5 Things to Look for in a Career Coach (and Whether You Need One)

career coach

You might want help finding your ideal job, or you might just need someone to push you along the right path. No matter your professional struggle, a career coach could be the solution.

But hiring a career coach isn’t cheap.

The average career coach earns $70 per hour, according to Thumbtack. So you’ll want to find a good one if you’re willing to make the investment.

Look for a career coach with these 5 traits

There are all sorts of red flags to look for when you hire a career coach. You should be scared off, for example, if a coach promises that you’ll find your dream job within a certain timespan. They might also say that a single one-on-one session is all you need.

If you’re serious about making the investment of hiring a career coach, you likely want someone who can help you to discover your proper career path. Here are five questions this coach should be able to answer well.

1. Professional certification

About 89 percent of career coaches said they received training that was accredited or approved by a professional coaching organization, according to a 2016 International Coach Federation (ICF) survey.

Still, there are coaches out there who haven’t received any such training and pass themselves off as experts.

Whether it’s the ICF, the National Career Development Association, or a similar organization, check up on the coach’s credentials. It might also be wise to hire a coach who is a member of professional communities and keeps up with trends through research or teaching.

Having a master’s degree or Ph.D. in industrial or organizational psychology, counseling, or human resources might give them a head start. But make sure their knowledge isn’t out of date.

“Ask them which psychological and other instruments they use in helping you develop self-awareness and goals,” said resume writer Donna Svei. “Find out if they’re certified to use the instruments they mention. For example, many coaches use the Myers-Brigg Type Instrument (MBTI) without being certified.”

2. Successful experience

Don’t be shy. Google your prospective career coach the way HR managers search your name before inviting you in for a job interview.

There are two kinds of experience you should confirm: whether the coach had success as a professional (preferably in your industry) and whether they had success as a coach.

Further, you might be interested in working with a career coach who previously worked in your field. You’ll even find coaches who specialize by experience level, catering to entry-level professionals or working exclusively with executives.

Whether a career coach excelled in your field, they should have experience guiding professionals of your caliber. Ask for success stories about people they helped through a job search or a career transition. They should at least have testimonials and endorsements from companies on their professional website.

3. The right kind of motivation

When you hire a career coach, they expect to be paid for their expertise. There’s nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with being motivated only by that.

Find a career coach who offers you upfront pricing and explains when fees are charged and why. You don’t want to be surprised by hidden costs in the middle of a coaching session.

Be wary of coaches whose financial gains are tied to your own. It could affect whether they give career advice that should actually be ignored.

New York City-based career coach Carlota Zimmerman gave the example of one her clients, an actor on the TV show “The Walking Dead.” Zimmerman talked him out of potentially becoming a spokesman for marijuana-infused candy.

“I gave him a list of things to consider regarding his brand, his professional and financial goals,” she said. “His agent told him to go ahead … she just wants him to get money so she can get her commission. As his coach, I had to be the grown-up in the room, and ask him how exactly this particular business partnership would advance his goals.”

Find a coach who finds a non-financial reward in helping you achieve your goals. They should have an individualized plan for you to meet your goals, and metrics to measure your growth toward them.

There’s a good test you can conduct before hiring a coach. Meet up with each of your candidates and pepper them with questions about what you can expect. If the consultation is a so-so one, don’t expect to suddenly have great one-on-one coaching sessions with them.

“You’ll know they care because they will ask you very specific questions, listen intently to your answers, and ask relevant follow-up questions,” said Robyn Tingley, author, trainer, and mentor to new grads and career starters.

“They’ll be taking notes, seeking clarification, and asking you a lot of deep questions about your past work choices, as well as your goals and dreams,” she added.

4. Tangible resources

Avoid career coaches who don’t do much more than check in over the phone. Good coaches have plenty of tools at their disposal.

Some of these tools are abstract. Beyond helping build out your LinkedIn profile, your coach should connect you with other professionals and possible mentors offline. It’s a good sign if your coach is active in the industry, on social media, and is quoted or referenced by news media.

Besides having a network of professionals for you to tap into, they should also have tangible resources to guide you through the process.

Find a career coach who challenges you to think critically during each session and gives you homework afterward. You should know what steps you need to take toward accomplishing your goal. If you’re transitioning fields, for example, your coach could double as your teacher, or they might point toward a continuing education program.

You don’t want someone to hand you template worksheets, go through the motions, and nod along as you do all the work on your own.

5. A personality that matches yours

When the time comes to hire a career coach, make sure you get along on a basic level. If you need some tough love, for example, a coach who hand-holds might not be a good fit.

In your pre-hiring consultation, see if you can talk about non-career topics with the coach. If you can’t have a normal conversation with them, that might be an omen.

To take it a step further, do an in-person (or virtual) whiteboard brainstorming session. Even if the coach is personable, you’ll want to see if they can come up with good ideas or tap into their expertise on the fly. You might also receive some free advice this way.

Consider your needs before you hire a career coach

These five things to look for in a career coach are just a start. You also need to look within yourself. Maybe you need help finding a new job or just need a resume editor. Maybe you want a full inventory of your skills or need someone to push you to use them.

Whatever the case, make sure you’re willing to invest the time — not just the money.

“Though some people will tell you you can have a breakthrough in one session, it usually takes about eight to 12 hours of coaching to begin to see the benefits and internalize changes,” said career coach Judy Garfinkel.

Hiring a career coach can be a big investment, and it’s not for everyone at every career stage. Coaches I spoke with indicated that millennials might be better off finding a workplace mentor and reading self-help books. So before you worry about hiring the right career coach, ask if you need to hire one at all.

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