Career Coaches: Are They Worth the Investment?

Rachel Zupek,

career coachIn the current state of our economy, there are more than 15 million unemployed people. That's 15 million people who are all looking for a little help, whether it's in the job search, writing a resume, interview advice, networking or even help finding a new career path.

Many times, people who need job-search help enlist a professional. Career coaches and counselors are usually certified professionals who focus on career exploration or choice, changing career paths or even helping you beef up your resume and perfect your interview skills.

In the 2009 International Coaching Federation Global Coaching Client Study, 15 percent of coaching clients said career opportunities are the most important reason to enlist a coach, compared to business management (14 percent) and self-esteem or self-confidence (13 percent). The study, which included input from more than 2,000 coaching clients from 64 countries, also cited more than 80 percent of respondents indicating a positive change in areas such as interpersonal skills, work performance and team effectiveness.

Costly counseling

While career coaches can definitely be a useful resource, good advice doesn't come cheap. In a 2007 study from the ICF, which focused on coaches rather than clients, the average fee for a career coaching session was $161 per hour. Depending on your financial situation and employment status and considering you're inclined to buy more than one session, that's a hefty investment.

The question is, is it worth it?

It wasn't for Nick Pitarys, owner of the Arizona Cheesecake Company. Pitarys says he was extremely disappointed with his experience in hiring a career coach and it was definitely not worth the money.

"After an $8,200 investment and the entire 12-month period, I had nothing to show for it," he says. "My adviser -- also the owner -- had way too many clients to satisfy and thus, the effort she applied to me was less than substantial."

But, there are two sides to every story. While there are a number of people who feel that their investment in a career coach was a waste of money, there are an equal (or greater) number who feel that the investment was money well spent.

Sixty-eight percent of individuals indicated that they had at least made back their initial investment in coaching in increased earnings from personal salaries or investments, or through increased savings through debt reduction, according to the ICF study, which was conducted by Association Resource Centre Inc. and PricewaterhouseCooper LLP.

Here are just a few testimonials from people who felt their career coaches were worth the investment:

"My career coach was most definitely worth the investment. I am an educator with absolutely no business background or experience. She helped me parlay the skills I do have into a successful side business that has grown at a manageable pace. I feel very in-control of the business growth and am able to balance the two jobs with my life, which is a priority for me. My coach provided a calm voice when, internally, I was going a bit crazy. I eagerly anticipated our sessions because I knew I would leave with concrete actions that would assuredly promise success. We could ALL use a coach!" ­- Laura Glaser

"I hired a coach about nine months before I was laid off and it was the best thing I ever did. What I learned about myself was that I was more passionate about starting my own business instead of staying where I was. I never believed I would be laid off -- I always had great performance reviews and won the top award at the company a few months prior -- but I was. I was also very prepared. Two weeks prior to the layoff announcement I had just given my Web site team the verbal OK. All is well and I couldn't be happier." -- Thomasina Tafur

"I used a career coach about eight years ago while I was trying to figure out how to continue my career after having two children and being ready to get back to work. The career-coach experience was great for me, in particular where I realized that some aspects of my career to date did not excite me the way other parts of it did. The four sessions ($300/each) helped me to really understand how I wanted to define the next part of my career. I went back in a previous direction with more confidence. I now understood how teaching excited me and how I could teach using some of my newly acquired expertise, and not just go into a traditional classroom. It helped me bring great enthusiasm to the work I've chosen for the last eight years. I'm convinced that this subtle 'ah-ha' moment made all the difference for me." -- Kate McCauley

If you want to try enlisting a career coach, Dr. Miriam Reiss, career coach, offers these 10 tips:

1. Choose wisely

"[Choosing] a career coach is not like buying a vase. For coaching decisions, you need live contact. Admire great Web sites and recognize that Web sites demonstrate writing, not coaching skills," Reiss says.

2. Mass solutions won't work

"Career transition is an individual journey. Beware of one-size-fits-all career programs and vehicles like group coaching," Reiss says. "These may sound good and fit your budget but ultimately leave you frustrated. There's no substitute for the undivided time, attention and results you get from having individual coaching sessions."

3. The difference is in the numbers

The difference between a good career coach and a great coach is about $100-$150 per month -- a fraction of one monthly paycheck, Reiss says.

"Unlike some professions, there's not that much price differential between coaches with a few years of experience and senior coaches. A seasoned career coach can save you months of fruitless wandering," she says.

4. Look out for "fast" promises

"No career coach, regardless of seasoning, can predict just how long your individual career process will take. Coaches know you don't like this answer, but that's the truth," Reiss says. "Timing considerations include how diligent you will be around fieldwork assignments, what careers you wind up exploring and much more."

5. Take advantage of sample sessions and don't over-shop

Some coaches offer a free, introductory session so you can get a feel for each other.

"Decide how many coaches you want to talk to, and then pick your coach," Reiss advises. "Talking with too many coaches will confuse you, create inner commotion and impede the process."

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