How to choose a coach

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Management, Career Transition

A career coach can help you make tremendous leaps forward in your career, but it can be overwhelming to decide whom to work with. Here are five considerations to keep in mind as you choose.

Credentials. Coaching is not a regulated profession. You’ll find a wide range of quality among those claiming to be experts — in fact, anyone can put up a website and call themselves a coach.

A credential through an organization such as the International Coaching Federation at least ensures that the coach has some training and coaching hours. (An ICF Associate Certified Coach has at least 100 coaching hours; a Professional Certified Coach has at least 500 hours; and a Master Certified Coach has at least 2,500 hours, which is a lot!).

The ICF has a referral engine which can be a good place to filter prospective coaches by credential, experience, cost and location.

Trust and respect. You’re going to be spending time with your coach and being vulnerable with them about your dreams and ambitions. I’d suggest this is someone you like and trust, and someone you look forward to talking with. Although your coach does not need to be expert in your specific field, you will want to have respect for their professional achievements, life experience and intellect.

Once you’ve developed a short list of candidates, be sure to interview several coaches before making a decision. How do you feel after talking with each one? Optimistic and motivated? Overwhelmed and annoyed? Ask them how they differentiate themselves from other coaches. How does their past work experience inform their coaching? Do your due diligence and ask them the hard questions. (This Forbes article lists several good screening questions.)

Cost. Coaching is an investment in yourself: If coaching helps you in your career, the resulting increase in compensation and/or happiness can impact your career trajectory well into the future.

But coaching can cover a wide range of services and the “choices can be confusing,” cautions Forbes. “So ask a lot of questions and be sure the coach is clear about what you’ll get for your money before you start work together.”

Coaching fees range wildly, from a nominal sum for a coach just starting out to many hundreds of dollars per hour for very experienced coaches. Coaches may bill hourly, offer packages or provide services over a period of time. Consider asking your employer to pay for your coaching. Many companies have a professional development budget, and you won’t know if you don’t ask. If not, get clear on how much you’re willing to invest in your coaching process to filter out coaches who don’t match your budget.

“Beware the coaches who demand large fees upfront,” advises The Wall Street Journal.

Reputation. Like a good restaurant, a good coach will have lots of positive reviews. What’s the tone of those reviews? What have the coaches written on their websites? Where else are they published? Do you like their approach and want to read more about their coaching philosophy?

“Legitimate professionals have embraced content creation, including blogging, podcasting, video blogging and more,” writes marketing strategist Dorie Clark in the Harvard Business Review. “Almost every coach will have a ‘paper trail’ allowing you to see for yourself the kinds of issues they’re writing and thinking about, how they approach the situation, and their personal style.”

Work style. Do you prefer to meet the coach over the phone, via video call or in person? Does the coach have an office or come to your workplace? Does the coach offer assessments, and is that important to you? Is the coaching customized to your situation or is the coach following a curriculum or one-size-fits-all approach? How does the coaching engagement end? I’ll say it again: Ask lots of questions before choosing a coach — and signing that contract.

“Above all else, picking a coach comes down to chemistry,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “You will be sharing intimate details of your life with your coach, so it’s important that you like them and see them as your equal.”

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.