Career Coaching Competency: Powerful Questioning

This is Article #4 in our New Series: The “Must Knows” of Career Coaching – Core Competencies

By Diane Hudson Burns, CPCC, CEIP, CPRW
Director, Certified Professional Career Coach Program

Communicating Effectively means asking Powerful Questions.

powerful questioning“Career Coaching is a query-based approach to guiding job seekers to self-actualization and discovery of career choices and professions.

It is about effective communication, leading a job seeker to discover for himself an appropriate career path and requirements, as well as building a strong foundational partnership between the coach and the job seekers.

Effective communications are critical to facilitate career success and progress.

Learning to listen well and to pose gripping questions is the mastery behind Career Coaching.” – From Module 3, Certified Professional Career Coach program.

The Job Seeker’s Perspective

Very often, job seekers looking for a job, promotion, or career path, ask questions like:

  • “What do you think I should do?”
  • “How can you find me a job?”
  • “Tell me what to do.”
  • “What contacts do you have who can help me? Do you have insider leads?”
  • “Can you guarantee me a job?”
  • “How soon can I get a job?”
  • “I can do anything – just give me a good resume – and I can ace the interview.”

Well, the answer to these questions, are questions. By turning the job seeker’s questions into questions, he is then required to determine the answers and brainstorm though the process:

“What do you think I should do?”

  • Well, what do you think you should do?
  • What are your options?
  • What are your immediate options?

“How can you find me a job?”

  • Tell me about your last job search?
  • How do you think this job search will be different from your last job search?
  • What was your last job search like?

“Tell me what to do.”

  • What do you want me to tell you to do?
  • What do you want / need to know about job search or career management?
  • What decisions are you making at this juncture?

“What contacts do you have who can help me? Do you have insider leads?”

  • How do you identify contacts?
  • Tell me about your social media plan.

“I can do anything – just give me a good resume – and I can ace the interview.”

  • What do you mean when you say, ‘you can do anything’?
  • What type of jobs are you looking for?
  • What skill sets do you have that are a good fit for a target job?
  • What gaps might you have in targeting certain positions?

The Query System

By asking questions as a follow up to questions, this places the job seeker in the position of having to think through options, decisions, and discussion points. As a coach, I coach job seekers to make decisions based on asking a series of questions, and allowing them the joy and subsequent consequences of making a decision.

Powerful questioning and probing questions help move job seekers into a position of thought – they may experience the “Ah Ha” moment, as they are moved to action considering ideas they may have not thought of otherwise. As job seekers move to a position of making a decision, they may not feel as “stuck”, when options are revealed.

More Questions

Continuing the question string, job seekers may consider the following probing questions:

  • Considering your values, what is important in this decision?
  • Considering what motivates you, what is important to you in this decision?
  • What does your pro/con list look like?
  • How committed are you to our work together?
  • How committed are you to this path, versus the other path?
  • What is the best action to take right now? Why?
  • What might be the consequences of that decision?
  • How does this fit with your five-year plan?
  • What patterns do you recognize that you fall into most often?

Question Types

Powerful questions begin with “What”, “Why” and “How”; or include “Describe”, “Tell me about”, “Explain that in detail”, “If you did…, how would that look?”. Open-ended questions help job seekers to think and develop full responses.


Rephrasing or reframing questions asked by job seekers, and clarifying what was said, helps job seekers “hear” their question from a different perspective.

  • It sounds to me like you feel …. about this situation? Is that correct?
  • What I hear you saying is … ?

This rephrasing allows the job seeker to say, “No, what I meant was ….” Or, “Yes, that is exactly right.”


Powerful questioning is a strong tool to help job seekers make decisions; shift the focus of a job search; develop a career management plan; learn how to negotiate a salary; identify goals, values, and motivations; select an occupational interest; or identify gaps in knowledge or education versus target jobs. Working with a career coach, job seekers are able to make tough and life-time-impacting decisions. Working with a career coach, job seekers will more clearly understand the decisions they need to make in their quest for employment-related requirements, and be encouraged along the path of stretching their comfort zones, and learning how to make decisions through their own self-awareness and discovery.

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