Take note of these words: career coach, for at least two good reasons. The first is that it may come in handy in the future, in a time of need or if you’re unsure about a big decision. The second because there’s a chance that– who knows – this job might be for you.
But what exactly is it? A rapidly rising figure in the labour market who works to support clients in making the best decisions about their working careers, with relevant assessments of the merits of employment but also with personal advice that make the career coach a kind of counselor for different situations.
Luca Isabella, who has been working in Milan for several years, explains the secrets of this job.
Dr. Isabella, let's start from the beginning: how did you become a career coach?
I started coaching in the late 1990s, when it was not widespread here. I have training as a management engineer, in the organizational area. Gradually I developed a strong expertise in business coaching for executives, through my own methodology made up of management skills, coaching/counselling, communication and technology.
But what skills are needed to do this job?
I think we need to know the labour market in areas where we’ve had significant experience. From this premise, it goes without saying that a career coach must have a certain degree of seniority and must be an up-to-date professional on the various trends. In addition to this, they must have “coaching” skills, that is, to be a guide in order to achieve the coachee’s goal. Often, people think that a career coach will “find you a job” through more or less effective contacts. This is not only false but brings on burning disappointments.
To do this job you need to know the labour market, be always up to date on trends and have skills as a “coach”
Who's your typical client? A student who doesn't know how to make the first move? A professional who needs to figure out how to specialize?
I work mainly with professionals, executives and managers. However, I love working with young people, often “pro bono”, if I see in them the desire to grow and improve. Frankly, I don't feel like charging the standard fees, which I agree are often absurd. Each case is unto itself, it’s hard to give suggestions that work for everyone, except to have courage, engage and be “specialized generalists”.
What do you mean?
A first question to ask in determining one's positioning is: “Do I want to be a generalist or specialist?”. A generalist is more competitive, but their offer meets a wider audience. A specialist has fewer competitors, but the target is much smaller. If you have more than one skill and are appreciated in different professional fields, positioning yourself as a generalist might be a good idea. If you specialize in a certain field, your audience will shrink. To work around the problem, you need to grab the attention more and to do this, you need to excel in your specialty; better yet: be number one.
How can you choose?
The solution probably lies in the middle, what I call the “specialized generalist”. Position yourself as a generalist with more specialized skills and competences, even better if in an area that is particularly close to your target. So you'll have a larger portfolio of potential customers while attracting those in need of specific services.
Why do you think the labour market of the future will need more career coaches?
The world is increasingly complex and connected. The very concept of “career” is somewhat obsolete. When I graduated in the early 1990s, as a new engineer, the path was largely defined. Today, the concept of “career”, understood as a linear path “from base to summit”, requires strong skills, a great adaptation skill, continuous learning and continuous networking activity.
Often the concept of career conflicts with personal life, but I tend to have a holistic approach to people, exploring values
Each person is different: how does career advice fit into very differing stories and characters?
I try not to give too much advice, even if the “get out of jail free-card” is tempting. My contribution is based on my great passion for people. People's “stories” help them understand their identity, values, beliefs, skills and the environment in which they act. Sometimes I pool stories in a form of peer coaching, so that you create networks that expand beyond the hours spent in the sessions.
How does a career coach help their client work?
I try to follow a limited number of coachees with a personalized approach. Apart from the definition of the objectives and an initial interview of a couple of hours to get to know each other better, the rest takes place with a defined and shared program. I use all the media available today, so GSuite, to Skype, messaging, email and so on. Sometimes, some coachees call me down for an interview and I'm always available, it's my way of doing things.
Is the career coach job just about giving the best advice career wise or is it also about putting and adapting that career into a context (city, family, children, other needs) where compromises need to be reached?
I am pleased to answer this question. Very often, the concept of career is in conflict with personal life, but today many things have changed. The distinction is less clear, especially in the new generations. Unfortunately, Italian society is not best known for flexibility and therefore we are faced with an increasingly global world of work while Italy is still stuck. In my business I always try to take a holistic approach to people, examining values. And you know what? In the end, career is never in the top spot.