Tips For Giving Tailor-Made Career Advice

Career coaching works best when it is personalised to the needs and goals of the individual. Founding partner of Flame Centre Wendy Tan shares a few tips.
Not One Size Fits All

Managers and human resources professionals are often expected to conduct career coaching. When doing so, they should understand that they need to tailor their approach according to each employee. In my career development workshops with public officers, I have discovered two types of employees. Here are suggestions to navigate these career conversations.

The ambitious officer

“When can I be promoted?”
“What are your plans for me?”
“I would like more interesting and challenging assignments.”

These comments typically come from employees who are eager for success and want it now. They tend to be younger employees and they will be the ones to initiate these career conversations. They may also compare themselves with their peers and expect to match the progress of those ahead. If they are not promoted as fast as they think they should be, they wonder why and enquire about it.

The key is to manage these employees’ expectations and channel their energy for challenges constructively. Find out what their career aspirations are. Inform them that their current performance is only one factor determining promotions. Other factors include the availability of opportunities, their demonstration of capabilities for future roles, as well as the capabilities of others vying for the same roles. Opportunities go to people who are prepared, so help your staff learn what skills are needed for the future roles they seek.

At the same time, help them to be strategic in their career development. The best way upwards could be sideways. Building a broad base early in their public service career would give them a wider range of knowledge and experience. It will also give them greater flexibility to move into other areas before they specialise, should they choose to. Reframe the conversation from being about promotions to being about experiences and skills needed for future roles.

The uncertain officer

“I don’t know where and how I want to develop.”
“I want to develop as a professional, but I don’t know how to get there.”

These employees are likely your solid employees. They do their work well and add value to the organisation. But they probably do not spend enough time thinking about their career. Or, even if they do, they do not know how to plan their career. They probably have a vague idea that career development can lead to higher positions or having specialist skills, but lack clarity and specific strategies to get there.

Such officers will certainly benefit from learning how to plan and develop their career. A workshop participant said: “Since I was young, we have been told to study hard, do well. We are also encouraged to study economically valued subjects, such as life sciences and engineering. But after we graduate, there are no more instructions.”

How true. We spend so much of our lives studying content that we will never use. But we do not spend time learning how to navigate 40 years of our career! It is assumed that we will develop internal direction. But that is also a process.

Encourage these employees to take ownership of their career, rather than wait for you or their supervisor to help them make their career happen. They need to take the initiative to get to know themselves, manage their reputation, understand what skills will be required in the future, and decide what and how they need to develop. The Public Service offers a myriad of learning opportunities, but public officers need to know which direction they want to go.

Being a development-oriented manager

Different staff will need varying time commitments to support their career development. Start by talking to them in one-on-one conversations, understand which profile they fit into, and set them in the right direction.

Your attention to their career development will not only develop team capabilities and build the talent needed to power future growth for your organisation, it will also earn you the reputation of being a great manager. Talented employees gravitate to development-oriented managers because they want be nurtured, challenged and supported. So what kind of manager do you want to be known as?

Wendy Tan is a consultant, writer and founding partner of Flame Centre. She works with organisations in Asia to engage, develop and retain their employees. She will be conducting career planning and coaching workshops in January 19 and 20, 2016. For more details, visit their website.

    Nov 9, 2015
    Wendy Tan
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