Career Coaches: What They Do and How to Find Them

I first started noticing the term career coaching about a year and a half ago. Since then I’ve found it coming up with increasing frequency, usually in terms of helping job seekers, career changers, and people dissatisfied with their current work situation.  I thought I would do a little digging to find out more about it and pass the information along to you.

Why career coach?  Why not job coach?  I’ve also seen the terms life coach and retirement coach, but it is career coach that I’ve seen used most often.  A statistic that is in my last posting explains why you may be seeing more people who are advertising specifically as career coaches.  “Today’s workers will run through at least 10 jobs, three careers, and two layoffs between college and retirement.”  These days, people who are currently employed may feel the need for professional help when thinking ahead to their next career moves.  Others, whose main concern at the moment is finding a job, may also need help in planning a long term strategy for controlling, as much as may be possible, the course of their work life.  If one of these options sounds like a good idea to you, you have some homework to do.  Your first assignment is to figure out what you want a career coach to do.  Do you want them to do the majority of their work figuring out why you are not finding a job?  What you don’t know, or are not doing, or are doing incorrectly?  Or do you also need help in short term and/or long term career strategy?  In what profession?

Once you figure out what you need, your next step is to find some career coaches. The first thing to remember is that career coaching is pretty much an unregulated profession. You have to figure out who is legitimately there to help you.  Richard N. Bolles has a very good section on career coaches in his 2010 edition of What Color is Your Parachute.  He points out that career coaches come in three basic categories.  The first includes those coaches that are good and know what they are doing.  The second are those that think they are good, but don’t really know what they are doing.  The third are those people who know precisely what they are doing and it has nothing to do with helping you.  Their goal is to get as much money out of you as possible on totally fraudulent promises and expertise.  Even among the very good coaches, some will be better equipped to help you with your specific needs than others.  Now you are starting to see why you, and only you, must do your homework.

You have a number of options when you start out on your hunt for names. You can check your local yellow pages.  You can ask friends and/or relatives.  You can check your contacts on your LinkedIn account.  (If you don’t have an account, check out the postings about LinkedIn and get one.)  You can check the organizations that certify career coaches.  There are a number of them.  They, like career coaches, will vary in their usefulness to you. You can find a list of them here. Remember, this is not an endorsement, just a list.  One Wall Street Journal article mentions The International Coach Federation and The Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

When you have your list of coaches, you need to interview them, thoroughly and completely.  If the person you are interviewing becomes impatient with a set of thoroughly planned questions, it is probably a good indication that you will not work well together.  You will want to know how much experience a coach has had.  What is their success rate?  Is their experience limited to career coaching or have they actually been out in the work force before they became a coach?  Do they have experience in your field, either working in it themselves or successfully finding jobs or obtaining advancement for  clients in your field?  These are only a few questions. Check below for more sources. Don’t forget to think about additonal information that you need before signing onto a coach.

Now there is the subject of cost. Unless your company has laid you off and supplied job coaching for you, you are going to have to pay for the help. The good coaches are providing a valuable service that may affect the rest of your work life.  Asking about the cost should be right up there on your list questions.  The price can range anywhere from $50.00 per hour and up.  Some coaches will charge for your first interview.  Others will not.  It is not a good idea to decide that one coach is better than the other on the basis of whether or not they charge a fee for your first contact.

You may decide you want to investigate firms that employ a number of coaches. If you do this, you will have additonal homework. The good news it that it is unlikely these firms will charge you for the first visit.  The bad news, from what I’ve read, is that they often do not charge because they want to sell you the most expensive package that (your) traffic will bear.   You will need to find out about the firm as well as the coach you may be getting. You can use the same sources as with coaches above.  You may also want to use some of the business and periodical databases available through your public library, as well as contacting your local Better Business Bureau.

Be prepared in advance to deal with contracts.  Make sure you can get a copy to take home to read before you sign it.  If the person you are interviewing (an individual coach or the representative of a firm) insists that you sign it immediately, that would be a deal breaker, at least for me.  Being by nature skeptical, I always wonder what they don’t want me to notice.  Also like me, I think most people have to carefully read a legal document a number of times and think about implications to truly understand it. If someone is putting you under fabricated (by them) time pressure, I would proceed cautiously.  I definitely would not sign anything under those circumstances.

To continue your research on career coaches, you might want to check out two articles I found useful. You can find the first, a Wall Street Journal Online article, by clicking on the title “Career Q&A: Finding the Right Career Coach”.  You can also look at the second, “How to Find the Right Career Coach,”  the same way.  If you get your hands on the current edition of What Color is Your Parachute mentioned above, just look for the appendices on the green pages.  The first entry gets you started with “Finding Your Mission in Life.” Then make sure you spend time with Appendix B, “A Guide to Choosing a Career Coach or Counselor.”  Bolles ends with a list of coaches by state.  He points out that these are not recommendations, just a list. Look at other career books at your local library.  They may also have a section on career coaches.  If you want to know about what these coaches do, take a look at a book like Career Coaching: an Insiders Guide by Marcia Bench, pictured at the beginning of this article.

Wishing you a successful search.

vea/27 July 2010
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass.


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