Figure Out What's Next

12 Questions to Consider Before Hiring a Career Coach

career change coaching rob sullivan Aug 11, 2009
coaching session

by Rob Sullivan

photo by cottonbro

There are a number of factors to consider before investing your time, money and effort in hiring a career coach. To save you time upfront, let's start with the first and most important question: “Do you even need a coach?” 

1. Do you need a coach?

To begin, ask yourself the following questions:

• Have you ever thought to yourself, “I know I'd be great at that job if only someone would give me a chance” or “I would love that job, but I could never make any money doing that.”

• Do you struggle with the concept of networking and/or feel that you have fewer valuable contacts than others?

• Do you ever find yourself apologizing for your age, level of experience or education?

• Have you sent out résumés for jobs you know you'd be perfect for and not received a response?

• Do you have trouble getting interviews or turning interviews into job offers?

• Are interviews uncomfortable because you find it difficult to talk about yourself without feeling like you're bragging?

• Given the economy, do you worry that you may have to settle for a job or salary below what you know you deserve?

• Do you worry that your unemployment compensation and/or severance will run out before you find another job?

• Have you been out of work longer than you ever expected??• Do you feel stuck in your current job or no longer find it satisfying?

• Do you feel your job, and the jobs of your co-workers, are in jeopardy?

If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, working with a career coach could help you streamline your efforts. If you answered “yes” to more than three questions, the right career coach could help you shave weeks or months off your search. When you think about what you expect to earn in a typical week, the opportunity cost of NOT working with a coach is probably a lot higher than the investment you'd make with even the most expensive coach.

2. What is a career coach?

A career coach is a person who provides objective feedback to help job hunters (and employees working toward advancement) approach the process more efficiently and strategically. A good coach can add value to every part of the process including, but not limited to, the self-assessment process, résumé writing, cover letter writing, networking, interviewing, negotiating and career change. Some people only require assistance from coaches in limited areas like interviewing. Others need help across all areas.

3. Why should I hire a coach?

The primary reason to hire a coach is to improve your chances to compete effectively for the positions that most interest you. The fact is, very few people enjoy—or are particularly adept at—marketing themselves. As a result, many people endure job searches that are longer than necessary.

4. What can I expect from working with a coach?

A good coach will work with you to set objectives upfront. From these, you should work together to establish an action plan that makes sense. Remember, there are no cookie-cutter solutions or plans. Everyone is different. Beware of any coach who doesn't take the time to tailor an approach consistent with your background and objectives.

5. How do I find a coach?

The best way to find a career coach is through word-of-mouth. Ask everyone you know if they know anyone who has ever worked with a coach. Once you find someone, take time to interview that person. Be sure to get answers from prospective coaches to the following questions:

• How much do they charge?

• How long have they been doing this?

• What is the income range of their clients?

• Do they have a particular area of expertise (e.g., specific jobs or industries)?

• Are there any clients they haven't been able to help?

• Do they take on all clients or are they selective?

Most importantly, make sure you are comfortable with the person. After all, you'll be working closely together. The process can actually be fun—enjoy it as much as possible!

6. At what point in the job search process does it make sense to hire a coach?

The right time to hire a career coach varies from person to person. Some people don't realize they need a career coach until they find themselves struggling to get past initial interviews. Other people hire a coach the minute they realize they aren't getting results from their cover letters, résumés, or networking. Still others know they need help from the initial stages of doing a self-assessment and putting a resume together. In general, though, it is far better to hire a career coach early in the process. The longer you wait, the more likely the situation is to escalate into a stressful, emotionally charged or even desperate situation.

7. How important is it that a coach be a certified résumé writer or member of an organization of career management professionals?

Not at all important. Organizations that offer “certifications” in different aspects of career development exist purely as a means to make their founders rich. The fact is, anyone can create an official-sounding “institute” and offer certifications on a variety of topics. More often than not, these organizations are not out to improve the quality of career coaching, résumé writing, or any other area. If they were, hiring managers and recruiting professionals wouldn't find themselves constantly wading through a sea of resumes to find the estimated 1 percent that are actually effective.

Incidentally, this 1 percent estimate has been confirmed time and again by spontaneous surveys of HR professionals and hiring managers who have been in my audience over the past few years. Judging from the thousands of resumes I read as an executive recruiter, I personally think 1 percent is on the high side.

8. Is it true that hiring a coach is tax-deductible?

The fees you pay a coach, like other job-search-related expenses, are tax deductible in many areas. Check with your tax advisor to be sure.

9. What is the cost involved?

Here again, there are no rules of thumb for what you should pay. Ideally, you, the job hunter, should be able to look back and think, “That was a terrific investment.” At the same time, the career coach should be able to say, “I was fairly paid for my services.” To achieve this win-win scenario, be open to the possibility of a value-based fee. While more and more people are adopting this approach, the majority still charge hourly fees ranging anywhere from $75 to $500 per hour. Whatever you do, avoid companies that charge exorbitant fees upfront. More than a few times, I've heard about people who paid $10,000, $20,000 or more with the “guarantee” that they'd find a job. Unfortunately, not one of these people had anything to show for it.

10. Some coaches offer ongoing programs. Is that a good idea?

Many coaches and companies will attempt to sign you up for ongoing or monthly programs before you've even had your first session. When this happens, run fast and far. It doesn't make sense to commit to an ongoing relationship when you don't even know if they are able to provide value. I would never ask anyone to commit to more than one session for two reasons. First, if we don't enjoy working together and there isn't value, neither of us should be obligated to continue the relationship. Second, it's possible you may not need more than one session.

11. How many sessions does the average person need?

In my experience, there are no cookie-cutter formulas and no “average” people. Every situation is different. It truly depends on the person and his or her individual goal. Some goals are more challenging and face greater competition.

My goal is not to make you or anyone else dependent on me. My goal is to teach you what I know so you can apply the principles as needed. Given this, about 50 percent of my coaching clients do not require additional sessions. The initial two-hour session is enough.

Another 30 percent to 40 percent of my clients return for an additional session to focus on a particular area. Of these, most fall into two categories: people who want additional help with résumés and cover letters, and people who want to do mock interviews to get feedback on how they are presenting themselves. The remaining 10 percent to 20 percent of my clients take advantage of my various coaching packages to gain the benefit of ongoing feedback on all aspects of their job search.

12. Will this work for you?

Let's say you decide not to work with a career coach. Where will that leave you? Will you get the job or promotion using your current strategy? That's what you have to consider. Will you be kicking yourself for the rest of your life if you didn't try everything possible to get that job? Only you can answer that question.


Rob Sullivan

Rob Sullivan has been a career coach for more than 15 years. He is the author of “Getting Your Foot in the Door When You Don't Have a Leg to Stand On.” Find out more about him via his website.


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