Coaching Case Study By Marcus Daniel Lim
(Transformational Coach, SINGAPORE)
After my certified coach skills classes, I started my first coaching session as a coach with Darren (not his real name) as my client. Darren was actually ‘referred’ to me by his father, who was hoping that while I get some coaching practice, I could also give his son some help and guidance in his job search, as he has been out of job about 5 months ago and has not been successful in finding a new job since. Darren is 30 years old this year and he has graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree about 6 years ago.
Though I was not very confident that I would be able to help him secure a job sooner with my current coaching skills (especially since he would be the first “guinea pig” in my coaching journey!), I still accepted the challenge and agreed to coach him with all the coaching knowledge and skills that I have at that point of time. Hence, I started messaging Darren on WhatsApp and introduced myself as a friend of his father and I am also a new career coach.Ibriefly mentioned over the messages that I would be keen to meet him face-to-face at his available time, and possibly offer him some guidance and help on his situation, without specifically committing that I would be able to help him to be more successful in his job search. However, it was not until a couple hours later that day that I finally received his reply, and he agreed to meet me on the Labor Day public holiday which was 2 days later. Yes, I have successfully secured my first ever coaching client!
In preparation for the meeting with Darren in that afternoon, I spent the morning going through my notes from the certified coach skills program on the 11 ICF Core Competencies and the related behaviors, and penning down some notes for my own reference, specifically the key points for establishing the coaching agreement, since I have not finalized my own version of the coaching agreement which I was still working on at that point of time. Also, I was trying to run through the coaching process and possible coaching structure in my mind, since I already had a few role-play coaching practices during my coaching classes a couple of weekends before that. The final part of the preparation was to go some sample formats of the resume and cover letter and noting down some of the critical points for resume writing since I was hoping I might be able to offer some ‘values’ to him in this session if we had the chance to review his resume or cover letter.
In order to make sure that I have the ‘right’ seats at the café which I was supposed to meet Darren, I went earlier than the agreed timing and to my delight, I was able to find a table with 2 seats at the quieter corner in the café. I set out my notebook and armed with my handwritten coaching agreement and notes, I was ready to coach!
Darren arrived at the café about 5 minutes before our agreed time and he offered to buy me a drink as he wanted to get a drink for himself. There, I have my first ‘paid’ coaching session, a cup of coffee!
I started the session as the coach by establishing the coaching agreement, which I covered the role and scope as the coach, outlining how I could possibly support him in pursing his desired objectives and outcome during the session. I also emphasized the confidentiality aspect of our coaching conversation which the details of our conversation will not be shared with anyone else, without his consent since I felt that it was an important point since I knew his father. I also briefly mentioned that our coaching session would not be a therapy or Counseling session, and coaching is a forward-looking process. I felt that I was a little nervous when I started the session with Darren since it was my first coaching session as a coach, but as I was establishing the coaching agreement with him, I realized that I was able to quickly calm myself down while I was reiterating the ethical coaching guidelines and standards to him, as I was reminded of my responsibility to behave appropriately and professionally as an aspiring certified coach. And since it was the first time that I met him for a coaching session, I gave a brief introduction of myself and provided some insight of the coaching program that I was embarked on, in trying to break the ice and start building some trust and confidence with him, so that he was aware of my credentials (though limited in terms of coaching).
As we began the coaching conversation, I felt that it was an important procedure to establish the coaching topic for the session though I know that he probably would want to talk about his job search situation, so I proceeded to ask him what he would like to discuss about in the session. He was not very sure what he wanted to talk about specifically though but with some hesitation, he said that he would want to discuss why he has not been successful with his job search over the past months and probably get some guidance and help on what he could be doing to increase his chances of finding a job soon. Hence, I re-framed his inputs by clarifying with him that the coaching topic would then be on his job search situation and the related difficulties that he was encountering, and the expected outcome from our session could be identifying some action items for him to work on in order to increase his chances of finding a job soon, and he agreed to begin with that.
I felt that it’s an important and critical step to establish the expected outcome and objectives at the beginning of a coaching session so that we can work on the action items towards the expected outcome and objectives at the later part of the process.
And just before we went into the coaching discussion, I also checked with him how much time he would want to spend for the session and he said that he had a couple of hours before he need to leave for his next appointment with his friends, so I suggested to start with an hour for this first session then.
Then I started the session by asking him the first question, “what is the current situation of your job search?”, which he started by giving some background of his previous jobs and sharing with me the reason he left his last job, and also some of the difficulties he has faced over the months in his search. I thought that was a powerful question to start off with, as I managed to get him sharing substantial information on his situation and also unexpectedly getting some context of his previous job experiences. Thereafter I confidently followed up with a few ‘How’, ‘Why’ and ‘What’ questions to understand more about his situation.
Through those questions, I established that the reason why he left his last job as a project engineer, was due to company re-structuring as the company was not doing well in their construction business, and he was in that job for just slightly more than a year. He also shared that he had relatively short stints in his previous jobs, and he has held very different roles as well, from engineering role to sales role, and even as a web designer in one of his jobs. Hence, he concluded that he doesn’t have a good resume due to those reasons, and he felt that those were the reasons why he has been unsuccessful in his job search till then.
During the conversation, I sensed that he seemed to be lacking in confidence and self-belief as well, as he shared that he had only attended 2 interviews in the past 5 months, and he was already rejected after the first rounds. In fact, he was pondering for quite a while when I asked him on his takeaways and learnings from the 2 interviews which he could work on for future interviews, and what are the areas he felt that he had done well during the interviews.
After establishing the context and his situation, he actually asked me to review his resume and give him some feedback points, which had me wondering if I could be doing that as a coach. Hence, I informed him that I would ‘remove my coaching hat’ before I gave him some pointers on his resume and shared a copy of the recommended resume format with him since I have already prepared the materials before the meeting with him.
With only 10 minutes left for the session, I decided to move our conversation towards designing some action items which he could be working on and also the possible lead time that he needed to complete those action items.
The action items were for him to re-work on his resume in the recommended format and then to update his LinkedIn profile since I found out that he has not updated any details in his LinkedIn profile though he has an account since his university days, and he also agreed that he felt that he should be updating his profile in order to use it as a tool for his job search as well, especially since he had only been using the few job search engines (eg.JobsDB, Jobstreet, etc) till then.
And just before we concluded the session, I asked him if he felt the session was useful to him and how he was feeling. He confided that he was feeling a little lost and helpless before that since he has not really spoken much to his friends and family members on his job search situation, so he was feeling much better after the session as he felt that I might be able to help him to be more successful in his job search. And to my surprise, he asked me if I could have a couple more coaching sessions with him, which I gladly agreed to.
Hence, I concluded the session by having him to recap the action items that he would be working on and agreed with him that he would complete the action items and we would review his resume and LinkedIn profile together when we meet again the following weekend. I thanked him for his time and the trust given to me to support him in this process.
I was delighted that my first coaching session was off to a good start and my confidence was boosted by the positive outcome from the session though I acknowledged that there are still lots of work to be done and much room for improvements, in terms of beefing my coaching skills to be an aspiring certified coach in the very near future.
The key takeaway and self-reflection points are as follows:
The competency areas which I feel that I have done well during the coaching session are coaching presence and active listening.
In terms of coaching presence,I feel that I was able to stay engaged, involved and be present throughout the entire conversation, and despite the fact that Darren was showing some signs of low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, I am glad that he was willing to open up to me and the trust level built up as the conversation progressed, and we had an open and spontaneous conversation which flowed quite smoothly though there were times when Darren hesitated and pondered as he shared some low points of his job search. As I was paying attention to his sharing and observing his body language as he spoke, I was able to encourage him to share details at his comfort level which I feel that it helped to build his confidence as the conversation progressed.
As for active listening, I feel that I was able to listen intently and focus well on what he was telling me, and I was also able to support his self-expression on various occasions by paraphrasing the information that he was sharing with me and also reiterated some points to ensure that I was having the correct understanding of the contents. I feel that active listening is probably one of the coaching competencies which I’m more comfortable and confident in, and I have no problem to adhere to the 80% listening guidelines in the coaching session.
As for the opportunity area for improvement in coaching competency, I feel that I would need to have a lot more practice on the areas of powerful questioning and direct communication.
For powerful questioning, as I started the session being very conscious to avoid asking close-ended questions, I realized that I have been distracted in my thoughts at times and caused me some anxiety at times when asking questions. And I feel that it has also caused me to ask long questions which might not be so effective since the client might not be able to get the intent of the questions. Though my questions throughout the session have been more of the How and What open-ended questions but I feel that I could be even more effective if I could ask more short and specific questions, such as “What do you think was working well for you?”, “How this action has helped you to achieve your objective?”, or “Why have you not considered this action?”.
The other opportunity area for improvement would be direct communication which I feel that I could have done better to be more direct in providing feedback to Darren at times when he was trying to blame his situation on external factors which was beyond his control, and when he was trying to find excuses for not taking certain actions (eg. Updating his LinkedIn profile, exploring other job search platforms, etc) in his job search. By not taking a more direct approach, I find that it also made it harder for me to refrain from giving him advice how he could be doing certain things better though I managed to restrict myself from giving him advice until after the session was over, which I specifically told him that I was ‘taking off my coaching hat’ before giving him the suggestion points.
Lastly, in terms of designing actions, planning and goal setting, I feel that I was able to have Darren to recap the required action items and reiterate the agreed timeline of 1 week to complete the actions, which is evident that Darren as the client, is taking the responsibility to take the required actions upon his desired timeline.
In conclusion, I feel that by adhering to a set of ethical guidelines and professional standards in coaching as developed by ICF, I was able to help and guide Darren more effectively though the session.Though I had similar conversations and sessions with my team members and friends when they needed someone to talk to and have some advice and help on their issues and situation, I feel that I was probably more leading and judgmental in those conversations previously which might not be so effectively and helpful after all.
Hence, I’m so glad and elated that I’ve embarked on this journey to learn a more structured and ethical process in coaching, which should enable me to help and support clients and friends more effectively in future.