5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Career Coach

  • Print


Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series of columns by career coach and consultant Michael Melcher. Send questions or suggestions for future articles by clicking here and putting “Careers Inbox” in the subject line. Or simply discuss the topic in the comments below.

Finding a good coach is the same process as finding a good doctor, lawyer, or Pilates instructor. You ask for recommendations. You do some research. And ultimately, you decide whether you feel a personal fit.

So before picking your career adviser, you may want to ask these five questions to help you discern the great from the mediocre:

1) What is your coaching process? Any competent coach will be able to talk about her process. She might work hourly, on a package basis, or on a monthly retainer. Whatever the structure, she should be able to explain what the process is and what the outcomes are likely to be. A good coach will start asking you questions, and most likely will echo what she’s hearing, often with some unexpected insight. The right coach will intrigue you and even impress you from the beginning.

2) What kind of training do you have? What’s called “coaching” in current parlance has an intellectual history rooted in the theories and practices of positive psychology, linguistics, leadership and various other disciplines. (For an interesting visual map of the key influencers in the development of coaching, click here.) There is, in fact, a definable skill set to coaching. This is what coaches study in training.

Coaching isn’t telling people what to do. Coaching is using inquiry to raise awareness, develop possibilities and move into action. Because career coaching also requires tactical expertise about topics like networking, interviewing and negotiations, some people who know a bit about these topics refer to themselves as career coaches, even though they have no actual training in coaching methods.

3) How did you get into coaching? Most coaches I know are people who worked for many years in information-processing or management roles, and gradually realized that they were most fulfilled when working with people and helping them to develop.They are generally thrilled to be able to follow their passion. At the same time, what they did before may have a direct bearing on the kinds of career issues you face. In 2009, there are coaches trained as lawyers, coaches trained as bankers, and even coaches trained as cops. You can find a good fit.

4) Where do you see clients? Not every coach has an office, but I would be wary of someone whose only option is to meet you at the Herald Square Starbucks. How serious a coach is about his business is partly reflected in the kind of investment he has made in training, office space and technology.

5) Are you coachable? This final question is for you, not the coach. To be coachable, you have to be open and conscious. You are, after all, trying to achieve something that you haven’t achieved yet.

People are uncoachable when they have internalized cynicism as their core definition of self, or when they are unwilling or unable to detach from a narrative of victimization. Coaching doesn’t require you to believe that happiness is around the corner, but it does require you to be interested in taking a look.

Next week: “Why Thinking Like a Lawyer is Bad for Your Career”

Last week: 5 Tips to Planning Your Career to Beat the Recession

Michael Melcher, a New York-based career coach, is the author of The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction (ABA, 2007). He has a JD/MBA from Stanford and is currently a partner at Next Step Partners, a leadership development and executive coaching firm with offices in New York and San Francisco. He writes the blog The Creative Lawyer.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.