Heading back to work or looking for a change? Find someone who can help set you on the right path!
When management consultant Cheryl Wallace, 49, returned to the workforce after years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, she had to rebuild from the ground up. “It took me two years to learn how to tell my story without crying,” recalls Wallace, a New Yorker.
Her turning point came when a career coach told Wallace, in a no-nonsense way, that she was sharing too much of her personal struggles while networking and job hunting. Wallace and her coach came up with language that would explain the long gap on her résumé while keeping it professional—and tear-free.
“That one coaching relationship gave me the most important tool: how to tell that story,” Wallace says. “I was making the transition from the open wound to having to have a game face.”
Whether you are returning to the workforce, need a different job or want to explore a change, a career coach could help you chart your course. But before you invest precious time and resources, make sure you select a reputable coach who can tailor advice and support to meet your needs.
“As the coaching industry has exploded, there hasn’t been a specific way to evaluate the coaching models and the courses,” says Peggy Klaus, a consultant and author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner. “A lot of these coaching programs are so quick and thin. People just put out their shingles.”
Klaus once saw a new client who had been told by another coach not to stand out from the job applicant pool. The client was advised to dress in a shapeless, gray, pin-striped suit with an oxford shirt. “She looked so drab and so awful,” Klaus says. “There can be a lot of bad advice, maybe well-intended, that will really derail you in your efforts.”
To find a coach who fits your needs, ask family, friends and colleagues for references, and review training, experience, certifications and professional affiliations. For help finding a coach, check with the International Coach Federation (coachfederation.org), a professional association that certifies coaches.
Know What You Want
Having some sense of your goals will drive the coach selection process. “If you’re trying to figure out what feeds your soul, you need a career coach,” says Lora B. Poepping, a job-search coach based in Seattle. “If you already know what you want to do but you need some assistance navigating the challenging process, find a job-search coach.”
Working with Poepping, Hilary Meyerson, 42, of Seattle, mapped out a strategy to return to full-time work after being home with her children, now 11 and 13, since 2002. “When I was just going back to the workforce, I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to start,” Meyerson says. “After every session she gave me homework, really clear, crisp things I needed to send her before our next session. It refined my messaging.”
First, Meyerson took an unpaid internship for four months to add recent experience to her résumé. Then, she leveraged her occasional freelance writing into a position as a magazine editor, negotiating the additional title of social media strategist with her end goal in mind. After a couple of years, she joined an Internet startup as a marketing communications manager and social media strategist—achieving her ultimate goal.
Janice Smith, Ernst & Young’s Americas coaching leader, enlisted a coach herself when moving into her current role. “My goal was to find my leadership voice, my leadership style,” says Smith, 47, who is based in Denver. “It’s hard work. Any good coaching relationship comes with a big dose of self-awareness.”
Prepare to Work Hard
In fact, one of the most important things to understand about career coaching is the amount of effort and personal growth involved.
“Sometimes people will come and think there’s no work on their part, that somehow I’m the job fairy or the promotion fairy, and I can give them five easy steps to this goal,” says Linda Mercurio, a professional coach based in the Washington, D.C., metro area. “This is a messier process.”
Because coaching requires tough personal work, it’s important to feel a connection with your coach. Find one with the right chemistry—he or she will push you to understand your weaknesses, so you need to develop trust.
Nancy O’Brien, 55, engaged a coach when she was thinking of leaving her “big job” as a director of commercialization to start a tasting room and retail store for olive oil and vinegar in Bar Harbor, Maine. She and her coach clarified the reasons she wanted to become an entrepreneur, and her coach helped her keep perspective in the throes of the transition.
“The process of a life change should never be blindly taken,” O’Brien says. “To have the ear, the shoulder and the expertise of a coach to steer and direct is immeasurable.”
Choosing a coach
Any coaching engagement should have a clear beginning, middle and end—typically three to six months. Questions to ask a prospective coach include:
- Tell me about your background in coaching, your experience, certifications and professional affiliations.
- What type of clients do you work with in terms of industry, age and gender?
- What is your coaching process or system?
- How will we measure improvement?
- How long do you expect the engagement to last?
- What am I not asking you that would be good for me to know?