People may hire an executive coach for a variety of reasons, including finding a job that fits them well, clarifying and accomplishing professional goals, and navigating difficult career transitions. Coaches can also be useful to individuals at all stages of their career, from those seeking their first real job to seasoned professionals looking for a change or better work-life balance.
Although investment in a coach may pay off, it’s important to proceed with caution: Credentials vary widely. Clinical psychologists with doctorates offer coaching services, but so do individuals with little or no formal training. This is a relatively new and unregulated industry.
Psychotherapy helps patients with mental illness, as well as those looking to overcome challenges or simply grow and evolve. Coaching is not intended as mental health care and serves to counsel clients through concrete changes. Coaching often has a narrower scope, does not explore the client’s past, focuses on achieving goals rather than processing emotions, and involves a more collaborative relationship between coach and client. However, psychotherapy has shifted over time, so the differences between therapy and coaching may not be as distinct as they once were.
Life coaching has grown into a billion-dollar industry. The rapid rise in coaching may be due to stigma around mental health care, frustration with traditional models, and the large unmet need for help. Additionally, people can become life coaches easily because there are no training or licensing requirements, no supervision expectations, and no legal framework governing the practice.
Coaching is not regulated the same way therapy is 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; for example, some may begin coaching because they believe that having looked for jobs themselves, they are equipped to help others. This is why it’s important to conduct thorough research before selecting and working with a career coach.
Career coaching is often a rewarding profession, as coaches help their clients find meaningful and fulfilling work, which often benefits their relationships and personal life as well. Coaching can also be a self-directed, flexible profession and involve learning about many disciplines. There are also ethical questions to consider, such as the extent to which coaches help clients with important tasks and recognizing when a client no longer needs a coach’s services.
A coach can help dissatisfied individuals identify what they need from their career and kickstart change toward success and achievement. Young professionals just starting out, for example, might consider consulting a coach and save themselves from bouncing from field to field before they find the work that works for them.
Career coaching can be valuable for anyone, but it can be especially helpful for people who are transitioning from one profession to another or who recently acquired a career-related certificate or college degree. Career coaches can help clients understand their strengths and articulate them to employers, teach skills such as networking and interviewing, motivate clients throughout the job search, and help clients cultivate a healthy work-life balance. If those seem like skills that you need to improve, or if what you’re doing so far simply hasn't worked, you may want to explore career coaching.
Since the coaching field is relatively unregulated, it’s important to do research and ask questions before committing to a career coach. It’s a good idea to ask if they are a member of a coaching organization, for a copy of their resume that details their education and experience, about any and all fees related to their services, for client references, and about their coaching philosophy and scope of practice. Doing research ahead of time can help make sure that their process and goals align with your own.
A strong connection between coach and client is key to the process. Looking for a few key traits in a potential life coach can help. Coaches should be authentic, which will allow trust to develop. They should also be passionate about helping people and confident in their abilities—not that they should have all the answers, but they should understand how they can and cannot help their client.
Coaches help clients achieve demonstrable change and results in their professional and personal lives. But the majority of coaches do not hold licenses or advanced education in the field of mental health. Due to lack of regulation and licensing, these individuals may need training, education, and supervision in domains such as ethics and boundaries, confidentiality, liability, medications, serious mental illness, and suicide prevention.