Congratulations! By deciding to engage the services of a career coach, you’ve just taken the first step in your self-improvement journey.
But just like simply buying an elaborate cookbook at the bookstore does not magically transform you into a master chef, the act of signing up with a coach will not miraculously find you a new career or make you a stronger leader. Career coaching is an active partnership, involving trust and hard work.
How can you make the most of your career coaching experience to ensure the greatest potential success?
1. Resist rigidity.
Many clients come in for their first coaching session with a very rigid mindset. They’ve already decided, for example, that they want four — and only four — sessions, and that they want the engagement to proceed in a specific order. Career coaching is part art and part science, and does not work on a hard-and-fast schedule. Each coaching engagement is highly individualized, tailored to the unique needs of the respective client.
Even though some of the exercises may strike you as “silly” or they aren’t what you expected, resist the urge to run the show. Consider this: If you keep a closed gate around your mind, how will you allow new ideas or ways of thinking inside to help you move forward? While you and your coach can certainly set reasonable parameters for the length of the engagement based on your schedule and budget, keeping an open mind about the process and the timetable will afford you the greatest potential for change.
2. Go public.
When you make a public declaration about making a change, you automatically increase your accountability. Telling your friends and family that you’re working with a life, career or executive coach (if appropriate, given your situation) also ensures a ready-made support group. You’ll be surprised at how often people will ask how it’s going, offering additional encouragement as you consider making changes in your life and/or career. As you go through the career coaching process, friends and family might provide valuable avenues through which to learn about new industries and professions — and to broaden your networks.
When you make a public declaration about making a change, you automatically increase your accountability.
3. Assume a positive mindset.
Having the right attitude is imperative when you are trying to effect change. If you embark upon your coaching experience feeling hopeful, with a sense of excitement, you will be far more likely to succeed, not to mention at a faster pace, than someone who needs to conquer negativity.
A positive mood has other benefits, too. A Canadian research team recently found that a positive mood state enhances creative problem solving, encouraging “flexible yet careful” thinking — exactly the type of thinking that breeds insightful conversation in a career coaching environment. Not feeling it, particularly if you’ve been laid off or are otherwise out of work by circumstances beyond your control? Fake it till you make it. (Another recent study found that even a forced smile reduces stress and makes people happier.)
4. Communicate clearly.
You may know the thoughts inside your head and the feelings associated with them, but your coach only knows you based on the answers you give and stories you tell. The problem: Your time together in the career coaching environment is limited. Try to articulate your responses, staying on topic. It’s fun to tell a story, and easy to get carried away in the details (we are all guilty), but coaching is a personal relationship based on purpose. Part of your job, as the client, is to be a good reporter. What happened? How did/do you feel? What do you want? Spend time reflecting, and keep good notes between sessions. Decide which details are relevant, and communicate them succinctly and clearly to your coach. In doing so, you will help your coach gain a deeper understanding of the “real” you — your needs, your hopes, your fears, your strengths, etc. — and together, you can move forward through the coaching process.
If you embark upon your coaching experience feeling hopeful, with a sense of excitement, you will be far more likely to succeed, not to mention at a faster pace, than someone who needs to conquer negativity.
5. Be prepared.
Think about what it meant to be an “A” student, and apply those principles here. If your career coach assigns you homework, do it — and not in the car or on the train ride to the office. Your grade school teacher may have waved an index finger at you back in the day if you forgot a homework assignment, scolding you that you were “only cheating yourself,” but in this case, it’s really true. Your coach provides you with exercises to complete outside the walls of the coaching office to supplement and/or prepare you for your discussions. Not doing them is wasting time — yours and your coach’s. Take advantage of the tools and assessments that your coach gives you to do as homework, and recognize that they are a valuable part of the coaching engagement, even though you complete them on your own time. Review your notes from the prior session — as well as anything you’ve made note of since your last session — and come to each session organized and ready to work.
6. Be willing to make mistakes.
Do you know who said “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”? Albert Einstein. If Einstein could make a mistake or two — and he did, along the way — so can you. Be a scientist, even if you’re a painter, or a social worker or a customer service manager. Try out different theories about yourself; see what sticks and what doesn’t. There are no penalties for wrong answers in the career coaching environment; in fact, there are no wrong answers. It is a safe place to brainstorm, explore and bounce around ideas.
There are no penalties for wrong answers in the career coaching environment; in fact, there are no wrong answers.
7. Trust your coach.
Have you ever participated in a “trust fall,” a team-building exercise where you close your eyes, allowing another team member (or the group) to catch you as you fall backward? If so, you know the person is going to catch you, but it can still be a pretty unnerving experience. That’s a lot of faith you’re putting in their hands. Symbolically, that’s what you’re doing with your career coach. Go with it. Trust your coach; have faith in the process.
The career coaching experience may, at times, feel like a roller coaster: alternately exciting and perhaps a little frightening. But by employing these strategies, the process should land you on solid professional ground, as you and your coach work together to build more confidence in your career than ever before.