Should You Work with a Coach to Enhance Your Career? Get the FAQs

Printer-Friendly Version

by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

“A man sold men’s accessories for 25 years nationwide and then decided to stay home more with his family,” relates Kathy Condon of KC Solutions. “He became the publisher of local newspaper and then found himself searching for his next career. Three months into the search he was referred to me. We sat down, and I quickly discovered his love was really history — especially American history. His hands moved quickly as he smiled widely and told me about the historical artifacts that he had collected throughout the years,” Condon recalls.

“Three weeks later we got him hired as public relations officer at our local historical society. Today he is the executive director of our local Historical Museum, loving every minute of his work and bringing great attention to our local history,” Condon reports.

Condon is just one of a legion of practitioners of a relatively new field — coaching. Just what is a coach? They’ve been compared to personal trainers for your life, your champion, cheerleader, advocate, partner, and sounding board. Coaches have helped untold numbers of individuals like Condon’s client to get their careers on track and live their passions.

If you’re wondering whether a coach could help with your career issues, ask yourself these questions suggested by Andrea Howard, an employment counselor with the New York State Department of Labor: Is work an opportunity or an obligation? Are you doing what you want to be doing? Ten years ago, did you picture yourself doing what you are doing today? Did you expect more from life? If you’re not where you want to be, a coach can help.

“Coaches help define goals and obtain excellence,” Howard explains. “The job search process can be tough on the self-esteem. Repeated rejections can be discouraging. Coaches support, motivate, and provide encouragement. Coaches listen to detect thoughts, feelings and aspirations related to career decision-making. They also ask questions and provide feedback on clients’ strengths, insecurities, concerns, areas of need and career-related obstacles. They help clients develop goals and achieve a higher level of performance and satisfaction.”

Adds Beverly Harvey of HarveyCareers, “A good career coach can assist you in identifying your unique skills and competencies, clarifying and quantifying your strengths, transitioning your skills to a new industry, uncovering issues standing in your way of success, building your self confidence, and providing resources to further self-learning.”

A coach can resemble a mentor. After all, as Janine Schindler, Personal and Career Coach, points out, “In the economy we are in today where companies fold, merge, acquire, and spin-off, it is hard to build a professional mentoring relationship since the cast of characters is no longer a constant.”

A coach can play a role that many people have traditionally reserved for family members. “Selecting a professional coach has proven to be a wise decision for many professionals who previously turned to family members for support and guidance,” observes Harvey. “Although family members mean well, they often have a preconceived notion about your limitations, strengths and your future. It is difficult for family members to project beyond what they themselves achieved and or experienced. When you hire a career coach who has worked with executives across numerous industries, you gain access to a wealth of information, insight, techniques and strategies used by other successful achievers.”

Most people could probably benefit from partnering with a coach at some point in their careers. If you’re considering working with a coach, consider these Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), with answers supplied by those in the know — coaches themselves:

Q: What kinds of coaches might a job-seeker or someone with a career issue consider consulting?
Q: How can a job-seeker or someone with a career issue determine which of these types of coaches is best for his/her situation?
Q: How important are certifications/credentials?
Q: Beyond credentials, is there any particular educational or career background that a coach should ideally have?
Q: How much coaching experience should the coach have, and is it important that the coach is a full-time coach?
Q: How important are testimonials from others the coach has coached? Is it important that the coach has coached others in the same situation?
Q: To what extent should the coach spell out what you can expect from being coached?
Q: What are some typical career situations that a coach can help with?
Q: What kinds of issues can a coach NOT help with?
Q: How is coaching normally conducted?
Q: What are the pros and cons of in-person vs. phone vs. electronic/e-mail?
Q: What’s the typical time investment in a coaching session?
Q: How much does coaching cost?
Q: Is coaching normally a short-term process with short-term goals — or is it something that can or should be a part of the long haul of one’s career?
Q: Why should a job-seeker or someone with a career issue invest in a coach as opposed to any other approach? How can he or she justify spending the money on a coach, especially if he or she is unemployed?

Q: What kinds of coaches might a job-seeker or someone with a career issue consider consulting?

A: Complicating the issue of hiring a coach to work with is the fact that there is no single, best type of coach or unique set of training and credentials to consider. Just look at Kathy Condon’s designation — Certified Global Career Development Facilitator, which doesn’t even contain the word “coach” — and you’ll get an idea of the variety of coaches out there.

Harvey offers a comprehensive list of the types of coaching designations someone with career issues might want to consider:

  • Certified Career Management Coach
  • (International) Job and Career Transition Coach
  • Credentialed Career Master
  • Professional Credentialed Coach
  • Master Credentialed Coach
  • Certified Career Coach
  • Certified Comprehensive Coach
  • Certified Electronic Career Coach
  • Career Management Fellow
  • Career Management Practitioner
  • Certified Global Career Development Facilitator
  • Nationally Certified Career Counselor

Some individuals prefer a Life Coach, some of whom have the Certified Professional Coach credential. Life Coaches are no strangers to career issues, as Liz Sumner, Life Coach, points out: “As a Life Coach, I’ve worked with job-seekers to help them stay confident and balanced over a long search process; organize and broaden their efforts; keep on top of their finances; plan for future security; clarify which prospects support their life goals; improve and find joy in their current situations.”

Q: How can a job-seeker or someone with a career issue determine which of these types of coaches is best for his/her situation? (See also our accompanying articles, How to Find the Right Coach to Help with Your Career and Watch Out for “Red Flags” in the Search for a Coach to Help with Your Career.

A: Says Harvey: “Selecting a coach in much like selecting a doctor: some are general practitioners, some provide a holistic approach, and others specialize in particular healthcare issues.”

Those who seek out a Life Coach rather than one with a career designation are often seeking that holistic approach. “My bias is toward a whole-life approach,” says Sumner, “because the issues one faces in a career are often reflected in other areas of your life. Seeing the systemic helps you learn and move forward.”

Schindler echoes the value of the big-picture approach. Although she had consulted with a career counselor about her own career issues, she says, “It was only after meeting with a coach that the big picture was on the radar screen. We talked about what mattered in life to me, my passions, my hobbies, my after work responsibilities to help uncover where I would truly find rewarding work.”

“As one becomes more skilled in knowing who one is, there is less separation between work/career and other areas of one’s life,” observes Cynthia Stringer of Success by Design. “It is imperative that the individual hire a coach who can provide an integrated and balanced perspective for ongoing momentum and career management, not just career coaching services.”

“Knowing what you want, as a client, is also important,” says Maria Marsala of Maria’s Place: Coaching, Consulting & Courses. “For example, do you need someone to design your resume or critique it? Do you know what your ideal career or business is? Or are in in the initial process of finding out? Do you want to hire someone who is proficient in assessment tools?”

Q: How important are certifications/credentials?

A: As Howard points out, “Coaching is not a licensed profession, and a degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field is not required, but coaches should receive training in career development and career theory.

“Certifications/credentials can provide a strong clue to the professional commitment and qualifications of a coach, although the lack of them doesn’t preclude a coach from having the ability to help clients,” observes Georgia Adamson of Adept Business Services.

Q: Beyond credentials, is there any particular educational or career background that a coach should ideally have?

A: “I would check that the coach received some formal coach training from a coaching school,” suggests Ellen Cahill of Leaps & Bounds: Pathways to Success.

Coaches “should be skilled communicators interpersonally and in-group settings,” asserts Howard. “In addition, coaches need to be current on labor market information, industry trends, career exploration, coping strategies, stress management, and educational options.” Harvey adds that the coach should belong to career-related organizations to assure that he or she is continuing his or her educational process and keeping abreast of employment trends, issues, and resources.

Q: How much coaching experience should the coach have, and is it important that the coach is a full-time coach?

A: Some coaches note that everyone has to start somewhere, so experience level should not necessarily be the determining factor in hiring a coach. Other coaches vary widely in their view of how much experience a coach needs, with Cahill prescribing at least a year and Harvey suggesting that, if not 10 years of explicit coaching experience, a coach should have 10 years of years of career development or management experience.

When I started coaching school,” Marsala says, “what it took me 45 minutes to accomplish with a client takes me half that time four years later. So yes, experience does count, and it doesn’t end with graduation from coaching school. Coaches who are in it for the long haul continue to take classes.”

As for the part-time versus full-time issue, Adamson notes, “a coach may provide other services than pure coaching, but dividing his or her time too much — say, holding a full-time outside job and maintaining a coaching practice on the side — could impact the effectiveness of the coaching practice. Coaching requires significant focus, and that’s hard to do if we’re trying to be all things to all people at the same time.”

Q: How important are testimonials from others the coach has coached? Is it important that the coach has coached others in the same situation?

A: Cahill notes that while testimonials are nice to see, they’re not entirely credible since a coach “would not submit something from a dissatisfied customer.”

“Testimonials are one piece of what creates [a sense of trust] between a prospective client and coach,” Marsala says. “If you see a few testimonials on a coach’s site that ring true for you, check the coach out further.” Adds Howard, “Determining if the coach met or exceeded expectations in providing job-search support and motivation, interviewing skills coaching, shortening the job search, and reducing anxiety are all key when deciding if the coach is right for you.”

One important role of testimonials, notes Schindler, is to “give you an indication of the type of situations the coach has worked with other clients in. If your situation is very specific, you may want someone who specializes in that niche area. A person who specializes in coaching nurses may not be the right person to coach an architect on career issues but may be the perfect coach for either client when dealing with life balance, stress-management, or time-management issues.

Q: To what extent should the coach spell out what you can expect from being coached?

A: “I believe it’s important that clear communication be established from the start,” says Adamson, “and that includes making an effort to ensure that both the client and the coach know what’s expected from the coaching and what’s required to achieve those expectations. My idea of ‘worst nightmare’ situations would include, for example, a client who had unrealistic expectations and a coach who didn’t clarify what could and could not be achieved through their interactions. Similarly, if a client had realistic expectations, but the coach didn’t make enough effort to determine what those were, the outcome of their relationship would probably be disappointing at best. Somewhere in the beginning of the coaching process, there needs to be exploration and agreement on what is to be accomplished and at least an outline of the steps to reach that point.”

“A coach can tell you what is ‘usual’ for him or her,” adds Marsala, “however, it’s up to each client to create the type of partnership that is best for him or her. I’ve actually changed how I structured my coaching plans, my rates … all because of terrific suggestions from clients.”

“If the client has questions about what he or she can expect from being coached, it’s important that the coach spell it out,” cautions Sumner.