After highlighting their background and the beginning of their career coaching journey, the ladies of At First Page gave us more insights about their coaching style and the challenges they faced when starting out. They also have some words of wisdom for individuals who are just starting out as career coaches!
Q. How did your conversation with each other begin during the Advanced Program? Was it because of collaborating on assignments?
Tina: I think the first thing we did with any assignment during the Program was we made a WhatsApp group to decide how to research, what to do, and exchange our notes and thought processes.
Aparna: We are still connected and learning from each other.
Anuradha: Yes, those assignments really brought us together. They were challenging, and we went bonkers searching through websites, finding information, and collaborating on the assignments. At the time we would be cursing ourselves, thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” but it was very very exciting in hindsight.
Aparna: We fondly remember the way we connected. PD Sir’s lectures, Chadha Sir, Shilpa Ma’am – it was like being back in college again, and each lecture and each session triggered some self-reflections in me. Apart from that the peer learning that happened was the cherry on the cake! You learn so much from interacting with your fellow participants and coaches. The assignments made us realize that we really needed to put in the effort to be successful in this domain.
Anuradha: One thing that bears mentioning is that if we ever had a doubt during the assignments we could reach out to your team, and they would immediately respond. We even had special extra sessions where they would explain what the requirement was. That kind of constant support from Mindler is something that sustained our interest along with peer learning.
Q. How has your journey as a career coach been so far?
Anuradha: For us, it’s been a journey together. Although we came from different backgrounds, as career coaches we were all beginning from the same platform. Fortunately, because we gelled so well as people, we instinctively realized we had a lot in common. Our commitment towards helping young people was something we all shared, and that’s how we created this platform – At First Page.
After Advanced was over, we asked ourselves the question, “What next?” Because we wanted to keep in touch, we had not thought of Masters, and we were recovering from the rigours of Advanced at the time. What do we do with all this exciting information and insights that we have? How do we do it? And since the three of us are not from the career counselling background, how do we get started?
That’s when we thought of coming together, since we have similar personalities, commitment levels, similar interests, and passions. It has been a tremendous 1 and a half years, with over 600 students counselled, which has been a learning experience.
What we are happy with is that we have never stuck to one process, but always identified the gaps during our counselling. There were commonly recurring problems that students faced for which we created certain programs and modules. When individual students come to us – and we counsel individual students as well as schools – we do one on one counselling, and then do a major counselling session where all three of us are present. Each student gets a minimum of three counselling sessions.
We discuss every student’s report beforehand, have a meeting to make our points, and provide our individual inputs in the major counselling session. Each one of us looks at different parts of the report to give the student a comprehensive and very personalized experience.
This came together over time when we realized we each have specific strengths that can be implemented to benefit students. We wanted our students to get the advantage of all our perspectives. Maybe this is a process that takes a little more time, but we want to give the best to our students. That is how we have evolved.
The other thing we looked at was going beyond counselling. We realized that telling a student that these were the career matches that were best suited to them might not be enough. We wanted to create a support system for our students.
Tina: When we did a report interpretation, we would focus on personality and EQ areas as well. Parents would come up to us and tell us that they wanted their child to improve in this area, such as confidence or being more forthcoming. That’s when we had the idea of creating our Signature Program, where we would run shorter modules to train these children for personality development, interesting learning styles, effective study habits, etc.
It’s not just the three of us at At First Page, we also have soft skills trainer Radhika Pundir Ma’am, psychologist Deep Jajmann Ma’am, and our industry experts. Children who are keen on knowing more about new careers can join our shorter modules where we give them exposure to job environments in certain careers. All these shorter modules also came about through the counselling process.
When our first batch of the Signature Program graduated, it was a great feeling. We also ran modules for other career coaching ventures and created capsules for them. We have broadened our horizons from career coaches to guiding children in other areas as well. We truly believe in the concept of holistic development of children, and that is our USP – three coaches giving our best, and identifying students who need special guidance.
Q. What challenges did At First Page face when you started out? How did you reach out to students?
Tina: Introducing ourselves in the market was definitely new to us. We started with approaching principals of schools that I had known during my time as a teacher and principal, telling them about our work and giving them orientation sessions about At First Page. Steadily, people started talking about At First Page, understanding that we were different from regular career coaches.
After we designed our website, more people started approaching us. We gave them presentations, started designing brochures, etc. Even the parents of the children we were counselling started spreading the word about us to their friends. That’s how our networking started. You must invest a little bit in your website to present your company so that people can take a look at your work.
Q. What advice would you like to give to anyone wanting to come into career counselling?
Tina: It should be from your heart. Don’t just connect with students for the sake of it. Be ready to keep researching, to be well prepared before a session. Children have access to the net so you must be very thorough yourself. If you don’t know about something, schedule a session for the next day and do your homework. Career coaching has a lot of hard work involved.
Anuradha: Yes. You have to be willing to be updated. Reading anything in the newspaper, or the internet must trigger your interest to learn more so that you can provide new information to your students. We also have a few Mindler-initiated peer groups which are very active; someone gets new information and posts it on the group. Mindler’s Exam Group gives us updates about exams so we are constantly on our toes with new information being given to us.
The other thing is that networking is very important. Everyone starts through references via family and friends, but there is a limit to that. That’s where Tina’s connection with schools helped. Initially, we were a little scared of the large numbers, but the learning was unparalleled. The more young people you counsel, the more you improve your counselling skills. Because we were in it together, we all benefited from those 600 students. We gained a lot of confidence and an understanding of what else we have to do.
Reaching out to a wider clientele now would mean using social media and reaching out to schools. In the beginning, reaching out to individuals will only bring about a trickle of students. To bring about a steady flow of students, a good connection with a school can really set you up.
We had this advantage because we were a team, and able to handle large numbers of students in a short span of time. That’s why networking is important for career coaches – especially involving like-minded coaches who work and think in the same way you do. You don’t want to back out of a beneficial situation because you’re a sole counsellor.
This marks the end of the ICCC section of our interview with At First Page.
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Stay tuned for their experiences with the Mindler Partner Platform and how it has helped their career coaching practice!