3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Hire a Career Coach

As you embark on your career restart, you may find yourself having trouble defining your goals for returning to the workforce. We call this “finding your why.”

Or, you could be wondering how to apply or translate your skills and experiences to the current job market.

If any of this is true for you, engaging with a career coach may be the way to go. But before you dive headfirst into a coaching relationship, make sure you understand what (and what not) to expect. The three questions below will help you decide if career coaching is the right option for you.

1.  What does a career coach even do?

Let’s start with what a career coach doesn’t do:  

  • Have the answers to all your career woes.
  • Tell you definitively what you want to be when you grow up.
  • Decide on your dream job and land it for you. If only! 

There’s no magic bullet or quick and easy answers. Career coaches teach you how to ask and answer the very questions needed to get you closest to your ideal career match.

They can also help you identify short, medium, and long-term goals as you restart your career. Perhaps most crucially for a returner, they can help you identify organizations and roles aligned to your skills, including those gained through caregiving and community service experience, and to your future career goals. 

Career coaches won’t (and shouldn’t) simply tell you what they think you should do. The service they provide is even more valuable: education, guidance, and support in the research, study, discovery, planning, and achievement of your specific career goals. They serve as an essential partner in moving toward crucial decision points and holding you accountable for executing your defined restart strategy. 

A career coach can partner with you on tangible aspects of your career restart, such as:

  • Creating a strategic plan
  • Networking
  • Resume writing
  • Personal branding
  • Interview preparation
  • Salary negotiation

A good career coach can help returners specifically with:

  • Knowledge of current labor market trends and how your specific skills and experience can add value now
  • Identification of your transferable skills currently valuable to the job market
  • Support in the identification and selection of upskilling and reskilling training programs
  • Creation of your professional marketing tools, such as a targeted professional resume and compelling LinkedIn profile

As you move on in your career, a coach can also work with you on things like reputation management, skills development, advancement (promotions!), and more.

2.  How do I know if I’m ready to work with a career coach?

You’re ready for a career coach if you understand:

  • The necessity of introspection and self-reflection as tools for how to define and attain future career success.
  • The value of taking control of your career restart as something to manage and develop, rather than applying for random jobs and hoping for the best.
  • The benefits of working on your career goals with an unbiased, outside perspective dedicated to holding you accountable for your career restart plan. 

Defining and executing a career strategy doesn’t happen overnight. To gain the most value out of career coaching, you will need to make the time, energy, and financial investment required.

The good news is you won’t be going it alone. Your time and energy will be put to good use in partnership with an expert who can help you accelerate your career restart. You will be provided the tools, knowledge, and support to create and execute a focused plan while also avoiding the many pitfalls and false starts of going it alone. 

Career coaching engagements vary in length depending on specific client goals. The time commitment can be significant. You may participate in a handful of sessions (usually 60 minutes in length) or a more extended period of weekly or biweekly sessions over three, six, or even 12 months. Your selected career coach will provide specific details about the partnership structure and how long the relationship will last.

A career coaching program is only as successful as the client makes it. Significant amounts of energy go into reflecting on past work experiences, researching potential career options, and making future professional plans. Thus, you have to be willing and able to put in the work. In addition to weekly or biweekly sessions, most career coaching engagements include several in-between activities and homework such as assessments, writing exercises, research, and planning action items

The financial investment in career coaching is crucial to understand. Career coaching fees vary widely. Some estimates indicate career coaches can charge anywhere from $100-$500 per hour. Many career coaches will offer a free initial consultation. This short phone or video chat is a great way to learn the specifics and benefits of the coach’s services, the time and energy required, and the fees involved. 

3.  How do I find the best career coach for me?

Research and due diligence are critical.

Potential career coaches abound online. You can find all sorts through searches on Google, LinkedIn, most social media platforms, and specific coaching sites. Or you can go the old-fashioned route: word of mouth. Simply ask former coworkers, those in your current or previous professional network, friends, even family members if they’ve ever used a career coach or know someone who has. 

Referrals from others who have partnered with a career coach on a successful return to work can be especially helpful for finding someone who can address the issues that are unique to restarting your career after caregiving. If you can’t get a referral from another career restarter, definitely be sure to ask any coaches you interview if they’ve worked with returners and if you can speak to one or two former restart clients to gain critical insight into the process and client outcomes from someone who was in a similar situation. This knowledge will deepen your understanding of the partnership dynamics and increase your confidence in the career coach’s ability to help you.

Finding a career coach isn’t hard. Finding the career coach right for you takes work. A career coach provides important third-party perspective and insight to a very personal experience. It is a relationship; a personality match is a must.  

Look for a career coach with professional experience in your target industry or your specific role, or with expertise in assessing and hiring talent. Some of the best coaches are accomplished people leaders in a particular industry whose primary focus was on the success and development of their employees and teams. Recruiters, talent managers, and human resources professionals also make great career coaches as they often have deep experience in assessing skills, determining job fit, and providing career guidance.

Look to partner with a career coach who has a specific methodology and process. They should be able to explain how their process works and provide details of previous client successes. Many coaches enter the profession to help and inspire people. A good career coach can balance support with accountability, empowering and enabling you to restart your career with confidence, and leading you toward a more rewarding professional life.   

This article was written by Shannon Hilmar, the owner of AUDACITY Career Consulting. AUDACITY was founded on a mission to support and partner with ambitious and tenacious female professionals on a journey to take control of their work lives, design careers with intention, and achieve their most audacious professional goals. A recruiter by trade, Shannon spent over a decade honing her expertise in talent finding and matching for a variety of professionals within the healthcare, nonprofit, retail, and defense contracting industries. 

Originally published January 2021.