“I’m the worst interviewer! I always have been. I just can’t get out of my own way!”

These are the exact words of a client I worked with last month. Few of us look forward to the hiring process, but my client – let’s call her Kelly – was convinced she’d never be successful in an interview. That she wasn’t born to interview.

Like Kelly, we all encounter clients who’ve given in to this notion they just don’t – and will never – have certain skills or abilities. They believe their talents are permanent qualities never to be improved. This thought process is called a fixed mindset or the belief they just aren’t equip with the ability to succeed in certain areas of their life.

This thinking – according to Carol Dweck – can lead to serious roadblocks in our clients’ personal and professional development. Kelly, and many of our clients do themselves a huge disservice by accepting this way of thinking. As career coaches, we wrestle this fixed mindset when we try to successfully coach our clients through their career transition. As much as we want to believe employing our expertise will produce positive results, if we aren’t aware of – or understand how to combat – this toxic belief system, a fruitful outcome is unlikely.

Fixed mindset and growth mindsets by Carol Dweck, courtesy of Nigel Holmes

In Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she writes “For 20 years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

Your fixed mindset clients believe they are born with a specific set of skills and competencies, and thus feel either they have a talent for something or they don’t. This thought process creates pressure to prove themselves over and over. And if they’re like Kelly, this thought process can impede their career progression and personal success.

Having a growth mindset, on the other hand is the belief that you can develop your talents and abilities through hard work, good strategies, and a strong support system. Research has, and continues to show that a growth mindset can have a profound effect on our clients’ motivation. The ‘gritty’ mindset enables them to focus on new skills development; persist during a difficult career transition; and ultimately achieve the career satisfaction they desire.

Growth mindset is entrenched in deep research on how our minds can be reprogrammed with intentionality. What we believe about our ability and potential feed our behavior and predict our success. Essentially, growth mindset reprograms our outlook on failure as an opportunity to learn. Failing doesn’t equal failing. Failing equals learning.  

Does Your Client Have a Growth or Fixed Mindset?

So how can you tell if your client has a fixed or growth mindset? When working with your clients, ask yourself the following:

  • Does my client view success as proving how smart or talented or successful they are? Is this a main driver for validation?
  • Does my client avoid showing weakness? Are they hesitant to confront their failures, and when they do, they tend to play the blame game?
  • Does my client revert to spending their time and energy on further honing their existing skills as opposed to trying or learning new things?

Unfortunately, reprogramming a fixed mindset to a growth mindset isn’t all that easy – but it is possible!   

Influencing Your Client’s Mindset

So, how can we foster a growth mindset in our clients? As coaches, we pride ourselves on employing powerful questions in the coaching process to help bring out our clients’ success stories. We use these success stories as a tool to defeat the inner critic that grows within. Through powerful questioning we help our clients focus on their wins instead of trying to overcome loses.

Employing powerful questioning to foster a growth mindset might look something like this:

  • Who do you most admire for their ability to improve their performance? What are some strategies they employed to make this performance improvement happen? Are these strategies you could employ to improve your performance?
  • Have you ever done something you believed you could never do? How were you able to accomplish? What did that experience tell you about your ability to stretch yourself?
  • Think about your proudest profession (or personal) accomplishment. Why does this accomplishment come to mind and what strategies did you implement to achieve? Now consider approaching this current challenge with the same mindset. How would doing this change your thoughts on achieving success?

In addition to employing powerful questions, here are a few strategies to help your clients nurture a growth mindset:

Recognize when their inner critic resurfaces.

Your clients’ inner critic is powerful. The voice that says, “I can’t do this. I don’t have the skills to succeed.”  When this inner critic shows itself, combat it with coaching strategies that silence their saboteur. You want your client to believe that just because they don’t know how, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give it a try. Ask them to talk about a time they successfully tried something new. How did it feel? What skills did they employ to succeed? Would they be willing to try this technique again?

Reframe negative thoughts.

How your clients treat defeat, challenges, and negative feedback matters. Get your clients to talk about what they learned from experiences where they failed, not the failure itself. Reframing defeat using a growth mindset helps them understand there is always a silver lining, and approaching similar situations with negative thoughts will likely yield negative results.

Be honest.

When our clients ignore deficiencies instead of trying to overcoming them, there is a strong chance we won’t be successful in our career coaching support. The one thing my client Kelly had going for her is she admitted her interviewing skills weren’t up to par and recognized she had a lot of work to do to feel confident. Being honest gave us a chance to whittle away at her fixed mindset, making gradual improvements to her performance.

Be deliberate.

The passion for stretching oneself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the token of growth mindset. This thought process allows people to thrive during challenging times. Work with your clients to set deliberate stretch goals. Make sure they go through the exercise of writing their goals down (42% more likely to achieve) and then craft a concrete reason why they know they can achieve each goal. This last part is important! When their inner critic resurfaces – when the growth mindset reverts to fixed – being reminded of the reasons why they believed they can achieve their goals is a powerful weapon.

Celebrate successes.

Celebrating successes boils down to effort. Praising clients’ hard work, focus and commitment promotes a growth mindset. This only works, however, if you give praise where praise is due. Praising forward movement in the career growth process can begin to replace a fixed mindset with a can-do attitude.

Bottom line, as career coaches it is our job to help our clients rev up their growth mindset, especially when they approach a challenge or experience a setback. Help them learn from setbacks, proactively combat negative feedback, and approach challenges with curiosity and the desire to improve. That’s employing a growth mindset.

Learn to employ a growth mindset in each and every client.

Career in Progress teaches a course with global credentialing to help you level up your career coaching development.