The Fundamental Steps in Personal Strategy Coaching

By Julia Ivy

November 23, 2019


If we were to be professional in dealing with clients that come to us with the “what’s next?” question, we should project an impression that assures high-impact practices, without appearing shallow at the level of cost on consulting cases. 

Before jumping into a list of recommendations, we should purport to understand the meaning of the question and the challenges associated with people who ask the question.  Thereafter, it will make sense to look for the science behind the challenge and figure out how it can help us evaluate our options in making a conclusion. Based on the assessment of the conclusion, we can streamline the approach to help the client. The bottom line is to start with the client who asks and figure out why she asks the “what’s next?” question.

For many years I have been including a personal strategy conversation in my capstone classes in master’s programs. It is an irrefutable fact that I faced the “what’s next?” question in my coaching sessions and my conversations with friends and friends’ children. I also discussed this issue with career coaches, personal strategy coaches, recruiting professionals, internship program professionals, and educational program directors interested in work-based learning practices — all of which target their clients’ high-impact practices.

I tried, albeit unsuccessful, to single out one group of people whom the personal strategy work helped most. There were people of both genders and different ages as low as high school beginners. This “what’s next” group included:

  • Graduates, who have to decide what to do after college.
  • Veterans after completing their military service.
  • Parents after maternity leave.
  • Professionals who know that they can make living but feel that something is missing.
  • Masters’ students who are making a sizable investment to their degree.
  • Recently retired people.
  • People who are simply ready for the “what’s next?” chapter of life.

I tried to differentiate college students’ intention who are ready for graduation from the readjusting challenge of veterans in their transition to civilian life from a career change intention for highly accomplished professionals. I knew that “what’s next?” classification would not be based on age, or gender, or profession. The difference in classification was in the nature of my clients’ behavior behind the “what’s next?” change and the challenges my clients would face when asking it.


Classification of Challenges Associated with the “What’s Next?” Stage of Life

So, I classified the behavioral intentions and cognitive challenges, related to the “What’s Next?” question into three categories. Let me know if you agree with them. 

 1. The Challenge of MOBILITY

My analysis revealed that this type of challenge is mostly characterized by recently retired people, veterans after completing their military service, and parents after maternity leave. You can also refer to this challenge as “stickiness” to the previous life. People so strongly associate their portfolio with the years of previous experience that they can’t visualize themselves in a “what’s next?” life.


John a 47, veteran, retired as a major last year. He applied for different government jobs across the spectrum – from border control to managing a sports club, to leadership for youth training. Unfortunately, he didn’t secure any job, but it seemed like he didn’t really try to get it. During the conversation over the “what’s next?”  John seemed disengaged. He said that he came because of his wife and friends’ pressure, who believed that he was unhappy. On the question of whether he would prefer to stay retired with no job, he firmly answered “No.” On the question, of whether he really wanted a job, he answered: “Yes, if the job fits me well”. On the question of what kind of job would be a good fit, he joked that it would be a well-paid, otherwise relaxing job. On the follow-up questions of what kind of job he was looking for, he became visibly frustrated. He then defined himself as “artillery combat…” He asked what kind of job would fit him. When I opened a job search to work together with him on options, he moved his chair out of the desk.

We will be back to John’s example in follow-up posts searching for what to do with such a client. For now, let’s figure out what upsets him or prevents him from being fulfilled with the next chapter in life.  As I said before, this condition is termed as “stickiness” to the previous experience, which prevents them from exploring new ventures — both inside and outside. More often than not, in my conversation with clients, I realized that people who had to leave their previous jobs, colleges, or way of life without having an opportunity to really work on the “what’s next?” chapter of their lives were experiencing an uphill readjustment period. So, they physically left the previous part of their lives, but mentally or emotionally have not yet.


2. The Challenge of CLARITY

These clients are “all over the place” in what they want to do with their lives. There are many Millennials in this group, but also many knowledgeable people of other ages. Take a look at Tyler:

Tyler, 22, has an undergraduate degree but is jobless. Tyler graduated from a highly prestigious university with a philosophy degree. Since graduation, Tyler worked on term jobs unrelated to his degree with a small income, but he lives with his parents. He discussed the “what’s next?” issue at the request of his parents. He first talked about a unique idea for a computer game concerning his view on his career path. Then he shifted to the idea of using myths and religion to improve people’s creativity and perceptive abilities. Finally, he shared his interest in artificial intelligence.

I must say, I was VERY impressed with each of Tyler’s ideas and his depth of reflection. The problem was that these ideas were not related and definitely not preened to secure market opportunities. So, Tyler seemed to be lost in this rich mosaic of ideas and trapped in his own inner identity crisis.


3. The Challenge of UNIQUENESS

Many accomplished professionals who will start feeling a need for change are in this category and Millennials who are yet to be top achievers but are already well-educated. Individuals with this type of “what’s next?” challenge usually have a strong foundation with high employability. However, if they are defined by one of their specializations, they would lose their edge for today’s job market or simply feel suffocated or bored.  At the same time, they do not know how to bring together multiple dimensions into a new and holistic “I am a professional” message.  These are a couple of examples:

Dana, 21, graduating college. Dana is finishing her time in college with a triple degree course in supply chain, data analytics, and management information systems. She shared that she felt overwhelmed with a “good problem to have”: being a senior with one more semester to go, she already had an unofficial job offer from the entrepreneurial venture software developer, where she did co-op. Her job would be to work with clients in software product adaptation. Dana also had an informal invitation to work after graduation with a large corporation manager where she did another co-op. The work would be in a supply chain group. Finally, a start-up internet company seemed to be impressed with her, and that job would be in data analytics.  Dana knew that she could make a living with any of these directions but felt afraid to be lost in a crowd of similar people who do similar tasks repeatedly.


David, 36, multidimensional professional. I started this book with a story of David. David is a Millennial in his 30s. He graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s in business. He currently works as a professional insurance fraud investigator. David and his wife, who also has a bachelor’s degree in business, are devoted owners of a small garage-based craft brewery. They have produced a couple of locally appreciated beers and are currently experimenting with other hipster-oriented drinks. David is also a certified Thai Boxing professional. While David has learned to departmentalize his activities in time and space, he wonders if there is any chance to bring them together to make his professional life more holistic.

I must say that while I love all my clients, I can relate to these the most.


Different Challenges Need Different Strategies

While all these clients came for career coaching or career education with the same “what’s next?” question, you will apply different strategies for starting to work on them.

The Challenge of MOBILITY needs “Inner” Mindfulness – Preparation for Built-in Employability:

While a client may possess an impressive skill set and portfolio, he might exhibit mindlessness regarding his own portfolio and portfolio’s mobility. In such a case, as a career or a personal strategy coach, you will begin with mindfulness coaching. You will start by helping a client work on reflection of the inner-self to reveal a set of resources and capabilities he possesses that could isolate them from the previous life scenario consolidated as his personal capital. The group providing mindfulness coaching will probably provide him with better protection and a feeling of security. Only then should you move to the next stages of working on a personal strategy for built-in employability, where you connect the available portfolio with emerging opportunities.


The Challenge of CLARITY needs “Outer” Mindfulness – Preparation for Boutique Employability:

While the client may seem to be mindful of his inner self, he could be mindless of the outer environment. As a personal strategy coach or a career coach, you will start with working on openness to opportunities and changes in the environment.  This can motivate his openness to new information to find a new angle for perception and create new categories for understanding the world around him. Only then would you start working on boutique employability to help him craft his unique space in this world.

The Challenge of UNIQUENESS

As the most advanced step in mindfulness, the challenge of UNIQUENESS can start directly with the personal strategy work, which would be made specifically for Dana: Built-in in her multidimensional skill set and therefore, crafts her Boutique Employability. As a career coach, you can directly start with a set of strategy techniques on elucidating her professional CORE (aka her personal business model), VRIO assessment of the person’s resources, and capabilities in developing a personal Blue Ocean strategy that would craft her limits in today’s job market.