Deciding if a Career Coach is Right for You and How to Find One

The past week has been filled with lots of time watching the World Cup, pondering if the U.S. will make it out of their group (thankfully, yes). I’ve also thought about the critical roles coaches play in the success of these teams’ training, strategy, mental preparation, and beyond. The U.S. men’s soccer star Christian Pulisic had this to say about his national team’s coach, Gregg Berhalter, “I think he’s the type of manager that players just want to fight for…he puts a great energy into the team and makes us want to fight.” Coaches are just as critical in your work life. 

I have fond memories of playing soccer starting at six years old and how coaches, even at this early age, formed who I have become. They would give advice and guidance ranging from the individual skills we needed to work on to a whiteboard session impacting wisdom. I was fortunate to play sports in high school and volleyball in college, and at these pivotal points, coaches became almost another set of parents. They were there during wins and losses, they saw us at our best and worst, but most importantly, they knew what I needed to perform at my best – sometimes it was a carrot and sometimes a stick.

As I entered the working world, many figures played a portion of a role that my coaches had played – sometimes, it would be my boss, a peer, or the CEO. But there was never someone who was that holistic coach for my first 10 years at work. 

All that changed about a decade ago while working at an enterprise software company that genuinely believed in developing its people. Until then, I had felt like my roles had been challenging, and I had been learning and growing along the way. Then a new boss showed up and pushed harder on the team and set more aggressive goals. At this point, I realized an outside expert could help shine a light on the areas I needed to grow and help guide me in this new situation.  I also realized that deciding to go with a coach would help me today and for years to come.

The best athletes never stop pushing to get better. Even professional athletes – especially those who are world-class – surround themselves with excellent coaches. So, I decided I would find a coach, but I needed to figure out how. Thankfully our excellent HR team guided me every step of the way. The best way I could describe finding a coach was similar to online dating. I needed to determine what I was looking for and who could help me. Explicitly writing down the three areas of growth I wanted to focus on drove the clarity I needed. The coaches needed to have expertise in what I was looking for. So it was similar to a swipe left or swipe right experience.

I could look at a network of coaches and then narrow it down to the three I wanted to have first dates with. These were hour-long video conference calls to get to know one another and see if we were a match, just no cocktails or appetizers involved here. 

It became quickly evident that Donna was the right match. We hit it off instantly – from our approach to life to feel comfortable asking questions of one another. From the earliest days until now, we have worked together for a decade – through life changes, ups and downs at the office, a pandemic, and beyond. She was just the objective partner that I needed.

Is a Coach Right for You

Asking yourself five tough questions about where you are in your career is the best place to start. 

  1. Am I satisfied with my current role – the position itself, my boss, or the company I work for? 
  2. Is my personal brand holding me back from getting ahead?
  3. Am I looking to make a significant change in my career, industry, responsibilities, etc?
  4. Have I reached a plateau?
  5. Have I clearly articulated what career success looks like for me?

These are all great reasons to explore working with a career coach. They can help you crystalize your thinking, challenge you on your mindset that might not be accurate to your reality, and help open you up to broader possibilities for you personally and professionally. 70% of those who work with coaches improve work performance, relationships, and communication, according to the Institute of Coaching. The most critical element must be that you are ready and committed to this journey. This is not a quick fix in the sense of having two or three conversations then you are on your way.

I have found that a true coach partnership goes deeper. He or she can be the person in the sidecar with you, helping you as your career advances and being there for you at different t stages. Remember that coaches can benefit everyone, from C-suite executives to people who have just entered the workforce. And people across all industries and startups – Forbes states that one in six entrepreneurs turns to coaches to improve their performance – to established companies leverage coaches. One great read about the power of coaches at the highest level is The Trillion Dollar Coach, which profiles the legendary coach Bill Campbell. According to Eric Schmidt, Google and Apple owe much of their trillion-dollar valuations to their business coach, Bill Campbell.

Selecting The Right Coach 

  1. Experience and Feeling of Connection Criteria Questions
    • Does the coach’s background appeal to me?
    • Do they have deep experience in areas I’m trying to work on?
    • Is their style aligned with what would help me grow?
    • Do I feel a connection during the interview session?
  2. Define what success is for you while working with a coach
    • Has it become evident what I am looking for in a coach?
    • Have I written down my goals and a timeline for accomplishing them?
    • Am I committed to working with a coach over months and quarters?
    • Who is paying for the coach – me, my company, or a combination?
  3. Initial assessment
    • Make sure to do an in-person or video conference for the first meeting.
    • Ensure the coach is not giving you the hard sell.
    • If promises seem too good to be true, be cautious.
    • Is this someone you could see working in the long and short-term?

Finding my career coach was one of the best actions I’ve taken in my professional life. I began the journey with my coach, where I needed a trusted partner to ask me the right questions and someone to role-play and talk through various scenarios. I was not looking for them to tell me the answers but to guide me in determining my path. When I felt stuck, confused, or frustrated, Donna helped paint things in a new light so that I could see things differently. She opened the aperture through which I saw the situation, my work, and my life. 

Coaches and those being coached can team to bring clarity to work, provide confidence about the next steps, and help move down a more purposeful path together. I know my coach has been critical to my growth as a person and in my career. I would welcome your stories of how a coach has impacted you.

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