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Career coaches craft effective workers


Local coaches say business is up as hiring is down.

This summer, people looking for work are facing bleak prospects. About 63 percent of employers do not expect to hire any additional workers this summer, according to staffing firm Manpower’s quarterly employment outlook survey, and 10 percent plan to cut jobs. Iowa’s unemployment rate is 4.1 percent.

Some companies and individuals are responding to the challenge through career coaches. Members of several Des Moines coaching firms say business has been increasing the past few years. There are three main uses for a career coach. One is when a company wants to help a worker improve his or her performance, or groom a worker for a new job. Another is when individual workers want to improve themselves to achieve a career goal. The third occurs when companies hire coaches to help laid-off workers prepare for the transition to finding new employment.

Some may consider it surprising that cashed-strapped companies laying off workers would invest in a transitional career coach, but Mary Hultman, managing director for Right Management Consultants, says it makes perfect sense. Providing counseling to departing employees improves morale, both of the employees who are leaving and those who are being retained.

Sharon Coleman Johnson of The Johnson Group says transitional coaching helps laid-off workers search for new jobs with a positive attitude, which helps them find employment more quickly. She says she helps people making career changes examine the possibilities and the probabilities.

“You want to talk about what’s probable instead of what’s realistic, because it’s an emotional time,” Johnson said. “Everyone becomes really focused on their part of the work world. Sometimes, even at the most senior levels, people aren’t aware of what’s going on outside.” She says people tell her what their ideal job would be, she helps them discover how probable their goal is, then helps them either to achieve their ideal or craft a more workable goal.

“Sometimes a coachee is concerned that [being assigned a career coach] is a bad thing,” said Hultman. “In the past, coaching meant the employee had a performance issue. Now it’s about helping a person reach their highest potential.”

She emphasizes that employees should take it as an opportunity, not a punishment, when their companies offer them the chance to work with a coach.

“It’s a great gift when a company says, ‘You’re so important that we’re going to invest the resources to make you as successful as possible,'” she said.

Billie Ruth Sucher, founder and president of Billie Sucher and Associates, says her specialty is helping people look at themselves like a product.

“When you don’t know your product, it’s difficult in this job market,” Sucher said. “We all get so busy doing our jobs that we don’t take the time to look at who we are and what we do — what our product is and what it can do for an organization.”

Sucher has a master’s degree in counseling, and has written a book titled “Between Jobs: Recover, Rethink and Rebuild.” She says when working with clients in career transition, she helps them assess their skills, put together a resume, prepare for interviews and practice negotiations.

“The most important thing is to always be prepared,” she said. “Change dominates the workplace today, and you never know what may happen.”

Hultman says the questions she’s most commonly asked by companies who hire her are “Does this really work? Is it possible that behavior will change?”

“People think you can’t change behavior, but we change behavior all the time,” Hultman said. “What is acceptable in one corporate culture isn’t acceptable in another. We adapt.”  

Shirley Poertner of Poertner Consulting Group describes a long road to improvement.

“The first step is to help people find within themselves what their authentic leadership style and approach is,” she said. “Then we identify how they want to grow and change to enhance their leadership style. I work with them one-on-one, meeting with my clients once a week for six to 12 months. Meanwhile the leader is growing and changing.”

“In down economies, organizations are more interested than ever in leaders who can attract and retain good employees,” Poertner said.   “That’s what leadership is all about. An executive coach helps leaders become more effective. We’re getting more business right now because organizations need to be more effective.”  

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