Enriching your ability to communicate and support students and clients effectively is essential to your job as a career coach, advisor, counselor, or teacher.

But we’ve all been part of interactions that didn’t turn out so well because one of the parties in the conversation didn’t pay attention, listen, inquire, or understand the situation or perspectives of the other person. That’s why it’s a good practice to sharpen your helping skills in career advising. Below are some tips take your helping skills to the next level.

What are Helping Skills?

As a career advisor, there are four basic skills that you can learn with practice: the Helping Skills. The Helping Skills (2015) include Attending, Listening, Questioning, and Reflecting as described in Kuder Career Advisor Training® courses.

Although each of these Helping Skill is discussed separately, they overlap and are used simultaneously within a client interaction. It is not a linear process but a holistic approach to communication.


Attending is the skill of paying attention and letting the other person know you are interested in the conversation. It reflects the behaviors of focused attention and the attitude of caring and compassionate listening. Although Attending differs from culture to culture, the message is the same: “I care about what you are saying and I am actively listening to you.”


Listening is important in effective communication and providing powerful results for clients in career advising but is often misused. The following chart describes a “do and don’t” list in Listening as partially derived from Co-Active Coaching by Whitworth et al. (2007).

  • Listen for how to connect and help.
  • Listen to focus on the other person.
  • Listen for what is not being said.
  • Listen to add value.
  • Listen with empathy and compassion.
  • Listen for possibilities.
  • Hear to share something about yourself.
  • Distract yourself with outside noises and stimuli.
  • Listen to judge or find what’s wrong.
  • Listen for limitations.


Questioning is not only the ability to discern between open and closed-ended questions but also an opportunity to listen and understand the client’s needs and barriers. Understanding common pitfalls in Questioning as described by Stoltzfus (2008) can strengthen our skills and help our clients achieve their goals. Here are a few common mistakes in Questioning, and their possible solutions:

  1. Interrogative questioning – asking all closed-ended questions that limit communication and openness. Use open-ended questions instead.
  2. Questions with a conclusion – this is asking a question with a proposed solution or judgement. “Shouldn’t you check with your parents first?” “Do you think that will help improve your grades?” Instead, ask questions with more curiosity than solutions. Effective coaches question to help the client explore possibilities, not limit solutions.
  3. Asking the perfect question – simply asking “what else?” or “tell me more about that…” are effective and simple questions. Don’t overcomplicate questioning by trying to formulate the perfect question. Keep it simple.
  4. Rhetorical questions – gather the other person’s opinions and thoughts rather than adding our own emotion and judgement to a question and making it rhetorical. For example, instead of saying, “are you really going to throw away your career like that?” ask, “What impact will that have on your career?”


The skill of Reflecting is mirroring back what the client says in a different, succinct way, often with observed emotion attached. Reflecting demonstrates Listening, Attending, and Questioning in a statement to develop an understanding and draw out the client’s thoughts and feelings about a situation. The client might say, “I struggle with all my teachers and learning is so difficult.” A Reflecting career advisor response might be, “It sounds like there is a lot of frustration around school.” This simple reflection can lead the client to elaborate and therefore help both of you to setup an action plan.

In summary, Helping Skills prime and prepare career advisors with powerful skills, behaviors, and attitudes that ultimately support students and clients in achieving results. They require consistent practice, application, and attention in order to effectively learn and apply within client meetings

Interested in sharpening your Helping Skills and becoming a certified career advisor? Reserve your spot for the next Kuder Career Advisor Training course today.


Helping Skills. (2015). In Career Advisor Training®. Adel: Kuder.

Stoltzfus, T. (2008). Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills. Virginia Beach, VA: Tony Stolzfus.

Whitworth, K.., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success (Second ed.). Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

This article originally appeared in the Kuder blog April 13, 2018.