A Research Paper By Bastian Harth, Students & Young professionals Coach, GERMANY
How to Coach Young Professionals in the Pursuit of Their Dream Career Path
When I first started as a coach, I assumed that my clients wanted to duplicate the same journey I did – leaving behind everything and following their passions. But soon enough, reality set in. Everyone coming to me for advice was facing unique predicaments far more overwhelming than what had been placed on me; some were dealing with parenting roles while others might have had managerial positions at work or other financial duties. Clearly, their lives were much more complex than mine!
As I diligently tried to comprehend their needs and assist them with the process, they seemed to have faith in me solely because of my inexperience – as if only a young person could achieve such a feat. But while there is some truth to that statement, I still maintain that when their kids are off leading independent lives, these individuals will again find themselves at an age when relocating abroad can be possible for them.
As I experimented in numerous niches, one seemed to fit me like a glove. Since I have been the chair of an alumni association, working with university students and young professionals came naturally to me. Therefore, when someone said: “Your niche is who you were five years ago,” it resonated strongly with my present circumstance. All signs indicated that this would be the ideal path for me.
Moreover, my coaching sessions with young professionals had a significant impact on them. In the beginning, I struggled to understand that many students and young professionals were requesting advice rather than guidance – which conflicted with my traditional training as a coach; instead of giving out answers, coaches should be actively listening and asking questions. However, I soon found ways to both coach and counsel them effectively – it was then that sparked my curiosity in finding better methods of guiding these people specifically; thus, leading me here to this research paper.
This paper examines a significant problem: how to coach young professionals in the pursuit of their dream career path, particularly when faced with an unfamiliar job market. It draws from my own experiences trying to find a fulfilling career and construct a professional vision. To do so, we first need to define what young professionals are, and understand their current challenges and what is important to them, before we jump into how to coach them.
Who Are Young Professionals?
Most programs and conventions encapsulate young professionals from the age group 25-35. All in all, most programs consider young professionals as those who have little to no more than three to five years of work experience: “A young professional is someone who, although he or she may be employed full-time, is within two years of graduation from a full-time Bachelors, Masters or Ph.D. program…and is under the age of 35.” (IAEE, n.d.). I have found programs that define individuals as young professionals even if they are in their 40s. However, the majority encapsulates them based on a combination of age and work experience.
Challenges of Young Professionals
Though highly intelligent and dedicated, young professionals often require adequate support to reach their peak potential (Newport Institute, 2022). The transition from college to a career is not easy. Usually, it is coupled with stress. At work, there is not the usual amount of feedback that was provided to them by professors (Newport Institute, 2022). There is also the fact that they are experiencing a whole new level of accountability while joggling non-optional relationships, for instance with their supervisors or colleagues (Newport Institute, 2022). While all of us have probably faced these transitions, this generation of employees is more stressed than any other group; they’re most worried about financial issues, the possibility of job loss, and not achieving their professional objectives – all factors that negatively impact overall productivity (Newport Institute, 2022). According to Bain and Company (2022), young professionals are quickly burning out due to greater workloads coupled with lower engagement. Gen Z’s difficulty with work-life balance, feeling exhausted after a day of work, and lack of engagement or enthusiasm for their job are more pronounced than those experienced by employees from earlier generations (Bain, 2022). They often find it difficult to voice their opinions in meetings and have limited opportunities to present new ideas (Bain, 2022).
Sadly, young professionals are not always aware when they have hit a wall – much less accept help from others due to an irrational sense of embarrassment (Lüderitz, 2021). For these reasons, it is essential that coaches make every effort to provide proper guidance or resources for up-and-coming talent whenever possible. Without the appropriate guidance and support, young talents can easily be overburdened – something that I have personally experienced in my first job (Lüderitz, 2021). Doing so often leads to a downward spiral for those affected which could result in serious health issues like anxiety and depression (Newport Institute, 2022). Otherwise, they may also simply quit their job out of frustration or exhaustion if no action is taken (Newport Institute, 2022).
Another source of stress for young adults in the workplace is known as imposter syndrome, otherwise recognized as “perceived fraudulence” (Newport Institute, 2022). This phenomenon involves feelings of inadequacy, doubt, and worthlessness – people with this condition may feel that their achievements are mere luck, not skill; constantly afraid they will be exposed for not being worthy of their position or duties (Newport Institute, 2022). The Stanford University School of Medicine’s research uncovered that a staggering 82% of individuals have experienced Impostor Syndrome at some point (Bravata et al., 2019). These same studies discovered that this syndrome is rife among younger generations and those with an inclination towards perfectionism or ambition to succeed (Bravata et al., 2019).
There are other challenges that young professionals currently face such as global political unrest, epidemics and pandemics, rapidly changing working environments, instant gratification and access to social media, and the constant possibility of comparing themselves to others comparison, just to name a few (Bravata et al., 2019); (Buxton, 2020). Thus, coaches but also companies have a responsibility to help young professionals with these challenges; for instance, by showing them that there is a big difference between having just a job and building an enriching career. Rather than simply paying bills, aspiring youngsters should focus on honing their skills and setting long-term goals for themselves as well as personal fulfillment (Newport Institute, 2022). Utilizing some of the approaches below will hopefully result in increased stability and growth over time – ultimately leading them toward a more content and successful work life.
What Is Important for Young Professionals at Work
A sense of meaning and purpose: Entering adulthood during a time of great turmoil has left Gen Z more focused on what matters most rather than ambition or material wealth (The Gen Z Reckoning, n.d.). More so than any other generation, this cohort is likely to believe they can make an impact through meaningful labor (The Gen Z Reckoning, n.d.). When it comes to job selection, young professionals prioritize meaningful roles and responsibilities over promotion opportunities and convenience (The Gen Z Reckoning, n.d.).
Authentic connection: The struggles of the last year have enabled a more genuine way to relate and connect with one another in our workplaces. With so many people going through mental health issues both at home and on their jobs, it became okay to open up about personal stressors without facing judgment or fear of repercussion (Newport Institute, n.d.). Also, according to a study conducted by Rainmaker Thinking (n.d.), young professionals are more inclined towards having positive relationships and supportive leadership than they are regarding monetary remuneration or benefits. The human element was revealed as the most important factor of all (Rainmaker Thinking, n.d.).
Opportunities to grow and learn: In an expansive survey of 6,900 members of Generation Z, the Springtide Research Institute (2022) found that a whopping 86% are in favor of their boss or supervisor providing them with ample opportunities to grow professionally. This is so crucial to young professionals that one-third would even be willing to accept smaller pay rises if it enabled them to learn new skills and decide their own path for growth (Springtide Research Institute, 2022). Thus, when choosing a job, young adults rank “the chance to learn real skills” above extra pay and even above autonomy and creative freedom (Springtide Research Institute, 2022).
How to Coach Young Professionals
During my brief time as a coach, I quickly discovered that coaching young professionals has its own unique set of challenges as outlined above. Therefore, rather than trying to figure it out on my own and risk making mistakes with clients, I decided to draw from the knowledge of more experienced coaches who have worked extensively with young professionals in the past. This research proved itself invaluable – not only did it help me understand their needs better but also taught me how to effectively coach myself in this process.
Being Clear and Transparent About Who We Are
First, it is important for a coach to be authentic. According to Gary Buxton (2020), “…when I’m coaching young professionals, they’ve already done their research on me. They’ve seen my site, my Twitter, and see what google has to offer.” As mentioned above, young professionals want a sense of authenticity, so they know that the digital persona that a coach presents matches up with the individual they are meeting. To captivate potential clients, it is essential to have both a digital presence and an individual brand that resonates with who you are as a coach (Buxton, 2020). To win their trust is by being honest about yourself and what you stand for, so to speak.
“The traditional values of respect and equality in the workplace are no longer enough; instead, many companies are now turning to quirky and innovative values to round out their corporate culture. Creating an environment where work isn’t just working, but a place where lifestyle and interests align is where the attention is starting to be placed.” (Moore, 2013).
They do so because for young professionals, having fun at work and having a certain job satisfaction is more important than ever (Moore, 2013). This suggests that we could be on the cusp of welcoming an entirely new generation keenly invested in deriving joy from work. However, while the stereotype of coaching is changing, many still regard coaching as this grey-suited profession only for c-level executives (Ham, 2022). Changing this stereotype by presenting an image of coaching that is modern, contemporary, and fun should thus be the approach (Ham, 2022).
If we can make coaching both entertaining and creative – with humor, playful inquiries thought experiments, and innovative approaches – we can encourage our younger clients to make use of their higher-level problem-solving capabilities (Nimbly Wise, 2021).
Meeting Them Where They Are
As technology continues to advance, the way we engage with one another must also shift and evolve. A mix of online and in-person coaching has become increasingly popular as people are becoming more aware of their environmental impact while traveling or even just working remotely from home (Buxton, 2020). Therefore, it is projected that responsive face-to-face/online coaching will soon be commonplace (Buxton, 2020). This can easily be seen by looking at how companies such as BetterUp or CoachHub have exponentially grown during the past few years.
Although in-person coaching will always remain, as it facilitates a strong connection between the two parties involved, we must also develop our capacity to establish meaningful relationships over digital platforms (Kinnunen et al, 2020); (Buxton, 2020). This is particularly important for younger professionals who may not have easy access to face-to-face services; by mastering online interaction methods, we can ensure that no one is excluded from receiving valuable guidance and advice from a coach (Buxton, 2020).
Simultaneously, and linked to that is that it is essential to be and allow them to be flexible. Coaches must be willing to alter sessions by mutual agreement or work hours that fit with the customer’s schedule (Buxton, 2020). The more diverse our base of clients becomes, the more equipped we need to be in terms of having a malleable approach (Buxton, 2020). Meeting them where they thus do not mean solely being digital but also, being flexible.
Acknowledging Their Struggles
As mentioned above, many young professionals suffer from health issues such as anxiety and depression. With limited available support services, it might be necessary to address these issues during coaching sessions more often than not. Of course, this problem spans all ages, so having a clear understanding of when coach-led guidance and resilience-building techniques would be most beneficial will serve of great use to professionals in their formative years – something they can truly appreciate (Buxton, 2020). Our job as coaches might not be that of a therapist but that does not mean that we can simply ignore the fact that this person in front of us is facing unprecedented struggles in their professional life that cause health issues. It is important to acknowledge these health issues and to show them that they are not alone in this. Young professionals are looking for guidance (Lüderitz, 2021). Having someone more senior than them as an enabler and partner of trust that they can rely on – someone they can also ask for advice – is often what they want from a coach (Lüderitz, 2021).
Focusing on a Career Vision
It is important to understand that a career is not a job. A job is something that we do for money. A career on the other hand is “…a long-term endeavor, something that we build towards and work upon every day.” (The Difference Between a Career and a Job and Why It’s Important, n.d.). This is essential for young professionals to understand as a career can be flexible, and adjustable and has its ups and downs like any journey. (The Difference Between a Career and a Job and Why It’s Important, n.d.). It is not like a job, which can be described as something fixed that potentially does not change much over time. If they understand this difference, I suggest that it allows them to think more open-mindedly and creatively about their career again. They may even see more fun in it which may lead to reduced stress and anxiety.
Yet, when you ask young professionals the daunting question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, many feel unprepared to answer this question since seldom have they been taught how to devise a long-term vision (NimblyWise, 2021). Often, young adults are pressured to decide upon the profession they will pursue as soon as they have graduated from college – a daunting task considering many have just stepped foot into adulthood (Nimbly Wise, 2021). This often leads them to choose paths that either align with what their parents encourage or what societies deem relevant (NimblyWise, 2021).
What is crucial at this point in life is to not tell them “Follow your passion”. In accordance with Cal Newport’s book (2012) “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, following your passion is bad advice as most young people do not have a passion. The better advice would be to follow what you are interested in and explore it (Newport, 2012). If you enjoy it, and you realize that you are getting better at it while receiving positive and constructive feedback, you are willing to invest more time which ultimately, leads you to become even better; and thus, passionate about something (Newport, 2012). Also, the business mogul Mark Cuban shares this message: “Follow Your Passion” is absolutely the worst advice you could ever receive or give. Why? Because individuals tend to have more than one passion, it’s not the energy of being passionate that leads to success – instead, commitment, effort, time management, and dedication are really what make someone successful (Cuban, 2012). As he puts it himself on his blog: “Don’t follow your passions; rather pursue your efforts as they will guide you towards your passions…and ultimately lead you to victory however you define it.” (Cuban, 2012).
Thus, we as coaches should realize that coaching is not just about the current job they have and the situation they are in – it’s about having an eye on what lies ahead and guiding them toward that direction from above like a helicopter (Bruxton, 2020). Through that, they may see a clearer picture again and feel calmer and less anxious about their professional life.
Factors and Important Aspects of Coaching Young Professionals
This research is not exhaustive. There are other factors and important aspects of how we can effectively coach young professionals. Though, this paper showed how we can create a more meaningful and impactful coaching experience for young professionals by drawing on experts’ voices. To become an effective coach, it is essential to be flexible and digital in your approach while maintaining a sense of empathy and authenticity. Making it fun throughout the coaching process and allowing them to explore their career vision rather than their current professional life are helpful approaches to coaching young professionals.
Young professionals are usually eager to learn and enthusiastic about their prospects. By being mindful of these qualities, you can ensure that you meet the needs of young professionals. I hope that this research paper will help you to do so.
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