So you think you want to hire a career coach? Read this first.

January 29, 2021

We want to preface this article with a few words about the large amount of brilliant coaches out there, some of whom we use ourselves and would recommend to anyone. It is partly for these coaches we feel articles like this are necessary.  A lot of money and personal emotions are at stake in career coaching, which we feel is reason enough to make you aware of the potential pitfalls of choosing a career coach…

Our frustration with the career coach market is a longstanding one, but our inspiration to finally put pen to paper came from a senior industry figure who is currently undergoing a job search. Over 50, he finds the market extremely challenging and because of his work history, the coaches are beckoning. In his own words: “the market is littered with people with pushy sales tactics. I’ve had conflicting advice, many talk about the importance of networking – but they don’t help you go about it.”

Hearing his frustration, and sharing our own observations and concerns, we wanted to shed light on the issues with career coaching and provide some guidance as to how to go about selecting and hiring a coach.

What are the issues?

1.     Lack of Regulation:

The overarching issue is that the coaching industry is unregulated. What does that mean? It means the practice of coaching has no protection. It is entirely possible to call yourself a “coach” having done no training at all. If you have a complaint about a coach, you have nowhere to go. A regulatory body provides code of conduct and there are standards to be upheld, but currently, coaching is “self-regulating” - the biggest international coaching organisation says their credential-holders are:

part of a self-regulating group of elite coaches”.

Hmmm. If an institution is awarding coaching certificates/credentials, which give people the right to work with individuals’ careers, emotions, and minds, we suggest a better regulating structure needs to be in place.

2.     Lack of accountability:

What a coach is committing to do for you if often very vague. Being a sounding board, listening, providing a space, a safe place…  If you as their client fail to get where you want, the accountability rarely seems to fall with the coach. More likely - you didn’t commit enough, believe enough, have enough confidence in your ability.  

3.     Too many of them:

If you want to do a coaching course tomorrow you can probably find one. You go to any networking event and there are dozens of coaches. Look at any web designer portfolio – and you’ll see many are for coaches. Ask in a Facebook group if anyone can recommend a good coach –and you’ll get inundated with tagged coaches. Choice is a good thing – unless it’s overwhelming. Too much choice (paradoxically) can lead to you making a poorer decision because instead of focusing on what’s important, you can be drawn to focusing on the things easier to assess (like a fancy website, which ironically says more about their ability to sell than to coach).


4.     Low standards:

If anyone can apply (providing they pay) and 100% of people “pass”, the coaching qualification represents little more than a receipt of payment. If you were to see a physiotherapist, a financial planner, a driving instructor or hire a builder, would you be content with their qualifications being provided on this basis?


5.     Unaudited:

We hear about companies who fudge their accounts. We rarely hear of all the thousands of audits done to help keep an organisation true/honest about their finances. Career coaches may share a testimonial (have you ever read a bad one?) but they don’t audit their work –there is no independent third party to assess all the clients they’ve worked with in a given year and provided an unbiased evaluation of what has happened to them.


6.     Lack of supervision:

Once a coach “passes” their course, they can work with you having never been supervised.

These are the facts as we have researched and understand them. We invite your debate and discussion. One of the most disappointing things about the coaching industry is that there are some incredibly strong, impactful coaches out there, their skills and expertise being undermined by these factors. The key therefore is to try and provide some helpful tips on how to go about navigating the career coaching world:

Tips for hiring a good coach.

1.     Get a reference.

Ideally from a client where the coach was happy with the outcome and one where they were disappointed. By accessing and talking to both, ask for detail: What was covered? What was useful? If I hire this person, what should I be aware of?

A good coach will be humble enough and willing to learn from experience. If they don’t have any disappointments and only have a string of “successes” this could be a warning sign of arrogance and a lack of awareness. Acknowledging it might be awkward for them to connect you with someone they felt had a disappointing outcome, they should at the very least be able to articulate with clarity an example of a client they felt they didn’t feel they did good work with.


2.     Ask for their success rate.

Be specific –how many clients did they have last year and what follow up do they do with them six months or a year later? You might not get an answer, which indicates the coach isn’t evaluating their outcomes. What you do with this data is up to you – but simply asking the question helps to raise standards. If everyone asks the question, we’ll see more coaches following up and evaluating their work and impact. It’s the work of clients to also put pressure on those providing a service to increase their standards. Would food manufacturers ever change their approach to using plastic if it wasn’t from pressure from the public?


3.     Avoid the “too good to be true” coach.

We’ve heard of coaches ‘guaranteeing’ you’ll find work in three months if you spend £1500 with them. We’ve seen adverts for coaches promising they’ll help you find your “dream job”.  You can’t control all elements of a complex job – neither can a coach. It is fantastic if you manage to identify a dream job, but is there a market and salary to support it? A coach that prioritises raising expectations over what they can actually deliver is one we’d recommend you avoid.  

4.      What supervision do they have?

Most coaches do have a mentor or someone they themselves seek out to act as a sounding board. Again, this signals a coach who is orientated towards being self -improving and making an effort to gain different perspectives on their work.


5.     Other qualifications?

Many people who want to do coaching are often professionals in another industry. For example, one of our founders is a chartered psychologist. If you aren't happy with the service you get from Lucy Standing, you could complain to the Association for Business Psychology or the British Psychological Society.  She has professional indemnity insurance and requirements to maintain professional development. Sometimes a complimentary profession can help 'bulk' up the standards of a coach. It also gives you a place to complain to or get some sort of reaction.  A good professional will care about their reputation.

6. Wider research.

Most coaches will have content they’ve shared – whether it’s articles, blogs, videos, assessments, webinars, a LinkedIn profile, Facebook group, website etc. A review will not only give you more insight into their approach, but some will rankle or inspire – either way, if you’re about to spend £££ on a coach, it makes sense to see what sort of things they share and espouse.


7.     Do they assess you?

A good career coach won’t just take any client – they know they will have more success with someone who has commitment, focus, willingness to change and some resources and time to do so.  If a coach is willing to take you on without asking many questions, you need to think why.


8.     Price

It’s baffling that the one piece of information most people want to know is so elusive from many coaches’ websites.The lack of transparency would be argued is often because the market is so competitive, and this is considered to be sensitive information; put up a price and your competitors undercut you. A coach that feels the threat of competition over and above the confidence they have in the price they are charging their clients tells you something useful.  


9.     What should you pay?

We’ve heard of coaches in the “executive coaching” world charging £12,000 for six sessions. To get away with charging this, we’d suggest a coach at the very least demonstrates strong evidence to support all the suggested tips we’ve outlined above. Unless they can show a strong link between their input and a return of investment in the region of £250K+ this figure is vastly excessive. We are shouting “Emperor’s new clothes” and further suggesting organisations that spend this sort of money without serious evaluation are, quite simply, being irresponsible and negligent.

In the career coaching world, given the varying range of ability there is an argument to say there should be some wide latitude here. In any sector (legal, acting, digital marketing etc..) what is charged reflects experience and proven track record. Given the realistic expectations of what a career coach can help you achieve, we believe a figure of between £25 – 125 per hour (or £50 - £250 a session) is fair. We have heard of coaches in some sectors charging £500 a session. Our advice based on those who have actually paid this, is to steer well clear. It is a price far in excess of what those who’ve gone through and paid those prices feel the service is worth.

We often hear coaches who 'brag' about the money they earn as a way of signalling their 'success'.  Our recommendation would be to avoid those coaches. People who feel the need to impress you with a 'seven figure' tagline are lying and that's not a good basis for any coaching relationship.

There genuinely is value in having someone help you question, reflect and help change direction to sit more comfortably with your needs, values, skills and interests. We hope you feel this article has provided some useful pointers on how to go about selecting and hiring your own career coach. At the very least, we hope to have given you the clear understanding that this industry is far from perfect, but that you have a critical role in shaping and making it better.

May we leave you with a quote from Steve Colton, former Communications Director at AVIVA:

“The words that I always keep in mind when I receive these sorts of connection requests is Caveat emptor – that is to say just be sure you know what you’re signing up to, particularly if you’re asked to write out a hefty cheque.




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Lucy Standing

Lucy Standing is a business psychologist and co-founder of Brave Starts