Pursuing a fulfilling career that keeps you financially comfortable and lets you explore your passions is not always easy. There are times when you may wonder whether or not to accept a new job offer or take time to learn a new skill or certification. Or perhaps you just aren’t clear about where you want to go in your career, and need some help defining your ideal endpoints.
A career coach can be a great guide in these circumstances, among others. As we’ll explain in this article, coaching will not only help you get on the right professional path, it can assist you in navigating the obstacles that will eventually block it.
What is a career coach?
Coaches are professionals who focus on mentoring and guiding others to achieve their desired goals. If their clients aren’t sure what those goals are, a coach will work with them to better understand their own personal needs and motivations. Not only can a coach help you create the roadmap to where you want your career to go, they can advise you as you execute it.
All types of professionals from entry-level workers to senior executives use coaches. The specific kind of coaching required will vary depending on where you are in your career and your goals, from landing that first dream gig to switching to a completely new field.
Here are the more common areas where coaches can assist:
What is your “dream job” that you can imagine holding for your entire career? Is there a specific field that you’ve always wanted to enter into? As the saying goes, “If you don’t know which port you’re sailing to, no wind is favorable.” A successful career is one that sees you achieve the most important goals you’ve set for yourself. But first you have to set those goals in a way that aligns with your values.
A coach will help you by asking questions about your work preferences, passions, communication style and natural skills. Even if you already have a sense of what kind of goals you want to accomplish, there might be sub-goals along the way you haven’t considered. A coach may also help you think about goals you weren’t aware were possible. For example, you might be passionate about sales and engineering but not sure how you can apply both of those skills at once. An insightful coach can talk to you about options for this goal, such as working as a sales engineer.
If your goals are already well-defined, a coach can help ensure that they are realistic and achievable.
Career transition planning and etiquette
Whether it’s planned or unexpected, change will happen several times during your career. You may have finally accepted a job offer at a startup of your dreams and need to close things out at your current employer without burning any bridges. On the other hand, perhaps your department has been unexpectedly downsized and you find out you may need to start a job hunt.
Even if it’s for a positive reason, change is one of the most difficult things for people in any context. This is especially true at work, a time most of us spend a large portion of our lives. A career coach can not only help you cope with changes in your career, they will help you get the most out of the time. For example, when leaving your current employer for a better position, they’ll help give you the perspective about how to treat your outgoing colleagues and supervisors so that you can maintain relationships that may help you down the line. A coach will draw on their experience to ask questions that will help you see a career change in a new light.
And if you’re planning an intentional transition, a coach will help you through the process of breaking it down into smaller chunks so that you can tackle it one step at a time.
Sometimes you know what you need to do and why it’s important, but you simply can’t seem to get it done. This is a frustrating situation that happens to people of all levels, from new employees starting at their first job to company founders that have been working on their business for many years.
A coach will help you understand the personal factors that are stopping you from making the professional progress you want. As is the case with other areas, a coach will rarely make a direct statement about what specifically you are doing wrong (unless the behavior is glaring), but will instead look to ask you questions that expand your perspective on the challenge you are facing.
From scheduling working hours to communicating with family members to giving yourself enough time to recharge so you can be your best at work, personal concerns play a big role in what we do professionally. This is especially true now that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the prominence of remote work arrangements. Working from home has many benefits, but it also brings about unique challenges. The right coach will help you balance yourself personally and professionally so that you can show up your best at work.
Identifying strengths and weaknesses
Everyone has a few things they do well and a few things they struggle with. The distribution of skills and talents depends on many different factors, from your environment to your early childhood education. There are times – especially early in your career – when you may not fully understand where your strengths and weaknesses are.
It’s often hard to judge ourselves honestly. A coach can provide the critical outside perspective needed to evaluate your professional skills objectively. They’ll not only be able to help you identify your areas of strengths and weaknesses, a coach will assist you in understanding what it means. For example, if you’re naturally great at both written and verbal communication, they’ll explain what kind of jobs or business ventures might allow you to let those abilities flourish.
Most people know the feeling of getting sidetracked from a goal. It’s easy to start out on any kind of initiative – improving physical fitness, working on a passion project, or re-doing your resume to begin a job hunt – but then lose motivation after a few weeks or even days.
Accountability has shown to be one of the most important motivating factors when it comes to altering people’s behavior, including at work. Studies show specifically that internal accountability is an important part of driving high performance in the workplace.
Coaching provides you with a unique form of internal accountability, because your coach will hold you accountable to doing the things you personally want to do. A coaching arrangement is an ideal vehicle for accountability, because it keeps you accountable to your internal goals with an external voice.
Unlike your supervisor at work, your friends, or your family members, a coach only has your own interests in mind.
Finding the right coach and format
Knowing all the great benefits of a coach, you may be wondering how to identify one that meets your needs. Everyone will require a different kind of coach and structure depending on how they work and the kinds of goals they want to achieve.
At Stoa, we use a process designed to ensure students find the right coach and receive coaching in a format most beneficial to their needs. Through a process similar to speed dating, we allow students the opportunity to briefly interact with a panel of potential coaches, then rank them based on preference. About 80% of the time we are able to match students with their first choice in coach – the other 20% receive their second choice. From there, coaches schedule sessions spread across a 3-month timeframe to ensure each session has maximum impact and plenty of updates.
Finally, ensure that your coach has the right credentials. Ask about their history, any credentials or certificates they hold, or previous clients that would be willing to serve as a reference. All of the coaches we work with at Stoa School are certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). There are many other organizations and governing bodies that provide training and certifications for coaches to ensure they are equipped with the skills needed to best serve clients.
Whether you engage in a more formal coaching arrangement through an online MBA program or you seek out a coach on your own, an outside resource that helps you stay on track with your personal goals is invaluable. With the right coach, you can advance more quickly in your career and create a professional situation that challenges, inspires, and fulfills you each working day.