Is A Career Coach Worth The Money?

The use of career coaches is on the rise, says the International Coaching Federation. But when should you hire one? Tami Hausman was about to turn 40 and felt stuck. Working at a small Manhattan public relations firm, she saw no way to grow in her career. "The way the firm was structured, I couldn't expand," she says, adding that she felt confused. "I really didn't know how to take the next step. Should I change fields? Should I start my own firm?"

For help with these questions, Hausman (pictured right, speaking at a marketing event at the Center for Architecture in New York last year) hired a career coach. Over four sessions in 2007, she met with Michael Melcher, the founder of the New York-based Next Step Partners coaching firm, and two months later she had a goal: And her own communications firm, Hausman LLC, was founded in January 2008. (Melcher doesn't make public how much he charges clients, but says his fees are"similar to lawyers' rates." According to coaches interviewed for this article, coaching can often cost around $100-an-hour for consultations that in end can cost up to thousands of dollars.)

While coaches have been used primarily by executives, more clients like Hausman are now turning to them to launch or transition to a new career. A survey last year by the Lexington, Ky.-based International Coaching Federation found that there were 47,500 professional career coaches worldwide, and nearly two-thirds of them said they'd experienced an increase in clients in the prior year alone. Graduate schools such as the MBA program at the Naveen Jindal School of Management at University of Texas, Dallas, even have begun to include career coaches in their job placement services.

For Magdalena Mook, the CEO and executive director of the ICF, an increase in spending on career coaches -- despite tough economic times -- makes sense. "When more has to be done with less, people are seeing that coaching is a way to truly take advantage of their potential," she says. And as proof she points to a 2009 study conducted by the ICF in conjunction with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP which found that 99 percent of professionals who had used a career coach emerged either somewhat or very satisfied from the experience. (The study polled 2,200 clients of career coaches.)

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But given that coaches charge from $100 an hour to several thousand dollars for a consultation, when is it worth doing? And how do you find a good one?

When does it make sense to hire a career coach? If you want personalized help in resume writing and interview preparation, a coach can help. (Hausman's meetings with her coach included resume review, in addition to a Myers-Briggs personality test, as well as an analysis of Hausman's contacts to figure out whom she should be in touch with.) Coaches also specialize in "match," leading their clients to the best available opportunities that correspond with a job seeker's particular skill set.

The coaches' methods may vary, says Mook and the other coaches interviewed for this article, but coaching sessions are often conducted like talk therapy -- to allow job seekers to find their own answers about their strengths and ambitions in the labor market. Indeed, the ICF stresses that coaching can overlap with skills taught in executive and leadership coaching, much of which can touch on issues that arise even after hiring. "Organizations have become leaner," with less room for in-house consultation, Anita Attridge, a New Jersey-based career coach with tells AOL Jobs in an interview. "There's more pressure to perform, and so people turn to a coach." She says she's helped clients on how to handle tension with coworkers.

"The process is relevant for everyone," says Next Step Partners' Melcher. "Assessing what are your past competencies to what you want to accomplish, making the right connections, finding out what's the right match, seeking professional fulfillment -- who does this not apply for?"

%VIRTUAL-hiringNow-topInds%Coaches see themselves as a resource for anyone who is grappling with how to find work. "It's a process that makes sense when what you're doing isn't working," says Miriam Salpeter, a job search consultant since 1996, and owner of Keppie Careers, who blogs for AOL Jobs. Seek out a career coach, she says, "when you know financially you don't have time for the trial and error. Every day of not being employed has a cost."

What can you expect from a coach? Longtime job seekers stress that a career coach cannot change certain fundamentals of a bruising labor market. "People whose job searches have already been lengthy will get their hopes up too high if they utilize a career coach," warns Fran Hopkins, an AOL Jobs contributor who spent 34 months trying to find a full-time job. "If you're a baby boomer, all the resume tips and interviewing practice in the world can't change the fact that you were born between 1946 and 1964."

But according to advocates of career coaching, like Hausman, coaches can help guide clients to their niche in the workforce. The coach "kept telling me I needed to run my own show," Hausman says. Now her firm has its own office space in Manhattan, two employees, and revenue growth of 30 percent since last year. Her client list includes the architects working on the new pedestal at the Statue of Liberty, the towers above Carnegie Hall and artists working on public installations at New York City sites like Roosevelt Island. Working with a jobs coach played a "vital part" in her "transformation," says Hausman, helping her to realize her own strengths.

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