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Make the Most of a Career Coach

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You've probably had a work mentor in the past, or maybe you do currently. But at some stage you may consider hiring a professional career coach for systematic feedback on how to achieve your work goals. Coaches can even help you achieve work-life balance or balance a dual-career marriage. If and when you seek someone out, there are a few key steps to follow if you want to get the most from working with a career coach -- and to avoid being fleeced by the charlatans and incompetents who often masquerade as coaches.

Know Why You Need a Career Coach

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The first and most important step is to know why you're looking for a career coach. Your reasons and goals will not only inform the choice of the best career coach for you, they'll also shape your work with that individual. As with many decisions, the reasons are often extremely personal and unique to your personality, career and life stage. Here are some of the most common reasons that someone may seek out a career coach.

Make Sure You Need a Coach

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On top of these excellent reasons to seek out a career coach, there are also some misguided motivations. If you are depressed or in need of therapy, a career coach is unlikely to help. You'd be better off seeing a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist to treat your underlying issues.

Similarly, to perform better at work you may simply need to adopt healthy habits like finding time to exercise, getting adequate sleep and eating healthy. It's almost like tidying your home before the housekeeper comes. Meet your basic needs before hiring a career coach, or you could be wasting your money.

Find the Right Career Coach

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Now that you've laid the groundwork for career coaching, you need to seek out and screen individuals. If a friend or colleague can refer you to someone they've worked with, that is ideal. Perhaps you want to find someone who has expertise in your area of need or your industry. Look for a combination of practical real-world experience and a psychology or therapeutic background. Allow for several screening interviews with different coaches before you find the right fit for you -- and be sure to steer clear of those individuals who trigger alarm bells because of the pressure tactics they use, or the information you dig up in your research.

Set Clear Ground Rules

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Once you've found the right career coach, make sure to set clear ground rules around payment, confidentiality, when and how you'll meet, mutual expectations and the length of the engagement. If you're introduced through your human resources department, make sure you understand what access your employer and your supervisor have to the information you may share with your career coach.

You also should be explicit with the coach about the goals you have for the work you'll do together. Sometimes you go into a relationship with an idea of the goal, and then it shifts. That's fine. But you shouldn't be in an open-ended arrangement -- both you and the coach should be accountable for the progress you'll make.

Be Prepared to Work Yourself

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Speaking of accountability, the most important final step is to be sure you're ready for the hard work required to make the most of your work with a career coach. Just as with a personal trainer or a nutritionist, the coach is only there for guidance and support. You'll have to be honest with the coach -- and yourself -- about your flaws, bad habits and weaknesses in order to change them. Then, you'll need to make the hourly, daily and weekly changes in your normal work patterns that will lead you to the goals you set. Only then can you truly achieve the career progress or success that you're seeking.

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