Where your work life is concerned, you don’t always have to stay in your lane. In fact, seeking professional help just might revive your career.
When Shio*, 38, decided to return to the workforce after a ﬁve-year hiatus to take care of her ﬁrst child, she had immense difficulty ﬁnding a job. After receiving no calls or e-mails despite sending out more than 200 applications, she lost her conﬁdence.
Prior to her break, she was a branding and marketing manager at an insurance agency, where she led a team of four. But trying to re-enter the job market in early 2018 made her realise that she had been phased out.
“While I was job-hunting, I saw that the job requirements were very different from before,” the mother of two explains. “Minimum requirements for a brand manager now include expertise and experience in other areas like social media marketing and data analytics, which wasn’t the case previously.”
She then decided to seek the help of a career coach she found on Mums@work, a site for mothers who want to work ﬂexitime or run their own business.
As a result of the coaching, she applied to roles outside her comfort zone and is now an operations executive in the ﬁnancial sector. (Read Shio’s story in the sidebar.)
WHAT IS CAREER COACHING?
While a life coach guides and supports clients in various stages of their lives, from personal to professional, a career coach zeroes in on work matters, taking clients through the four main stages of career development: exploring the self, exploring options, setting goals, and taking action.
With a series of carefully crafted questions such as “What does success mean to you?”, “What do you value most in your work?” and “What difference do you want to make?”, a coach helps clients navigate and make decisions on the direction they are headed in.
“Career coaches should not make career decisions for their clients,” says Heng Teng Teng, a leadership and career coach from Grow Consultancy, a private career and leadership development consultancy. “The focus is always on empowering clients to make informed choices. The ownership and decision ultimately lie with them.”
Anyone at any stage of their career can beneﬁt from a career coach: CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, mums returning to the workforce, fresh grads and retirees. It is an avenue to get better acquainted with yourself to unlock your full potential.
“Not all clients will start and end at the same stage, so we meet them where they are,” Teng Teng explains. “A career coach helps you discover the most compatible professional path for yourself, and helps you tap on and develop your skill set.” In other words, you control the steering wheel while your coach guides you from the passenger seat.
PR manager and coach-in-training Naeema Ismail adds: “Real and tangible beneﬁts of coaching can only be realised when the client invests emotionally and mentally in the programme, commits to being painfully honest with herself, as well as takes steps to learn from and act on the insights gained. This act of confronting oneself can sometimes be emotionally draining, but the results can be far-reaching, opening up new ways of thinking and approaching both work and life.” (Read Naeema’s story in the sidebar.)
So if you’re wondering whether it’s too late to apply for that university course, ﬁght for that promotion or switch to freelancing, it’s time to push past the excuses and doubts and ask yourself what you really want. Is your job meaningful to you? Does it spark joy – do you want to keep it? If the answers are no, you might want to speak to a career coach.
CAREER COACHING MYTH 1
Career coaching is not just about finding a job or getting a promotion.
Instead, it is about seeing how you can integrate who you are into your work so you can bring your best self to your career.
Are you due for career coaching?
You know it’s time to speak to a career coach when you are:
Not engaged with the work you do
If you find that all you care about is your pay cheque, it’s time to ask yourself why you are growing so detached from your work. A career coach helps you to arrive at the answer.
Unclear about your career direction and career goals
If you are unable to picture yourself in five to 10 years, or have no idea what you’re seeking, a career coach can help you figure out where your passion and interests lie, how they align with your values, and how you can map out your career path with that knowledge.
Stagnant in your career and clueless about where you are headed
Are you stuck in a rut at work? If you don’t find yourself growing and learning, or progressing at the rate you wish to, your current job may not be fulfilling some of your underlying needs.
Getting stuck in resume writing and/or at interviews
Coming up short when asked about your strengths and goals could indicate that you need to take some time to sharpen your vision. A career coach can remove those blinkers.
THE PIVOTAL MOMENT
With more women like Shio realising the beneﬁts of career coaching (“I’ve learnt how to identify my own strengths, I am more open to different roles,” she shares), such services are in growing demand, particularly among mid-career professionals.
“Currently, I work more with professionals who are in a mid-career transition, and are typically in their late 30s to early 50s,” says Teng Teng, who charges $4,000-$6,000 a day for a workshop, and $280-$500 for a two-hour coaching session for private individuals and corporate individuals. “These professionals have achieved some past successes in their careers, and they’ve come to a point where they ask ‘what’s next?’. They value work-life balance, stability and growth, and wonder how can they continue to integrate such needs into their careers.”
Workforce Singapore and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) have about 300 career coaches and advisers who guide job-seekers through the career planning and development process –through e-mail, over the phone, or in face-to-face sessions – free of charge for Singaporeans.
“Over the last three to four years, as our economy restructures and our workforce urgently needs to adapt, the role of career coaches becomes more important,” says Teng Teng. “There is now more awareness of how important it is for each of us to take charge of our career and be agile in the workplace. With the emphasis on the need to learn, unlearn and relearn, people are more in tune with crafting their own development plan. Career coaching can help them ﬁnd clarity about their vision, aspirations and strengths, and how to map out areas for development.”
CAREER COACHING MYTH 2
Career coaches will not find you your dream job.
They will, however, support you and help you discover what your dream job looks like. Ultimately, it falls on you to do the work to find it.
THE ROAD TO CAREER COACHING
Having spent more than 16 years as a regional training specialist and senior human resources business partner, Teng Teng has a wealth of experience with people management. As a career coach now, she also sees her fair share of clients who are struggling to place their professional strengths and discover new paths. Teng Teng herself was ﬁrst motivated by an exchange with an ex-colleague to go into career coaching.
“I started in late 2010, when not many people knew what career coaching was. Not many people would pay for career coaching,” she explains. “Over the last eight years, I have chosen to work with different groups: young people, the unemployed, women who choose to be homemakers, leaders in organisations, and mature professionals who are retiring. I have gained so much from listening to the stories of people at different life stages, and I always ask myself how else they can be at their best making a difference.”
Of course, the journey doesn’t end after re-employment. You should constantly reassess and recalibrate your career and life to avoid slumps. The good news is, armed with the knowledge gleaned from a career coach, you now have the tools to soldier on.
CAREER COACHING MYTH 3
Career coaching does not always entail a career change or leaving a job.
It could propel you to make a decision based on what you desire from your job, which may not necessarily mean quitting or starting on a brand-new path.
Like many mothers, Shio had made the decision to quit her job after giving birth to her first child. She stopped working as a branding and marketing manager in the last quarter of 2013, three months after her baby arrived.
However, when she tried to re-enter the workforce five years later, she found herself rejected by some 200 companies whose doors she knocked on. Believing she had been eliminated from the job market demoralised her.
She turned to professionals for help, shelling out $200 for a two-hour career coaching session, a price she deemed “reasonable” after speaking with her coach. “Many of us are comfortable with our own ways, so we are unaware of roles that we might be suitable for,” she says. “My career coach helped me identify my strengths and opened my mind to potential jobs that matched my personal strengths, roles that I had never considered initially.” After a face-to-face session and a few online sessions with her coach, Shio decided to give those job applications another shot, this time eyeing positions beyond what she was familiar with.
“Technology has changed the employment market; many jobs have been automated. It helps to consult experts who can also identify our strengths and weaknesses and align them with market requirements.”
With regard to how her life has changed since she engaged a career coach, Shio says: “After learning my own strengths, I started applying to more varied roles, not just the ones I know are related to branding. I realised that there are actually lots of opportunities available for me.
“It’s empowering,” she adds.
*Not her real name
Naeema has always been driven to help others realise their full potential and make a positive impact on their lives. She is currently taking a coaching certification course and other coaching-related courses to “better myself as a reporting manager and coach to my team”.
“I subscribe to the Socratic saying that an unexamined life is not worth living,” she says. “In coaching, both the coach and the client have the potential to gain valuable lessons from each other and grow from the experience.”
The 46-year-old senior partner and PR manager of Ying Communications had been at a career crossroads four years ago, just after the 20-year mark in her PR career. “I felt stagnant as I had been in my role for a few years. It was during a chat with my reporting manager that I identified the questions I was facing about my role and career, and she suggested that I undergo a six-month, one-to-one coaching programme with an executive coach, which she then arranged for and sponsored.”
As a result of her positive experience of being coached, Naeema began looking into improving her own coaching skills, starting with coaching certification through a one-month residence in Italy with the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute in May, for which she forked out US$19,500 ($26,600). She also launched an internal mentoring programme to help senior and junior members of her team through discussions that focus on overall personal growth, apart from tangible skills or the operational aspects of each role.
“The help of a good coach can be invaluable to our ever-evolving personal growth journey,” says Naeema. “It is an investment in not just our careers, but also our lives.”
WHERE TO FIND A CAREER COACH
Workforce Singapore (WSG)
WSG is a statutory board under the Ministry of Manpower that oversees the growth of the local workforce. It offers services ranging from career guidance to workshops and events to recruit and retrain job-seekers. Career coaches conduct sessions via phone or e-mail, or face-to-face. Services are free for Singaporeans. Appointments are on a first come, first served basis and subject to availability.
International Coach Federation
ICF is a worldwide non-profit association of personal and career coaches. It has more than 9,000 professional coaches from 70 countries, and more than 400 coaches and coaches-in-training in Singapore. The website offers listings of coaches according to your needs – life, career, business, entrepreneurship, family and relationships – and allows you to contact them directly.
Noomii is an online international directory that matches you with one to three compatible coaches based on your career goals and your location. You can then read reviews on the coaches and request a free 20min consultation before hiring the best fit. Fees vary with the coaches’ experience, background and training, but average rates are $80-$200 an hour.