Graduation Advice? Use a Coach Approach

Graduation Caps Thrown in the AirGraduation is a milestone and marks a new beginning. As a mom to a high school graduate and an aunt to a college graduate, I’ve been thinking about the advice I could share with each—in case they ever ask!

Do you have a child, relative or friend embarking on the same journey? My advice as a coach (or a parent, mentor or friend) is to help them discover their journey.

Graduation brings with it a mixture of feelings from elation about a significant accomplishment to apprehension about what’s next. The elation may last a week or even a month, but it’s always followed by “What’s next for me?” concerns. Whether the decision is to continue on to a higher level of education or go directly into the workforce, the years following graduation are about exploring independence and passion. It’s a journey that requires reflection, exploration, and learning.

Coaching an individual is about leading a discovery process. A coach probes for deeper discovery by asking open ended questions that cause the coachee to pause and reflect—and the longer the pause, the better. Pauses provide time for decisions and actions that feel right and that have significance.

Below is a list of starter questions you can use to encourage reflection and a deeper level of thinking from the graduate you are coaching. Don’t feel that you have to use them all—one or two might become your go-to questions. Modify this list and put it in your own words, if you’d like.

  • What do you find yourself wanting to learn and read more about? What types of careers are related to that area of study?
  • What are you really good at? What are your natural gifts/talents?
  • What do really want to avoid in your job or career?
  • What is important for you to have in your career? For example: money, satisfaction, a career path, values, people, location, type of work?
  • When you find yourself so focused that you lose track of time, what are you doing?
  • If you could try out any job for a day, what would it be?

Each graduate is on their own path—and choosing a career that ultimately brings fulfillment and independence is what life is all about. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Life is what you make it. Always has been, always will be.” Graduates are on a journey of reflection, exploration, and learning.

So when the door opens for a coaching conversation with a recent high school or college graduate, be prepared and jump in. That conversation could be the turning point that leads to a successful future!

About the Author

Joni Wickline is Vice President, Professional Services with The Ken Blanchard Companies. You can read Wickline’s posts as a part of Coaching Tuesday here at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

3 thoughts on “Graduation Advice? Use a Coach Approach

  1. Great article Joni, I am both a college professor and the happy proud parent of two college graduates this year. And, in my professor role I am advising hundreds of college students at both the BA and MS level on classes and even more importantly on “what next”. I attended the Coaching T4T last summer and while I was doing a decent job of advising before that, I have really improved in my ability tremendously since then. I follow the coaching model exclusively now. And use many of the questions you suggested. I also ask questions centered around values and their vision of the future. Some examples include:

    What are your values?

    What is important to you personally?

    Who are your heroes and mentors?

    How would you want others to see you?

    What makes you proud?

    If you close your eyes, what would you see doing with your life?

    If you could imagine doing anything what would it be?

    Some of these questions are really “big” ones. Often students come back later and start the conversation with “I have been thinking about …”

    Bottom line, the coaching model is great for advising.


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