by Sharon Florentine

What is a career coach? Your partner in growth

Jun 06, 2019

A career coach offers certified expertise in maximizing your potential, whether it’s helping you land a promising new job, navigate a career change, or find fulfillment at work.

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Credit: Thinkstock

If you find yourself uninspired by your current job or you’re having trouble standing out from the crowd in your job search, hiring a career coach to help you figure out what excites you and to get your resume in shape could be a smart move.

After all, if you took up golf or began studying a foreign language, you’d want a coach to guide you. Your career is no different: Everyone could use a pro to advise them as they gain the skills, knowledge and experience to move their career forward.

The following provides an overview of what to expect from the career coaching experience — and tips on how to find the right match for your goals.

What is a career coach?

A career coach is akin to an employment therapist who partners with you to maximize your potential and growth. These experts often have specific training in areas such as resume building, career and succession planning and coaching and motivation, and they know how to identify and build on your best personal and professional qualities to help you become more successful in your career.

Benefits of a career coach

Career coaches can give job seekers a competitive edge in a number of ways: They can help job seekers develop a unique personal brand that will differentiate them in a crowded market. They can help job seekers mine the “hidden job market” for unadvertised positions, and leverage networking and personal connections to land a role. They can also help job seekers articulate their strengths and passions in professional communications such as résumés, cover letters, “elevator pitches” and mock job interviews) that will grab hiring managers’ attention.

“It’s easy to lose yourself in a job, even if it’s not exactly what your passion is, or it’s not what you want to be doing,” says Rita Friedman, JCTC, JCDC, CLC, a certified career coach in Philadelphia. “It’s easier to go with the flow than to be objective and really focus on strategizing your career — if you’re equally good at, say, writing and customer service, you might end up getting more work in the areas that are most in demand, like customer service, even if you really want to be working as a writer. That’s where a career coach can help.”

What to expect from a career coach

A career coach can help you identify your goals, whether those are to land a higher-paying job, change careers, earn a promotion or ace a job interview.

According to the International Coach Federation, working with a career coach is a thought-provoking and creative process that can inspire you to maximize your personal and professional potential. The coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify, and align with what you want to achieve
  • Encourage self-discovery
  • Elicit solutions and strategies
  • Hold you responsible and accountable

This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their personal and professional potential.

Career coaching myths

Common myths abound about career coaching, the chief of which is that only executive-level professionals rely on career coaches. While that may have been true in the past, it’s no longer the case. Career coaching is pervasive in every line of work and at every career stage — from those who are just starting out, to those who are changing careers, to those who want to thrive in or advance from their current role.

Another common myth is that career coaching is for the unemployed. While career coaches do play a role in helping with a job search or career transition, they are just as valuable for helping clients make the most out of their job and the opportunities at their current employer. Even those who are secure in their job and are fulfilled by their career choice can capitalize on the opportunity to work with a coach.

Many professionals also hold a common misconception that it’s their employer’s responsibility to direct and manage career progression and achievement. Unfortunately, most companies aren’t focused on helping their employees reach personal goals; it’s up to the individual to do so. A career coaching can be a smart investment, as you spend a significant portion of your life at work, and it pays not only to be happy there but to have someone in your corner helping to map out a career progression plan and pushing you to achieve it.

How much does hiring a career coach cost?

Hiring a career coach isn’t to be taken lightly, as coaching services tend to be pricey. They can range from $125 to $500 per hour, or from $375 to $3,000 per package, depending on what a client wants, according to Friedman. So if you’re unemployed and money is tight, you have to carefully consider whether spending money on a coach is worthwhile.

“I have clients who want a one-off session; some I speak with once a month, some every six months, some every few years. It really depends on the individual client. And, in some ways, it’s still the wild west when it comes to consistent pricing and also standards and regulations,” Friedman says. “Before you invest your hard-earned dollars, make sure the coach you select is a good fit for you and has credentialing.”

How to select a career coach

Given the impact and personal nature of career coaching, finding the right fit can be challenging. The best place to start is to ask people in your network for referrals.

If you’re seeking a coach with specific industry or functional expertise, industry websites and magazines can be great sources for recommendations or advertisements to follow up on. You can also check out websites for career coaching professional organizations, such as the Professionals Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Career Directors International, or the Career Coach Academy.

Many career coaches are active online. Seek out blog posts, articles and papers written by career coaches, if they have them, to see whether you connect with the coach’s tone and the topics they write about. It’s also essential to make sure whomever you choose understands the idiosyncrasies of today’s world of work, says Deb Dib, a certified executive career coach who specializes in personal branding and job search services.

“They should know the skills and accomplishments companies value these days. You need somebody who’s completely current in how to find work right now,” she says.

You should also choose a coach whose certifications and credentials address the goals you want to achieve, says Friedman. For example, if you want to create or sharpen a personal brand, find a coach who holds a personal branding credential.

“There’s no ‘bar exam’ to pass, so this can be a little tricky,” she says. “But you absolutely want to find someone with formal training and legitimate credentials, not just someone who’s coached a few friends or who blogs on the weekends as a hobby.”

The International Coaching Federation, Certified Job and Career Transition Coach, Certified Job and Career Development Coach and Certified Life Coach programs are all legitimate credentials that can indicate a coach knows their stuff.

Once you zero in on a candidate or two, ask for a consultation to get a sense of his or her style. Many coaches will offer a free, hour-long initial consultation so you (and they) can decide if the relationship is a fit. And also be sure to ask for references.

Hiring a career coach can be an invaluable investment. Be sure to treat it as such by performing your due diligence.