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On Defining Success: Coaching Career Transitions at Rithm School 

Britt Lee-Still

Apr 30, 2024

A tougher job market means more challenges not just for our students and grads, but also for the staff that support them. Rithm’s Director of Career Services, Sophie, discusses how this evolving landscape has changed her approach to career coaching and delivered surprising insights.

The past year has forced me to redefine what a successful career transition looks like. Amidst a challenging job market, especially in the tech sector which has faced its share of difficulties, and with coding bootcamps receiving increased scrutiny, I’ve been reflecting more on the effectiveness and the value of the coaching support I offer in this space.

When I joined Rithm School in early 2023 I was excited to find purpose and make an impact again in the bootcamp space. I was diving back into a familiar world: working with very smart people, being a witness to fascinating yet baffling conversations (yes, even after all these years I still can’t write a single line of code), having the opportunity to mentor, teach, and navigate the highs and lows of career transitions with others. I knew about the struggles—when things don’t go according to plan, when you get rejected from a role that you were so invested in—but I also knew about the wins and the rewards of finally seeing someone succeed and reach their goals. I knew this was an exhilarating ride. I knew it could get tiring and frustrating, and I knew that sometimes you’d get “too” invested in personal stories.

Little did I know, 2023 and 2024 would push me to my limits. It would test my patience and resilience, challenge my expectations, and leave me feeling like I was navigating a maze blindfolded. It was almost as if someone hit the turbo button on my job and redefined what it meant to be a career coach in the bootcamp space, cranking up the difficulty level to expert mode.

Meanwhile the people I coached were going through the same struggles and the same realizations. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the crickets from recruiters, the “I’ve-tried-everything-now-what” frustrations, the occasional glimpses of hope—the whole nine yards.

In my corner, there were days where I felt I was doing everything in my power to support them. I had my feet firmly planted in the recruiting world and I was consulting with recruiter friends and previous colleagues. I was making constant adjustments to what I was teaching and how I was teaching it. I was following industry trends very closely and feeding back any and all information I could…  But then there were days where I felt like I was clearly missing the mark. What was I not seeing? What did I not know? What was the secret sauce? Why was it that these talented engineers weren’t finding the jobs that they deserved, and when they did, why did it take them so long?

Over time, I realized something interesting: Within these challenges, I found a deeper level of reward and sense of accomplishment. My coaching skills evolved, and I started carrying conversations with people that went beyond the surface, and sometimes even forging stronger connections. Every day became an opportunity to challenge the status quo, re-evaluate my performance, and elevate my coaching.

While my days were often consumed by tactical inquiries—what’s the next step? What have you not tried yet? Have you done enough of this?—I slowly eased into a more introspective approach and into more reflective conversations, because when there is a challenge, people will open up (if you let them, and they let themselves).

In these moments, I realized that maybe I had not coached these people “enough.” I had done all of the tactical coaching I could have done, talking about standing out and fixing issues, but missing the depth of reflection that true coaching demands. As more vulnerability emerged, candid conversations and introspection took center stage. For a while we had focused on DOING, on taking action and finding different strategies to get results. Now we needed to talk about BEING, accepting the situation and being more authentic.

Once I recognized that necessary shift in the process, I invited people to be more reflective. Last month was Stress Awareness Month, and amidst the uncertainty I decided to offer a different type of coaching sessions, where reports on the job search would be left out, and moments of being would be let in. The response was overwhelmingly positive. These sessions became a chance for everyone to pause, reflect, and recharge, and often realize what needed to happen next. Reflection didn’t just alleviate stress, it enhanced strategies and tactics, proving that once again, slowing down is the fastest way forward. Success didn’t necessarily come immediately from actions, but instead it came from important realizations and being intentional about a path forward.

If you are in the business of supporting career changers, I urge you to follow the same practice: Don’t try to hurry the process, and don’t put pressure on your clients to get to their goals. Worst of all, don’t tell your clients that you will only offer limited support should their job search last longer than the “prescribed” amount. Instead, meet them early, and when appropriate, invite them to slow down and accompany them for clearer thoughts and strategies.

So, what’s my definition of a successful career transition now? Don’t get me wrong, it’s still and it will ALWAYS be, finding a new role in your target industry, having the ability to bring your uniqueness to your new career and be a part of teams that share your perspectives and values. Success will always be the well executed pivot. However, it’s not so much how fast you get there, but rather the steps you took to get there, and the amount of thinking that needs to happen, whether it’s on your own or with a coaching partner you can trust.

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