Career coaching

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Life Coach Directory Content Team

Last updated 26th June 2024 | Next update due 26th June 2027

The aim of career coaching is to help you understand what you want from your work life, the skills you need and how you can develop. A career coach can support you in making these initial steps, setting you on your way to a more fulfilling future.

What is career coaching?

Career coaching can help you with your current job, help you to establish professional goals and feel more fulfilled, or support you in making a career change. A coach will never tell you what to do, but they can support you through decision-making, and give you the time and space to talk about how you’re feeling and understand what your goals are.

In this video, career coach and psychotherapist, Steve Maher, explains more about career coaching and the ways a coach can support you.

What is the difference between career coaching and career counselling?

If you're looking for career support, you may be wondering if a coach or counsellor would be best. Both counsellors and coaches can help you navigate career concerns, though they typically tackle slightly different areas.

A career counsellor, for example, may be particularly helpful if your mental health is affected by your work (or if it's affecting it). You may also find it beneficial to work with a counsellor to reflect on past events that are affecting your behaviours.

A career coach puts you in the driving seat, offering support and guidance while ultimately allowing you to take the wheel in your career. They can support you in achieving a healthy work/life balance to prioritise mental health. If you're unsure who would support you best, reach out to a coach or counsellor to learn more about what they can offer.  

Do you feel trapped in your job?

Our society typically celebrates being busy. 'Busy' is something that we strive for, despite the constant feeling of overwhelm - you know, feeling like you’re drowning under the pressure and endless tasks. But isn't being busy a sign of success?

Well, not necessarily. You can be busy, but be in a job that you hate. One that makes you dread each morning, or you’re sat at your desk each day, bored and unfulfilled. You may be busy, but that doesn’t equal happiness. And recognising this isn’t easy. With so many responsibilities, it may feel as though we can’t afford to consider a career change. We have bills to pay, families to support and homes to maintain. 

We spend so much of our lives at work and we deserve to be in a place that we enjoy. If you’re unhappy at work, it can bleed into other aspects of your life: your relationships, your social life and your mental and physical health.

Even if changing careers isn't an option right now, changes can be made for a happier work life. Friends and family can be great advisors, but sometimes, we need more. If you feel like something’s missing, you’re unsatisfied with your career or you simply want a bit of guidance on where to go next, career coaching is one option that may benefit you. 

Career vs life coaching 

Life coaches support people wanting to improve their personal lives and work towards achieving their own goals. There may be an element of career discussion in relation to work/life balance and helping the client find their purpose, however, this is not the main focus. 

Career coaches, on the other hand, support individuals in their professional lives - whether that's helping them network, build on their skillset or navigate a career change. 

How can a career coach help?

There are many ways career coaching could benefit you, what you take away from it really is down to you and the reasons why you are seeking help. What you cover during sessions will depend on you and the coach, though common topics include:

  • improving your career progression within your current organisation
  • understanding your ‘perfect career’ and exploring your options
  • identifying and overcoming potential obstacles
  • learning to utilise your skills and experiences, and how to improve
  • interview coaching to help you stand out from the crowd
  • CV writing to help you get noticed
  • support in changing career paths
  • overcoming the feeling of being ‘stuck’ career-wise
  • positioning yourself for future opportunities
  • formulating a set of attainable goals and a plan of action
  • rebalancing your work and home life and managing personal priorities
  • returning to work after long-term leave or sickness

And you don’t need to be in a full-time role to benefit from career coaching. You may be a school or college leaver who feels a little lost after spending so long in education, not knowing where to turn next. You may be a university graduate; you may have spent years studying a particular subject, but realise it’s a career you no longer want to pursue.

Not knowing exactly what you want to do is OK and totally normal (trust us, you’re not the only one) but know there are options available. Career coaching, or more suitably, youth coaching can help you recognise the skills you have, identify what jobs you are interested in and support you in achieving your goals.

In this video, Carly Ferguson explains the best things you can do for yourself when you're stuck in a career rut and the ways you can move forward. 

On the flip side, you may know what you want to do but have no idea how to get there. These days, it can seem like the only way to secure a job that we love, is through years of experience, training and education. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes, the things holding us back aren’t our level of training or experience, but our own self-doubt.

Unlike a lovely friend or colleague who may be seeking to help you, a coach believes that you are the expert on your life. A coach will ask you the right questions to help you reach your own conclusions about the next steps.

- Life coach Emma Humphrey (Dip. Personal Performance Coaching)

What does a career coach do?

A career coach won’t tell you what to do. They won’t give you the answers, but they will help you understand how you feel and what you want, and support you along the way.

You may be unsatisfied with your role and feel like you want to leave your comfort zone, yet something keeps you from making the jump. You may be worried that a career change is irresponsible; what if it’s the wrong decision? But the thing is, if your occupation is making you unhappy, you owe yourself the chance to find something better, something more fulfilling.

Career coaches are experts in listening. They will listen to you, and together, you will start to break down your current situation and understand your feelings. This is a very difficult thing to do by yourself; often we can achieve this by speaking to friends and family, but sometimes professional support is needed.

The support you receive from your coaching session will totally depend on you and your situation, feelings, wants and needs. The coach will help you break down these feelings, not just about your current role, but about your life as well.

The importance of work/life balance

We can forget about the influence our lives have on our work, and vice versa, so understanding what’s going on in your life and how to manage particular stressors is key. It may be that there’s nothing wrong with your job, instead, it’s your home or social life that's impacting your happiness. Work/life balance is important, and when we spend so much of our lives at work, the two need to work together to keep us happy and healthy.

How to find the right job for you

If you’re unsure of what occupation would truly excite you, it may be worth spending some time researching the avenues that suit your passions and strengths. Think, what did you love as a child? Was there a particular hobby or skill you enjoyed? Is there a job opportunity here?

When you discover a role or industry that encompasses your passions, it’s about understanding the skills and steps you need to take to get there. Speak to the people around you; ask them about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask them how they would describe you, and consider how you describe yourself.

Then write everything down. Take this to your coaching sessions; your coach will work with you to identify your areas of improvement, the skills you have and any further training you may need. Together you can then build a plan of action and start working toward your goals.

What can I talk about in career coaching sessions?

How you carry out sessions will be down to you and your coach. Some offer consultations over the phone or online, while others may offer face-to-face sessions. The duration of the course will also depend on your personal needs; you may need one or two, or you may need 10. Even if you were to come to the end of your sessions, if you or your coach believe you may benefit from more, then this can be discussed.

Browse our career coaches

Your initial consultation will be the time when you can discuss what it is you’re seeking help with and any concerns or questions you have. This is the time to get to know each other and to understand more about career coaching and what to expect from sessions.

While the direction of your sessions will depend on your situation and what you hope to gain from the experience, common topics include:

Exploring your skills and identifying achievements

There are so many skills or attributes you possess that you may not realise. What you think you’re not great at, someone else may think you’re excellent. Many skills we believe to be impressive to potential employers are ones that we think we lack when actually, we carry more skills than we think, it’s just we can’t see them. Career coaches are skilled in identifying these skills and attributes and can help you recognise them in yourself.

Ideal career choices

We can get very wrapped up in our lives; work, home, eat, rest and work again, without much time to sit back and think about what it is we really want. 

Career coaching can not only help you find time to pursue fulfilment but sit down with you as you work out the things you want from your job; what are your passions and what would make you happy? Only through making this time do you have the chance to explore new possibilities.

Is a career change the right choice?

There are many things that can affect your happiness. What you think is causing you unhappiness may not be the true cause, it’s just that work is the easy answer. A coach can help you assess your work/life balance, and establish whether work is the problem, or if it’s something else. It may be that some simple life changes can make a difference, or rather than a full career change, a move in your current company is the answer to improving your job and life satisfaction. The trick is to be open with yourself and how you are feeling, only you know how you truly feel and what you need to do to be happy.

Understand what’s holding you back

Changing careers is a massive decision to make, and having bills and a family to take care of only makes it more difficult. But what else is holding you back? If money weren’t an option, would the decision be easier, or would you still have doubts? Coaching can help you understand what is holding you back and work towards combating the fears and achieving your goals.

Assistance with CV and cover letter writing

We learn about CV writing at school and college, but after being in a role for a while, we forget everything we’ve learnt. If you’ve been in your role for a while, it’s likely your CV is out of date and the idea of updating it can be pretty overwhelming. How can you stand out from the other applicants? What makes you the ideal candidate?

A career coach can help you recognise your strengths, and understand what makes you, you. They will guide you through the application process, and teach you how to include not only your skills but your personality in your CV and cover letter.

Interview coaching and standing out from the crowd

Ah, interviews. So you’ve made the decision, you’ve found the job you want and now you’ve been called up for an interview. Great news! However, many of us will dread interviews; selling yourself in a short amount of time isn’t easy. A career coach can teach you more general interview techniques, as well as help you navigate the more tricky questions you may be asked.

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