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Who Makes A Great Career Coach?

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

So you’re considering becoming a career coach, but you’re not sure if you have the right background. Good news: your work background isn’t the driving factor in whether you stand to thrive in this profession. Great career coaches come from a huge range of roles and sectors—and your career misfires and dead-ends, as well as your successes and strength areas, can be huge assets for you as a coach.

Career coaching encompasses people who’ve had “all over the map” work experiences and people with deep niche expertise. People who’ve been through difficult layoffs or rough re-entries after a workforce absence and people who are winding down one career and hunting for a meaningful second act. People who’ve come from the recruiting world, sure—but also people with backgrounds in sales, social work, advertising and law. Sometimes, people land in career coaching after trying other forms of coaching. What they all have in common is empathy, the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, and a love of learning.

Do you have a background in the performing arts? Your coaching clients will benefit from your understanding of presentation—you’ll probably be quick to spot interview-tanking vocal tics, mannerisms or “costumes.” Are you an athlete? Great: you understand strategy, you know how mindset affects outcomes, and you’re probably disciplined and goal-oriented, which can help clients get the absolute most out of their time with you. Have you spent your life in the nonprofit space? Great! You’ve probably worn a whole lot of hats, which will enable you to help a broader spectrum of job seekers.

Who doesn’t make a good career coach? If you’re looking for your very first job out of school, I’ll be blunt: you’re probably not ready for career coaching. Most people who thrive in this profession have a good bit of experience under their belts—it’s hard to guide an aspiring CFO through a salary negotiation if you’ve never been within five hundred yards of a salary negotiation! Beyond that, however, the range of people with serious career coach potential is incredibly diverse.

Here are a few of my favorite success stories.

“Kate” is a licensed therapist, and over the years of her practice, she’s been struck by how many of her clients reported depression stemming from a toxic work environment, or anxiety provoked by job or financial stress. She put herself through the training for career coaching so she could expand her practice to include it. Brilliant idea! Now she has the skills to help her clients not only process their feelings, but take practical action to change their circumstances.

“Sarah” was a VP of retail sales for an athletic gear company. She is also a running coach, and has helped many runners complete their first half- and full-marathons. She became a career coach after helping many of her nieces and nephews land jobs—she discovered she had a passion for working with new grads. How does she connect her old life with her new life? She goes on hikes and runs with her clients in her area! While they’re out there, they talk about their career goals.

“Lauren” was already in the coaching space: she worked for years as an Agile and scrum coach. She loved the work, but the specific role she was in had become toxic, and she made the courageous decision to go into business for herself. Now she works as a career coach, specifically helping other Agile and scrum coaches land jobs. She’s kept her specialization; she’s just putting it to use on her own terms now.

“Marie” was a tech recruiter… and an observant Christian. She decided she’d rather work on behalf of job applicants than corporations; it felt more aligned with both her beliefs and her personality. She now uses her knowledge of tech recruiting to provide insight to job seekers, and she decided to focus on working specifically with Christian-identifying clients who want a sense of purpose as well as a paycheck.

“Alex” came up as a marketing consultant, so she’s a wizard at SEO and LinkedIn optimization. She’s now putting that marketing expertise to work as a career coach, helping job seekers persuasively market themselves.

In other words, whatever your experiences have been, career coaching offers an opportunity to use them to champion others who are at an inflection point, or are struggling to get noticed, or have found themselves in the crosshairs of a layoff and aren’t sure how to get back on their feet. If you’re the kind of person who delights in being helpful to others, you’ll find a way to leverage whatever background you have.

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