Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hiring a career transition coach, Part II: finding the right fit

In my last post I talked about some of the reasons I had for hiring a career transition coach.  What it came down to was that I’d worked incredibly hard and gotten a really prestigious position in my field, but once the high of that achievement started to fade, the toll the high stress position was taking on my body, mind, family, my parenting and my enjoyment of the rest of my life was becoming overwhelming to me. Sloooooowly, very slowly, I was able to admit that I wanted to leave it behind me and do something I found a lot more meaningful.

Once I made the decision to hire a coach, I did a lot of research into the different types of coaches available to someone like me. I’d heard of “life coaches” and understood that some of them could help with life balance and career transitions, but I wasn’t sure if a life coach would be targeted enough for me. I can be a “cut to the chase” kind of person in my professional life, and I wanted someone who could cut to the chase along with me. So I set about picking a category of coach that fit my needs.



I. Identify the type of coach for your needs.

Here’s my list and the exact notes I made when I was reviewing my options:

1.  Life coachcategorizing life stages, identifying obstacles, finding paths to achievement/growth/happiness in multiple areas of life, e.g. parenting, relationships, career, work/life balance, etc.

2.  Resume and job application editing and interview coaching servicespecific to editing and targeting your professional CV, cover letter, interview talking points and strategies.

3.  Career transition coachaddressing underlying goals that aren’t being served in current career, how those goals can be met in next career, and strategies for using skills and strengths to move forward into new career that meets goals.

The Career transition coach (#3) was pretty much exactly what I needed just then, as ideally it would be a good balance between working out my big-picture goals and the specifics of the career building process.



II. Identify must-haves and research, research, research.

This is the list I wrote of my own “must haves” and after doing a lot of research I discovered that you can be picky in looking for a coach. There are a lot of certified coaches out there, and they have come from a huge variety of career backgrounds. When I first wrote this list I thought it might be too specific and I’d have to compromise on some of the points – I didn’t. In fact narrowing the coaches I found down to just 3 was pretty hard, since I found so many that matched.

My list:

1.  Certification by the International Coaching Federation. The certification comes with a commitment to a certain set of ethics, and I wanted to make sure my coach had made this commitment.

2.  Specialty in career transition coaching: I wanted someone who was not just listing “career transitions” as one of a long list of potential life situations they could advise on, but someone who seriously specialized in career transitions. Ideally they would have references related to their abilities in this area.

3.  Experience in my specific professional field. I didn’t want a business coach, as the rules of my own career field are very different. I wanted someone who would understand the unwritten rules and “insider” expectations of my field without me having to spell them out. Which meant they’d either have to have been in my field, or they’d have to have successfully worked with enough clients like me to have become a de facto insider.

4.  Online access: I didn’t want to be limited to coaches in my geographical area. I wanted someone who would be comfortable using Skype, phone and email contact.

5.  Free initial consultation: The only way I’d know if the chemistry is right was by getting to know the coach and their communication style. I needed someone who communicated well with me, and who had the upbeat but no-nonsense pace that I respond to best.

I made a short-list of 3 potential coaches, all women (I didn’t have a gender preference, it just happened that way) and set up preliminary phone or Skype consultations with them, all in the same week. I wanted to give each consultation enough time to settle in my mind, but I didn’t want to drag the process out too long. I started on a Monday and gave myself until Friday to make my choice.



III. The initial consultation

I think this part of the hiring process isn’t given enough weight in how-to guides, though it’s hugely important. My advice would be to think about the career goals you have and come up with a list of questions that would essentially ask the potential coach, in a nutshell: “how you will help me meet these goals?” 

Here’s the list I made to evaluate the 3 coaches during my free consultation:

1.  Availability

  • communication method
  • dates/times

2.  Experience in my field

  • What is their experience in this field, either personally or through previous clients?
  • What specific strategies would they use to help someone in my field that differ from other (business, retail, etc) fields?

3. Coaching process

  • How do they work? – what is their process, will we do exercises, homework?
  • Do they record sessions, do they summarize them and reiterate the take-home messages or is that up to me?
  • Do they seem directed, focused, action-oriented and practical – but also empathetic?
  • Do they listen? Take in what is said and respond? (rather that focusing on a particular learned set of exercises, or sales pitch) <—this was something I was worried about for some reason…
  • Are they comfortable with a firm end point? - if I tell them I would like to have X weeks/sessions of coaching and to create a plan for that amount of time, are they willing to work with that?

4. Gut feeling

  • Do I like them? Do we ‘get’ each other?

--> The point on this list that turned out to be the most helpful? #4. Gut feeling.

But to really get the gut feeling, I had to talk to them about everything else on the list. Because to be honest, I didn’t know which process or exercises would be most helpful – I just wanted to hear them talk about them, and respond to direct questions with equally direct answers. The answers themselves are their livelihood and their area of expertise, so I was guessing that most of them would sound good to me.



If you’re interested, this was the breakdown for the three people I interviewed:

Coach #1: We had a 30 minute Skype session and I was surprised to see that she lived in Europe (this wasn’t apparent on her website, since her business practice is all online), and that she was about 9 months pregnant. At that point I started thinking that the scheduling would be tricky, as I was aiming for a 2 month plan and at some point during that time she would end up with a newborn, and that type of time commitment + the Europe/US time difference might make things hard to schedule. Also she was a pretty “let’s not set limits, but just start talking and see where this goes” type of person. That would be great for a lot of different areas of my life, but not what I wanted for this particular one.

 Coach #2: We had a 30 minute phone call. This coach was pragmatic, detail oriented and logical. She was experienced in my field. She was very smart, had references, had availability, and got to the question about aligning things with a firm end point even before I did. She was everything I could possibly have asked for on paper. She checked every single box I had. She also totally scared me! I kept wondering if she wasn’t someone who had actually WORKED AT the same University I was just transitioning out of. By the time I got off the phone with her I was paranoid, my stomach had started to ache and my stress level was rising like a rocket. Nope.

Coach #3: Oh thank goodness. We had a 45 minute phone call (it was scheduled for 30 minutes, but at the 30 minute mark we weren’t done and she chose to finish our talk rather than rush off the phone). She started the call by telling me that she smiled when she read my initial email to her, as it was exactly the sort of email she’d have sent a career coach with the same type of expectations. It’s not like we were chatting “like friends” but she was definitely in the family of personality types I choose to surround myself with. She was detail oriented and logical, but she was also much more flexible in the way she approached the details than I was – and this was like gold in the bank to me. I felt like I’d already had a coaching session in that consultation talk. I seriously left that call thinking about a new way to approach some of the problems I was having. The gut feeling box was checked 10x over during that call. Obviously this was the coach I went with!


Next: Part III: The Coaching Process


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