ask the readers: has career coaching ever helped you?

A reader writes:

I have been trying to find a different job/career for about 2 years, and specifically trying to relocate back to my hometown area. My education and background are not really in a thriving industry, and at the small company I work at, I do several different jobs, which means in my job search, I am slightly qualified for a lot of positions, but not really overly qualified for anything.

So at several points in my search, I have considered working with a career/life coach to help me assess my skills and perhaps get some clarity on what might be my best approach to a different career (and not really for the resume/cover letter services). However, they are very expensive, and this has been my main drawback, compounded with reviews I read where other job seekers have not felt like the service was worth the money.

In your experiences, have you come across peers/applicants/whoever who have been through professional coaching and found it to be helpful and worthwhile? And along those lines, do you find candidates who have worked with coaches to be any more appealing than the general public?

I don’t know if you have any experiences with the coaching scene or not, so no worries if you don’t. Coaching is even something I would possibly consider as a career; I can see wanting to help people in a similar situation figure out what career may fit best with their skills and personality, but certainly I would want to work with a coach before I made any type of decision like that.

I only know a few people who have used career coaches, but the ones I know were uniformly disappointed. They all found their coaches cheesy, fond of a sort of unsophisticated “you can do it!” type pep, and lacking the sort of nuanced knowledge about how my friends’ fields worked that they needed in order to have a useful conversation.

But this is a small sample — and I admittedly have a curmudgeonly and highly skeptical stance on the career coaching industry itself — so I’d love to hear from readers on this.  Readers, if you’ve ever used a career coach, what was your experience like? And if you had one who you liked, how did you find that person? (If there are some good ones out there, part of the problem seems to be that no one knows how to find them amidst the bad ones, so advice on how to locate a good one would be especially helpful.)

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. Brett*

    I suspect career coaches are great for the truly clueless and basically useless for people of average competency or better (and the OP certainly seems fine). I’ve never met anyone that’s used one, so I suppose that doesn’t make my opinion worth much.

    But for OP, it sounds like something you might try doing is networking a bit in some of the potential fields you could end up in. Talk with people about their careers, ask what you could do to deepen your expertise or transition to that area. Worst case you get some good ideas that you can work into your plan, best case you find someone awesome to have lunch with occasionally that can mentor you.

  2. Anonymous*

    All I can say is that one of my friends is going to grad school funded entirely by her parents to become a career counselor after 3 years of quitting jobs/internships after a few weeks/months because they didn’t meet her expectations and/or she learned it wasn’t the field she was interested in. Of all of my friends from college, she is the the last person I’d say is qualified to give people career advice given the direction of her own non-existent career path. She has never held a job for more than 3 months but she is presently interning as a career coach at a college in NY… so in the least, before you allow someone to coach you on your career, do your research and make sure they even know what it is like to have one!

      1. Anonymous*

        Just to pile on… I have a relative who wrote a book about career coaching. She inherited money and has never held a steady job in her life.

        1. Kelly O*

          I have an acquaintance who calls herself a “life coach” too – she started down that path after she got laid off several years ago, and it is all I can do to ask “so how do you plan on helping people with their careers when your own was such a mess?”

          I don’t say it, obviously, but I wonder sometimes. All the unasked-for advice she’s ever given me has been a bit rubbish.

            1. Kelly O*

              I have no clue, but she has some.

              Don’t get me wrong, she is a sweetheart, she has a heart of absolute gold, but career advice? Last person in the world I would ask.

              She knows that I am kind of struggling right now and has offered to help, and I half-listen when she calls. I don’t want her to think I’m being rude, and I appreciate that she cares, it’s just not helpful at all.

            2. Rana*

              I’m betting it’s being a combination of good listener, cheerleader, and coach in the sense of “do your push-ups” – that is, it’s less about the specific career-focused knowledge that the coach has, and more about encouraging the client to figure out for themselves what they want to do, then helping them meet their own goals when it gets hard.

              If you don’t get that sort of feedback from friends and family, I can imagine that sort of encouragement and tough love from someone would be useful, even if they can’t offer specific advice about a particular aspect of job- hunting.

    1. Anonymous*

      Me again… I think you’d be better off speaking to people who work in the fields that interest you (if you are unsure what you want to do). You may even be able to job-shadow, etc. Once you decide what you want to pursue, tailor your resume to that field and then apply for some entry-level roles, get the training you need for the field, etc! You could even try taking on a temp role in the field so you gain exposure before committing to a permanent job. Just my two cents.

      1. Kimmie Sue*

        Adding to this comment….after the networking, perhaps find a “mentor” or two. A successful person(s) within the industries that you are qualified for. A strong mentor can provide great advice, coaching and direct feedback.

    2. Dom*

      +1. The only life/career coach I know started doing it to make money when she couldn’t get a job herself….not exactly a resounding endorsement for her skills in the area. Not saying they are all like that, but definitely worth checking the person out before handing over cash…

    3. Jennifer*

      Hah, there’s a guy in the book “What Should I Do With My Life?” who did the exact same thing.

  3. Anonymous*

    When I was laid off, career coaching was part of the severance. I found the coach useless, as he approached job hunting from a salesman mindset (track down a live person and pester them!) and because so many of his clients were higher level VP/director types, he seriously had no sense of what mid-level folks face in job hunting. For example he was strongly pushing me to apply for jobs halfway across the country because a sales rep he knew managed to get a fabulous job in Texas and only had to fly in once a month for meetings and a woman with a very unusual skill was in demand enough that she could live where she wanted to and report in to NYC. Neither of those examples was at all applicable to the type of work I do, which generally needs to be performed on site. I ended up not going back for any of the remaining sessions. I did get a smidgen of good resume advice from their resume coach that was useful, but even there, I pretty much took their format and created my own document. So in my opinion, not worth the money for most people.

  4. The IT Manager*

    I’m going to +1 Brett and Anonymous above me.

    I haven’t used one, but can’t imagine them being useful. I think you have to look for contacts and mentors in the fields you’re interested in. Now I am both introverted and shy so trying to cold contact people is both nervewracking, scary, and stressful but I think you need advice specific to your field/s of interest and a general career coaches won’t have the details.

    I’d personally do a lot of reading, research, and soul-searching in the areas I was interested in and think that would do you more good than a career coach. It’ll be cheaper but more time consuming on your part.

    I found What Should I Do with My Life? by Po Bronson inspriational about making career changes and dealing with change. It’s not a self-help book, but it could spark something in you. But I’m a reader and researcher so YMMV.


    I’ve worked with two career coaches. One was a terrible experience and one was fantastic.

    I’ll start with the reason I went to a coach — I had been in Journalism for my entire professional life and growing up, I hadn’t ever considered another career path. So when things started going downhill, I didn’t really know what else I wanted to do or could do, and I thought an impartial stranger would be a good person to bounce ideas off of.

    The terrible experience was a free hour of coaching with my alma mater’s coach, provided as one of the “perks” of being in my alumni association. Like I said, I had no clue what direction I wanted to go in and she basically told me, I can’t help you if you have no direction. She focused too much on Meyers-Briggs and deciding what box I needed to put myself in.

    I found my second career coach through Psychology Today’s therapist finder and had phone interviews with a few before I settled on one I liked. I did this after a particularly bad “breakup” with a job and I knew I was approaching my job search in the wrong way and taking the wrong jobs with the wrong people, but I didn’t know what I wanted and I was tired of using the trial-and-error approach. This wasn’t, “I’m going to help you find your dream job and then introduce you to people in your field” but “We’re going to figure out what you’ve been doing wrong and explore what you want out of your workplace and your career.” It was successful because I ended my sessions with a clear picture of the type of workplace I wanted, the type of boss I wanted to work with and some clear values and objectives I wanted to find in my next career.

    It’s like the difference between seeing a matchmaker and a relationship counselor. You’re going to get very different results, but they require very different perspectives and different amounts of work.

    BTW, a lot of the therapists I looked at with Psychology Today accepted insurance (if your insurance provides mental healthcare) or worked on a sliding scale.

    1. Louise* – could I ask how the second therapist you saw described their approach, or what search terms you used? Your experience with the second therapst sounds just what I am looking for and it would help me narrow down my search if I knew more about what I was looking for.


        Psychology Today’s therapy directory* allows you to search by location and by speciality. I sent out emails to several of them with some boilerplate questions to gauge (a) whether they were any good at this, (b) why they wanted to be career counselors/coaches and (c) whether they were a good fit for me.

        I chose my particular counselor because he was a licensed counselor whose focus was in career coaching and not just something he did as part of an overall practice. He also does management and team coaching, along the lines of what Alison does. He had also had a successful career in media, which I appreciated, being someone who was leaving that field. Likewise, he had actually *been* a manager.

        I got to decide the terms and pace of how I wanted to work through things, so I focused intensely for about two months and ended with a pretty clear picture of what I wanted professionally. I already knew how to get a job. But I didn’t know why I hated all these jobs I was getting. And counseling really helped with that.

        *Going through the Psychology Today directory is probably the worst way to do this, but I didn’t really know another way to filter what I was finding and I figured it was better than blindly googling. Referrals are probably better.

    2. twentymilehike*

      I feel the need to ask that if you found someone in Pscyhology today, were they actually a counselor or a therapist? … someone who is licensed?

      I ask because I know this particular person who just could hold a job–not that he was a lousy worker, he was just never happy and always quitting. One day he decides he’s going to be a “life coach.” While slightly different than a career coach (though he does dispense advice about all manner or things), I get the feeling that all it takes is you saying that’s what you are to make you one and to go to lots of self-help seminars. And yes, this person is taking on “clients” who pay him money to give them advice to better their lives. Basically people are paying him to be their friend. I’m sort of not okay with that. I mean, I have friends and mentors and colleagues that do these things without taking my money.

      On the other hand, someone who is actually a licensed counselor or therapist could specialize in all sorts of areas and could offer a beneficial service to people who are in need. I’ve seen these people–some have helped and some have helped me to realize that I really did have the answers inside me all along.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Jason Blair — the reporter who was famously fired from the New York Times for blatantly plagiarizing and fabricating facts in his articles for them — is now a life coach. I’ve always thought that was telling. (And I don’t mean to imply that he didn’t learn all sorts of valuable things from his ordeal. I’m sure he might have. But … still.)

        1. K.*

          Exactly. From what I can tell, anyone can hang out a shingle and call himself a life coach – it doesn’t seem to require any training or credentials.

          1. Anonymous*

            Actually not true for much longer. The field is going through big changes and now any reputable coach needs to be licensed. As the field becomes more regulated and professionalized, the more these unlicensed self appointed coaches are going to be out of business.

      2. Nichole*

        I appreciate that you made this distinction. A “career counselor” who is an actual licensed professional counselor or therapist who specializes in career issues is completely different than a “career counselor” who declared it so and started collecting money. The latter has created such a crappy pseudo industry that the former are either chased off or lost in the pile.


        I just checked his credentials. He’s a licensed counselor with a professional focus on career coaching.

    3. CounselingCenterOfficeManager*

      FYI, it would be quite the exception for your insurance to pay for career counseling. Those licensed counselors probably list that they accept insurance because they do — for mental health treatment. Career counseling does not typically fall under that category and is not billable to MOST insurance companies because those services are not medically necessary. You will likely have to pay out of pocket for career counseling services.

    4. Anonymous*

      Great point about the second experience. I see a lot of really negative responses from people who have actually never worked with one. I have a friend who is a coach and she’s licensed and she does amazing work. Her program took 2 years to complete and then has continual years of advanced training. Her approach is not about giving career advice (like how to put your resume together, how to write a cover letter, how to network, or even pep talking). It’s really almost therapeutic in modality. She works with clients who don’t know what they want or know but have some internal block that prevents them from doing what they need to in order to get a job. She works intensively with them, to get them to go deep and really figure out those blocks or areas of confusion. She has had great success with her clients. I think it’s best not to paint the field with a single brush.

    5. Anonymous*

      Alison: I typed a whole response, hit submit, and then…nothing. Problems again with commenting? Or my end?

  6. Anonymous*

    I think part of the problem is that the field is booming in such a way that it overshadows the few who are great. I noticed a very large number of career coaches on LinkedIn’s Answers page, and ironically, they seemed to be the ones with the worst advice. People are taking advantage of a crappy economy and high unemployment, and since there are little uniform requirements in becoming a coach, I think more people are going into the field as a way to make a quick buck.

    I think the best means of finding a good coach is talking to people who have had one and getting reviews and recommendations.

  7. mirror*

    I think informational interviews would be your best bet.

    My last boss was engaged to a career/life coach. He would also do lots of work at our company, so I got to know him pretty well. He definitely fits Allison’s description. He was apparently quite successful at it, if you judge him by his clothing/car/house/various seminars.

    He completely misjudged me. He had this spiel where he says he can evaluate everyone in 5 mins and know what is the best career path for them. Well, he spent several hundred hours with me, and didnt know me at all. Because I’m very good with computers, he said I cannot be a creative person…even though my job was to photograph artwork, create product videos, marketing materials, email newsletters…and as a child all I ever did was art projects. I mean, graphic artists work with computers, so they arent creative?! Makes no sense. I’m now a wedding photographer, and I love being creative!

    He was also very touchy-feely, food conspirator, Tony Robbins-believer, etc.

      1. Jamie*

        I’m pretty sure they are the people who plan menus at 90% of the restaurants we order from at work to make sure there is nothing I like.

        I didn’t know it had a formal name. :)

      2. KarenT*

        I thougt a food conspirator was one those people who are concerned with how our food is out to get us–hormones in milk, toxins in vegetables, etc.

      3. Nichole*

        I figured it was like the diet guru that ended up getting thrown out of a previous OP’s office by security.

  8. Nobody*

    My boss used a career coach (or rather, an “executive consultant”) who provided fairly specific advice about running a non-profit organization, particularly board relations and networking-for-fundraising. From what I understand, there was also a lot of “you can do it!-s” but in the context of very specific advice.

    I’m not sure if anything like this is available for the peons, but I’m sure it would be quite expensive.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, this isn’t really a career coach, but rather an organizational or executive coach. Different thing — more similar to how I do management coaching, which is where I help managers work through specific management challenges they’re grappling with.

  9. Scott*

    In my experience, career coaching is not unlike almost any other profession in that there are good ones and there are bad ones. I believe that some people do have a passion for helping people with their career path and have the skills to offer unique insights and assist with planning, goal setting, accountability, asking the right questions, etc. Having said that, I believe there are “career coaches” out there who don’t have a passion for helping others and do not offer anything particularly helpful to those looking to improve their professional life. This is especially true in today’s job market where there seems to be a new industry evolving around people offering the mythical magic bullet to frustrated job seekers.

    My advice to the reader would be to connect with some non profit networking groups or contact the career services departments at local colleges. These groups often offer career coaching at little or no cost and in my experience these folks typically are passionate about trying to help those looking to make a career change. Going this route may not offer all of the bells and whistles that an expensive career coach may offer, but if you have been in job search for two years (I’m at 14 months myself) you may find that a little help can sometimes go a long way.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      One caution here — you’ve got to distinguish between having the passion for something and being good at it. You can have a passion for helping people with their careers but still not be especially skilled at it. (You see this with college career centers a lot, unfortunately, where their advice is frequently awful.)

  10. K.*

    I have a friend who is seeing (via phone and email – the coach lives six hours away) a life coach specifically to help her figure out what she wants to do career-wise – well, really, to help her shift back to the sector she left a few years ago. She says it’s helpful; I was extremely skeptical, because while I believe very strongly in psychotherapy (I went to college wanting to be a psychologist), life coaches aren’t therapists and I didn’t see what one could do for you that a plain-speaking friend couldn’t. From what I can tell, many life coaches’ credentials are basically calling yourself a life coach and then charging people money.

    I have another friend who got career coaching as part of his severance after a layoff, and he described it as ridiculous – like Anonymous at 10:41, he found the coach to be a hard sell sort of person and completely out of touch with what he was looking for.

    Barbara Ehrenreich recounts her experiences with a career coach in her fantastic book Bait and Switch and she describes it similarly (and the coach she works with is all about the “personal brand”) – the excerpt from the book’s website is the section on career coaching.

      1. K.*

        I adore Barbara Ehrenreich. I recommend everything she’s written, especially Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed, probably her best-known book about the working poor (she lives on minimum wage for a year).

        1. twentymilehike*

          Nickel and Dimed, probably her best-known book about the working poo

          Ooooh .. thanks for suggesting this! It’s been on my to read list foreeeeever. I’m going to move it up to the top now!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I LOVE her. Did you read Nickeled and Dimed? It’s about minimum wage jobs. Scary stuff, and I’ve been there, so it brought back some very bad memories. Also Bright-Sided is good too, about how positive thinking is making us all stupid.

    2. Hope*

      Wow. I once hired a former secretary of a designer we worked with as a career coach. She did the co-active coach thing, and had moved to California to pursue this career, as that was part of her own dream. After a while, I realized she was basically a pushy cheerleader for my own ideas, which she solicited aggressively. To top it off, I checked out her website before posting this and she is still using a blurb she asked me to write 16 years ago as a recommendation. Needless to say, nothing she pushed me to do helped much, but I have done fairly well on my own. I wonder how she is really doing vs. the vision she presents on her website. The ICF awards certificates and perpetuates themselves relentlessly IMHO. Sorry for the cynicism, but that was a waste of money and basically consisted of me helping an old friend survive on the W. Coast. Can’t say it moved my career forward, and it WAS pricey.

  11. Jamie*

    No personal experience with this – I get all my career coaching from this blog, but when the OP mentioned this is something she considered doing herself I was puzzled.

    I know Alison has said repeatedly that the web is full of people giving hiring advice who don’t/haven’t done hiring themselves and she’s right. If I were to hire a career coach I would think the vetting process would be to see how their approach made them successful independent of the coaching thing. Proof that it at least worked for them.

    I understand seeking direction in career matters – but I don’t know how you could provide direction to others if you haven’t made the journey yourself?

    1. Kelly O*

      Same here. I figure it’s a lot less expensive than a “career coach” and I get all sort of perspectives I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to see (thank you, librarians!)

      1. Laura L*

        On behalf of the librarians: You’re welcome.

        Ditto on getting career advice from this site. I tell everyone about the advice I read here.

  12. Ivy*

    The only experience I have in this, is career councilors available through university (the ones that help you figure out where your going in life, not the ones that give you bad job application advice).

    I think the biggest thing with going to a career councilor is having realistic goals. Someone you just met is not going to be able to tell you what career path is going to make you the happiest boy/girl in the world. I mean if you can’t even tell yourself, then it’s asking a lot of someone else. Where I do think they’re useful is in helping you steer yourself in the right direction. They help you open your mind to different career paths, and careers you might not even know existed. It’s up to you if you think this is worth the money. Some self directed soul search might leave in the same place at the end of the day.

    That being said, if you already know what you would generally like to do, I don’t think they are very useful. A career councilor, unless she is/was in your field, probably doesn’t know too much about the intricacies of working in that industry. It would be better to speak to someone who works in the industry, as others have said.

    1. Ivy*

      Now that I’m rereading a few things, I’m not sure if you were asking a “what should I do with my life” type of question, or a “how do I get a job”. If it’s the latter then I suppose only my last paragraph applies….

    2. Good_Intentions*


      I think I’m a bit confused. Tell me, are the people to whom you refer in your post funded by the public such as city councilors, who receive a small amount of money for their service as elected officials? The terminology and your use of university with no article in front of it intrigued me, and gives the impression that you’re likely in the UK. Am I at all accurate in this assessment?

      Please forgive me for any perceived rudeness. I graduated from a state funded university in the American Midwest, and I’m still learning what terms apply to other schools, programs, and countries.

      At my alma mater, for example, I had an adviser with whom I was required to meet with quarterly to schedule classes to meet graduation requirements for my major, and I also had the option of using the university’s general career services department for resume preparations and mock interviews. This particular department had three counselors from whom students could choose based on the career fields the paid staffers were knowledgeable.

      Your experience, and that of many others, is probably different than mine. At any rate, I did want to make sure that I understood your comment correctly.

        1. Good_Intentions*


          Thanks for the point of clarification. I was genuinely confused as I thought it referred to something else.

    3. Laura*

      I really appreciate this part of Ivy’s post: “I think the biggest thing with going to a career councilor is having realistic goals. Someone you just met is not going to be able to tell you what career path is going to make you the happiest boy/girl in the world. I mean if you can’t even tell yourself, then it’s asking a lot of someone else. ”

      I’m a college career counselor, and I meet many students who have this expectation that I can offer them the career field that would be right for them. I am not a magician, as much as this would make me more popular!

      Networking and informational interviews are great strategies to pursue industry specific knowledge. If you want another searchable database of licensed career counselors, I would visit That’s the website of the National Career Development Association, which is connected to the American Counseling Association.

  13. Matthew Soffen*

    It depends on what you call coaching too. I went to a training course at Eckerd College. I took their “Center for Creative Leadership” class (5 days). They base their assessment from surveys and input from peers (and managers) that you select. It can be a REAL eye opener (You may find that what you think you do well, others don’t see it that way – and you find out why). Their responses are “semi” anonymous.

    The course taught me more about what I was doing well (and what I was doing poorly). It helped me to “lose baggage” that was dragging me down (not getting promotions/etc.). Since then I’ve been promoted and people publicly say they enjoy working with me.

    It can be a win-win if you get the right coaching.

  14. AmyRenee*

    I’m going to address a slightly different part of the LWs question, about wanting to change/refocus his career industry and relocate back to his hometown. This was a goal in my life at one time too – I graduated from college, couldn’t find a job in my field, moved to another part of the country where my husband had a job and took a job just to get by in a different field. In the meantime, I kpet applying for jobs in my field near my hometown, and I never got ANY positive response. Even when I straight up said – “I will pay for my own relocation, I will fly myself there for interviews” – nothing. Finally my husband was given an opportunity to come back to our hometown and we jumped on it, and once home I was finally able to get a foot in the door in my industry (at the very very bottom, but it was still a foot in the door). My advice to the LW is that you need to focus on one or the other – either changing industries, then looking for a position in your hometown area after you have 2-5 years experience in the industry, or going back to your hometown and basing your jobsearch from there. It may require moving back in with family, etc, but if you are still young in your career progression this might not be the worst thing in the world, although it could be pretty risky if your industry is “not really thriving” even more so in your hometown area then in where you are now.

  15. AnonA*

    Also, there are different models. I can’t say enough about the Five O’Clock Club methodology and group. They have a very specific way to analyze and understand your career path and have a methodology for looking for jobs in your current field or a new one.

    I went to the weekly meetings and had to report to my small group on what I was doing. The small groups are led by an career coach, who also is available for individual work paid by the hour (I used it once to evaluate job offers with mine–I felt like it was worth the money). 5OCC is really about self help, group support and accountability. I always recommend them to people who, like me, had to switch career paths. They also have great books that cut through the hype (like Alison does) and focus on the things that really get people jobs.

  16. MovingRightAlong*

    I find myself in a similar position – working in a struggling industry that I wanted out of anyway and leaving with skills that make me hirable for plenty of entry level jobs because I wore so many hats. However, when comparing my history with the qualifications listed in job descriptions, I never actually meet those qualifications (e.g. Has x years experience in an office like environment. Nope, sorry! But I can file!). It’s especially difficult when the biggest overlap between previous positions and prospective positions is in the soft skill area or in other skills that are hard to “prove.”

    I ended up using one of the free career counseling sessions offered by my alma mater and was very glad I only paid for the subway ride. The woman was very nice, but didn’t really know what to do with me. I mean, really, she looked so confused when I said I was trying to figure out what to do with myself and had no ideas on helping me narrow down my focus.

    “So what do you want to do?”
    “I’m not sure, I was hoping we could talk about my previous experience and strategize ways to apply the skills I’ve developed to future positions. I’m also looking for advice on contacting people for informational interviews and locating professional organizations that might help me understand possible careers in fields of interest.”
    *Blank stare* “I think you should use bullet points on your resume.”

    That’s pretty much what happened. We did end up discussing some specific fields that I want to explore, none of which she’d heard of so the confused look just got worse from there.

    Oh right, and there was the networking seminar (lecture?) I went to and got the same reaction in the one-on-one career coaching session.

    So what I’m saying is: maybe there are some great career coaches out there, but when they’re bad, they can be really, really bad. You’ll probably get more milage talking with other people in your industry about what they see as the skills they utilize most/have developed as part of their work. Then look for specific examples of how you’ve used those skills yourself. I know, really general advice, but that’s probably what you can expect out of a career coach.

    1. Rana*

      That sounds like the sort of “coaching” I got from my university’s career center when I approached them about finding an alternative career that would make use of the skills and experience I had already acquired.

      I ended up being told that working as a submarine captain would be an excellent career choice.

      My doctorate is in history…

      (I still laugh about this. It’s like the ones I did in high school, that told me I should either be a priest or a forest ranger.)

  17. Chocolate Teapot*

    I have had an excellent experience with my Coach, but reading the experiences of others on here, I think it’s partly due to her background. She was in Senior Management for many years and is accredited. In fact, she often reminds me of Alison in the “Give it to me straight” tone of her advice!

    Coaching isn’t cheap if you have to fund it yourself, but my very first session was free and there was no pressure to commit.

    Suffice to say I am very glad I did!

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        A contact belonged to the same Networking association. I happened to mention I wasn’t happy at work and was trying to find a new job to no effect.

        My contact said “Have you ever thought of coaching?” and gave me the details of my now Coach. She contacted me, explained what coaching was. We arranged to meet and had the first session. At the end, I felt it would be good to continue and signed up for a block of sessions which helped me to get a new job. After my block was finished, I continued to see her (and still do) for what might best be described as “Career Check-Ups”.

  18. Holly*

    I have worked with a number of coaches: career coaches, business coaches, and life coaches. A coach is like anyone other professional: there are spectacular ones, and there are not so great ones. Do your research: look for recommendations from people you know. If no one you know has seen a coach, look online. Don’t limit yourself to your geographical area, as many coaches work via Skype, which opens you up to a wider spectrum of options.

    Make sure that the coach has trained as such (there are no requirements for the field, but coaches who have qualified through a serious training program are likely to be better than people who just started calling themselves a coach), and that the coach has clear recommendations or testimonials, not just on their website but on LinkedIn as well (LinkedIn recommendations are harder to fake).

    Someone earlier talked about a life coach dispensing advice. Coaches should NOT be giving out advice. They should be helping you set your own goals, determine your own objectives, and they should help you achieve them. Real coaches who have trained as such ask you targeted questions to help you get clarity on what you want and how to get there.

    Anyone who claims they can evaluate a person in 5 mins and know what is the best career path for them is not a coach I would trust. You may have a major breakthrough in just one 60-minute session, but more likely it will take a number of sessions. Coaches often encourage clients to plan for six sessions, though the best coaches will be flexible and go with what each individual client requires. Usually they will provide a free 20 minute consultation to get to know you so that you can both determine whether you want to work together.

    Another commenter says that they couldn’t see what a coach could do for a person that a plain-speaking friend couldn’t. First of all, when training as a coach, one of the first things that students are told is not to practice on friends and family. When you’re emotionally invested in someone on a personal (not professional) level, it’s hard to see clearly what the other person needs or wants. Second, coaches don’t give advice, which friends often do. They ask questions to help the client get clear on what they want.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      I suspect Holly might have been referring to my (not entirely accurate) use of the word advice. What my Coach does is not say “You should do X, Y Z” but rather “What are you going to do next?” which I think is an important distinction.

      1. Holly*

        Hi Chocolate Teapot! I just re-read your original comments, and no, I wasn’t referring to you. But yes…that’s a good distinction. :)

    2. Anonymous*

      +1 to all of the above. I work as an academic coach (providing support to new and returning college students), and coaching is never about providing answers or giving advice. I’ve never worked with a career coach before, but I imagine that the best ones focus on target questions and clarity rather than how to write a resume.

  19. AnotherAlison*

    I’m ashamed to admit I’ve talked with some of these people. I haven’t paid or gone from A-Z with any one coach, but let’s just say I knew someone starting a coaching business with multiple coaches & I was in at the ground floor as a free client.

    Some of these coaches were great. They had a fully developed set of techniques, courses, worksheets, etc. They had had careers and were in their 40s and 50s. A couple were executive level people before they changed to career coaching and one had been a successful business owner outside of the coaching industry.

    I went into this during a transition time when I had done engineering for quite a while and was trying to figure out what to do next from a list of 4-5 options that I was interested in and all fit me.

    I left with a list of 4-5 options that I was interested in and all fit me. I felt like one coach did have a good read on me, who I was, and what work fit me best, as well as good ideas with what my next step should be, but there was no revelation. His answers were more or less what I was already leaning towards.

    What’s interesting is that this was several years ago, and since then the best coach has gone on to another executive position at a marketing company and another has moved more towards executive coaching.

    I tend to feel most of what’s going on out there with MBTI or other personality profile-based coaching is BS. You ALREADY KNOW. Seriously. You become what you focus on. I’ll always be an introvert, but I was more into artsy stuff as a kid and math/science/analysis as a teenager and adult. I sure as heck don’t want to be an artist, and I’m good at and interested in STEM work. If I had practiced art, I’d probably be good at that.

    To the OP, I’d say your particular problem is that you’ve been doing jack-of-all-trades work. You haven’t had time to hone an real area of interest and expertise. I’m going to argue against the career coaches who go say look at what you liked when you were 10 and do that. Pick something and position yourself to do it. Do it, and you’ll become good at it over time. As you become good at it, you’ll love it.

    1. Holly*

      Why are you ashamed to admit you’ve seen a coach?

      You’re 100% right in saying that most people already know. The thing is, people can be so conditioned by what others want them to do that they’ve lost touch with what they want to do. That’s when coaching can be really helpful.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Mostly because the group in large seems to promote a philosophy about choosing a career that I now disagree with, and I feel like that philosophy isn’t just incorrect, it’s harmful. I think a lot of people who with time, patience, experience, and tweaks would grow to be happy in their careers jump in with career coaches at a temporary period of dissatsifaction and have their entire trajectory stretched, looped, twisted, and mangled.

        Why are people with computer science master’s degrees and good jobs opening cupcake bakeries? I blame the coaching industry. I think the world would be better off with more computer scientists than cupcake bakers (speaking from a economic development perspective), and I think the idea that someone spent 7+ years dedicate to computer science ONLY because someone else told them to is ridiculous. I believe that person may not like their current position, but dedication to a subject to get through school, grad school, and early career requires some aptitude and affinity. The person might need a new job, boss, a shift from software engineering to hardware, but I doubt the person really has the deep-seated passion for cupcakes that so many career coaches seem to think we all need to find.

        For me, it’s kind of like how you feel about a long-time religion you left. : )

        1. Anonymous*

          I think you’re overestimating the power of a coach. A coach could never force a person to jump into cupcake baking. A professional coach should never even identify cupcake baking as the “right choice.” People are going to make choices whether they work with a coach or not, but coaching opens up the opportunity to look at that choice from every angle.

  20. Bryce*

    When it comes to career coaching, it may turn out that your career issues are actually rooted in other life issues, such as procrastination, organization, attention, social skills, or assertiveness. A good career counselor will start by looking at your overall life situation and take the time to suss out these issues, and then hook you up with people who can help.

  21. Diane*

    Like the OP, I want to move in a different career direction, but I’m not quite sure how to find something that I’d really enjoy AND could succeed in AND fits my “must-have” criteria. I found this book extremely helpful:

    It’s not for everyone, but I like the way the author approaches big questions in small chunks, through clear explanation, real-life examples, guided exercises, and next steps. I’ve read it through once to get the big picture, and now I’m working my way through the exercises. It does require honest self-reflection. I find her tone direct, approachable, and even nurturing without being condescending or preachy.

  22. KateT*

    I read “New Job, New You” by Alexandra Levit and felt like I’d been to counseling. It was a quick read but with lots of specific questions to ask yourself. She gives seven motivators for changing jobs and it helped me to take on different perspectives when I was considering a career change. I think it was a commenter here who recommended the book in the first place!

  23. Monty*

    I also had a really good experience with my career coach, although like Chocolate Teapot said above, I think it was due to his particular background. As part of a severance package after a particularly ungracious layoff from , we (the layoffees) received “Career Transition Services” from , which just happens to do Outplacement/layoff coordination, career transition services, and temp staffing all under one roof, how freakin’ convenient. I got matched up with an older gentleman who at first was going through the motions with me – his ‘caseload’ had increased to the breaking point what with all the layoffs coming across his desk – but we found we had a lot in common with our hobbies and passions and when we strayed into philosophical discussions we found our views of how a career and work fits into life and living to be in-sync. We worked better after he knew me well enough to eschew the smarmy, “follow your bliss!”/”What color is your parachute?”/”Who moved my cheese?”-style company line, and we were able to talk about what was going to be effective for me given my field, my outlook, my monetary situation, and my passions. We’ve maintained a good friendship in the 4 years since he was my coach, and he himself has transitioned away from and started his own coaching business. We still occasionally meet for lunch to talk about How Things Are and What It All Means and how the working world works and how it could be – I lucked out with a smart, perceptive coach.

    The most helpful items were his help with recrafting and refocusing my resume, not just as a blind application tool, but as a story of my accomplishments, and his help in crafting strategies to help with Information Interviews and how to walk that fine line between learning about a company/job and getting someone on the “inside” on your team to help you find your next job, and not going overboard and turning an InfInt into a fake job interview. Like Alison, he has an informed, realistic idea of how things actually work, what behaviors are effective, and while he stressed meeting people and personal connections were going to be my best bet for a new job, he didn’t push any of the outdated modes of job hunting that stray into outright pestering. In retrospect, a fair amount of his help was probably in reframing my thoughts around my story, around the reality of what is/isn’t owed to me, and how to approach the job hunt and interactions genuinely, without subterfuge, but assertively.

    Yeah, I lucked out.

  24. LondonI*

    Interesting question. I went to see a careers adviser at my 6th form college when I was about 17. I asked, ‘what can I do with an English degree?’ She replied, ‘how long is a piece of string?’ That was as good as it got.

    However, today my husband intends to see a career counsellor. He’s nearly 30 and his life since the age of 14 has been focused on working in his dream profession. School subjects were chosen based on his dream career, he chose not to go to university so he could focus on breaking into his chosen profession. Unfortunately, although he has achieved a certain level of success in this job, reality is starting to bite. The industry has totally changed from when he was 14, the low pay hits home more when you want a house or to start a family. The dream, sadly, doesn’t work in reality.

    So my husband lacks direction, a degree and has experience inone very niche industry. He doesn’t know what transferable skills he has or what alternative career he wants to pursue. This has plagued him for a couple of years now.

    We’ve located an occupational psychologist in our area who has spent the last 20+ years as a careers counsellor. She’s recommended in a career-change advice book and her website looks convincing. She administers a number of personality/aptitude tests and then spends the day with her client helping them to work out where they are, where they want to go and how to get there. She says she takes into account background, circumstances, financial needs, etc. before helping people decide on a career. She has a barrage of qualifications in Psychology and the like, so I do have high hopes.

    It’s fine to network with people in the potential field you want to work in, but first you have to know what field you want to enter!

  25. Anonymous*

    Pick out a career that you are interested it. Figure out what skills that career needs. Go get those skills. You’re over-complicating things – there is no magic here.

    You have access to the internet, libraries, and potentially colleges. Reach out to someone with a career that is similar to what you want, ask what is required. Look at job postings and identify skills that people are seeking. Once you identify a skill you need, go get it in whatever way you learn best – community college, trade school, picking up a book, trial and error.

    Rinse and repeat until you land a job.

  26. rachael*

    Ohh, is there a post on good career type books? I just got So Good They Can’t Ignore You from the library and am interested in seeing what it is about. Would love to hear others suggestions.

  27. Jennifer*

    Career counseling is good if you know what you want to do and it fits in with the conventional work world. If you need someone to go over your resume and cover letter and rehearse interviews with you, they’re good for that. And I LIKE the career counselors we have at my employer, for the record.

    But if you are wandering in all lost and “I don’t know what I want to do, just not this,” I don’t think it helps. Career counselors are best for fitting you into slots that already exist. Sure, they can give you the Myers-Briggs test (I honestly don’t know how this helps anything, especially when I come out with different scores every time) and a career interests/aptitude test, which told that I like writing and art! Shocker! I had no idea I liked those things! I was hoping they’d tell me I had a secret unknown passion for chartered accountancy! I KNOW I like those things, but they don’t pay off and give me a real stable job in the real world, so what good is it to know that? What writing jobs are out there these days, much less art ones? Oh, wait, none unless you freelance for peanuts. Not helpful.

    If you can’t figure it out for yourself, you’re sunk–but nobody else can really help you, either.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “(I honestly don’t know how this helps anything, especially when I come out with different scores every time)”

      Yeah. What is up with that?

      I don’t think that it is a good idea to take a M-B more than once. I am not clear on why it is such a wonderful thing, either.

      1. Laura L*

        From a psychometric perspective, it’s a bad test. It wasn’t based on a review of the literature (aka evidence) and didn’t go through the psychometric analyses that good psychological tests go through. I don’t think it’s worth much at all.

        I also have an issue with the box thing. We know from other personality measures that extroversion-introversion is a bell-curve, with the majority of people falling within one standard deviation of the mean and far fewer on the extremes. I don’t know about the other three constructs, but I’d imagine they’d have similar results.

        So, the box thing is silly, and it implies that personality traits are discrete categories that are major points of difference between groups of people when, in reality, they aren’t.

  28. April*

    A life coach is not the same as a career coach. Their are great career coaches and there are shoddy career coaches. I’ve had a great experience with a career coach (and a couple of so-so experiences).

    Here’s what made the career coach experience great:
    * I picked one overall direction I wanted to work on.
    * I researched and selected a coach who specialized in the key piece. A general career coach may be okay, but for better results pick a coach who specializes in an industry or moving to management (or from management to executive).

    Just like you wouldn’t hire your local peewee football coach for Jay Cutler, don’t hire a life coach to work with you on your career (or a outplacement coach to work with you on your career). Choose the right tool, and you’ll have a much better experience.

  29. Elizabeth West*

    Blargh! I’m going through this right now. Since I have no money for a career coach, and I’m dealing with a learning disability, I went to Vocational Rehab. Where they asked me “Well, what do you WANT to do?” My answer:

    I. Have. No. Effing. Idea.

    No one pays you to sit home and write novels. So I’ve been trying to explore things that fit my talents and interests. Web design/development, graphics, etc. I keep seeing all kinds of jobs listed, and in my head I’m seeing freelance stuff as well. Not ready for that exclusively, but it’s something I’m interested in anyway, fits with what I’m already able to do, fits with stuff I’m doing outside of my old job anyway, and can be done from anywhere (you know, in case I lose my house and have to move in with someone pleaseGodnotmymom).

    I might as well give it a shot. I don’t really have much to lose. Anything computer-related is not going away anytime soon.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Oh, meant to add, career services at my alma mater is trying to help me as well. The girl there is really nice and she is really trying. I’m putting her through the wringer because of VR’s insane requirements LOL. I owe her Christmas cookies for sure.

    2. Jamie*

      “Anything computer-related is not going away anytime soon.”

      One of the IT forums I haunt had an article posted about this very thing, some months ago. One of the tech mags had a piece on how soon we’d all be out of work since IT is becoming so simplified that soon companies wouldn’t need an IT department at all. Each department would handle their own IT needs and come together collectively to vet new tech strategies for the companies.

      Half amused/half annoyed that someone is being paid to write about how our jobs are so simple anyone can do them. I would love to be a fly on the wall when people who are VERY good at what they do, but not so much the tech end, have to come together to choose and implement an ERP.

      These are still enough people in management who still cannot differentiate between Windows and Office…so I’m not too worried about my field imploding any time soon.

      1. Kelly O*

        People write those sort of things about administrative support too. “It’s so simple really, and we can all do it, so why do we need admins?”

        Same people who run around like their hair is on fire constantly, because they can never focus on what they need to with all the administrative tasks. But they don’t need admins, no sir.

        1. Ellie H.*

          Yeah, this is a big thing at universities I think – a lot of faculty think that too much money is devoted to administrative people and that we don’t really do much and could be more effective and should do more with fewer people. Of course, in most cases, everyone could be somewhat more effective at his or her job, but it’s still upsetting to hear painted with a broad brush like that. I also have to point out that two different faculty members emailed me this week because they couldn’t find data in an Excel table I sent them due to not scrolling to the left (one of those things where the left half is locked and the right half can scroll). So maybe I am a little necessary, sometimes.

          1. Katie*

            FWIW, when faculty criticize administrative bloat, I don’t think they’re talking about administrative assistants as much as constantly proliferating deanships and the like. Those roles rarely involve teaching or research and are highly paid. Maybe I just attended fair-minded, gracious universities (ha!), but I never met a faculty member who thought they didn’t need administrative assistants. I did, however, know many who did not think they needed another 6-figure salary bureaucrat telling them what to do. You might know better or have a different perspective on this, but this is just what I’ve noticed.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Bwaa ha ha!

        Lots of them. Or open an email attachment, etc. Even if they do know, they won’t want to sully their ivory exec hands with such mundane tasks as computer or website maintenance.

        1. Jamie*

          Ha – it’s only mundane if you know what you’re doing.

          If you don’t? HTML may as well be created with Hermione’s wand and one of McGonagal’s spells.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      “No one pays you to sit home and write novels.”

      I don’t know enough details to be helpful, but my sister’s friend was a serial romance writer since college (~4-5 yrs) and then she ended up selling a “real” novel for a $250,000 advance. It took a lot of work and dedication, so I am not saying if she can do it, anybody can, but I am saying it can be done. You hear a lot of negativity about that industry nowadays, so I was definitely surprised.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That kind of advance, though, is sort of like the equivalent of hitting it big in Hollywood — tons of people working for little pay in the hopes of that happening one day, and very, very few actually getting there.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Sure, but I think the important take away is that she wrote novels as her job before hitting it big.

          Most of us go to our regular jobs and think that someday, we’ll write a novel, it will be awesome, and someone will buy it.

          She had already learned how the industry works and made real contacts who could help her long before she had the deal. She also knew how to write for novel publication, which is far from blogging, journalism, business report writing, and the other things many aspiring novelists do to convince themselves they are getting writing experience.

          She’s the perfect example of someone who did things the right way vs. what would happen if you went to a career coach. She identified what she wanted to do and worked hard to do it, taking practical, incremental steps. The career coach would tell if writing novels is your passion, then sign up for nanowrimo and just write that novel, which is totally useless advice. If I wrote a novel next month, I would have about 0.001% of the experience needed to become a novelist.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Well, I’ve done a lot of homework on the industry as well. Alison is absolutely right. It’s not the norm. It’s like thousands of little girls who learn to figure skate and only one of them goes to the Olympics. I’m not saying that it isn’t possible either; just what happened there is unlikely for most people. Most published authors have day jobs, and I’m not talking about the ones who self-pub.

            I’ve already written three novels and I’m working on a fourth. Yes, I know how to do it. That doesn’t guarantee publication, nor does self-pubbing guarantee sales.
            Unless she was publishing those books somewhere before the big one hit, I guarantee she was not supporting herself solely by writing unpublished romance novels.

            Doing this is what I’d like to do, and I’ll continue to do it no matter what. But paying the bills will require something else for right now. As for NaNoWriMo, I may do that this year to finish my WIP. After a struggle, I’ve worked out a thorny plot issue and am now ready to surge ahead.

            Writers write; they don’t sit and talk about it. Whatever they do is practice even if it’s not published. So the NaNoWriMo is not useless. It isn’t the way to get published, but it’s valuable for the fact that it gets people working on their work. You can polish the thing later.

            It took me six months to write Rose’s Hostage (the last one), and another six to edit it (I was also working full-time). No one seems interested in it, but I’m going to try a few more queries before I shelve it. I may self-pub it. I’m not sure about that yet. I’d rather get in traditionally before I do that. Self-pub still has a very bad reputation at this point due to stuff like that crazy Bible lady who was trying to sell her all-caps rant for $100 a copy on Amazon!

    4. ChristineH*

      I too have turned to Voc Rehab for help, and it has NOT gone well. I have some idea of what I’m interested in, but have never been able to provide a clear “here’s what I want to do” answer. Not to VR, not to anyone. lol.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I think it would, if everything else would cooperate with me!!!!!! I just found out the web design and communications program I wanted is only available in the day school. I can’t go to school and work at night. When would I sleep!?! My neighborhood is noisy during the day too. :(

  30. JuliB*

    In the late 90s, I was in grad school, thinking about law school. I then realized I didn’t want to make that commitment. I called up a career counselor that was featured the week before in the Chicago Tribune. I saw her a couple of times and she helped focus my life.

    She helped me determine what it was about the possible career choices I considered that I liked, how it related to other careers, and also forced me through ‘What Color is your Parachute?’. I had never taken an objective look at what I liked.

    Anyway – I immediately put changes into action, and I’ve been in IT (initially, then consulting) and it’s been the smartest thing I’ve ever done.

    Now, I’d like a voice therapist or coach (for communication skills improvement, but how do you find one of those?!?).

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Do you mean someone who will teach about tone of voice? Or someone who will teach about word choice, how to present to others?

      1. JuliB*

        Tone, volume and facial expression feedback. At times, I think I may be speaking too quietly, and I’ve also been told that I come across as arrogant.

  31. Julie*

    My coach was recommended to me by my therapist, and she turned out to be very helpful! I wasn’t asking her to help me decide on a career, but she was instrumental in bringing my resume into the 21st century, and – more important – she gave me some excellent ways to characterize and talk about my somewhat unconventional work experience. It was such a relief to have a positive way to frame my experience, but even better was the fact that she thought that my experience would be quite valuable in the right situation (and not a drawback in most situations, which is how I was thinking about it).

    At some point fairly soon, I will probably need to talk with someone about my next career move (I’ve been at the same company for 10 years and in the same profession for about 16 years), and I will probably talk with my therapist about it. She knows me well, and she has given me excellent advice about job-related issues in the past.

    I think the most important quality in a career coach is their knowing what types of work a person could do using his/her particular skills and experience – in other words, what skills/experience are generally required for which fields of work. If they don’t know that, I don’t see how they could advise someone on possible career paths. Just my 2 cents…

  32. Lynn*

    I’m not sure I would attempt to get into a field where my primary target market typically are people who do not really have the budget to pay for my services. If someone has enough money for a career coach they have enough money to learn the new skill and then gain experience in it like one normally would when coming up in any field. People who will take a pay hit when/if they make the jump aren’t really ideal for paying for the career coach services. Case in point, greater than 50% of the responses on this post had their experience with a career coach for free (via severance package, etc).

  33. ChristineH*

    I was kinda tickled to see this question posted because I almost could’ve written that letter myself. I have been trying for a long time to find someone to sit down with and just let me blab on with all of my loose thoughts and concerns in an effort to clear out the cobwebs.

    The things I hear about career counseling and coaching have been less-than-encouraging, and what I’ve read in this thread pretty much supports that. What I have tried have not helped very much. Not even my university career center. The woman I still keep in touch with is a real sweetheart, but she mostly just gives me more contact names or AmeriCorps and internship opportunities. I also have read some of those books and taken a gazillion online assessments. Yes, even What Color is Your Parachute?. One exercise that I could never do is write down stories from your life, and come up with themes through those.

    I do know that a counselor or coach can’t tell you WHAT to do. Anyone who claims that is one to run away from. From what I understand, it’s meant to help you figure things out yourself through targeted questions and maybe some exercises.

    Aside from the suggestions above, one thing I have found useful is keeping a journal, or at least just write everything down. Make lists if you have to (I have a million of those too!). If nothing else, it gets all those jumbled thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or computer).

  34. OP*

    Hi everybody – OP here. Thanks for the great response! There are a ton of great comments, but there may have been a couple who mentioned both the career decisions as well as the relocation issue.

    I got a job right out of college in that same area, and now that I would like to move my family closer to the area where I grew up, I’ve been applying for jobs in that region. These are the positions that I’m somewhat qualified for, have some experience/education in, and feel confident I could perform in the position, but am likely not the best candidate overall. Or on the other side, I am overqualified for most entry level positions. This process of resumes, cover letters, applications, interviews (which have all improved greatly since I’ve discovered AAM!), and rejection have caused me to step back and try to decide what I’d really like to do.

    There are tons of book recommendations from you guys, and I’ve already got some on reserve. A couple I’ve been through are: Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul D. Tieger, and The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (more of the entrepreneurial genre), both of which have their points, but nothing to make me jump to action. I’ve also been to a informal grad school meeting with a potential advisor, but didn’t feel like that was the best route for my family and situation.

    In the end, I don’t think I will pursue the coach scene, but would like to find a mentor or someone to help me sort out all my ideas, which include the possibility of having my own undetermined business. I have been to a meeting with an advisor at my local SCORE office, and while that particular meeting didn’t yield any direction, I’d like to continue to pursue having that type of relationship with someone who’s got that “I’ve been there and I can help” attitude to help me reach my potential.

    I realize that I have a lot of scattered ideas and theories on what to do occupationally, and I guess I just want someone to help me sort them out. As a 30 year old with a young family, I don’t want to look back at 50 or 60 and wonder what my career could have been. But I’m optimistic – I know that the more I read and research, something will click and things will work out.

  35. Banker*

    I think the best “career coaches” come in the form of peers / own bosses / people you respect in your own domain…however they are not “coaches” per se since they have no commitment to offer you services or advice. Maybe a mentor could be a better option?

  36. Karl Sakas*

    I had a positive experience working with a career coach, with a few caveats — I liked my current focus (marketing); I wasn’t moving geographically; and I was already familiar with personality-type theory. So, he wasn’t advising me from scratch.

    The biggest benefit was having a system for ongoing accountability. When we spoke each week, I reported on my progress and then made commitments for the next week (e.g., how many people I’d contact for informational interviews, how many people I’d follow up with from previous weeks, and how many in-person meetings I’d arrange). Importantly, I committed to consequences if I didn’t meet the goals… and if I didn’t, I had committed to mail a $20 donation to an opposing political party.

    For me, having that structure for keeping myself accountable was really the key benefit of coaching. It still took nine months — it wasn’t a magic solution. It still took nine months. BUT, the process helped me build a local network that helped get me my next job in one month.

    There are cheaper ways to get that accountability — whether it’s having an accountability buddy or being part of an in-transition group that has that built-in. For me, the fact that I was paying a lot of money made it more real.

    You also need to be ready to do a ton of work “outside of class” (that is, apart from coaching meetings). For me, that meant going to events, volunteering in trade associations, writing an industry blog, and doing informational interviews with 75 people over the nine months. It was a lot of work.

    I wouldn’t hire a career coach if you’re not willing to invest a lot of time each week doing things that stretch you. I saw many of my coach’s other clients stop coming to the weekly accountability calls… maybe it was him, but I don’t think so. People seemed to have just given up.

  37. Anonymous*

    My husband tried two. One was reasonably priced, local, and great. The other (the first one) was with a national firm, a well-known one, and we paid a TON of money for what ended up being a useless experience for him.

  38. W*

    I haven’t read through all the comments. I saw a career counselor this past spring. The reason I went is because I am in a career transition and was applying willy nilly to all kinds of jobs and frustrated by my lack of direction. First I found her by googling career counselor and found a great site that had lots of good references. I called and spoke with a counselor about what I was looking for from the counseling. The counselor I ended up with was the head of a million dollar manufacturing company but left b’c of family stuff. She does the career counseling and a number of other things so she is able to have flexibility in her work and be with her family.
    I paid for 4 visits about $500.
    What I got out of it was a clear direction of where I want to go. She did a career retrospective with me and we were able to focus on what I am good at and like to do, what my interests are. I also got a list of questions for information interviews when networking. This may seem trivial but it really has helped with my networking skills and focus during these meetings. And she told me to go out and talk to people, like 15 a week. She was able to help me focus on who to talk to and gave me the boost of confidence I needed to hear. She reminded me that people really do want to help but to come prepared. This all happened in the first meeting. In the next meeting we were able to see where I was headed and also to readjust my focus if it didn’t seem the direction was working.
    I found career counseling really helpful in getting my focus. I would encourage the OP to do a phone interview first and see if the counselor is a match.

  39. Naomi*

    I’ve actually had a very good experience with a career coach recently. I’m about to graduate from college, so I’ve spent a lot of time doing career workshops and working with the career services people, but I also decided to try out an independent career counselor. She was far better than any career counselor at my school. She spent about 3 hours talking to me about my previous jobs/coursework, what sort of things I enjoyed and was good at, and helped me revamp my resume. She didn’t tell me what I wanted to do or write my resume for me; she just asked questions that helped me figure out the answers myself. I wasn’t incompetent or clueless about what I wanted to do before, I’d spent a lot of time reading sites like this one, looking at different career options, and so forth, but she really helped me get beyond what I thought I should do, or what I expected to do. I should mention that this person had decades of experience as a career advisor at a college before starting her own advising business–I think that the important thing is to find someone who’s qualified, since anyone can call themselves a career coach.

  40. K.L.*

    I worked with a coach who was friendly, lazy and forgetful. Some of the coaches above seem the opposite, so it looks like it depends who you get. But based on what I saw I’d never recommend career coaching service. It seemed too easy to book appointments and do little.

    One thing I would recommend, though, was the resume-writing service provided by the coaching firm. They framed my work in a way I never would have and it was effective. That service can definitely be found independent of coaching.

  41. Hdm*

    The coach I used is utilized by many local companies to help develop talent. I would suggest talking with folks in bigger companies to see how they develop their staff.

    This person wasn’t a career coach but a communication coach. She helped me clarify my value and how to present myself so that I could achieve the next level of excellence.

    She was not cheap. But she. Gave me homework, was more than just a chipper cheerleader and I have grown so much as a result.

  42. CareerCounselorTherapist*

    After reading all the comments, I must make a few follow up remarks.
    As a trained therapist who specializes in Career Counseling, I’m disappointed by some of the sweeping generalizations that have been made about my field. However, I understand where many of them are coming from: role confusion.

    For one, career coaches are not therapists nor career counselors. Therefore, these roles should not be used interchangeably. Others mentioned this already, but I must reiterate that Coaches are not required to have advanced degrees, certifications or any credentials, for that matter. They can simply wake up one morning and decide to coach. However, in most states, independent Career Counselors must work under the umbrella of mental health counseling and are therefore required to have at least a master’s degree and a license (this helps to weed out the charlatans) Therefore, it’s frustrating when ALL Career development professionals are lumped together as “coaches.”

    Since “coaching” is an unregulated field, I’m not surprised by all the negative experiences that have been shared. Over the years, it has become saturated with inexperienced opportunists who are eager to prey on the vulnerable, depressed, and desperate. Therefore, it would behoove you to do your due diligence prior to hiring anyone (check credentials, ask for recommendations from people you trust, run if anyone sounds like a used car salesman)! . In essence, evaluate potential coaches or counselors with your eyes wide open. And if you do decide to hire someone, be prepared to do your part. After all, no career counselor or coach can lead you to your career promised land unless you’re willing to make the trek. They are not miracle workers nor magicians; just conduits to career clarity. Wishing you all a happy holiday season (2013, that is!)

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