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Career Coaching 101: Finding a Professional to Help You Find Your Fulfilling Career

Career Coaching 101: Finding a Professional to Help You Find Your Fulfilling Career“Career coaching is a great way to get personal help with establishing your professional goals, making career decisions, creating and executing plans, and overcoming obstacles that may come in your way,” according to Tracy Brisson, the founder and CEO of The Opportunities Project, a career coaching and recruitment consulting company.

But you might be confused about the process and precisely how career coaches can help. Brisson along with two seasoned coaches share all the details below.

What Career Coaches Do (and Don’t Do)

“In essence, you are in the driver’s seat, and I’m riding shotgun with a lapful of maps, travel guides, GPS, and knowledge of the terrain.” That’s how Laura Simms, a career coach for creatives, describes her role as a coach.

“As a certified life coach, I’ve been trained to focus on my client’s present life and their future (rarely their past), intently listening and asking questions, always believing that only they know what’s best for them on the path to achieving their goals,” said Michelle Ward, aka The When I Grow Up Coach. She’s helped almost 200 creative people devise the career they think they can’t have — or discover it to begin with. (Ward has a podcast that clients can listen to on her site.)

According to Simms, career coaching is a broad field. Coaches help with everything from finding the right job to advancing in the field you’re already in to finding a completely new career.

They also might focus on a particular population or demographic, she said. For instance, Simms works with creative people who don’t know what they want to do but know it’s not what they’re currently doing. “It’s a discovery process of investigating their skills, strengths, wants, and needs to find a career that is personally and financially satisfying.”

Career coaching is different from career counseling, Ward said, because counselors typically give clients various tests and conduct assessments. Career coaches also don’t give advice or tell clients what they should do. “As the client, you will do most of the hard work by being reflective and not shying away from difficult subjects and issues in the sessions,” Brisson said.

Who Needs to See a Career Coach

“I am biased, but I think everyone!” Brisson said. “Successful people invest in themselves.” Simms and Ward noted that anyone who’s stuck would benefit from career coaching. “Often your career issues are so close to home and emotionally charged that it’s hard to make the best decisions. Or even know where to start,” Simms said.

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The people who see Ward typically don’t know what they want to do but know what they don’t want to do; or they know what they want but aren’t sure “how it can work in the semblance of their grown-up life (i.e. not living in their parents basement eating Ramen noodles)”; or they’re doing exactly what they want but it’s not progressing how they’d like.

“On top of that, they have to want an unbiased person to help them make decisions and be ready and willing to dig deep, spend time on their homework, and make changes,” Ward added. Being curious and adventurous helps, too. “If you want new results, you’ll have to try new things,” Simms said.

And “You have to be willing to discuss everything to make change,” Brisson said. This might sound obvious enough, but she’s had people who don’t want to talk about themselves sign up for consultations.

Finding a Good Career Coach

There are many career coaches, but how do you know who to work with? “The most important thing is to find someone with a good reputation who personally resonates with you,” Simms said. Added Ward: “You want to make sure this is someone who you’d feel comfortable and confident talking to, who you’re really sure will ‘get’ you, and who you feel is worth the investment.”

Here are other tips.

  • Read the coach’s website closely. Do the words on their website resonate with you? Testimonials also are very important, Ward and Simms said. Do you like what clients have to say about this coach?
  • Get recommendations from friends. Along with checking out testimonials, this is a good place to start, Simms said.
  • Look at the coach’s background. According to Brisson, consider: “What is her own career like? Has he recruited, hired or managed employees and been recognized for success in this?”
  • See how they run their own business. “You can tell a lot by how a coach runs her own business,” Brisson said. “If she is hesitant about marketing herself, how will she help you with that?”
  • Take advantage of a consultation. Most coaches, Simms said, offer consultations to potential clients. “Talk to them and get a feel for how they work,” she said. This will help you figure out if you want to work together.
  • Consider credentials. According to Ward, finding a good fit is equally as important as coaching credentials. Still, she suggested looking for life coaching or career coaching training. Research the certification the coach received, check out the school they completed and, if that info isn’t available, email them about their training, she said. But, again, don’t put as much stock in credentials. Simms knows many skilled coaches who chose not to certify, and believes that credentials aren’t as imperative.
Career Coaching 101: Finding a Professional to Help You Find Your Fulfilling Career

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Career Coaching 101: Finding a Professional to Help You Find Your Fulfilling Career. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
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