Recently, I’ve had lots of friends inquire about what coaching is, and specifically, what career coaching looks like.
“You review my resume and tell me where to apply for jobs, right?”
“So, you’re like the career office at my college; you edit my cover letters and do mock interviews with me?”
Sure. I can do all of that. And that’s not really coaching.
How will you get me a job?
I will not get you a job. Only you will get you a job.
In our society, we’re taught from the very beginning that to create value - to do good - we should solve problems and get results. Sometimes this means solving our own problems, and more often, it means helping a friend or colleague find an answer. It’s great and important to be good at finding solutions. And that is not the focus of coaching.
Problem solving - in this case, finding a new job - is something for which a friend or former colleague can provide help. These days, lots of people are willing to open their networks to connect you with someone in a hiring position. Or you can just use LinkedIn.
As a coach, I do help with these networking and resumes, but that’s not the point. That’s not why you hire me. Helping you with your LinkedIn profile or your cover letter can help move you toward a job opportunity, but it doesn’t result in change that is truly transformative. As a coach, I’m going for something bigger: I want you to take this opportunity - this search for a new job or career - as an opportunity to transform, grow, and evolve.
When we immediately dive into results-mode - applying to a series of jobs, setting up dozens of networking coffees - we become disconnected from our larger sense of purpose and meaning. We become obsessed with the issue in front of us (getting a job), and we miss the larger picture: we miss our whole person.
Focus on the Whole Person
Whole person? Yes, you are more than a resume. You are more than a job search. As your coach, I hold the urgency of needing a new job with the desire to help you see a broader context. Finding a job is easy, uncovering what you want from that job - and from your life - is what coaching is all about. Sure, it’s about getting shit done, and it’s about getting shit done that is intentional and aligned to what you truly want for yourself and what you want to do in this world.
Is that too coach jargony for you? Let me give you an example. I recently worked with a woman who has been job searching for over a year. Before we began working together she was having at least three coffee dates a week, applying to multiple jobs each weekend, and constantly tweaking her resume.
When we began our work, I asked, “What’s most important to you about your work?”
There was a long silence.
“I’ve never really thought about that.”
She was so focused on getting a job that she didn’t even really know what she wanted or what the point of the job was. Of course, she needed to get paid and have something to do all day, but beyond that, she wasn’t sure.
Looking back, she's so glad that none of those applications or coffee dates panned out for her. She would have gotten a job that was totally off purpose. She would have missed the whole point of the job search. Not to mention, she probably didn’t get a job because the people meeting with her couldn’t figure out what she wanted or how to help her.
What I love about coaching people as they search for their next career or job is that it’s a big life event. Work is a huge part of what we do and who we are. Shouldn’t we have jobs that have meaning and purpose, that inspire us each day? A job search - like all changes in one’s life - is an opportunity to explore and develop who you are and why you are here on this earth. If we were to focus only on the doing - the resume, the salary negotiation, the perks - we’d miss a critical part of the equation. We would miss the chance to reinvent oneself, to figure out what is most important, and to ensure the job one chooses is resonant with their larger purpose.
Skipping the larger purpose and focusing first - and only - on the acquiring of new employment can lead to a demoralizing job search. Take my client who had been job searching for over a year with no end in sight and no purpose in which to ground herself. When I first met with her, it was clear that this job search was not life-giving for her.
As we began working together, however, she began believing more in herself and living out what she believed. She stopped applying willy-nilly and began focusing on what was important to her, what her values were. She looked for companies and positions that would let her find connection to others (her first value) and also provide opportunities for innovation (value #4) and growth (value #2).
As a result of this upfront investment, her networking became more focused, her cover letters were authentic, and when she finally started getting interviews, she barely had to prepare. She knew exactly why she wanted the job. And that was the point: she had found her why; after that the what and how came naturally.
The Co-Active Coaching Approach
The style of coaching I use - co-active coaching - is a dance between two energies - the being of “co” and the doing of “active.” Together, we build a relationship and connection that allows us to act with powerful intention. The dash between the “co” and the “active” is key: it’s about the paradox of these two ways, that we can both step back and be while taking action and moving forward with the doing.
For me, I’ve always found excitement - and sometimes frustration - in this tension between doing and being. As a recovering “do’er,” who was inclined to have my clients get going immediately, I’ve found so much value in the being. And it’s not being like staring at our toes and pondering the meaning of life. It’s being in the creation of meaning and service of learning. It’s taking what is otherwise stressful and disheartening - a typical job search - and building creativity and magic by exploring the person behind the resume. When we use the quest for a new career as a doorway to a deeper sense of meaning in life, the result is a career that is deeply connected to purpose and human experience. And that is career coaching.