Why Getting Ahead Means Getting a Career Coach
Life + Money

Why Getting Ahead Means Getting a Career Coach


Cindy Doege worked at the Minneapolis Star Tribune for 20 years, rising to a high-level executive position as vice president of circulation. But in recent years, as the fortunes of the newspaper industry have crumbled, Doege, 47, felt her own authority – especially on strategic planning issues – was also eroding.

The Star Tribune struggled with bankruptcy and highly public lawsuits, and by the summer of 2012, the Lino Lakes, Minn., resident began reevaluating her career options. “I was afraid I was becoming part of the furniture and I wanted to leave before I became a chair,” she says.

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She began working on professional development strategies with George Dow, a Minneapolis-based career coach. Doege had met him through a professional organization and knew he was highly regarded.  Dow likens his own role of executive career coach to that of a Sherpa, a guide leading his clients through unexplored terrain – for which he charges $3,000 for a three-month consulting package.

For Cindy Doege, that included conversations, networking and self-assessments. Dow leveraged his own network to introduce Doege to a contact that eventually hired her. She’ll soon start as director of administration at Vomela, a large printing and graphics company. 

Most career coaches don’t actively find their clients new jobs. Rather, they work with clients to hone their job-search skills or inter-office profile in order to land a new job or promotion that’s more in line with their career goals. They can also help new grads or older folks looking to re-enter the workforce to ease the transition into today’s office.

Growing Demand
Nearly two-thirds of workers surveyed last year by executive consulting firm Right Management said they were not satisfied with their jobs. Such employees are often on their own to find a solution to their workplace woes. It’s no longer common for corporations to bring in their own trainers and coaches to work with employees, says Ben Dattner, a New York-based organizational psychologist.

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So the coaching field has exploded in recent years. Last year, 2,700 coaches applied for certification with the International Coach Federation, a 29 percent increase over the previous year.

Ashley (not her real name), a New York-based securities trader, says she hired Roy Cohen, a former Goldman Sachs career coach, because she was impressed with his substantial knowledge of Wall Street. Collaborating with Cohen has led to multiple promotions and greater financial success.

“I was feeling I wasn’t achieving my potential and wanted to find someone to talk about career issues with,” says Ashley, who requested anonymity because she was concerned about being stigmatized. “I was ambitious and wanted to be better in my field and in evaluating future options.”

Ashley’s fears of being stigmatized may not be unfounded: Disclosing that you have a career coach while employed may be perceived negatively by a company, Miranda says. It may tip off an employer that a worker is looking for another job.

Finding the Coach for You
Choosing the right coach can be difficult. Some coaches have PHds, or, like Dow, an MBA. But the field is largely unregulated, and anyone can call himself a coach—with or without certification or experience. And they don’t come cheap: Executive coaches often charge from $125 to $500 an hour or more.

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“Definitely caveat emptor,” recommends Steven Miranda, managing director at the Cornell University Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, about searching for a career coach.

A reputable career coach should give a free initial consultation, either in person or by videoconferencing, Dattner says. He or she should offer work samples and provide former clients as references. During the first meeting, you are interviewing the coach: Find out how long he or she has been practicing what the individual’s specialization is (younger workers vs. mid-career professionals, for example).  

Look for someone with experience in your field. A good starting place is industry networking groups or the career services center at your alma mater. A credible coach will offer a contract that lays out pricing, services provided, and the start and end date for the services offered.

One final note: Personal chemistry is an important factor in determining who to hire, especially as your coach may deliver advice and criticism that’s difficult to take. Experts say that clients should expect to put in some serious work in order to get the most out of a coaching relationship. "Don't do it if you're not fully commutted to make changes and follow a coach's advice," Dattner says.

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