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Do I Need a Career Coach?

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For so much of your life, you've relied on the advice of teachers, coaches and mentors to advance and reach your goals. That doesn't have to end just because you've entered the working world. Indeed, the entire profession of career coaching is built around the usefulness of an independent, impartial third party giving you guidance on your work, and helping you achieve the goals you set in your executive career. This is a different role than a coach who helps with your job search.

But how do you know if you need a career coach? One way to look at this question is to examine some of the most common reasons that people seek out career coaches. Moreover, if you know why you're looking for a career coach, that will not only inform the choice of the best career coach for you, it'll also shape your work with that individual. Some of the most common motivations that bring people to a career coach include:

  • To learn a new skill. Whether it's public speaking, general communications or accounting, there are a range of new skills that you will pick up more quickly when you're taught by an expert. Unlike your company's university or employee benefits offerings, a career coach can tailor the skills to be taught to your specific needs. For instance, a career coach can help you write more effective emails by reviewing your current correspondence and suggesting edits. Same thing for powerpoint presentations. Moreover, you'll be able to work together on implementing and maintaining the skills -- often the most important part of a lasting behavior change.
  • To tackle a specific challenge. If you've never been a manager before, it's smart to seek out a mentor or coach when you take on your first management role. Or perhaps you've simply received a work promotion into a new area that will require you to stretch and grow. Whether you identify the looming hurdle that could benefit from coaching, or your employer suggests that you explore it, a career coach may give just the support you need.
  • To reach the next rung on the career ladder. You may be excellent at your current job, but how do you demonstrate that you're ready for the next rank in your organization? A career coach can help answer this question and set you up to break the glass ceiling in your company or field. In this situation, it's often handy to work with a career coach who has worked or still works in your industry, since that experience will provide a keen understanding of what's needed to move ahead, and what roadblocks may be standing in your way.
  • To make an important decision. There's a reason that business schools often pair students with a career coach. Upon graduation and return to the working world, you'll be faced with a number of choices and options that will form the foundation of your career. A helpful coach can steer you in the right direction. Even years later, you'll face numerous forks in the road, and a career coach can help you make each decision with confidence and after weighing all the ramifications.
  • To gain a new perspective. Sometimes people seek out a career coach because they simply feel stuck in their career. They need someone who can help them take a big step back and reevaluate where they want to go. Often a career coach can conduct interviews with your bosses, colleagues and subordinates in order to better understand how you operate in the workplace and where you could improve. A coach may also suggest administering a battery of personality and aptitude tests to give you more insight into yourself. (Although this isn't always helpful or needed.) If you're considering quitting your job or going back to school to change careers, a few months' work with a career coach is a smaller initial investment before you take that big leap.

Of course, there may be other good reasons that are leading you to the question of whether you need a career coach. As with many decisions, hearing about other people's experiences can be an extremely useful first step in charting the course that is right for you.

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