The first time my boss told me to hire a career coach, I thought: He’s an idiot. I was then 27. I’d founded two startups and I made $150,000 a year. I didn’t need a coach.
Then my boss told me a secret: Most senior managers in the Fortune 500 have their career coaching paid for by the company — that’s how important it is.
So I signed up. That was 15 years ago. I have had many coaches since then, at different stages in my career, and I’m convinced that everyone can use a career coach at some point. If you are stuck, you can hire someone to get you unstuck. If you don’t know how to make more money, you can make an appointment with a coach and get a strategy. If you’ve been unhappy in every job you’ve ever had, a coach can tell you why and what to do next.
Most important, you can hire a coach when you are doing fine to help you get to the next level. Because most people get to the next level with a plan, not by sheer luck (although we all know luck does help).
The question everyone asks me is, “How do I pick a coach?”
When I was choosing mine, I relied on recommendations and reputation. If I liked hearing the person speak or a friend had worked with the person, that was good enough for me.
But then something happened. I started coaching people myself. It started out slowly — people would email asking if they could hire me. Then they told friends, and then I stepped down from the CEO position at my third company and decided to try coaching full time.
Now I have a lot of opinions about how to find a coach you’ll like. Here are five:
1. Know the person’s point of view.
Some coaches have never held a corporate job. Some have never lived on unemployment checks. I have done both, and that perspective helps me a lot. Having varied workplace experience is also useful. Plus, the more ups and downs a person has been through, the more insight the coach will have about yours (it’s like having gaydar).
2. Ask about timeframe.
I have found that just about any career problem can be solved in an hour if you cut the BS. There is no small talk in my sessions and no tiptoeing around the issue. You should ask any coach you’re dealing with how many sessions they expect you to use in order to solve a problem. Even if you don’t know your problem — many people don’t before they hire a coach — you can ask how many sessions most people have with that coach. (Note to any career coaches reading this: You may think that promising just one session would mean less business, but I have found that doing your job quickly, efficiently, and well means more business from referrals.)
3. Make sure you learn a skill.
If you hire a coach to rewrite your resume, don’t let the person go off on his own and write it. He should do it on the phone with you so you learn how to do it next time. He should talk to you about the story you two are creating with your resume, because a resume is a story. And you should talk on the phone about the bullets — each bullet should make you look like a rock star, and if you do it with the coach, you’ll learn how to write those bullets yourself for next time.
4. Do it all on the phone.
Unless you’re hiring a coach to tell you how to improve your image, the coach doesn’t need to see you. Coaching over the phone gives you access to the whole world of coaches, not just those who live in your city. Sure, coaching in person would be ideal, but getting the best coach for you is the point.
5. Don’t pay a coach to administer tests.
Personality tests are widely used to reliably predict what people will be good at and what they will like doing in their careers. It is extremely helpful for a coach to start out knowing your strengths and weaknesses. That said, it takes just ten minutes to take the Myers-Briggs test online. (You can go there now. Here’s a free test.) You can give the coach your score.
It’s fun to read about yourself after the test results. And really, that’s what coaching should be: fun. It’s fun to make a path for yourself because it creates confidence and security. It’s fun to get more self-knowledge, and it’s fun to talk with someone who, at least for one hour, is completely focused on helping you be your best self in your career.