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What To Know Before You Hire a Career Coach

A friend called me up last week.  She‘s been steady at her current job-search for a few months.  A few promising leads, a couple of interviews, and even an offer, but she hasn’t arrived at her ideal job. She asked me, “when is it time to hire a career coach?”

How do you know when it’s time to call in reinforcements?  This is a challenging question, because the answer will be different for each person. I’ve coached everyone from recent college grads to NBA players and CEOs, and everyone has different reasons for seeking a coach.

So perhaps you’re wondering… What even is a career coach? Let’s start with taking a look at the coaching industry. 

As of 2019, the coaching industry became a $15 billion sector, with a market share worth of over $7.5 billion in the United States alone! With the industry growing by an average of 5.6% annually, it’s clear that more and more people are exploring coaching as a path towards personal and professional improvement. 

In fact, 25-40% of Fortune 500 companies utilize the services of coaches.  

The world of coaching is wide and varied, but when it comes to the job search and professional development, you’ll often see professional coaching broken down into three camps:

  • Life coachinglife coaches provide general mentorship to support individuals in all aspects of their lives.  Often life coaches are enlisted during a time of transition, or to help someone get clarity on overcoming obstacles they face to meet their goals. The work life coaches do is rich in building confidence and overcoming limited mindsets, in all areas of life.
  • Executive coachingexecutive coaches provide many of the same services, though their client-base is typically executives and other higher-ups in the corporate world. Executives may seek a coach to handle high-level salary negotiations, position themselves for promotion, or better manage and grow their team.
  • Career coaching:  (While my coaching often touches on both life coaching and executive coaching, this is really my wheelhouse!)  A career coach is a guide who can help you get clarity on your best next career move, form an action plan for your job hunt, strategize your networking efforts, develop your LinkedIn profile, write your resume, and move toward your goals in many aspects of your professional life. People most often enlist a career coach to help them get clear on the right career path for them, or to get better results in their job search, be it strengthening their application materials (especially their resume) to prepare for interviews or more. Career coaches are not headhunters. Their goal is not simply to get you a job, their goal is to help you “level up” in order to give yourself the best chance for getting the job.

Keeping in mind that it’s a very personal decision to enlist the help of a coach, what are some scenarios in which you might benefit from some career coaching guidance?

  • You’re lacking a clear vision for your career.  You may be unsure of how to advance in your current career, or you’ve got deep questions about your purpose in the workforce.  You may be unaware of certain careers that could be your best fit. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know about what jobs or career paths are actually out there, and a fit for you!
  • You have been unsuccessful in your job search.  Whether you have struggled to find jobs that seem like a good fit, you haven’t landed an interview, or you’ve interviewed unsuccessfully, you may be lacking the certain crucial skills in the job search.  The good news, any career coach will tell you, is that job hunting is a learnable skill…It’s not necessarily your experience or personality that’s holding you back, it may be a lack of knowledge when it comes to certain strategies. 
  • You’re lacking confidence. The job search can be demoralizing, and yet a lack of confidence often stems from many areas of our upbringing. In fact, 40% of interviewers state that a perceived lack of confidence could be a reason enough to stop exploring a candidate. The right career coach can help you get to the root of your limitations so you can bolster your self-confidence. Owning the room is a game-changer for your interviews– and all areas of your life. A career coach, as well as a life coach, can help with this.

So with all that in mind, if you’re thinking that you might benefit from the services of a career coach, how do you find the right coach for you? There are estimated to be 17,500 coaches in the United States alone, which means you have more than a couple of options!

Having been around the block a few times in the coaching industry, here are a few things to look out for, as well as a few things you may want to avoid:

Things to look for in a coach:

  • They have a framework.  While every client’s needs are different, a good coach tends to have a tried-and-true framework. While it may not be a “one-size-fits-all,” note that this general direction can serve as a compass or structured plan to assess and progress your career maneuvers.
  • They are already offering you valuable content. If you find yourself have an “aha” moment just reading through a coach’s website, social media, or blog, you’re on the right track. If a coach is ready and willing to offer helpful guidance before you enlist their services, it’s a great sign that they have a lot more value to offer you once you take the leap.
  • They understand “the goal behind the goal.” This one is crucial. Many coaches would consider it a win for you to get clarity, a job offer, or whatever it is that you asked from them.  However, a really good coach understands “the goal behind the goal,” meaning the real reason why your goal matters to you– the goal behind the goal. For example, do you want to make more money? Why? What’s that really about? Having more space to vacation with family? Saving for a retirement? Whatever it is, great coaches understand the root of why you’re striving and from that awareness, they can plan better with you. 

Now, let’s move onto the red flags…

I’m not saying you should run from a coach with these identifiers, but you may want to proceed with caution. 

  • Don’t be wowed by certifications. I wrote a whole article here about how coaching certifications are often a waste of money for coaches. Unlike a Bar Association or Medical Board, there is no one organization that definitively certifies coaches. There are just lots of different groups who put their shingle in the ground and decide to create a website with a program that they decide to call a coaching certification. And while some of these companies do offer great training, it’s important to know this. Just be wary, and don’t be swayed by a stamp of approval without a little background research. If I had a penny for every coach who hired me to help them coach others, after they got a bunch of certifications, I’d… I don’t even know.
  • They don’t have testimonials. Testimonials are the surest way to verify that a coach has a proven track-record and happy clients.  If a coach isn’t proudly displaying praise and success stories, they may either not be helping people succeed, or they may be just getting started in their practice.  Check back in a couple of years…
  • They don’t have a framework. If in your research into a coach, or in an initial conversation, they don’t seem to offer a plan with actionable steps to achieve your goals, they may not be the best equipped to help you meet those goals. 

With all this in mind, I think the most important thing to seek in a coach is a simple feeling of connection.  After all, they’re helping you look at your life. That is vulnerable… And vulnerability requires a warm connection.

This can be the most challenging, especially before you have a chance to have a one-on-one with someone. So it is important to dive deep with the information you have available to make sure that you get a good feeling from their materials and that you feel their approach will be actionable for your life and career. 

So you might be thinking: “With all this knowledge of coaching, you must have a pretty good approach, Ashley…”  

Well, I’d say, that’s for you to decide 🙂  

The most important thing I’ve learned in my past decade of coaching is that most of the value truly does live in the client. That’s why I trust you, as a client (mine or someone else’s) to know what feels right in your heart. A good coach is simply an incredible facilitator. 

Okay, maybe not so simple, huh?

Here is a little bit about how I approach coaching.  First of all, I feel that to be a good coach, you must first be coachable. I’ve spent countless hours being coached by many industry-leaders like Jay Abraham.  I consider this not only part of my own professional development journey, but also something of an apprenticeship. I learned techniques and ideas from the best-of-the-best to carry forward in my own professional practice. 

My coaching is tailored to the needs of each individual client, but my main focuses are about helping clients with upgrading their mindset, getting clarity on the right career path for them, or acing interviews to land job offers.

To gain insights on how I help clients get clarity in their career, I focus on these approaches:

  • Click here to also read about my confidence coaching framework: Through in-depth conversation, I help clients explore past experiences, traumas, and deep-seated beliefs that may be interfering with their confidence and blocking them from moving forward.  We strive to become aware of their past together so that we can release patterns and mindsets that are no longer serving them and rewrite new beliefs that feel more supportive. 

I also focus on concrete skills to help clients succeed in their job search and land a bunch of job offers. That looks like a process of:

  • Unlocking job options: I have an online course called the Job Offer Academy, which has an 8 step framework that helps clients land job offers. In a private setting, I help clients clarify their best job options, craft an elevator pitch that turns more conversations into interviews, write a standout resume, craft a cover letter that kicks employers off the fence, and also a networking strategy that lands them way more job interviews. From there, we also do mock interviews to ensure that they’re ready for curveball questions, and eventually, we plan for them to tactfully negotiate their salary– and get a pretty solid pay bump in the process.  

Just as important as knowing when you are ready for a career coach, is knowing when you may not be.  The best time to hire a career coach is before you feel yourself in crisis, and the worst time to hire one is when you want results so quickly you don’t have the time to actually contribute to getting the clarity you need, or taking the action steps you need to get results.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so will be the case with your career.

It’s also important to remember that a coach is not a therapist: a therapist has the goal of helping you process your past experiences and emotional challenges. As a career coach, I take into account your past and present experiences, but my ultimate focus is your future– your goals and your big dreams. The only time you’ll hear me looking at your past is if it’s impeding us from a goal we’re working on for your future. 

If you’d like to explore more of my methods and see if we might be a good fit, have a look around my website and my blog, and dig into my ideas on my podcast, or my book You Turn: Get Unstuck, Discover Your Direction, Design Your Dream Career.

If you like what you’ve read, but you’re not sure yet about private coaching, I offer three affordable online courses to jump-start your professional development in these areas (just click below if helpful!):

And if you want support that’s completely free, take my free quiz here to discover your best career fit!

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