So you need a new job.
You just got laid off. Or you feel a layoff coming. Or you’re fed up with the toxicity of your current workplace and need to move on for your own health and well-being.
It is time to brush off your dusty résumé and start looking again.
But the thought of what needs to be done causes you to set your résumé aside for more interesting things. Like planning for an upcoming holiday. Or creating the menu for a big family gathering. Or refolding some towels. Or poking yourself in the eye. Seriously, right about now everything sounds more exciting than hitting the job market.
You need motivation.
You need structure.
You wonder if you need a career coach.
You start to look online and see a lot of different people calling themselves career coaches. You aren’t sure how much the investment might be but you are determined to get help.
In this guide, we break it all down for you so that you can make the best decision in the shortest amount of time. You need a salary. You need sanity. We can help you have both.
We’ll cover what a career coach is, and isn’t—and how you can tell the difference between the real deal and a career-quack. We’ll reveal the cost of career coaching and what you are getting with what you’re paying, or should be. We’ll show the different models of career coaching and how to determine which one best fits your needs. We’ll give ways you can finance career coaching and how you can get others to help fund this investment. And then we’ll discuss the best ways to choose the right career coach for you.
Here we go.
What is not a career coach?
Since it’s technically not illegal for someone to simply declare “I am a career coach” without any particular qualifications, this is important. A career coach is a specialist with a specific skill set.
It’s not the same thing as a résumé writer, though plenty of us are also résumé writers. It’s not the same thing as a therapist, though a good career coach will often feel a little bit like one (and a career coach worth their salt will absolutely address psychological blocks to getting the job you want). It’s not the same thing as a recruiter or headhunter (but it’s interesting to note that many of us became career coaches after becoming disgruntled with corporate recruiting or HR). Importantly, a career coach is different from a life coach, although it’s possible for someone to be both or to move from one profession to the other.
In other words, we share skills or practices with several other, distinct professions—but career coaches have a unique lens.
What is a career coach?
Career coaches have specific expertise in job search. We can help job seekers position themselves for the job they want. For jobseekers who know they need a new gig but aren’t sure what their “purpose” really is, a career coach should definitely also be able to help you figure it out.
We often (though not always) have specializations—a career coach might exclusively handle tech workers, or women returning to the workplace after an absence to raise young children. We have the experience and training to help you figure out who you really are in terms of your career. We can help you build the assets you need to get noticed (your résumé, your cover letter, your LinkedIn profile)—right down to fonts and headshot angles. We know what you’re going to be asked in an interview and can help you prepare to tell your story in a compelling way. And we can work with you to uncover and remove psychological barriers that might be preventing you from shining in an interview, negotiating the appropriate salary, or making yourself look like a superstar in your first months in a new position.
How can you tell the difference—and why is it important to tell the difference?
First things first: like a therapist, or a hairstylist, we can be very skilled at what we do but still not be a good match for a given client, so regardless of how legit your career coach is, if you don’t feel like the fit is right, move on. This is important. Career coaching usually pays for itself pretty fast, but still, it’s an investment. Don’t sink a bunch of money into a relationship you aren’t comfortable with—especially if you’re between jobs and cash is tight. That’s a recipe for stress and resentment and your coach doesn’t want that any more than you do.
That said, it’s important to do a little research and check your prospective coach’s credentials. Are they certified? What’s their background? What do they specialize in?
A few things to specifically look out for:
Do they talk more about “upper limiting beliefs” or “lack mentality” than they do about actual job search strategy? Not a good sign.
Do they give you “tips” and vague advice that doesn’t totally apply to your situation? Also not a good sign.
Are they big on “asking powerful questions” and not so much with the consulting and getting their boots dirty? Red flag.
Can they design or revise a candidate dossier (résumé, cover letter, LinkedIn profile) so that it looks up to the minute and clearly expresses your strengths? Can they make your LinkedIn profile into a recruiter-magnet? Do they speak fluent SEO?
Do they understand how to do the discernment work of figuring out “what you’re meant to be when you grow up?”
Do they have a clear plan that they can describe? Do they have timelines for you to follow?
Do they have a superstar list of contacts in recruiting and executive search that they can offer you along with suggestions of who to approach particular people?
Do they know how to negotiate an offer in your target role or sector?
Do they hold your feet to the fire? A legit career coach isn’t just a shoulder to cry on or a validating voice. They will tell you when you’re doing something wrong and show you how to adjust it. Most of us have a few distracting habits or recurring negative themes that have followed us through our work life; that doesn’t change the fact that you can and should have a job you love, and your coach should be able to gently point out places where you might be able to get out of your own way.
How much does an average career coach cost?
You can find career coaches who charge as little as $40 per hour… but this is a situation where you’re quite likely to get what you pay for, so be careful with “bargains.”
Career coaches range from $1000 a month to $4000 a month with the commitment of a minimum number of months averaging from 2 months to 9 months—with 4 months being the most common.
Some career coaches offer private coaching as part of their package, while most others require an additional payment between $100 an hour (if they are in the middle of a certification class, for example) to $300 an hour.
Most career coaches offer packages so that you can build the program that fits best for you and your needs. A few career coaches offer flat rates so that you can budget without being surprised by extra fees.
We are seeing more career coaches offer on-demand online pre-recorded modules where clients can watch on their own time with no expectation to chat directly with a coach. This is an excellent option if you just need a refresher course or if you really want to learn from a very experienced career coach but do not want to pay the higher price.
There can be a significant range in what career coaches charge, but bear in mind that you might be getting what you pay for. Suspiciously affordable coaches might be uncertified, or inexperienced. In general, we find there’s an ROI tipping point—if you’re paying for help and advice, it’s worth paying for very, very competent help and advice. Paying less money and getting insufficient coaching isn’t going to help you, whereas making sure you’re getting the real deal generally pays off.
Why does it vary in cost?
The top reason for a wide price range is how experienced the coach is. If you’re working with a freshly-minted coach or one still working through a certification program, you’ll generally pay less. Please note that in this case, that’s not necessarily a drawback. If you are one of your coach’s first clients, sure, they might still be refining their process and finding their footing. But they know that, and it will make them especially eager to get things right. A coach still in active certification training also has a wealth of more experienced practitioners (their instructors) to chat with about any unusual circumstances that come up, and you’ll benefit from their network too.
The next reason for the range of cost is specialization. You might have a career coach with a very niche offering, like executive women of color, or ADD/ADHD project managers. People in unique-expertise areas can command higher prices, and they often do.
The last major factor is the clientele. Career coaches who support new grads, for example, will need to ratchet down their rates, since many college students don’t have the level of income enjoyed by an experienced executive. Coaches in more economically depressed regions might also have lower rates than those in high rent metropolitan zones (so be open to working with a coach remotely if on a budget).
How much does a career coach make? Am I funding their boat? Why should they make as much as they do?
First off: you’re probably not funding a boat. A few of our coaches make as much as $400-500K per year, but the average is closer to about $140K, at least our coaches earn this on average.
Career coach salaries vary massively, and it depends on a ton of factors including personal choice: coaches set their own rates and control how many clients they take on per year. Some of us do it as a full-time career; some do it as a sideline. Some prefer lots of clients and a lower package rate; others charge more so they can keep their client roster small and still cover their expenses. The profession’s flexibility is one of the things that draws lots of people to career coaching. Assuming that your coach is extracting insane amounts of money from an infinite number of wallets is probably not accurate or productive. Most of us are soloprenuers who make our money based on face-to-face, one on one interactions. And as awesome as we are, we can’t change the fact that the day only has 24 hours in it—so there are limits to what we can earn as well as what we can charge.
What is the value of career coaching?
If your career coach is worth their salt, you’ll find that the investment usually pays for itself. Literally. As in, you’ll get a job faster, and negotiate a better salary and better benefits than you would have on your own.
But there are less tangible value-adds to working with a competent coach, too. Consider the psychological value of simply not feeling like you’re doing it alone. One of the most common frustrations I hear from jobseekers is that their excellent résumés and compelling cover letters disappear into the abyss and they suspect no one is even screening them. I can confirm that this is unfortunately sometimes the case. And it’s awful. Jobseekers usually don’t even get the courtesy of a polite “No thank you” anymore. It’s demoralizing, and maddening. Simply having someone to talk you off the ledge can be worth it—though a good coach will do a lot more than that.
And even if your job search takes a while—which can happen no matter how great your coach is—you will learn from the process in ways you wouldn’t have on your own. You’ll be shown how to maximize your attractiveness to employers, how to shine like a shiny little star in your first months at a new job; how to create an appealing online presence, how to stop undervaluing yourself, how to answer that one interview question that always trips you up. Those insights are yours to keep forever.
What are the most common career coaching models, how do they impact pricing and which is best for you?
With some exceptions, pricing is pretty predictable. Some coaches give you multiple options; some don’t.
Some charge an hourly fee (if they do, they should ideally be able to give you a good faith estimate of how many hours you should expect to spend with them based on your situation).
Some offer a flat rate—say, $5000 for a dossier and eight meetings that cover figuring out your target role, building your network, prepping for interviews, and handling salary negotiations.
And some of us offer various packages to address different types of job seekers with different needs, and clients can decide which elements to buy. An ethical career coach won’t try to upsell you on services you don’t need; we understand that if you need us in the first place, you’re probably not feeling like King Midas.
Financing your Career Coaching
We want this to work out for you, both because that’s what we do this work for, and because clients who don’t get good outcomes are not healthy for our reputations! And in fields like career coaching, reputation is very, very meaningful. There are few things we like less than getting the feedback that we “wasted someone’s money.” Ack! That is literally the opposite of why we exist. So hopefully your career coach has some ideas for maximizing affordability.
Your coach might offer discounted packages under some circumstances (some of us have even been known to take on a client pro bono when we can afford to; it’s OK to ask if you’re genuinely in trouble). Sometimes you can use an employer's training budget to cover coaching – yes, companies might pay for professional coaching to help you increase your communication skills or even to help you figure out what you’re meant to do in this world, in hopes that you’ll stay). Some states offer rehabilitation help if you’ve been out of work for a while. And we’ve known many family members who help defray career coaching as well. In some cases you can write it off on your taxes. There are multiple ways to buffer the coast of a career coach, and a good career coach will be able to help you figure out where you might have leeway.
How to pick the right career coach
Aside from relatively quantifiable things like “Is this person certified?” and “Do they have a reputation for integrity and mastery of the profession?” and “Does this coach have experience with people like me?” This really does often boil down to personal chemistry.
The right coach means “the right coach for you at this moment in time.” Ideally, they’re someone you feel comfortable with. They have reasonable professional boundaries but they kind of feel like a friend too. They understand you. They ask you questions that provoke insights about who you want to be in your career. They take your circumstances into consideration and know how to work around them. Hopefully, they’re good at the things you’re less good at (like résumé writing or knowing how to get around an Applicant Tracking System and locating a living breathing human being at your target company). They aren’t afraid to hold you accountable for your role in the process, and they don’t shy away from holding up a mirror so you can clearly see that you have soy sauce all over your tie. In other words, your coach should feel a little bit like a buddy and a little bit like a stylist and a little bit like a therapist and a lot like a job search strategist who knows how to get you the outcome you want. At the end of a call with your coach, you should have more energy than you did before. If you feel drained, that’s another red flag. If you feel belittled or humiliated or controlled (and you’ve ruled out personal defensiveness, which is a thing too), that is also a red flag. If you feel pumped, more confident and more prepared at the end of the hour and have a clear sense of what to do next? That’s perfect. And you’re probably well on your way to landing the job you want.