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Career coaches can help you map out a career plan

Published on March 21, 2003
on CNET's

If you're an IT manager who dreads Sunday evening—the thought of going to work that next morning driving you to despair—it might be time to do some soul searching and career research.

Whether you are looking to find a new job or simply advance in your current profession, career coaches could be an option to help you plan for future career growth. But before you make up your mind about coaching, you need to know what a coach can do for you, the associated costs, and how to find one.

The need for a career coach

While many companies include career path planning within their HR environments—incorporating it into annual reviews and initiating and supporting internal mentoring programs—it’s technically a temporary career program, as it’s tied to your current employment.

In addition, many corporate career planning processes tend to set annual goals, not long-term career paths, which can quickly fall by the wayside when an employee gets laid off or quits.

While mentoring can be a crucial career aid, that relationship can often end or slowly fade when the colleagues are no longer working together. Losing a mentor, like this one described by a TechRepublic member, could easily stall career aspirations:

"My current boss has been an invaluable mentor," said Tom Heisey, manager of computer assistance and training at the College of Human Sciences, TTU. In order to obtain a promotion, Heisey's boss helped him understand business topics when he returned to the university to double major in business administration and electronic systems technology.

"Along the way, he also helped me with office politics, budgets and funding, career advancement, and organizing my work load," added Heisey.

Bosses acting as mentors obviously have a vested interest in seeing that employees achieve the desired outcome. However, the relationship may simply end when the professional leaves or is laid off. That support line can be a tough tool to replace when tech leaders find themselves on their own in terms of career planning.

Finally, when faced with the task of going it alone, few actually have the personal discipline, time, or savvy to map out their employment path or even the wherewithal to plot a course for career satisfaction, according to career experts.

"Most people spend more time putting together a tailgate party than planning for their careers," said Marta Driesslein, a senior consultant at R.L. Stevens & Associates Inc., which provides customized career programs and assistance.

In contrast to corporate planning and mentoring, career planners are neutral participants who help draw forth a person's goals to create a long-range blueprint for success. A good career coach can help professionals map out anywhere from a two- to 10-year career plan. And unlike self-directed goal setting, the career coach is there to keep the professional accountable.

"Career coaching is focused on the future, focused on marketing, and focused on looking at you as a package and determining what you need to do to create an excitement for your skills and competencies," said Driesslein.

What a career coach does

Career coaches typically specialize in two career stages—reemployment and long-range planning. According to career coach Glenn Mattsson, whose clients primarily come from California's Telecom and Silicon Valley, reemployment coaching has gained particular popularity due to the difficulty of finding work. So, depending what you're after—long-term career planning or short-term fixes (in other words, a job)—it's important to understand the distinction between coaching styles.

It’s not uncommon to find career coaches with credentials that emphasize various skills associated with these stages.

Some coaches working in job placement carry a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) or a Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC) accreditation. These coaches help people understand the job search process, marketing, and personal networking. They may be found at outplacement agencies, such as Drake Beam Morin, one of the larger job search firms; or in smaller boutiques; or via directory listings at places such as the Career Masters Institute.

Others coaches focused on long-range career planning may be credentialed Career Masters or hold a variety of other designations. These coaches may administer assessments such as Meyers-Briggs or tests offered through places such as the Rockport Institute or the Highlands Program and use them in identifying career objectives.

For a long-range career path, the coach acts as an ongoing guide to help a client negotiate raises or promotions or be in a stronger position for an annual review, among other things.

For the technology professional, this might include boning up on the knowledge set or blending technology knowledge with the real business world. A five- to 10-year plan might involve obtaining a higher degree or learning a foreign language—a definite asset in an ever-broadening global business climate.

Cost of coaching

Finding a knowledgeable coach to help achieve major career goals doesn’t come cheap. When it comes to long-term career coaches, contracts can run from two to five years, with five-year contracts costing as much as $30,000.

Shorter-term coaching relationships to help with job hunts can run anywhere from $90 to $250 an hour, with sessions typically sold in packages. The packages should vary according to the objectives of the session. There are also self-service options such as The Oxford Program, which runs $137 for two months and offers an unlimited number of electronic interactions directly with a career coach.

The need to choose carefully

While career coaching definitely provides benefits, there are some issues clients need to be aware of, noted Driesslein.

States don't require coaches to be licensed or even obtain credentials, so clients should interview potential coaches and check references before signing up for services—especially when considering a long-term contract investment. This can often be done in an initial, free coaching session.

Another important element is a client’s attitude toward a coaching arrangement. People have to approach coaching with the understanding that it is a collaborative process that is based on trust.

Some coaches mislead clients into thinking that coaching will provide job leads in exchange for paying a fee, or they'll offer to sell clients opportunities in "unpublished job markets." Driesslein noted if the jobs were truly "unpublished," coaches wouldn't be packaging them in the first place.

With a little due-diligence up front, clients can select a coach whose personality, style, and work ethic are a good fit for their needs.

And, it’s a good idea to take stock of what you’re hoping to gain with a career coach, said Driesslein. "If you want a job to just get the bills paid, then you don’t need a career coach," said Driesslein.

Inversely, those looking for true career direction and fulfillment will often meet with success, she added. "I have not heard of anyone who has not succeeded because they did this."

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david southgate
writing for living.