How to choose a career coach (even if you’re not sure you need one yet.) 

When you’re feeling stuck in a career, industry or job that no longer fits, a career coach can be the life-line that helps you identify and evaluate possible new directions. 

Even though career coaching is not the norm yet for senior professionals - at least not in Europe - it’s definitely a growth market. If you were to do a google search for a career coach in your city, you will have tonnes of options.

If you do a google search for “career coach” in your city, you’ll be overwhelmed with choice but without a personal recommendation, it’s difficult to find a career coach that suits you and your specific requirements.

If you do a google search for “career coach” in your city, you’ll be overwhelmed with choice but without a personal recommendation, it’s difficult to find a career coach that suits you and your specific requirements.

But how do you find one that works for you? 

There are low barriers to entry in the murky world of coaching so anyone can give it a go.  Some are amazingly talented and some are...not.

When I went through my own mid-career crisis some years ago, I might have bitten off your arm for the telephone number of a career coach who came highly recommended.  

But as I felt so ashamed of my successful but increasingly unhappy career, I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t ask anyone for help so I missed out on a great opportunity to make my career change less painful, less expensive, less stressful and far speedier. 

I reckon a decent career coach could have saved me at very least £20,000 in career change costs so I’ve put some thought into a few recommendations to help you go about selecting the best career coach for you and your personal situation.

My top tips on how to choose a career coach: 

Choose a career coach who is EXCELLENT at doing one thing - working with one particular style of person, one particular career problem or opportunity. It takes confidence to specialise.

Choose a career coach who is EXCELLENT at doing one thing - working with one particular style of person, one particular career problem or opportunity. It takes confidence to specialise.

  • Does your specific problem sit within their specialist niche?

You wouldn't choose a builder for your Grade II listed building if they’d only worked on new builds, would you? 

Choose someone who is REALLY good at doing one thing, or working with one particular style of person, problem or opportunity.

It’s my strong opinion that a great career coach must have chosen a niche  - otherwise you might be paying them to learn on the job!

Examples of specific niches:

  • Industry - intimate experience of the idiosyncrasies of the industry you are interested in or want to continue to progress within could be very useful.

  • Level - early, mid-career, executive level positions all have requirements that are different which impact coaching niches.

  • Situation - if you can assess the specific problem that is making you feel career stuck as coach with specific situational experience can be very helpful. Examples include cultural acclimatisation after entering a new country, returning to work after maternity leave, entering new industries, setting up a first business, enhanced leadership techniques, managing different styles of teams, entering new levels of seniority or specific skills like persuasion or emotional intelligence.

For instance, I specialise in working with individuals in their 40s and 50s who feel stuck in their successful but unfulfilling careers and want to consciously design more satisfaction into their future work.  That’s a very tight niche that fits my experience, knowledge and passions.

  • I don’t know a thing about the problems or psychology of millennials so that’s definitely not my niche. 

  • I’m not experienced at coaching individuals on their way up the corporate ladder so neither is that my niche.

  • I’d never be chosen to coach teams towards high performance…you get the gist!

Full disclosure:  I have worked with very advanced 30 somethings who felt stuck in a career that doesn’t fit but the characteristics of their problem and my ability to help them solve them are matched perfectly…and I try not to discriminate against the young!

A career coach who doesn’t appear to really enjoy their work is a worry. But a career coach who is 100% joyful in their work might not be attractive either.

A career coach who doesn’t appear to really enjoy their work is a worry. But a career coach who is 100% joyful in their work might not be attractive either.

  •  Do they walk the walk?

Beware the stress and anxiety coach who looks stressed and anxious. Or the money mindset coach who drives a 14 year old banger. 

Do some research to figure out if they are taking their own medicine.  Are they practising what they preach? 

It won’t take long.

A 10 minute whizz around their website, watching their videos on social media, reading their blog etc should give you the feeling that they are walking the walk but are being honest about their failings as humans.

Perfection doesn’t exist.

As an example, I tell potential clients that on average, I use a combination of my Superpowers 60-70% of each day. Not 100%, I hear you ask?

I also tell them that if I wasn’t a solopreneur, I’d have outsourced my super weaknesses a long time ago to allow me to use my Superpowers 90% of each day.

But, I love being my own boss and before I outsource anything like marketing, PR, admin or book-keeping, I do it myself for a while so that I understand what good (and bad!) look like. This helps me then select someone much better than me to do it. 

But 60-70% of fulfilling work every day is not bad for a career satisfaction designer, eh? 

  • Do you like them enough to be regularly vulnerable in front of them?

Any decent career coach offers some form of check-me-out call which is a two-way process. 

It’s highly likely that if you feel career stuck that you will need to be openly vulnerable - as it’s the only way you’ll be able to see things from a different angle and begin to figure out potential next steps. 

By asking and answering questions in a short telephone call, you’ll be able to test how sensitive they will be to your situation, to get examples of similar individuals they’ve worked with and to figure out if their style works with yours.

In case you’re wondering, I call my “check-me-out“ call “The Light at the end of my the tunnel” call.  I do lots of these each week and only one or two will end up working with me.

Why? Because it’s got to be the right fit for both of us.

It really bugs me when coaches don’t put their prices on their website - time is precious. I think it’s best to give potential clients the information they need to decide whether you offer good value for them, or not.

It really bugs me when coaches don’t put their prices on their website - time is precious. I think it’s best to give potential clients the information they need to decide whether you offer good value for them, or not.

  • Do they offer value for money...for you personally?

When you’re hiring a decorator do you let them charge by the day? I did it once and was astounded by the cost in the end. And I wasn’t happy with the outcome. I didn’t need to learn that lesson twice.

Of course, coaching is much more complex than slapping a bit of Farrow & Ball chalk paint onto a wall - it’s difficult to quantify benefits at the out-set. 

Instead, I really like it when the coach does the thinking for you and openly offers a range of packages with different outcomes and processes listed so that it’s possible to clearly see how each might benefit you.  

Then you can decide if it’s good value for your personal situation...or not.  

I also really like it when coaches who give access to their prices on their website (as I do). It feels like a huge commitment to pick up the phone to ask a coach what they charge. Don’t you think? 

I’ve personally never charged by the hour as it feels like I’m charging individuals more for moving slowly through the change process. That makes me feel a bit...itchy. 

Choose a career coach with a personality that matches yours. I’m direct but kind, action-driven, energising, self-deprecating but you-appreciating, but mostly I like to laugh.

Choose a career coach with a personality that matches yours. I’m direct but kind, action-driven, energising, self-deprecating but you-appreciating, but mostly I like to laugh.

  • Do they have a sense of humour?

This one might be just me…

But, If I’m going to be working with someone for several hours a month for 6 months on my Big Re-think programme, it’s just more fun if we have a laugh every now and then. 

I used to be a bereavement volunteer for an amazing charity called CRUSE and my time with them reaffirmed for me the idea that grief and humour are located right beside each other.

In the beginning, it always astounded me how much laughter (and tears) our sessions were filled with until it became the norm. Just because you might be talking about some painful stuff with your career coach, doesn’t mean that it always needs to be serious. 

Or maybe that’s just me?