Five steps to being your own career coach

Career coaching is big business. The sector, which provides people with professional motivation and career strategies, is estimated to be worth $15bn globally.

Everyone can do with a little extra advice and support from time to time, especially if you're struggling to make a decision, to help progress in your career or improve professionally. But for reasons of affordability or availability, a career coach may not be an option for everyone. 

In that case, here are a few steps to help you become your own career coach.

1. Research your goals

Setting goals can be the easy part, but knowing how to achieve them is more complicated. Understanding where you are now is a good way of determining how far you have to go. Look closely at your goals and targets. Whether it’s to become a finance director in five years or a business owner in 10 years, make a list of all the skills and qualities you need in these roles, alongside typical career paths leading to these destinations. Against this, list your current skills and experience, how you’ve got to where you are now and the qualifications you’re studying for. By comparing the two, you can start building a map of the skills you’re missing and the experiences you’ll need to achieve them. Be detailed and specific when researching your future.

2. Keep a diary

Even better, start a ‘my career’ project file. Begin by including all your research on goals, then start a diary or a journal, a document you update regularly to help you keep track of your achievements and how far you’ve come. While this may seem at times like extra work, or even extra homework, over time it can be a source of motivation, something you can look at to see your achievements and progress. It can also provide you with insight into how you behave at times of stress, or in new situations, and is a way of objectively analysing yourself. Furthermore, by keeping track of your progress, you’re better able to make changes to your journey or set detailed actions to achieve targets more efficiently.

3. Bounce ideas off a friend 

Being your own adviser doesn’t need to be ‘me, myself and I’. Think of family members, friends or colleagues whose advice, integrity and insight you think could help you make better career decisions. Talk to them openly and honestly about your plans and progress. Ask them for personal and professional insight about you. This can help broaden your understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, while also providing the opportunity for different ideas and perspectives. Being your own career coach does not mean you have to do everything by yourself. Furthermore, seek a mentor at work or where you study – someone who can offer advice based on first-hand experience of your profession and who can help specifically measure your goals against your targets.

4. Talk to yourself… and imaginary people!

No, it’s not a joke – talk to yourself or an imaginary person, such as a boss or interviewer. This can all be done at times of quiet contemplation – for instance on the bus to work or school, in the bath, before falling asleep. Just imagine talking to someone else, and imagine the questions they’re going to ask you. If it’s a boss, get them to interrogate a piece of work you did; if it’s a teacher, imagine what they might say about your contribution during lessons. You’ll be surprised how critical you will find yourself being about your performance. The trick is not to be too critical, which is where talking to friends, colleagues or mentors is a good way to strike a balance. Or you can pretend to give advice to someone else, and by doing so you’ll find yourself really focusing on your answers. Think of a colleague or fellow student and give them advice – be honest.

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5. Mindfulness and adaptability

For all this to work, you need to be coachable. This means being open to criticism, both your own and from others. It means knowing that career success is not about simple right or wrong but a series of decisions, all of which will provide you with experience and help you to grow. A by-product of coaching yourself should be mindfulness, a greater awareness of who you are, how you affect those around you and how best to move through life not only to achieve your goals, but to assist others in theirs – be it a company, a friend, or a colleague. This should also make you more adaptable and flexible, which are vital qualities in today’s fast-paced and unpredictable world.

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