What is career coaching all about?

Updated: Aug 22, 2019


I was reflecting on what to expect from career coaching based on a comment made by one of my clients who, fairly emotionally, blurted out in a session:


"This is not what I was expecting. I was expecting to just put a plaster on some of my behaviors. I wasn't expecting to uncover a whole series of gaping holes in my life”.

Now being a human with beliefs, emotions and feelings, this comment threw me a bit as it really concerned me that I might have been pushing this client way too hard. In exploring this with the same client a week later, my client stated that while the session had been very difficult, it had resulted in some significant insights between sessions and some realisations that in my client’s words were: “positive and life changing”

Yay! Positive and life changing

After celebrating the fact that I hadn't damaged my client, I went in search of some literature to help me understand, and in turn explain, what happened in that session and what clients can expect of coaching.

So typically, the coach is there to help a client, develop their own insights, increase their awareness and find their own solutions and actions to an issue that they are facing - essentially to learn and develop.

The coach does this in a number of ways, but largely by asking questions, helping the coachee to see things from a different perspective(s), offering different ways of thinking, reflecting the coachees words back to them, and when necessary offering tools and techniques.

Maria Iliffe-Wood, in “Coaching Presence” talks about four levels of coaching presence, which are inversely related to the levels of awareness that coachees bring to their sessions.


When a coachee brings high levels of awareness and insight to a session, the coach’s role is to essentially be invisible and hold a space for the coachee to talk through something for themselves, accessing their own inner wisdom by answering their own questions. This is perfectly appropriate, and most often very comfortable, but not necessarily where the magic and deep learning takes place.

However, the less awareness a coachee demonstrates - either through consciously or unconsciously blocking or avoiding issues, the more presence, and the more of themselves, the coach will bring to the session. This is where coaching becomes a tremendous learning opportunity in self awareness, and at the same time, a somewhat difficult experience as beliefs, emotions, ways of thinking, values, behaviors and competencies are looked at in different ways to create insight, and specifically to create learning.


At this level, the coach is using a far more directional approach with deliberate interventions that challenge perspectives, reframe ways of seeing things, asking more provocative questions, and offering some knowledge and some direction.


READ THIS: What are the challenges in a mentor-mentee relationship?

This is where my client and I were - deep in the muck of learning!

So what does this mean….

On issues where you have heightened awareness, you can expect your coach to essentially hold a space for you while you take the lead in talking and exploring issues out loud for yourself, once in a while asking a question to help you along - but essentially being a gentle and low key presence in your session.

However when the coach starts to notice you are struggling to express yourself, don't know something about yourself or are unconsciously avoiding issues, the coach will bring more of themselves to the session to help you learn, pushing you sometimes into areas in which you might not be comfortable, and challenging your thinking for deliberate learning.


ALSO READ: 3 lessons from a year of marketing myself

It's a bit like a dance

Throughout the career coaching session, this will be a bit like a dance back and forth between levels of awareness where sometimes you, as the client, are leading and take the stage, and at other times where the coach leads you, sometimes gently, and sometimes a lot more deliberately, coaxing you towards learning a new "steps" or an entirely new "dance".

Are you ready to dance?



I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.

I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself.

I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.


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