A career is a complex thing. It takes up the bulk of our days, provides the income we need to survive and lends a sense of meaning to our lives—but for many of us, we're still not where we want to be professionally.
And that's why a career coach is such a valuable resource. Whether you're just starting out as a college graduate, struggling to advance as a seasoned professional or looking to make a career transition, here's how a career coach can help you find clarity and success at work.
A career coach guides you on a process of self-discovery, where you uncover your values and desires, identify your strengths as an employee, set career goals, and develop an action plan to create a career aligned with your goals, values, strengths and desires. A career coach provides support via impactful questions, career assessments, exercises and accountability.
Now that you know what a career coach is, let's clarify that more by defining what a career coach is not.
"Everyone experiences setbacks and the associated dip in self-confidence," explains Tim Toterhi, a CHRO and career coach who specializes in talent and performance management. "But there is a big difference between needing a post-mistake pep talk and overcoming a pronounced bout of depression."
Toterhi says career coaches have an ethical obligation to direct coaches to the appropriate resources if they need something outside of the scope of career coaching, whether that's mental health, financial or legal specialists.
"Coaching is all about letting the client lead because true coaching holds the belief that the client will ultimately know what is best for themselves," says career coach and consultant Jess Wass. "As a result, coaching is not a good fit if someone just wants to be given answers. For example, if someone wants a coach to tell them what jobs to apply to or just wants help with their resume or interviewing skills, they may want to instead look for specific career services rather than a career coach."
"Career coaches help you gain career clarity or develop job-seeking skills, not specifically match you with a job," says Andrala Walker, a Certified Professional Coach and owner of Envision Career Success. "So, if a client is looking for a specific job and already knows exactly what he or she wants, they would likely benefit more from working directly with a recruiter or headhunter whose sole focus is to find them a job."
You might benefit from career coaching if:
Many people undergoing a major career transition choose to work with a career coach. Changing roles or industries is a daunting task, one that a coach can make more manageable.
When Claire Elvera Wu went from being a physiotherapist working in hospitals to an account manager working in healthcare tech, she worked with two career coaches to help her get there.
"I landed my dream role in a health tech company," Wu says. "I now get to assist the digital transformation in Australia across hospitals, clinics, communities and large organizations."
Does something feel off at your job, but you're not sure what it is? Or do you know exactly what's wrong (such as a bad boss or unfair pay), but you're not sure what to do to fix it? This is the perfect situation for a career coach to step in, says Walker.
"It's not that they need someone to tell them what to do," explains Walker. "Many need help to uncover the limiting beliefs keeping them stuck and to create a plan allowing them to move forward toward career success."
Savvy job seekers know that a career coach is their secret weapon for standing out from a pool of applicants.
When an executive was laid off during maternity leave and needed support while searching for the right role, she reached out to Amy Krymkowski, the CEO and founder of Better Path Coaching.
"While navigating her new role as a mom, my client struggled with carving out focused time to conduct her job search," Krymkowski says. "She identified herself as a high achiever and said she felt guilty taking time for self-care or participating in activities that helped her feel like a 'whole person' again."
Krymkowski helped her client reframe the challenge and adopt a more helpful mindset. "This reframe helped her reflect on her top skills, strengths, and professional accomplishments to best articulate her brand and value proposition to others. She drilled down to identify target roles and companies in the industries where she knew her skills would be recognized and valued. She began to communicate her brand and her targets to her network and was strategic in her networking efforts."
After interviewing with several companies and tapping into her network, Krymkowski's client landed another executive role at a global company in less than 100 days.
If you're a student, working with a career coach before graduation is a great idea—especially if you don't know what kind of job you want. A career coach can help you identify your strengths and values and explore job options that align with those.
Job seekers who have submitted application after application but still haven't managed to snag an interview might benefit from a career coach. While a coach is not a resume writer and cannot guarantee you an interview, they can help you identify and communicate your unique strengths as an employee and review your resume and provide feedback on how to strengthen it so it stands out from the pile of applications.
Does this sound familiar? You get the exciting news that the employer would like to interview you, but after that initial call, you never seem to make it to the next round.
The problem here could be that you need to work on strengthening your interview skills. This is where a career coach can help by role-playing, identifying your strengths and blind spots and providing feedback that will help you nail that next interview.
To give you an idea of the wide range of things a career coach can help you achieve, below are some common services that career coaches offer:
To help guide your coaching and explore new career paths that fit you, many coaches offer a career assessment to evaluate your strengths and how those might apply to a future job. They'll then go over the results with you and help you create a plan based on which of those career options piques your interest.
Career assessments are part of the Career Clarity coaching package that Walker offers. "By providing career assessments and clarity exercises, I help clients select careers or make career pivots that are in alignment with their strengths and long-term goals," she says.
During a job hunt, a resume can make or break an opportunity to land an interview. If you really want to gain the upper hand, consider a career coach who offers a resume review.
There's a distinction to make here, though: Career coaches are not resume writers. They'll likely analyze your resume for areas of improvement and offer you guidance based on their expertise, but they're not going to write it for you.
Many job candidates struggle during the many rounds of interviews needed to land the job. That's why some career coaches offer interview coaching, which usually consists of a mock interview, followed by feedback and a plan for improvement. Being able to practice your interviewing skills with a professional can make all the difference.
Accountability is a hallmark trait of career coaching. Your coach will first find out what your goals are and then will regularly check in with you on your progress.
Don't underestimate the power of accountability. It can be the difference between wishing for a career goal to happen and making it happen.
"I’ve found that most employees understand what they should say and how they should say it," says Melissa McCormick, a career coach who worked in corporate America for 32 years. "But where they fail is actually saying it or actually asking. A career coach holds the person accountable, and accountability is what moves business and people forward."
If having a difficult but necessary conversation at work is one of your goals, a career coach can help you practice having that conversation. For example, if you want to ask for a raise but don't know how to approach your boss about it, a career coach can help you prepare.
If you're dissatisfied at work, it might mean you're not using your values and strengths in your job. Career coaches dig in to find out what you value and what you're good at to help you find alignment.
Using exercises to help clients understand what motivates them is Associate Certified Coach Laura Barker's favorite kind of coaching.
"Once you identify your values, you can understand why you feel good or bad with the work/career you’re doing," Barker says. "You’re either honoring your values or you’re not. When you’re not, you can feel 'stepped on.' When you are, you feel resonance. That’s what people really want from career coaching—to feel resonance, the sense that what they’re doing makes a difference to them and to others."
"As a career coach specializing in confidence, I begin by working with the client to un-pick any self-limiting beliefs that may have held them back in pursuing a goal," says Rachel Gilfrin.
She then helps the client define their version of long-term success and identify their values and strengths before moving on to crafting a pitch, polishing their resume and prepping for interviews.
"Ultimately, the service is tailored to what the individual needs most of," Gilfrin adds. "We are all different!"
And that's the beauty of career coaching; the right coach will tailor their approach for your unique needs.
Choosing a career or making employment-related decisions can be confusing. Working with a career coach can help you gain clarity; while they can't give you the answers, they'll help you realize the best decisions for you.
As we saw in the examples above, many people hire career coaches when they want help snagging a job that's more aligned with their values or when they want a competitive edge in their job hunt.
Beyond job hunting, career coaches can help you even if you already have a job but want to advance in your career. For example, they can help you create a plan for asking for a raise or dealing with a difficult issue at work.
Perhaps one of the best things about career coaches is that they'll help you identify and lean into your strengths. When you're constantly neglecting the things you're good at, dissatisfaction naturally arises. Knowing your strengths (and using them!) can be a game-changer in your career.
Unlike professions such as doctors, lawyers or therapists, coaches aren't regulated by the government. That means there is no specific training or license that someone must have in order to call themselves a coach—but don't let that scare you.
Some coaches do seek out credentials or certifications, which, though not required, provide the coach with formal training and provide their clients with the comfort of knowing they've met specific standards.
For example, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is a well-known global organization that provides independent certifications that are often seen as the gold standard in coaching. It offers three tiers of credentials, and its highest level (Master Certified Coach, MCC) indicates the coach has undergone 200+ hours of training and amassed 2,500+ hours of coaching experience.
Finding the right career coach is a highly personal thing. You might value a career coach who is credentialed by the ICF, for example. Or, you might value one that has no official credential from an organization but has years of experience helping people just like you land their dream job. You might even decide you want to hire a fairly new career coach who has personal experience in the exact kind of career path you hope to follow.
It is completely appropriate to ask a potential coach about their training. Ask them what kind of clients they've worked with before and if you can see testimonials. You can also ask them what it's like to work with them and what you can expect.
Have an open mind and, regardless of training, discern whether this is a person whom you like, feel comfortable around and has the proven experience to help you become the best professional you can be.
If you've read all of this and are thinking that career coaching sounds like the ideal job for you, Fingerprint for Success offers training that will provide you with internationally-recognized coaching credentials that will give you an advantage in the field.
Only F4S offers an in-depth look at the Inventory for Work Attitude & Motivation (iWAM), which identifies 48 distinct traits and shows you how to unlock potential by tapping into those insights. In the training, renowned coach and F4S founder Michelle Duval reveals the effective coaching interventions that she's developed from working with founders and their teams over the past 20 years.
Learn more about how to become a fully certified F4S Coach & People Leader.
If you're already a professional coach and looking to expand your impact and join a high-performing team, check out our opening for an Executive & Wellness Coach.
As you can see, a career coach can offer you so much—from identifying your strengths as an employee to helping you explore potential careers to prepping you for interviews. A great coach can be the difference between a job that's "meh" and a role you absolutely love.
So, where should you start?
F4S offers free AI-powered coaching programs that are tailored to your unique work traits and goals. They also have a team of human coaches available if you want an added layer of accountability.
Our programs were designed by world-renowned coaches. Sessions only take 5-15 minutes. Get started for free with your personalized program now.
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Coach Marlee (your amazing AI-powered personal coach) will analyse your unique traits and goals to let you know which program to start with (and if there are any you should skip)!
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Big picture thinking is at the heart of figuring out your next step. Increase your comfort and use of abstract and strategic thinking to identify priorities and gain a broader perspective. Big picture thinking is key in decision making, long term thinking and situations where you need to get the gist of things quickly.
Inspire yourself and others to see and achieve grand visions and goals. A focus on goals is especially helpful for figuring out your next step, maintaining focus on your career and life goals over time, achieving satisfaction at work and in life.
Explore, develop or strengthen your emotional intelligence (EQ). Awareness of your and others’ emotions is at the heart of making fulfilling changes in life, ‘reading people’, impactful communication, deep relating and authentic connections at work and in life.
In this high impact eight week program Coach Marlee will help increase your comfort and confidence to take on positions of influence and leadership, navigate organizational politics and also help you develop greater comfort to compete and collaborate at the top of your industry or field.
Develop ‘step back’ mastery for increased self-awareness and tools to figure out your next step. Reflection and patience are core to consolidating learning, development, strategic thinking, recharging and living an authentic and meaningful life.
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