4 bite-sized insights into Career Coaching

Have you ever wondered what career coaching is all about? Many coaches without a careers advisory background shy away from tackling career issues head on in coaching sessions. I was pleased to participate in an excellent CPD workshop on this topic recently, and I’d like to share with you some insights I took away from it, just in case you’re wondering what career coaching is all about too…

career compass‘Approaches and Tools for Career Coaching’ was facilitated by Paul Walsh – a coach, facilitator and trainer who’s currently a Learning & Development Specialist at Manchester Metropolitan University here in the UK (you can see his LinkedIn profile here). Packed with fascinating insights and practical tools to help us move forward, it encouraged everyone present to have that bit more confidence in tackling career-related matters.

I can’t reflect all the goodies from the session in one blog post. So here are  4  bite-sized insights that made the biggest impression on me. I hope they’ll leave you feeling encouraged too.

1. Career coaching need not be careers advice

The key takeaway for me was that you don’t need to be a careers adviser to be a good career coach. The significant word is ‘coaching’, since normally what coachees with career issues need is to talk through their thoughts and feelings rather than specific career information. If specific career information does become necessary, the coachee can be encouraged to seek out a mentor able to give advice who’s further along on the career trajectory, or be referred to a career specialist who has the particular input to hand.

Anyone with well-honed coaching skills can facilitate coachee self-insight in a number of areas, and career is certainly one of them. Paul is himself an experienced career coach without a specific career advisory background, and the quality of his work proves that it’s the coaching skills that make the difference when someone needing a safe space for discussion explores career issues during a coaching intervention.

2. The Seven Levels of Learning Dialogue

White figure climbing 7 stepsIt comes as no surprise that one of the best ways of structuring thinking around career coaching has been provided by David Clutterbuck. His 7 Layers of Mentoring (or ‘7 Layers of Learning Dialogue’ as Paul referred to it) can inform decisions on the level at which a career coach chooses to engage. What is the person actually looking for, and what does that person need? Clutterbuck suggests that dialogue around the coaching can be regarded as having seven levels or layers of increasing depth and impact.

Here’s a short explanation of each level to start us thinking:

  • Social     Dialogue between coach and coachees around developing rapport, friendship, providing support, and encouragement.
  • Technical     Dialogue around meeting needs for learning about work processes, policies and systems (for example, using a new IT system).
  • Tactical     Dialogue around working out practical ways of dealing with issues in work or personal life (for example, time management, dealing with a difficult colleague).
  • Strategic     Dialogue that takes a broader perspective, helping to put problems, opportunities and ambitions into context. A vision for what the individual wants to achieve, through the relationship and her or his own endeavours (for example, pulling together objectives for a team).
  • Self-insight     Dialogue around enabling the individual to understand his or her own drivers, ambitions, fears and thinking patterns (for example, what values are important to him or her in the workplace).
  • Behavioural Change     Dialogue bringing together insight, strategy and tactics into a coherent programme of personal adaptation, involving envisioning outcomes, assessing motivation for change, and how this will be measured.
  • Integrative     Dialogue around building a sense of who the coachee is, what she or he contributes, and how she or he fits in. This explores personal meaning, life balance, and place in the world.

The depth and impact of the dialogue increases as we move down the levels from Social to Integrative. Understanding these different levels means a coach can be confident to meet the coachee at the level that is required in the moment.

3. The Kaleidoscope Career

There are different theories of career development, and I was grateful to Paul for introducing the concept of the Kaleidoscope Career, developed by Lisa Mainiero and Sherry Sullivan. Both are professors of business management who at the beginning of this century studied the career trajectories and choices of workers, incorporating findings in relation to women as well as men rather than concentrating on what was presumed to be the male career cycle.

The Kaleidoscope Career concept suggests that what we want from a career varies across time and according to personal circumstances. However, common threads circle round three major needs:

  • Authenticity    Ensuring our role and working environment are consistent with our values, ideals and sense of identity
  • Balance     Ensuring that we achieve an optimum equilibrium between work and non-work (not just between work and family life, but also between work roles and other roles a person may be engaged in)
  • Challenge    Ensuring that our working life is stimulating and that we are progressing or developing

These three major needs are present at each stage of life, though like the colours in a kaleidoscope, the emphasis on each will change according to variables affecting an individual at any particular time.

Child holding kaleidoscopeWhy did this concept pique my interest? Because often coachees believe there is some ‘normal’ career trajectory or set of career needs/goals to which they ought to be adhering. Failure to conform to this phantom ‘norm’ can cause genuine distress. Once a coachee comes to understand that there really is no one typical linear pathway, it becomes easier for him or her to begin focusing on how emphasis on the three major needs has changed in the past, is changing in the present, and will change in the future.

Indeed, Paul suggested that an incisive question to ask any coachee needing to think priorities through would be: “How would you rank these 3 factors today, and 5/10/15 years ago?”

4. Values in career coaching

When coachees need to think about career issues, often they’re unclear about what’s important to them. Paul highlighted the need to gain clarity on the coachee’s values and how they relate to what the coachee is experiencing in the present, as well as how she or he might go about planning for the future. This helps coachees set goals that are important to them (rather than focusing on “not wants”), improves the quality of decision making, and helps maintain confidence and a sense of self during periods of challenge or transition.

Getting to grips with values requires two stages:

  • Crystallisation – becoming so clear on values that the coachee can name them
  • Prioritisation – identifying what means the most to the coachee

One of the strengths of Paul’s presentation was the fact that he emphasised very simple inexpensive tools to achieve this. It’s not necessary to invest vast sums of money to obtain proprietary tools when you can put together equally effective methods of your own. The one which appealed to me most was Values Ranking Cards.

Choosing words on bits of paperCreating Values Ranking Cards entails obtaining a list of ‘value’ words. Put together your own or find one on the internet (Paul’s had 26 words). Such a list will include words like Optimism, Perseverance, Authenticity, Success, Courage, and so on. Type these value words into square or strip-shaped boxes of the same size, print out, then cut out the squares/strips (keeping a couple of blanks so coachees can add significant words of their own if they aren’t included in those provided).

In the coaching session, put together the squares/strips into a pile and give the pile to the coachee. Then ask the coachee to go through the pile of value words, dividing it into two new piles according to whether the words seem relevant or not relevant. Once this is done, put the irrelevant pile aside, and repeat the process of division into two piles with the relevant pile (once again putting aside the irrelevant pile). Keep repeating until only 3-4 values are left.

The most important aspect of this exercise is often the reflection that accompanies it. Sometimes the coachee provides a commentary on what the words mean to her or him, as well as why and how difficult choices between value words are being made. This process enables the coachee to gain real clarity on her or his core values, as well as a sense of prioritisation of which are the most important.

Having helped the coachee to gain these key insights, it’s time for the coach to ask penetrating questions such as the following, the answers to which can inform a coachee’s plans for the future:

  • How much of these values do you currently have in your work/life?
  • How important are these values to significant others in your life?
  • How do these values work together for you?
  • How do you express these values in your life?

So there are my 4 bite-sized insights into Career Coaching. I hope you found them useful, and my thanks again to Paul Walsh for sharing his knowledge.

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3 thoughts on “4 bite-sized insights into Career Coaching

  1. Pingback: The importance of understanding the impact of values in coaching | Newbycoach thoughts

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