Are career coaches worth the money?

We look at what you can expect

Personal development, career growth, success, progress and potential concepts. Coach (human resources officer, supervisor) help

Are you in the right career? The odds are that you don't think you are. While some lucky folk have a strong sense of vocation, many of us simply drift from job to job, often with a sense that we really should be doing something else.

Indeed, a survey earlier this year from the London School of Business and Finance (SLBF), revealed that almost half of British professionals would like to change career.

And while the main reason for not doing so is lack of financial security, a third of people cite fear of failure or uncertainty about what to switch to as their reason for staying put.

This is where the career coach comes in. An established phenomenon in the US, they've also been used for years by large corporations looking to help their staff with career development. However, it's only comparatively recently that individual workers have started to consult them on a private basis, looking for both inspiration and practical advice.

So what will a career coach do for you?

The first step of a career coaching programme is to establish your personality, skills and achievements, either through conversation or through established tests such as Myers-Briggs. And while these may be things you might think you know already, coachees often say they've been surprised by the results, discovering talents and psychological strengths that they didn't know they had.

A good coach will then help you recognise the jobs you might be suited to - while being honest about your limitations. Over a number of sessions, he or she will help you draft out a long-term career plan and work out the best move for you to make next.

While they won't tell you what jobs to apply for, they should - just like a sports coach - give you regular tasks and exercises to hone your skills and keep engaged. This could include making networking calls, researching different companies and types of business or actually putting in applications.

Most coaches will help you with your interview technique, and some will help you prepare your CV too.

But beware. Career coaching doesn't come cheap, with most practitioners charging several thousand pounds for a programme. And there's no compulsory professional accreditation, meaning that anyone who fancies a go can just set up as a coach and start taking on clients.

Your best option is to try and find a coach through a personal recommendation - preferably from someone with a similar background and talents to your own. Otherwise, it's a good idea to pick a coach who belongs to one of the relevant professional bodies, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF), Association for Coaching (AC) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).

Look for someone who's been in the business a while and can provide testimonials from previous coachees - especially people in the same line of work.

And beware of any coach that makes extravagant promises about what they can help you achieve, asks for a big fee up front or insists that you sign a long contract.

At best, career coaching can open your eyes to opportunities you might never have considered, and give you the skills and confidence to go out and grab them.

At its worst, though, it can be expensive, unhelpful or even a form of displacement activity that actually gets in the way of any career progress. Coaches have been known to take thousands of pounds from clients before telling them that, actually, they're already in the job they'd love most.

Others focus on potential earnings at the expense of life satisfaction or offer the same off-the-shelf suggestions to all.

If you are wary of coaching, or short of cash, it's possible to put many coaching principles into practice yourself, ideally with the help of a good friend or colleague.

Start by identifying the areas of your life and job where you actually do feel fulfilled and those where you don't. What has made you feel happy in the past? Do you have any secret dreams? Writing everything down can help focus the mind.

Recruit a friend to help you - preferably one who is stuck in a rut themselves - and agree to help one another work towards pre-defined goals.

Finally, don't forget that there is free advice out there. While it probably won't include the sort of general life coaching that careers coaches usually offer, the government's National Careers Service offers free face-to-face careers advice to those aged 19 and over.

This includes helping you identify your key strengths, exploring your options and developing an action plan to help you achieve your goals. There's more information here.

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