Is a career coach right for you?


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SAMANTHA WU, Alan Kearns, author of Get the Right Job Right Now, talks about what moms or dads returning to the work force need to know


Q: What does a career coach do?


A: What a career coach does is bring a neutral, unbiased expert perspective to the problems [people may have in their careers]. It’s a lot like what a financial planner does: we take a look at all the data neutrally and we have a lot of experience. A lot of people deal with career issues once every couple years. They do their career; they don’t live in the world of career issues all day long. That’s what a career coach does, and they bring tools and expert opinions. It’s kind of a surprise for people to hear themselves [talk about career issues], and not talk to family and friends, which is how a lot of people deal with [them]. [In terms of] their health care, financial or legal issues — they would never dream of that.


Q: Is a career coach beneficial to someone like a new mother who is going back to their old job but who has new goals?


A: A career coach deals with any issue. It could be from transitional issues to, “I’m heading back to my old job; I’ve just come off maternity. I’ve been thinking about what I’m doing. I just want to revisit and make sure I’m seeing things clearly”.


Q: For a mom who hasn’t been working in a while and wants to make the transition into the work force, what should she consider?


A: You have to consider what you and your family needs. Having a family situation changes the needs of everyone, including you. So number one, you have to balance those two things, what does that look like with your partner and with your children? What are the expectations, what are the things everyone wants? The second thing is, you have to believe in the values of what you’re bringing to the table. A lot of the time I find that [moms who haven’t been working in a while] have lost their sense of confidence about their ability to contribute and their level of professionalism.


Volunteering [before stepping into a new job] can reorient you into the professional world so you can say to yourself, “Yeah, I can contribute, I can talk adult, not just talk baby.” That’s a good way to reorient into the flow of things.


Q: If a mother or father is looking at changing their career, what are the main things they should consider?


A: I think number one is that you have to look at your personal historical data; what has worked and what hasn’t worked so far in your career.


The second perspective is to take a look at your career identity. There are five components that make up the career identity: talents, values, passions, lifestyle and persistence. When a clear perspective [is reached] on those five areas, options become a lot clearer. Talents give a sense of the type of roles [you would enjoy]. Passions give a sense of the area [you’d like to work in]. So if you’re passionate about music and you’re talented in finance, there are careers in the music industry that need financial perspective. People often get caught up in very linear thinking, [for example] “I love music but I don’t know how to sing”. This way the “who” and the “what” becomes easier because you can start to identify. There’s a great quote that says, “To find the answers you have to immerse yourself in the questions”. Talk to the people doing the kinds of things you might want to do, connect with people. It’s not for the sake of “I want a job”, it’s exploring the area.


Another key piece is knowing how to package yourself, particularly when you’re transitioning. You need to know how to package your skill sets and your experience to whatever market you’re trying to transition to. I call it the ‘President’s Choice Principle’. President’s Choice really understands packaging. They don’t call it the chocolate chip cookie, they call it the Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, and the packaging of it is really attractive. Do you have that kind of packaging around your resumé and the way you communicate and how you interview? That’s the packaging piece.


You need to have the courage to do it. A lot of people desire [a new career] but my experience is that the people that have the courage and the positive mindset about it [go far]. It doesn’t mean that you can believe you can be a plastic surgeon tomorrow and then go be a plastic surgeon. Look at the world with a sense of opportunity and curiosity, [kind of] like Curious George. He’s always exploring things and the Man with the Yellow Hat always makes sure he never really fails. Have that curiosity to explore things and to be open-minded and you never know what you’re going to run into.


We had a client that was working for an IT company in Ottawa who lived in the suburbs in a townhouse where she wasn’t happy. She went through this process, [moved to Vancouver] and ended up working at the Vancouver Olympics Association. She made a total change and felt more fulfilled. She grew up with a high focus on sports in her life; [it was one of her passions]. That was an interesting way of collaborating as she was able to take her IT experience and apply it in the sports industry. So that’s a good example of someone that went through that process and had the courage to see it through.


Q: What kind of person would benefit from a career coach?


A: Anyone that’s serious about managing their career, to be honest. A career coach helps people get the most out of their career. It doesn’t mean weekly sessions, it means seeking it out as you need it.


Q: How would a career coach help someone who wanted to enter the work force but didn’t know which field they should approach?


A: Going through the identity phase helps to clarify. A career coach helps by looking at your tools and your skill sets, evaluating and benchmarking those things, bringing expertise to a variety of career options. We’re in touch with companies and the market in general. We understand the market and we understand the tools that are out there and the companies that might be suited to an individual. Another thing we help with is the packaging piece. A lot of people struggle with their resumé and their career potential so we help with your resumé and we do some individual coaching. [We also help build] confidence and accountability to follow through.


Q: How would a career coach be helpful for someone who wanted to go back to school to upgrade their skills?


A: We would evaluate what program is well-suited for you and what the market is for skills in that program, so making sure that you’re not just going back to school to get an education or upgrade, but also, knowing the right path. A lot of people in that situation go back to school and get an education and they come out and they’re still not sure what they want to do. So we help to really evaluate not only the right program but also the right path once you’ve completed the program. Both are extremely important in that transition.


Q: How would a career coach continue to help someone further along their career?


A: We help balance ideas on things like issues with their boss or cultural shifts or skill set issues. There are a lot of questions of “what would you suggest, how can I develop as a leader, how can I develop as a manager,” and we provide tools and advice in coaching on how to be more effective in whatever you do, whether it’s as a leader or a technical person. We act as a guide to help balance, making sure that your work doesn’t take all of you. That’s a really important principle that we talk to clients about, give your work your best but not your all.


Q: Anything else to add?


I would say that mindset means a lot in a career. There’s what’s called The Luck Factor by Dr. Richard Wiseman and he’d look at people who were [considered] lucky and those who weren’t. The lucky people had principles that the unlucky people didn’t apply. It wasn’t really luck or not luck, it was principles. So that’s what we encourage, to keep a good mindset about your career, yourselves, and the market and to really go for it.


Alan Kearns is the author of Get the Right Job Right Now. You can find more information at