5 Ways to Choose the Best Career Coach
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You will spend approximately 90,000 hours of your life at work and more than 200 hours a year commuting.1,2
That’s an enormous portion of your life. Don’t you want to spend it as enjoyably as possible?
Nearly every one of us wishes we could improve our career in some way, whether that’s by changing careers, advancing in our career, leaving the corporate world, or simply finding more work-life balance. But for so many of us, these ideas remain just that — wishes.
For a multitude of reasons, we succumb to inertia. We settle. Or we take small, ineffective steps like combing through job websites, hoping the perfect position will leap off the page, or we ask family and friends for their advice.
Often, to truly move forward and make a significant change, we need someone to guide us and hold us accountable along the way. That’s where a career coach can have a profound impact.
Is Hiring a Career Coach Worth the Investment?
First, let’s be honest. Career coaching is an investment — one that involves your money, time and energy. And each of us places different values on these resources, so it’s a very personal decision. But consider the following findings of the 2009 International Coach Federation Global Coaching Client Study*, the most recent of its kind. Of those surveyed:
- 99 percent reported being either somewhat or very satisfied with their coaching experience, and 96 percent indicated that they would choose to be coached again.
- More than 80 percent reported positive changes in areas including interpersonal skills, work performance and team effectiveness.3
- 68 percent indicated that they had at least made back their initial investment in coaching, for example, in the form of increased earnings.
When Career Coaching Isn’t Worth the Investment
If you’re not ready for change, it’s not the time to seek out a coach. It may sound obvious, but in order to get the most from your coaching experience, you need to be open to change.
A good coach will challenge you, your attitudes, beliefs and perspective; hold you accountable for your actions and goals; and push you to a point of growth and possibly even transformation. But a coach can’t make you do anything or do the work for you — you need to be committed to the process and the goals you set.
What’s Your Goal?
Consider where you are today in your career. What would you like to change? What would bring you more career satisfaction? A career coach can help you achieve a wide range of goals, including:
- Finding the right career fit. Nearly 60% of working Americans say they would change career paths if they could do it all over again.4 When you’re in the wrong career, it can take a major toll on your mind and body. You dread getting up in the morning; you feel stressed, unfulfilled, and maybe even depressed.
- Transitioning to a new career. A career transition can feel overwhelming, but a coach can help you create a detailed action plan for how to land a job in your desired field.
- Advancing in your career. A coach can work with you to create strategic short- and long-term career plans to accelerate your advancement. Or, if you’ve been passed over for promotions or received less than stellar reviews, coaching can focus on identifying and addressing areas for improvement to significantly impact your performance and results.
- Reentering the workforce. For those returning to the workforce after a period away (e.g., raising children or serving in the military), working with a coach can help you define the next phase of your career, rebrand yourself and reframe your skills and previous experience.
- Developing job search strategies. While a coach won’t place you in a job, working with one can greatly expedite the search process. Many offer resume rewriting, personal branding, interview coaching, informational interviewing strategy and salary negotiation guidance to prepare you to compete more effectively for the jobs that interest you.
- Starting your own business. If you’re considering striking out on your own, a coach who has undertaken her own entrepreneurial ventures can show you how to navigate the landmines and pitfalls that are an inevitable part of the process. She’ll keep you focused on what matters most and will likely save you time and money in the long run. More specifically, a coach can:
- Help you ask different (and better) questions
- Challenge assumptions and beliefs that are limiting you
- Provide you with emotional support, energy, motivation and accountability structures
- Offer introductions to people within her own network
- Offer tools and resources in areas needed
- Achieving better work-life balance. One of the most common reasons people seek out a coach is to establish greater balance in their lives. A coach can work with you on reducing stress levels, better managing time, learning to say “no” more often, and setting and sticking to priorities. The result is greater satisfaction, better sleep, enhanced relationships and improved mood management.
- Learning more about yourself. In today’s marketplace, you need to know yourself — your strengths, your transferable skills, what you can offer — and you need to be able to articulate this information in a clear, polished way. This can mean the difference between getting an interview and getting a job.
- Getting “unstuck.” We often spend months or years thinking and worrying about making a change, but we do little to alter our situation. A coach can help you take stock of where you are now and where you want to be, and work with you to bridge that gap.
Top Five Factors
Many factors come into play when selecting the best career coach for you, including cost, location and office hours, but add these five criteria to the top of your list:
- The right fit. The most important factor in choosing a coach is a feeling of connection. You will be spending a lot of time with this person and you will likely be discussing intimate details of your personal and professional life, so finding someone you resonate with and feel comfortable with is paramount.
- Has “walked the talk.” Look for a coach who has personally experienced a situation similar to yours, whether that’s a career transition, launching his own company, returning to school, etc. There is great value in working with someone who can integrate what he has learned from his own experiences and share that wisdom with you.
- Strong coaching experience and training. Instead of simply asking how many years she has been coaching (she may have coached for 15 years, but only worked with 50 clients during that time), ask about the number of one-on-one coaching hours she has completed. Generally, it takes about 10,000 hours to reach a level of mastery. Also, inquire about the coaching certifications she holds, as these can help distinguish those with formal training from those who rely solely on their previous business experience.
- Matches or exceeds your intellect. Frankly, we don't talk about this factor, but it should be one that's implicit in your search. For most individuals, it's important that you feel that your coach is someone you respect intellectually.
- Psychology background. If you are struggling with deeper issues, such as depression or anxiety, consider working with a coach who also has training in psychology. Addressing these core challenges will help you make much more progress toward your career and life goals.
While there are many qualified, experienced career coaches out there, keep in mind that coaching is currently an unregulated industry, so just about anyone can call themselves a coach. Even if they say that they’re certified, dig deeper. Many schools offer coaching certificates, but some consist of no more than a few weekend workshops.
One of the most respected coaching organizations is the International Coach Federation (ICF), which offers coach training and certification. Anyone credentialed by ICF has completed stringent education and experience requirements and has demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in coaching.
When selecting a career coach, beware of those who:
- Require a large up-front fee with no out. Generally, pay-as-you-go is best, but there may also be some benefits to purchasing a group of sessions for a package price.
- Try to pressure you into a free consultation. Free consultations are a coaching sales technique endorsed and taught by many coaching schools. They are designed to get prospective clients into a room in order to utilize methods that create a mood state that increases the probability of a sales "close." Great coaches aren't desperate for business; nor do they use questionable tactics to gain clients.
- Seem to have a one-size-fits-all approach. Find a coach who will take the time to understand your background and goals and customize their process to meet your needs.
- Are unclear about the rules around terminating your coaching engagement. You should be free to end coaching at any time (and so should the coach) — just make sure you understand the consequences of ending early.
- Want to tell you exactly what to do. A good coach will ask many questions and help you discover the answers within yourself.
- Promise a quick fix. No coach can predict how long it will take you to work through the process. In most cases, you’ll want to commit to at least three months, but timing will depend on your specific goals, how quickly you complete homework assignments, how often you meet with your coach, etc.
Choosing a career coach is a very personal decision, but it’s one that can change the trajectory of your life, helping you accomplish things you’ve long dreamed of. And while it’s an investment, it’s one that will yield great returns for years to come.
Ready to start your search for the right career coach? Learn more about our career coaching services.
*Survey included clients who received the following types of coaching: life, vision and enhancement; business/organizational; leadership; executive; career transition and relationship.
1. Buettner, D. (2011, February 21). Finding happiness at work. PsychologyToday.com. Retrieved May 13, 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thrive/201102/finding-happiness-work
2. Kylstra, C. (2014, February 26). 10 things your commute does to your body. Time.com. Retrieved May 13, 2014 from http://time.com/9912/10-things-your-commute-does-to-your-body/
3. Zupek, R. (2009, November 11). Career coaches: Worth the investment? CNN.com. Retrieved May 13, 2014 from http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/worklife/11/11/career.coach.jobs/index.html?iref=allsearch
4. Parade Editors. (2012, August 31). Job happiness poll: Most Americans wish they could hit reset button on their careers. Parade.com. Retrieved May 13, 2014 from http://parade.condenast.com/49725/paradeeditors/job-happiness-poll-americans-wish-hit-reset-button-on-careers/