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The field of career services is changing, and one of the most significant changes is a move from a counseling model to a coaching model. For professionals on either side, the subject is wrought with complex implications and opinions. For trainees looking for the right place to find support for their next career transition, which model works best?
The answer: it depends.
A traditional career-coaching model guides clients through a semi-structured process focused primarily on career decision making. The model is often a short-term, goal-setting approach that answers the question of “how?” For example, how do I find a job, how do I know what I will like, how do I find more information about a particular field? In my experience, this is a great approach for those who have a basic understanding of self, who simply need a little direction and/or who need to find a position quickly.
The appeal of process-oriented coaching model reflects our culture right now. When I first entered the job market, social media did not exist, so I did not have the constant reminder to get a job that students do today. Now, if you are unemployed, you get a constant reminder of this everyday through LinkedIn job postings and your friends’ Facebook conversations about their jobs, as well as from a consumer economy that equates success with money and title. Likewise, a larger population and increased reliance on technology means that jobs post and fill faster. In a world where recruiters report spending about 20 seconds reviewing your résumé, it is no wonder job seekers want a quick, one-stop solution.
Unfortunately, however, finding a position is not always a short-term affair, and a lot of fears, emotions and even shame surround career transitions. Further, for those trying to define and follow a passion instead of finding a job, a process approach may not be as effective as a more introspective one. In effect, career-counseling models ask, “Why?” Why do you do what you do and feel the way you feel? This model, then, may be best for those who have a lot of anxiety around the job search and who experience difficulty defining their interests, skills and values.
Common myths about career counseling include the notion that counseling is not action focused and that you will spend a lot of time talking about topics beyond the scope of your career. In fact, career coaching certificate programs often use the same theories as career counselors to inform their practice -- they simply take a quicker, more placement-oriented focus. And while career counselors may support you as you discuss the ways in which family or PI perspectives impact your career decisions, career counseling is in no way meant to replace mental health counseling. Keep those differences in mind as you decide which approach and professional best suits you.
Qualifications for counselors and coaches widely vary. Career counselors typically have a counseling, psychology or human development background, whereas coaches range from having coaching certifications to having minimal to no training at all. Those with minimal training typically tout a particular knowledge or experience by field, but you should do your due diligence before making appointments with them. Knowing a field neither qualifies you to coach nor guarantees the empathy necessary to understand your personal fit within a field. And remember that, regardless of their experience, rarely are they going to place you in a job or hand over their connections.
Most campuses include some type of career-services office that serves undergraduate and graduate students; some also serve postdocs. Outside academe, there are other career-services providers in private practice, industry and partnerships or groups. There are no easy ways out of the job exploration and networking sides of career development. For this reason, I support organizations that offer both counseling and coaching models. Indeed, it is helpful to understand both the how and the why of your career development throughout the various phases of your life.
Regardless of which type of approach you choose -- counselor or coach -- remember that the professionals should not be telling you what you should do. Their advice should be kept at a minimum (it’s about listening to you and empowering you to make decisions), and they should only be using themselves as examples and talking about their own stories when you ask or when it is truly crucial and relative to the choices you are making. Your counseling and coaching sessions are about you, not your counselor or coach.
Career transitions are rarely easy, but they go much more smoothly when you have the right type of support along the way. Knowing exactly what you need to support you -- whether more directive coaching or reflective counseling -- helps you maximize the process and tailor the process to your needs along the way.