Career coaching sessions can be pricey, but coaches like me will tell you that it’s worth the investment. But what is career coaching and how can it help? In this article I explain in detail what career coaching is, what it is not and what you can expect from a career coaching session.
Career coaching is one of the most popular coaching topics. The majority of us have careers or are striving to start one, and increasingly we want them to be more than just a means to earn a living. We want our career to be a fulfilling part of our life. This desire is often in stark contrast to the reality of many people who find themselves stuck in careers that leave them bored, frustrated or even burned out. That’s where career coaching can help; but what exactly can career coaching deliver?
Having coached clients on career-related topics for over eight years now, I have noticed that there is a wide range of expectations around what coaching is and how it can support them. Not all of those expectations are realistic or match what a standard career coach offers. The purpose of this article is to provide more clarity about what career coaching is, what you can expect from a career coaching session and what you cannot.
What is career coaching?
Career coaching is a sub-category of life coaching. As the name indicates, it focuses specifically on career-related topics. The most common career coaching topics can be broadly categorised as follows:
- Career change: Finding a new career that brings more fulfilment and excitement. Your coach will work with you to establish what you want from your career, what your skills and interests are and which career might be a great fit for you.
- Career progression: Creating strategies for progressing in a chosen career. Your coach will help you define career goals and conduct a gap analysis between where are you are right now and where you want to be. From there they will help you design a strategy for closing those gaps and support you on the way as you are working on achieving your career goals.
- Work-life balance: Creating a healthy balance between work commitments and other parts of your life. Clients who suffer from stress or even burnout work with career coaches to explore what options they have to maintain their wellbeing and have time for other important areas in their life whilst also performing well in their job. Part of the solution could be learning how to work more effectively, maintaining clear boundaries and reducing negative self-talk.
- Leadership: Growing as a leader in a chosen career. Coaching on leadership themes is also referred to as “executive coaching”. It can cover a wide range of leadership topics, such as creating an effective leadership style, learning to engage and inspire others, creating impact and managing conflicts and crises.
Why do people hire a career coach?
Hiring a coach is like working with a personal trainer. You can create good results working out on your own, but having a personal trainer on your side means that you will achieve better results more quickly. A personal trainer makes sure that you have an effective workout regime, motivates you to work out harder and holds you accountable. It’s the same with career coaching.
A career coach will support your growth in many ways; for example:
- Defining clear and effective goals and testing them to establish your genuine motivators.
- Asking questions that prompt you to consider different perspectives on the themes you are working on.
- Reflecting back what the coach hears and sees in their sessions with you.
- Exploring new angles on themes that you may not have considered yourself.
- Creating structure and accountability for working on your objectives.
- Helping you getting back on track when you encounter barriers or lose motivation.
Most of my clients reach out to me because they have a strong desire to change aspects of their lives, but they don’t even know where to start. Clients who want to explore options for a career change often have no idea what else they could do and what their strengths and talents are. It’s quite difficult to find answers to such questions on our own as we are too stuck in our own world. As a coach I serve my clients as an external observer which allows me to offer new perspectives. I have tools and processes that help you access information about yourself and gain clarity about what you want, why you want it and what could be possible for you.
What does a career coaching session entail?
A career coaching session is a conversation between you and the coach in which the coach assists you in gaining clarity about your goals and then facilitates the creation of new strategies to achieve them. Often this involves cultivating new ways of thinking or behaving, and overcoming barriers that might hold you back. Depending on your personal circumstances, the coach may invite you to participate in deeper work such as exploring limiting beliefs, lack of confidence and procrastination.
Clients see their coach typically for a series of sessions at agreed intervals, often weekly, fortnightly or monthly. It is common for the coach to agree practical next steps with you at the end of each session, so that your conversations are not just interesting but also support you in creating actual change and progress. The effectiveness of your coaching will depend on your level of engagement, whether you apply the learning and whether you do your homework between sessions.
What is NOT career coaching?
Occasionally I receive inquiries for career coaching from clients who have expectations that cannot be met with career coaching. Let’s have a look at them.
The following is not part of career coaching:
- Your career coach is not a ‘walking encyclopaedia’of possible career paths and their entry requirements.This is not their field of expertise. Neither will a career coach have detailed information about the job market and hiring processes of specific companies. If you are looking for this sort of information, you will be better placed talking to recruitment agents who are specialised in the industries that you are interested in. It can be hard getting this information out of them, but they’re still the best place to go to as they are closest to the job market. You could also seek out career advisors that have an overview of career paths in various industries, but often they only advise graduates at entry level. I’m yet to find a career advisor who can provide this service for senior employees.
- Your coach is not an oracle. As much as you might love the idea that your coach can simply tell you what the best career for you would be, there’s only one person who can do this and that is you. You are the expert on yourself and only you know what your values and interests are and what inspires you. The role of the coach is to facilitate you in accessing this information, and this is where coaching is at its best.
- Career coaching is not a done-for-you service. Typically, a career coach will not execute your plan for you. They won’t research or network for you or take care of your job application. Some career coaches have subcontractors helping with writing CVs and LinkedIn profiles, but that’s not part of a standard career coaching offering. Typically, a career coach guides you and empowers you to take care of these actions yourself. Indeed, part of the power of any coaching process is to help you grow in your personal effectiveness, and this includes taking ownership of these actions. Having said this, a good career coach will be able to share tips that will help you, for example how to write a CV or work with recruiters.
Differences in career coaching styles
If you search for the term “career coaching” on the internet, you will find thousands of coaches who have specialised in this area. There is almost too much choice and it can be hard to pick a coach.
Be aware that the coaching industry is unregulated. This means that anybody can call themselves a career coach, even if they haven’t had any formal training. It also means that career coaching from one coach may be completely different from that of another. It’s far from being a standardised product.
What exactly you get from a coach very much depends on their training and personal style. Some will have a structured programme with clearly defined steps. They might suggest a proven path that has worked well for other clients. Other coaches consciously choose a less directional style where they don’t follow a particular process and instead allow you to drive the sessions.
If you work with a coach that has completed a formal coaching training certified by one of the leading coaching associations, they will have been taught to be non-directional when working with clients. This means that coaches are not supposed to provide advice or mentoring. We are also taught to refrain from leading clients in a particular direction as this would disempower them and possibly lead to an outcome that is not right for the client. My view is that this pure coaching style is not always in the best interest of the client. We need to be careful that we are not too dogmatic about techniques, because in the end it’s about choosing the approach that is most effective in assisting the client with their goals.
When it comes to career coaching, it can be highly beneficial to add elements of mentoring and consulting. This can be agreed with the client upfront. Indeed, some career coaches offer a mixture of coaching, mentoring, and teaching. This is also my approach. Examples are CV writing and creating LinkedIn profiles. You could try to coach the client to research how to write a CV or you could just tell them what best practice is. In my eight years of career coaching and talking to recruiters I have gained valuable insights that I am happy to share with my clients. Equally, when I coach junior professionals, sometimes sharing best practice about matters such as performance management, leadership and communication styles can be more effective than coaching clients to find the answers themselves.
There are career coaches, though, who stick to the pure non-directional coaching style. I recommend that you consider which style is most attractive to you. Have conversations with the coaches you interview to explore how they work and whether their particular style matches your preferred way of working and is suited to help you achieve your goals.
Either way, a good coach should invite you to co-create the sessions with you rather than providing you with a template solution. This means that you have a role to actively drive your sessions by sharing with the coach what you want to cover and giving feedback on what works for you or not. The more feedback you provide, the easier it will be for the coach to calibrate to your preferred style of working and learning. It also ensures that the sessions are relevant and valuable to you.
What do you want from career coaching?
Whatever the style of your coach, career coaching should be driven by your goals and preferences. A good coach will discuss this with you at the outset of your relationship. The clearer you are about the desired deliverables, the easier it will be for the coach to explain whether their approach matches your expectations or not. The danger of not having this conversation is that you could be trapped in a relationship that is driven by the coach’s preferences of working rather than yours.
Here’s an example of how you could communicate what you want from your coaching journey:
By the end of our 10 sessions, I would like to have achieved the following:
- Understanding of my strengths and development areas
- Clarity about my transferable skills
- List of job criteria that will bring me fulfilment
- A short list of suitable alternative careers
- A strategy for finding my job on the market
- An updated CV and LinkedIn profile.
What I would like from you as my coach to support me with the above objectives:
- Specific and practical tools and processes to help me find answers to my questions
- Advice on LinkedIn and CV writing, including a review of my CV and LinkedIn profile
- Psychometric testing to establish my strengths and development areas
- Role playing to practise interviewing skills
- Weekly homework
- Constructive challenges
Click here to read other tips on preparing yourself for your coaching sessions so that you get the most out of your investment.
How to find the perfect career coach for you
Once you have clarity about what you want from career coaching, it will be much easier to find the right coach for you. I recommend that you interview a few career coaches to establish how they work, what their experience is and whether you have good rapport with them. It’s a very personal choice and chemistry is important.
Here is a list of points to consider when choosing a career coach:
- Qualification: Do they hold a diploma or other coaching qualification which is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or another recognised industry body? This ensures that your coach is properly trained.
- Accreditation: Are they also personally accredited by the ICF? This means that your coach is established in their profession. They have passed a quality check by the ICF and evidenced experience from coaching a significant number of clients. Your coach should either have the beginner’s accreditation level, called ACC, or the more advanced level, called PCC.
- Testimonials: Do they have testimonials from satisfied customers? Look for testimonials on their website, LinkedIn profile, Google Business or coaching directories.
- Coaching Experience: For how long have they been in the coaching business? The longer in business, the more experience they will bring to the table.
- Specialisation: Can they demonstrate a specialisation in the area in which you want to be coached?
- Professional Background: Do they have any professional experience outside coaching that could be useful in the coaching relationship? For example, if you need to progress in a legal career, it could be useful if your coach used to work as a lawyer.
- Charges: Do they charge a decent fee for his services? If they charge less than you pay for a massage or a haircut, chances are that they doubt their own value or lack experience.
- Continued Development: Do they have their own coach? If your coach has never invested in their own coaching, I would query how much they really believe in the product.
- Supervision: Do they have their own coaching supervision? Supervision is an important self-maintenance tool that ensures that someone comments on the quality of our work so that we can continue to grow and maintain best industry standards. This is done while fully maintaining the confidentiality of the clients, of course. You don’t give their names in a supervision session and the supervisor is bound by strict duties of confidentiality.
- Case Studies: Do they have case studies of clients with similar goals and challenges to you?
Click here to read more tips about finding the perfect coach for you.
How much does career coaching cost?
The rates for career coaching can be anything between £50 and £500 per hour. The highest rate I have seen advertised is £2,500 per session, out of reach for most people. Some providers offer coaching packages which are between £2,000 and £7,000. With such significant differences in pricing, how do you choose?
For most people, the choice will be limited by their budget. You may not even have the funds to spend thousands of pounds on a coaching package, let alone one session. Also, a higher rate does not necessarily mean a better service. I recommend that you ask the coach to explain in detail what you can expect for the price they charge. It may well be that they’re trying to sell you a Rolls-Royce coaching package, although you only need a few sessions to work on a specific issue.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t go just on price. Experience matters. Hiring a coach who has been working on relevant topics for several years, has great reviews, positive case studies and who understands the industry in which you work is worth its money. Coaches who price themselves at the low end of the market may not be very experienced or they may not be confident about the results they can facilitate. This is a generalisation, of course, and reflects my personal opinion. Other coaches may have a different view on this.
Two special ways to fund your career coaching
If you don’t have a budget for career coaching, there are two great ways in which you can fund your coaching:
- Through your employer: Many companies pay for career or executive coaching. It’s always worth exploring whether your company has a budget for talent development or whether your manager is happy to pay for career coaching from the departmental budget to support your professional growth. A good time to bring this up is when you have an appraisal or review meeting with your manager.
- Through your own company: If you are a business owner, you may be able to claim career or executive coaching as a business expense. This would reduce your tax liability. I recommend talking to your accountant first to establish whether this could be an option for you.
Career coaching as an investment in your life
Career coaching is not only an investment in your career but also in your life generally. Although career coaching, by definition, focuses on your professional life, it can have a much wider impact. Finding a career that is fulfilling requires you to look at many themes that also have application for your personal life, such as exploring what you really want out of life, what your values are, how you define success and what work-life balance you desire. Gaining clarity about these topics will impact other areas; and as you thrive in a career you love, you will be more energised and more fulfilled. This typically creates a domino effect in other areas of your life, such as your emotional wellbeing, your family and your relationships.
Finally, career coaching will grow your resourcefulness and personal effectiveness. The skills you learn and the perspectives you gain in your career coaching sessions will help you grow both personally and professionally, and empower you to be more effective in achieving other goals in your life. You will have forgotten the money you paid for coaching after a few months of even weeks, but the growth and changes you create through coaching will stay for your entire life.
Could career coaching be right for you?
If you are interested in finding out more about how coaching can help you with your professional and personal objectives, you can click here to book a FREE Discovery call with me. I would love to hear from you.