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September 23, 2013

Improve Your Career – Hire a Career Coach!

By Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC and John M. O’Connor, MFA, CRW

Whether you are an executive or someone who is interested in making the most of your career you should consider formal coaching as you make changes, small and big decisions that affect all aspects of your career path.

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Wherever you go, whatever you do in your career, you’re the only on who will be there every step of the way. You will be making an endless number of decisions on your own.  At any point along the journey, however, if you can get competent help, it pays to use it.  Peers, parents, mentors all may help, but some people close to you may be too close to offer you the insight you need to make not just a good decision but the best decision. If you find a good career counselor, only a few hours a month will keep you focused on your goals and moving steadily toward them. Building a relationship with acoach and counselor over time may help you gain a clear career edge throughout your career.

Remember, if C-level people who have supposedly “made it” need coaching don’t rob yourself of the advice you deserve. According to a Stanford University sponsored 2013 Executive Coaching Survey, there is a shortage of advice at the top. They report that “nearly 66% of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, while 100% of them stated that they are receptive to making changes based on feedback.” According to the same survey, “Nearly 80% of directors said that their CEO is receptive to coaching.” The study leader Professor Larcker concludes that if CEOs are willing to be coached and make changes based on coaching, it stands to reason that companies and boards should make this happen.” Unfortunately, many career movers and people who have great career potential may not realize the benefit of coaching because they “haven’t made it to the executive level or high enough” to “deserve” or “afford” this extra help. One of the critical decisions you should make in your career, wherever it leads, is that you deserve and need the best advice regardless of your title and current circumstances.

How you think and the decisions you make will have more impact on your career progression than your current circumstances. Wherever you go, whatever you do in your career, you’re the only on who will be there every step of the way.  You will be making an endless number of decisions on your own.  At any point along the journey, however, if you can get competent help, it pays to use it.  Peers, parents, mentors all may help. But some people close to you may be too close to offer you the insight you need to make not just a good decision but the best decision. If you find a good career coach or counselor, only a few hours a month will keep you focused on your goals and moving steadily toward them. Building a relationship with a coach and counselor over time may help you gain a clear career edge throughout your career. If you are in a career transition or face a serious career move a coach can provide the clear perspective during this storm.

Does a Career Counselor or Coach Make Sense For You?

Before selecting a coach, you might want to ask yourself if such a person would be helpful. The better such athletes become, and the more elite their status, the more they need and rely on coaches.  Why?  Because the higher they rise in their fields, the more critical their moves become, and the more vital personal feedback becomes in avoiding mistakes.  A personal coach offers the competitive edge! Like sports, business is highly competitive.  In response to increased competition, many businesses are adapting and changing; some are being drastically overhauled.  This breeds new insecurity and change. The career-conscious business professional needs to strategize more carefully and effectively than ever before to ensure success and to capitalize on new opportunities.  Also, technology is advancing faster than our ability to comfortably keep pace with it.  This has led to an increasingly rapid change in the quality and nature of personal demands on people’s time and attention. Self-analysis is limited and faulty because of self-protective “blind spots.”  A coach increases your objectivity.  Also, because of his or her background and training, a coach can address a broader range of personal and career issues than you’d be inclined to do.  The coach’s primary role is to be a trainer, a listener, an observer, a motivator, and a sounding board.

A good coach will help you discover your mission, assist you in mapping out your goals and strategies, and will monitor your progress.  You will get objective, honest feedback on an adult-to-adult basis without moral judgments.  The coach will neither command you to do something nor let you flounder.  He or she will help you sort out options clearly and objectively.  The ultimate decisions and actions are always your own. Your goals and needs are always the specific foundation of your relationship with the coach.  A good coach is committed to doing all in his or her power to help you meet those objectives.

Choosing Mr./Ms. Right

If you’re convinced that it makes sense to hire a coach, there are several steps to choosing the right one. First, determine your needs.  Once you’ve determined them, you can direct the coach as to how he or she can help you most.  Your coach can also help you define your needs more explicitly. The next step is to find the coach.  The best way to begin is to seek referrals, use Internet search engines under headings such as “Coaches,” “Counselors,” “Advisors,” or “Consultants.”  Olson recommends asking a lot of questions when you do identify some prospects.  Most professionals today are used to being questioned by prospective clients.

1. Training Matters. Ask about training.  What was his or her specialty? Do they possess any certifications, training or experience in the areas where you think you need help. Ask them about their continuing education and where you may catch their latest articles or blogs. It’s important that you choose someone active in their field and engaged.

2. Think Specialization – Don’t Overthink. Ask how their specialty relates to business if it is not apparent and find out if their specialty is career transition, executive coaching or any other area that may interest you and you want to concentrate on. Ask them about the type of clients they work with or what they actually enjoy about the outcomes they see. Enthusiasm and specialization matter when choosing a coach not just a dogged dedication to the job.

3. Yes, Experience Matters. Find out about years of experience related to coaching business executives or people in transition. Also ask about experience working with high performance methods and motivation techniques. Has the person had any direct coaching experience in sports, drama, or speaking? How long have they been in practice and are there a good number of testimonials about their work available on LinkedIn and other areas? Do they have a solid reputation amongst their peers nationally? All of this matters!

4. Ask Them to Describe Fees. Check fee and payment arrangement.  Some coaches will quote an hourly figure, some may work with you on a retainer or by the project basis. Don’t get overly focused on fees or costs. Think investment and outcomes. One of the last places invest is themselves but executives always invest in their mind and their future.

5. Professionals May Refer You. If you feel that the person is probably not right for you, ask for a referral or two to other professionals so that you can check out other options before making a decision.  Such a request will not offend a professional coach but they may suggest similar fee based coaches. Good coaches should be positive but they also should be able to challenge you to change for the better and collaborate with you generously.

What’s interesting is that nearly 100% of CEOs in the survey responded that they actually enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice, so there is real opportunity for companies to fill in that gap, says David F. Larcker, who led the research team and is the James Irvin Miller Professor of Accounting and Morgan Stanley director of the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Given how vitally important it is for the CEO to be getting the best possible counsel, independent of their board, in order to maintain the health of the corporation, it is concerning that so many of them are going it alone,” says Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group. “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.”

Whether you are a CEO, board member or senior executive find a way to integrate some serious coaching into your career not just to overcome blind spots but to prosper. Just like the 200 C-level people included in this survey you career is just as important as theirs. Identify your career blind spots and find ways to dramatically improve your career performance and career decisions.

Serious, career-minded professionals are availing themselves of coaching opportunities more and more every day.

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