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

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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.

 

Q: What are some typical career situations that a coach can help with?

 

A: Harvey describes a representative coaching scenario: "Richard was a senior-level manager who had worked in the telecom industry his entire career. With the collapse of the industry, Richard was let go when the company he worked for closed. He loved his job and the telecom industry and was not only devastated by the collapse, but also extremely fearful about his future. Richard contacted our firm, and we helped him identify his core competencies and accomplishments, research other industries with characteristics similar to the telecom industry, identify and research specific companies and their stability, educate himself regarding the new industry he had chosen, compose a resume and other self-marketing materials, and strategize and implement a successful marketing campaign. We coached Richard in networking, interviewing, follow-up strategies, and salary negotiations and maintained an ongoing coaching relationship through the early stages of his new position. Once Richard felt comfortable in his new position, we worked on some of his leadership techniques so that he could quickly progress within the organization. Richard is currently CEO of a technology development company."

 

From their own coaching practices, coaches cited clients who:
  • graduated college and took a job "because it was expected," but later decided to reevaluate and seek a career that stirred the client's passion.
  • were miserable at work and lacking balance in life.
  • sought to transition into a more desirable career and needed help creating a plan to get there.
  • were dealing with a difficult boss or co-worker.
  • were downsized and didn't want to do the same job again.
  • sought a job in a comparable industry but were not an exact match for the job and needed help convincing prospective employers of ability to do the job.
  • wanted to start working from home.
  • needed help staying focused, handling time, and managing stress.
  • needed to learn networking and self-marketing for the next job.
  • sought assistance with building a resume and interviewing skills.
  • wanted to change careers despite not yet having paid off student loans for the original field.
  • had communications issues.

 

For a good checklist of situations in which you might find yourself that could benefit from a partnership with a coach, see You Need a Career/Life Coach If...

 

Q: What kinds of issues can a coach NOT help with?

 

A: "Coaching does not focus on relieving psychological pain or treat emotional or psychological disorders," Howard says. The coaches we talked to for this article universally agreed that coaches cannot help with psychotherapy issues, complex emotional and psychological programs, addictions, legal and medical issues, and the types of financial issues that require an accountant.

 

Q: How is coaching normally conducted?

 

A: The lion's share of coaching is conducted by telephone and often supplemented with a combination of e-mail, instant messaging/chat modes, and even faxes. Some coaches prefer the in-person approach for part if not all of their coaching practice.

 

Q: What are the pros and cons of in-person vs. phone vs. electronic/e-mail?

 

A: Cahill finds value in the phone approach because, "people reveal things they would never tell you to your face." For Marsala, who touts the virtual aspects of her practice, not meeting clients in advance has been advantageous because, "none of my own pre-judgments, most made within minutes of meeting any person, come into play." She does later meet many of her clients when she travels across the country yearly, which she describes as "always a wonderful treat." For Schindler, the phone is the way to go because, "nobody wastes travel time, it can occur at convenient hours, and it allows you to choose a coach that you really connect with regardless of where he or she is located."

 

Condon, on the other hand, prefers to meet with her clients in person. "My rationale is that it sets me apart. I watch technology taking over our lives and know there are a great number of people out there who are craving attention and want to feel significant to someone," says Condon, who typically meets her clients in restaurants and never spends more than 15 minutes in travel time. Adds Schindler: "In-person coaching is great for interview practicing -- nothing like seeing that body language."

 

Q: What's the typical time investment in a coaching session?

 

A: As a general rule, coaching sessions are 30 minutes to an hour, once a week, but many variations exist.

 

Q: How much does coaching cost?

 

The typical investment in coaching ranges from $250 to $500 monthly. Some coaches offer special payment arrangements or rates, such as sliding-scale fees based on the client's ability to pay. "Many of us have special rates for people in need," Marsala says.

 

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?

 

A: Many coaches ask for a three-month commitment from their clients; others ask for six months or more. "Often clients will continue coaching over six months or longer then move on after they've achieved their goals and feel able to maintain that progress on their own," Sumner notes.

 

"It is up to the client," says Cahill. "Some people want to work on an issue that can be resolved in three months while others continue to work on ongoing challenges in their quest to create the life they love and deserve."

 

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?

 

A: "I can fully understand the concerns of someone who has limited financial resources and is trying to decide the best way to apply them, especially in a difficult job market," Adamson says. "On the other hand, if lack of knowledge, lack of confidence, or some other factor threatens to impede the successful conclusion of that person's job or career search, and a qualified coach can remove or significantly reduce that impediment, I believe the individual will find it to be money very well spent -- possibly paying for itself several times over."

 

"If you want someone who is more likely to give you the answers, perhaps coaching is not your first choice," says Cahill. "If you are ready to explore your passions, desires, increase focus and possibilities, give coaching a try. It is an investment in yourself and your future. You deserve it."

 

Marsala draws from her own experience to explain why coaching is a worthwhile investment: "When I was a liaison on a trading desk, I used to wish that I had someone outside work to talk to regarding my career. I would have loved to have a mentor like I was to many others. I can only imagine what my life would have been like if that person, a coach, would have existed in the late '70s," she recalls. "I know firsthand what having a coach means. Cost savings in the long run, fewer mistakes, fears that have been satisfied, and a life full of my passion is what having my own coach(es) has meant in my life."

 


 

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

 

Katharine Hansen, PhD, QuintCareers.com Creative Director Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

 


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