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Archive for December 19th, 2008

If you’re one of the thousands who have been laid off in the last few months, you might be tempted to use a career coach to help you in your job search. But whether that’s a good idea depends on whom you hire as a coach, and what you expect to get out of the experience.

Hiring coaches is difficult, because in most places – and probably everywhere – anyone who wants to can set up as a career coach. No professional or regulatory body exists for the job. Nor does any recognized form of accreditation (having taken a course or two doesn’t count).

The only criterion you have for judging career coaches is their reputation. A good place to start is with an Internet search in which you keep an eye out for complaints to consumer organizations or better business bureaus. But even that may not tell the whole story if the coach is part of a larger organization or franchise, because a business record in one area may mean nothing in another area.

You may also want to arrange a preliminary meeting, and decide whether or not you trust the coach, but don’t imagine that you can necessarily tell someone who is fraudulent. After all, a fraud probably has more experience conning people than you have detecting them. Probably your best bet is to work with someone who comes recommended by a friend or family member who has been their client, and whose judgment you trust. However, if that isn’t possible, ask a potential coach for references — and check them.

As you screen a possible coach, be on the lookout for exaggerated claims. Does the coach claim to have methods no one else has? Do they guarantee results? Put you through a screening process, then tell you that you’ve made the cut? Use high pressure tactics? Any of these signs may indicate dishonesty or, at the very least, a greater interest in taking your money than in helping you.

Just as importantly, be very clear what a coach does for you. If you are expecting someone to do all the work for you, or to pull a genuine miracle out of the desk drawer for you, you are going to be disappointed in your association.

Basically, a coach can do two things for you. The first is to update your sense of the job market, and to help you prepare for your search. A coach can give you advice about how to arrange a resume to best effect, help you practice interviewing, critique your clothing and manner, and, if you have chosen well, give you a better sense of the job market in your areas of expertise than you have. In most cases, they will tell you about the effectiveness of networking and informational interviews, but the simple statistic that the average person needs 30-40 informational interviews to land a job is enough to tell you that the real work has to be done by you. A coach can prepare you, but if you don’t cooperate with their job search program, then you are wasting your money.

The second thing that a career coach can do for you is to serve as an advisor, answering the questions that arise during your job search, analyzing your account of your experiences, and suggesting ways that you can approve next time. Since they are constantly thinking about such matters with a number of people, they should be able to give you better advice than most people. In other words, they can help you focus your efforts and learn from them – but the effort is still up to you, and not the coach.

Hiring a coach is like taking a class; just as you can learn the subject matter of a class by yourself, you can learn what a coach can teach you through a library or experience. In both cases, entering into a formal agreement forces you to become organized, and can help you to learn more systematically.

But, if you are not ready to put in the effort, or imagine that the formal agreement is an end in itself rather than ongoing guidance, you are going to be disappointed in the result – and, because of the lack of formal qualifications for career coaches, quite possibly cheated.

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