3 Basics For Hiring An Effective Career Coach

Yesterday, I observed an amazing coach in action. He’s a neighbor of mine who helped my husband maximize his potential in the world of home maintenance. I watched closely, as I knew I could apply his techniques to the world of business coaching.

I’ll readily admit that neither my husband nor I are the DIY type of people. In fact, we’ve probably been responsible for sending a good number of our contractor’s children to college, given what we paid these people over the years. I’ve been OK with that for a long time. But lately we’ve taken an interest in HGTV, which makes every project look doable. We thought we’d take our chances and get our hands dirty. And so began our entry into DIY landscaping.

Hiring Someone Who Has Been There

One only had to listen to our neighbor’s advice to know that this man had years of hands-on experience in the area where he was providing advice. His demonstrated expertise allowed my husband to contemplate approaching this project in ways he had never considered. My husband’s speed in taking on these new tasks increased considerably as his confidence improved.

I often wonder why people in the business world hire coaches who have never done what they are expecting their clients to do. Think about it. Would you hire a skydiving coach who has never actually jumped out of a plane? Probably not. You’d want someone with many successful dives under his belt before you put your life in his hands.

There are no barriers of entry to becoming a coach. That probably explains why there are an abundance of coaches. That’s both good and bad news for you. The good news is that there is most likely someone out there for everyone. The bad news is that you will have to sift through dozens if not hundreds of coaches to find one that is right for you. You can cull this list down significantly by seeking someone who has personally achieved success in an area where you would like to achieve success.

A Good Coach Teaches You How to Thrive Long After They're Gone

There were a number of times when my husband seemed to wane. His coach continually encouraged him to keep going. I know my husband wished that his coach would step in and do the work for him, but that wasn’t going to happen on this guy’s dime. He knew if he did so, he’d leave and my husband would be no better. The coach continued to give support, while my husband continued to sweat.

As a coach, I’ve been tempted to jump in and rescue my clients when it appears they are unable or unwilling to do the work that is necessary to achieve the objectives we’ve mutually agreed upon. I have to remind myself that doing so would be a disservice to them, as they would falter the next time this situation occurred and I was not on hand to catch them.

A great coach will build on your strengths. They’ll help push you to your limits, but they won’t do the work for you. A reputable coach should work towards making you independent, not dependent. If it’s been a year or longer and you are still working on the same things with your coach, then perhaps it’s time to get rid of this person who has now become your friend and hire someone who isn’t afraid to tell you what you need to hear.

The Right Tools for the Right Job

Everyone knows that you need the right tools for the right job. Trying to saw the limbs off of a tree with a small saw isn’t going to cut it when you are taking on trees that have been around longer than you have. It may seem like a large investment to purchase a power tool that can cut your work time in half, but you’ve got to weigh out what your time is really worth and what else you could be doing if you were able to complete tasks more efficiently.

My husband’s coach guided him in the proper selection of tools and even loaned him a few that he had on hand. It was great to work with someone who knew which tool was needed and when.

When hiring a coach, be sure they have more than one tool in their toolkit. Anyone who begins with methodology, rather than with your objectives, should be immediately taken off your short list. Seek someone who asks what you would like to accomplish and why, before they tell you how they are going to use the internationally recognized XYZ approach to coaching that is more time consuming, more expensive, and considerably less effective than what you truly need.

My husband has scheduled his second appointment with his new coach to tackle yet another project, house painting. Check back soon—I’m sure I will have some great stories to share!

Roberta Chinsky Matuson (Roberta@yourhrexperts.com) is the author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-5 Leadership pick. Download a free bonus chapter. Her new book, The Magnetic Workplace: How to Hire Top Talent That Will Stick Around, will be published in 2013. Her website is yourhrexperts.com. Sign up to receive a subscription to her newsletter.

[Image: Flickr user Stephan Gayer]

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  • Kimsawyer

    Good piece Roberta. I'd like to offer a couple of additional ideas to integrate into the conversation.

    The only rebuttal I might make is to clarify the distinction between a coach and a consultant or adviser (very different things). What you say about like-experience is absolutely true of the latter, but the focus of an executive coach is quite different (although there is certainly some overlap). 

    Notwithstanding the similarity between a sports coach and a business coach (hence the analogue moniker and process parallels), a business coach has a focus that is more broad and holistic. My focus is on the player him/herself, and on their performance, well-being, definition and achievement of goals and objectives and overall success professionally over the full context of their career (and sometimes transition to retirement). 

    I define coaching as "the science and technology of success." My job is to study success and growth and development as processes in themselves, to continue to learn all I can about what that means, how to define it, how to achieve it and what can get in the way of it. Further it is incumbent on me to continually gather and hone a large and diverse kit of tools, concepts and techniques from which I can pull at any given time for any given client to help them succeed at whatever confronts them.

    It is absolutely essential, I agree, that a coach have a strong grounding and experience in business in the broadest sense, and an ability to inquire and learn fast the playing field and rules of the game played by a client. However, it is not necessary to the effective coaching of a client to have specific experience and expertise in their particular industry or profession That is the role of a consultant, adviser or other knowledge specialist (to whom I frequently refer my clients in the process of guiding their overall success).

    Secondly and far more simply:
    The fourth key qualification question to ask of a prospective coach is does he/she have a coach of their own!!!

    In service to your success, Kim Sawyer