As a number of our members ask us for guidance on how to choose a career coach, we’re sharing this article on just that. At key points in our careers, we can benefit greatly from the independent perspective of a trained professional. Someone who can ask probing questions about our ambitions and circumstances, who can empathise with and support us (perhaps acting as a sounding board), and who can challenge us to think bigger and reach higher.
Choosing a suitable professional guide can be daunting, and we may resort to relying on word-of-mouth referrals, or simply opt for the coach preferred by our employer, even if there is a nagging doubt about just how independent their advice will be. Irrespective of how you select your shortlist of potential coaches, it is important that there is a personal connection, as you will be likely to explore together areas which need a high degree of trust as you work to transform yourself and boost your career success. For this reason, many coaches focus initially on testing chemistry with potential proteges. By the nature of their chosen career, coaches are likely to be more in tune with their intuition and feelings, and care about getting to know their proteges, empathising with their career struggles. They provide a safe space to discuss challenges, and offer their attention and guidance through difficult personal reflection.
Moyra Mackie, a coach and organisational consultant, sets out that a “coach should be there to simply ask great questions, to listen, to summarise, to push and to support”, and warns against those who offer advice that tries to push you towards a specific answer by saying ‘if I were you’ or asking ‘why don’t you do this?’.
We’ve based this post on a LinkedIn article written by Moyra where she shares questions to ask a coach you’re considering. While some people primarily consider the cost of the coach (and whether they are committed to this cost even if over time they realise the coaching relationship isn’t working), others focus on the coaching process, including how it works. As Moyra presents, there are other far broader questions to think about or ask when narrowing your shortlist, ones that will improve your selection and make your transformation together more successful. Read more to explore these tips.
Moyra spent her childhood in Zimbabwe and has lived in Italy, the US and UK, which gives her “plenty of experience navigating difference, change and transition”. She has a marketing background originally, although also worked in IT training. As a coach she helps “CEOs and senior executives to reduce stress and firefighting, and build trust and engagement”, and has done a significant amount of work with the banking sector. She focuses on “mindset and behaviour change through leadership, team and career coaching” and sees coaching as an example of a quality conversation, something she is passionate about.
Essentially coaching, or the skills that coaching requires, is a good example of a quality conversation; it has some kind of discipline and framework around it. The coach is not there to ‘have a chat’. A coaching conversation is an equal measure of support and challenge and the coach themselves needs to bring a really high quality form of attention, a form of acceptance and a form of non-judgement to the coaching conversation so that the person that they’re coaching feels able to explore their concerns in a really safe environment.”
Below we list the additional prompts to think about or ask when selecting a coach, before expanding on each later in the post. We’ve grouped them into four categories, although there is some overlap:
I) Background and Professionalism
I) Background and Professionalism
What professional coaching training and qualifications does he/she have?
With this question, Moyra recommends probing for “accreditation by one of the reputable coaching organisations like The Association for Coaching, the International Coach Federation (ICF), or the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC)”, and asking what the accreditation and study involved. “Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of training they went through and how much work it entailed”, she says, explaining that this is necessary as “anyone can call themselves a coach and the barriers to entry are low”.
She highlights too that experienced coaches may also have Masters degrees in coaching or psychology.
A similar question is important when choosing a mentor, as ideally you want someone with personal experience of the profession or field you are grappling with, so they can share relevant insights. Sometimes, coaches have a specific professional background too, so can both coach (through asking questions and their understanding of psychology) and ensure relevance to your professional specialism, such as coaches who are also accountants, lawyers, actuaries, engineers etc.
Does the coach have professional indemnity insurance?
As a professional themselves, when a coach (who is effectively consulting to you) has professional indemnity and liability insurance, this can provide “reassurance of backup and support”.
How long has he/she been coaching?
While cost often increases with experience, Moyra points out that “experience does not equal wisdom”. She gives the example of “a new coach who has just passed accreditation who may be sharper and more attuned than a long practicing professional who is a bit jaded and cynical” and suggests listening for how they talk about their experience, their motivators and their insights into their practice.
Does your potential coach have their own coach or mentor?
Moyra explains that “as an accredited coach, it is a recommendation, but it’s not compulsory to have a supervisor who essentially coaches us and keeps us honest and keeps us focused on what we might be doing.” This supervision can be individual or as part of a group, and Moyra argues that it “brings rigour and accountability to the coaching process and strengthens the coach’s resourcefulness and self-awareness”. In addition, coaches may use the services of a business coach or mentor.
While “there is no right or wrong answer here”, Moyra feels that coaches should “be open to the kind of change and the kind of challenge that coaching can provide”.
How does the coach keep their knowledge current?
In a similar way to how working with their own coach or business mentor can strengthen their coaching skills, other activities they undertake to keep learning and growing will signal their commitment to their own continuing professional development (CPD) and improving their skills. The specific choices they make “will give you an insight into their priorities, focus and personality”. Moyra says that you should expect your coach to “invest a sizeable portion of their income each year on their own development”, explaining that she spends at least 10% of her turnover on hers. This is a strong alignment signal to proteges who would also be investing in their own professional development through paying for coaching or mentoring.
What has he/she read recently in the career development area that particularly resonated, and why?
This question about what he/she has recently read is another one that explores the coach’s attitude to their own development at the same time indicating “their philosophy on leadership and development”, which will help you work out if you are a good fit with each other. Moyra argues that “good leaders are readers and so are good coaches”.
III) Coaching Approach
How would he/she describe their approach to coaching?
One of the commenters on Moyra’s article said that “a great coach will be able to describe their unique and distinctive way of being as a coach and how this manifests itself in their practice”, explaining that it seeks to “get to the heart of the individual's approach, self-awareness and approach to self-development whilst offering the client some data as to whether this person might be the 'right' coach for them”. Moyra agrees: “Knowing what each coach's approach is, is fundamental to working out whether [your] coaching goals stand a chance of being reached”.
How has his/her approach changed over time?
In addition to understanding their current approach, it is also helpful to explore how it has changed over time, for example as they’ve matured, worked with different industries, or learnt more about different styles to use with different people. It surfaces what they’ve learnt over time, and indicates the coach’s level of self-insight, which is especially important as they’ll be helping you to achieve self-insight too.
What is his/her suggested process for how long you will need together?
Within their answer to this question, the coach will explain their “process and rationale for working with you”, and set out the number of sessions they feel will achieve the change you're looking for. Moyra explains that “you would expect a coach to be flexible to your needs and budget and to adjust their process accordingly”.
Nevertheless, she provides an indication of the usual range: normally a minimum of six or eight sessions, which can be an hour to two hours long each, and usually between two and four weeks apart to allow time for personal reflection and practice of techniques or changes.
How does he/she measure success of the coaching interactions?
Moyra advises looking for a coach that will identify clear goals together with you at the beginning of the process: “the specifics of how you want to think, feel and behave differently”. She expands with the expectation that you should be in the driving seat in the relationship, and “therefore able to hold yourself accountable”, with the coach regularly checking in about how things are working for you. Based on this, you’d expect your coach to adapt to your feedback and expectations.
Also, at the end of the coaching engagement, you should expect “a review of what has changed and to what extent your original goals have been met. Long before this, you would expect as a client that others around you have noticed the changes in you – both at home and at work.”
This question of what success looks like (or similarly what you’re trying to achieve) helps orientate the sessions by considering the desired long-term outcome i.e. starting with the end in mind. Moyra calls this “lifting your eyes to the horizon”.
IV) Client Challenges and Feedback
What goals or challenges do some of his/her current clients have?
“You would expect that a coach has a range of clients with differing challenges which tend to revolve around either a stage of transition or decision (such as promotion, career change, new team, or reorganisation)”, says Moyra. She recommends listening in the answer for a coach who acknowledges the impact of our beliefs and judgements, and works with this.
In their response, you’ll also see how they describe past and existing clients, including how confidential they keep different situations – they’re likely to talk about your challenges to others in future in a similar way too. Moyra reflects: “Presumably you would want to be talked about in a clear-eyed yet compassionate and non-judgemental way”.
Which of his/her current or former clients could you speak to for their views?
As coaching is by nature personal and confidential, often happy and satisfied clients don’t want to share their experiences, although some might. Ask about those whose coaching outcomes are in some way relevant to your situation, who would be happy to have a brief conversation or email exchange with you. Testimonials from coaching clients would be another source.
Once you have explored these questions covering the coach’s background and professionalism, their development, their coaching approach, and their clients’ challenges and feedback, the cost of the coaching sessions will have more context, and allow you to assess whether the investment in your professional development is worth it. As Moyra says: “It will be up to you to decide what the value of coaching would be to you; to ask yourself the hard question: "How much will it cost me if I don't do this?”.
The original article can be found here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-questions-ask-coach-before-you-hire-them-one-money-moyra-mackie/