. Lots of my clients are stuck there when we first start working together. Getting out of that “fog” into a more action-based situation is a great use of your career coach.
Creating Your Own Agenda
Throughout your life, you’re likely to have many people you discuss your career with. Starting with parents or other family members, school guidance counselors, professors, co-workers, mentors, friends. Dozens if not more. Do you know what they all have in common? They all have an agenda that is at least somewhat different than yours.
That doesn’t mean that they’re intentionally trying to mislead you or sabotage you, of course! But most of them are putting a heavy dose of their own biases into their work. It’s natural for parents to suggest low-risk career paths. For guidance counselors to suggest things that reflect well on the school. For an employer to advice you into roles that prioritize the company’s success.
These people may truly care about you, but even if they care about your personal satisfaction, they don’t care about it to the exclusion of everything else.
You’d be amazed at how thick the layers of other people’s agendas can be on someone’s career plans when they first begin the coaching process. And then again, you may not be surprised at all! But I’ve worked with people who have already been in their careers for 20+ years and not a single person – including themselves! – has ever given them the space to truly start with a blank canvas and create their own agenda.
Being able to discuss career plans and ambitions from the most long-term to the most tactical with someone who won’t immediately impose their own value system on you is invaluable. A good coach will challenge you. They’ll ask deep, difficult questions and force you to look at your own agenda under a bright light. But you’ll never hear a good career coach say “being a painter is a silly choice, you should go into finance instead.” A great career coach lets you set the goal, and then helps you create the best possible strategies to reach that goal.
Keeping You Focused When the Going Gets… Easy?
Here’s an interesting thing I’ve learned from my time as a professional coach: more people quit in the face of a small amount of success than in the face of a large degree of difficulty.
When people have many challenges to overcome, but they’re prepared and encouraged, they often get more engaged with their journey of personal development. A lot of adversity just reminds them that they’re working on themselves for a reason. They may have lofty goals, but sometimes a small victory or success gives them the “mental permission” to dust their hands and declare “good enough!”
I once had a client who was being crushed and stifled in a very toxic workplace. She told me she literally cried in her car on the commute home every single day. She committed to getting her ducks in a row so she could leave proudly and take her career in a new direction. It was challenging but she was persevering. Then one day, her boss came to her with a very small token gesture of appreciation (I think her boss had started to notice that she was planning to leave and tried to keep her). But the token was truly minor: a gift certificate and a complimentary card. But my client, long starved for even a small amount of acknowledgement, declared it a huge success. She thought she’d completely fixed the underlying issues in her workplace. Suddenly she wanted to stay.
It can happen to anyone – and without an outside voice, it may have stuck. Instead, I was able to talk with her about what changes she really wanted to see. And she recommitted harder than ever when she saw the bigger picture. I’m happy to say that now she’s long gone from that place.
Making Tough Decisions
Any major improvement is a major change, and major change involves leaving your comfort zone and making difficult decisions. When the stress of those decisions is looming, it’s tough to keep a clear head and dedication to your principles. Your career coach can help by not feeling the same stress as you – so you can communicate your principles to that person early, and they can mirror them back to you when you need them the most.
I know you’ll face your own difficult decisions. We all do. Making the right choices isn’t about letting someone else choose for you. But it can definitely be helpful to have someone who can remind you of what you said when you were at your most collected and thinking clearly. Asking the right questions early to help establish the decision-making paradigms you’ll want to use later is part of what we do.
And it’s part of what I’ve tried to do here – now, when your clarity is high. Think about the challenges ahead, and think about how you want to be present for those challenges. That’s where a career coach can help.
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