14 Factors To Consider Before Hiring a Career Coach

There are a number of factors to consider before you invest time, money, and effort in working with a coach. To save you time upfront, let’s start with the first and most important question: “Do you even need a coach?” 

To accurately address this issue, here are a few questions you need to answer first. Read through the list and track your number of “Yes” and “No” answers.

  1. Have you ever found yourself apologizing for your age, level of experience, education, or what you perceive as gaps on your résumé?
  2. Have you ever thought “I know I’d be great at that job if only someone would give me a chance”?
  3. Have you eliminated any career options by telling yourself “I would love that job, but I could never make money doing that”?
  4. Have you sent out résumés for positions you know would be a perfect fit yet never received a response?
  5. Do you struggle with the concept of networking?
  6. Do you feel like your network isn’t as big as it should be?
  7. Do you have trouble getting interviews?
  8. Have you been getting interviews, but not offers?
  9. Do you find interviews uncomfortable because talking about yourself feels too much like bragging?
  10. Does the current state of the job market make you feel like you may have to settle for a job or salary below what you know you deserve?
  11. Do you worry that your unemployment compensation and/or severance will run out before you find another job?
  12. Have you been out of work longer than you expected?
  13. Do you feel your job, and the jobs of your co-workers, are in jeopardy?
  14. Has your current position become more draining than energizing?

If you answered “Yes” to even one question above, working with a career coach could help you streamline your efforts.

If you answered “Yes” to more than 3 questions, the right coach could help you shave weeks or months off your search.

You might be thinking, “I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t have any income right now. How can I possibly justify hiring a coach?”

If you are unemployed, or even underemployed, being careful about how you invest your time and money is important. The truth is, hiring a coach isn’t the right decision for everyone. At the same time, it is important to remember that stress of any kind—especially financial stress—can make it difficult to be objective.

First, ask yourself if making the investment will generate significantly more stress. If so, process with caution. Don’t sacrifice your health and sanity.

Second, calculate the opportunity cost of not having a job. Let’s keep the numbers simple and say you would expect to earn $1,000 per week. In this case, the opportunity cost of NOT having a job is $4,000 per month.

Now, let’s be extremely conservative and say that working with a coach shaved two weeks off your job search. Even if you factor in taxes, a very rough estimate of how much you’d take home during those two weeks would be $1,400. Considering that an investment of $1,400 would typically fund a few coaching sessions—possibly more than you’d even need—partnering with a coach would be a wise choice.

If the process saves you more than two weeks—something that working with the right coach can easily do—it would be an even better investment. For these reasons, the opportunity cost of NOT working with a coach is probably a lot higher than the investment you’d make with even the most expensive coach.

Other Factors To Consider

To help you make the best decision for for your situation, here are the answers to a few of the most common questions I get regarding career coaches.

If your goal is to get a new job, or even a promotion, working with a coach can be a great investment because very few people enjoy—or are particularly adept at—marketing themselves. As a result, many people work harder than necessary and get less than optimal results. This is the main reason so many people are dissatisfied with their careers.

What can I expect from working with a coach?

A good coach can add value to every part of the process including, but not limited to, the self-assessment process, résumé writing, cover letter writing, networking, interviewing, negotiating, and career change. Some people only need interview coaching. Others need help across all areas.

A good coach will work with you to set objectives upfront. From there, the ideal scenario would be to co-create an action plan that makes sense. Remember, there are no cookie-cutter solutions or plans. Everyone is different. Beware of any coach who doesn’t take the time to tailor an approach consistent with your background and objectives.

How do I find a coach?

The best way to find a career coach is through word-of-mouth. Ask everyone you know if they know anyone who has ever worked with a coach. Once you find someone, take time to interview that person. Be sure to get answers to the following questions:

  • How much do they charge?
  • How long have they been doing this?
  • What is the income range of their clients?
  • What are their areas of expertise (e.g., specific jobs or industries)?
  • Are there any clients they haven’t been able to help?
  • Do they take on all clients or are they selective?

Most importantly, make sure you are comfortable with the person. After all, you’ll be working closely together. With the right partnership, the process can actually be fun. Some of my coaching clients have become dear friends. Those friendships, as well as the satisfaction that comes from helping people achieve their dreams, are among the most rewarding aspects of the work.

At what point in the job search process does it make sense to hire a coach?

The right time to hire a career coach varies from person to person. Some people don’t realize they need a career coach until they find themselves struggling to get past initial interviews. Other people hire a coach the minute they realize they aren’t getting results from their cover letters, résumés, or networking. Still others know they need help from the initial stages of doing a self-assessment and putting a résumé together. In general, though, it is far better to hire a career coach early in the process. The longer you wait, the more likely the situation is to escalate into a stressful, emotionally charged, or even desperate situation.

How important is it that your coach be a certified résumé writer or member of an organization of career management professionals?

Not at all important. Organizations that offer “certifications” in different aspects of career development exist purely as a means to make their founders rich. The fact is, anyone can create an official-sounding “institute” and offer certifications on a variety of topics. More often than not, these organizations are not out to improve the quality of career coaching, résumé writing, or any other area. If they were, hiring managers and recruiting professionals wouldn’t find themselves constantly wading through a sea of résumés to find the estimated 1% that are actually effective.

Incidentally, this 1% estimate has been confirmed time and again by spontaneous surveys of HR professionals and hiring managers who have been in my audience over the past few decades. Judging from the thousands of résumés I read when I was an executive headhunter, I am convinced 1% is on the high side.

Is it true that hiring a coach is tax-deductible?

The fees you pay a coach, like other job-search-related expenses, are tax deductible in many areas. Check with your tax advisor to be sure.

What is the cost involved?

Here again, there are no rules of thumb regarding fees. Ideally, you, the person being coached, should look back and say, “That was a terrific investment.” At the same time, the coach should be able to say, “I was fairly paid for my services.” To achieve this win-win scenario, be open to the possibility of a value-based fee. While some coaches have adopted this approach, the majority still charge hourly fees ranging anywhere from $75 to $500 per hour. Whatever you do, avoid companies that charge exorbitant fees upfront. More than a few times, I’ve heard about people who paid $10,000, $20,000 or more with the “guarantee” that they’d find a job. Unfortunately, not a single one had anything to show for it.
Are extended coaching programs a good idea?

Many coaches and companies will attempt to sign you up for ongoing or monthly programs before you have even had your first session. When this happens, run fast and far. It doesn’t make sense to commit to an ongoing relationship when you don’t even know if they are able to provide value. I would never ask anyone to commit to more than one session for two reasons. First, if we don’t enjoy working together and there isn’t value, neither of us should be obligated to continue the relationship. Second, it’s very possible you may not need more than one or two sessions.

How many sessions does the average person need?

There are no “average” people. Every situation is different. It truly depends on the person and his or her individual goals. Some goals are more challenging. Some careers are more competitive.

As a coach, my goal is not to make you or anyone else dependent on me. My goal is to teach you what I know so you can apply the principles as needed. Given this, the majority of my coaching clients only need between two and four sessions.

The people who return for more than two sessions usually do so for a deeper dive in a particular area. For example, many people who come for help with résumés and cover letters return to do mock interviews once they start getting responses from potential employers. I also have clients who return annually for help with their performance reviews. Through our annual coaching, one of my clients used the techniques to earn a 33% increase in salary even though his company had officially “frozen” salaries. Two years later, we repeated the process and he received another 18% increase.

How did he do this?

The short answer is that he took the time to work through the process. I’m not going to lie. Having me as a coach requires a lot of work on your part–far more than most people are willing to do. But no one can do the work for you. This is not a process you can or should outsource to a “résumé writer”—that’s a recipe for disaster. All you will get is a rehash of what isn’t working for you now. That isn’t going to help.

Will this work for you?

Trust your intuition. No one can make the decision for you. It’s 100% up to you. Remember, you have to take the first step.

In addition to in-person meetings, I coach clients by phone and by Skype. With my ongoing speaking and writing commitments, I am only able to accommodate 5 new coaching clients per month. If you are interested in one of these slots, please send an email to (robsullivan218 at gmail dot com) or call 312-543-8242 to set up an appointment.

“Rob Sullivan has been instrumental in my career development, playing a key role in two successful job moves over the past 3 years. From re-working my resume and how I viewed my strengths to coaching me on interviewing and job offer negotiations, his help has been invaluable. Rob was able organize and craft my complicated background into a compelling story via my resume. I got more responses from my new resume in the first 3 weeks than I had in the prior 6 months with my old resume. Three recent interviewers specifically commented on how much they liked my resume and how well it answered all of their questions. One recruiter said that mine was his favorite resume and asked if he could use it as an example when working with other clients. He has also helped me to conduct my salary negotiations in a straightforward and open manner that didn’t paint me into a corner. I point all of my friends in the job market to Rob and he holds my highest recommendation.”

–John Marcos 

© Rob Sullivan Productions, Inc.