Empathy in Career Services

Empathy in Career Services

One of the definitions of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In career services, empathy might be defined as putting yourself in your clients’ shoes. It is the first step to forming a productive, trust-based relationship with them and helping them achieve their goals. In an industry that is not strictly regulated by outside bodies, we rely on each other’s professionalism, ethics, and integrity to maintain our clients’ trust in our services and support. While independent career practitioners run their own business models, an empathetic approach to each potential client, starting from a posture of understanding and support, is the best way to build a partnership. I believe that demonstrating empathy in career services is vital to achieving successful outcomes for both clients and career pros. 

Some of our clients already know the type of help they need when they contact us. Others will be gaining clarity along the way as we guide them with empathy and care. Regardless of their level of knowledge, it is possible that some — even if they do everything right — may take longer to find their target role and may return for more advice.

A while ago, I read something in a psychology book that has stuck with me; that is the idea that people are as “needy” as their unfulfilled needs. If we practice positive regard, empathy, and commitment to helping our clients solve their challenges, we start by listening carefully to understand their specific needs and problems. With this in mind, here are some ideas on how to guide our practice to achieve clients’ trust and confidence while maintaining empathy and compassion:

1) Be ready to educate new clients about your work.

Your potential clients may not be aware of how career pros operate and what exactly they do. You can prepare your education/orientation materials in advance:

  • Create one to three clear, short landing pages on your website with a brief description of your services and prices.
  • Draft a one-page PDF flyer with a description of your services, processes, fees, and the value your client can expect. Tell them in a few bullet points what they can do in advance to make the relationship as effective, beneficial, and easy as possible.
  • Offer free introductory phone consultations (define the length for yourself, normally 15-30 minutes). Prior to a consultation, send your potential client a short email with three questions you want them to reflect on in advance in order to focus the call.

Some examples of those questions might be:

  • What is your biggest challenge at this moment?
  • What tools have you been using so far to find work? (LinkedIn, online job boards, lists of target companies, your personal network/acquaintances, professional associations, etc.)
  • What is your optimal/ideal next career step?

At the start of the conversation, gently remind your client about the duration of the call and that you can respond via email if more questions arise afterward. Five minutes before the end of the call, you might say, “We’re getting close to the end of our time and have five minutes left. Let’s … ” (guide the client in how you can best use the remaining time: offer a summary of your services, ask them to discuss one more concern, or offer to clarify one last question.)

I like to offer every potential client who reaches out to me some type of resource that will give them ideas and motivation to keep going. This might be an email, a booklet I wrote, a link to one of my articles, or a link to a colleague’s podcast episode. No one should leave empty-handed once they reach out for information.

2) Take a firm approach to market rates.

Your clients may not always be aware of the market rates for career services. Share your rates openly, always adding a short description of the value and benefits for your client. If the client debates your rates, there are several resources you might decide to share. This one from Career Thought Leaders explains to potential clients how résumé writers work, what they charge — “You can expect to pay anywhere from $350 to $3,000+ USD for a career document or package based on your level of experience and the writer’s expertise.”, — and has a form to match a client with the best writer for their needs.

This resource from CPC outlines 2017 résumé package rates.

If your client asks for a discount, you may maintain the price quoted but offer an add-on service (a thank you letter, for example) or lower the price while removing a part of the service package. Be professional and transparent about the rates, offer several options, and show understanding that the client may need time to reflect on the offer.

3) Lead with clarity and flexibility about your services.

Be clear about your full range of services, recommend the right package or several package options for each client’s needs, and give them the freedom to select the combination that they want. Offering flexibility helps to build trust and shows your cooperative approach. It’s a partnership and your client should have enough space to define their needs and timing.

4) Be prepared to support your clients before and after the service.

Some clients may turn to you with more questions than others. Start by appreciating the trust they have in you and offer complete and precise information. Never withhold significant information that a client could use to advance in their career.

To streamline the time commitment, have useful additional resources ready to direct your clients toward. These can include colleagues’ podcast episodes, association articles, or any other current industry information your client can learn in under one hour. Offer free content (your blog, LinkedIn articles, or a booklet) to help clients who are hesitant to buy your service or are not sure how to use their new résumé after they have worked with you. Organize your existing published content so you can easily point people to it, as needed.

5) Be responsive.

Our services are time-sensitive as clients may feel anxiety and pressure to land a new job. Show empathy to those who may need more time to recuperate after disappointments and to define their next steps. Others are eager to start applying right away. In every case, let clients know what to expect in terms of your availability. Be clear about the deadlines early on. List your delivery times on your website and other promotional materials and, if applicable, mention any exceptions to a client individually.

If you see that a client has become over-reliant on your help, frame your advice as a reminder to them to become independent — for their own good — in a particular skill. For example, they could focus on improving their cover letter writing skills or practice articulating their networking messages in fewer words. Remind them of their power and control in the process!

In Conclusion: The Benefits of Practicing Empathy in Career Services

I am always aware that my clients are trusting me with crucial — often personal and intimate — components of their lives and identity: their dreams; financial well-being; vulnerability if rejection, bias, or job loss are involved; and professional fulfillment and the impact it has on their families and mental and physical health. When we guide our clients, we have a tangible impact on all of those areas. Showing empathy in career services helps us to relate more readily and effectively to others — it’s an invaluable bonus to the practical guidance we deliver.

Our goal is to create an environment where clients are heard, the complexity of the factors in their lives is acknowledged, and tools are offered to give them confidence, power, and a respectful partnership with a career professional — thereby creating a model for their subsequent interactions with interviewers and employers.

Tanya Mykhaylychenko is a résumé writer and copyeditor with a background in university teaching. She is a member of ACES: The Society for Editing.

Photo by racorn on 123RF


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A big yes to approaching clients with empathy and I’d add, a certain spirit of generosity. Not in terms of adjusting our fees so much as in a feeling of goodwill.

One of the best ways to continue developing a client relationship is to offer support – in the way of answers to typical job search questions – after the project is done. Very few will need tons of support and others never ask a thing. Most might write once or twice with a question, so the cost in terms of time is not necessarily something to worry about. But knowing that you’ve offered keeps the door open.

Great article that clearly demonstrates how empathy and a spirit of goodwill fit in career services.

Thank you for your comment, Stephanie. Exactly — keeping the door open is the way to fully support our clients. This is also how we learn more about their experience to hone our skills.