When I first told friends and family that I was becoming a career coach after leaving the practice of law, everyone was supremely encouraging. Then, a few seconds later, came the invariable question, “So…what exactly does a career coach do?”
Most of us have not dealt with a career counseling professional since we were students visiting our career development or career services offices in high school or college, when we were full on in career exploration mode or taking a career assessment to figure out career options and the best career choices to make. But there is a reason why these career counseling services exist. A professional counselor helps us make important career decisions based on our interests and priorities.
Now, nearly five years after I announced that I was going to become a career coach, the concept of offering career advice and career guidance has become much more ubiquitous. In addition to Fairygodboss, there are a variety of sites focused on career transitions, and LinkedIn has nearly 500 million accounts. Career change is a big business, and that means that you have lots of choices when it comes to finding help to navigate that change.
If you have been considering hiring a career coach but are on the fence, consider the parallel of hiring a personal trainer. Do you need one? Probably not. But are you more likely to achieve your goals if you hire one? Most definitely! Because you are giving up valuable time and money, hiring a professional coach obliges you to commit to the process and your career vision. To ensure that you make the most of the process, here are 5 strategies for working with a career coach:
Find the Right Fit
Coaching works best when there is a strong connection between coach and client, so be sure to find someone with whom you feel comfortable and open.
Referrals and testimonials are key when searching for a coach, as is a complimentary consultation. Some coaches are very spiritual and focus on a holistic approach, while others are more pragmatic and direct. Most received training and certifications from recognized coaching organizations, often after obtaining graduate degrees in other fields, like business, organizational psychology (or law, as in my case).
Do not be afraid to ask for references to check that a coach has experience in your desired field or is willing to do the necessary research. Different coaches specialize in different things. Some are specialists in executive coaching, while others are more generalist career counselors. Finally, some have career coach certifications or a bachelor degree in a related field, or have undergone some sort of career coach training which you may feel is an important validation for anyone you choose to work with.
The bottom line is that if you are going to be paying this person to help you, make sure you actually believe he/she can help you in a wide range of facets of your job search, be it resume and cover letter improvement or simply an objective third party to help you with a more holistic view of life coaching.
Here are a few concrete action items to make sure a career coaching engagement will be a success.
At the heart of career coaching is guidance through transition and career exploration, from finding a new path to establishing work-family balance or striving for leadership roles. This guidance and related services comes in the form of objective listening, directed self-analysis, assignments and feedback to help you.
Many women use a career coach to help them navigate through a difficult situation by offering fresh perspectives and ideas about the job market or when they're re-assessing their long-term career or have new career goals. If you have been applying for numerous positions and getting nowhere, or are consistently in the final interview rounds without landing a job, a coach will help you convert these opportunities. Having a confidant focused on your agenda is invaluable for busy professionals who are pulled in numerous directions. Let go of being everyone’s caretaker and fully invest in yourself and creating the life you want.
Coaching begins by asking questions to probe your values, professional and personal. Some coaches use standardized assessments while others craft their own to effectively provide one-on-one coaching to each client’s skills and passions. By delving deeply into where you’ve been, you can start to imagine where you want to go. Do you aspire to be a leader in your current company? Are you seeking a complete career pivot? Are you looking for better work-life balance? Is now the right time to return to work after a break?
A good coach will guide you past blocks to find the answers within. One size does not fit all. Your coach will help you take control of your career to determine appropriate pursuits for your talents and ambitions, whether by modifying an existing path or starting a new one. Many coaches will tailor application materials, networking approaches, as well as marketing strategies to establish your brand.
A coach will design a career action plan for you, based on the goals you are hoping to achieve. For some coaches, this plan will be complete with recommended reading, relevant seminars or courses, and task lists. The task list typically will follow up on what was discussed in the session. Homework holds you accountable between the coaching sessions and you likely will be called out for slacking on assignments. The step-by-step tasks maintain the pace of the coaching while giving you the opportunity to feel accomplished. Coaching provides the framework through which you can measure your progress toward your goals. A strong coach will lead you through the emotional, financial, and social impact of a job transition so that you can prioritize and stay focused.
At the end of the day, a coach cannot literally land a new job for any of their clients, but he/she will provide the career counseling and help you call the plays to help a job seeker find the confidence to succeed and the career path to pursue if you are interested in more life coaching than a specific job search outcome. While a professional career coach provides the direction and motivation, the follow through is up to you. Networking is one of the key components of any successful job transition and often the most intimidating for many. Talking about your career with a coach makes it that much easier to talk about it with other people. Through feedback from mock interviews and elevator pitching, coaching teaches you how to sound both incredibly knowledgeable and open to learning.
With a supportive career coach or career counselor, making these important decisions and transitions can be empowering and affirming.
Tons of revered CEOs and famous leaders have sought out coaches to help them achieve their goals. Here are just a few.
Oprah, for example, has attributed part of that success to her life coach, Martha Beck, and has been a major advocate of life coaching. Meanwhile, Serena Williams credits Tony Robbins for helping her stem the tides.
There are a whole bunch of resources to help you find a career coach out there. If you don't want to approach someone in your company to mentor you, you can start by visiting one of these career coach sites:
Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoaching.com.
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