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Coaching: Why Asking Questions is more Effective than Giving Advice

Many new career coaches seek to offer clients the best possible advise to solve client problems.  I don’t think that is the best method for helping clients - but it is the easiest.  It is easy because most clients come to a career coach asking for advise.  They want the “right” answer and believe the coach has it.  The problem is that if the advise that the career coach gives doesn't work, it is the coaches fault.  This is really a case of ‘accountability”.  The client needs to be accountable for his/her decisions and the results of those decisions.

Find a Better Job

There are five key questions that career coaches should be able to ask their clients to motivate the clients to take charge of their job search and become accountable.  These five questions can flow from the following five words: What, Why, How, When and Who.

Weather working with a job search client involved in a short term job transition or with an adult considering a new and different career direction, I will start with the following question: “What is your specific goal”?  If the answer is “I want to be self employed” that doesn't tell be enough. Neither does “I just want to work with people”.  Even “I want a job at the Post Office” is not sufficient. After all, the Post Office employs mail clerks, mail carriers, truck drivers, customer service agents, computer programmers, etc. 

If my client says “I want to operate a bed and breakfast business” I will ask the following: 

  • What community will the B&B be located in?
  • What color will the building be painted?
  • What will you name the B&B?
  • What items will be on your breakfast menu?
  • What type face will you use on the menu?I ask these questions because I want the client to be very clear about his/her goal - to be able to visualize, feel, touch and smell the goal.

Once the client is clear about “What” the goal is, my next question addresses “Why” it is the best possible goal for him/her.  But here I don’t actually use the word “Why”.  If I ask “Why”, I may get a socially acceptable rationalization like “it will make my spouse happy”.  To get at what makes it the best goal, I will ask “Give me some compelling evidence that will show me why that is the best goal for you”. This question may elicit answers like “I worked at a B&B on weekends last year and mastered the routine very quickly” or “I have sufficient funds for a down payment on the building I have in mind”.  The client needs to convince the coach (and herself) that she has what it takes to successfully operate a B&B before she can convince the banker to give her a loan.

Once the client has presented convincing evidence that the goal is realistic and appropriate, I ask him what specific behaviors that  he will engage in to reach the goal.  A repines of “I will go back to school fort more education” is not enough. I prefer an answer like “I will take a one-semester course in small business accounting a Lakeview Community College”.  This will lead to more “How” questions, like “Have you filled out and submitted your application”? and “Have you coordinated your work schedule with the class times”?

My next key questions will focus on “When” each step to the goal will occur. “When will you read the Lakview Community College on-line catalog”? or “When will you visit the campus and speak to an academic advisor”?

Finally, my last questions deal with “Who”.  “Who else will your plan effect”? or “Who else to you need to get assistance from in order to move ahead”?

The effective career coach mastetrs the five key words of What,Why, How, When and Who and turns them into questions that motivate the client to take control of the job search and move forward to success.

© Richard Knowdell, National Certified Career Counselor trains and certifies Job & Career Transition Coaches.  He can be contacted at

 Richard Knowdell
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