Bernie McFarlane is a career and job search coach at Find Your Way to Work, assisting clients to discover their own approach to the job search. She has a background in psychology, human resources, and education and is currently a CDAA NSW Division committee member.

A friend of mine shared with me her experience using a telephone career service. Unfortunately she was left feeling dissatisfied. I probed to understand more about her experience; what they told her, what resources they directed her to, what advice they gave. I could not identify what the problem was and she struggled to articulate it. Finally she put her finger on it. “You know what? I just didn’t feel accompanied”.  

This set me on a mission to understand more about this aspect of delivering career services, and how important it is (or isn’t) for other recipients of our services. I conducted a more indepth interview with my friend, and I ran an online survey with 22 past clients from my private practice.  

Do most clients expect to feel accompanied by career practitioners?

This was the first question I needed to answer. The result was clear. 86.4% of the respondents indicated that they expected it. This was higher than their expectations to receive “information” (81.8%) or “expertise” (81.8%) from us.  

Once that was established, I sought to understand what “feeling accompanied” looked like to clients. As my friend had noted in relation to the professionals she encountered, “I am sure that is precisely what they pride themselves on doing”. She was positive in her appraisal of the people she spoke with on the phone, she said they were all very nice. And yet that was not the same as accompanying the person. This made me realise that it doesn’t matter whether we think we are effectively accompanying the clients, but whether they feel accompanied.  

Through my survey, 3 themes emerged. What accompaniment looks like, in the eyes of the recipients of our services, are:

  1. Followed up/checked in
  2. Made me feel heard/understood/validated
  3. Gave personalised/targeted advice

Followed up/checked in

What participants referred to here is checking in with them to see how they went with the information/tasks they had been left with or following up to see how an interview went, etc. 

Some recommendations to incorporate this into our practice include:

  • Schedule it
  • Use simple tools/technology to help you remember to follow up – reminders on your phone or diary
  • Be consistent

Made me feel heard/understood/validated

People’s need to feel seen and heard is not news to us. In the context in which we meet people, they are often feeling vulnerable, and potentially more sensitive to our reactions. They need to feel safe and valued in order to flourish. As my friend told me:

“There’s a lot of rejection. I need someone to help me keep perspective, the reality of who I am. Someone who can reflect back to me who I am.” They need to feel that we are in their corner.

Recommendations to incorporate this into our practice:

  • Eye contact matters. Be mindful of breaking this to write notes. You might notice the client’s voice trail off or sound less confident when they see us look at the page or device to write notes. It may be necessary but find ways to minimise it or to listen fully and then take a moment to write a brief note after they have finished telling their story.
  • Be aware of your reactions. We know how to control what we say or conscious body language. But non-verbal body language is subtle, and often betrays us. We may attempt to hide our shock or disapproval at what the person just told us, but those minute reactions, the look in our eye or the slight change in our facial expression doesn’t go unnoticed. Our body language is a true reflection of what we are thinking. It’s why people instinctively trust it so much. The only solution for this is to really mind your thoughts. Be more aware of your own biases and judgments.

Personalised/targeted advice

This follows closely on the back of “understood/heard”. Another powerful quote from my friend, “When I am known by you, I’ll listen to you”. Each person is unique and unrepeatable. We can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to assisting people. We listen, we understand, and we make suggestions that are relevant for that person and their situation.

Recommendations to incorporate this into our practice:

  • Be aware of your favourite go-to resources or solutions. Make sure you are open minded and recommended the best solution for this person, not your favourite tool or action.

A word about online service delivery.

Perhaps like me, you have found that clients are opting for the delivery of sessions via video conferencing as a convenient option. How do you make a client feel accompanied in this environment? 

When you break down the information above, online delivery of services is not a disadvantage. 

  1. Following up/checking in is usually done through technology anyway – a text or email to ask how things are going. 
  2. Understanding/feeling heard – may require a more conscious effort to demonstrate your attention, through body language, reassuring words, etc. I have even found some advantage in the online forum! The instant feedback seeing myself on camera gives, helps me correct my body language and realise when I need to smile more or look more friendly.
  3. Giving relevant/targeted advice – again, this not hindered by online delivery. It is about content, not the method by which it is communicated.

In summary, perception of accompaniment matters to the client. Most likely we are doing many elements of this, but there may be small aspects of our behaviour that need calibrating to ensure they align with the expectations of clients. There are little ways in which we can make a positive difference to our clients to cushion the way through what is often a confronting, even soul-destroying experience. Small things do matter and can be achieved without adding a lot of time or effort to our already demanding schedules.