Career coaching explained

What coach do I need?

My friend Michael told me he had been ruminating about his possible need for a coach. He told me he wanted someone well connected who could provide introductions and who could help him define what he wanted to do. He considered he could use someone to help him bring his management game up a notch as well.  I think his is a common desire.

Unfortuately, it is not a realistic one. No professional coach would offer connections and introductions to a client. The coaching relationship is changed significantly if the coach takes such an active role in the coachee’s career.

Plus, the likelihood is low that a person actively engaged as a coach is actively engaged in your niche employment market. Instead, a good coach teaches how to make those connections and knows enough about how business works to guide you through your leadership challenges. Someone who has worked in your industry, preferably as an executive would be a good resource to consider.

The second part of his coaching proposition is equally flawed. If you are an executive and you don’t know what you want to do, you need to talk to someone qualified to administer personality tests and such; typically a psychologist. A coach helps you get you where you want to go and while a good coach helps you refine that goal, they do not engage in helping you select the destination.


Life Coach: This is a very recent addition to the coaching scene and appears to be a catch all for miscellaneous aspects of ones life. The Internet features many pay for click options to be come a Life Coach which seems to attract a lot of people who have burned their bridges and are casting about for a new profession. Many focus on spirituality and aspects of life not directly related to landing a job or improving your career options and leadership.

Executive Coach: Ongoing coaching to perfect your executive talents. Many people like to have someone watching their back, others have challenges they are trying to overcome. A confidential relationship with an Executive Coach can make the difference between just slogging away at a job and enjoying your career. It is not unusual for a company to hire an Executive Coach on behalf of an employee to up their game or correct a problem.

Job Search Coach: Works with you to master all the resources needed to get a promotion or new job. Highly targeted and mutually agreed on goals are clear at the outset and a road map to succeed includes life skills. Look for a coach who has been an executive, does more than rewrite your resume and who understands your market niche.

Psychologist: Runs test to help you determine with where you might succeed. Psychometric/Vocational Tests are often administered by non-accredited practitioners. No matter what the battery of tests, it is the interpretation that makes the difference. Be cautious of charlatans who push their favorite tests at great expense to the client, it is often the case the testing company pays them a commission.

Also popular are books on finding your bliss or designing a parachute. If you are an executive and not ready to retire, your needs go far beyond happy-talk books. You need step-by-step guidance to marshal your resources and skills to inhabit the best darned career choices you can make.

Career coach: Often used to mean Executive Coach, a career coach will help you build or repair your career. This title is often used to include job search coach but does not guarantee special expertise in that task. Be warned, anyone can call themselves a career coach. It is incumbent on you to vet career coaches very carefully. If they are graduates of an on-line career coaching program, run away.

My career coaching clients typically want to refine their techniques, learn to navigate the executive waters for promotions and recognition or just make their jobs/reviews better. On occasion, a company will invite me to work with a specific employee to overcome a bad habit or two. The reasons for using a career coach are as varied as the people who use them; and that is as it should be. Customized programs are required to make career coaching work.

Now for reality. Lines of all four types of coaches are often blurred because, other than the psychologist, there are no governing boards, licensing agents or industry standards. Anyone can call themselves a coach. And that’s the problem. Some have a standard package, others offer such basic assist as not to make any difference. And then there those who get into your issues to help you overcome, achieve and win.

If you suspect you could benefit from the services of a coach, you probably can. My best clients, those who achieved goals beyond their imagining came with an open mine, willingness to learn and ability to share what they know about themselves. If you want to rise above the norm, a well-vetted career coach or job search coach is almost a guarantee win if for no other reason than you have a sounding board with a person who will not say what you want to hear. And that’s a good place to start.

It is up to the prospective coachee to determine their needs, vet the prospective coach and have clearly defined objectives and metrics for success. Even then, Caveat Emptor.

Return to this post for details on how to vet a coach.

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