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How a career coach can help you land your next job

Published on March 25, 2003
on CNET's

With unemployment periods getting longer, out-of-work CIOs often find that traditional job search methods are not as valuable as they once were. To break the deadlock, some are turning to career coaches to uncover new job-seeking techniques.

Career coaches come in two types—those who help with reemployment issues and those who help map out long-term career goals. Coaches for executives are currently seeing more clients requiring the short fix. They say the shift in demand for career services has to do with the state of the market.

"If you turn back the clock three to five years, people were thinking more about three to five or 10-year planning. I think now the horizon is much shorter, partly based on the economy," explained Santa Rosa, CA-based career coach Glenn Mattsson, a former IT pro.

To get the most from the career coach relationship, you need to know what to expect in terms of service, time commitment, and costs.

What career coaches do

A key to engaging career coaches is understanding how they fit into the job search. Career coaches focus on reemployment issues to transform the client's thinking process, strategies, and actions related to the job hunt. They provide assistance with self-marketing and, to some degree, personal assessments.

Doing these things for the C-level executive is no easy task. First, executives tend to think that coaching is very lovey-dovey, said Wendy Enelow, founder of Career Masters Institute, an association of 500 career industry professionals. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

In a rather straightforward manner, career coaches start by assessing the CIO’s job search methods and actions. Typically, these CIOs have failed to push outside of their comfortable circle of contacts when looking for work, explained Mattsson. When they fail to find a job, they tend to blame the economy. And shifting that attitude is not easy when dealing with sure-minded executives.

"It's difficult to convince them that the problem lies, not in the market, but with their activity," said Mattsson, who described his role as giving clients a reality check.

"As you go up the ranks, the higher you go, the more you get used to having resources available to you," said Mattsson, "and that includes job search resources." That assistance now appears less available, he added.

Traditional job hunt changing

It used to be that a CIO, CTO, or VP of IS could find a new job through someone they knew or an executive recruiter. For many executives, the first step in a job search used to be flipping through an extensive contact list. They'd call a few people and "boom, they'd have a job," said Mattsson.

"But in today's economy, that's not the case. People are having to get out of their comfort zone in building a new or expanded network of contacts."

Networking is one area where career coaches can help; they educate executives about the need to get more involved in professional societies and chambers of commerce and teach them how to make cold calls to CEOs for informational interviews.

Another resource that's less available now is the executive recruiter. As more companies pull their job hiring strategies in house, external recruiters (and CIOs), are having a harder time getting placements. Along with job leads, the recruiter typically helped the CIO refine a resume. But that assistance appears less available too—so CIO resumes are less effective. The career coach can spruce up resumes, making them more powerful marketing tools.

Finding and evaluating coaches

To locate a coach, you can turn to outplacement firms such as Drake Beam Morin, advised Enelow, whose Career Masters Institute Web site also has a searchable directory of people offering coaching services.

After identifying a couple of potential coaches, ask for a free consultation and references. The consultation can serve two purposes—the coach can learn your objectives, and you can get a sense of the coach's approach, fee structure, and personality.

Ask about career industry credentials, such as Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) or Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC). But be aware that, although coaches display these credentials, there are no uniform credentialing criteria, nor is there an oversight body or licensing board—so employ other evaluation techniques, too.

Some outplacement firms with coaching services may claim that they'll provide insider job leads in exchange for a fee, warned Marta Driesslein, a senior consultant at RL Stevens & Associates, Inc. Driesslein called this practice "unscrupulous." If the job leads were truly insider, they wouldn't be published, she noted.

For all of these reasons, be particularly careful when engaging coaches. The most important part is to check references carefully.

When contracting with the coach, be prepared to pay royally for the services. Some coaches charge by the hour—as much as $1,000 for a corporate executive, or as little as $90 for a non-exec. Other coaches prefer to bundle their time, selling a three-to-six-month set of sessions for $4,000 and up.

Following an initial consultation, ongoing interactions can take the form of meetings over the telephone or in person. They may also involve exchanges by e-mail and fax.

Keep expectations in line

Along with good communication, part of what makes a career coach service successful is the CIO's attitude and approach to the relationship.

People have to be realistic, said Mattsson. Understand that coaching is a collaborative process. The coach provides advice, expertise, motivation, and perhaps most importantly, keeps the CIO accountable.

The coach may also provide a bit of realism. In many cases, the ideal job may be three years away. In these cases, the coach can help you think about an appropriate intermediate job position, such as a directorship with a large company or a CIO position with a start-up. This isn’t a light decision since this may mean a step down the career ladder.

Career guidance in these scenarios can prove critical. After all, if CIOs wanted to accept just any job, they probably would be better off without a career coach in the first place.

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david southgate
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