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What Do Career Coaches Do, and How Do I Pick the Right One?

What Do Career Coaches Do, and How Do I Pick the Right One?

by Jessye Kass

There are many reasons you might work with a career coach at some point in your working life. Career coaches can help you identify transferable skills. They can also help you translate your professional story for a career change to another industry. They can also help you develop a networking strategy or prepare for interviews.

Here are some questions and insights to help you find clarity in when to find a coach—and how to select the best one for your needs. 

What Are Different Kinds of Coaches, and How Can They Help?

Here are many different types of “coaches” you might use during your working career. Each has strengths, and it is important you find the right kind of support for your needs.

Career Coach vs. Mentor

Are you looking for action steps, growth, and accountability? Then, seek out a coach. If you're looking to build a relationship with someone in your industry (networking), you may be looking for a mentor. A mentor is someone who can support you in asking questions, sharing their story, and helping you think through potential next steps. They will not cost money, but they may not be certified or experienced in the career development field. They may not know the best and current practices to get your application viewed or how to stand out in an interview. While a coach and a mentor can be valuable for a career, it is important to get a sense of which you’re looking for first. A mentor is a longitudinal relationship, whereas a coach is usually more time-limited.

Career Coach vs. Therapist

While a great coach can support you as you experience the emotional toll of the job search, it is important to check in with yourself on what level of support you may require in this realm. If you’re looking for actionable steps toward your next move, a coach may be a great fit. If you need a space to process and unpack your experience at work and your connection to your work, you may want to consider seeking behavioral health support to provide you with the best possible care. Our work has an enormous impact on our well-being, and while coaches are incredibly helpful, sometimes professional behavioral health support is needed to help us address core issues.

Career Coach vs. Research & DIYT

There are an enormous number of free resources out there to support you in your job search. From Teal HQ’s resume builder and job tracker to hundreds of career coaches posting free resources on LinkedIn to Elevora offering interview prep, the internet is a goldmine of information on how to update your resume, build your brand, develop a networking strategy, tell your story effectively, and even practice your interviewing skills with AI technology! There is no shortage of information out there, but sometimes that can be overwhelming. If you’re feeling motivated and tight on your budget, a combination of research and DIY career coaching may be your best option. If you’d prefer some accountability and tailored support, then a paid coach may be the right fit. It is very possible to find coaches who offer one-off sessions that provide tangible next steps to give you a jumpstart at a more affordable rate.

Career Development vs. Leadership Development

There are subtle differences between a leadership development coach and a career development coach - and depending on the coach, there may be even fewer differences depending on their experience and services provided. Generally speaking, leadership coaches will specialize in refining leadership skills, emphasizing team leadership, strategic decision-making, and conflict resolution. Conversely, career development coaches have a broader focus, assisting clients at various career stages with goal setting, skill enhancement, and overall career advancement - either as an “IC” (individual contributor) or as a supervisor. While leadership coaches typically work with those in leadership positions, both coaching roles share common ground in addressing topics like effective communication, self-awareness, and goal alignment, particularly when supporting individuals aspiring to advance their careers. The overlap underscores the interconnectedness of leadership and career development in achieving overall professional success.

What to Expect When Working with a Career Coach

As noted above, it is important to remember that a career coach will not solve all your job search woes. You will need to be an active and engaged participant to achieve your desired results.

While every career coach's process and programs are different, most will meet with you weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, usually depending on your schedule. They will almost always provide tasks to complete and research to engage with in between sessions. You should be prepared to carve out between 30-60 minutes outside of sessions per week. Most packages will be between 4-12 sessions, usually lasting 3-6 months—however, some coaches will provide more ‘meet you where you are at’ coaching and you can book single sessions whenever it suits you. The structure of coaching can be a great question to ask when deciding who to choose as a coach.

Types of potential tasks to expect:

  • Research organizations in your industry of interest, and create a list of target organizations that you would love to work for.
  • Reach out to individuals in your network doing work that interests you to request informational interviews or networking chats to learn more about their work.
  • Create a spreadsheet of job listings that interest you and rank them in order of interest. Add notes to the side to identify themes.

How to Select the Right Career Coach

In addition to asking friends and family for referrals to people they suggest, when selecting a career coach, you’ll want to consider several other important factors. 

Do Your Research

Read their LinkedIn profile (and/or website, blog, etc.) to understand their experience, their vibe, and their credentials. Be wary of career coaches with no experience or no credentials. While there is no legal regulatory body for coaching, the International Coaching Federation is the leading certification provider and the most respected. While many fantastic coaches have relevant experience and testimonials over certifications, keep in mind that those with PCC or ACC credentials are certified as career coaches through a rigorous standard.

As you research coaches, keep the following in mind:

  • Imagine yourself working with the people whose posts or articles you read. Pick someone who aligns with your values and resonates with you.
  • Look at their references or testimonials. What do their past clients say? Do they have testimonials on their website or social media pages?
  • Do they share any results of their work? 

Get Clear

Write down a few ideas of what you most need help with and what is most important to you to get out of a coach as you’re beginning your search.

  • Consider the industry they are in and what industry you are in or are hoping to enter. If they are a technical recruiter who does career coaching and you work for a local nonprofit, they may not be the strongest match.
  • Are you seeking support in advancing your career within your current organization? You may benefit from working with a career development coach or leadership development coach.
  • Are you getting zero interviews but are extremely confident in your interview skills? You may want to find a resume expert and materials-focused coach.

Interview Them

Most coaches will offer either an introductory session with tangible feedback or a free consultation. Use this as an opportunity to get to know them and see if you would enjoy working with them.

  • Come prepared with questions for them.
  • Ask for references.
  • Don’t decide at the moment. Sit with it, at least overnight. Coaching can be an investment, so make sure it’s the right fit.

 Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all career coach. As with any professional industry, there will be varied results, vibes, credentials, and experiences. There will be great coaches and ineffective ones—just like any other profession. While many tout the incredible experiences they’ve had with career coaches, others have had bad experiences or feel it was not worth the investment. Do your research, check in with yourself, and interview any potential coaches you want to work with.

Good luck!!!



Jessye Kass is a talent acquisition specialist, workplace wellness consultant, and coach. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn or sign up for her newsletter to learn when she offers coaching sessions, networking calls, and shares professional development opportunities.