Hiring professional help in any area of your life can prompt this question, whether it’s a landscaper, a tax preparer or a therapist. But for many, the word “coach” raises the ambiguity level considerably. Coaching isn’t subject to anything like the regulatory oversight doctors and attorneys deal with, and it is possible for an unscrupulous person to announce “I am a coach now” and start taking clients.
No one likes saying this, but we all know it’s true: every profession has its share of… well, fakes. Some are outright con artists or grifters. Plenty more are well-intended but not competent. And in looking for a career coach, it’s possible to encounter both.
The last thing you need when your job search is going poorly is to turn over a precious chunk of change to a huckster, or someone who cannot deliver on their own promises. But how can you know you’re signing up with someone legit?
Signs That Your Coach Is the Real Deal
The career coach has clear boundaries. None of us are experts on everything. A good career coach will be transparent about any areas where they don’t have a ton of expertise, for example because you’re job-searching in a small specialized niche. Many coaches specialize in a specific industry or a specific role (for example they work exclusively with sales professionals or with C-level candidates. Others are great generalists. But you should be able to understand their expertise area clearly and simply. And if they’re truly worth their salt, they are likely to have a network of other coaches they trust with referrals.
The career coach supports you, and also holds you accountable. Our job is to help you find, and get, the best job for you. That process is pretty multifaceted. Your career coach should be able to help you understand your objectives, connect you with relevant job opportunities, and help you make sure your interview skills are up to speed and your online presence is squeaky clean. Your coach should give you clear feedback, demonstrate flexibility, and they should be honest with you even if it isn’t what you want to hear (anything from “you’re targeting the wrong job description” to “You really could use updated professional photos”).
Are they certified? Career coaching isn’t like dentistry: while formal training and certification are definitely available, it’s possible to become one without going through any formal training process—and hey: I’m sure there are good self-taught coaches out there. That said, it’s worth being skeptical of self-appointed “experts.” Organizations that certify coaches see to it that they have demonstrated the needed skill set, that they have access to continuing education and a network of other coaches and related professionals—and that they take what they’re doing seriously. Ask questions. “Where did you learn resume writing? How much do you know about SEO for LinkedIn?” If they can’t answer, notice it.
Signs You Should Look Elsewhere
The career coach doesn’t articulate a process or step by step plan to help you land a job. If your prospective career coach has tons of platitudes about “mindset” and “stepping into your power” but doesn’t appear to know anything about hiring norms in your field? Be careful. There’s more to landing the right job than cultivating a can-do attitude, especially if you’re a specialist with years of experience under your belt.
The career coach has difficulty being transparent about what they do and don’t do. Have you ever been to a chiropractor for a spinal adjustment and found yourself in a crazy-making conversation about how they can only truly heal you if you buy their personal line of kitchen seasonings? Yeah, me too. If a career coach offers you an expensive “package” without being very clear about what it includes, make sure you can get answers. Resume writing? Cover letter templates? Updated social media presence? Be wary of anyone who cannot give clear, transparent answers to your questions about their scope of service.
The career coach isn’t there when you need them. If you’re already working with a coach and find that your coach is chronically struggling to make time for you, if they seem like they are juggling too many clients, if they forget meetings or appointments? Big red flag. Anyone can have a random schedule mishap, obviously—but if it feels chronic, pay attention. A good career coach has serious time management skills and the ability to keep track of when their client has an important interview or any other situation where you might need to check in.
Plain old chemistry misfire. No one is the perfect fit for everyone. That goes for physicians, photographers, dating partners—and certainly for coaches. If you feel like your career coach is a perfectly decent coach who doesn’t happen to be a personality match, then you’re probably right! And it’s OK to move on based on that feeling (it can be mutual, and we don’t like feeling like we’re a poor fit for someone either). A great career coach will definitely hold your feet to the fire, and engage you on difficult topics (were you fired because your manager had an issue with your temper? Do you struggle to advocate for yourself because of untreated depression? Do you tend to telegraph anger or “victim energy” in interviews?). Part of our job (sometimes the most important part) is to be really honest with you about how you might be coming across to prospective employers and to help you work through it. So feeling comfortable with your career coach is a really big deal.