I didn't necessarily seek out a career or personal coach in my life; the idea of having a career coach found me, rather--and I'm thankful it did.

I ran into my first coach at a networking event. The idea of life coaching had already appealed to me, and having a coach that could help me navigate my career and achieve my goals and life plans--of which I had many--seemed ideal. To clarify, my coach was a combination of a personal and career coach. Whatever goals I had to achieve, be it personal or career, she was my support and guide, and I have her to thank for helping to get to where I'm at today.

A career coach focuses on helping individuals navigate their career. Some focus on helping college graduates land jobs, others help new hires navigate their newfound work world, and others work solely with experienced hires. There are also generalists who do a combination of all the above.

Is a career coach right for you?

A career coach isn't for everyone. Professional career coaching, however, is helpful for a number of reasons. It can be ideal for anyone who:

  • Struggles with landing his/her first job, or the hiring process in general.

  • Struggles with asking for a raise or what she desires at work.

  • Has issues with working relationships.

  • Needs help with marketing materials, such as a resume and cover letter, regardless of the career level.

  • Desires help with interview preparation.

  • Has been laid off from a job and needs to find employment before severance runs out.

  • Has ambitious career goals and needs to create a plan to achieve them.

  • Is in a leadership position and would like to improve their management and leadership skills.

  • Needs support in identifying the right career path and cultural fit.

  • Finds comfort in having an unbiased go-to person for support with the various work quandaries that occur.

  • Would like support in identifying training opportunities, such as continuing education classes to support growth and advancement.

  • Would like support in managing work-life balance.

  • Would like some help in identifying what's not working at work.

These are just a few of the areas a career coach can be helpful. A professional career coach isn't just there when the going gets tough, either, but is there to help you to continue to grow and evolve in the direction you desire to go.

Who should avoid career coaching?

As mentioned earlier, professional career coaching isn't for everyone. If you won't do the work and follow-through what is requested by your coach, you're not open to new information and insights, you will stress you out too much financially or you don't have a good feeling about coaching, then career coaching might not be for you. Also, if you do decide to enter the land of career coaching, and you don't work well with your current coach, then look for a coach that is right for you before you give up on the idea of coaching.

What should you consider when hiring a career coach?

If you do decide career coaching is a path you'd like to explore, then do your homework and think through what type of support you're looking for. Then, identify a list of coaches to interview, while keeping the following considerations in mind.

Location. Many coaches like to work virtually via the phone or video chat, allowing them to support individuals virtually, regardless of location. If you prefer face-to-face meetings, then this might not be for you, and you'll want to do an online search for career coaches in your area. For example, "career coaches in Houston, TX" or "career coaches in West Virginia." Personally, I like not having to drive to a location, so virtual communication works well for me; though I do value in person communication and being able to see the person, as well, so video chat is my preference when possible.

Communication style and preference. Do you prefer telephone support, or is texting or email better? It will make things easier if you and your coach are on the same page with how you prefer to communicate with each other.

Personality fit. Interview your coaches to find one that you feel you'll get along with and work well with. A word of caution: you do want a career coach who isn't afraid to hold you accountable and point out things you might not want to admit or hear about. If they always agree with you, then they're not doing their jobs, and you're wasting your money.

Asking vs. telling. The best coaches are the ones who ask lots of questions to support you in walking your way into your own answers vs. telling you what you should or shouldn't do. I definitely find this approach works best with those I support.

Specialization. Are you looking for a generalist for long-term support, or are you looking for someone who specializes in a particular area for which you need support? In other words, are you looking for career transition support? Or support in landing your first job? Or general, ongoing support to support your career growth, advancements and concerns? You'll want to find a coach to fit your specific goals and needs.

Good reviews and references. Do online research to identify any possible issues with coaches you're considering. You might also ask the coach for a list of references with whom you could speak. Be cautious of one bad review online, because negative people can give a bad wrap to someone without good cause, but if there are several bad reviews, then move on.

Affordability. Professional career coaching can cost anywhere from $75 to $500 an hour and upward. You don't want your coaching bill to add stress to your plate, so find a coach that fits within your budget. Also, if you speak to coaches about your current budget, they'll often work with you or provide a sliding scale payment plan.

Negotiable contract with a termination clause. Work with a career coach that provides a contract for services. This contract should include the terms of the services provided, as well as the length of the contract with a termination clause. You don't want to be stuck in a contract with a coach that isn't working for you, which means you'll want to be able to terminate the contract with a reasonable notice (30 days or so) at any time. A reputable coach doesn't want to be in such a relationship either, and will honor a request to terminate during the contractual period.  

Confidentiality and good ethics. A reputable coach will also include a confidentiality clause in the contract. Ethics should also be a high priority. If either of these come into question, move on.

A plan of action and arsenal of tools and resources to use. Ask the coach what approach they take in working with individuals and what resources or tools they use. A reputable coach will be well-equipped to answer such a question. You also want to work with a coach who will tailor a plan to you as an individual. Avoid coaches who apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

Credentials. I don't think it's a requirement for a coach to be certified, especially if they have years of hands-on experience in the area for which they're coaching. At the same time, working with coaches with a degree or certification can be valuable. ICF has a reputable certification for coaches and offers an online directory of ICF certified coaches. Many coaches and coaching services, such as Thursday's Child Consulting, have coaches with therapy degrees, which can be valuable when it comes to how to work with and motivate individuals, as well. Look at credentials and experience, and use good judgment as to whether someone is qualified to coach you or not.

You'll likely have many coaches throughout your career.

If you do decide to move forward with a career coach, know that the relationship will eventually come to a close. This typically happens once you've gotten all you can out of the relationship. At that point, you might decide to move forward with identifying a new coach. You might also have more than one coach at a time, depending on your specialized needs. I've had several coaches throughout my career and life depending on my goals, priorities, and needs at each stage. I have also helped hire various coaches for employees depending on the employee's or organization's needs at the time.  

If you're willing to put in the time, follow through, and take in the information and plans of action provided, then a career coach can help you move forward and achieve your goals. In many cases, you'll be able to achieve the success you desire faster than if you were to go it alone.

For more great information on Professional Career Coaching, consider reading "Is a Career Coach Worth the Money," by Undercover Recruiter.   

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