Doing What We Do Best: Supporting Clients Through a Time of Uncertainty
The last seven months have presented an unprecedented period of uncertainty and disruption for all of us. As I work to support undergraduate students and recent alumni in their career development and job search, I have been amazed by the resilience demonstrated by many of these young people.
Not everyone has found success during these times. Some have experienced rescinded job offers, while others have questioned their career direction. However, I have found that by employing some proven tactics while coaching students on navigating the job market in these unsettling times, I’m able to help, and that makes me happy! In other words, I’ve observed that when I “go with what I know,” my clients leave our sessions feeling positive, motivated, and empowered.
When we focus on doing what we do best, we can continue to support all types of clients, through all kinds of situations, whether we’re living with the challenges imposed by a global pandemic, or not.
There is usually more than one path toward a goal, but it can take some time, curiosity, and persistence to find those paths. For example, I work with a lot of students who plan to apply to highly competitive academic programs, such as medical or law school. However, not every competitive applicant receives an offer of admission; therefore, supporting clients in examining why they are interested in a program can reveal options that perhaps have not been considered. Such an examination can open the possibility of considering more attainable, but equally interesting, programs and career directions. In so many aspects of our lives, the COVID pandemic has taught us the importance and value of being flexible. Sometimes being flexible means that we must pivot and change direction.
It is challenging and can even feel risky to carve out a path that seems so different from what was originally envisioned, but with the right approach, it can lead to options that align with interests, personality, and values.
Evaluate Goals and Priorities
The tried-and-true tactic of helping clients evaluate and understand their main goals and objectives is a solid place to start. Often, goals are set without much thought. There may have been little-to-no analysis of the stepping-stones that are prerequisite to reaching a career target. Talking it through in order to understand primary needs and values is helpful in gaining perspective about the feasibility of already-formed career ideas and the potential of different options.
Questions I ask my clients are:
What are your career/employment objectives in the next few months?
How have the last 6 months impacted your objectives, if applicable?
Are you open to exploring some career assessment tools?
What are your needs right now, including financial needs?
What can wait until the current global health situation improves?
Would it be helpful for you to conduct informational interviews with people in your targeted field?
What “career readiness skills” can you focus on building right now?
Do you already have a set of transferrable skills? What are they?
Are there professional development opportunities you should be considering?
And to help with professional development, here is a list of popular organizations that offer learning and skills development training:
- LinkedIn Learning
- Class Central
- Ontario Colleges or Universities (many offer continuing education or grad certificates)
- For more ideas, check out this article.
Naturally, when we’re doing what we do best, we work with our clients to document the answers to all of these questions. This is the first step in clarifying goals. The answers form a foundation for deeper discussions and provide useful information when helping clients to reframe perspectives. And successfully reframing perspectives can empower clients to move forward from a place of uncertainty toward hope and optimism.
That leads to the second step — something that all career development professionals encourage.
Break Down Goals into Smaller Steps
Once the client has set a goal, it’s time to plan how it will be achieved. Breaking down a big goal — like reaching a career target — into smaller, manageable steps helps clients to gain perspective about how to prioritize their actions and facilitates the development of a detailed action plan.
Of course, goals must be SMART.
- Specific – what exactly does the individual want to accomplish?
- Measurable – how will they know the goal has been achieved?
- Attainable – is the goal something within their control?
- Relevant – is the goal meaningful to them within the desired timeframe?
- Time-bound – what is the deadline to achieve their goal or goals?
Setting long-term, medium-term, and short-term goals are all part of an effective goal setting strategy. Breaking these goals down into daily, weekly, or longer-term actions helps to make them easier to focus on and, once attained, allows the client to celebrate getting closer to achieving the main — or “big” — goal.
I encourage my clients to take the time to write down all of the steps (actions) necessary to achieve their short, medium, and long-term goals. Writing down the steps helps the commitment to the goal “stick.” Next, they apply the SMART strategy to these goals. Once their steps are documented and organized, they can start taking action.
I also recommend that my clients plan for potential obstacles. Further, it is a good idea to review and re-evaluate the overall plan on a regular basis.
It’s a great idea to have clients develop a networking strategy and find good supports during the journey towards a big goal. It helps to keep them motivated and excited when they share their plans and milestones with encouraging and positive people.
Help Clients Adopt a Planned Happenstance Mindset
Leading career development theorists John Krumboltz and Al Levin taught us in their book Luck is No Accident: Making the Most of Happenstance in Your Life and Career; “It is both an attitude that you gain and actions you take. It is the view you can create opportunities by taking action on your curiosity and on chance events.” I find it’s well worth the investment in time to familiarize clients with the concept of planned happenstance. It helps them to sharpen their curiosity so that they keep their minds and eyes open for chance opportunities. Curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk-taking are not only great skills to have in the workplace but they also facilitate a positive approach to career planning that can help position clients for success.
As career development professionals, it is our job to not only provide relevant resources, but also holistic work-life support to help clients navigate through uncertainty to find career satisfaction. Even in these unsettling times, when we rely on what we know and doing what we do best, we can continue to help our clients thrive.
Tanya Kett is a Career Counsellor at McMaster University’s Student Success Centre in Hamilton, Ontario, where she supports students in their career and educational development. She specializes in the exploration of career options and further education opportunities, job search strategies, and employment coaching. Tanya is trained as a Career Development Practitioner, Certified Professional Coach, Certified Résumé Strategist (CRS), and earned her Masters of Education in Post-Secondary Studies in April 2020.