Updated: Jan 7
Anyone can hang a shingle and say that they’re a career coach. But that absolutely doesn’t mean you should.
For the right person, becoming a career coach is a deeply rewarding and exciting pursuit and profession. Declaring yourself a career coach without the needed skill set, mindset and business understanding is almost 100% likely to blow up in your face. In the best case scenario, you’ll be bored, broke, or spending most of your time in damage control mode and dying of anxiety. In the worst case, you can end up in serious monetary, reputational or even legal jeopardy. Designating yourself a career coach when you don’t actually understand what we do (and how) is kind of like declaring yourself a dermatologist based on reading two articles about what melanoma looks like. It’s not good for you—or for your potential clients.
The good news is that there are many career coaching certification programs that can help you learn everything you need to become a credible and successful career coach.
Why do you want to become a career coach
First, ask yourself why you’re interested in this career direction. Successful career coaches generally have a few personality, mindset or “mission” items in common:
You’re a curious person, perhaps even restless in jobs where you do the same thing over and over.
You’re honestly interested in helping people.
You’re probably frustrated by bureaucracy, mismanagement and corporate “shenanigans” or politics and wish you could somehow make the world of work a nicer place.
You’re generally good at reading people—insightful, intuitive, a good listener, someone who asks a lot of questions.
You might have had a longstanding interest in the social sciences, whether you’ve specifically studied them or not—you’re probably turned on by politics, psychology, economics, sociology, spirituality/religion or other human behavior phenomena. (Not all coaches relate to this one but it’s common.)
You might have found you’ve had a lot of jobs where you felt like you didn’t fit in, or you did fit in but secretly found them stifling. You’re highly motivated to be your own boss.
If any of these sound like you, you’re likely on the right track and should continue to look into becoming a career coach.
What You Need To Learn To Become A Career Coach
Now that you know you want to become a career coach, you need to tackle what you need to learn to become a career coach.
There are a few questions you can start asking yourself: How much do you actually know about the business world? Do you understand corporate hierarchies? Do you have a grounding in marketing practices, sales, management? To run a successful coaching business you need to learn and develop each of these competencies, and that’s before you even start coaching people. Here are a few things you’ll need to learn how to do, tactically, in coaching people.
Help someone accurately identify their career direction
Create and revise résumés and cover letters
Create and edit a LinkedIn profile that will get your clients found and viewed positively by recruiters
Understand the fundamentals of meaningful networking
Find relevant job postings online
Find relevant external recruiters in multiple sectors
Stay organized on your own and your client’s behalf if you’re in a stage of the process where a recruiter could call at any time
Teach people to anticipate and nail interview questions—and make sure they know what not to say
Understand how AI is used in recruiting so your client isn’t caught off-guard by a one-way interview
Help a client develop a strong professional presence
Guide people in a range of positions so that they have a phenomenal first 90 days in a new job
What’s more? Becoming a career coach also means committing to a lifetime of learning. Imagine the creation of a new technology or practice in hiring that has the same impact as the creation of LinkedIn. It’s now if but when, and the most successful coaches will those who learn it quickly and pass those learnings along to their clients through career coaching.
How to become a career coach
So, how do you learn how to do everything it takes to become a career coach? We know: it sounds like a lot—because it is a lot. Plus, the practice of career coaching is always changing along with the job market. That is why continuing education is a must if you want to earn a good income, get referrals from satisfied clients, and have a reputation for competence.
While it’s not easy, most IACC-certified career coaches will tell you it was the single most impactful shift in their career—not to mention personal growth and happiness.
Your first step, once you know you want to pursue becoming a career coach, should be to choose a certification program. Having training under your belt from the get-go is very, very worthwhile.
Second, find your first client. In the SPCC certification program, we ask that each student find a client to coach throughout their training. Not only will this keep you accountable to your studies; but having a first client allows you to apply your learnings as you go, which helps you retain what you’ve learned. Through the right program, you’ll also be able to ask for help from your instructor to get unstuck if and when that happens as you’re coaching your first client.
Once you’ve graduated, the learning doesn’t stop. To become not just a career coach, but a successful one, it is crucial to have an ongoing support structure to help you build confidence and excellence as you coach clients two, three, four etc. An ongoing support system can also help you navigate the ways you may want to structure your practice and overcome common hurdles in the first few years of becoming a career coach.
There are multiple ways to become certified as a coach and dip a toe in the water to see if this complex but fascinating career path is for you.