Executive coaching is a personalized form of professional development leaders increasingly are choosing to enhance their skills for managing others, addressing change, dealing with crisis or problem situations, and generally ensuring their leadership skills serve well the organizations in which they are engaged. What many do not know, however, is coaching also can be a great strategy for achieving that next big step in your career. Many of the requests I receive for coaching today have been stimulated by the job search — either a need to make sure of one’s preparation, or sometimes because of a failure to be selected for a coveted position. In both cases, executive coaching becomes candidate coaching.
If your dream job has become available — whether that’s a deanship, a vice presidential role, or a department chair — and you want to make sure of putting your best foot forward, you also might want to consider Candidate Coaching. Among the many ways in which a coach can sharpen your competitive edge are these:
Assessing your readiness for a given position.
Reviewing your curriculum vitae and letter of application to give tips and feedback.
Preparing you for first, second, and final interviews by anticipating questions and identifying potentially sensitive areas.
Preparing you to skillfully address problem areas, such as abrupt position changes or areas of less achievement, in your career history.
Reviewing and providing an expert sounding board for your candidate presentations.
Advising you on follow-up with search committees, search consultants, and/or hiring authorities.
Assessing your selection potential and your strategy for moving forward in a search.
Managing the unexpected turns in a candidacy and ensuring a winning response.
Responding to and negotiating an offer.
Planning for a successful beginning in your new position.
Whether you believe you need help with all of these steps, most candidates need expert advice at some point in the process of competing for a position. AAL coaches have successfully supported candidates for major leadership positions in all of these ways and more. We have experienced both sides of leadership candidacy, and we continue to work actively to understand the marketplace.
Although your credentials may be outstanding, and your experience will speak volumes, the value of expert advice and an objective sounding board is immeasurable when the competition is strong, or the unexpected occurs. Coaching helps you to avoid the mistakes that many other candidates will make. Among the more common mistakes I have seen candidates make, and that I work to help those I coach to avoid, are these:
Talking too much and listening too little; people want to make sure that a new leader understands who they are and what they envision.
Over-explaining past problems or mistakes; the simplest response is the best.
Focusing too much on what’s wrong; every department, school, or setting has its strengths, and these need to be recognized first if critique is to be heard.
Overselling oneself; selection of leadership is more about “fit” between the candidate and the organization than it is about credentials or experience in any absolute sense.
Being too specific about “vision” before fully understanding the strengths and challenges of the organization; this requires a careful balance.
Negotiating either too “hard” or failing to negotiate at all; once a match is agreed to, negotiating the terms of acceptance requires both skill and sensitivity.
When facing any important challenge, a strong leader always seeks the best expertise available to help navigate the course to success. And that’s what candidates who engage a coach are doing: ensuring they have the best advice and support possible, at every step of the way.