Do I Need a Career Coach? 3 Tips for Picking One

  • Career coaches say business is booming as workers quit or change jobs through the pandemic.
  • The sheer number of career coaches out there can make it hard to know what to look for.
  • Three coaches gave Insider their view on what you should think about if you’re thinking of working with one.

The pandemic has caused huge disruptions in the world of work — and the career coaching industry is reaping the benefits of a workforce in flux.

“It exploded with the pandemic — the number of people who came for career coaching, especially for career changes,” said Bruna de Palo, an executive coach who has worked senior leaders at Visa and Capital One. “There’s been a huge increase in the number of coaches coming into the market.”

The business coaching industry is currently worth $11.2 billion in the US and projected to grow by another 2.4% in 2022, according to data collated by IBISWorld.

That coincides with the voluntary quit rate hitting a record high in the US of 3% in September and November of 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. For the most part, the Great Resignation is impacting frontline workers in hospitality, logistics, and healthcare, but the trend is impacting white-collar workers too.

With employees at all stages of their careers continuing to reframe their relationship to their jobs, Insider spoke to three careers coaches to find out what people should look for when hiring one.

1. Understand what a career coach can do for you

Executive coaches, career coaches, and recruiters are often conflated in the coaching industry. It’s important to understand what services coaches offer before hiring one.

“It’s not my role to find people jobs,” said Dan Kiernan, careers consultant at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “What I do is I help people think through their options, make good decisions. Put in place strategies to implement those decisions, support, process, help at the sharp end and transactional end as well. With things like CV polish and interview preparation.”

Andrew MacAskill, UK-based career coach and author, agreed. “The main difference between a recruitment consultant and a career coach is that a recruitment consultant will actively go and source opportunities for individuals and companies,” he said. “But no, we don’t do that.”

The career coaching process is a holistic one rather than a quick fix. A lot of the work is focused on personal development such as confidence skills.

“We might help you get the job of your dreams. But in doing this, we definitely work on you as a person as well,” said de Palo.

2. You should feel like there’s good chemistry

A career coach is a big investment, with jobs site Indeed estimating that a one-hour session comes in at an average of $100 to $500.

While the amount you see a coach is also flexible — some suggest meeting weekly, while others encourage monthly visits for professional workers — it is a long process. 

“It might be as long as 18 months or two years to make a transition, arguably perhaps even longer,” Kiernan said.

When choosing a coach, the chemistry between a coach and client is important. “There isn’t one type of career coach that’s good for one type of person. A lot of it comes down to chemistry and trust,” MacAskill said. 

“I think someone who is a good listener and non-judgmental. Those would be my top two,” Kiernan said. 

Qualifications can be a good benchmark to access coaches, but the industry is largely unregulated so formal training is not always necessary.

“The International Coaching Federation is valuable. Or anyone who has a Master’s in careers information, advice, and guidance. That’d be the two qualifications that you’re looking for,” Kiernan said.

These qualifications can also determine a coach’s specialism. “According to the niche that coaches want to embrace, there are a lot of different trainings,” said de Palo. 

Coaches are also experts in certain career stages. “It depends where you are on the career life cycle,” MacAskill said. “A lot of it’s done on stage so you’ll find early-career, mid-career or executive are defined markets.” 

3. Set clear metrics

Navigating a big career change is difficult and success is often hard to define. 

“Success is really individual, really unique, and hard to measure,” Kiernan said. “But whatever their objectives were, whether it was more money, more meaning, better work-life balance, change of location, and whenever it was achieved — that’s success,” he said.

Setting clear goals from the start not only lets clients evaluate the coaching service but also allows them to check in on their own career progress. Establish some key performance indicators to make sure it’s working, said De Palo. “You know that it’s been successful because they will know exactly what to do either to land a new job, or maybe when they landed a new job or started their own business, or changed careers, it’s a long journey.”

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