Throughout our working lives, most of us will reflect at some point on where our career is heading.
We may ask ourselves, “Have I chosen the right path?” and “How do I earn a good living, yet remain true to my values?”
These are big questions — and not easily answered.
Whether we are embarking on a first career or feeling stuck in a long-term job, a career coach can help, adding value by bringing “the advantage of insight, information and planned action to the pursuit of goals” (Cox, 2018, p. 412).
Let’s learn more about what a client can expect from career coaching and look at tools, questions, and templates to help.
“The boundaries between work life and home life, and career and family are increasingly blurred, and the two parts of life inevitably influence and impact on each other.”
Yates, 2021, p. 282
While career coaching typically focuses on supporting choices and making transformations associated with moving between jobs, it can also help us find a balance between multiple life domains (Yates, 2021).
A career coach supports clients in defining their career goals and devising strategies to meet them while balancing other aspects of their lives (Kauffeld et al., 2022).
The following two models are helpful when considering and delivering change. These specific models can be transformational in career coaching.
John Whitmore’s (2009) model is a powerful tool for setting and working toward career goals.
Options – They explore the options for meeting their goals.
Will – They affirm their commitment, or will, to do what is needed to move forward.
This solution-focused model breaks down the process into a series of steps to understand the goal and context before capturing and finding a path toward the client’s career aspirations (Gilbert & Whittleworth, 2009).
Outcome – Understand the desired outcome and the individual’s long-term goals.
Situation – Help the client become aware of their skills, abilities, level of knowledge, and how they feel.
Choices – What are the options for reaching the desired outcome?
Actions – Identify the improvements and how best to make them.
Review – Hold regular check-ins to ensure the client is on track.
“At its simplest, executive coaching could be defined as coaching for senior, or C-suite, managers” (Passmore, 2021, p. 8).
And yet, it can be more than that. Executive coaches support leadership development through a series of one-to-one reflective conversations, requiring significant trust, safety, and support (Passmore, 2021).
3 Goals of career coaches
Career coaches supporting individuals facing an evolving career often focus on three goals (Kauffeld et al., 2022):
Assessing the client’s potential for development in terms of their present career situation, goals, and competencies
Increasing the client’s “awareness of opportunities for professional development, challenges, and obstacles” (Kauffeld et al., 2022, p. 138)
Developing the knowledge and skills required to take the appropriate next steps
Most clients seeking a career coach’s support are either considering starting a new career or facing a forthcoming career transition — potentially outside their control (Kauffeld et al., 2022).
9 Benefits of Career Coaching
While there are many benefits to working with a career coach, the following positives are nine of our favorites (Kauffeld et al., 2022).
Clarity: Uncovering professional goals to ignite passion and creativity
Adaptation: Shaping and realigning careers to fit evolving aspirations and needs
Insight: Supporting confident, informed career decisions
Strategy: Crafting a strategic roadmap for the next career chapter
Harmony: Achieving a more manageable balance between work and personal life
Empowerment: Recognizing and honing career-relevant skills and strengths
Impact: Mastering self-marketing to showcase talents and ambitions
Fulfillment: Creating more fulfilling, value-led roles
Thriving: Unleashing potential by connecting values and career pursuits
17 More Work & Career Coaching Exercises
These 17 Work & Career Coaching Exercises [PDF] contain everything you need to help others find more meaning and satisfaction in their work.
Intake forms are vital for identifying the client’s needs and situation.
Adult Psychotherapy Intake Form
While targeting clients in psychotherapy, this template can be tailored to the needs of a client entering career coaching.
New Client Intake Form
This useful form is meant to be completed before the first session, helping the career coach understand the client’s background and goals.
Employee Intake Form
This valuable form is for dealing with multiple clients in a workplace setting.
Topics for Career Coaches: Best Tips and Advice
“Good career coaching makes use of a non-judgmental, non-directive approach, a structured conversation, as well as listening, questioning and challenging where appropriate” (Yates, 2021, p. 284).
Support for clients is imperative when faced with the following decisions (Yates, 2021).
Initial career choice
A limited experience of the world can hold clients back from making an informed choice about potential careers.
The coach can help clients identify their values and strengths and begin to link their individual characteristics to potential jobs.
After all, awareness and use of strengths is linked to “a range of positive outcomes, including work engagement and job satisfaction” (Yates, 2021, p. 284).
A career genogram offers a visual tool for understanding a client’s family’s impact on their career decisions.
The following diagram captures the occupations of key family members and offers insight into the “values that are manifest and the family’s conceptualization of career success” (Yates, 2021, p. 285).
Career changes typically involve moving between jobs but can also include job crafting, where individuals shape their existing roles to make them more satisfying (Yates, 2021).
Either way, career changing may require costly training and may briefly leave the individual feeling like they are professionally regressing.
For those experiencing layoffs, this can be particularly true. Along with facing their fears, they may experience a loss of confidence.
Career coaches help clients see such changes as opportunities with the potential to surface the other side happier and more engaged (Yates, 2021).
Return to work
This group often includes parents returning to their career and seeking help from a coach as they reach the end of a career break.
“Family dynamics tend to be quite entrenched by this point, which often means that the stay-at-home parent expects to be the children’s primary carer, even after their return to work” (Yates, 2021, p. 284).
Career conversations often involve identifying priorities and are likely to include consideration of working hours, location, and flexibility.
Reaching the end of a career can feel scary, heading into uncharted territories where the individual must choose whether to stop and fully retire or do something they’ve always wished for (Yates, 2021).
The career coach will help the individual maintain or regain their self-confidence and consider what they wish to do next while considering their financial situation.
12 Questions to Ask Your Coaching Clients
Here are several questions exploring values, identifying personal resources, and generating job ideas (Yates, 2021).
1. Questions to explore values
What causes or issues are you most passionate about, and why?
What impact or legacy would you like to leave behind?
What are your top priorities in life, and how do they align with your career goals?
What kind of work environment or company culture brings out the best in you?
2. Questions to help identify personal resources
What skills or abilities do you possess that others often recognize and appreciate?
Think of a time when you faced a significant challenge. How did you overcome it, and what personal strengths did you rely on?
What activities or tasks do you enjoy that make you lose track of time? What does that tell you about your natural talents?
In what ways do your personality traits contribute to your success in certain areas?
3. Questions to generate job ideas
What job would you choose if there were no limits, and why?
What are your hobbies or interests outside of work?
What entrepreneurial venture or business would you start if you had unlimited resources and support?
Reflect on times when you have felt the most excited and energized. Are there any job roles or industries that evoke similar feelings?
3 Helpful Exercises, Tools, and Worksheets
There are several considerations when choosing a career. The following exercises, tools, and worksheets can help.
Assessment of Life and Career ‘Wants’
This assessment of life and career wants asks five questions to help clients consider their sense of purpose as they assess career opportunities.
How do your life experiences connect with and shape your career development?
What makes your life meaningful?
What sort of life would you like to build (for example, work–life balance, time spent traveling, etc.)?
What would you like to express through your work?
What aspects of work or ways of working allow you to come closest to expressing who you are?
Before choosing a career direction, it’s helpful to consider our future selves.
How might it look, feel, and be like if we took the path we have been thinking about and had the career of our dreams (Yates, 2021)?
Our working life can be hectic. Being busy does not always mean being productive, especially if we focus on the wrong tasks.
Try out the following four steps to improve performance in the workplace:
Step one – List all the tasks on your to-do list.
Step two – Prioritize each one. How urgent and how important is it?
Step three – Draw an outline of a dartboard and add the tasks. Put the most urgent and important ones near the center.
Step four – Plan your day, week, and month around those tasks nearest the center of the dartboard.
The Five Ps of Job Preference
When we make career changes, we must clearly understand what we are looking for.
Considering the five Ps can help:
People – Who would you like to work with (if anyone)?
Place – Where would you like to work?
Projects – What projects and tasks do you prefer?
Process – What are your desired ways of working?
Powers – What strengths and skills do you like to use at work?
Reflect on the answers to the coaching questions and consider what insights they offer regarding career choice.
A Take-Home Message
Whether preparing for a first job, feeling stuck in a current role, or facing layoffs or retirement, a career coach can help.
Unlike counselors, career coaches typically focus on present and future goals and how to achieve them.
In doing so, they consider the values and life domains critical to the client and support them in finding the right work–life balance and a role that fosters engagement and interest.
There are plenty of tools to help career coaches and their clients, including the GROW and the OSCAR models, which help break down important, daunting goals into more manageable chunks.
As a result, clients find new ways to balance their work and personal life, reconnect their work with their values, and create clarity and direction for their careers.
Why not try some of the tools discussed in the article? Create a path of interventions that help clients visualize potential careers and identify values and strengths that can support their professional transformation.
Cox, E. (2018). The complete handbook of coaching. SAGE.
Gilbert, A., & Whittleworth, K. (2009). The OSCAR coaching model: Simplifying workplace coaching. Worth Consulting.
Kauffeld, S., Güntner, A. V., & Ebner, K. (2022). Career coaching. In S. Greif, H. Möller, W. Scholl, J. Passmore, & F. Müller (Eds.), International handbook of evidence-based coaching (pp. 137–149). Springer.
Passmore, J. (2021). Coaching defined and explored. In J. Passmore (Ed.), The coaches’ handbook: The complete practitioner guide for professional coaches (pp. 3–12). Routledge.
Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for performance. Nicholas Brealey.
Yates, J. (2021). Career coaching. In J. Passmore (Ed.), The coaches’ handbook: The complete practitioner guide for professional coaches (pp. 280–290). Routledge.
About the author
Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D., is a writer and researcher studying the human capacity to push physical and mental limits. His work always remains true to the science beneath, his real-world background in technology, his role as a husband and parent, and his passion as an ultra-marathoner.