“Cry me a river” I know you’re going to say, but being a coach (in any capacity) can be a tough gig, some days!

When you’re trying to help people get their arms around a massive topic like job hunting, and you’ve only got a few hours to work, you really have to pick your battles and call your shots.  Some people are “information sponges” and want you to hose them down with as much information as possible, as quickly as possible.  Others need more time to process certain insights and will do better if you go slowly, one step at a time.  And others, still, aren’t really looking for advice at all.  They’re burnt out, frustrated, and confused — and are merely looking for a sympathetic ear into which to vent their anxieties.

In the midst of all this, though, I try to stick to a single guiding principle.  Regardless of the situation at hand, and how many wild tangents a client and I might end up going off on in a particular meeting, I strive to have the people I meet with leave each appointment clear about one critical thing: what’s the next step they need to take to get closer to success?

Now this isn’t the most original idea in the world, I realize.  But as a coach, I think that “action” is an anchor we can all cling to when we’re feeling a bit lost and confused about a situation we’re in.  In fact, I wrote a blog article years ago about this very topic, emphasizing that the job hunter who is unclear about the “next step they need to take” in their search is at high risk of floundering and prolonging the time they’re in the market.  Here’s the article I penned, if you’re curious:


In short, no matter what challenge in life you may be facing, it’s a safe bet that doing nothing — or doing nothing different than what you’ve BEEN doing — is not usually the path to salvation.  You need to come up with the best possible game plan for moving forward and then you need to work this plan, methodically, day after day.  That’s where a professional coach can help.  If you’re simply not all that clear on the next move you need to make, or are struggling to hold yourself accountable for taking these actions, an effective coach (or even a close friend willing to kick you in the butt) can help focus your efforts and come up with a clear, step-by-step set of action items to start working through as your time and energy level permits.

And even on those “down days” when you just can’t seem to muster up the strength to do something spectacular, you can least knock off some quick or trivial part of the plan that allows you to keep making a degree of progress, however small.  Perhaps that’s the day you update your LinkedIn profile.  Or order some business cards.  Or go get a new professional mugshot taken.  Or spend some time learning a new software program relevant to your field.

Ultimately, though, the onus is on you to bring an “action bias” to your efforts and to be clear about the sequence of next steps you need to take in order to achieve your goals.  And if you commit to your plan and keep putting one foot in front of the other, so to speak, you’re going to be a lot better off than if you just wing it each day.  Succumbing to “paralysis of analysis” has been the bane of many a job seeker.  Or as another career expert I greatly admire (Herminia Ibarra) aptly puts it, in her book Working Identity, it’s a lot easier to “act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

Amen to that.  She’s got it absolutely right.  So whether you’re going through the career transition process on your own, or working with a professional in some capacity, you can always fall back to this cardinal principle.  Focus on taking meaningful action, each day, toward your ultimate goals, recognizing that it’s a sloppy process and that “learning as you go” is going to be the order of the day.  The answers to your career future are not in your head.  They’re out there in the marketplace.  And if you set a goal and just keep talking, talking, talking with a consistent stream of relevant people and organizations, you’ll be putting yourself in the best possible position for success!