When Shio*, 38, decided to return to the workforce after a five-year hiatus to take care of her first child, she had immense difficulty finding a job. After receiving no calls or e-mails despite sending out more than 200 applications, she lost her confidence.
Prior to her break, she was a branding and marketing manager at an insurance agency, where she led a team of four. But trying to re-enter the job market in early 2018 made her realise that she had been phased out.
“While I was job-hunting, I saw that the job requirements were very different from before,” the mother of two explains. “Minimum requirements for a brand manager now include expertise and experience in other areas like social media marketing and data analytics, which wasn’t the case previously.”
She then decided to seek the help of a career coach she found on Mums@work, a site for mothers who want to work flexitime or run their own business.
As a result of the coaching, she applied to roles outside her comfort zone and is now an operations executive in the financial sector.
What Is Career Coaching?
While a life coach guides and supports clients in various stages of their lives, from personal to professional, a career coach zeroes in on work matters, taking clients through the four main stages of career development: exploring the self, exploring options, setting goals, and taking action.
With a series of carefully crafted questions such as “What does success mean to you?”, “What do you value most in your work?” and “What difference do you want to make?”, a coach helps clients navigate and make decisions on the direction they are headed in.
“Career coaches should not make career decisions for their clients,” says Heng Teng Teng, a leadership and career coach from Grow Consultancy, a private career and leadership development consultancy. “The focus is always on empowering clients to make informed choices. The ownership and decision ultimately lie with them.”
Anyone at any stage of their career can benefit from a career coach: CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, mums returning to the workforce, fresh grads and retirees. It is an avenue to get better acquainted with yourself to unlock your full potential.
“Not all clients will start and end at the same stage, so we meet them where they are,” Teng Teng explains. “A career coach helps you discover the most compatible professional path for yourself, and helps you tap on and develop your skill set.” In other words, you control the steering wheel while your coach guides you from the passenger seat.
PR manager and coach-in-training Naeema Ismail adds: “Real and tangible benefits of coaching can only be realised when the client invests emotionally and mentally in the programme, commits to being painfully honest with herself, as well as takes steps to learn from and act on the insights gained. This act of confronting oneself can sometimes be emotionally draining, but the results can be far-reaching, opening up new ways of thinking and approaching both work and life.”
So if you’re wondering whether it’s too late to apply for that university course, fight for that promotion or switch to freelancing, it’s time to push past the excuses and doubts and ask yourself what you really want. Is your job meaningful to you? Does it spark joy – do you want to keep it? If the answers are no, you might want to speak to a career coach.
The pivotal moment
With more women like Shio realising the benefits of career coaching (“I’ve learnt how to identify my own strengths, I am more open to different roles,” she shares), such services are in growing demand, particularly among mid-career professionals.
“Currently, I work more with professionals who are in a mid-career transition, and are typically in their late 30s to early 50s,” says Teng Teng, who charges $4,000-$6,000 a day for a workshop, and $280-$500 for a two-hour coaching session for private individuals and corporate individuals.
“These professionals have achieved some past successes in their careers, and they’ve come to a point where they ask ‘what’s next?’. They value work-life balance, stability and growth, and wonder how can they continue to integrate such needs into their careers.”
Workforce Singapore and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) have about 300 career coaches and advisers who guide job-seekers through the career planning and development process –through e-mail, over the phone, or in face-to-face sessions – free of charge for Singaporeans.
“Over the last three to four years, as our economy restructures and our workforce urgently needs to adapt, the role of career coaches becomes more important,” says Teng Teng. “There is now more awareness of how important it is for each of us to take charge of our career and be agile in the workplace. With the emphasis on the need to learn, unlearn and relearn, people are more in tune with crafting their own development plan. Career coaching can help them find clarity about their vision, aspirations and strengths, and how to map out areas for development.”
The road to career coaching
Having spent more than 16 years as a regional training specialist and senior human resources business partner, Teng Teng has a wealth of experience with people management. As a career coach now, she also sees her fair share of clients who are struggling to place their professional strengths and discover new paths. Teng Teng herself was first motivated by an exchange with an ex-colleague to go into career coaching.
“I started in late 2010, when not many people knew what career coaching was. Not many people would pay for career coaching,” she explains.
“Over the last eight years, I have chosen to work with different groups: young people, the unemployed, women who choose to be homemakers, leaders in organisations, and mature professionals who are retiring. I have gained so much from listening to the stories of people at different life stages, and I always ask myself how else they can be at their best making a difference.”
Of course, the journey doesn’t end after re-employment. You should constantly reassess and recalibrate your career and life to avoid slumps. The good news is, armed with the knowledge gleaned from a career coach, you now have the tools to soldier on.
*Not her real name
This story was first published on Her World’s June 2019 issue.