How much did you pay for your education? How many years and how much effort did you invest in your college career? How much should you be able to earn over your working life? When you look at your career as a return on the investment of education and training, hiring a career coach to help you land that first job out of school or make a smart mid- or late-career transition makes good financial sense.
But you have to do your research when choosing a career coach. Career coaching an unregulated industry, which means anyone can represent themselves as an advisor. Due diligence is crucial. It’s not cheap, either. The national hourly average you can expect to pay is between $90 and $150 per session, and depending on your needs, you could require several sessions.
So, how do you find someone who is experienced, knowledgeable and unbiased to give you career advice or help you find a job? Is it always worth the investment? And do career coaches always cost money or can you get good advice without paying?
Is it possible that the whole career coaching industry is just a gimmick, preying on the desperation of the unemployed, the underemployed, and those desperate for a career change?
Let’s find out.
Can a career coach actually help?
InHerSight’s research has found that 73 percent of women are looking to change careers—73 percent. While you may be able to find a career you want and a job you actually love, a coach can help you narrow your search and make that search faster.
Career coaches can provide clarity and give unbiased recommendations
In fact, professional certified coach Kathryn Crawford Saxer, who works with mid- to senior-level professionals on career management and development, prefers calling herself a “thought partner.” She helps her clients clarify the issue at hand and then make strategic decisions about how to move forward.
For example, she works with clients to formulate answers to those “dreadful” questions you’re usually asked during job interviews, like, What are your career goals? If you’re like most people, you have no idea what to say. One client she counseled came up with this answer: I want to combine my technical skills as a software engineer with my soft skills as an educator—in terms of coaching, communicating and teaching—to lead strong, well-adjusted teams to do good, technically interesting work.
A coach can also objectively identify issues that may be holding you back
Software engineers Berk C. Celebisoy and Keiko Munechika, Ph.Ds. are co-founders of Daisuki Coaching. Experienced in the corporate world, they are familiar with common mistakes smart employees make that hurt their chances of being promoted. One is that they don’t have enough visibility at the office—no one knows who they are. The fix is simply to have your voice heard. “Start by asking quality questions in meetings,” they advise.
On her site, job search strategist and career coach Jenny Foss has a series of blog posts under the heading “Proof.” These are first-and-last-name stories about real job seekers and career transitioners who worked with Foss to land the job or promotion they wanted. Read these to get an idea of what a coach does and how a coach might help you.
How to find a career coach who will get you results
Although career coaching is unregulated, voluntary certification is available. If your coach has the letters ACC, PCC, or MCC after their name, for instance, they’ve had some training.
To obtain the designation of associate certified coach (ACC), they must have completed 60 hours of training plus 100 hours of coaching experience through the International Coach Federation or an ICF-accredited program like Coach Training World or the International Coach Academy. There are ICF-accredited colleges too, such as The School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas and Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.
The two higher designations—professional certified coach (PCC) and the master certified coach (MCC)—require substantially more hours of training and coaching experience.
You’ll probably be able to find their coaching credentials on their LinkedIn profile, along with their education and work history.
A career coach’s work history is important
A person who has experience in the corporate world will have a better understanding of an executive’s career transition issues than those of a solopreneur.
With that said, don’t discount someone who’s not an exact match.
What Tony Robbins writes about finding an effective life coach can be applied to finding an effective career coach: They don’t have to specialize in exactly what you’re hoping to achieve. “What’s more important are the experiences your coach has had and their expertise to get you in the right mindset for success. In fact, you want a coach who has a different perspective than you and who can help you see your life from a different point of view, one that could completely transform your life,” he explains.
Once you’ve looked at their credentials and work history, check their website and social media. See if there are any testimonials that show exactly how that coach helped a client. Set free introductory calls with at least three coaches so you can compare how they work and the questions they ask and generally whether you think they’d be a good fit. This is also the time you can get exact pricing and see if it works with your budget.
Key characteristics to look for in a career coach
Career coach Ford Myers, author of Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring, gave us this advice on looking for a career coach.
- A solid track record: Long-term, consistent commitment and contribution to the field, including professional writing and/or speaking (thought leadership).
- Demonstrated leadership: Leadership roles in relevant professional associations and organizations.
- References: Testimonials and recommendations from past clients and a willingness to let you speak to current or past clients
- A connection You need a coach you connect with, so find a coach that offers a complimentary exploratory session to ensure the right interpersonal fit.
What if I can’t afford a career coach?
If you need a career coach, but can’t afford it, there are resources available.
Young job-seekers can get help at Grad Life Choices, a program that offers U.S. college graduates free career coaching. Certified professional coach Kenneth Schuman who co-founded Grad Life told us: “We have worked with over 350 young college grads since 2012. We have approximately 100 volunteer coaches who provide 12 free one-hour sessions to unemployed and underemployed grads in their 20s.”
Their coaches will help with career exploration and decision-making, networking, resume preparation, interview skills, and job search strategies. Grad Life also has a number of webcasts that are full of free coaching advice. Topics include how to use emotional intelligence to improve interviewing skills and how to use LinkedIn as a job search tool.
Your local library may be a valuable resource as well. The New York Public Library on Madison Avenue, for instance, offers pro bono career coaching sessions in addition to resume clinics and job application workshops.
Even their instructions on how to prepare for a meeting with a volunteer job coach can provide guidance:
Before the meeting, think about the result you would like to achieve. Your goals and expectations will guide the session.
Bring your current resume, branding statement, and cover letter template with you.
Do research on the company or industry that you wish to pursue.
If you’re seeking a career change, make a list of core competencies and transferable skills that you have.
Free online resources
Ford Meyers has plenty of free resources at his site, Career Potential. His series of career training videos, for example, deal with ageism in the workplace, bridge jobs, interview follow-up advice and parallel paths for career success.
Let’s say you’ve been laid off by your company. In a short interview Myers gave, you’d learn that instead of applying to absolutely every job listing out there, think about what your dream job would be. “You’ve got to get crystal clear in your own mind about exactly what you want,” he explains. Once you’ve got that, create a work proposal showing the value you would bring to a company. “Position yourself more like a consultant than an applicant,” he says, and use your network to reach out to everyone you know.”
Liz Ryan likes this approach. The former Fortune 500 human resources senior vice president, founder of Human Workplace, and author of Reinvention Roadmap advises job seekers to reach out directly to the person who will be your boss in the new job.
“You send them something called a Pain Letter. You talk to them about their favorite topic—themselves, and whatever they’re dealing with at work. You extrapolate the pain points (because you know your field and function and researched to get a feel for an organization and its obstacles).”
She says if they respond, “it’s because they want to talk to you about relieving their pain.” And that’s exactly what you want.
Former CEO of Google and co-author of Trillion Dollar Coach Eric Schmidt says everyone needs a coach. A coach will watch what you’re doing and then ask you if that’s what you really meant. In other words, a coach gives you perspective. “The one thing people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them,” he explains. “A coach really, really helps.”