With the many job search mistakes applicants make, it’s not easy for job seekers to navigate their search without some guidance. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that job coaching is unregulated. That means just about anyone can suddenly decide to be a career coach. A number of associations provide certifications, but there is no universal standard. Career counselors, who help clients define their career paths and overall strategies, have advanced degrees, but career coaches have no such educational requirements. A coach usually will focus more on specific skill-building such as networking, interviewing, and communication. While some professionals have positive and useful experiences with career coaches, there is the risk that you could waste a lot of money and still end up jobless.
Executive coaching has faced scrutiny as well, but these coaches are typically hired by companies to provide guidance to a specific executive. Career coaches are sometimes hired by an employed professional for general career advice, but the real danger for abuse comes when coaches are used to help guide job seekers toward employment. In what author Barbara Ehrenreich calls “the transition industry” in her 2005 book Bait and Switch, there is a great deal of money to be made. Coaches will sometimes charge $200 or more for a session that can amount to mere resume re-arranging or nonsense personality tests.
It’s been 10 years since Ehrenreich’s exposé of the horrors of trying to find a job in corporate America. In an interview with Mother Jones after the book’s release, she was asked whether she thought job coaching would start to fade. Ehrenreich responded, “The thing is, whether it works or not is not what determines whether it fades out or not. It’s something that builds on anxiety, and as long as you have anxiety, people will look anywhere for solutions.”
Today, job coaching remains alive and well. If you are one of the many struggling job seekers out there who has turned to a career coach for help, it’s up to you to make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Here are the warning signs that can indicate it’s time to either find new guidance or try being your own coach.
1. You can’t afford it
Sure, career coaching could be called an investment, but never put yourself in debt paying for coaching sessions. The prices can vary as dramatically as the quality of the job coaching. According to U.S. News and World Report, one coaching program called “Jumpstart Your Career Success,” costs close to $2,000 for four 45-minute sessions over the phone. If you aren’t satisfied with your current situation, start researching new options. You should also be wary if your coach suddenly starts changing the fee structure, which should have been set up and agreed upon at the outset. Career coaching is one of those services with the perverse financial incentive to keep you coming back for more, while for the client, success would mean no longer needing the coach. Remember, even if you like your coach and you’re seeing value, don’t let your finances go to ruin to hold on to the relationship.
2. You’re not seeing results
If you’re coming to a career coach for help in your job search, you’re going to expect more than an unlicensed therapy session. Your coach should be providing you with real skills, leads, and opportunities. If you feel like your coach is stretching out your sessions with advice that isn’t actionable, you may have a bad coach. Career coaches are often people who have had trouble finding a job in the past, so they carved out a niche for themselves and turned their own extensive job search experience into a business. Unfortunately, this means many of these coaches are simply not very good at finding jobs. Use your common sense. If you are paying for session after session, while at the same time believing you’d be better off spending that time actually applying and interviewing for positions, it’s probably time to fire your coach.
3. You’re not doing the work
Job coaches can be guilty of preying on the insecurities of the unemployed, but sometimes, it’s the job seeker who is the problem. If you hired a coach hoping this person would snap their fingers and land you a job, you are going to be sorely disappointed. Career coaches often give homework, and it’s important that you give it your best effort. Some tasks a coach might assign will seem odd to you. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily skip the work, but you do have the right to question the value of everything you do with your coach. Before you assume it’s all bologna, ask your coach how your homework assignment is going to help you in your job search or career transition. If you’re not satisfied with the answer you get, or the coach becomes evasive, it could be a sign of trouble.
A coaching relationship requires a certain amount of faith, but not every coach should be trusted. If you detect incompetence or deceit, all the more reason to give your coach the boot.