Conversation with a Career Coach







Group phote with the Koh family

It was a Sunday evening, and our family had a wonderful gathering at a friend’s place. We haven’t met for years, and after our kids connected and launched their long-awaited play date, my friend Stephen and I caught up about each other’s life.

Stephen had been working in his family advertising business for several years, but had always felt the tug in his heart to follow his calling into something bigger. After being trained as an Independent Certified Coach with The John Maxwell Team earlier this year, he was now ready to make the career switch to become a career coach.

I had read a number of John Maxwell‘s books before, and am curious about the work of a career coach. Thus, Stephen’s career switch really piqued my interest. During dinner, I asked about the potential for career coaching in Singapore, and what he learned in the John Maxwell training program.

“I think that career coaching as a whole is still in its infancy stage,” Stephen remarked. “People typically associate career coaching with training others how to write resumes, clear interviews, and land a job. Career coaching is really about helping the client find alignment between his inner narrative and career path. Though there’s a shift towards this understanding, there’s still much room for growth.”

How does career coaching work?

“So how exactly does career coaching work?” I asked.

“I will first start off by listening to my clients with empathy, and understand their hopes and fears,” Stephen explained. “Then, I will put them through the Maxwell Method of Coaching, whereby I’ll ask them expansive questions.”

“Expansive questions?”

“Yes, questions that probe them to search within. Sometimes we have the answers, but we don’t know where to look.”

“Any example?”

“Marcus, you mentioned about the career assessment you did on SkillsFuture portal. How was it?”

“Oh, well it was rather comprehensive, except that I’m not sure what to make of the results. It says I should be a playwright,” I mused.

“Interesting. What do you think are some of the skills of a playwright that are transferable to your work as a teacher?”

“Hmm… I never quite thought of that,” I reflected on the question. “I guess I am quite aware of the personalities of my students, and so I can imagine in my mind how the social dynamics in a lesson might turn out.”

“That’s true. A playwright is an expert on human personality, and thrive on enacting social interactions in his play. What else?”

“I could also use words in my instruction in such a way as to elicit certain responses,” I am beginning to get the hang of it. “Much like how a playwright arrange the dialogue in his play, to move the narrative along.”

“Excellent. I think you are getting it. So, even though you didn’t become a playwright, many of the skills can actually be cross-applied to your current work as a teacher. Your classroom is like a stage, and you are directing their learning as you go about teaching.

“That’s very insightful,” I was impressed. “As Shakespeare would say, ‘All the world’s a stage, and every man an actor’.”

“Yes. Maybe Shakespeare would also make a good teacher. In any case, this idea of playwright and role-playing can also be applied to how we think about work. We are all acting out our roles at work. A good playwright brings out the performance of the actors in the roles they are in. So that’s probably what you hope to do with your blogging as well.”

Overarching Narrative

“You are right,” I agreed. “And this reminds me of something we learned in BGST. We are made in a certain way that finds expression in what we do well and like best. For example, our lecturer recalled that he liked to build things when young. This ‘builder’ streak in him led him to work as pastor, businessman, craftsman, seminary dean in his adult life. He’s always building something – whether the lives of his congregation, the business, or the organization he was in.”

“Yes. We all work with an overarching narrative in our lives. Expansive questions help people make sense of the common thread that runs through their lives. By understanding their own narrative, they can have better clarity with what they should be doing with their career and their lives.”

I nodded. There was a question forming in my head, but I couldn’t quite identify what it is.

“What do you think is the overarching narrative in your life?” Stephen asked the question that I was trying to pin-point myself.

“Great question. I guess I was always trying to make sense of things, and helping others to make sense, too. I like to think of myself as an Interpreter. I’m always interpreting the meaning of something to my students, my colleagues. In fact, the main ministry I do in church is interpreter!”

“Precisely. So this could be your overarching narrative. The jobs you do, the things that bring you joy, are all associated with that overarching narrative. If we can help more people identify this narrative, they can make better choices in their career paths. That is why I wish more students can have access to career coaching from a young age. It will help avoid many heartaches and wrong turns in their choice of higher education.”

I totally agreed.

Free Career Coaching?

“Wow, that was really solid stuff you are sharing here,” I was visibly excited. “Was that a free career coaching session you just did for me?”

Stephen laughed. “It’s a taste of what we offer. The whole career coaching process is really more in-depth, about 3-4 sessions. In fact, I sometimes helped conduct pro bono career coaching for some people while waiting on my career transition,” he said. “It’s something I love to do, and it helps me build experience for this new job. But the person must show their commitment to this coaching process by doing homework. The coaching is only effective if the client takes ownership of his or her learning.”

“I am very excited for this next step of your journey, my friend.”

“Thank you. And I also look forward to read your blog!”

We ended the splendid evening with a energetic group photo:

Family photo with Stephen Koh

That concludes my first interview post! Hope you’ve found this useful.

Stephen has approved the above content. If you are interested in engaging Stephen’s service in career coaching, you can check out his website: You can also look for his LinkedIn profile here. Depending on when you contact him, he might offer you his coaching service on a pro-bono basis too!

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