Career Path

Do You Need a Career Coach?

There are times in our careers when we need help getting from one point to the next. How to decipher when a coach can help you.

Two years ago, Josh was stuck. Recently out of a job, he had a choice: get another gig at a real estate private-equity firm or set up his own shop. One path was routine and safe, but definitely would be boring. The other was risky and a move he wasn’t sure he could really follow through on. So he took the advice of a friend and hired a career coach. “I needed someone to help me look at things differently,” Josh says.

Throughout our careers, there may be times we feel lost—when we want to start over or transform ourselves. That’s where a career coach can help us rethink our potential beyond our current capabilities. There’s a reason, after all, career coaching is a $1 billion industry that is now more than 50,000 strong in the United States: in the nomad economy, where people will have four or five careers in their lifetime, people are bouncing from job to job more often, placing the onus of forging career paths on workers instead of companies.

A career coach can help you figure out your next steps, but isn’t going to land you a job or make the career switch for you.

But not all career coaches are created equal, and there are times when hiring one can be overkill, particularly at the going rate of $100 to $250 per hour. Some may offer pat advice that could be found anywhere, while others may have specialties in certain industries or pay grades. What’s more, there are few barriers to entry and no licensing requirements.

And, like therapists, some career coaches may have a style that doesn’t mesh with your personality, which can leave a professional feeling even more frustrated than when he or she reached out to the coach. So it’s important to be able to figure out when you truly need a coach—and what type of coach you want. “Coaches are not here to give you advice,” says Gabrielle Bill, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “That’s probably one of the most common misperceptions. A coach is there to ask empowering questions to help you arrive at your own answers.”

Just in time for International Coaching Week, we take a look at how to view your current situation. (For more information on Korn Ferry Advance coaching, click here.) 

When it pays off:

You feel completely clueless.

Nearly all of us experience a time in our careers when we’re pretty dissatisfied with the status quo, but have no idea what to do next. And no amount of reading What Color is Your Parachute? seems to help. In such cases, it can be good to bring in an impartial observer who can help you unravel what’s going on. Coaches can ask questions to help you see the 30,000-foot view or draw out what you feel your purpose is. “It’s about active listening and challenging you and holding you accountable to help you find your path forward,” Bill says.

Take the director of development at a nonprofit, whom we’ll call Ellen. She wanted to stay in the nonprofit world, but was sick of raising money and was itching to try something new. By working with a career coach, Ellen pinpointed her interests, tossing around ideas for other roles she could take on. She ended up running community relations at a nonprofit, a job that let her organize events and learn new skills—and kept her away from fundraising. 

You need help packaging yourself.

Coaches come in handy if you aren’t sure what idiosyncratic skill set sets you apart from the pack or how to best present yourself. “It’s important to know what you bring into the market,” says Katie Cooney, an associate consultant with Korn Ferry. “A coach can help you sort that out.”

Creating a convincing package includes anything from producing a persuasive resume to making yourself interesting to potential contacts. After months of tapping his network, Josh ran out of doors to knock on. Then he learned from his coach that he was presenting himself in the wrong way. Instead of asking for job advice—a surefire turnoff if the individuals had nothing to offer—he started pitching himself as an industry veteran who could share his knowledge of the real estate market. By showing what he could offer people—instead of asking for something—people were more inclined to meet with him, which then helped him gain more contacts and conversations.

When to think twice:

Too often, people want a magic pill for career guidance and may plunk down money for something without first asking themselves if they’re willing to put in the work. Just as a personal trainer can develop a weight-loss plan for you but can’t actually shed the weight for you, a career coach can help you figure out your next steps, but isn’t going to land you a job or make the career switch for you. By definition, working with a career pro is to help you achieve a goal that you can’t do on your own. But that means it’s up to you to do the hard work they suggest, which often involves personal growth and self-reflection. If you aren’t ready to do that kind of work, or aren’t open-minded to suggestions, then you’ll likely end up more frustrated than when you began.

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