Supporting Clients with Job Search


Supporting clients through the job search process takes a variety of skills and knowledge bases, as well as the ability to build trust with the client.  For example, as a Career Coach, you need to know:

  • How to overcome complex barriers that clients may present with
  • What organisations are out there to help people with specialist issues
  • How to help your client identify their transferable skills and the unique contribution they can make
  • Your client’s local labour market
  • How to help you client use their network effectively
  • Where jobs are likely to be advertised
  • How to approach employers who have not advertsied
  • How to make good use of social media
  • How to tailor a CV to your client’s unique situation
  • How paper based and online application forms are likely to be assessed
  • What questions may be asked in a job interview
  • How to help your client improve their body language and tone of voice so hey can present themselves calmly and confidently
  • How to help your client overcome lack of confidence
  • How to help your client build and maintain their motivation in the face of set backs.

All of this takes time – you are unlikely to be able to fully prepare a client for the job search process in one session, particularly if they lack recent experience of applying for jobs or have complex barriers.

You might focus initially building confidence and motivation, identifying transferable skills and interests, and how they relate to the labour market,  Giving the client positive feedback about what they have to offer also helps to build your relationship.  If your client has not worked for some years, you may need to think more creatively about how to identify their skills.  For example, a mother of two young children may have good organisational skills, be able to lead others, be effective at managing her time, and have well developed empathy.  A petty drug dealer may have the ability to be self-motivated, to sell a product and understand their cash flow.

Your client may also need help to identify local employers and sources of vacancies.  Working up the confidence to actually approach those employers can take some time.  Role playing a conversation can help helpful so the client can practice what they want to say.

Talking to employers about how they assess their applications and what they look for in interviews is a hugely valuable investment of time, since this understanding will help you to support your clients with high impact applications.

Finally, you may need to help your client to present themselves positively at interview.  Preparation is key, and of course, we will want the client to rehearse answers to the more likely questions, and feel confident to articulate what they have to offer.  Spending time on positive body language will not be wasted, as how we hold our bodies determines how we feel and the level of confidence we project.  Tone of voice is also important, and helping your client to practice a calm and confident delivery will be a huge asset.

The example below brings all this together and shows how a career coach might help a client with complex barriers over several sessions.


Chris has recently completed a prison sentence for driving the getaway car in armed robbery.  He says that he was asked to drive the car because his friends knew him as a reliable person who would not panic in a stressful situation.  While he was in prison he completed some basic skills courses, and obtained some support for previously undiagnosed dyslexia. Chris kept himself occupied in prison, finding work in the garden and undertaking kitchen and laundry duties.

Chris would like to get a job in catering, as he enjoyed the lively activity of a busy kitchen, and found that he had a natural aptitude for preparing food. At the same time, he is quite open to the idea of getting any job at all to establish a solid work history – and an income – while he considers his options.

Indira seeks some up-to-date advice from a specialist charity about disclosing convictions, and discusses with Chris how to disclose his offending behaviour in the best way.  They agree that Chris would feel most comfortable if he were to write a letter to the employer after he has been offered an interview, but before the interview itself, so that they can ask him any questions they want to, and he can be open and honest.

Indira also encourages Chris to make good use of his network.  Chris does not use social media much, but Jackie encourages him to post on Facebook that he is looking for catering work, and ask if anyone knows of any opportunities.  Chris talks to all his friends, and finds out that some of them do know people who work in pubs, cafes and restaurants in the local area. He asks if they will introduce him to their contacts so he can find out more about the local employers, and whether any of them are likely to be taking on staff.

Indira helps Chris to create a CV so that he has something to bring with him when he meets these employers.  Since Chris has no regular work history, they create a skills-based CV which highlights Chris’s catering skills, teamwork, ability to organise others, ability to operate in a stressful environment and reliability.

Indira also shows Chris a number of websites where catering jobs are regularly advertised, and offers him some support with completing the application forms.

Since Chris has no experience of formal job interviews, and is rather anxious at the thought of having to present himself to others, Indira encourages him to visualise how he will enter the room.  She gets him to think about his body language: what he will wear; what he will say; how he will shake hands and then sit down. They also role play possible interview questions, until Chris feels well prepared.

Chris has a habit of slumping in his chair, with his arms folded protectively,  so Indira encourages him to sit up straight and see what difference this makes to how he feels.  Chris finds that he feels more confident and speaks more calmly when he sits up straight.

Finally, Indira helps Chris to practice what he will say about his time in prison, and how he will explain what he learnt from the experience. Chris needs to sound authentic and genuine, rather than rehearsed, so Indira helps Chris to identify the main points he wants to make, and they discuss how he can explain his change of attitude and regret for past mistakes.



Self Efficacy: A Key to Motivation

Have you ever wondered why some clients find it so difficult to take action to change their careers, even though they tell you that the change is really important, or that they are really dissatisfied with the current situation?


Self-efficacy is our belief that we can exert control over our lives, succeed at any given task and achieve our goals.  It’s a critical element in motivation because, if we believe that we can successfully make a change, we are more likely to try.  

If we do not believe we can succeed then there is no point in trying.  It will just be a waste of energy and potentially lead to rejection, frustration and other negative emotions.  When weighing up whether to make a change, we calculate the likelihood of success and the rewards that will bring, versus the likelihood of failure and the pain that will bring.

However, we don’t always make very accurate judgements about our likelihood of success.  Depending on where we sit on the optimist-pessimist spectrum, we may over or under estimate how likely we are to succeed.  If your client has overly-pessimistic beliefs then they are likely to be low in self-efficacy for the change you are working on.

According to Bandura (Self Efficacy in Changing Societies 1995), our clients can build self efficacy through four types of experience:

  • mastery; succeeding at tasks such as mock interviews will increase confidence that they can do it for real;
  • vicarious; observing or accessing stories of other people (“people like me”) succeeding;
  • social persuasion; receiving verbal feedback that they have what it takes to succeed with the chosen task;
  • physiological and emotional states; anxiety can be interpreted as a warning of imminent failure but a coach can help to reframe this state  as one which produces the necessary energy to succeed.

Our sense of self-efficacy for any given task can also be lowered by the reverse four experiences: an actual experience of failure at the task or something perceived as similar, watching someone else who we relate to fail, negative feedback or criticism, and negative emotions whilst performing the task (anxiety, or frustration, for example).

We can have low self-efficacy for some tasks (sorting out a digital problem, for example) and high self-efficacy for other tasks (starting a conversation with a stranger).  Our client might have high self-efficacy for the tasks in their current job, but low self-efficacy for promoting themselves outside their current organisation. Low self-efficacy for a particular task  is not the same as a generalised lack of confidence.

If you are working with a client to build self-efficacy for a specific task, whether that is job interviews, networking or getting to grips with digital self-marketing, use these four methods to apply a multi-prong strategy:

  • Start with easy tasks that the client can master
  • Use stories of other similar people who have succeeded or put them in touch with a good role model
  • Give lots of positive feedback
  • Make it fun!


Varsha is a French teacher in a secondary school, and has progressed to become Head of Department at quite a young age.  She is considered to be a good teacher, who always gets results, and is fairly well liked by her pupils, although considered on the strict side.   She has no qualms about getting up to speak in fronts of large groups of parents and pupils.

Although she enjoys working with her pupils, she has become very fed up with the amount of work that she takes home every weekend, and feels that the paperwork involved in the job is dragging her down and creating too much stress. She tells her career coach that it is really important to her that she leaves teaching and has a new income by the end of the academic year.  Having done her research, she has decided that she would like to become a freelance translator.

However, when she comes to the second session, she has done nothing to progress her action plan.  She has not set up a website or a social media account, or made contact with any of the local businesses who do international trade.  When her coach probes why this is, he discovers that Varsha is assuming firstly that her digital skills are not good enough, and secondly that she does not know how to pitch herself to others.

Together they agree some steps that will help Varsha build her self-efficacy in relation to these tasks:

  • They break the tasks down into bite size chunks, so that Varsha will have more chance of success.  The coach shows her how to set up a Twitter account, and then tasks Varsha with setting up a Linkedin account at home.  Having made the task easier, Varsha is likely to experience some mastery.
  • The coach helps Varsha think of a person who could serve as a good role model.  Varsha decides to contact an old friend who has recently become self-employed and carry out an informal interview with her, finding out about how she overcame barriers and found her feet.  This will give her a sense of  vicarious mastery.
  • The coach gives Varsha a lot of positive feedback, reminding her that she has the demonstrated that she can learn new skills and succeed in challenging situations.  He  also uses immediacy to reassure Varsha that she is very personable and engaging: “If I met you for the first time, I would have the impression that you were a very professional person, a person who would do a good job for me.”  This social persuasion gives Varsha a necessary boost.
  • Finally, they hit on a way of making the tasks more enjoyable.  Varsha buys a stack of her favourite bathroom treats and decides to reward herself every time she makes contact with someone who might be able to help her.  She also uses her new social media accounts to follow some comedy feeds, so that she will enjoy going into her accounts.  Now the tasks have become something to look forward to, rather than another chore.  She also decides to practice some mindfulness exercises to help her manage her anxiety about approaching people.  This creates a more positive emotional state around her action plan.

Three Chairs and a Breakthrough

Ochairs-163887_1280The most painful thing about writing a book was the editing.  Liane and I ended up with 120,000 words which had to be edited down to 80,000 before we could submit to the publisher.  Many lovely case studies and interesting topics ended up in our editing bin.  This case study was one of my favourites, but it was too long for the book, sadly.  So, enjoy, and look our for our book, Creative Career Coaching, in November.

Three Chair Work

Three chair work can be a really powerful way of breaking through ambivalence or stuckness, since it is a practical way of getting different aspects of the self to talk to each other and exploring inner conflict.  You could use the three chairs to have a conversation between:

  • Your client’s adult self and themselves as a child
  • The part that wants to change and the part that doesn’t
  • The part that thinks the client “should” do something and the part that is rebelling
  • The anxious part and the the part that wants to be free from anxiety.

If you find that your client is experiencing some inner conflict, and the client can identify two parts of themselves which want different things, the this might be a good time to offer three chair work.

Three chair work originates in Gestalt Therapy and but is widely used in coaching and NLP as well.  It does take a little practice, so make sure you practice on yourself or a friend before you try it with a client.  You will need to explain the process carefully to the client and check that they are happy and comfortable taking part.  It can be quite emotional, so make sure there is a safe space and plenty of time to process what comes up.

To start, set up three separate chairs for the client to occupy.  Name two of them for the sub-personalities that the client wants to engage in dialogue.  To help someone struggling to decide whether to stay in steady work that pays the bills, or move into a more creative but financially insecure environment, the coach might name one chair “provider” and the other “artist”.  The third chair is for a neutral observer.  

The client starts by sitting on one of the chairs for the sub-personalities and expresses that point of view, and then switches chairs and replies from the other sub-personality’s point of view.  It is important that they speak in the voice of the sub-personality, to experience the full power of the diaglogue.  They can switch back and forth between the chairs and develop the dialogue.  They may be surprised as to what emerges.

They can then move to the seat of the neutral observer and describe what has been occurring.  As the neutral observer, they may see things that were previously hidden from them.

CASE STUDY – Ruth and Huiliang

Ruth has been working with Huiliang for some time, since Huiliang is really struggling to decide what she will do at the end of her compulsory schooling.  On the one hand, she feels that she should look for a secure job that will ensure she will be able to make enough money to live comfortably, pay off her student loans, buy a property and have a pension.  However, Huiliang is also a talented artist, and says that she only feels really alive when she is creating something beautiful, whether that is painting, sculpture, poetry or product design.  She fears living in poverty while she pursues her creative work.

Ruth reflects back to Huiliang, “It is almost like there are two people inside you – one who seeks security and comfort, and the other who is creative and will put that ahead of everything.”

“That’s right,” says Huiliang, “and they don’t agree with each other at all.  They are always fighting.”

“If you were to give them names, what would you name them?” asks Ruth.

After a bit of thought, Huiliang names her sub-personalities as “play-it-safe” and “express-my-truth”.

Ruth asks Huiliang if she would be willing to try something different to explore the conflict between them.  She positions three chairs in a circle, feeling grateful that there is enough space for this in the room they are using, and then labels the chairs as “play-it-safe” , “express-my-truth” and “observer”.

Ruth asks Huiliang to sit on one of the chairs and talk from that point of view. Huiliang is a little nervous, but picks “express-my-truth” as her starting point. From this point on, Ruth encourages Huiliang to switch chairs as she needs to express all the points of view.  Huiliang increasing gets confident with the approach and chooses chairs herself.

From EMT: “Well, I guess, when I paint or make something beautiful, I feel truly alive.  It’s like, I can express what is deep inside myself. Afterwards, nothing else feels so real or important.  It is what makes everything worthwhile. Life would be hollow without that feeling.”  Ruth encourage her to reply from the PIT chair.

From PIT “Yes, but you could do all that in the evenings and at weekends.  Life won’t be so beautiful if you have a massive student debt, you are living in a scummy shared house with no chance of ever having your own place, and you aren’t even sure how you can pay the bills.  If you get a secure job, maybe law or accountancy, you would be able to pay off your debts, buy your own place and then have the space to be as creative as you want at the weekends. And you could have a pension so you wouldn’t need to worry.”  Ruth encourages her to switch back once she has run out of steam.

From EMT: “There is no need to lecture me.  I know all that. But if I was a lawyer, I’d be working long hours, I’d be tired in the evenings and all the creativity would be squashed out of me.  I’m not even sure I would really be myself any more.”

From PIT: “Don’t be silly.  Of course you would be yourself.  You would be a different version of yourself though, more grown up and saying the right thing at the right time, being polite, keeping other people happy.  You would have lots of knowledge and be able to give people advice, because you know more than they do, so that would be you. Lots of knowledge – that would become you.”

FROM EMT: “That is not the me I want to become though.  I don’t want a brain stuffed full of boring knowledge.  I want to see beautiful things, travel the world, read interesting books, read poetry, meet crazy people… I want my brain to be full of ideas, not knowledge.  And maybe I would make a living doing something creative. Some people do. How do you know I wouldn’t? I might not be rich, but I would probably make enough money to live on.”

From PIT: “But you might spend your whole life worrying about having enough to live on.  And you will always be the poor person in your family, while everyone else has a nice house and fancy car.  You might really regret not getting a professional qualification.”

From EMT: “But I might regret not following my dreams.  I might look back and think I wasted my life if I don’t do what I have a talent for.”  At this point, Ruth encourages Huiliang to sit in the observer chair and describe what she has heard and how the two sub-personalities are helping or hindering her.

From NO: “Well, play-it-safe, you sound just like your Dad and Mum.  You want to protect Huiliang, but you don’t trust her to make a success of her life in her own way.  And Express Myself, you sound a bit idealistic. You want Huiliang to have a brilliant and exciting life, but you aren’t thinking much about how to make it work for real.”  Then Ruth encourages her to go back to each chair one more time.

From PIT: “I do just want to keep you safe.  But maybe there are other ways to be safe as well – you don’t need to be a lawyer.  You just need to think about how you can use your creative skills to do something that will earn you some money.”

From EMT: “You could be a creative graphic designer or product designer and make enough money.  You might not be rich, but you could earn enough to live and be happy. And if it doesn’t work out, you could always train to be a lawyer later on.”

From NO: “I think they need to work together more to find a way to both be creative and earn some money.”

This activity gives Huiliang the breakthrough that she needs to focus on her next steps.  She eventually chooses and Art and Design course that has strong links to employers in the product design field and will enable her to get experience in the industry.

If you don’t have enough space to use three chairs, then you could try asking the client to rest their open hands on the their lap, and give each hand one of the sub-personalities.  Even this small act of giving each personality a physical location will help them to separate and talk to each other.

Three chair work can also be used to help a client explore a conflict with another person – they start in their own chair, and then switch to the chair and point of view of the person they are in conflict with.  Being able to develop the empathy to see things from another person’s point of view can be a very powerful tool to diffuse anger and frustration.



Enabling the Unconscious Mind


Psychologists and neuro-scientists are increasingly finding that the unconscious mind is far more powerful than we realise.  Our unconscious mind if often way ahead of our conscious thought when it comes to making decisions, processing all the inputs which come through our senses, sifting through relevant memories and taking control of our actions, before we have even realised what is going on.  The unconscious mind checks in with our conscious awareness at some point briefly after the decisions have been made, and our conscious mind may then try to justify our decision to ourselves or to others with rational argument.  Often, however, the decision has already been made, and this conscious process is almost an afterthought.

This is not necessarily a bad thing – our unconscious mind can sift through large amount of information, deal with vague or ambiguous information, may be better at noting information that makes us uncomfortable and can come up with more creative solutions than the logical part of our brain.  Intuition may send us in exactly the right direction, especially if we take time to mull over a problem rather than rushing to a decision.  Auto-pilot saves us a lot of energy when it comes to making routine decisions.

When we try to put the conscious, logical brain in charge of our decisions, by creating lists of pros and cons, assigning scores to different options or matching interests to jobs, we focus in tightly on a small number of variables, and our decision-making may actually get worse.

So, if we want to help our clients to tap into the powers of their unconscious brain, what can we do to help?  Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t rush your client’s decision-making – stress weakens the ability to pay attention to information on the margins of the thought process.
  • Be playful – the less invested the client’s ego is in getting the “right” answer, the more they will be able to access information from the unconscious mind.  Felt tips, toys, Plasticine, building blocks, stickers and coloured materials create a playful vibe.
  • Use pictures, metaphors, visualisation and images, since these help the client to by-pass language and access feelings or information that cannot be easily expressed in language.
  • If you do use logical decision-making tools, such as occupational interest quizzes, pros and cons lists, or scoring sheets, discourage your client from making a firm decision immediately afterwards.  Allow the client plenty of time to digest the activity and mull over any ideas or issues that arose.
  • Allow plenty of time for silent contemplation.  Forcing the client to keep up a running commentary on their thought process can make it harder to capture what is going on in the unconscious.
  • Encourage the client to listen to their heart or their gut feeling.  If something seems right logically, but feels wrong, this may be a sign that the logical brain has overlooked something important.
  • Encourage the client to take a break from problem solving and do something to take their mind of it, or sleep on it.  The unconscious will continue to mull over the problem even while the conscious brain is otherwise occupied, and may work better without the conscious brain peering over it’s shoulder.

For a good read on this subject, try “Hare Brain Tortoise Mind” by Guy Claxton.  The Hare Brain is the quick thinking logical brain, whilst the Tortoise Mind is our more creative intuition, which takes time to mull things over before telling us what our heart knows is right (although, of course, our unconscious mind is also responsible for a lot of quick, auto-pilot decisions as well).


Strengths Based DMAIC



Whatever you focus on, you tend to get more of.  When you focus your brain on problems, your subconscious is then primed to look out for things to go wrong and will probably help you create more problems.  If you focus on strengths, on the other hand, then you will notice what is going well, expand on it and amplify your strengths.

If you have ever been involved in continuous improvement of your career coaching service, you may have found it rather problem-focused.  Classic Lean and Six Sigma are all about identifying, measuring and eliminating problems.  But is there a better way, a way that feels positive and encourages your service to make the most of it’s strengths rather than anxiously contemplating it’s problems?

I was recently lucky enough to attend a training day on Strengths Based Lean Six Sigma, organised by Academi Wales and delivered by David Shaker.  

Strengths Based Lean Six Sigma builds on the continuous improvement tools used in Lean and Six Sigma, but puts a more positive spin on them, using questioning techniques taken from Solution Focused Coaching.  

We explored the use of solution-focused questions in continuous improvement, and then took a number of popular continuous improvement tools and re-framed them from a strengths-based perspective.  

An example of this is how we re framed DMAIC to focus on possibilities rather than problems (if you have ever worked with Six Sigma, you will be familiar with DMAIC as a structure for a continuous improvement project).  Re framed as a strengths based tool, it could be:

Define the Possibilities (agree on a statement)

  • What is our shared vision for improvement?
  • What could we achieve?

Measure the Rate of Excellence (obtain a benchmark so you can measure improvement)

  • How often do we do it well?
  • How often are customers really satisfied?
  • How often does the process run smoothly?

Analyse our Strengths (data, focus groups, questionnaires, walkabouts, observations)

  • Where are the hidden examples of excellent practice?
  • What are we good at in this process?
  • What are our strengths in relation to this?
  • When we do this better, what is going on?
  • When the problem is less severe, what is happening?
  • How do our values support us with this?
  • What are the key success criteria?

Implement Solutions (try things out until you find changes that work)

  • What solutions might help us improve?
  • Which solutions build on our strengths?
  • How is this action helping us to improve?

Culture (amplify the gains)

  • What is now working well (or better than it was)?
  • How can we embed this change in our culture?
  • How does this change align with our values?
  • How can we amplify the strengths we now have?
  • Where are exceeding our expectations?
  • How can we celebrate success?
  • How can we build on this success to improve even more?

If you structure your improvement project using these five steps, you will encourage people to discover the brilliance that may be hidden away and make the most of your strengths.  You don’t need to deny that problems exist, you just choose to focus on solutions instead.


Visualisation as a Tool to Support Decision Making

IMG_0598Traditional career development theory emphasises logical rational decision-making, the matching up of skills against occupations to the find the best fit.  To this day, that is what most people expect a career development professional to do.  And yet, our modern understanding of how the brain works demonstrates that if we rely solely on logic, we are likely to make sub-optimal choices.

Our logical brains are not great at working with complex, impartial information, especially when part of the work will be to weigh up how important all the available information is to us.  This is where our limbic systems, or intuitive brains, have a key role to play.  This part of the brain can sift through huge amounts of information, linking it to all our previous experiences and memories, to produce a “gut feeling” response to a decision.  Our best decisions will often be made using a combination of both intuition and logic.

The easiest way to engage intuition is simply to ask, “Which option feels right?”  

Another way of helping a client to get in touch with their intuition is to encourage them to visualise options.  Some clients are happy to try this, but others don’t feel so comfortable, so do ask the client if they want to try visualising before you launch into it.

You could say “Some people find it interesting to use their imagination and visualise themselves doing different jobs, to see how it feels.  Is that something you would be interested in trying?”

You can then ask the client to visualise themselves in a job that they are considering.  Ask them to close their eyes, and really try to imagine that they are at work doing the job.  Ask them questions to help them add details:

  • What are you wearing?
  • What are you doing?
  • What other people are around you?
  • What are they doing?
  • What can you hear?
  • What can you smell?
  • How does it feel?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • What are you good at?
  • What is your lifestyle like – house, car, holiday, shopping?

If this approach doesn’t work so well for the client, another approach is to do a mind-map.  Ask similar questions, but map out the answers on a piece of paper.

You can try this approach for several options, so the client can compare the options.

If you client has limited knowledge of the options they are considering, you could describe some tasks or scenarios to see how they respond. The client may realise that they don’t know enough about the option to be able to visualise it, and this may help them realise that they need to do further research.



Joining Language


Joining language is language that mentally connects the client to their situation and helps them explain how they feel about it.   A joining response uses a word that describes the clients emotional relationship to their current dilemma or barrier – bored, pleased, frustrated, excited, concerned, anxious.  Your joining language connects the client’s emotional response to the facts as they see them.

Using joining language can produce more powerful and emotionally felt responses than straight forward reflective responses (“it sounds like you have been through a difficult time”, for example).

Examples of joining language include:

  • So it sounds like you are getting a bit behind with Maths – what concerns you about that?
  • You said you were fed up with not having any money – what frustrates you about it?
  • You really enjoyed visiting the ice cream factory – what did you love about it?

Joining language encourages the client to get more involved in talking about their feelings and their involvement in a problem, rather than just describing the facts of the situation.

Using joining language can encourage the client to use “change talk”:

  • I’m worried that I won’t get a job and I want to have something sorted out,
  • I’m fed up with not being able to go out and borrowing money off people and I want to make my own living,
  • I really liked all the machines they used and I’d like to do that kind of job.

All these change talk responses involve the client imagining themselves doing something positive, whether that is making a living or doing a job they enjoy. Picturing a positive outcomes helps to establish the neural networks that are needed to make positive thinking more of a habit.

The more the client uses positive change talk, the more likely they are to actually make those changes, since the brain finds it uncomfortable to say one thing and do another; this internal conflict creates a sense of unease or cognitive dissonance.  Many tactics in Motivational Interviewing have the aim of encouraging the client to use positive change talk rather than repeat the reasons why they can’t change.

I first came across the concept of joining language on Motivational Interviewing training with Peter Beven, and it is one of those skills that seems simple, but, like so many other MI techniques, it really works, particularly when used as part of an MI strategy.