February 20, 2007

What’s the Best Way to Pick A Career Counselor or Coach?

By Perri Capell

Question: How should a job hunter find an executive coach or career counselor? Quality people are hard to find, and a career path is too important to be put in the wrong hands.

Answer: The process of finding a career coach or counselor is the same as that for finding any other professional, such as a dentist or personal trainer. Consider what you need or hope to accomplish and then do research to locate someone who’s qualified to address your issues. “First, think about where you need the help and then find people who specialize in that area,” says Dave Opton, chief executive officer of ExecuNet, a career-services organization based in Norwalk, Conn. The career counseling field has grown rapidly since the 1980s, when it started to become popular. Career coaching now generates annual revenues of about $1.5 billion world-wide, according to a 2006 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the International Coach Federation, a Lexington, Ky.-based group. However, be aware that neither the federal or state governments regulate the profession. Anyone can hang out a shingle as a career counselor. Fortunately, by doing some investigating and checking references, you can avoid hiring a charlatan. Start by determining what kind of help you need. You’re in the middle of a job transition, but do you want assistance with the entire job-search process or are you just interested in honing a specific skill, such as networking or interviewing? Also, decide if you want to work with someone who specializes in clients at your professional level and if you want to meet your counselor in person or will be satisfied with phone aid. If you’re OK with phone sessions, you’ll have a wider range of options. Career counselors and coaches do many of the same things, but there are slight differences between the two. Knowing the distinctions may help with your selection, says Annette Summers, executive director of the Association of Career Professionals International (ACPI) in Washington, D.C. Career counselors usually specialize in helping clients determine appropriate career paths or with their overall job-search strategy. Coaches might focus more on helping to achieve a career goal or improving a specific skill, such as interviewing. A career counselor might delve more into your background issues, while a coach might be more goal-oriented, says Diane Brennan, president-elect of the ICF. Seek referrals from friends, search your local phone book and use the Internet to find professionals. Sites of various professional organizations, such as the ACPI or the ICF, provide directories of their member. It’s best to interview several individuals before making a final choice. Ask if they specialize in your needs; what types of approach they’ll use; what exercises or tests they’ll give you; and about their professional qualifications, such as degrees, certifications and professional affiliations. The Institute of Career Certification International, a certifying organization in Washington, D.C., provides different counseling certificates based on experience and expertise. The ICF certifies coaches. Other career counseling groups provide certifications as well. Ask about fees and how you will be expected to pay. Many career professionals charge an average of between $100 and $250 per hour, says Ms. Brennan, who has a coaching practice in Tucson, Ariz. It’s typical to work with a career professional in 30- to 60-minute increments for six to 10 sessions over several months, says Ms. Brennan. Request names of former clients and call them to ask about their experience. Stay away from career specialists who require a large sum up front, a lengthy contract or that guarantee you’ll find work. “If they promise they can land you a job, you should be leery,” says Ms. Summers. Establishing a good working relationship with your career coach or counselor is important. To find out if you’re compatible, ask for a free trial session, says Ms. Brennan. “It’s typical for someone to offer a 20- to 30-minute telephone session to get a sense if they are right for the client,” she says. While diligent research can help ensure you’ll select a qualified coach or counselor, you still have to do the work to reach your goals. A career professional simply offers helpful tools and information and steers you in the right direction. Listen to what your guide says and follow through. Have a question about job hunting or career management? Send it to Perri Capell. If you don’t want your name used in our column, please indicate that. Due to the volume of mail received, we regret that we cannot answer every question.

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