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Helping a Job Seeker? Skip the Advice, Start Coaching!

Horizontal view of a team coach blowing his whistle and giving a thumbs up, isolated against a white background

Even if you don’t work in HR, it’s safe to bet that someone will eventually ask you for job advice. How to find a better position. How to get hired. How to make a career change. Research shows that more than half of the people in the workforce today are actively or passively unengaged with their current jobs. But if you really want to support your job-seeking colleagues, friends and family members, stop giving them advice. Instead, try coaching them.

Our first inclination when people ask for job-search assistance is to rattle off a list of things they should do. Research the industry and leverage LinkedIn. Update the resume. Polish the elevator speech. Get out there and network like crazy. Certainly, these are important and necessary tasks—with plenty of online resources available to explain each step in detail. Even with access to all of that great information, the new recruiting protocol is vastly different (and often overwhelming) for those who haven’t looked for a job in years.

Here’s the problem: many times, the real answers these job-seekers need can’t be found with a Google search. The solution waiting to be uncovered involves some good, old-fashioned soul searching and self-reflection.

The next time someone you care about is unhappy with his or her career and asks for advice, play the role of coach instead of expert. Try listening and asking open-ended questions. Here are some conversation starters to get the ball rolling.

  1. What do you really love to do?

  2. What types of tasks do you avoid?

  3. What was your favorite job or project in the past? During that time, what was your biggest accomplishment?

  4. What is unique about you? What value do you bring to a potential employer?

  5. What does your ideal workday look like? What kind of work culture do you prefer?

  6. What experience do you need now to get the job you want in 5 years?

These types of “thought” questions help people to dig deep inside, tapping into their motivations, inspirations, strengths and weaknesses. From there, asking about their search process could gently push them toward action.

Keep in mind that everyone is wired differently, so your idea of taking action is likely not the same as the next person. You might immerse yourself in research if you were trying to find a job; your brother-in-law would spend the day calling everyone in his address book. That’s OK! Just ask the questions that will make them feel empowered and accountable as they move toward their goal of finding meaningful work.

  1. What is your approach or plan?

  2. What industries or companies have you targeted?

  3. Who do you know in those industries or companies?

  4. Who can you reach out to for more information or possible connections?

  5. Where can you find additional research?

  6. What has worked in the past? What didn’t work?

  7. What is the next step?

  8. How can I support you?

When people we care about ask for our advice, it’s hard to resist pummeling them with our rapid-fire pearls of wisdom. But to guide them in finding real career satisfaction, the best thing we can do is listen carefully, ask the right questions and, hopefully, inspire them to approach the process in a fresh way.

How have you coached friends or family members looking for new jobs? What other questions might help to reveal information that would add value to their search?

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