Hire The Right Career Coach (And Don’t Get Ripped Off)
Yes, you need a career coach. But how do you find a good one?
You’re trying to navigate the political waters to get that next big promotion. Or you want to find a better job at a new employer. Perhaps you’re a high-flyer who just wants to take things down a notch and find something more flexible — or more meaningful. Or maybe you’ve been on hiatus for many years and you don’t want to return to the work you did before. In all cases, you might be stuck in your own head and have absolutely no idea what kind of work is truly right for you.
When you’re not sure which way to turn, is a career coach your best resource?
Career coaching is big business
The answer is, it depends. Today personal development coaching is a billion dollar business — with career- and life-coaching representing the biggest chunk. Almost a 7 percent annual growth rate is expected until 2022, when there will be an estimated 25,000 coaches working with senior executives and the rank and file.
That’s a lot of career coaches vying for the business of vulnerable professionals in various phases of transition.
Though there are excellent coaches who can help you get from confusion to clarity, the cost is significant. On the low end it is about $100 per hour, and at the high end, you can be quoted an hourly rate of $500 or more. Is it worth it?
Nine ways to be a savvy career-coach consumer:
- Take coaching credentials with a grain of salt. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the gold standard for coaching certification, but coaches without this credential can still be excellent resources. It’s kind of like saying you’ll only deal with business professionals who have an Ivy League MBA. Just like in any profession, experience, results, and trusted referrals count.
- Seek those with hands-on business experience. Most coaches have roots in the business world, but there are some who have never been an employer or employee. You don’t want an “ivory tower” coach who has never managed people or budgets, asked for a raise, won the confidence of a difficult boss, conducted a job search, or experienced any of the day-to-day pressures of the in-the-trenches business life themselves.
- Beware the package pricing. Though hourly rates are high, the fact is that career coaching is a difficult business. It’s hard to earn a significant income with a lot of one-off clients. To boost income many coaches ask you to sign on for a long series of sessions. This often draws out the coaching process unnecessarily, turns into hand-holding and prevents you from taking significant action early on. To make sure you’ll be getting your money’s worth, ask a coach who interests you if you can pay for one or two full sessions as a trial run.
- Make sure you’re signing up for professional coaching, not personal therapy. Your emotional state, your stress level, and all the challenges in your personal life certainly play into your ability to make a career change. But you’re better off solving these personal issues with a trained therapist. Zero in on coaches who stick to their knitting and focus their advice in the professional realm.
- Watch out for the Jacks and Janes of All Trades. Career coaches who claim they are experts in helping you find opportunities in any industry are simply stretching the truth. It’s impossible to know the current hiring activity in every industry, the desired profiles for every job function, or the relative compensation levels across the board. It’s possible to find career coaches who have worked in your area of interest and keep up with current trends, but a generalist who can give you the tools and strategies to network with insiders in your field is a good bet.
- Rule out traditionalists. Career coaches tend to focus on the traditional full-time job and be much less knowledgeable about the many flexible alternatives available today. The full-time job is a dying breed — make sure the coach can talk to you about the six different kinds of flexwork and help you capitalize on, for example, the burgeoning freelance economy (including endless opportunities to develop a consulting practice) and help you decide if an entrepreneurial venture makes sense for you.
- Look for skills in the basic nuts and bolts of personal branding. Lots of coaches say that they do not craft resumes or LinkedIn profiles and refer you to writers to handle these tasks. This is a red flag: you want a coach who takes the lead in helping you develop your sales tools and tell a compelling story (or collaborates very closely with a writer who has these skills). Your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and all your networking communications are critical first impressions, and writers who churn out resumes in a vacuum often lack the nuanced knowledge to capture your unique profile on their own.
- Favor a knack for reinvention, not just re-employment. If a new job is your goal, make sure the coach can guide you toward opportunities that fit the “future of work” scenarios. In the coming decades, the most successful professionals will have the ability to constantly adapt to big shifts in where and how work is done. You want a coach who follows workforce trends and knows the right time for a career pivot.
- Opt for speed. Coaches love personality tests, skill identification, and all manner of exercises that help them pinpoint your true passions (they also draw out the coaching process). While some of this can be helpful, there’s no replacement for getting out there and doing what I call fundamental networking research. This is the phase that will lay the strongest foundation for your career transition. Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to advance a career at your current company, you can continually expand your professional community and find people who help you determine your best strategies and future direction.
The best coaches give you the confidence, strategies, and tools to get you out and talking right away to influencers and insiders who are well within your reach — the practitioners who have real knowledge of the work and work structure that interest you. Steer clear of coaches who want to squirrel you away in a long series of inward-looking sessions designed to help you find your way. The data you gather out in your desired field is your best map and the highest value coaching you’ll find.
Kathryn Sollmann is the author of Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead. She is a pragmatic, no-nonsense career coach and speaker on a wide range of topics that help employers retain talented women. Her mission is to help women blend work and life at every age and stage for long-term financial security.