Monday, April 28, 2014

Hiring a career transition coach Part III: the coaching process

Keep in mind that this is just my experience with coaching, and yours will probably take a different route.

When I’ve told my friends that I have a “coaching session” (I still feel kind of embarrassed saying that, always reverting to my blue collar roots & wondering if I shouldn’t have just ‘worked harder’ at it myself?) – my friends almost all ask me, in a kind of unconvinced tone, “I mean cool, really, it’s cool that you’re doing this… but… what does the coach actually do? Does she just, like, encourage you? Or does she tell you what to do next?”

Fair questions, because that’s what I wondered too when I started pondering career transition coaching. In fact, in my search for a career transition coach, I made a point of asking them “What do you actually DO? What does a coaching session actually look like?” 

Some of them answered in the negative space:

  • It’s not therapy.
  • it’s not being told what to do.

 The best answers were less bullet-friendly, but are in the category of:

  • A coach can help you articulate your strengths and weaknesses, especially as they impact your career.

  • And to identify what your overall goal is, in a career (make money? be happy? help people? be creative? find a work/life balance? bury yourself in your work? adventure? security? all of the above?)

  • ..and then you can work out what parts of your personality, work ethic, education, drive, ambition and skill set will come in to play in different career scenarios.


Spoiler alert: in my case it covered all of these things, but much more. There was a less clinical, more personal aspect that tied in my personality and passion and energy level with my skills and interests and rhythm. It turned out not to be a ‘worksheet/bulleted point’ sort of process. Going in, I didn’t know this and the thought of using words like “passion” and “personality” would have scared me off. Once I was actually involved in the process, I totally understood how it all fit together and worked as a whole. I don’t think I would have gotten much help or insight out of a set of worksheets.



My coach and I had already talked a bit about the current state of my career during our getting-to-know-you session. She knew I was in a very small and specialized area of academia, she knew I was very unhappy there, she knew in general the broad brushstrokes of what field I was aiming for, and she had a general picture of my life outside work (single parent, only child in high school, very little family support, bit of an introvert, lots of drive and energy in my personal life).

Before our first session, she gave me several questions to think about and answer. I won’t repeat them verbatim, but they mainly fell somewhere in these three categories:

  1. What am I trying to leave behind in my current career?
  2. What are my goals for the career I’d like to have instead?
  3. What would I like to get out of coaching?

--> I spent a lot of time thinking about each of her questions – really thinking about them. I wrote down the most obvious answers and then I looked deeper. If during the course of trying to answer the family of questions that fell into the first two categories there were things I simply didn’t know, or hadn’t figured out yet, I added them to category 3.

--> I also took it upon myself to review my CV and really think about each job I’d held in the past. What I thought about it in retrospect. What I remembered feeling about it in the moment. [I’m so glad I did this – eventually we did a lot of work looking back over my work history and taking apart the different pieces of each job I’d held in terms of my skills, my feelings while doing the work, my work/life balance, etc – this turned out to be one of the most eye opening parts of the coaching experience for me.]


So what DOES happen during the sessions?

  • My coaching sessions took place (by mutual agreement) over the phone. We could also have Skyped, but I find Skype really distracting and would prefer to keep my deep-thinking-hair-twirling habit to myself.

  • Our sessions were 90 minutes in length, and every minute of that was thoroughly used. We covered a lot of ground! The fact that I was well prepared for each session was one of the keys to the success of the process. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do a lot of work outside the session itself in order to maximize the time spent talking to the coach.

  • We spent some time visiting (and revisiting)
      • My core values
      • My strengths
      • My past work experience, and the positives and negatives involved in each of my previous positions.
      • How my core values, strengths and needs could ideally play out in a professional sense
      • My ideal work environment
      • My ideal work/life balance

  • Each session was recorded, and I was given access to the sound recording of our call after the session. I appreciated that I could access them and always meant to listen to them again, but I never did. The feelings and ideas I had after each session stuck around better if I let them bubble in my head without revisiting the specific questions that gave rise to them (this is just how I work, YMMV and all that)

  • My coach also took notes during the session, typed them up and emailed them to me within 24 hours. Those have proven invaluable to me. I still go back and read them a year later – that’s how well they summarized what she heard me saying.

    • You know how your voice usually sounds weird to you when you hear a recording of it? That’s how weird my words sounded when someone else was summarizing them. Obviously I’d heard what I was saying – they were my own thoughts and ideas and statements – but reading someone’s “take home message” of those words was bizarrely enlightening. I felt like I was reading about a different person.

    • And you know how it’s always easier to give someone else advice and see the patterns in someone else’s life? Yeah – that’s how I felt reading the summary of our sessions. This “other person” coincidentally also named Emma – well, it was kind of ridiculous that she couldn’t see the obvious patterns in her career.

      Why did she KEEP making those same unhappy choices?

      How can she not see that she’s been using the same excuses and lines of reason for like 20 years? And there hasn’t been a compelling reason for them in like 15 years?


--> Why doesn’t Emma just take some of that energy she’s throwing down a bottomless dark well of despair and instead put that energy into something better?  My gosh, you’d think she LIKED being a work martyr. Doesn’t she WANT to be happier?


  • Within the write up after each session, my coach would also include for me some of my beloved bulleted point lists in outline form:

          1. What our goals had been for the current session
          2. Career/work strengths
          3. Things/Feelings/environments I don’t want for my career life
          4. Things/feelings/environments I do want for my career
          5. Coach’s observations (outsider’s view of what I was saying)
          6. Goals for the next session
          7. Any resources, reading suggestions, homework/preparation for the next session

--> By the way, re-reading the write ups for these sessions has reminded me that I totally, completely chose the right coach for me. She really hit this out of the park.


Next up: Hiring a career transition coach Part IV: the outcome. I think this will give a semi-realistic sense of what solid, tangible successes came out of my career transition coaching.

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