Why it might be time for a career coach

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Stuck in a career rut? Lacking confidence to ask for a promotion or pay rise? Want some guidance on preparing for parental leave or managing a family with work? Feel like taking your career in a new direction?

Re-entering the workplace, negotiating flexible work arrangements, changing jobs and learning ways to deal with the conflicting demands of work and home are some of the things many women need a little extra support with. Apart from struggling to manage the whole work-life balance thing it’s not uncommon to feel directionless and unsure about your career goals at some point in time, particularly if confidence is low or access to support isn’t immediately obvious. This is where a professional career coach or counselor may help.

What is a career coach and why use one?

Career coaches are specialist human resource and career management practitioners. They often have HR, psychology, counselling or life coaching related backgrounds and qualifications.

Career coaches help you understand your needs and wants related to work-life decisions or issues. They can help you set goals, organise, problem-solve, find purpose and direction as well as the strategies and guidance to help you get there. They not only help you access information but also facilitate confidence building to ensure you can successfully navigate the changes you want to make (be that a parental leave transition, change of career etc.).

If you’re already in a role it can also help you take greater ownership and responsibility, develop self-awareness and more effectively correct performance difficulties.

“[Career] coaching is a way of working with people that leaves them more competent and more fulfilled so that they are more able to contribute to their organisations and find meaning in what they are doing.” James Flaherty, Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others 2005.

What will a career coach talk about?

The role of a career coach is to clarify your needs and goals then work with you to identify and agree on specific outcomes for the coaching. A great coach also recognises that every individual has different work and family needs and that each work role and experience is unique.

One thing, however, we’ve all experienced at work is fear (will I be sidelined for a promotion whilst on parental leave?) and anxiety (am I good enough to ask for a pay increase or apply for that new job I’d love). The fears and anxieties may feel like a small nag or it may be overwhelming and debilitating – either way at the end of the day the only purpose they have is to hold you back. A career coach will talk you through these feelings, help you rationalise them (whether they’re real or perceived), and come up with strategies to minimise or extinguish them.

Some other key topics you can talk about with a career coach are:

  • Short and long term career planning
  • Managing and maintaining work relationships
  • Getting ready for parental leave
  • How to stay connected with work whilst on leave
  • Returning to work
  • Negotiating flexible work
  • Work-life balance
  • Caring and parenting support

What does a GREAT career coach do?

If you are a woman in a leadership position and want to get on more boards and extend your skills further afield you may look for a coach who has worked with top female executives and specialises in gender equality issues. If you’re a working parent you may want someone who understands where you’re coming from in your home life as well as career. So a career coach who is also a working parent may be a top pre-requisite for you.

But your search shouldn’t stop there. Look for a coach that offers professional and personalised support. This means they:

  • Are attentive and flexible to meeting your needs
  • Ask questions and coach through decision-making processes
  • Support and guide you on what you may need to do to help yourself and build confidence
  • Connect you with useful information
  • Discuss the realities of life as a working parent
  • Help you plan and prepare you and your family for your career change and/or return to work
  • Maintain confidentiality and privacy at all times

Some questions to get you thinking pre-coaching session

What would you like to gain from your job, return to work or new career pursuit?

How do you see family fitting in?

What interests you?

What do you see yourself doing more or less of in the future?

It’s your life, how do you want to spend it?

Final tips

Take courage, ask for support if you need it, put your best foot forward.

The reality is if you don’t have confidence in your own potential and capability, it’s hard to expect others to have belief. Similarly, if you lack career direction you can’t expect your manager or others to create it for you. In other words, no one can give you confidence or develop your career for you. Sometimes you just need to take the bold step through the fear and be courageous enough to pursue your goals.

The beauty of a career coach is that they guide you through this process; walking beside you as you overcome insecurities so that you feel confident putting your best foot forward.

What is your experience using a career coach? Did you find them useful? If so, how?


By Emma Walsh, parents@work

First published: 4.7.2014

Source: Women’s Agenda

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