How to Find Career Coaches (And Why, and How)

how to find career coaches2018 Update: We still think this is an interesting discussion of how to find career coaches — but you may also want to check out our latest discussion of the best career advice from coaches.

Career coaches: how do you find one?  Why might you need one?  When in your career should you look for one?  Let’s discuss.  First, Reader J’s question:

Have you ever written about using the services of a career coach? How does one go about finding someone to work with? I work in tax/accounting in the NYC/NJ area and I need some career coaching at this point in my life. I have worked in public accounting so far and need some help advancing in my career aside from the technical skills.

Great question, Reader J!  I know readers were discussing this in this morning’s TPS thread.  While we’ve talked about career changes and other career transitions, we haven’t really talked about how to find career to find career coaches - images of a young professional woman getting career coaching advice

I worked with a career coach briefly back in my law days (when I was very open to leaving the law!), and didn’t have the best experience, to be honest.  His approach was very much, “Imagine the ONE THING you like best — like watching baseball.  Then, you could go be a lawyer for baseball!”  This, I always felt, was both obvious (it never occurred to me to follow my passion!) as well as misleading advice, because, after all, the day to day activities of a sports lawyer probably don’t involve much baseball watching.  But that was my one experience — ladies, what are your thoughts? Have you found a great career coach — and if so, how?  When did you find it most useful in your career? 

Further reading:

  • Five Tips on Choosing a Career Coach [The Careerist]
  • Career Coaches: When Are They Worth Their Salt [Fortune]
  • Ten Things You Should Know About Career Coaching [Forbes]
  • Career Coach vs. Life Coach: What’s the Difference [AOL Jobs]
  • Ask the Readers: Has Career Coaching Ever Helped You? [Ask a Manager]

Pictured: Shutterstock / Snezana Ignjatovic.


We asked our readers for their best advice on how to find career coaches -- including WHEN you need a career coach and WHY to hire one.


  1. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this. I’ve been considering one myself, and I have some questions:

    – Do you get more value from a career coach if you’re in more of a senior role? I feel like I may be too junior to really be able to utilize a career coach to their full potential.
    – Do career coaches help career pathways only or do they help with professional development skills as well? For example public speaking or presentation skills.

    • Replying to get comments.

    • Wildkitten :

      I think you’d get more help earlier in your career actually. They can help you fail faster and find direction and you can use the skills or tips you learn for a longer time since you have so much left in your career.

      I’m in a big city and we have coaches who specialize in pathways and other coaches who specialize in skills. I would suspect there are coaches who do both, especially in a smaller markets.

  2. I had a career coach last year. She was paid for by the firm I was with.

    I ended up using our sessions to learn about “having difficult discussions” with my boss and trying to salvage some self-esteem to go out and network. For that, it was helpful.

    For getting out there and doing business developement? Not so much. Or at least not enough that I would pay for coaching out of my own pocket.

    That said, I went through a great program last year that was like career coaching but much cheaper. It is called Wilpower (one “L”) hosted by Leading Women in Technology. It was 10 group sessions, one Friday per month. It covered a lot of what coaches do. And a lot of employers will pay the fee. It is offered in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and New York City.

    Sign ups are still happening:

    • Wildkitten :

      I used a coach when job searching who was hugely helpful in encouraging my self-esteem through the very demoralizing job search process. I found her support instrumental.

  3. My dad is my carreer coach. Though I was the one who got my own job, dad has been my strength all along–negotieating for me and planning each of my promotion’s for me, and also getting me to be the next level. Right now he got me to be the cochair of the entire WC department, and a partner in the firm after 5 years of workeing my tuchus off! But if left to my own devise, I do NOT think I would be a partner yet, and I would probabley not be the co-chair of the WC department for at least another year, b/c the manageing partner still likes to sign all pleeeading’s on behalf of the firm, so that when there is a reported case, he get’s to see HIS name on the decisions, and in the NY Suppelement case book as representeing the RESPONDENT! I realy do NOT care if I see my name, Ellen Barshevsky, in the casebook’s b/c I know that a true litieagator like me pride’s my self in the RESULTS I get, NOT in the fact that my NAME is in the case book! FOOEY on name dropper’s (unless your Kalvin Klien–yay!)

    Speakeing of name droppers, Myrna’s brother tried to impress me telling me he got ticket’s to Billy Joel’s concert and did I want to go? I said I saw Billy Joel year’s ago at the Garden and that I perfer alot of the new artist’s. I think he think’s that I’d be impressed with him getting tickets and that he could tell every one he is dateing me. FOOEY on that! For now, I will be nice to him b/c of Myrna, but I realy think he is like the other guy’s who would just have sex with me then walk away. No way HOZE!! I will keep my panties on, thank you very much, b/c I do NOT need him huffeing and puffeing then staining my 1000 count Egyptian Sheet’s!!! YAY!

  4. My husband was laid off and contacted his MBA alumni office, which directed him to a career coach that charged $95/hour. She was very helpful to him in goal setting, planning his unemployment time, and networking within his industry. She was NOT helpful in actually getting that next job – which is OK, but I just want people to understand the differences.

    Also, now that he has that next job, that he hates, I am urging him to go back to the career coach! I think they’d be good, like a therapist or marriage counselor, for “check-in” points along a certain timeline.

  5. I won a free hour with a career coach in a contest once. I told her I was unhappy with my job, and she suggested looking through job postings and keeping a folder full of “dream job descriptions.” It was a great idea that I’ve continued to do since then. It helps me keep in mind what is out there and the kind of skills/experiences I would need to get there.

    I didn’t decide to do more coaching with her after that hour. But it might be helpful if you feel really stuck. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to someone with an outside perspective who has an open mind about your future. But a mentor or friend or acquaintance in your industry might be able to help in similar ways.

    • An excellent point, anon. I’m a career coach at a business school and this is an exercise I suggest for just about anyone who doesn’t have a specific goal in mind. I encourage our students and alumni to read job descriptions that are 7-10 years above where they are right now and then narrow in on 2 or 3 “dream jobs”. Then they can compare the skills, experience, and qualifications that they bring to the table to the skills/experience/qualifications called for in the job descriptions–that essentially gives them a checklist of things they need to look for in their next few jobs in order to be the perfect candidate for those dream roles.

  6. I’ve participated in an in-firm career coaching program, which was fine. What benefitted me a TON, though, was participating in a group (through my church, actually) that did a guided study using the Gallup Strengthsfinder. The program is religious in nature – it’s based on the idea that God gives each of us strengths and gifts, and that we’ll be happier and more successful if we pursue a vocation that relies on and utilizes those strengths and gifts, rather than trying to force ourselves into a path that doesn’t fit us, but is more socially acceptable/lucrative/etc.

    For those who aren’t Christian, there is a secular version and I just really I highly recommend it – it was life-changing for me in terms of helping me see things I had viewed as weakness (I’m too aggressive! Too competitive! Too goal-oriented!) as gifts. That readjustment – and the idea that you shouldn’t fight your gifts, but rather should lean into them, was huge for me.

  7. I would also recommend the book The Authentic Career by Maggie Craddock if you can’t afford a coach. I thought it was fantastic at helping to think outside the box.

  8. As part of a work-sponsored leadership program, I had a professional coach for 20 months, we met every 3-4 weeks. My coach wasn’t helping me set my career path, we instead focused on “tools for my toolbox”, which included managing underperformers, effectively dealing with outrageous/unreasonable work requests, and setting work/life boundaries. I happened to be in a challenging work environment at the time and needed to focus on fixing some things that weren’t going well, but others in the program were using their coaches to help them figure out how to further build upon their strengths.
    As for when you should have a coach, I can’t imagine a stage of your career when you don’t have a list of (non-technical) things you wished you could do more effectively/more effortlessly/with less stress. Actually, I wish I could assign coaches to basically everyone I work with. Of course, what I’m really wishing for is that I could assign them coaches AND dictate what they focus on. :)

  9. I worked with a career coach during a period when my law firm was closing its doors and I needed to transition to another firm. I had weekly coaching sessions by phone. My coach was great and working with her was well worth the investment of time and money. I think her techniques would be helpful both for business development and for job transitions. She really helped me identify my goals, break down the incremental steps needed to achieve them, and carry out each step in a way that I was comfortable with. Although I am now settled and happy in my current firm, she remains available to me for periodic coaching sessions as needed to deal with specific challenges.

  10. Anonymous :

    After I worked in a particularly difficult environment and moved to a different job that was not in the field I wanted to be in, I worked with a career coach to 1) build up my self esteem once again; 2) figure out a clear vision for the work that I really wanted to be doing and would excel at; 3) come up with a plan to do so; and 4) receive support and advice while looking for that dream job. One year after working with an excellent career coach, I was able to make that move, and learned a tremendous amount about myself in the process. I continue to work with my career coach every few months, which is a nice way to check in about progress, figure out new places for learning, and continue to deal with whatever challenges come up. I worked with one career coach before I found the one I am working with now–and she wasn’t quite the right fit–but the right coach can help to make a very important difference.

  11. Great topic! Anyone have any referrals for career coaches they’ve used or heard about in NYC?? Ideally it’d be someone with experience in law and/or financial compliance.

    Happy holiday, everyone!

  12. My problem with career coaches is that they are incredibly expensive – charging $150 to $300 per session. If you’re afraid that you are about to get pushed out of your firm (i.e., lose your job), it doesn’t seem wise to be spending that amount of money out of pocket when you should be saving it instead for an emergency fund. Besides, all of their advice tends to be common sense. I haven’t had one tell me yet something I didn’t already know.