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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Here's the Real Deal on What a Coach Can (and Can't) Do for Your Career

person in a career coaching session

Are you stuck in a rut that you can’t seem to shake? Maybe you’re looking to change careers or find work you feel passionate about? You might feel paralyzed and purposeless, or possibly hesitant to seek assistance because of pride; you believe you should be able to figure it out on your own.

The truth is, however, a lot of us do need help, and there’s no shame in admitting that. Finding an ally who specializes in the job search is one of the fastest ways to accelerate that process. These experts, with specific training in areas like resume building, career planning, and motivation, know how to see beyond what you see in yourself and identify the best of what others notice in you all in an effort to to help you become a better professional.

But, before you go ahead and book a bunch of sessions with high, high hopes for taking your career or job search to the next level, you should first pin down exactly what you want to work on and what you hope to accomplish.

Once you’ve determined that, ask around for relevant referrals and spend some time searching for credible choices online. (Or, take a shortcut by checking out the vetted and reviewed coaches on The Muse.)

Regardless of where you choose to look, keep an eye out for professionals who have several years of experience, certifications, and strong client testimonials. And, of course, you’ll also want to find one who you mesh well with.

With all this said, keep in mind that while there are numerous wonderful things a career coach can do for you, there’re limitations, too. If you’re curious about working with an expert in the field, and want to know more about how it all works—specifically what this person can and can’t do, read on.

A Career Coach Can Personalize Your Career Plan

Professional career coaches are skilled and trained in helping you create a personalized plan designed to meet your goals. So, while you can definitely unearth a ton of great material online—resume templates, cover letter tips, sample interview questions—you’ll get advice and information tailored specifically to your needs when you work with an expert.

Following a thorough assessment of your strengths, he or she will typically guide you through a series of questions about your unique situation to make sure you have a strong understanding of why you’re unhappy in your current role or why you might prefer a large company over a small startup. A good one will help you put into words not only what your goals are but how you can best achieve them.

A Career Coach Can’t Do the Work for You

While these experts can and will provide you with the tools and resources necessary to make you and your job search successful, they’re not there to do the work for you. It’s completely up to you to take what you learn in a session and run with it. That means being willing to put aside dedicated time to practice interviewing skills, for example, or write a journal entry on what your ideal work day looks like. As with most things, you’ll get out what you put into the relationship.

A Career Coach Can Minimize Stress and Anxiety

Being unemployed or unfulfilled at work often fosters difficult emotions, including doubt, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence. After all, nobody feels like jumping for joy after reading a rejection letter.

But being in a high-stress job with countless demands can also be troublesome and bad for your self-esteem. If you’re in a position you hate, working 40 or 50 hours a week, you might very well feel vulnerable and worried about the future.

Finding happiness in your work is an emotional process that involves processing and channeling challenging feelings like rejection and self-doubt in healthy ways rather than allowing them to sabotage your progress. The right person can empower you to take action, overcome setbacks, and maintain your focus.

A Career Coach Can’t Change Your Life Overnight

Major career change is a process—and an ongoing one at that. The time it takes to see results will vary based on your individual goals and where you are in your career. Your coach may be able to work through resume and interview preparation with you relatively quickly, but working through issues of self-doubt, lack of confidence, and negativity may take significantly longer. Serious change doesn’t happen overnight.

A Career Coach Can Provide Honest, Unbiased Feedback

Family and friends are often the first people we turn to for reassurance and advice during a job search, in spite of the fact that these folks aren’t always the most qualified or reliable. Their perspective is, of course, biased.

Coaches, on the other hand, offer unbiased, objective feedback tailored to your search and career goals. Unlike your best friend or significant other, a mentor of this type will get to know your skills and aptitude as an employee and then go from there in helping you achieve your goals.

Think of this person as someone to bounce new, bold ideas off of, such as that creative personal statement you’re unsure of. Experimentation may be a big part of your work together.

A Career Coach Can’t Instantly Get You a Job

Career coaches are not magicians; they don’t promise you’ll be hired after an interview, and they don’t guarantee job placement. I can’t stress this point enough: The results of your sessions depend on the effort you devote to the process.

This person is an ally, a trained professional who is familiar with your situation and dedicated to your success. He or she is there to help you identify goals, find or rekindle your passion, give you a competitive edge in your job search—with expert advice on crafting an excellent resume and cover letter—boost your confidence, and enable you to move forward in your career. If it’s a new job you’re after, your advisor will set you on the path to obtaining it.

Hiring a coach does come with a price tag, but the long-term benefits it can reap will hopefully make you happy that you invested. We are talking about your career after all, the next 40 or so years of your life!