BY ERIN EWART
I recently worked with a business coach. “Why would a coach need to hire their own coach?”, you may be asking. For the same reason a doctor can’t treat herself of course! I had come to a point where I was feeling stuck with some decisions I had to make in my business, and I knew I needed help.
A few of the reasons I knew it was time to hire a coach were:
- I was feeling overwhelmed by the decisions I needed to make, yet stuck and unable to actually move forward with any of them
- I needed to talk things out with someone objective who didn’t have a stake in the business (i.e. not my husband), and I wanted to get feedback and input from someone who had more experience in certain aspects of business growth
- I wanted more accountability and structure – someone to help me set deadlines and make sure I would actually follow through on them so that I’d finally do the things I was procrastinating on
The process I went through to find my coach helped me empathize with what our clients go through when they are looking for career coaching support. It’s tricky, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. Below are few of the things I took away from my experience selecting a coach.
1. Understand the difference between coaching and consulting
While coaching and consulting sometimes get lumped together, they are actually quite different. In most cases, coaches will not give you specific advice or tell you what they think you should do; instead, they will ask you questions to help draw out your own ideas. However consultants have expertise in a certain area and will give you specific advice and tell you what they think you should do.
For example, our approach at Careers for Social Impact is a blend of both coaching and consulting. We do focus on asking clients good questions to help them get to answers about the things only they will know, like what they are best at and what they love to do. But for the specific job search topics that are in our area of expertise, such as resume development and interview strategy, we will tell clients what we think the best approach is and give them very specific and tangible feedback.
That’s the same mix I looked for in my own coach, as it was important to me to get advice from someone with expertise in the areas I wanted to work on. As you consider who to work with, knowing whether they are a coach, consultant or mix of the two is important so that you have the right expectations about what the experience will be like.
2. Ask for recommendations and find a good fit
It turns out it’s hard to find a good coach! I relied on a combination of Google searching and asking trusted contacts who they would recommend to create a shortlist of potential coaches. Even within the same industry, coaches can have vastly different styles, methods, and structures, and it’s important to understand these differences before you jump into working with someone.
The best way to do this is by thoroughly researching and speaking with several potential coaches before deciding who you want to work with. I met with three coaches before deciding on mine; while they all had valuable insights, they had very different styles and structures, and I went with the one who was the best fit for what I needed right now. I likely would have made a different choice if I was at a different point in my business.
I encourage you to talk with several people to get a sense of their approach, philosophy, and the chemistry you have with them. It’s hard to define, but it’s one of those “know it when you feel it” sort of things. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person and sharing important personal information and goals with them, so it’s important that you feel comfortable being open and honest with them.
3. Know your budget
Coaching is an investment in yourself, and whether you’re a job seeker uncertain about when you’ll be working again or a small business owner with variable income, spending money on something that feels intangible can be scary. I absolutely think it’s worthwhile (or I wouldn’t be doing it!), and I also know that financial stress is a very real barrier when you’re job searching. So think carefully about the investment you can make in coaching and create a budget for it.
As you do that, consider the potential return: if you land a job months sooner or negotiate a salary that’s higher than you would have gotten without coaching, there’s a clear return on investment. And if finding a job you’re happier with is your goal, that return will absolutely be there in your life satisfaction. Talk with your coach about their pricing structure so you understand what you’ll get for the investment you put in, and if you’re on a tight budget, consider group coaching or classes. They can be a very affordable and effective way to receive job search support at a lower cost, and you can always supplement them with targeted one on one coaching.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of questions and accountability
A big part of the reason my clients hire us is because we give them structure and deadlines, and this was true for me as well in working with my coach. Yes, in theory I could have done all the work on my own, but I needed meetings on the calendar and someone to be accountable to, and my coach provided that.
He also asked me great questions, which in retrospect were simple yet powerful. Getting my thoughts and fears out of my own head, saying them out loud, and being prompted to really think through topics I had been avoiding was incredibly helpful. Could a friend or family member do this for you? Yes, potentially. But they know you so well that it’s harder for them to really see the big picture and ask you those insightful questions that only an outsider can. As you think about the value of coaching and what you want to get from it, this accountability and objectivity is likely to be a big part of it.
5. Own the process
The old “you get out what you put in” advice definitely holds true here. While it’s incredibly tempting to want someone else to solve your problems and provide all the answers (I definitely felt that!), that is not what your coach is for. That is up to you.
Your coach is there to guide and support you, provide tools and resources, and help you think about things differently and identify options you may not have thought of on your own. But they are not the decision maker or the expert on who you are and what you want: that’s you, and ultimately you have to decide what course to take.
The more you can take ownership and responsibility for what you want to get out of coaching by telling your coach up front what your goals are, ensuring you get what you need out of each meeting, asking about things that are unclear, and doing the homework they give you, the more effective your experience will be. And please tell your coach right away if you are not getting what you need or something is not working well for you. I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’d rather know as soon as possible if you feel things aren’t on track so that we can adjust our approach, or help you find another coach who is a better fit for your needs.
So, how did my coaching journey end? While it didn’t magically solve all my problems, it did give me renewed energy and focus that helped me blast through the plateau I was stuck on, and new tools that I’ve already put to work in my business. I’m grateful for the partnership, support, and insights I gained, and I plan to continue working with a coach as often as I can and as my business needs me to.
I hope my experience helps give you a bit more insight into what it’s like to find and work with a coach. If you’d like to learn about what it would be like to work with us specifically, let’s talk! And if you’re looking for more resources on this topic, here are a few other articles I recommend: