In 2013, the education watchdog OFSTED came out with a scathing report that said, in part, that three-quarters of UK schools were not giving adequate career services. While this may shock some, most people will tell you that the situation with counselling from career service at many universities is not much better.
Durham University has nine dedicated career counsellors supporting up to 5,000 graduates every year. That is a whopping 555 students per counsellor. If we include all of the Information, Employability, and Skills staff, the 23 dedicated staff members each would be supporting 217 students. Therefore, it is no wonder that 20-minute appointments are booked a week in advance and students are encouraged to use the online resources instead of coming into the office. It’s a logistical nightmare.
Despite the best efforts of university career advisors, they are not equipped to deal with the demands put forth by the students. The situation is exacerbated by the current economic climate, increasing competition for limiting graduate positions and a rapidly evolving graduate recruitment process. While it is possible to outsource some tasks university career services giving students the level of guidance and support that they need is nearly impossible. What most students in transition into the workplace require is personalised coaching and not general counselling.
Most career services focus on providing career counselling. It is the role of the counsellor to introduce various career paths based on skills, and abilities presented to them by students. They offer an essential level of support in the form of group career information, reviewing CVs and perhaps running through a mock-interview, but that is all they can provide.
In contrast, career coaches walk people through transitions. Whether pursuing work post-graduation or changing jobs, career coaches provide the added element of one-to-one mentorship to the career counselling experience. Like any good coach, a career coach focuses on developing actionable steps to improve individual performance at every stage of the selection process.
Certified career coach Donna Sweidan said, in a Forbes interview that the most common misconception amongst young people is that a well-done CV is all that is needed to conduct an effective job search. The truth is far more complicated. What most graduates and young professionals struggle with is defining their goals and then planning steps to achieve them.
Career coaching and mentoring firms, like London-based Alexander Partners, have found that their job goes far beyond editing CVs and providing interview tips. The coaching process often begins by helping clients to recognise their career capital; the value that potential employers put on their experiences, competencies and aptitude.
A Lead Consultant at the company recalls how one graduate who had skied on four continents and spent a number of summers in Argentina working on a ranch herding cattle. The graduate thought very little of the range of competencies that he had developed. Subsequently, when asked to describe a time when he had to work outside his comfort zone he chose to site his final year group project.
“He simply didn’t know what he had,” recalls the Consultant.
Using a proven method of one-to-one coaching and mentoring, skills development and diagnostic testing, coaches and clients create action plans that detail exactly where clients (graduates) want to be and how they plan to get there.
“We don’t just set you up and say, okay now go to it. We provide a blend of coaching and mentoring that prepares and supports you through the process, from start to finish” says Dr Ambroz Neil, Principle Consultant at Alexander Partners.
The results are often life altering and affirm the value of this style of career coaching. Discussing the value of the support provided by Alexander Partners, a recent graduate was more than eager to explain the tangible benefits. Being dyslexic had always held him back in his studies.
“People had low expectations of me, and eventually I had low expectations of myself,” recalls Oscar.
The style of coaching and mentoring he received helped him to build his confidence and develop his analytical and reasoning aptitude. That push resulted in him being invited to attend the final selection stage for Sand Hurst. Later, he was offered a regional consultancy role with a Johnson & Johnson company that specialises in delivering innovative medical devices and solutions in orthopaedics, spinal care and neuroscience.
While career coaches will not land you that dream job, they will help you develop competencies, identify strengths and motivations and so plot a course of action to attain it. They will also help you work on soft skills that may keep you from moving ahead. Many employers today lament the lack of emotional intelligence and communication skills of many millennials. Coaches like the ones at Alexander Partners routinely help clients learn the art of soft skills such as negotiation, active listening, and networking.
The time and money spent working with a career coach at the beginning of your career or during a transition into a new career can save you years of frustration resulting from a stagnated professional life.
Today, career counsellors and university career services are still woefully unprepared for the volume of graduating students and graduates that need their help. It is also true that most of those students need a wider range of help than the staff can realistically give. That is why increasingly last year students and recent graduates invested in career coaching to help jumpstart their career.
(Version of article reproduced in The Jewish Chronical, “The graduates best friend in the job market”, 2nd October 2015)