How To Choose A Career Coach


In the nearly 14 years that I’ve been working as coach, I’ve noticed a huge rise in the number of people training and setting up as a coach. It’s become an incredibly popular career choice, not only for career changers, but for those straight out of university, too. I can understand why - it’s a very rewarding job, one with lots of flexibility, and the opportunity to really feel like you’re helping other people in a tangible way.

And, yet, it remains an unregulated industry, which means that anyone can call themselves a ‘coach’. It’s this point that has prompted me to write this article. As more and more coaches come into the market, it can be very confusing and overwhelming for those looking to work with a coach. Before you know it, you’ve given up on your career change entirely, simply because you can’t even decide which coach to work with, let alone which new career to choose!

So, to make the process a little simpler, I’ve pulled together 7 key questions that I believe you should be asking when you're looking for a coach to work with. Hopefully, these questions will help make your search for an effective coach a little easier.

1. Is it coaching or therapy you need?

First of all, you need to be clear whether indeed it’s a coach you need, as opposed to a therapist or a counsellor. It can be tricky to know the difference. Therapy and counselling are often focused on how the past has shaped where you’ve got to today. They create a space where you can explore your current circumstances in relation to past events, and the impact they had on you. They are also better suited to more therapeutic work, where you’re discussing challenges that feel deep rooted. If you feel your mental health is being impacted, therapy and counselling may be better fit for you, as coaching takes place on the understanding that someone’s mental health is reasonably stable.

Coaching is much more focused on the future. It’s about goal setting, and working through what’s currently holding you back, so you can start to move forward. It’s less about processing the past (which often therapy and counselling are used for), and more about shaping your future. Of course, some coaches blur these boundaries (rightly or wrongly), but, in the main, these are differences to consider when deciding which is best for you right now.

2. What training do they have?

As touched on earlier, the coaching industry is an unregulated one, which means anyone can call themselves a ‘coach’. As a result, in my opinion, it’s really important that you research what training the coach you are thinking of working with has completed. Whilst coaching skills can come naturally to many people, there’s a whole heap more to coaching (and people) that is important to learn before working with individuals on their core challenges.

How long did their training take? Did it cover psychological theory, as well as coaching techniques? Was it an accredited course?

In addition to this, if you’re looking to work on a career change, it’s worth asking what career-specific training they have completed. Many coaches are trained in basic/general coaching techniques, and they go on to apply them to a career change context, with varying degrees of success. Someone contemplating a career change may need a more structured approach, which a general coach may not be aware of, experienced or trained in. It’s usually best to work with a coach who specialises in the particular challenge you’re facing, and that has enhanced training and knowledge in this area, as opposed to a coach trying to make 'one size fit all'.

3. Do they have a Supervisor?

As an accredited Supervisor, I’m often a little concerned when I hear other coaches say they don’t have a Supervisor. There is so much to coaching that even the main coaching bodies (EMCC, ICF, AC, etc) make Supervision a compulsory condition of accreditation. Supervision forms an essential part of a coach’s professional development, so please do check if the coach has regular supervision to ensure they are on top of their game and professional wellbeing. It’s also worth asking what other CPD they undertake on a regular basis to ensure you're working with someone engaged and who continuously seeks to develop and update their coaching craft and knowledge.

4. Are they accredited?

If a coach has only just finished their training, it’s unlikely that they will be accredited straight away, because the main coaching bodies require a certain number of coaching hours to be completed first. So, of course, there will be some great coaches out there that are not yet accredited. On top of this, there are some skeptics that will say the accreditation process was only invented as a way of making money out of coaches (as you have to pay to go through the process) so they won’t have worked towards receiving an accreditation out of principle!

Either way, I do think it’s helpful to ask whether the coach you’re considering is accredited, and to what level (the higher the level of accreditation, the higher the level of experience and coaching knowledge). If they aren’t accredited, perhaps just enquire as to why, to give you a feel for their reasons.

An accredited coach has had to demonstrate how they meet the essential criteria and core competencies of an effective coach, so you can be more confident that they have the required coaching skills, training, and essential knowledge to be able to coach you effectively.

5. What sort of coach do you want?

Some coaches are quite structured in their approach, some leave their sessions very open, with little agenda, so you can choose what you want to focus on. Some are quite client-led in this way, which means, as I say, you choose and direct the focus of the session. Others are more directive, and will create suggested topics to explore in each session, and put together a programme for you, like I do.

I find, when it comes to career change (which can be an overwhelming experience, full of confusing options), a more focused, structured framework works best to help the client move from A to B with reduced distraction. For more general coaching, a more open approach can work well, as there’s sometimes less to consider when only one or two more specific challenges are being worked through - as opposed to the myriad of barriers, fears, thoughts, feelings, and choices that often arise in relation to career change.

6. Do they have positive reviews?

It’s worth seeing if the coach you’re considering has positive reviews on Google, or other review websites. Hopefully they’ll have testimonials on their website, too, so you can get a good sense of the benefits and outcomes their previous clients have experienced, what they’re like to work with, their strengths, approach, etc. You could also ask to speak to a couple of their previous or current clients to get a deeper understanding of what to expect.

7. Can you arrange an Introductory/Chemistry Session?

To accompany all of the above, and to finalise your decision making, it’s always worth arranging an Introductory Session or some sort of chemistry call with the coach. You can then assess the rapport between you, ask any questions you might have - including ones on the topics above - and get a sense of whether you’d be a good fit for each other (it’s important the coach feels it’s a good fit their end, too).


In the end, I hope the above questions help you find a coach you’re excited to work with on your career goals!

Should you wish to find out how I stack up against all of the above, check out my About Alice page, and please do contact me to arrange a 45-60 minute Introductory Session (£45) so we can discuss how we can work together on your career change.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.