Advice, Breakthroughs, Empowerment, Knowing Yourself Thinking of Working with a Career Coach: Here’s What You Need To Know Written by: Kathy Caprino

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Living and Working Better”

One of the key reasons I decided to become a career coach 12 years ago was in response to a very bad experience I had with one, when I was in the throes of a very unhappy corporate marketing career. This career coach/counselor had me spend a lot of money on quantitative assessments, only to conclude that “Good news! Looks like you’re in the right field!” (Really? Then why am I so miserable?). The assessments showed that I had strong skill in marketing, communications, project management, relationship-building, etc., but didn’t provide any guidance as to new directions that would bring the fulfillment and core alignment to my values and goals that I was so desperate for.

I realized then that – just as in any field – there are great service providers and ineffective ones, and we have to be discerning about who we invest in. And several years later, I decided to become the type of career coach that I had had so much trouble finding when I needed help. When I finally did reinvent my career and became a therapist and coach, I became deeply committed to learning how to help people make the big changes they longed for, that would generate more authentic success, meaning and reward. One of the key lessons for me was that when we hire help, we need to ensure that the individual has the “chops,” training and experience to support our highest and biggest goals.

In my 12 year experience of being a coach, and now in training other coaches, as well as having served on the board of the Connecticut chapter of the International Coach Federation for a year, I’ve heard from hundreds of coaches and clients who are in various stages of their development,

I’d love to share what I see are the good, bad, and ugly aspects of working with a career coach. I hope this is helpful to you in choosing the right one for you.

Below are the top questions I hear from people considering working with a career coach, and my honest answers to these questions:

“First, when do I know I need a career coach?

You can benefit from a career coach any time in your professional journey that you desire more success, joy, reward, fulfillment and impact in your career or professional life. That can be when you’re stuck in an unhappy career, or when you’re starting out and can’t figure out the best direction. It can be when you’re longing for more success and understand that how you’ve been trying to get there just isn’t working. It can also be a perfect time for a career coach when you’re ready to make a BIG change and need outside help to support it.

Professionals I work with in coaching fall into what I call “The Four Buckets:”

#1: They want more success and reward in their current job

#2: They want a thrilling new job in the same field that will leverage their current talents and abilities

#3: They want (or think they want) an entirely new career

#4: They’re considering launching a new venture and want to explore it more thoroughly

I hear from hundreds of professional women each year who have achieved great “outer” success only to wake up one day saying “That’s it! I’m done with this. I need a BIG change now!” They’re facing challenges, goals or concerns that they need and want outside help to navigate through them. And they’re ready to do the inner and outer work to make those changes a reality.

“What should a good career coach be helping me achieve?”

First, don’t look for a “good” coach – look for a great one. A great coach will help you achieve the outcomes you desire most in life and work, and that’s different for every individual. Again looking at the “four buckets” above, it could be around engaging in the interview process effectively, or building more leadership impact, or attaining more joy and fulfillment in their work. It could be learning how to deal effectively with a toxic boss or colleagues, or how to stand out from the competition and get a promotion and higher compensation.

Great career coaches help people take the steps that are needed today to enhance their careers and professional success, including building stronger networks, leveraging social media to build their personal brand, and connecting with powerful mentors and sponsors who help them thrive. The list goes on and on. It’s critical that the client and the coach design together the top goals for the coaching program and keep them ever present in their minds so continual progress can be made on what the client longs for most.

“What’s the good, bad and ugly of hiring a career coach?”

I’ll offer some straight talk about what I seeing in the coaching industry today, as a trainer of coaches and as one who helps my clients succeed and grow.

The bad: I’ve personally seen many folks today hang their shingle as a coach, yet they haven’t been trained sufficiently (or at all) to truly help people change their lives. They’ve had only rudimentary coaching training that doesn’t go far or deep enough in terms of what’s required, meaning they don’t yet have the tools and processes to help clients do both the inner work required to change how they’re operating in the world, or take the outer steps necessary – the brave action steps that will bring about exciting comes.

The ugly: I have seen too that hundreds of coaches are being trained that it’s “all in the questions you ask clients” that moves them forward, and I don’t agree. It’s not just the questions that are asked, but it’s about the coach having what I call a “proven model for change” that they take their clients through, that will help clients achieve what they dream of.  I believe too that the most effective coaches have had direct and personal experiencewith the type of challenges and issues clients bring to them. These top coaches have done the work themselves to overcome similar challenges their clients are bringing to them. In that way, they’re speaking both from deep experience as well as a strong expertise in conducting the coaching process effectively.

The good and the great: The happy news is that there are many effective and powerful coaches that can help clients achieve tremendously satisfying outcomes that can be life-changing. Great, well-trained, and highly experienced coaches provide a powerful support structure, ongoing accountability, and vital new information and effective strategies that help clients finally see, act and think differently so they can achieve the high level of success and fulfillment they desire.

“What are some tips for finding a great career coach?”

Here are my top tips:

1) Find a coach who has developed their own proven and successful “model for change.”

For coaches to help you make a powerful difference in your life, they have to have developed their own, teachable point of view and their personal model for change – not just a regurgitation of the coaching concepts that others have put forward but their own concepts. These concepts about how people change need to reveal their own unique language, perspective, filter, and ideas for how to move the needle on a particular challenge or problem that no one else has figured out yet or is talking about.

While it’s been said that there are no “new ideas” in the world, there are definitely new, powerful ways of coaching, sharing and exploring universal truths and critical concepts that lead to positive change and career success. And for the coach to be a right fit with you, their model for change needs to speak to you directly, and have proven efficacy in addressing the types of challenges you are experiencing.

What to look for: Look for evidence of the model for change the coach has developed. It should have specific steps and processes for moving you forward. If they can’t articulate their model for change, the process they use and the outcomes that they regularly catalyze and help their clients generate, then move on.

2) They have great free materials, articles, resources and other transformative content that demonstrates their thought leadership, style and approach.

The best of the best coaches aren’t just running a business to get rich in an online business. Their emails aren’t get about selling to you. And they aren’t just interested in helping affluent people – they long to help (in some core way) a wide array of people from many walks of life who are struggling with the same challenges they know how to address.

What to look for: Check out their website, blog, videos, and downloadable materials. Read their free content. Does it move the needle for you and motivate and inspire you personally? Does it inspire you to make change and take action, and does it help you operate differently in the world? Or does it just talk about how easy it will be to get to where you want to go?

3) They know how to look beneath the obvious challenges to uncover new solutions

Many professionals who’ve come to me for career help also have some deeper issues that they’re dealing with, including overwhelm, depression, an inability to make productive decisions, or they’re facing toxicity and pain in some aspect of their lives and careers. A key dimension of great coaching is not just staying at the superficial level and talking about resumes or LinkedIn profiles and interviewing, but also helping clients go deeper to understand what could be in the way of their happiness, fulfillment and ultimate goals that may be out of their awareness. And great coaches know when to refer their clients out to another service provider (such as a therapist) when the need is there for a different kind of support.

What to look for: Find a coach who has deep, proven experience in support of many clients toward growth and the achievement of their highest goals, and knows how to help with issues beyond the superficial tactics. Make sure they have recommendations and testimonials that validate the work they’ve done to help others.

“Ok, so what’s a big red flag that I should run?”

As with any service provider you hire, run if:

1) You feel there’s isn’t a good fit with you in terms of their style and approach

2)  You don’t feel positive, excited, upbeat and hopeful when working with them

3)  They try to say that THEY are the expert in your life (they’re not – you’re the expert in your own life)

4)  They are not in “harmonious sympathy” with your goals (meaning they don’t agree with what you want to achieve)

5)  They can’t share with confidence what they think they can help you achieve

Here’s more on when to know it’s time to run because it’s the wrong kind of help.

“Can any age reinvent themselves and create a happier career or find a better job?”

I’ve seen that folks of any age can reinvent core aspects of their professional life, and create work that leverages who they are and what they are talented and passionate in. That said, there are realities about today’s corporate workforce and there are limitations to what the corporate world considers an ideal candidate for any particular role. The key is to build a plan together with your coach that is S.M.A.R.T – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely, that will get you to where you want to go, and address the core challenges in an empowering, successful way.

“When is career coaching a waste of money?”

Career coaching will be a waste of money when:

1) The client is not ready to do the real, brave work to change how they are operating towards their goal. In other words, if they remain defensive and fight at every turn the idea that change is necessary in how they operate, coaching can’t work. And if the results and information that are uncovered throughout the coaching process aren’t acted upon by the client, the results will be very limited.

2) When the career coach isn’t trained or experienced enough to help the client tackle the critical challenges that lie underneath the obvious issue (because those are the true challenges in the way of success).

“What outcomes can I achieve with the right career coach?”

In the end, working with the right career coach can be truly life-changing experience.  Working with great career coaches, people build new careers that align with their core values and their amazing talents. They arrive at new ways to speak up for themselves, and achieve tremendous success and fulfillment on their terms (not someone else’s).

They begin on the path to finding brave in life and work, and communicate more powerfully and ask for (and receive) what they deserve. They step up to negotiate for themselves and land significant promotions and raises. They learn how to interview and network effectively and build a wonderful support community. And they start developing and sharing their unique personal brand in ways that bring wonderful new opportunities their way.

In short, finding the right career coach and doing the work required to shift your life and career can yield tremendous positive outcomes that far surpass what you ever imagined possible for yourself and your life.

For more information, visit, the Amazing Career Project, and the Amazing Career Coach Certification training.

2 thoughts on “Thinking of Working with a Career Coach: Here’s What You Need To Know”

  1. Kathy, I found you online, about 2 months ago and working my way through your blogs and posts, at this time where I feel I’m at a crossroads, so thank you. I’m in my mid-50’s and I want to apply for a job that is in an industry where I have experience, but haven’t worked in for 18yrs. I feel excited when I read the job description but would love a career coach to guide me with this application and change so that it is a successful as well as (very) brave move. Your post is so helpful, much more than the google search I just did for career coaches in my city. I don’t have the liberty of time or spare cash to make the wrong decision here. With your advice I’ll go more deeply into their websites and am more confident in what I need to look for. Thank you so much
    Dee (Australia)

  2. Hi Kathy. I just turned 57, and work at a CT hospital. I am looking for a career coach, or more accurately, a mentor. I am a supply chain analyst, but am considering a lateral move to use big data to solve community problems. I had a first interview this morning, and I stayed an extra hour. Can you give me a quick tip on impressing my future boss? And I’m going this weekend to an image coach. I’d like to hire you, I’m also a musician who needs to put structure to my life plans.

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