Becoming an expert career coach or an expert in anything is about more than just putting in the hours. Whether its an instrument you want to play, a subject area you want to master or a profession, there’s no overnight quick fix.
In our profession, career coaching, expertise comes about from a unique combination of factors including study, self-awareness, interpersonal skills and a lot of feedback and practice.
It’s a combination that’s relevant whether you’re an internal coach in a large organisation or if you work as an independent. But what does it take to achieve expert status?
Working alongside a team of experienced career coaches puts me in an enviable position. I snapped up the opportunity to ask the team for their views on what it takes to become an expert coach in a large organisation or as a lone ranger working with independently funded clients. Needless to say their advice is plentiful and practical.
Starting from how to define an expert through to the types of skills you need to develop, read on for advice, experience, and tips you can put into action straight away.
Define what being an expert coach means to you
Let’s start with the basics; how do you even define what an expert coach is? Perhaps even more importantly, when do you decide you’ve earned that badge? Here are three points of view: Erica’s definition is crystal clear,
“To me, being an expert means you have the ability to quickly bring a level of clarity and insight by shining a light on a problem. An expert uses their passion and experience to help their client to see the issue in a whole new way. Once a client has this new, fresh understanding, a whole range of alternative, exciting solutions come to light, and they become energised and unstuck!”
Zoe’s perspective empathises with the way the word ‘expert’ can create expectations,
“The word ‘expert’ can feel like a big badge to wear and many authentic coaches would feel a little apprehensive at first to band that word around or put flashing lights around it on their lapel. But perhaps we should feel proud to say the word when we know that our approach has really made a positive difference for our clients.”
Hannah gives us yet another perspective,
“I try not to get too hung up on the word ‘expert’ because I think it can feel too destination-focused. I believe it’s more important to take account of the journey you’re on. Setting yourself a hard goal such as becoming an ‘expert coach’ can become a block because you focus on that singular definition and miss other opportunities. Concentrate on continuously improving and over time you’ll naturally become an expert.”
Try this → Define what being an expert means to you. But don’t stop there; your clients are the people who really count and for them the term “expert coach” may not be as meaningful. Use your networks and existing client base to research what clients want.
A tool such as SurveyMonkey is an easy way to start gathering inputs, or why not go low-tech and meet for a cuppa and informal chat to get a fresh perspective?
Nail your coaching techniques
Unsurprisingly, our coaches were united in their belief that to be an expert career coach, you need to have the right skills.
Zoë’s advice is one of practicality and hard work,
“When it comes to career coaching, I feel that you really have to be able to offer practical coaching techniques and be talented in your approach. Think about the questions you ask, the pauses you hold and the movement that happens from the space you create. Not only that, consider the challenges you ask at the right time and significantly the things you notice about your client. They’re all key elements in building that expertise.”
And this is built on by Erica…
“Skill looks like a very high level of expertise in both questioning and listening. You need to be able to ask the tricky questions that generate a rich insight for your client. Questions that also build their capability to understand the issue or challenge at hand in depth. Then you need to be able to listen deeply. For what they say and for what they don’t say. For the gaps in what they share. For what they long for beyond the words they are sharing with you.”
Try this → You can’t improve your coaching techniques overnight. You need practice, support and coaching supervision. If you haven’t already got a supervisor, make it your mission to find one. You also need a quality education and method devised by a programme or organisation you trust.
Curiosity makes a coach, or at least according to Zoë who told me,
“Curiosity is a big part of the journey to becoming an expert. When we’re curious about our coaching technique it makes us dig deeper into our field, wanting to continually grow and develop our ways and methods. But that curiosity doesn’t just exist in relation to ourselves as coaches. It’s also how we feel about people; that inner drive that wants to explore with a client and unlock new thinking.”
Curiosity is especially important if you’re coaching a client in an environment where certain situations or beliefs are strongly embedded. As Nina said,
“You never know when that big insight’s going to come – so you have to be curious and almost childlike in your questioning about what makes someone tick. If you start to uncover that then it gives you brilliant clues about what makes them feel fulfilled.”
Try this → Routine can stifle curiosity. Take action and give yourself regular breaks from the norm by trying new things. Of course, as a coach you probably already know this, which is why we’re leading nicely onto the next point…
Listen to your own lessons
Imposter syndrome, self-doubt and impatience. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel them from time to time. But to be seen as an expert and to provide expert support you must listen to yourself and practice what you (gently) preach.
Marcie is clear on the importance of believing in your ability,
“I think that in order to become an expert coach you have to walk the talk when it comes to managing your inner critics and saboteurs. Your coaching will become more effective, and your clients will learn from you and take bigger steps. Your clients are looking to you for support and will pick up on uncertainty and a lack of confidence. Learn to recognise when you’re faltering and catch those inner critics. You need to become aware of when you’re playing to them. For instance, if you’re feeling nervous and put something off because of those nerves, you’re not going to be able to move forwards. Those nerves are good, they’re helping you identify that you need to be pushed. Own your niche and celebrate it.”
Hannah reinforces Marcie’s point in the importance of having a growth mindset,
“Enjoy the journey of being a coach and be aware of how life around you is helping you develop. It’s about having a growth mindset and instead of viewing your development as something that’s linear, recognising that a fluid and organic development will make you a better coach.”
Try this → We have good days and we have terrible days. Remember to take your own advice and treat even the biggest disasters as a lesson. Make sure you capture lessons learned after each and every coaching session. Why not get accountable by dedicating a social media account to your learnings? As well as a tool for self-reflection it can become a compelling part of your online presence.
Erica firmly believes in the importance of confidence and self-belief,
“For me, expertise is about having a distinct and confident point of view in your sector. To be an expert in any area takes deep curiosity about a specific field of interest to you. It is the desire to solve a problem that you have identified in a way that moves the agenda forward. To do so first takes research so you can understand the challenge from many angles. Once you understand the landscape you can evolve your own unique perspective on what could be the new thought leap or a better approach. This could be in anything from child rearing, to weight loss, to how to enable artists to overcome procrastination. Whatever it is, you have to be credible. You have to be able to answer ‘why me?’” Why should a client trust their time, money and future to you? You need to know the answer to this.
Try this → What makes you you? Spend some time defining what it is that sets you apart. It’s not the easiest thing to do, here’s a helpful place to start.
Marcie focused strongly on the importance of staying relevant by continuing to learn,
“As career coaches, we’re in a constantly evolving marketplace. People’s careers are changing, the workplace is being redefined, so it’s important not to stand still. This means your clients get someone who is on top of their game, who can really support a client when they’re going through a transitional period or even a period of definition when they’re not quite sure what they want to do. For example with career changers or first jobbers or even people who are approaching retirement. If we’re aware of what’s going on around us then we can really support our clients.”
Try this → Never stop learning. Build yourself a development plan. If you’re an internal coach in a larger organisation there’s a chance you already have one in place, but consider fleshing it out with a more diverse range of learning opportunities. There are lots of accessible webinars, e-courses and talks available. Prioritise fitting them into your schedule; even one evening per month is a step towards building your expertise. You can start by signing up to our career coaching webinar.
Choose your tools wisely
Nina was emphatic in saying that success as a career coach is about finding the right tools to use with your clients,
“Career coaching is very different to executive coaching because you need to be so much more specific. And for that you need to find the right tools. There are so many methods available, you need to find a way of helping your clients focus and that has to work for you as well as for your clients. The Career Equation® works for me because of the way it provides a framework and anchor that you and your client can workaround. If someone’s making a big change or they’ve been quite conditioned by the industry they’re in or their company then it can feel almost impossible to move forwards. Having a solid tool gives you a structure to move forwards with.”
Try this → learn more about how The Career Equation® can support career coaching.
Interested in more advice from the Career Matters coaches? Erica and Zoe are running a free masterclass on the 2nd April where they’ll share stories and tools from over a decade of successful career conversations. All you need to do is sign up and tune in.