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Do You Need a Career Coach?

10 tips for finding and working with a coach.

Photo credit: Deanmeyers in Flickr
Source: Photo credit: Deanmeyers in Flickr

According to the International Coach Federation, this week is International Coaching Week and designated as a time for coaches to educate the general public about the value of professional coaching services.

Career coaching services can be invaluable to someone navigating today's job market, particularly those who are in transition from one career field to another or who have just acquired a new career-related certificate or college degree.

Even though I am a licensed counselor, I am also a career coach. I personally like the coaching approach, which I find more goal-oriented and results-driven than traditional counseling. I have incorporated much of my education and training in cognitive-behavioral and positive psychology in my practice. In addition, I run career coaching training programs nationwide for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and have seen firsthand how valuable a well-trained coach can be to a job-seeker.

Some reasons to seek out a career coach might be:

  • To learn more about yourself and your strengths, so that you can better articulate them to an employer.
  • To get that "push" you need to work harder on your search (not all of us are self-motivated).
  • To develop needed skills in the job search such as networking or interviewing.
  • To obtain a better work-life balance or deal with issues related to promotion or success in the workplace.
  • If whatever you're currently doing to find a job hasn't been successful.

A good career coach can help you with all of these goals and more. They will ask you questions that will stimulate your thinking and help you move forward. Before you hire a coach, however, do your homework. The coaching field has grown exponentially over the past 10 years. Claiming expertise in everything from "executive" to "life" to "career" to "leadership", websites abound with "coaches" offering to sell you their services. And a great website doesn't always mean a great coach.

Particularly now, with so many individuals out of work, "coaching" has become a handy entrepreneurial venture, similar to "consulting." Compared to psychology and counseling, the coaching field is something of the Wild West. It is an unregulated field or, as it is sometimes called, "self-regulated." Coaches are not accredited or licensed by states—there are no required standards or training in the field. Anyone can call themselves a coach—and, in fact, many people do.

In my field of higher education career services, I often encounter candidates who apply for career coaching openings in my office with a basic attitude of "I have looked for jobs, so I can help others look for jobs." That philosophy is fine in a self-help group or as a volunteer, but I wouldn't pay any money to such an individual.

So before you take advantage of their services (and to prevent being taken advantage of) do your research. Ask friends for recommendations. Find out if there are any job clubs or similar services in your neighborhood or at a local church. Check with your state licensing boards to see if any counselors, psychologists or social workers offer coaching services. You can, of course, search the internet, but be careful.

Here are 10 tips for finding and using a career coach:

1. Find out if they are a member of a coaching organization, such as the International Coach Federation. While this membership is attained by simply paying a fee, the association does have professional standards which they agree to abide by. You can learn more about coaching standards here.

2. Obtain a copy of their resume and/or their biography which states their education and experience related to coaching. Look for certificates or licenses. Currently, there are no licenses in coaching, so the most accreditation a coach can get is a certificate from a coaching training program. Ask for the name of the training program and look it up online. Notice what the coach had to do to complete the certificate, and what qualifications they had to have to enroll in the program. You will be able to quickly ascertain if the program is legitimate. Just because they don't have a certificate doesn't mean they are not qualified, but you should review their experience carefully. (Please note: I cannot recommend private practitioners or coaching training programs.)

3. Make sure you get a full disclosure of all costs or fees connected with the service. As a client, you have a right to receive an "informed consent" document. This document should list the credentials of the service provider (including any licenses or certifications), the procedures and/or treatments they will use, other sources where you could receive assistance, their fees for services, and a statement regarding confidentiality. (Note that in most states if you are part of a legal proceeding, the coach can be called to testify about your meetings.) You should review this form and it should be signed by both you and the coach.

4. Even if your coach also has a counseling or psychology license, they will likely refer you to another mental health practitioner if you require services for a mental health issue. Coaching is not therapy, and practitioners need to distinguish their clients and their practices. Coaching can be particularly powerful when offered in conjunction with psychological services, for instance, in the case of someone being treated for an anxiety disorder related to their job search by a mental health practitioner while at the same time receiving concrete job-search techniques from their coach.

5. Ask for client references—not just testimonials posted on a website. Because this is career coaching and not therapy, the coach should have a few clients who are willing to speak about the value of their services without concerns for confidentiality.

6. Ask what their coaching philosophy is. What knowledge base, theories or approaches do they use? If they state a particular theory, ask what training or education they have received in that approach. Good coaches will be able to tell you their coaching philosophy and how they have developed it through their training and experience.

7. Ask about their scope of practice—do they generally work with individuals with your particular situation? Although many career issues are common to all job-seekers, different groups will experience different challenges. A coach who mostly serves college students, for example, may not be the best coach for someone trying to plan their retirement.

8. As with any other business or service, check the name of the coach or their business name with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed and the outcome of those complaints.

9. Ask if you can have one appointment (maybe at a reduced rate?) before signing up for services. Determine if you enjoy speaking with this person and if they have services you would find helpful. Some coaches offer package deals, such as "5 sessions for $___ ." Determine for yourself if you need that many sessions, or if one or two sessions are enough. Find out the fees for additional sessions if you go beyond the package price.

10. Once you've found a great career coach take full advantage of their knowledge and services. Make a commitment to be an active participant in the process—not just a passive recipient of their information. Show up for your appointments with questions, issues, ideas, etc. If you're given homework assignments, do them. Bottom line: career coaching can provide valuable assistance to your job search, but in the end, YOU will get the job.

Copyright 2011 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved.

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