I enjoy coaching students with barriers to employment. Not because they have challenges to accessing the world of work. Rather, I see it as an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life that might otherwise give up on finding their ideal place in the world. Needless to say, I find it interesting and sometimes frustrating that students with barriers often do not share their barrier at the outset of a coaching appointment. I have spent 30 – 45 minutes coaching a student before they disclosed the “real” reason they came to the career center. Examples include the traditional student who wants to be a physician, but does not mention they are failing biology, to the non-traditional student who wants to land a managerial position, but fails to mention that they have held five jobs in the last two years.
With experience I have developed a few strategies to assist students with employment barriers to make the most of the final 10 – 15 minutes of a coaching session when the “real” truth has been revealed:
- Asking powerful and direct questions: Asking students clarifying and direct questions helps uncover key information and also allows the student to decipher their real feelings as they explain their own barriers.
- Asking why: Disclosure of an employment barrier is not enough to help devise an action plan for moving forward. Identifying and understanding the root cause of a barrier helps the student take ownership of their employment barriers. In a safe environment, discussing “why” can also alleviate negative emotions associated with employment barriers such as fear, pride and shame.
- Investigating past patterns: Learning what led a student to choose an academic degree program or what career paths their parents chose can uncover unconscious decision-making that negatively impacts future outcomes.
- Switching hats: Turning the table and asking the student to become the career coach can force the student to challenge their own beliefs, career decision, and actions. Instead of providing direction, ask the student what their next steps should be.
- Share your own career struggles: Sharing your own academic or career struggles as appropriate, can remind the student that your role is to help and not judge. Students are more likely to share their barriers with you if they feel the coaching environment is safe.
Unless I can hire a bailiff to swear students in before coaching appointments, I can’t stop them from revealing their “real” career concerns in the last 15 minutes. I can however, make the most of the last 15 minutes by asking the right questions and challenging students to be honest.