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 can help you find your optimal career path, shape up your resume, and plot your next move.
Whether it’s helping you land a promising new job, navigate a career change, or find fulfillment at work, everyone could use a pro to advise them as they gain the skills, knowledge and experience to move their career forward — but only if you are ready for the journey.
[ Learn the do’s and don’ts for negotiating a raise, how to hunt for a job while you’re still employed, and the keys to making your self-evaluation more meaningful. | Get a leg up with our free tech resume samples and expert advice. ]
The following provides an overview of what to expect from the career coaching experience, signs that you are ready to enlist a career coach, and tips for finding the right match for your goals.
What is a career coach?
A career coach is an expert in career planning who partners with you to maximize your potential and growth. Career coaches often have specific training in resume building, career planning, negotiation, interviewing, 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 differentiates 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 resumes, cover letters, “elevator pitches,” and mock job interviews, that will grab hiring managers’ attention.
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 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.
How much does hiring a career coach cost?
Career coaching services can range from $125 to $500 per hour, or from $375 to $3,000 per package, depending on what a client wants. So if you’re unemployed and money is tight, you have to carefully consider whether spending money on a coach is worthwhile, though the relationship can often be flexible based on your needs.
“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,” says Rita Friedman, JCTC, JCDC, CLC, a certified career coach in Philadelphia, adding, “Before you invest your hard-earned dollars, make sure the coach you select is a good fit for you and has credentialing.”
7 signs you should consider hiring a career coach
While some signals are obvious, it’s not always clear when it’s time to seek outside help to advance your career. Here are seven key indicators that a career coach might be a worthwhile investment.
- You’re experiencing job angst: If you’re bored or frustrated with your job, but don’t know what other career(s) you could pursue, enlisting a career coach is a valuable idea. Friedman says that many of her clients start with a vague sense of feeling overwhelmed without knowing why, and then come around to thinking, “‘I need a trusted advisor to guide me and to hold me accountable as I try and figure out my career.’”
- You’re struggling with your job search: If you’re sending out resumes without bearing fruit, a career coach can help. This might mean getting no calls in response to a resume, or not being asked to job interviews. For those who do get the call for an interview, a career coach can be a valuable investment if you’re not receiving offers.
- Your professional brand needs work: To market yourself, you need to consider your professional brand, and this starts with a strong resume. If you need help crafting a resume, cover letters, and other materials, or if you are seeking tips on how to present yourself in your best light in job interviews, a career coach can be a good choice. Career coaches can help craft resumes, cover letters, elevator pitches, and all the other facets of developing your professional brand to be successful in your job search or your career progression.
- Your career has stalled: Another clear sign a career coach is for you: You’re not moving up the career ladder, despite your hard work. “I also see clients who are trying to move up, who’re being groomed for leadership and need help with navigating politics in the office and organizational change,” Friedman says.
- You’re challenged to stand out from the crowd: It’s important to present yourself as more than just a collection of skills and credentials. In extremely competitive labor markets, homing in on your unique strengths and passion can make all the difference, and a career coach can help you identify and build on those strengths, helping you to stand out as the perfect fit for that next role.
- You struggle with self-motivation: Advancing your career is challenging work, and at times, even the most motivated individuals can find themselves slacking or burnt out. If you find yourself in need of someone “neutral” to hold you accountable for achieving your goals, a career coach is a good bet. Setting goals and milestones and mapping out a path and concrete steps to achieve those goals can be easier when a neutral third-party is holding you accountable.
- You’re ambitious: If you are looking to accelerate your journey to achieving your career goals, a career coach can be a catalyst. You can’t expect your dream career to fall into your lap; you must prioritize success, and with a career coach by your side, achieving your professional goals can be that much more likely.
3 signs you’re not ready for career coaching
Even if you’ve identified the need for a career coach, if you struggle to look inside yourself for answers, a career coach may not be a solution at this time. A career coach can only take you so far, Friedman says. You must be open-minded and willing to work hard to identify your strengths and weaknesses and fight for the fulfilling career you want.
Here are three indicators that a career coach may not be right for you.
- You think a career coach possesses all the answers and will find you a job: If you approach a career coach expecting the coach will connect you with a VP job in four easy steps, you may be disappointed. Career coaches are quick to point out that they can’t perform miracles. What’s more, the service is not a quick fix. “This is not a situation where the coach waves a magic wand and gives you magic insights and everything is all better,” says Curt Rosengren, a career coach in Seattle who specializes in matching people with professions. “If what you’re really trying to do is buy a solution, the solution comes from the work you do.”
- You’re reluctant to self-assess, self-examine and, quite possibly, network: A career coach will almost always give a client something to do or think about in preparation for their next session. For example, the coach could ask you to take a personality test, to reflect on your best and worst work experiences, or to network in your spare time. It’s in your best interest to put time into this work; otherwise you’re wasting your time and money. While a career coach can help you identify your passions and help build up your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses, much of the actual work in improving your career prospects will come from within.
- You have trouble opening up to others: For coaching to be effective, clients must be honest with themselves and their coaches, and both coach and client must be open to feedback and constructive criticism. Good career coaches won’t be shy about asking direct, probing questions and will be open to hearing constructive feedback on what is and isn’t working both in the general coaching process and in the job/career search. You shouldn’t be either.
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. 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 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 whether the relationship is a fit. And be sure to ask for references.
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 just starting out, to those 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.
More on advancing your career: