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The Science of Career Coaching

Professional career and life coaches have spent years perfecting their craft and most see it as a combination of science, art and instinct. A good career coach will have spent as much time learning as they do teaching. The Science of career coaching is far more than simply being able to construct a good curriculum vitae or counseling someone through their fears about changing jobs.

The psychology bit

Many people wanting to change jobs or make a significant shift in direction have fears about the process. The way their brains perceive change as a threat is part conditioning and part a survival instinct. After all, our monkey brain wants us to avoid risk and keep us safe. In the 21st century our primal biological responses are confused; there is no sabre tooth tiger coming to eat us, but the boss sure looks scary enough.  A good career coach can help a client to distinguish between real danger and perceived fear and equip them with tools to handle their responses to threats.

The art bit

Career coaching is not just about science and practical matters. There is an art to constructing a cover letter; doing a good interview or presentation. The language that evokes a positive response from a prospective employer has some psychology behind it plus a sprinkling of empathy and connective thinking. If you are naturally tongue tied when confronted with an interview situation a good career coach can help you develop the confident skillset you need to get through it.

The physical science

How you stand, sit, fold your hands, breathe and even smile can influence your success when asking for a raise or going for a new job. Our minds are not separate from our bodies and there are ways to trick the mind into feeling relaxed by working on the body. Think about the success of the “Wonder Woman” stance that many women now adopt to feel empowered and strong. (For a great TED Talk on this see Amy Cuddy’s talk)

The practical bit

Any coach worth their salt will not let you make a change unless you have identified what you are really unhappy about. A career coach who knows their stuff is going to approach your needs with a mixture of behavioural science and practical exercises. So, when working with a coach, expect to do some deep digging into your own values and what your default settings are when it comes to challenge. You may feel a bit like you are back in the biology lab- dissecting not frogs but yourself!

Some of the exercises may feel like experiments in different thinking and some will work for you and some won’t. A skilled coach will identify the way you learn and adapt best through a series of exercises designed to uncover your skills, mindset and work attitude. She or he may even get you to do some visualizations of your ideal work – a sort of hypothesis testing. E.g. If you could do anything in your life, what would that look like?

Above all anyone working with a coach should understand that they have to “do the work”. A coach is a guide and facilitator – you are the one making the changes.


A good career and life coach has a complex skill set. They have an understanding of both the science and the art of coaching. They generally have experience at a high level in their employment field and are confident, empathetic and structured in their approach. However, there is also the “X Factor” which may not sound very scientific. When you find the right career and life coach, something tends to “click”, you instinctively know you are a good match; there is a synergy. This is usually a match of values, personal beliefs and a sort of natural chemistry at work.

You can work with a competent career coach and achieve a great deal. However, when you do meet the coach who sparks that intuitive connection, then the magic happens.

About the Author Kathleen Murray

Kathleen Murray is a career and life coach and an expert at guiding women (and some brave men) on the journey to living a fearless fulfilling life and loving Monday mornings! She can be found on Noomii and her website

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