Career skills

How to Find the Right Career Coach or Counselor

We can all use a little help with our careers – especially when starting out, approaching a big decision, or feeling stuck. Wouldn’t it be great to have a career coach (or career counselor) in your corner, helping you learn faster and and avoid mistakes?

Imagine: Coach K cheering you on as your career coach!
Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone on the sideline, offering sage advice, cheering on our careers?

There’s good news: increasingly, you can find coaches with experience in exactly what you need.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of mediocre coaches out there, ready to charge you hundreds or thousands of dollars for tools you could find for free online.

So, here’s your complete guide to finding the right coach or counselor for you:

What is a career coach?

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide.

Atul Gawande, Personal Best

A career coach is someone who can guide you towards better professional performance and a more fulfilling (and often better paying) career.

You might look for career coaching to get help with:

  • Improving your resume or LinkedIn profile
  • Interview preparation
  • Discovering what career you want
  • Negotiating a raise or promotion
  • Changing careers
  • Accelerating your job search

The right coach can help you get the job, help clarify what’s missing, and advise you down a life-changing path. The wrong one will just waste your time and money.

When to hire a career coach

When career coaching is worth it

Career coaching is most useful when you’re (A) focused on fixing something specific, (B) stuck and unsure what to do, or (C) in a high-paying career that you want to optimize more.

For example, good reasons to look for a coach include when you’re:

  • Starting out in a good paying career
  • Able to invest time building your career
  • Unhappy or stuck but don’t know what to change
  • Trying to get a specific job
  • Ready to work on a specific professional skill (like negotiating a better salary, managing your boss, or leading a team)
  • Planning how to get your dream job

When you might avoid career coaching

There are a few times when career coaching doesn’t make sense. You’re better off waiting if you:

  • Don’t have the time or energy to focus on building your career
  • Want to focus on non-professional development like health, relationships, or therapy
  • Have obvious priorities that you can work on without a coach

How to find a great career coach

What type of coach to look for

When looking for a career coach, you can prioritize three different types of experience. Look for coaches who specialize in:

  1. Part of your career journey. For example, they might focus on resumes, interview prep, or discovering a career.
  2. Your function or industry. They could focus on helping clients break into product management, or build remote-friendly careers, or even build careers in a particular geography.
  3. Your demographic group. Some career coaches or counselors will work exclusively with women, people of color, introverts, people of a specific religion, or other groups where part of your identity has a big impact on your career path.

Here’s how to choose which type of career coach to look for:

If…Then find coaches who specialize in…
You’re focused on a specific skill or piece of your career journeyThat skill (e.g. resume, negotiation, finding the right career)
You want to build a career in a specific function or industryYour target function or industry (e.g. product management, nursing)
You belong to a demographic group that faces prejudice or discriminationWorking with members of your group
Framework for finding the right kind of career coach for your priorities.

How to search for a career coach

Once you know what you need, use LinkedIn to find the right coach. LinkedIn lets you search every coach in the world from one place, and has simple powerful filters to get you the right one for you.

Time needed: 5 minutes

Here’s how to find a job coach on LinkedIn:

  1. Search LinkedIn for “career coach.”

    Then click “people” in the search dropdown.

    Step 1: search "career coach" in LinkedIn.

  2. Click “all filters” and add “career coach” as job title.

    This will constrain your search to people whose current job is a career coach, screening out former and part time career coaches.

  3. Add your keyword to the main search bar.

    For example, add “product management” to find coaches who specialize in product management. Or “salary negotiation” to specialize in negotiation.

    This will search for career coaches whose LinkedIn profiles include the keywords you target.

  4. Refine your search with additional filters.

    Use “all filters” to find people with shared connections, filter based on the services people provide, or look for people with experience at particular companies or schools.

How not to find a job coach

Two alternative approaches I wouldn’t recommend are:

  1. Searching online. You can search Google by including “career coach” + the keywords you’re focused on (for example: “product manager career coach“). But this will return pages for businesses that are the best at SEO – usually not the best coaches. For many, you may have to scroll through pages before you find a coach at all.
  2. Searching coaching portals. Another approach is to explore coaching platforms like Koachee. The problem here is that most are small and tend to optimize their experience for corporate clients, not individuals.

In both cases, you’re better off just searching LinkedIn. Every coach you find on Google or a platform like Koachee is easier to find on LinkedIn.

How to evaluate and choose a career coach

What to look for in a career coach

Whether you’re reviewing a coach or counselor’s LinkedIn profile and website or speaking with a prospective coach for the first time, you’re looking for signs of a good coach:

  • Specialization that fits with your needs. If they don’t explicitly mention whatever you’re looking for, look somewhere else.
  • Good judgment and advice. When you ask a question or read a blog, the advice sounds concrete and knowledgeable. We’ve all read the “six tips to get a great job fast” posts that Google serves up – avoid anyone who writes them!
  • Coaching mindset. Great coaches recognize clients as experts in their own lives and believe clients are naturally creative, resourceful and whole (see more on this approach from the Co-Active Coaching method).
  • Active listening. Does the person listen to you? Do they ask questions? Avoid people who jump immediately into recommendations.
  • Tactical feedback. When you read their blog or listen to their advice, can you easily put it into practice? Do they give specific, tactical recommendations, or vague platitudes?
  • Trust, rapport and comfort. Does this feel like a person you can confide in? If – for whatever reason – you’re going to be guarded, find someone you’re more comfortable with.
  • Clear communicator. Do they write well? Are their recommendations clear in conversation?

Template interview questions to ask a career coach

Once you schedule that first call to learn about a coach, use a version of these questions to decide if they’re a good coach overall and the right fit for you.

What to askWhat to look for
Could you share a little about what you specialize in?Look for a definite, specific response. If someone hedges, or asks about what you need, that suggests that they’re desperate for clients and may not have a specific expertise or niche.
Can you tell me about your experience coaching? How did you get into coaching?Every coach should nail this question with a personal response that resonates with you. This is a softball, so I’d look elsewhere if their response isn’t a home run.
As a quick exercise, could you take a look at my LinkedIn profile and narrate your perspective of how it could improve?Can they quickly find ways of improving your credibility by providing more detail or changing language?
As a client, what can I do to make sure we have a successful relationship?Look for specific pointers or ways to get the most out of coaching.
I’m trying to figure out what I want to do. Could you walk me through the process you use to work with clients on this?Look for a structured, step-by-step response. Do they have a plan?
How would you suggest I prepare before my first coaching session, so I can get the most out of it?Look for specific resources. You want someone who can give you tactical assignments to work on to fully leverage your time together.
(After sharing your goals.) Have you worked with any clients in a similar situation? You want them to immediately say yes, and list multiple people and describe how they helped each one.

Career Coach FAQ

What’s the difference between a career coach and a career counselor?

Often the terms are interchangeable. Sometimes, career counselors focus more on the big picture of determining what you want to do, while coaches focus on meeting goals as you define them.

How much does career coaching cost?

Career coaching typically costs $75-150 per hour. But sometimes you can find specific services like resume review for less or based on delivery. For senior or specialized roles, you’ll often pay $200 per hour or more.

What kind of training do career coaches have?

This varies, as no certification is required to become a career coach. Many coaches may have certifications in coaching methodologies (like Co-Active Coaching).

Others have career or management experience in the areas of their specialty (like being a product manager and coaching people interested in product careers).

Should I hire a career coach online or in person?

Get a remote coach. This lets you prioritize finding the right coach for you, rather than constraining yourself to coaches that happen to live nearby.

What if I can’t afford a career coach?

You may be able to find free career coaching through your school’s career services center, or even through nonprofits or mentoring programs.

A great approach is to use structured informational interviews to answer specific questions from managers who hire the roles you’re interested in.

Also, check out the alternatives below.

Alternatives to career coaching and counseling

By Taylor Thompson

Taylor is a co-founder at Purpose Built Ventures, where he helps launch mission-driven companies. Before Purpose Built, Taylor led growth at Almanac, strategy for Curious Learning, and product at PharmaSecure. His work helps 100,000s of people collaborate at work, 4 million children learn to read, and protects billions of medicines from counterfeiting. He has hired dozens of people, helped raise more than $50 million, and contributed to as a researcher with Clay Christensen. Taylor is an Echoing Green Fellow, and he has degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School.

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