Five Tips for Choosing and Working with a Career Coach

A career coach is similar to a sports coach—he or she helps you improve, turning abilities into strengths and developing skills that enable you to grow. A coach can help you avoid time-consuming job-search mistakes and expedite the process. Consulting with a career coach can be extremely valuable if the coach is selected correctly, and a waste of time and money if not. Here are five tips for helping you decide if a career coach is right for you, and if so, how to choose the best one.

1. Clarify Your Big-Picture Goals

Managing your career strategically begins with a plan for the short and long terms. The first step in the process of deciding whether or not you’re going to work with a coach is determining exactly what your priorities are. Where do you want your career to go, and how do you want help achieving those goals?

A career coach with extensive experience will help you set and achieve your goals, targeting opportunities that are aligned with them, and helping you strengthen your resilience and maintain motivation despite ups and downs. You will learn how to work through and overcome potential barriers while staying focused on your objectives, and you’ll learn to identify and surmount self-sabotaging behaviors.

2. Drill Down and Identify What You Want on the Micro Level

A career coach works with you to identify the changes you are seeking in your professional life, and then helps you devise a strategy for realizing them.

Again, you’re going to have the most rewarding and satisfying experience with a coach if you can clarify for yourself beforehand and then articulate to him or her exactly what it is that you want help with.

3. Know What a Coach Can’t Do

Many people believe that a career coach will land them a new job. A career coach does not place people in jobs—this is what recruiters and headhunters do. A career coach can’t tell you where you should work, isn’t necessarily going to leverage his or her own network to help you find work, and can’t get you a job. What a coach can do is help you define actionable steps that will get you where you want to go, and then help you chart that course. Think of a coach as an accountability partner— you need to answer to someone in order to stay the course and achieve your stated goals. A good career coach will sustain the focus you have around your career strategy, even beyond the job search.

4. Find Your Fit

Selecting the right career coach means finding someone who will challenge you in a beneficial and productive way. Selecting the wrong one can be disastrous. Coaches who are properly trained and adhere to a professional code of ethics understand that coachees need to assess their options in order to find the appropriate coach. Not every coach is right for every coachee, and an experienced, ethical coach will often even give referrals to coaches who might be a better fit for your needs.

5. Keep Things on Track

Your career coach is your personal sounding board. Coaching should be a safe environment in which you share your thoughts and feelings and fine-tune your communication style to achieve your desired outcomes. Ensure that your coach is ethical—if you have questions about this, one good place to start is the International Coach Federation’s website, which spells out its code of ethics.

As with any engagement, you need to understand your goals and the value the service provider is adding. If you are frustrated or confused, ask for clarification. A good coach-client relationship is interactive and responsive, and a coach will be collaborative, engaged, and adaptive.

And don’t make your coach a crutch. Track your progress and be aware when you’ve reached your goals. Then evaluate whether or not you want or need to continue working with the coach. One of the reasons it’s so important to have clearly defined goals going into a coaching relationship is because it’s one of the things that will help you determine when the relationship has run its course.

As a coach myself, I speak from experience when I give career hopefuls this advice. I like to lead my subjects down the right path that I believe will be the most helpful for them, but it’s also up to them to decide what they need and want out of a coaching session. Coaches are a valuable resource – don’t squander them!

21 thoughts on “Five Tips for Choosing and Working with a Career Coach

  1. I like that a career coach can help me better my abilities and skill sets to be a better employee and asset to a company. Like you said, a career coach can help you to be able to attain your career goals and identify minute aspects of your working habits and skills that you can improve on. With that kind of help, getting to where you want to go as an employee will be much easier than it would be on your own.

  2. My husband and I have been looking into choosing and working with a career coach, we weren’t sure how to choose the right one. I like what you said that a coach can’t place people in new jobs, I think that’s very important to know. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Gina. Glad you picked up on that point. Be sure he knows why he is seeking a coach and what success looks like.

  3. I like that you talked about how you should be able to feel safe enough to share what you feel with your coach. I have been looking for someone to help me meet my goals. I can see how it would be good to find someone I feel safe with, so I can trust the advice they give me.

    1. Hi Scott. Agreed! If you don’t trust and value the advice of your coach – you would be wasting your time and money.

  4. I really liked it when you said that finding a career coach means finding someone who will challenge me in a way that is beneficial to my improvement. That’s exactly the reason why I need a career coach. I was promoted to a leading role, and since this will be the first time that I will get to lead a group of people, I don’t know what I need to do or where to start. It will truly be best if I received professional help. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You are in the perfect position for a coach to be truly valuable. See if your company will sponsor it.

  5. You made a good point when you said to find a career coach that fits your personality. It is important to look for one whom you can work with both on a personal and professional level. Both of you should be transparent with each other and should set one another’s expectations. This way, you would be able to adjust easily and have a good working relationship when it comes to setting goals and providing feedback. If I were to look for a career coach, I would definitely keep this in mind. Thanks.

    1. Hi Bobby. Great point to highlight. Also make sure you select someone who will challenge you and not just be someone who thinks like you do.

  6. Thanks for sharing such a nice article about the factors which should be taken into consideration prior to hiring a career coach. I completely agree that credible career coach should be selected and the selection should be subjected to certain kinds of criteria. Hiring a career coach without conducting any kinds of research could be fruitless. Experienced professionals have in-depth knowledge in such field and could provide proper guidance to pursue a better career. Referrals from friend and neighbors could be very helpful to find such a credible career coach.

  7. I really appreciate your tip to clearly articulate what you want your career coach to help you with when you are looking for a job. My wife told me that she wants to get a job to help us pay off our debt, but she gets really nervous when she is interviewing. I will be sure to tell her that find a career coach who can help her with interviewing!

  8. I like how you mentioned that a career coach is there to help you define actionable steps you can take to improve your career path. My current job is alright, but I would like to make it into something bigger. Thanks for the great tips for working with a career coach.

  9. My sister has been feeling down lately because she doesn’t know what type of job will best suit her. That’s why we’ve been encouraging her to seek help from a professional career path coach. I guess you’re right, my sister has to clarify herself beforehand so she can better articulate to her coach about the help that she needs.

    1. Hi Rachel. Your sister can start with increasing her understanding of what aspects she enjoys in her work. Yes, it is true, a career coach can help the exploration but they rarely come up with a magic answer.

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