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Do You Need a Career Coach?

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Whether you’re struggling in some aspects of your job, such as dealing with office politics and toxic co-workers, or you just want to ensure you’re on track toward your professional goals, a career coach may be able to help. But committing the time and money needed to select and work with a career coach is a big decision.

Read on to learn more about what a career coach is, when you should hire one, how to choose the right one and if it’s worth it to pay for this service.

What Is a Career Coach?

The Step-by-Step Guide to Career Success

A career coach is a thinking partner who works closely with you in an advisory role to help guide you in various aspects of your job or career. A career coach who works with executives and senior-level employees is known as an executive coach. According to Dawid Wiacek – who is a career coach, executive coach, resume writer and founder of Career Fixer LLC – a career coach helps bring out your best self at work. A career coach is different than a mentor in that you usually pay a career coach for scheduled coaching services, while a mentor may give you career advice and support for free, often more informally.

“Whether you’re looking to find a better job or improve your performance, mindset, and reputation at your current job, a career coach can help you navigate the world of work, equip you with helpful tools, and elevate your confidence and communication skills to help you reach your goals and realize your potential at work,” Wiacek says. He adds that as a career coach, his job isn’t to inundate his clients with a new information but to bring out latent talents, skills and energies. “The best career coaches are the ones who help you get out of your own way.”

There are two common types of career coaches, which differ primarily by the length of time they work with their clients. The first type helps with short-term issues, which might include:

  • Coaching you through a job search.
  • Helping you refine your job goals.
  • Polishing your job search materials (resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.).
  • Advising you on networking effectively.
  • Helping with interview prep and salary negotiations.
  • Exploring the pros and cons of accepting a job offer.

The second type of career coach works with clients on long-term issues, such as:

  • Building professional soft skills.
  • Improving your business performance or mindset.
  • Helping you navigate complex office politics.
  • Helping you thrive at work.

When Should You Hire a Career Coach?

Since hiring a career coach or executive coach requires a commitment in terms of hours, effort and funds, it’s important to understand when it makes the most sense to hire one. Wiacek says that there’s no right or wrong time to hire a coach, but these are common scenarios in which people may find the most value in working with a career coach:

  • When you’re unhappy with your job or career. If you feel stuck in a role or feel like you’re in the wrong company or industry but don’t know how to take the first step, career coaching might help you figure out a direction.
  • When you feel like you could be doing better. If you lack skills like communication, leadership or management and it’s affecting your self-esteem, performance and/or reputation at work, a career coach can help you thrive by engaging in growth opportunities and challenging you to get to the next level.
  • When you need help preparing for difficult conversations. If you’re avoiding difficult conversations at work because you’re unsure how to approach thorny topics, then a career coach may be able to fill in the blanks.
  • If you’re feeling rusty in the job application process. If it’s been years since you’ve applied to jobs or you’ve never had to apply online because you’ve always found jobs through your network, a career coach may be able to help get you up to speed and sharpen your skills. Some coaches also offer services in resume writing and perfecting your LinkedIn profile.
  • If you’re working in a toxic work environment. If you’re working with an abusive boss or highly political work culture, Wiacek says that “there’s no amount of mindfulness that will change the people around you – sometimes the only solution is to escape a bad situation, pick up the pieces, and build a healthier work life elsewhere.” Since some people feel guilty about leaving a bad boss or company, they can get stuck for months or even years, feeling miserable and doing nothing about it. A career coach can help break the logjam, Wiackek says.
  • If you’re burned out. Despite having a good boss or working at a decent company, you may be pushing yourself to do too much. A career coach can help people identify and change workaholic tendencies.

How to Find and Choose the Right Career Coach

When you’re vetting career coaches, Wiacek recommends asking potential coaches how they keeps tabs on industry trends and best practices. This could come either in the form of career coaching certifications, attending webinars related to coaching, reading widely on the topic and/or attending and speaking at industry-adjacent conferences.

“Find yourself a coach who will open your mind up to new possibilities – who won’t just validate and coddle you, but who will challenge you,” Wiacek says. “Especially if you’re feeling stuck, sometimes you need a fresh perspective to get you out of your rut. Many of the most impactful coaches and people in my own life looked nothing like me in terms of age, gender, skin color, and beyond. You’ve heard it a million times before, but, as an adult, stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow.”

How Much Does a Career Coach Cost?

According to Wiacek, career coaches commonly charge between $100 to $500 for a single session, which may translate to an hourly rate of $100 per hour to $500 per hour – but not always.

“Most coaches offer multi-week or multi-month packages, so it’s not always useful to think of it in hourly rates,” he says. “Competence and confidence matter! The more experienced and comfortable a coach is, the higher the rates will be.”

Wiacek says that career coaches who focus on entry-level professionals usually charge considerably less than those who focus on executive-level coaching. “Although virtual coaching has been a bit of an equalizer, career coaching rates also vary depending on geography and cost of living,” Wiacek says. “A coach in rural Poland, where I originally hail from, will cost less than an executive coach in New York, where I’m now based.”

Is It Worth It to Pay for a Career Coach?

Assuming you work hard for your money, it’s wise to think carefully about how you spend it. Consider the following when evaluating whether or not to invest in a career coach:

Have you exhausted other avenues of support? In addition to mentors who may offer you career advice free of charge, many communities and public institutions – such as libraries, school alumni associations and community centers – offer free or low-cost career support. Also consider whether you’ve tapped your existing network before committing to paid coaching services.

“If you feel like you’ve already exhausted and annoyed everyone with your plea for help, and your spouse or pet is tired of your career complaints, maybe it’s time to hire a professional career coach,” Wiacek says. “We hire professionals to take care of our homes, our children, our finances – why should it be any different with our careers?”

Do you have difficulty with procrastination and accountability? Sometimes it helps to have some skin in the game. “Paying a fitness trainer $100 an hour will probably ensure that you’ll be putting your best effort forward,” Wiacek says. “Paying a coach hundreds of dollars will increase the chance that you’ll do the work, make the effort, and start seeing results.”

Are you ready to do the work? Like a fitness trainer, the coach won’t lift the heavy weights for you – for coaching to work, you have to be ready to step up. “Years ago, one of my acquaintances wanted to work with me, but she was wishy-washy, and over drinks I told her, ‘You don’t seem ready. Your heart’s not in it,’” Wiacek shares. “And she responded: ‘You’re right. I’m not ready.’ I only work with clients who are ready to improve, evolve, and grow.”

What’s the return on investment? Wiacek says he used to cringe when he heard the phrase, “You have to spend money to earn money” – but now he believes it’s true. “What does it cost you to stay at your job, especially if you’re underpaid, underappreciated, or burned out?” Wiacek asks. “What is the cost not only to your bank account, but to your mental and physical health? If you’re unemployed, what is the cost of staying unemployed for another few months?”

With these questions in mind, consider whether it’s worth it to spend a few hundred dollars or more on a coach if the coaching helps you find a more fulfilling job that also pays more money. “Some of my clients enjoy salary increases of $20,000 to $50,000 a year and as high as an additional $100,000 simply by leaving for a new company or industry,” Wiacek says.

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