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2 August 2021


Career planning

Whilst I haven’t worked any of the roles in this blog’s title (except for Spy, which I’m not allowed to talk about), I have been a lifeguard, bin man, crisp quality controller and coach.

In fairness, there were a lot of additional roles between crisp quality controller and coach, but the role titles aren’t as fun, so I left them out. In reality, I was only a bin man for a day. In career planning, it is as important to know which jobs are not for you as which are. 

As I watched a fellow bin man lick the beetroot juice from his sandwich off his dirt-encrusted fingers, I decided this particular job was not for me and moved on to one with Unilever (for which the crisp quality controller role came in quite handily!).

As a business coach, I find that clients regularly want to look at their career plans with you. They may want to look at where to move to next, where they want to be in ten years or consider a different career choice.

The challenge in business planning is thinking about the future and giving structure to your thinking to help you make choices about the roles you have yet to experience, and to visualise the impact they will have on your life and the people around you. 

Coaching is great for creating a safe space to think about where you want to take your career, supported by a critical friend (the coach), who can suggest techniques to help shape your thinking, visualise a potential future state and make choices around possible options.

The techniques I use with clients depend on what they are trying to achieve. Two I commonly use, and which clients find particularly helpful, are:

Career visioning: This helps a client think through what their future may look and what they need to do to realise it. The coach asks the client to think through a timeline captured on a piece of paper; for next year, over two years, five years, ten years. The client then writes down the answers to a series of personal questions for each future date, such as: where they want to be living, what income would they like, who do they want to be living with, etc. 

The questions then prompt the client to add employment/career information into the mix, such as; what type of employment do you want to be in (full-time/part-time/self-employed), what type of company/industry, what level and type of work, how will you be known, what behaviours will you exhibit, what skills will you require? Once completed the client reflects on what the exercise has prompted in their thinking regarding their future desires and what they need to put in place to make these happen.

Spaces in the room: This helps a client make choices between future role options, particularly when they have two or three roles they are considering whilst trying to decide which one to go for. The technique is based on Gestalt psychology, which looks at our experiences as a whole; thinking, feeling, being. It helps the client visualise future states as much as how they make them feel as what they think about them.

The coach asks the client to think through what is important for them regarding their future state using similar questions to those used for Career Visioning. Once the client has established what is important, the coach asks the client to describe the future roles they are trying to choose between. The coach then asks the client to choose the first role to work on and identify a space in the room which in some way speaks to them about the role and go to that space. 

The client then imagines they are in that role and have been doing it for one to two years. The coach asks the client to talk through what made them chose the space they did for the role and then how it feels in the role and how it lives up to the criteria they initially identified as important. Once completed for the first role, they choose a new space for the next role and so on. 

Once all roles have been explored, the coach asks the client to reflect on what the exercise has triggered in their thinking re the role choices and how “experiencing” them, lived up to their expectations and future requirements.

Two very different techniques, one a pen, paper and thinking exercise, the other a visualisation technique to give the client a different perspective to simply thinking through what a role may entail. 

Coaching for career planning, like two of my previous blogs on thinking more strategically and finding your purpose, is classic coaching territory, where the coach facilitates the client to give structure to their thinking around what are amorphous topics.

One of the challenges with amorphous topics is that your thinking can be easily knocked off-track if you are discussing it with someone who is instead of actively listening to you is busily telling you what they think you should do or what they would do in your situation. 

This is why a non-judgemental, actively listening coach with techniques to help shape your thinking is the best call on that decision - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

As always, if you have any questions or comments on this blog or on coaching generally, it would be great to to hear from you

From the author:

As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.

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