If you’re feeling stuck in your job or like you want a new career, hiring a career coach may seem like a good idea. And you certainly have a wealth of options. A 2020 report by the International Coaching Federation, which offers coaching certification, found that the number of professional coaches boomed between 2015 and 2019, with more than 23,000 based in North America alone.
With so many options, how do you choose the right coach for you? And even when you find “the one,” how can you ensure that you get the most out of the relationship? Here, three professional coaches weigh in on how to best have a successful career coaching relationship.
Understand what coaching is—and isn’t
Sometimes, career coaching relationships don’t work out because the person hiring a coach doesn’t fully understand the nature of a coaching relationship, says J. Victor McGuire, founder of the nonprofit Coaching For Everyone. A coach will help you clarify your goals and create a plan to help you reach them in the best way for you. However, McGuire says that people often confuse coaching with advising. “But when I give advice, then I’m not coaching,” he says. “So, if you want me to take off my coaching hat, and put on my advisor hat, I can do that. But I’m not coaching you.” Instead, he says, he’s giving input based on his experience. That may or may not be right for you.
Know what you want
Before you hire a coach, you should have a good idea of one or two objectives you want to achieve, says career coach and mentor Stephanie Heath, founder of Soul Work and Six Figures, which specializes in helping clients get six-figure job offers. Starting with a clear focus helps your coach understand where to devote time and energy.
McGuire agrees that knowing what you want to achieve is important. “Saying that you want to improve your situation is not enough,” he says. “What do you want to gain?” Be clear about what you want and why it’s important to you, as well as how you’ll know when you’ve achieved the goal.
Seek the right stuff
When you’re looking for a coach, be sure you’re choosing someone who is knowledgeable and equipped to help you. Look for credentials from reputable organizations like the International Coaching Federation or Academy for Creative Coaching. Beyond that, it helps if the coach has experience related to what you want to do, says career and life coach Caroline Castrillon, founder of the Corporate Escape Artist.
“One of the reasons people hire me is because I’ve been in the corporate world, working as a marketing executive, for over 25 years in different companies. So, I understand what they’re going through,” she says. When someone has successfully done what you hope to do, they have more insight to help you create a game plan. Where to look? In addition to coaching certification entities, professional associations, LinkedIn, and recommendations from colleagues are good places to start.
Castrillon recommends that you also look for someone with whom you feel a connection. “Follow your instincts,” she says. A coaching relationship is very personal and you’re going to have to trust your coach for them to help you. If you don’t feel that, you can keep looking, she says.
Design your alliance
Once you find the right coach, spend some time “designing the alliance,” McGuire says. The coach needs your best effort here. Realize that coaching involves not just one-on-one sessions, but also “homework” that may range from reading and research to meetings or other tasks. How much time do you have to devote to your coaching relationship? How often will you meet? What will your coach expect from you? These are all questions that need to be explored before the coaching relationship begins. If you’re very busy, it might make sense to meet every other week instead of weekly to give you time to do the work in between sessions, he says.
You’re likely seeking a coach because you’re facing a challenge or want to overcome an obstacle, so you may need to share some very personal details about your own fears, insecurities, or concerns, Heath says. Being honest is one of the best ways to help your coach help you.
“At least 60% of the work that I do with a client is working through limiting beliefs, carrying all those sticky, nasty memories about work trauma that they don’t talk to anyone else about,” she says. If it’s difficult for you to talk about some of the things holding you back, discuss that with your coach. There may be other options, such as writing out your concerns to share with your coach. But, if you don’t share what’s holding you back, your coach can’t help, so honesty is essential, she says.
McGuire says he sees coaching relationships fall apart due to lack of follow-through. If you find yourself challenged by the amount of time coaching takes, talk it over with your coach and see if you can adapt. And when the work gets hard, be honest about that, too. Your coach may have strategies to help you cope. “Allow yourself to be coached,” he says.
As you begin to implement changes or try new things, it’s not unusual for people around you to be threatened by or uncomfortable with your changes, he adds. Your coach can help you there, too. “Don’t panic don’t let your frustrations overtake you,” he says.
Celebrate the process
Coaching is part of a process of change, not a single event, McGuire says. So, be sure to celebrate your progress along the way. When you achieve a small goal or take a step toward your intended outcome, savor and celebrate those moments to keep you motivated along the way.