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Making the Most of a Career Counselor or Coach

By Marty Nemko

You’ve chosen a career counselor or coach. How do you make the most of the sessions?

1. When you set your appointment, ask if there’s some homework you could do in advance of the session.

2. Ask if you can tape record the session. You’ll find that you’ll get more out of listening to the tape than from the session itself. That’s because, at home, you have more time to reflect on the question, you’re not trying to impress the counselor with your answers, something that’s almost unavoidable, especially in a first session, and you can play the tape for another person, who might offer a useful perspective.

3. Be concise, even in answering open-ended questions such as, “Tell me about yourself.” Practice the traffic light rule. During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green. Your counselor is paying attention and what you say is probably important. During the second 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is yellow. Your counselor is increasingly likely to be getting bored, and what you say is less likely to be important. At the 60-second mark, your light is red. Yes, there are occasional times you’ll want to run a red light, but you’re generally wise to stop or ask a question.

4. Open up. As mentioned above, it’s natural to want to come off as smart and together. But if in fact, you don’t understand something that’s said, or you’re really a basket case, tell your counselor or coach. Otherwise, he’ll proceed on false assumptions, which will set you up for failure. For example, if he assigns you a homework assignment, and in your heart of hearts, you know you’ll procrastinate it, by all means, say so. The counselor will change the assignment or better help prepare you for that assignment. For example, if a counselor asked you to make 20 cold calls to prospective employers and that terrifies you, say so. He’ll role play with you, perhaps even write a script for you, or urge you to practice first with a trusted friend. But if you simply nod and accept the assignment, you’ll likely not do the homework and return to the next session with your tail between your legs, or worse, cancel the session, and stay stuck.

5. Be open to the coach’s or counselor’s ideas. Many clients merely want their apriori beliefs supported. But chances are, if you picked a counselor you like and who specializes in your situation, her views are worth serious consideration. Of course, don’t don’t be afraid to raise a concern about a suggestion, if you truly have doubts about it.

6. End the session by summarizing what you got out of the session and then asking the counselor/coach if you missed anything.

7. Ask for concrete homework.

8. Before starting the homework, listen to the tape, perhaps with someone you trust. Take notes. Perhaps revise the homework based on what your heard. After all, this isn’t like school, where you have to do what the teacher says. You’re in charge here. But then do that homework.

9. If after listening to the tape, you’re unhappy with the counselor/coach’s work decide whether you think offering feedback will likely result in a good-enough second session, or whether you should cancel and find another counselor/coach. Remember, if you google “career coach” or “career counselor,” you’ll find hundreds of career pros’ websites. And, you can always do self-coachingor co-coaching. (See my articles on those two options.)

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