Career coaching has become a more widely spread and well-known profession, but I still get plenty of questions from people about how to find a career coach. How do you look for a coach? And more importantly, how do you know if you should trust them once you’ve found them?

In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through the complete process of how to find a career coach AND how to work with one, so you’ll know what to expect from the entire experience.

This is a long tutorial, so here’s an overview of what you’ll find here:

  • How to know if you need a career coach
  • When NOT to work with a career coach
  • How to conduct a search for a career coach
  • How to vet a career coach
  • Career coach red flags
  • Questions to ask your potential career coach
  • How to work with a career coach

Ok, let’s get started!

How to Find a Career Coach

Do You Really Need a Career Coach?  

How do you know if you should bother to find a career coach to begin with?

Most people try to solve their career problems on their own at first. And that’s a fine thing to do. There are a plethora of books and blogs aimed to help you do this. Sometimes a little bit of information is all you need.

But oftentimes big career challenges are too complex to DIY with the help of a blog post. You are not a career expert, and careers (what one is, how to find one, how to keep one, how to advance in one) have drastically changed over the last few years. There’s a lot of outdated information out there, and tactics you used to get your last job may not work this time around.

Here are some signs that you could benefit from working with a career coach: 

  1. You’ve struggled to apply general advice to your situation
  2. You’ve tried to make changes in your career on your own and failed
  3. You’re overwhelmed by the amount of resources available
  4. You’re confused by competing advice and points of view
  5. You know what to do, but can’t seem to follow through

When you hire a qualified career coach, what your investment really gets you is: 

  1. Personalized guidance specific to your situation
  2. A partner with experience in helping people achieve the results you want
  3. A singular, focused voice to follow (a point of view)
  4. A tested, proven process to follow (an actual method that gets results)
  5. Accountability and support so you can make real change

And depending on your coach, you may get help with:

  1. “Hard skills” like how to format your resume, and
  2. “Soft skills” like how to deal with your difficult boss

When NOT to Work with a Career Coach

There are some circumstances under which you should not work with a career coach. Here are a few:

1 | If you want a yes man

If you want someone to co-sign the decisions you’ve already made, talk with your best friend instead. A good coach will ask you to question your choices and help you look at your options from different angles.

2 | If you want someone to tell you what to do with your life

A career coach can help you discover what you want, but it’s not their job to make major career or life decisions on your behalf. Use them as a brainstorming partner and mentor, but take (and enjoy) the responsibility of making your own decisions.

3 | If you don’t intend to fully participate

Like everything else, coaching doesn’t work unless you do. If you halfway do you part, expect halfway results.

If you’re ready to enlist the support of a career coach, then it’s time to begin your search.

How to Search for a Career Coach

When it comes to conducting your actual search for a career coach, you’ve got a couple options.

1 | Get a referral

Perhaps the easiest way to find a career coach is to get a referral from a friend or someone in your personal network. But be aware that just because someone is a good coach does not mean they are the best coach for you. For example, just because your best friend swears by Madewell jeans does not mean they are the best fit for your body. If you get a referral, you’ll still want to vet the coach on your own, which I’ll cover in just a minute.

2 | Search your favorite social media platforms

I’m of the mind that career coaches who really understand careers today will also really understand their clients today, and the fact is that clients are looking for solutions online. If you love Instagram, search career related hashtags. If Pinterest is your thing, do a search for “career coach” boards and users. Use social media platforms as mini search engines.

3 | Google your problem + career coach

You are seeking a coach to help you with a specific problem like “find meaningful work” or “get a promotion,” so you can look for coaches who focus on that kind of work. In the Google search bar, type your problem + career coach to see what kind of matches come up.

Note: Don’t be thrown off by their title

Not all career coaches call themselves a “career coach.” I’ve seen wonderful coaches that call themselves a career strategist, a women’s success coach, an expert in the new world of work, and the ever popular “author, blogger, and speaker.”

This is just about branding, positioning, and what will help them sell the most books (or whatever they’re trying to sell). Don’t get hung up on their title. Instead, look at what they do for people. If they help people achieve the same results you hope for, it doesn’t matter what they call themselves.

Once you’ve conducted your initial search, it’s time to find the right career coach for you.

How to Vet a Career Coach

For starters, you should know that coaching is an unregulated industry. Unlike the legal or medical professions, there is no qualifying board that has to approve before someone calls themselves a coach, which means that anyone can put up a website and voila, now they’re a coach.

There are coaching certification programs that people can take to do formal coaching training. But again, because there is no industry-wide regulation or standard, you can’t base your hiring decision on certification alone. And there are some coaches with different backgrounds (therapy, teaching, counseling, recruiting) without specific coaching certification who do excellent work.

So, if you can’t use certification as the be-all and end-all basis for hiring, how do you know who to trust?

Look for the Four R’s: resonance, reputation, research, and results. 

1 | Resonance

Does the coach resonate with you? Because “resonance” can easily become a big, meaningless, catch-all word, let’s outline some practical actions you can take to assess resonance beyond a gut feeling (which is valid, but let’s get systematic).

  • Read their website. Do you like the tone, content, design, and perspective?
  • Do the free stuff. Take advantage of free worksheets, challenges, or trainings to get to know their approach. Does it work for you? Make sense to you?
  • Check them out on social media. Do you like what you see on Insta, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or Twitter?
  • Interact however their brand allows. Join their Facebook group, attend live webinars, or do a free consult call. Do you like what you see?
  • Notice how they makes you feel. Do they make you feel empowered, intelligent, and hopeful? Do they challenge you to be more of the kind of person you want to be?
  • See if they pass the coffee test: Are they someone you’d want to have coffee with for an hour? Because you’ll be spending time with them, at least virtually, so you want to make sure you look forward to it.

2 | Reputation

Reputation is not the only thing that matters, but it can help you know if the coach you’re considering is legit.

  • Have they been published or spoken in reputable places?
  • Do their peers have a good opinion of them? Do they endorse them? Collaborate with them?
  • Have you heard good things about them from his clients?

3 | Research

You want a coach who has done their own research, not one who merely regurgitates what they’ve been taught.

Academia takes this notion a little too far with its culture of “publish or perish,” but the idea is the same: true scholars research, innovate, and share their findings, thereby challenging and/or adding to what is already known on the subject.

Why does this matter? Anyone can give you an assessment, dispense common advice, and send you on your way. Researchers study why things work, and choose practicalities over principles when principles fail. If what they teach doesn’t work anymore or for a certain person, they find a new way.

By “research,” I don’t mean your coach needs to have a full lab and conduct Gallop level surveys. But they should demonstrate original thought in their field, know its practical applications, and have their own method or curriculum to help clients be successful.

4 | Results

You want a coach who has a history of helping people achieve the kind of results you want. It’s not enough that they be a good coach; they need to be good at what you need help with. Here’s how you can evaluate the “results” part of vetting your coach:

Find the right specialist

Career coaches often have specializations in the kind of problems they solve. Common areas of focus are:

  • Career direction: knowing what you want and how to get there
  • Job performance: doing better at the job you have for more recognition, impact, or pay
  • Job search: getting a new job using resumes, interviews, networking, etc

Some coaches will have other specialities in the kind of person they work with, like working with creatives, veterans, or mothers returning to the workforce.

Work with a coach who solves your problem and works with people like you.

Look for yourself in their testimonials

Career coaches should have testimonials, case studies, or success stories of past clients. Read those to see if you identify with their stories.

Testimonials are often structured in a before-and-after narrative. “Before I worked with Susan, I was frustrated with my boss…After working with Susan, I know how to communicate well.” Do the “before” parts of the story sound like your situation now? Do the “after” parts of the story sound like the outcome you want?

And a bonus “R” to look for: Riding Your Ass

You want someone who will challenge you, inspire you, and hold you accountable. How the coach does this will depend on their personality type and coaching style. Prepare to feel uncomfortable; if your coach is doing their job, you will feel pushed outside of your comfort zone for the sake of achieving new things in your career.

Think back to your favorite teachers in school. Chances are, their class was not the “easy A.” You enjoyed the class because of how you were challenged to grow, the new things you learned and skills you acquired, and because of a supportive classroom environment. Similarly, an effective coach will hold your feet to the fire while giving you tools and support to manage the growing pains.

Career Coach Red Flags

As you’re vetting your potential coach, look out for these warning signs:

1 | Over-reliance on career assessments

A career assessment is a tool, and it can be a useful one, but you and your career needs are more complex than a single test can measure. Take the IQ test, for example. It can provide a convenient measurement of intelligence, but cannot reliably predict future success. Similarly, career assessments can measure some tendencies of yours, but your coach should have a lot more tools up their sleeve in order to help you find the career that’s right for you. If a career test could solve all your problems, you’ve had heard about it by now, the inventor would be a millionaire, and you wouldn’t be reading this website.

2 | No or few testimonials on their website

You want to work with an experienced career coach, and testimonials, case studies, or success stories demonstrate that this isn’t their first rodeo. Read the testimonials to make sure the coach has a strong track record of getting clients the same kind of results that you want.

3 | Guarantees

Understand that a coach cannot, and should not, guarantee your results. You want to work with a coach with a strong track record of helping his clients, but coaching is a partnership, and your coach can only do their part. Since they can’t control you or your workplace, they can’t control your results.

Just like a successful doctor cannot give a 100% guarantee that a treatment will provide the exact results you want, a coach can’t give a 100% guarantee that coaching will provide the exact results you want.

Read more: Choosing a Career Coach? Avoid These 7 Red Flags»

Questions to Ask Your Potential Career Coach

You want to find the career coach who’s right for you. If possible, speak with a coach before hiring them. Many coaches offer a free consultation; take advantage of it. You want to ask your potential coach questions for two reasons:

  1. To get answers to your questions
  2. To test your chemistry

Some questions you might ask: 

  • What is your process for working with a client?
  • Who have been your favorite clients to work with, and why?
  • What are typical results for your clients?
  • What’s your philosophy on or approach to __________?
  • How would you help me solve my problem?

If the coach has a thorough website and you’ve read their blog, you may not have any unanswered questions. If that’s the case, ask them some questions anyway. This is your chance to see if the two of you hit it off. Is the coach easy to talk with? Do you like them? Trust them? Remember that you’ll be spending time with them and sharing your personal hopes, dreams, and challenges, so you want someone you can talk with easily.

If the coach doesn’t offer a free consultation, see if there’s another way to get to know them. Some coaches will have videos on their website, offer free webinars, host a free challenge, or have a free Facebook group. Use these to get to know the coach better and see if their approach and personality appeal to you.

How to Work with a Career Coach

Your coach should have guidelines about how they expect to work with you, but here are some general ones to get you started:

1 | Get your agreement in writing

A professional coach will have you sign a Coaching Agreement or agree to a Terms of Service before you work together. The terms should set expectations about how you’ll work together and protect both of you. Always, always, always get your coaching agreement in writing. Chances are, your experience with your coach will be smooth sailing. But just in case a conflict comes up, having an agreement will make resolving it much easier.

2 | Do your part

Your coach will ask you do things. As long as they’re legal, do them! You may be asked to approach a problem in a new way or do something you’re never tried before. Give it a go. You’re working with a coach because whatever you’ve tried on your own hasn’t worked, so trust your coach to lead you in a new direction.

3 | Be honest

Your coach may ask about your goals, hopes, fears, and actions. Coaching only works if you’re honest with your coach. If the truth is, “I’m scared to take your advice” or “I didn’t prioritize my career work this week,” then say that. Coaches are great about working with you where you are; they can’t properly do their job when they don’t know where that is.

4 | Communicate openly

Your coach will do their best to be sensitive to your needs and situation, but they’re human (as are you), and part of being human is learning how to navigate other humans. If they ever does or says anything that doesn’t feel right to you, let them know. They may need to adjust how they works with you, but they can only do that with your constructive feedback.

So that’s it! Now you know how to find a career coach.

Laura Simms is an expert in meaningful work who challenges conventional wisdom by asking people to ditch their passions and start with purpose.

If you have too many passions, zero passions, or can't seem to combine your passions, try her purpose-first approach to find a career you love.  


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