I’ve seen much debate over the last months about the value of career coaches. Truthfully I’m not usually this backward in coming forward, but I’ve now decided after much thought, to actually enter the fray. I prevaricated simply because as I am one – it seemed rather self serving and I would have preferred to have made a case for accountants or lawyers than for specialists in my own field.
But as someone who has sought professional input for all sorts of areas of my life , I’ve always been pretty open to outside support for issues and situations that I either felt I wasn’t handling well on my own, or more typically was making a complete mess of! So over the years I have collected a whole pile of business cards from counsellors , educational psychologists, special needs teachers, speech therapists, tennis coaches, music teachers, golf pros, graphic designers, decorators, landscape gardeners, doctors of every discipline under the sun. And so the list goes on.
The most valuable lessons I have learned via these activities are:
• it is OK to ask for help
• an open mind is key
• friends, colleagues and family mean well, but they are not neutrally honest. Do friends ever tell you your bum looks big? No. Exactly.
• professional help is a framework only and not something to be followed blindly without your own judgement .
• specialists generally can teach something
• I am not best informed in most areas
• I trust myself to process information and take decisions
The pace of change
My son has learning difficulties, and struggled throughout his whole school life with some parts of the traditional education process. I didn’t try and deal with it myself simply because I didn’t really know what to do. I researched, read, talked to people and consulted specialists. Between us we coached him in building up life long coping strategies. He proudly graduated from university this year. Could family, friends and peers have filled that gap? No – because they didn’t know what to do either. Even mainstream teachers were out of their depth. The developments made dealing with learning difficulties changed at such a rapid pace during his school life that it needed specialist input to guide us and support him in a way that even I as his Mum couldn’t do properly. In fact some of the things that I instinctively thought were right as a parent, were not great ideas at all and could possibly have hindered him.
This is true of the recruitment and job search market – the pace of change is phenomenal.
Take action early
Another very general observation is that indviduals seem to feel about their jobs and careers the way they feel about relationships and raising children. We think we know best and everything will turn out fine on its own unaided. But it doesn’t usually– that’s why people only seek coaches or counsellors when they are desperate: on the brink of divorce, their kids are in trouble , or they are unemployed. Why is that?
Most quoted barriers!
A financial issue: For some this is clearly true and is always a tricky one to handle as a coach. But Brian Tracy suggests ‘ Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self-development) in order to guarantee your future” Even for financially secure executives that is not happening. With no job being permanent, investing in career planning should become an ongoing strategy from the outset of a career. So build up some reserve to cover this outgoing if you can. Career maintenance should be continuous– like maintaining a house and health. Perhaps even now, if at all possible some economies might be made in other areas and offset against future investment. Most coaches are sympathetic and may offer introductory sessions, payments plans and so on.
For others – not always so sure that it is financial. It’s about financial priorities.I know many managers who if their tee shot hooked into the rough ten times in a row, they would be signed up with the golf pro quicker than you could say Tiger Woods or ProAm . But 10 CVs disappearing into cyber space they somehow see as being different.
Hard to identify a good coach : Many of us own homes, cars or TVs and have participated in choosing service providers in all areas of our lives. Why all of a sudden this disempowerment? We have to trust our instincts and if we don’t get it right first time, change to another. We don’t buy the first car we see. We check out the dealer, take it for a ride, look under the hood and so on! Selecting a coach is no different . You can verify coaching qualifications, affiliations, ask for “chemistry” session and referrals. OK… suggest you don’t look under the hood though! Could be a problem.
Coaches take advantage of our situation: once again I hear the disempowerment line. The only person who allows someone to take advangatage of us – is ourselves. Besides it’s the same as saying mechanics take advantage of people with broken down cars. The provision of this service has always been on offer – the need is just greater at certain times. So do you push your car yourself from the roadside miles from your home or phone a breakdown service? Right. Didn’t think so. Of course you make the call.
Coaches can’t guarantee a job : No they can’t. No one can. What they can give you are life long tools and strategies that build up core competencies in dealing with change on your own. They are a neutral sounding board for any ideas, now matter how off beat. They’ll support you as you align your professional and personal goals and give you open and construtive feedback in identifying your transferrable skills, understanding your success stories and marketing your message.
What I would like to see most of all is a cultural shift to normalising career support in the way that relationship support and life coaching is gaining acceptance even in Europe. Schools and colleges offer this service but then it stops. We spend over one third of our day working! I am always amazed why so many people can be so unstructured and almost cavalier about such a significant activity that takes up so much time and importantly energy, but can cause so much stress and heartache when things go wrong.
One lesson we all must have learned over the past months is that nothing is permenant and we should start to plan for our futures when we can. That has to be now surely.