The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Career Coach

Life lessons for us all

Posted Feb 22, 2021

Priscilla Nissen, Pixy, public domain
Source: Priscilla Nissen, Pixy, public domain

This is a composite of the experiences of career and life coaches I have known plus my own. It embeds life lessons for us all.

Irrelevant details have been changed to ensure anonymity.

Robin graduated from San Francisco State U with a degree in English and had little idea of what she wanted to do for a career, or even whether, deep down, she was ready for one. But rather than doing life, life did her: Her friend had signed up for a course on how to be a career coach, so Robin did too.

Some of the training focused on how to market a private practice. Robin disliked marketing, but to avoid the embarrassment of having the nice office she wanted but with few clients coming to pay for it, she forced herself to email all her friends and family announcing the opening of her new career coaching practice, specializing in people like her: 20-something liberal arts graduates who didn't know what career to pursue nor how to land a good job.

To Robin's surprise, a dozen of her friends and family signed up for the free initial consultation and, thanks in part to the sales training she received in her coaching course, seven signed up for a paid package.

Excited, Robin super-prepared for each session and with her winning personality and the sessions being fun, almost like a conversation between friends, her clients were satisfied and recommended Robin to their friends. Alas, they recommended Robin before reaching the coaching’s payoff: Did they land a job in their chosen career, and more important, are they satisfied in that career?

Nearly all of Robin's clients came away with one or more career directions they felt good about. And all came away with the full boat of job search skills: resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover-letter writing, the art of networking, and interviewing skills honed by videoed mock interviews. 

But only one of Robin's seven clients landed their target job, someone who Robin wouldn’t have guessed would be the one hired, but that client was dogged, especially in networking, including on social media. And even that client wasn't inordinately satisfied with the job she landed.

Two of Robin's other clients ended up going to graduate school as a temporizing move, and the other four left having liked Robin and the coaching experience but their career was still at the starting line, and worse, they had taken a big hit to their self-esteem. One said, “Despite all the job search tactics, in the end, they always hired someone else, maybe someone smarter, more specifically trained or experienced, or some other factor.” 

Robin also had one would-be career changer but that client ended up choosing to stay in her current career even though she was unhappy in it. The client lamented, "No one seemed to want to hire a newbie when they could hire someone with experience, and it felt too risky to go back for another degree. I'd still be a newbie and older. And after all the time and expense of school, would an employer hire me for a job I'd like better than what I currently have?"

For months, Robin tried not thinking about her clients' poor results. Her clients liked her, she liked the sessions, she was making money, and she could tell her family and friends that she was successfully self-employed. But one day, when a client, who had worked so hard to land a job, left in tears, Robin took a step back. She concluded, perhaps incorrectly, that most people who would pay for a career counselor were not competitive in the job market for good white-collar jobs. 

Most bothering to her, Robin had started out merely advising her clients on the keys to a good resume and LinkedIn profile, but as her clients were having trouble landing a job, she took to actually writing them, which she now felt guilty about: “It’s no better than a parent writing a child’s college application essay.”

Additionally, she thought, "Am I being fair in taking money from clients that I'm not confident could land a good white-collar job? Am I being fair in coaching middle-class people on how to do a great job search when, if the client is successful, s/he might get a job over a more qualified person who hadn’t the money to hire a hired gun or who didn’t feel it was ethically right to appear to be a better candidate than s/he in fact was.

So Robin eventually stopped marketing and, within a few months, her practice was moribund, whereupon she decided to be a full-time stay-at-home mom.

When Robin's kids reached 12 and 10, she found It hard to justify remaining a full-time stay-at-home mom, to her husband, friends, and to herself. Besides, she was getting bored, so she decided to resurrect her practice. But this time, she decided to focus on helping stay-at-home moms live richer lives but not through employment. She figured that would be easier than getting employers to pay her clients.

And she was right. She helped her clients clarify their relationship goals, whether they wanted kids, what they’d do as a creative outlet, and in volunteering. In the process, she helped people with their relationship and parenting issues, and even helped a couple clients who were working to iron out a problem with their boss.

Robin's quick success in her re-focused practice motivated her to market it, and with her big network of stay-at-home-mom friends, she soon had all the work she wanted: 20 hours a week and is contributing to the family income. As important, she feels that her new focus imposes none of the ethical compromises embedded in her career coaching practice.

The takeaway

The following lessons are embedded in Robin's story:

  • Beware of falling into a career, as Robin did when she chose to be a career coach merely because her friend was pursuing it. As important as a career is, many people end up in a career more by chance than by choice. Don't let life do you; do life.
  • Fear of embarrassment is a common motivator. How might you use that to motivate you to do something you should do but have procrastinated? For example, we're entering tax-filing season. Imagine how embarrassed you'd be if you failed to file on time and had to tell your family that you had to pay a stiff penalty?
  • Especially in our COVID-lamed economy, building and using your personal network is as important as ever.
  • Often, client or customer satisfaction depends as much on whether the experience is pleasurable as on whether the results are good.
  • Changing careers is more difficult than some media portrayals suggest. It often requires a back-to-school stint followed by the hope that you can convince someone to hire you, an older newbie, over experienced candidates, and for a better job than you previously had.
  • It's usually easier to counsel people on how to tweak their lives than to convince an employer to hire them. That's not the case if you're working with star candidates, but few stars feel the need to pay a career coach.
  • Don't let the success and fun of what you're doing blind you to ethical compromises.

I read this aloud on YouTube.