Coaching Case Study By Hwei San Seow
(Career Coach, SWITZERLAND)
The school that I am currently working at is a small community of 1000 students of more than 80 nationalities with a focus on Hospitality Management. Most students choose to enroll in this course of study at our school, due to the opportunity to have global mobility with the school curricular requirement to complete an internship anywhere in the world.
As a Careers Counsellor for university-level students, it is fascinating that regardless of the students’ backgrounds, towards the end of their studies, most students come into the office with similar questions in this order:
- How do I begin an international career?
- Where should I begin my career?
- How do I go about my job-hunting process?
Career coaching in this context can have a powerful impact on supporting these graduates in finding their first steps after graduation, through the reframing of perspectives, managing expectations, and overcoming limited believes. By allowing graduates to see the start of their career from a different perspective, it allows them to consider more possibilities, rather than the one option during their job-hunting process.
Reframing Perspectives: How to Begin An International Career?
For most soon-to-be graduates, their first concern before addressing the question of what work will they be doing would be ‘How can I find opportunities beyond my home country’. This is always a challenge as it involves the complications of visa and work authorizations, which changes regularly depending on the different countries’ immigration authorities.
The reason why most students seek an international career is firstly, to quench their wanderlust – to take advantage of their youth and being able to be flexible and adapt to different environments and to be exposed to different working cultures. Secondly, they are also looking to seek a different quality of life from those of their families back home. This could include a different type of work-life balance, independence and self-discovery, and financial remuneration. The impression that most students have is that the grass is greener on the other side. However, from my experience of having studied, worked, and lived in 9 countries in the last 15 years, one thing I have learned is that the grass is greenest where you water it.
When students approach me with this question: ‘Where can I work’, instead of dashing their hopes immediately with the insurmountable obstacle of immigration bureaucracy, I am always keen on understanding their motivations behind their desire for an international career. This is important as it determines whether they are looking for a temporary move (where social-cultural exchange visas exist for certain countries with friendly bilateral relationships) or if they are looking for a more permanent solution (migration). From there, the reframing of perspectives is important, as most students expect to find an immediate solution to their question. Some students are fortunate to be able to reach their goals immediately, whereas for others, the question of: ‘What do you think of using your home base as a springboard’ and ‘What if the road takes longer than expected to reach your goals’ help widen their view of an international career.
A success story I shared with students is of an annex-colleague who graduated from a local hospitality school in her home country, India. After 5 years of hard work and also with the determination to achieve her aspiration of an international career, not only was she successful in finding a job in Thailand, her first role was also at a Director level with a team of 8 people reporting to her. 5 years later, she is now based in Singapore and is an Area Director, traveling to different cities and countries monthly to support the roll-out of new systems. Her career path has certainly been an aspiration for many, but as can be seen, a lot of patience and perseverance are required to achieve it.
Managing Expectations: Should, Need To… What Do You Want to Do?
“I should work in a back-office job because it has better career prospects”
“I should not be working long hours or overnight shifts because it is supposedly bad for my health”
“I am looking for a managerial position for my first job”
“My starting salary should be XXX”
These are just some expectations that students bring when beginning the conversation relating to the start of their career. Many are trapped within the expectations set by society or by family and are not necessarily grounded by reality or their needs.
Most fresh graduates in the hospitality sector feel compelled to avoid beginning their careers within the hospitality sector due to the lack of career advancement (Pavesic & Brymer, 1989), long hours, and lack of work-life balance(Williams & Hunter, 1991). They view administrative positions as much more stable in terms of regular working hours, financial remuneration, and growth opportunities. At the same time, they were not particularly passionate about administrative positions due to the nature of being stuck in an office space most of the time. Besides, considering their background in hospitality where their strengths lie in their interpersonal skills rather than specific technical business skills, competition is tough with graduates from business schools whose studies have been focused on theories in the various areas of marketing, finance, etc.
Perhaps the more important question to ask is: ‘What do you want to do’, and this would better guide them in where they should begin their careers and ensuring satisfaction in the longer term. It may not necessarily be in line with the stereotypical expectations, and it may even surprise them that at the end of the day, what they enjoy doing is what they had wanted to avoid. However, by achieving this discovery either through discussion with a coach or experience, they will feel a lot more satisfied with their career path.
A graduate recently completed his internship in the Finance department at a luxury hotel. The graduate initially chose this department in line with his major at school and to have a taste of more stable working hours. However, through a poorly scored evaluation, I had to intervene to discuss with his manager to understand where went wrong, and later have a coaching discussion with the graduate to explore his learning through this experience.
The graduate came to realize that it was not a career path for him as the office environment was not stimulating for his character. Rather than facing mountains of paperwork and being tasked with the need for attention to detail with the numbers presented, he felt a lot more energized being in the frontline, interacting with guests, and working physically with the resources that he had. By coming to this realization, he finally learned to accept the advantages and disadvantages of working in the operations department and is now enjoying his new full-time job in McDonald’s, a fast-paced environment with different shift hours. It may not be ideal in the long term; however, it was a great starting point to learn and grow, especially considering his situation where he is still young, with limited commitment, and hungry for growth.
Overcoming limiting beliefs: I am just a fresh graduate… How do I go about my job-hunting process?
As a fresh graduate, the job-hunting process is always intimidating as suddenly, the students must compete in positions with every other jobseeker despite not being sure of what their future holds and if they are good enough. Similar to any research done for any university graduates, students have to take advantage of the career services offered by their institution to overcome this lack of confidence and indecision (Gordon, 1995). Most graduates feel incompetent with limited work experience on their curriculum vitae (CV) (one year of internship experience) and not knowing how to sell themselves. They require coaching to be able to see their CV from a different perspective. Firstly, from guiding them in how they write their CV – what skills are you showing that you have gained through your one-year experience? Moving forward from there, it is about challenging their believes that one year of experience is insufficient – how true is that compared to graduates from other schools in your field? As a school with a reputation for employability and being recognized as one of the top three hospitality schools in the industry, how can you leverage that in your job-hunting process?
What is important is to coach the graduates to consider these questions systematically for them to have a shift in perspective that they have been equipped with a strong foundation to go forth in their job-hunting process with confidence. Furthermore, to be open to using different methods of job-hunting, beyond the usual unsolicited job applications via job boards. This can include leveraging on the alumni network or previous work experience to ask for advice and guidance in the right direction.
Impact of Coaching
For fresh graduates, the impact of coaching goes a long way since it is usually their first exposure to the benefits of being coached. What they begin to realize is that they have the answers within themselves, and all they need is for someone to ask them the right questions and to challenge their pre-existing mindset to consider other alternatives to their perspectives.
Coaching has also been very beneficial for my professional development in the long run. While it is so much easier to provide solutions upfront when asked, it takes a lot of courage and change of practice to provide the graduates with the empowerment to find out the answers on their own, especially since this is a skill they will need for the next 40 years of their career.
Gordon, V. (1995). The Undecided College Student. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
Pavesic, D. V., & Brymer, R. A. (1989). Industry retention/ attrition of hospitality graduates. Hospitality Education and Research Journal, 13(3), 267-275.
Williams, P. W., & Hunter, M. (1991). Recruitment and retention insights for the hotel Industry. FIU Hospitality Review, Spring, 51 – 58.