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Coaching Clients to Explor Job & Career Options

Most of us in the United States, weather we are job seekers or career changers, usually want to make quick decisions ( how many times have you heard clients say they want to “hit the ground running”).  But, this tendency causes us to fail to do adequate “research” on just what options we realistically have.  Many professional career coaches and counselors use a simple, four step process when working with clients.  This process is:(1)  Assessment - What are the skills, values, interests, etc. of the client?(2)  Exploration - What options are realistically available for the client?(3)  Focus and Goal Setting - Which of the available options require the client’s current skills and are compatible with his or her values?(4)  Strategy/Implementation - What does the client need to do to get there?

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In the 35 years that I have been training career coaches, over 95% of their clients (and the same proportion of my clients) come to us wanting to start the process at step 4 - Strategy/Implementation.  It is often a real struggle to get the client to understand the value of starting back at step 1 and progressing carefully through the entire four-step process.  Let me share the method I use to get my clients to clearly understand what “exploration” is and how to go about exploring their options.  I find it is useful to illustrate the exploration step using analogies and metaphors.

Lets look at how most of us approach a buffet line.  I would bet that most of us would start down the buffet line and have a completely full plate before reaching the mid point of the line.  While most of us automatically behave this way, all of us are probably aware of the most efficient method of approaching a buffet.  That is, we should walk down the buffet without a plate and observe what items are in the buffet, ask the server to describe any unfamiliar dishes, consider any dietary restrictions, evaluate our appetite, and finally get a plate and select only those items we want to eat.

The job seeker or career changer needs to take the “buffet” approach and gather information about the range of available options.  For the job seeker who is looking for a stock clerk or material handler in a factory, I would ask him or her to (1) develop a list of all the factories within a reasonable commute distance; (2) gather information about each company from the local business journal or the Internet; (3) talk with friends, neighbors and relatives to get introductions to individuals who are currently working (or have recently worked) in any of those companies; (4) tell each company contact that you are “exploring” several companies and would like to know more about their company; (5) evaluate what you have learned about these companies from your “research” in order to rank order the companies from most to least desirable; and finally (6) focus your job search on the most desirable companies (rather than applying at the “first item on the buffet.”

If I am coaching a “career changer”, I might use a different analogy - “the traffic intersection”. I don’t want to ask a career changer to spend hours reading through the Dictionary of Occupational Titles or the Occupational Outlook Handbook (or the on-line O*NET).  I would rather have the client talk with as many people as possible who are currently (or have recently been) in the careers being considered.  This is where I often introduce the concept of a four or five road intersection.  When you get to the intersection where there are several roads taking off in different directions, and you are not sure of which road to take, the best thing to do is to park your car and walk down each road a while to gather information on just where each road will take the “explorer”.  So, instead of embarking on the first new career the client encounters, my advise is to explore each of the four or five careers being considered before focusing on THE career.

Using analogies or metaphors can be an interesting way of coaching job search or career change clients to effectively explore options.

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

 Richard Knowdell
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