HR Needs Better Skills to Step Up Career Coaching

Editor’s Note: It’s an annual tradition for TLNT to count down the most popular posts of the previous 12 months. This is No. 23 of the 708 articles. You can find the complete list here.


Talent management and talent acquisition leaders and talent management-focused HR business partners are often the first responders for employees seeking career advice or wanting to make a move within the organization, and the quality of the response is critical. Yet TM/HR business partners often are disappointed with the results from their conversations – how well they can catalyze more engagement, higher retention and advancement rates, and better talent readiness.

One issue that TM/HR pros talk about all the time with their clients is, “What got you here can’t get you there.” Take a business partner, who is highly valued for rapid problem-solving, or a talent acquisition star who assesses candidates and current skills rapidly, focuses on time-to-fill for requisitions, makes a great match and moves forward. Their execution is their super power, but is usually the wrong mindset for career coaching.

If the HR team is transactional, focused on quick solutions rather than on exploration, opening possibilities and having a deeper career coaching conversation, they may be missing the chance to sustainably engage and retain the employee.

Savvy organizations today not only provide training for managers and employees on career development, but also work with their HR members to increase their career coaching skills, and their ability to pave the way for employees to have more open and productive conversations with managers.

Steps to career development impact

Adopt a coaching mindset — Coaching effectively involves the ability to take three different stances, and the majority of people overuse the first two – “expert” (telling the answer, giving direct advice) and “resource” (pointing someone to a place they can find out more, or connect them to something). The third – “facilitator” – involves asking open-ended questions, helping someone else think, giving them the space to explore.

Identify options, possibilities, and paths — Asking questions to identify interests, strengths, motivation and aspirations, as well providing insights on themes/capabilities, could indicate where these could be applied inside the organization. Do these suggest a vertical or lateral path, a path to explore alternatives, job enrichment, or increasing current job mastery? Key questions here:

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  • What would career success look like for you as you see it now?
  • What in your current role uses your best talents/interests?
  • What is missing/isn’t satisfying?

Understand brand/reputation/impact — Since these will often determine whether employees can achieve what they want, a key way HR is uniquely poised to assist is by testing self-awareness of what they are known for, how they are regarded, and how they could increase their positive visibility. Assisting employees in increasing their comfort with talking with their managers to get feedback can facilitate the process, as can developing questions to ask, such as:

  • What do you see me as the “go-to” person for? What do you rely on me for?
  • What three skills do you value most in me?

Create connections that could lead to opportunities — Assess the strength of employees’ internal networks and equip them with ways to break through barriers in their networks. Providing insights on relationships they might want to develop, or current/anticipated organizational needs they could capitalize on can be energizing. To facilitate the process, ask the employee what areas of the business intrigue them and why? Where do they see a potential need for their skills in view of the company’s direction, and who in the organization can provide further insights? You can also provide introductions/connections directly.

Help employees create an action planBy doing so, employees will be empowered by the course of action you jointly develop, whether you’re having just one conversation or meeting again in the future. You can ask:

  • What actions will you commit to in order to achieve your goals?
  • What are immediate next steps?
  • What potential roadblocks might arise and how will you manage them?
  • What strategies can you use to stay on course?

By adopting a coaching-oriented approach to help employees take greater ownership for their career development, talent acquisition professionals position themselves to make an even more significant impact on their company’s engagement, retention, and mobility initiatives.

Stephanie oversees Keystone Associates’ business operations and is a member of the executive leadership team that sets the strategic direction and operational initiatives for the company.

Stephanie possesses deep expertise in strategic planning, program management, instructional design, and recruitment and staffing. She has a passion for working with individuals who are reassessing their careers and seeking new venues in which to apply their talents and interests. Stephanie has guided hundreds of professionals in their search for new and meaningful work.

Stephanie is a CPI Master Career Consultant and a recipient of CPI’s Above and Beyond Award for her contribution to the development of a world-class career technology portal. She is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer, and regular contributor to the media on issues pertaining to career transition and change.

Stephanie holds an MEd in Career Education from Boston University and a BA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

@Keystone_Assoc @stephaniedaniel 

Penny, VP and leader of Keystone Associates’ individual delivery practice, is a member of the Consulting Practice Leadership Team.

Penny has extensive experience in career management, human resources, and leadership development, including Polaroid Corporation, consulting to organizations on implementing organization-wide training, succession planning and talent management programs, and running a successful independent career consulting practice.

She has headed restructuring, redeployment, and retraining programs, including partnering with universities and state agencies on the design and delivery of a model biotechnology retraining program.

As a founding member of the Independent Career Counseling Consortium and co-founder of New England Institute for Career Development, Penny is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer, and a regular contributor to the media on career issues.

Penny holds an MEd from Boston University in Counseling Psychology and a BA from Wellesley College. She is a CPI Master Career Transition Consultant.