Q. I need a new career! My friend recommended a coach but how do I know whether she’s a good choice for me? Or maybe I need a counselor instead?
A. Two bits of general advice:
First, before going further, clear the decks. Career change takes time and energy – rarely possible if you’re working 70-hour weeks or experiencing depression, anxiety, grief, recovery or similar stressors.
If you’re experiencing any kind of emotional, personal, grief or family pressures, find a licensed professional before delving into your career. If you’re financially strapped (it happens to all of us), talk to a financial planner or professional adviser. You’ll need to know what your options are before you can explore opportunities.
Second, ignore labels. These days, the person most likely to help may hold a most unlikely title.
Instead, ask your potential consultant these 5 questions.
(1) What’s your advice-to-accountability ratio?
John: “My clients know what to do. My role is to create a structure of permission and accountability.”
Jeanne: “My clients get stuck because they don’t know what steps to take. As I give them information, they spring into action.”
John is 100% accountability. Jeanne is 100% advice. Most resources will be somewhere in between. Decide what you need and choose accordingly.
(2) Who’s your best client and who would not be a good client for you?
Ideally you’ll fit the best client profile. More important, your consultant should answer this question readily with something like, “Highly motivated clients with at least 10 years experience in a business or profession.”
And you should get a straightforward statement beginning, “I do not work with clients who…” Nobody likes whiners, blamers and complainers…but what else?
(3) What factors will influence my success?
Even with the best guidance, your success will be influenced by factors beyond everyone’s control. Experienced resources will say something like, “No guarantees. But you’ll move faster if you arrive at the crossroads with certain attitudes, experiences and skills….”
And then you should get some specifics. Willingness to network and a set of connections will help a great deal.
(4) Will you require tests and assessments? If so, how will you use the results to help me make a change?
Some clients feel better if they can place themselves into a category, such as “introvert” or “enneagram 5.” But I’ve met dozens of career changers who felt they had wasted hundreds of dollars to discover “what I’m best suited to do.” Once you’ve been working for 10 years, chances are the tests will show you’re amazingly well suited to your current job.
Identifying who you are and defining your ideal career – that’s the fun, easy part. Getting into action and actually making a change? Much more challenging.
(5) How do you keep learning and growing yourself?
The best resource people will attend conferences, take classes, hire mentors, read books and generally push themselves to stretch and grow, in their area of expertise. They’ll give talks, write articles and get interviewed. They’ve made changes to their services in the past 6 months…or even more recently.
That’s why referrals offer limited help. Robin loves Coach X and “Jay” hates X. But you’re different from both. And X’s fees and approach will change by the time you make the call.
Ultimately, most personal change researchers agree, success depends more on your own commitment to the process. Perhaps the best predictor of success is a firm belief that, “I’m going to move ahead, with or without a consultant.” Ironically, this attitude is most likely to assure you’ll get the best possible support for your own career change.
My own belief is that exploratory “get acquainted” and “discovery” calls tend to be a waste of time. Instead, I recommend a one-time paid call where you actually get something besides a sales pitch. Mine is the Career Strategy Session, which is usually enough. Some clients say we get more done than they got in 3 to 6 months of coaching.