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How Do I Choose a Career Coach?

Working with a career coach or counselor is a great idea if you need help to get clear on your career path or change jobs. However, if you’ve never worked with a career coach or counselor before, it can hard to know how to choose the right one for you.  

Having been in the industry for over 15 years, I want to help you choose the right professional for your needs and situation.  

Here are some questions to ask your prospective coaches and counselors that will help you accurately choose which one is going to be the best fit for you:  

1. Schedule a Free Consultation Call  

Most career coaches and counselors offer a short, no charge consultation to talk prior to signing up for services. If they don’t, steer clear.  

The consultation is an important opportunity: • for the coach to learn a little about you (to make sure they understand your situation and what benefits you’d like to get from coaching) • for you to see if the coach has the specific expertise and knowledge to successfully support you, and • to learn about the coach’s relevant services, service delivery and fees • to determine if you’d feel comfortable working with that coach  

If, at the end of the consultation, you want to think it over more, say something like, “I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and learn about your services. I’d like to think about it more before I make a decision.”  

Good career coaches don’t put pressure on people to sign up for their services during the consultation call.  

If the coach puts pressure on you to make an immediate decision to use their services, that’s a strong indication they are going to put their interests before yours in your work together. Not a good thing.  

2. Choose a Coach with the Expertise You Need  

Many career counselors provide a wide range of coaching services, including life coaching, relationship coaching and/or therapy.  

I think that’s ridiculous. I’ve spent 15+ years studying just the career coaching field and learning about 1,000+ different types of jobs and career paths that I can recommend to my clients. And I am still learning.  

There’s simply no way a career counselor who provides a wide range services can possibly have high levels of expertise in all of them. Your career is extremely important, and I recommend choosing a counselor who specializes in providing the specific career guidance you want and need.  

3. Consider Experience and Training  

Career coaching is not a licensed field. Anyone can call themselves a career coach, and many thousands of people do. One recent study found more than 80% of self-declared ‘career coaches’ only had ‘life coach’ training.  

Good career coaches invest in themselves and should be able to tell you about the career coaching courses, programs and/or certifications they have completed.  

That said, I believe the most important qualification is relevant career coaching experience. If I needed surgery - while I recognize a new surgeon has strong training - I’d prefer to use a surgeon who has also completed many similar operations.  

Similarly, career coaches with more years of client experience have seen more situations, understand what works and doesn’t, and will be more capable of providing expert support and guidance.  

4. Understand Their Coaching Process and Resources  

While every client’s situation is unique, the best career coaches have a clear and concrete process to help clients achieve their goals.  

In your consultation call, look for a career coach who gives a detailed and specific explanation of how they will help you achieve your goals.  

Also be sure to ask how many coaching sessions they expect it to take to help you to achieve your goals. Some of my clients have worked with other career counselors (before they found and hired me) and they often tell me they were dismayed by how little progress they made after 3 or 4 sessions.  

I believe the best career coaching professionals have a library of resources available to support their clients’ success. If an experienced coach doesn’t have extensive resources to support their clients’ success, I think that says something about that coach’s level of motivation and commitment to excellence.  

5. Consider How & Where the Coach Provides Services?  

Having delivered 20,000+ coaching sessions, I know that online and in-person coaching sessions can be equally effective if the coach is using the right online platform.  

That said, if you want ‘in-person coaching’ (and most coaching clients do want that), make sure the career coach has a private office where you can have private, uninterrupted sessions.  

A surprising number of coaches meet with clients in cafes, parks, and bookstores. Sure, career coaches without an office might have session lower fees, but there’s no way a coach be can as supportive and focused in those public environments.  

6. Don’t Overvalue References  

This one may be a bit contra-intuitive: I don’t believe it’s worth asking a career counselor for references.  

Every career counselor – regardless of the quality of their services and their amount of experience - can find a few people who will say nice things about them. Because of this, getting a few recommendations just isn’t worth much.  

Also, many counselors won’t provide references because there’s a privacy concern (most client’s want to remain private and won’t agree to give their name and number to random, potential coaching clients), it’s an imposition on clients time (you’d be surprised out how many potential clients don’t call the reference at the time they say they would), and it takes a considerable amount of the coach’s time get multiple clients’ permission to release their phone numbers to every potential client requesting references.  

Bottom line, if you’re not feeling convinced a coach is a good match for you during the consultation, you should look for another coach.  

7. Look at ‘Total Coaching Cost’ Instead of ‘Coaching Session Cost’  

When choosing a career counselor, I recommend NOT focusing on the cost of each session, but instead focus on the total cost.  

I’ve had many clients (who worked with a different career coach before they hired me) tell me they get more from 2 of my coaching sessions than they got in 4 or 5 sessions with other coaches.  

Using the proprietary Career Clarifier system I hired a team of developers to build, I’m typically able to identify 7 to 10 very specific, alternate job and career options in the 2nd coaching session. Many clients have told me they worked previously with other coaches who came up with 3 or so ‘general’ job ideas in their 4th or 5th session.  

Here’s the solution: Ask a coach how many counseling sessions it will take to help you achieve your specific coaching goals…. and listen for a specific number.  

8. Understand Coaching Fees  

Of course you’ll want to ask a career coach about their fees. Expect rates to vary from around $75 to $400 per session. When considering the rate, here are things to consider:  

  • How many years of experience does the coach have 
  • The coach’s specialty 
  • The amount of time a coach spends preparing for a coaching session (During the consultation call, listen closely to determine how much work a coach does to prepare for coaching sessions) 
  • The coach’s overhead costs (I’ll pull back the curtain a bit on my business: It costs me about $50 per session for office rent, insurance, technology, marketing, continuing education and other fixed business costs. If a coach has a low session rate, personally I’d be asking myself what corners are the coach cutting to make the low rate possible?)  

9. Coaching Contracts  

Beware of career coaches who demand large fees upfront.  

Beware of coaches that require signed contracts and agreements that require a minimum number of sessions.  

Some coaches say a contractual commitment benefits clients because it motivates them. I don’t buy that. I’ve worked with thousands of clients making career changes, and I know my clients are motivated to find and land better jobs. They don’t need to sign a contract and/or pay a lot of money upfront to be motivated.  

Here’s my take: Contracts benefit coaches. Contracts lock clients into paying a substantial amount of money and make a long term commitment - without a guarantee that the coach will deliver what they promised.  

Watch out for this one too: Some of my clients have told me about other coaches they worked with had told them they could purchase one session at a time, but after the 1st or 2nd session the coach put a lot of pressure on them to sign a long-term contract.  

Good counselors are confident in their ability and they not to try to get your money for multiple sessions upfront. Instead, they let clients buy one coaching/counseling session at a time. Before working with a coach, I recommend getting their agreement in writing that they are happy to work with you without a commitment or contract.  

Personally, I don’t do contracts. I ask for clients to pay for one coaching session at a time when they schedule that session. Period. I believe clients should be in control of their money, not the coach. 

Final Thoughts  

I hope these 9 strategies help you choose the right career coach and counselor for you.

I invite you to schedule a free career coaching consultation with me to discuss how I can help you can help you change and improve your career.

We'll talk for 15 minutes by phone about your situation and the step-by-step system I've used to help more than 6,000 people to discover the best job and career options for them.

The consultations are by telephone, so they are easy and convenient.

There are three easy ways to arrange a free consultation session.

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I can also be reached at (646) 413-0020.

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To Your Career Success,

 Jeff Neil

Jeff Neil, 302 5th Avenue, 8th Floor, New York, 10001

Tel: (646) 413-0020

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