Questions About Career Coaching:
What Is a Career Coach?
“What is a career coach? Do I need career coaching? What does a career coach do, anyway??” The short answer is that career coaches — good ones, anyway —are career development specialists who know how to help you get clarity and direction about your career, and create successful outcomes for yourself.
Just like how smart, proactive people connect with experts for help with financial planning, buying or selling a house, getting in shape, developing themselves personally, or having healthy relationships, a career coach is who you go to when you want to figure out what you’re doing with your life, and how to get there.
Our work-life is, arguably, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to holistic career/life satisfaction. Right up there with getting married (and staying married), your career path and how you feel about it has a huge impact on the trajectory of your entire life. Just like our relationships, our health, and our emotional wellness — we all need support in this area of our lives at some point or another.
Let’s face it: There are few things more discouraging than hitting a major stumbling block in your career, or feeling the overwhelming paralysis of having so many choices and not knowing what direction to pursue. Maybe you’ve worked for years to break into your chosen profession, only to realize you can’t stand the daily reality of your job. (More about navigating a Quarter Life Crisis, right here). Maybe you’ve found yourself in a shrinking industry, and you’re worried the career future you’ve worked so hard to build won’t exist a decade from now.
Or maybe you’ve invested a lot of time and energy trying to get to the next level at work, and you have no idea why it’s simply not happening. Or, very commonly, you’re so darn good at what you do that you’ve moved into a leadership role… only to find that the skills you need to be successful as a leader are completely different than the ones that got you here, and you need to figure out how to manage people — fast.
Feeling stuck in your career or like you need to do some professional development work to keep moving forward can take a toll not only on your morale at work, but on your relationships, your finances, and your mental and physical wellbeing. When you need to make a change and you’re not sure where to begin, speaking with a career coach is a smart first step.
But if you’ve never worked with a Denver career coach or online career counselor before, you might be wondering what exactly goes on in career coaching, and how it can help you grow in your career. I hope this article gives you some insight into what career coaches are, the career coaching process, and how a good career coach can help you build a working life that is in alignment with your values, your personal goals, and feels satisfying, rewarding, and meaningful to you.
What Is a Career Coach? It Depends!
There are many different kinds of career counselors and career coaches. They work in different environments, they serve different types of people, and they can have very different levels of education and training. So to answer the question, “What is a career coach” thoughtfully, and understand what kind of career coach could be helpful to you, you should have a little context first.
Here is something that may surprise, and even shock you to learn: Like the life coaching industry as a whole, the profession of career coaching is unregulated, meaning there is no particular education, license, or credential required before you can begin calling yourself a career coach and work with clients. Some career coaches are highly qualified to help you navigate a tricky career change, grow professionally, or decide what you want to do with your life. Others are not. Some kinds of career coaches may not have a ton of formal training, but could be very helpful for you nonetheless.
That’s why, when trying to find a career coach, it’s important to consider the kind of career coaching services they provide, as well as their qualifications.
Types of Career Coaches
Some career counselors and career coaches have master’s degrees or even doctorates in career counseling and professional development. They are true professional development specialists, and are essentially licensed therapists who specialize in career development. There are also vocational counselors who help people develop skills and stability. At the other end of the spectrum are self-proclaimed “career coaches” who have no formal training or education in career counseling at all, other than their own life experience.
Job Coaches & Vocational Counselors
Some Denver career coaches work out of vocational rehab centers, community mental health centers, or other social programs settings. They may have backgrounds in social work, case management, psychosocial rehabilitation counseling, or vocational rehabilitation.
This type of career guidance is often low cost and sometimes even free, and it’s usually designed to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds find stable employment of any kind. If you need help with that, checking with local workforce centers is a great idea. But if your goal is to do deep exploration to find work you love, this is probably not the setting for you.
Resume & Interview Coaches
Other career coaches have a background in business or human resources. Coaches with this type of experience can probably help you write an eye-catching resume, perform better in interviews, fluff up your Linkedin profile, and network more effectively. These “job attainment” skills are fantastic, but only once you know which jobs are compatible with who you truly are and what you want most out of life.
If you want to get better at applying for and getting the job you want, this type of coach is perfect. They typically can’t assist with deeper professional development work, leadership coaching, emotional intelligence coaching, or holistic career counseling that emphasizes whole life success. Unless they’ve completed some additional training in counseling psychology, career coaches from an HR or business background may not be equipped to guide you through this deeper work.
Professional Career Counselors
Finally, some career coaches, including all of the career coaches at Growing Self, have formal degrees in counseling and are qualified to provide therapy as well as career coaching and counseling. They have attended graduate programs that taught career counseling, where they received specialized training in evidence-based strategies to help people make big career changes, advance to the next level at work, or find their passion.
You can typically find this type of career counselor through a university career guidance center, or in private practice.
What Does a Career Coach Do?
The type of career counseling we provide here at Growing Self is conducted exclusively by professional career counselors who are both therapists and career development specialists. So, for that reason, my discussion of “what career coaches do” will be limited to the type of career coaching we provide here. A good, professional career coach can help you with a variety of different professional development and personal growth opportunities, depending on the goals that brought you into coaching.
Here are a few areas that our clients commonly focus on in career coaching:
If you’re just starting out in your career, if you’re considering changing careers, but you don’t know what path you’d like to take, a career coach can help you explore your options.
To start, this work will probably involve assessing your aptitudes, interests, and personality. What have you done lately that felt satisfying? What subjects can you talk about for hours? What activities make you lose track of time? There are plenty of jobs that may sound appealing from an external view, but if the reality of the work doesn’t align with your interests and your most basic personal qualities, it’s not the right fit.
A comprehensive career exploration process may involve aptitude and personality testing, and a variety of structured exercises as well as a good dose of curious questioning and storytelling. It does a deep dive into who you really are, what you like, what you’re good at, what you value, and how you can turn your gifts into a satisfying career.
Your coach will likely take a look at your history, to understand how your career choices so far and your beliefs about work may have been influenced by your family or other important people in your life. Most importantly, a good career coach, particularly one with a background in counseling, can help you go deeper: Uncovering the limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from success.
For example, do you believe financial success will always be beyond your reach? Do you think a creative career sounds exciting, but you’re just not talented enough to pull it off? Do you want to work for yourself, but you worry it’s too risky? It’s important to bring beliefs like these into consciousness, so you can evaluate whether they’re actually true for you, or just something you’ve absorbed from your environment.
Most importantly, your coach will help you identify your values, so you can choose a career that reflects them. If you value community above all, a job that keeps you isolated is unlikely to feel satisfying. If you value service to others, working as a teacher might be deeply rewarding, while working as an investment banker might leave you feeling like life has no purpose. Whatever your values, there are careers that will help you live them out and careers that won’t.
Finally, your career coach will help you research careers that make sense based on the personal insights you’ve gained so far. The more you can incorporate who you are at your core into your work, the more satisfied and motivated you’ll be.
Planning Your Career Path
It’s one thing to know what you’d like to do, and another thing to actually make a living doing it. To accomplish your long-term career goals, you’ll need to set a series of smaller goals, and your career coach can help you determine what those micro goals should be.
This can often feel overwhelming for people to figure out, much less do, on their own. This is why working with a good career coach can be so helpful. The process of planning your career path and making choices in the present that set you up for where you’d like to be in the future.
Your coach will help you identify other people who have careers you’d like to emulate, and then evaluate how they got to where they are. If you want to become a writer, your first step may be publishing an essay. If you want to be a human rights lawyer, you’ll probably need to find out when the next LSAT is and start studying. Once you’ve laid out your intended career path, step by step, you’ll feel confident about where you need to focus to bring your ambitions to life.
While all careers require ongoing commitment to professional development (and we can all expect a certain amount of course correction in different chapters of life) having a career coach help you create a solid plan that will carry you forward as far as you can currently see is priceless.
Getting the Job
Even when you know exactly what job you’d like to do, and you’re well-qualified to do it, getting hired can be a challenge.
A professional career counselor can provide help with resume writing, framing your skill set and experience in the best light for potential employers.
If you’re going on interviews, but you’re not getting a call back, they may coach you through the interview process, asking you common questions and giving you feedback on where your answers need some work. They can also help you make the most of your professional networks, to ensure you’re not overlooking any connections that could be helpful.
These practical “job attainment” skills need to be sharpened periodically, as technology evolves and in-demand skills shift. If it’s been awhile since you’ve job hunted, or you’re just not having any success, a good career coach can help you figure out why.
All of these things — deep career exploration, career path planning, and support in getting the job you want — are all incredibly important. But, as we all know, you don’t bronze yourself and freeze in time once you attain a goal. Just like with anything else in life, you keep learning, growing, and evolving personally, and your career does too.
A good career counselor can help you continue to grow, both personally and professionally, throughout your career, and beyond.
Personal and Professional Growth
As we grow and evolve within ourselves, our career trajectory shifts and changes too. You may have started out strong on your chosen career path, and then hit a plateau that you can’t seem to move beyond. Or, you may have finally gotten the promotion you wanted, only to feel totally out of your depth in the new leadership role.
These are signs that you need to spend some time on professional growth, and a career coach can help you do important growth work that can help you continue moving forward both personally and professionally.
Personal Development = Professional Satisfaction
There may be particular “hard” skills that you need to develop in order to reach the next level in your career. If that’s the case, your coach can help you determine what these skills are and make a plan for learning them. Or in order to continue advancing professionally, you might need to hop to a different position. A career coach can certainly help you create clarity and a plan about how to continue getting head.
But what many people don’t realize is that ongoing, meaningful professional development often requires working on yourself rather than on your skills, or your circumstances.
A career coach can also help you with things like becoming more organized, getting a handle on time management, staying motivated, getting more done, and cultivating perseverance, all skills that can greatly enhance your work performance.
Emotional Intelligence Coaching
More often, “soft” skills, like your ability to communicate effectively, understand and manage your feelings, resolve conflicts effectively, navigate political situations, or maintain positive relationships, are what you really need to develop in order to move ahead.
Emotional intelligence coaching can help you understand your own feelings, as well as those of others, so that you can manage yourself — and your relationships — more effectively. Building up your emotional intelligence will make you a better leader, which is a winning formula for moving up at work.
Leadership Development Coaching
A common pain point (or, “professional growth opportunity” as we like to say around here) for many successful people comes when they rise into a leadership role. Unfortunately, the skills that led to their past success — usually being very good at the work itself — are completely different than the skills and abilities required to be a good manager and a trustworthy leader.
Making the transition from worker to leader can feel stressful, and even frustrating. But partnering with a therapist who specializes in career development can shine a light on your blind spots, help you understand the gaps, develop new skills and systems, and learn how to lead with confidence.
Holistic Career Counseling
A great career counselor can take you even deeper. We spend a lot of time at work, and our relationship with our jobs is worth exploring and managing intentionally. It’s also true that work is not your whole life, although what you do for a living can have an impact on the rest of your life. (And vice versa). That’s why we often practice “holistic career counseling” which takes a whole-life approach to your personal and professional goals, wellbeing, and life satisfaction.
When you work with a therapist who specializes in career counseling, you can do very deep and meaningful work that may be related to your career, and may also be related to the intersection of your personal self and your professional self. Holistic career counseling intertwines the personal with the professional, helping you locate the “why” behind your career goals, before charging ahead with the “how.”
For example, your career coach will also help you identify other, non-career goals for your life, like becoming a parent, retiring early, or even circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. Some career choices will work well with your other life goals, while some will render them next-to impossible. Holistic career coaching helps you develop a plan that works well for your whole life, and honors both your personal and professional goals.
Holistic career counseling that emphasizes personal growth, emotional wellness, and whole-life satisfaction can help you grow in other areas too.
Healthy Relationships at Work, and at Home
Many people enter career counseling because they’re dealing with a difficult manager, or are struggling in their relationships with coworkers. A counselor can help you determine if this is because your workplace is disempowering or even toxic, or if it’s a sign that you need to work on your own interpersonal skills (this is a scenario where emotional intelligence coaching can be a major benefit).
Your counselor can also help you balance your working life with your personal relationships, so that you don’t have a cloud of work stress hanging over time with your partner or your kids. This might involve learning how to set healthy boundaries around work, manage your time (or stress) differently, or even find a different employment situation that is more conducive to your relationship priorities.
Healing After Workplace Trauma
We think of first responders being emotionally injured on the job due to the harrowing and dangerous situations they are in, and that definitely happens. But it’s also true that many people are silently suffering from more subtle forms of workplace trauma which are also very real.
Some people have experienced trauma in the workplace that they need to heal from before they can focus on any career goals. They may have been sexually harassed, blindsided by a layoff, subjected to racial micro-aggressions or racially motivated abuse, harmed by a toxic organizational culture, or humiliated by an aggressive boss. Other workers, especially people in the medical field, may have been traumatized by the work itself. It’s also common for our triggers to get, well, triggered by the difficult experiences we get thrown into at work.
If you’re feeling haunted by some past work experience or finding it difficult to feel emotionally safe in your current position, a therapist who specializes in career development counseling can help you restore your wellbeing.
Mental and Emotional Wellness at Work
Chronic stress is unfortunately commonplace in our culture, and if we don’t learn to manage it, burnout is inevitable. A career counselor can work with you on setting healthy boundaries at work, advocating for yourself, and prioritizing self-care. When you can find a way to balance the demands of work with what you need to stay healthy and happy, you can heal from burnout, or avoid it altogether.
Unlike a career coach without a counseling background, a career-focused therapist will be able to determine if your career struggles are actually signs of something more serious, like depression, anxiety, or ADHD. Getting any treatment you may need is an essential first step — you can’t recover from depression by “pushing through it,” and you can’t manage ADHD by trying to emulate your more organized coworkers. Once your mental health is on track, you may find that your work performance is much improved.
If you’re in the midst of a big life change, you may be struggling with your feelings about the change as much as you are with the practical steps required. You may be plagued by uncertainty, fear, stress, or anxiety as you prepare to undertake a major pivot in your career. A career counselor can help you manage the emotional side of career change so that you can tune into the useful information your feelings have to offer, without being paralyzed by them.
Navigating Life Transitions
Finally, a career counselor can help you navigate life transitions that affect or are affected by your career. Maybe you loved your job, but now that you’re a parent, you’re questioning whether you want to go back or stay at home. If you’re dealing with divorce, you may be questioning whether you want to stay in a job you love that doesn’t pay so well, without your ex-partner’s income. Or maybe you’re preparing for retirement, and wondering how you can find meaning and purpose outside of work.
These are all difficult transitions that raise big questions about where work fits into your life, and a career counselor can help you dig deep to find your own answers.
So, What is a Career Coach?
A great career coach is part trusted advisor, part intrepid guide, and part cheerleader, helping you make big decisions about the most important areas of your life — the intersections between yourself, your work, and your life.
You may need some help getting clear about your ideal career path, or you might need help in navigating office politics or dealing with a difficult coworker. You may need help in reinventing yourself after a layoff or choosing a career that reflects who you are. Your workplace experiences may be providing you with fantastic opportunities to do deep and important personal growth work that will benefit every part of your life.
A good career coach, meaning a therapist who specializes in career development, can help you use your career as a launchpad to develop yourself on every level, and create the life you want. Exciting stuff!
I hope that this discussion about what career coaches are, and what they can do has been helpful to you as you’re educating yourself about your options, and figuring out your path forward from here.
Your partner in growth,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Meet a Few of Our Career Coaches
The therapists and career coaches of Growing Self have specialized education and training and years of experience in helping people achieve their personal and professional goals. We use only evidence-based strategies that have been proven by research to help you get clarity and direction, have better relationships, feel happier, and design your ideal life.
This website is devoted to your wellbeing and offers loads of free information and actionable advice that you can start using today to create positive change in your life. Browse around to meet our experts, get free advice on our blog, listen to a podcast, or take our “How Healthy is Your Relationship” quiz. Or, if the time is right, you can schedule a free consultation with any of us to talk about your situation — and, most importantly — your hopes for your future.