How to find a career coach

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Weaknesses are hard to beat, so if you’re really serious about making a personal change, I recommend a career coach. But be careful, because a good coach is hard to find. I learned to find good coaches by enduring bad ones. I also learned that when you find a good one, you can change in ways that will surprise you.

The first career coach I ever hired was someone who my boss recommended. He gave me the guy’s phone number and I called.

The coach’s voicemail message closed with, “Have a wonderful and life-changing day!”

I told my boss I could not work with someone who was so positive about change that he was a psycho.

My boss said, “This guy is renowned for working with famous business women.” (My boss dropped the name of a woman who worked with this coach. I am not going to tell you this woman’s name because you know her, and to this day I still question her judgment.) But the name-dropping worked. I wanted to be famous. So I agreed to meet with the guy.

He told me that most women he worked with needed to learn to be more assertive. He said, “I can tell you would be responsive to that sort of training, because you’re wearing a skirt.” Then he winked at me. So for my first lesson in assertiveness, I fired him.

My second coach was someone my boss read about in a newsletter. This coach told me I needed to appear grounded and stable as a leader. Her vision hit a nerve: I had catapulted up the corporate ladder, and some days I wondered what I was doing there. I thought I was wondering privately, but the coach showed me how my demeanor gave it away. “You walk like you’re on air,” she told me. “Your bounce belies giddiness and your swinging arms look impetuous.” She showed me how to walk so that I looked grounded and stable. The most interesting thing she taught me was that if I could change how I walk I would change how I felt. I wouldn’t have believed that until someone forced me to try it.

Later I saw a coach speaking at an entrepreneur’s conference. I hired her to help me handle board meetings. I learned not to smile so much. She pointed out that women smile a lot and men don’t and it makes men nervous. To soften the blow, she smiled at me. She told me my sweater was cut a little low, which made me happy since I never thought I myself as a woman with cleavage. But for the most part, her thing was public speaking, and I am definitely better at keeping an audience’s attention because of her coaching.

So here’s my advice on choosing a coach: Interview a few, because each coach has a different approach, and not all will be right for you. To get a sense of the coach, ask, “What are you best at doing with your clients?” If you like the answer, do a short trial session. If you ask someone what he or she is best at and they won’t give you an answer, it’s because they’re not good at anything, so hang up.

Recommendations from a respected friend or co-worker are a good bet. But, as you can see from my experience, a recommendation isn’t foolproof. I have had good luck going to a bookstore and perusing the careers section for books by coaches. If you like a book, you will probably like the coach who wrote it. Many coaches speak at conferences, so go to listen to a few if you’re on the prowl. One career coach I know routinely recommends my columns to her clients, so how bad can she be? If you absolutely cannot get up off your sofa, then get a recommendation from the career coach hotline: (239) 415-1777.

Enlisting the help of a coach may seem like a high-risk move — after all, a bad coach is really bad. But you also take a risk by not getting help to address your weaknesses.


10 replies
  1. SoutheasternStudent
    SoutheasternStudent says:

    I know this is an older post, but the content seems really relevant. I’m graduating this May from a university in Alabama and am looking for a job in Berkeley (my fiance got into grad school there). My credentials aren’t amazing and I think that I could use some serious coaching on my interview skills.

    Do you know of any career coaches in the Atlanta area that could help me? And do you have any extra advice? (I’ve studied to be an actuary and have only passed the P Exam so far.)

  2. Barry Zweibel
    Barry Zweibel says:

    I recommend looking for the C-L-I-C-K between you and your potential coach:

    C stands for Contribution – How much did the coach contribute to you meaningfully addressing the issue you brought to the call? (Note: I do my coaching by telephone, as do many others.) What Next Steps do you see now that you didn’t before? Can you see yourself enjoying an ongoing working relationship with this coach?

    L stands for Listening – Who did more of the talking, you (which is good) or the coach (which is not as good). How well do you feel the coach understood who you really are? How well did the coach’s words resonate with you? What did you hear in your own words that was new? How helpful was the conversation?

    I stands for Intensity – What kind of energy was there on the call (or during the in-person meeting) and how motivated were you by the coach’s style and approach? How engaged were you? What new thoughts, feelings, and insights surfaced for you that can speak to the value of the sample session?

    C stands for Connection – How aligned did you feel with the coach? Was there an instant kind of rapport? How comfortable were you? How did you like the tone and mood of the conversation? Imagine what an ongoing coaching relationship would be like with this coach – how does that feel?

    K stands for “Kreativity!” – How good a job did the coach do in getting you to see old things in new ways, or get out of you own way, or get back on track, or whatever? How motivated are you to WANT to work with this coach on an ONGOING basis? How confident are you that this particular coach can help you achieve your ‘what’ and ‘how’?

    Bottom Line: If you didn’t feel the C-L-I-C-K, keep looking.

  3. June Sun
    June Sun says:

    After reading this post, I was motivated and picked up the phone to call the number listed by Penelope. My first experience of finding a career coach is far beyond my imagination!

    I called the number career coach hotline: (239) 415-1777 and talked to a lady. We set up a free consulation appointment for the next day 9AM pacific time. When I was waiting for the call at 9AM for 10 min, nobody called. I called back and asked if someone was supposed to call me for the consultation. The phone was immediately transferred to Bill (the founder). He quickly said nobody promised to call me at 9AM and I was dishonest by claiming it. He made quick judgement that I was ‘passively aggressive’ and he refused to work with me. His rationale is that they have money back guarantee and that’s why he needed to make judgement on people. And he has the gift of making quick judgement. I was astonished. Instead of having any life changing positive effect as I was expecting, I was put in a very bad mood of being assused of ‘dishonest’ by only asking the question. I would never recommend this hotline because the way they treated people.

    So, that was my first career coach experience :)

  4. Trina Roach
    Trina Roach says:

    As a career coaching based in Europe with my own career coaching hotline, June’s posting was like a ice-cold shower. I could easily say that it just goes to show that there are the proverbial “black sheep” in every business sector. But in a relationship so based on personal chemistry and trust as coaching, standing by your word and always assuming positive intent are essential if potential clients are to feel motivated to seriously consider you as their coach. To avoid more disgruntled potential coachees, my tip for the career coach hotline June called: Confirm your agreed appointments per e-mail/sms!

  5. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    This response may be a bit too late- however, I am a career coach and recruiter. I live in the bay area, minutes away from Berkeley. (I actually graduated from Berkeley). You can email me at:

  6. Alison
    Alison says:

    [i]He told me that most women he worked with needed to learn to be more assertive. He said, "I can tell you would be responsive to that sort of training, because you're wearing a skirt.” Then he winked at me. So for my first lesson in assertiveness, I fired him.[/i]


  7. recruiting software
    recruiting software says:

    Here’s a 2011 update on the career coach hotline (239-415-1777), which—yes—is still in operation.
    A very friendly and jovial man named Bill answered the phone. I began with, “How does this work?” He joked, “You send us a million dollars in unmarked bills, and after we receive them we’ll call you back when we feel like it.”
    Well . . . it’s the first day of the new year, so I cut him some slack.
    They have “172 approved coaches from all over the world (chosen from over 2,000 who have applied).” They first determine if your problem (or goal) is “coachable.” Then they match you with a coach. They guarantee satisfaction.

    My takeaway: I was not impressed with his level of professionalism. But he might really have a great stable of coaches.

  8. Barbara C
    Barbara C says:

    My experience with a career coach was: 0) pay $750 for career tests + interpretation + two counseling visits; 1st appointment = speak about test results, find no surprises; second appointment = have career coach read my first review from the manager who is a screamer, coach advises me to leave. Third appointment = Talk about manager who is becoming even more abusive; no suggestions from career coach. Fourth appointment = Talk about manager isolating me from other team members; no suggestions from career coach. Fifth appointment = Talk about subordinate who is getting a promotion so manager can get her out of the group and not have to deal with firing her for insubordination and documented incompetance; no suggestion from career coach. Career coach is former a HR person.

    I came away with no additional skills, and am about $1000 lighter in my wallet.

    Oh, and I should add that I started having debilitating panic attacks, and am on medical leave. What I learned: trust my instincts, leave a job when you encounter a boss who screams at team members (not just me) even if the country is in the middle of a recession and you are 50, quit before your manager’s undermining behavior makes you question you abilities, definitely quit when your manager confides in you that she admires people in the company who are devious and coniving, and absolutely quit before your manager contrives to ruin your good name and reputation which then causes panic attacks due to catastrophic thinking along the lines of “I’ll never find another job”, or “I’m ruined”. I didn’t need a career coach for this, and I could really use the $1000 for the psychotherapy I now need to overcome the two years of abuse by the manager/screamer in charge.

  9. Cecile Peterkin
    Cecile Peterkin says:

    It is somehow hard to find someone to trust especially if it's your life or career is at stake. I agree with your idea to look and ask for a complimentary session with a coach before you start your formal agreement because if you are actually doubtful with that coach everything else will be useless.

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