Coaching the unemployed

The unemployed may not be a client type that many of you have had for the simple reason that when money is tight, luxuries like coaching goes by the wayside.  However, I have done some Pro bono work and found coaching people that are in the very real situation of needing a job to be challenging.

Up until now, a lot of the work that I’ve done has been to people with very actionable objectives.  What I mean by this is that they can change their situation given perspectives, encouragement and support.  However, a person looking for a job can often be up against some very immovable restraints.

Your client may have kids, be married and have a mortgage.  They may have been out of work for a while and be nearing the end of their benefits for unemployment.  The bills are becoming harder to pay, the stress is rising and the idea of moving their family into their parents already tiny house is a thought that makes them sit up in bed at 2:00am.

So despite your clients best efforts, they are still jobless and further in debt.  How can coaching help?

What I’ve found that provides the client with some refuge from their stress, worries and sense of urgency is:

1.  A large part of this is out of their control.  Assuming that your client is working hard at looking for a job and still coming up short, a big first step is helping them come to terms with the fact that a lot of this situation is out of their control.  Needing a job doesn’t mean that they’ll get one.  Being hired involves so many other factors than just their interest and this can be extremely frustrating to your client.  Helping them accept this fact can help take away some of the pressure they are putting on themselves.

But understanding that things are out of their control doesn’t’ give them much comfort or lessen the stress and fear. It’s one thing to understand that they lack control of the economy but how can they deal with needing a job, being unable to provide for their kids and watch things slowly being taken from them like their house, cars and sense of societal worth?  They still need to pay their electricity bill and how can you set an actionable goal with this end in mind when they don’t have the money?  Be more relaxed sitting in the dark?   Feel less guilt when their kids ask them why they can’t play video games?  Accept that this is part of the process and that bad times fall on all of us?  Chances are that this won’t give them a greater sense of peace but it is a starting point.

2.  Help them admit that this is hard.  This was something that I initially overlooked.  When clients are put into the situation, they often blame themselves for not getting a job or not doing enough.  But that is like walking up Mount Everest, feeling winded and then beating yourself up for not being in good shape.  The fact is losing your job is traumatic and the process of waking up each day without employment is hard.  Admitting it can lessen the weight on themselves and help them accurately look at their situation

3.  Simply listening AND being OK with just that.  Your client is like a pressure cooker at this point.  A huge amount of what they need to do is let things out and you might be their only source.  Let them talk.  Let them pause without you talking.  Let their thoughts hang in front of them.

4.  Organizing their time that would be otherwise filled with a job.  A hard part of being unemployed is not filling those hours Monday to Friday with worry and doubt.  Right now, those two emotions will always be there, but if you can help to keep them productively busy, it will ease their discomfort.   Can you schedule their job search time (online, in person, follow up calls), exercise, down time, family time, reflection time, and a quality bed time followed by a set time to wake up.

5.  Meditation.  This could be one of the most important times that your client needs to be fully present in order to search for jobs and be their best selves on paper and in job interviews.  However, they most likely spend a great deal of time in the future with worry and in the past with a sense of guilt or second guessing past decisions.  Helping them develop a daily meditation or even just the ability to sit quietly with themselves to explore what is coming up and get a handle and perspective on their emotions is extremely beneficial and calming.

6.  Help to lessen their sense of isolation.  It may seem to your client that the whole world has a job except for them.  They see people going to work, hear stories of people getting jobs and spending money on things that they either can’t afford or have had to give up.   Chances are that this sense of them being the only ones still unemployed is false and a reality that they have made up in their heads (it would be easy to believe when they may go shopping on a Tuesday afternoon and be in line with older people and mothers with young babies).  Helping them analyze if these thought are invented or based on fact can be very liberating and bring them back to a more accurate sense of reality.

The bottom line is to help your client get a handle on this very difficult situation, give them perspective and help their minds not get the best of them with invented future scenarios or by dwelling in the past.

I’d love to hear your insights into this as I believe that it represents a real challenge for a coach.

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2 thoughts on “Coaching the unemployed”

  1. Thanks for your article. I was just wondering to myself if I was the only one coaching someone who is currently out of work. In addition to your tips above, I have found that reminding my client of her strengths (the same ones that she had when she was employed) has helped keep her confidence levels up through this dificult time.

    1. Hi Stephanie. I’m glad you posted. I found that coaching somebody out of work to be very challenging as well as rewarding. I agree with you about reminding them of their strengths and the thing that has changed is their employment situation and not them as a person.
      One of the areas that I really worked on was their ability to be in a situation that was mostly out of their control (i.e. somebody deciding to employ them). This is where we worked in meditation and the skills needed to focus on what was in their control and not let the out of control items run their lives. Almost baptism by fire and much easier said than done.
      Thanks for your great comment.

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