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Should You Hire a Career Coach? Know What to Look for First

By Sarah Cottrell

How do you know it’s time to hire a career coach?

The answer to that is pretty simple: You should hire a career coach when you’re not making the progress in your career you would like to make. So, if you are spending a lot of time thinking about making a career change, but are not actually taking action toward that goal — I’d say it’s time to find that coach.

It seems simple, but this is where many lawyers get stuck.

I Can Figure This Out Myself

Right now, you may be unhappy in your career and know you want to make a change — you may even have some idea of what to do. Perhaps you’ve listened to a few podcasts and read a few articles and books. Like most lawyers, you’re probably thinking, “Well, I have the information. I can figure it out on my own.”

It’s the way our lawyer brains are wired; we think we already know what we should do — and that should be enough. We should be able to figure out everything, including career stuff, without outside help. At some point, though, here’s what happens: You’ll begin to realize that if there was a way out of our job or a way to improve our career, you would have figured it out and done it already. And since you haven’t, there must be no solution to the problem.

The Perils of Overthinking: All Talk, No Action

The thing most lawyers find extremely hard to accept is that having all this knowledge is not enough. Knowledge must be accompanied by action. Coaches help you focus on taking action.

So instead of asking whether it’s time to hire a career coach, ask yourself:

Are you making the progress you want to make in your career, or are you wasting time thinking about whether you’re where you want to be?

If this is you, it’s time to hire a career coach.

What Does a Career Coach Do?

In brief, a career coach is someone who gives you support and guidance to help you reach your career goals — whether that’s improving your performance in your current role, pursuing a job change, or making a full career pivot.

Often, career coaches for lawyers specialize in working with a particular type of lawyer or toward a particular goal. For example, you have:

  • Coaches who specialize in working with lawyers at various stages of their careers (junior, mid-career, senior).
  • Coaches who help lawyers get raises or promotions.
  • Coaches who help lawyers with business development.
  • Coaches who help lawyers move from one legal job to another (Biglaw to in-house).
  • Coaches who help lawyers identify an alternative career and take steps to leave law.
  • Coaches who help with specific tasks like resume writing and interview preparation.

When considering hiring a career coach, it’s important to get a sense of what that person specializes in and whether his or her area of expertise aligns with your career goal.

How Do You Work With a Career Coach?

There are two ways to work with a career coach.

1. Traditional, One-on-One Career Coaching

The more “traditional” method is the one-on-one relationship, where you meet either for a one-time consult or over a period of weeks or months as you work toward your career goal. These meetings may be in-person but are often virtual or over the phone. Typically, the meetings will be weekly, biweekly or monthly. At each meeting, you’ll discuss the work you’ve done between sessions and plan for what to do next. Your coach may use various assessments to help guide this process.

Some career coaches offer single-day intensives. Single-day intensives are different from one-off consulting calls because they are geared toward a specific outcome that tends to be task-based — such as interview prep for a specific job interview. Typically, this type of engagement lasts for two to eight hours and may come with some limited follow-up support in the form of email or messaging via an app like Voxer (a voice messaging app for teams similar to a walkie-talkie).

2. Group Career Coaching

You can also work with a career coach in a group setting, which is a way to get coaching for a lower investment than working intensely with a coach one on one.

When you join a career coach’s program, you will work alongside others to meet your objectives. While you have less one-on-one time with coaches, you have the benefit of building supportive relationships with others who are focused on similar career goals. For example, you may all be working on assessing your professional skills and updating your resumes. Often, group discussions will spark ideas and help motivate you to keep working on your goals.

When hiring a coach or assessing a group program, consider whether the coach specializes in working with lawyers. Oftentimes lawyers start working with general career coaches only to end up switching to someone with expertise geared toward lawyers.

What Should You Look for in a Career Coach?

There are four things you will get from any good career coach.

1. Structure

A good lawyer career coach should be able to provide you with a framework that walks you through a well-defined process — with clear expectations, communications and accountability — to achieve whatever career goal you want to accomplish.

2. Accountability

Achieving your career goals is not just about understanding what you need to do — it’s about acting toward those goals. One of the most helpful things a career coach does is provide accountability to help you continue to take action. You’ll want to consider what forms of accountability work best for you when deciding which coach to work with.

3. Perspective

Getting perspective on your goals and your process is invaluable, and it’s one of the things that a career coach can provide as an outside observer. How do you figure out what a career coach’s perspective might be? Check out their website and LinkedIn posts or social media activity. If the coach has a podcast, blog or YouTube channel, that’s even better. You can learn a lot from consuming their free content. If their free content doesn’t resonate with you, that’s a point to consider.

4. Method

An essential part of any coaching relationship is to understand how much of a coach’s method involves telling you the answers versus helping you discover answers for yourself. If you’re in a miserable career place, you may simply want someone to just tell you what to do — and I get that. But that approach rarely ends with long-term career satisfaction. If the decision-making about your next steps doesn’t come from within, you may not take those steps at all. Or, you may take them and discover that someone else’s answer is not, in fact, the answer for you. Find a coach who will help you figure out the right answer for you.

Career coaching has the potential to transform your career and your life. Best wishes as you move forward!

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

More Career Coaching Articles on Attorney at Work

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Sarah Cottrell

Sarah Cottrell is the Founder of Former Lawyer LLC and the host of The Former Lawyer podcast. She runs a group program for lawyers where she helps unhappy lawyers leave their soul-sucking jobs behind. Follow her on LinkedIn and @FormerLawyer on Instagram.

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