Career coaching is a great way to help individuals who are facing a decision about the future of their career make informed decisions on their next steps.
Traditionally, a career-coaching service is offered to individuals by their employer, but we see an exciting new world where career coaching is a service delivered directly to, and controlled by, the individual.
After all, we outsource the management of other parts of our lives to specialists — we have financial advisers who help us to look after our money, fitness coaches who look after our physical health, and therapists to look after our mental health. Why not employ professionals than to look after our ‘career health’?
How did career coaching come about?
The concept of career coaching is nothing new, of course. It’s been around since the early 20th century but really found favor in the 1990s, when the technological revolution picked up the pace and transformed the workplace — replacing some traditional manual jobs, enhancing others with tech and creating entirely new opportunities.
Not only did the career mix change in the 1990s, but the pace of change picked up considerably as well, and still continues today. This meant that people who had studied for a particular career might find their skills were no longer needed and/or that their learning quickly became out of date.
People started to consult career coaches to help them overcome a particular challenge they were facing or a goal they were trying to achieve, and the relationship was generally short-lived.
Evidence now suggests that with later retirement and the desire to work more flexibly, the concept of a “job for life” has pretty much gone extinct.
It’s quite normal for people to have up to four, even five ‘careers’ in their working lives, and the divide between work and personal life is also becoming blurred.
In some ways, this is very liberating and allows people to get more out of both work and home — and can be particularly helpful for parents trying to balance having a career with quality time with the children — but it can also lead to increased pressures and risk of burnout.
Why would you want a personal career coach?
Having a career coach on hand can help employees navigate their working and personal lives more successfully, reducing the risk of burnout while maximizing their professional performance.
The traditional model is that people facing a particular challenge — low productivity, difficult working relationships, lack of enthusiasm or plain boredom — will consult a career coach, work together to solve the problem and then move on. That’s all well and good, but a good career coach can give you so much more than this.
As well as helping you regain your ‘mojo’, they can help you:
- Build confidence
- Tackle upcoming role or project challenges
- Better adapt to change
- Figure out if you’re in the right role — and if not, plan your next steps
- Stay on track with career development — they won’t let you procrastinate
- Fall back in love with the role or the company
These are skills that are worth developing not just during a time of crisis but throughout your career.
This is why the notion of lifelong career coaching is gaining currency — it can help you deal with day-to-day challenges and, when the time is right, negotiate smooth career transitions in a proactive, rather than reactive way.
What might lifelong career coaching look like?
Let’s suppose for a moment that career coaching could start in school. What kind of support could a person expect throughout their career if coaching were offered on an almost cradle-to-grave basis?
At 16, they might have their first sessions to discuss what career opportunities they might like to pursue after school.
There could be an element of psychometric testing to discover the student’s strengths and weaknesses, followed by a discussion about the grades they’d need, whether they’re achievable and whether they might go to university or head straight into work and/or an apprenticeship.
As they near the end of their education — be that school, college or university — the career coach would work with them to map out what their first move into the world of work should be.
Support would be given to produce the first CV and practice interview techniques. This can be a time when confidence is shaky; if that’s the case, the coach and coachee would likely spend some time working on improved mental resilience.
At various points in their careers — perhaps once a year, maybe more or less frequently, depending on their needs — they meet with their career coach.
They take an objective look at where they’re at, and the coach helps them make sure that they’re still working towards their goals, helping them refine the plan if they’re off course, or if their ambitions have changed.
There may be specific role or project challenges that the employee needs to overcome, a promotion to be gained or more personal issues to tackle, such as waning motivation.
The coach can also support them with managing some of the trickier transitions in life — returning to work after maternity or paternity leave, for example, or taking time out to care for an elderly relative.
As employees move towards the latter stages of their working lives, their coach can help them think about what they want the next step to look like — do they want to retire, go part-time, or perhaps use their skills to work in the voluntary sector?
Retirement can loom large in people’s minds as they approach the end of their careers — so much so that they procrastinate for longer than they might if they were given the right support. And that can impact their work and their mood. The coach can support the individual through that transition, helping them to visualize life after work in a positive way and perhaps achieve a lifelong ambition.
Where does this leave organizations?
If individuals were to engage career coaches directly, then it follows that the way career coaching has traditionally been offered – as an intervention – would no longer be appropriate.
Instead, organizations could offer career coaching as part of their employment package – similarly to how health benefits are often part of someone’s offer.
It’s understandable that some organizations might feel uneasy about this. After all, a career coach could be advising an individual that their future isn’t with your organization – meaning that you are essentially paying for someone to convince your employees to leave.
However, it’s likely that on balance, providing employees with a long-term career coach working directly with them would actually improve retention and engagement.
Career coaching can often help individuals to get a clearer picture of what they want from work – and once they have that understanding, organizations can work with their employees to help them deliver that.
By making sure everyone’s working in the right role, at the right level of the organization, you can start to build a workforce that’s happier, more fulfilled and more productive — and that will deliver benefits to the bottom line, as well as making you the employer of choice in your field.
Even if it turned out that some employees left as a result of their career coaching, it’s worth remembering that this is now an opportunity for the organization to find a new employee who is more closely aligned to the business.
And by maintaining a dialogue with an individual’s career coach, organizations can get a clearer view of their talent pipeline – meaning they can actually plan more effectively to achieve their objectives.
Could having a personal career coach become a ‘thing’?
Career coaching benefits people at all stages of their careers, so it seems logical that working with a career coach in the same way that you’d work with a financial advisor or personal trainer will become the norm in the coming years.
Or course, this will only be true if career-coaching providers adapt themselves to meet this opportunity.
It is unlikely, for example, that a student fresh out of university will be able to afford the kind of rates that professional career coaches charge for the services they provide – but by adapting their offering to better suit the needs of people at different stages in their lives, coaches could gain clients for years, or even decades – vastly increasing the lifetime value of each and every client.
And it will also require organizations to take an increasingly mature approach to career coaching and its value to not only their people but also to the health of the organization.
Though it might feel like a risk to offer people their own career coach as a standard part of their package, in the long run it is far more likely to help you build a highly engaged and effective workforce than drain you of your best and brightest, as some people might fear.
What do you think? Would you be willing to invest in lifelong career coaching for yourself, your employees?