For years, society has told us (especially women) that all we have to do is work really, really hard, and we can get ahead in our careers. But hard work only gets us so far before it often stops working — because in reality, success takes a village. One filled with friends, work wives, great coworkers, mentors, and sponsors who support you along the way.
But there’s another person who might make a great addition to your village — especially if you are job searching, feel stuck, aren’t sure who to turn to for help with your specific career goals, want to get to the next level more efficiently, or are just looking for a new perspective: a career coach.
That’s what I do here at Ellevest, and I love every minute of it. Here’s what working with a career coach typically looks like and how to prep if you think you’re ready to take that step.
What’s a career coach?
A coach is a partner who can help you take your career to the next level. They aren’t there to solve specific workplace problems for you or to provide you with “the answer” to whatever question you’re asking. But they can help you with specific job-searching things, like prepping a resume, practicing for interviews, and rehearsing a salary negotiation. They can also act as a trustworthy sounding board for more transitive moments — someone who can help you think through your problems and figure out those answers on your own.
A career coach will ask tough questions, challenge your assumptions, offer different perspectives, and nudge you to step outside your comfort zone. They can help you better understand your own strengths and weaknesses, weigh pros and cons, narrow down your goals, and make a plan for going forward.
If you decide to work with a career coach in this broader capacity, the first step is usually to schedule an introductory coaching session.
How to prep for your first career coaching session
Ask yourself a few questions
What do you want to get out of it? It will help to have an idea of the questions you’re hoping to find answers for, the challenges you’re hoping to work through, or the goals you want to achieve.
What’s making you feel dissatisfied or restless? What would you like to see change? If you can get specific with your challenges, you can meet them head-on, and it can be easier to work through them.
What does success with a career coach look like to you? Does it mean landing that job? Feeling more comfortable in your own skin? Earning a higher salary? How much higher? Picture the outcome you want as clearly as you can. Then your sessions can be more intentional and effective.
Go back over your professional portfolio
You’ll be talking to your coach about your past professional experiences, wins, challenges, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. So dust off your resume, Linkedin profile, “elevator pitch” (if you have one), past performance reviews, and any other info that might come in handy. No need to edit anything — just look things over so that your past experiences will be top of mind.
Come with an open mind
… And prepare to be challenged! This kind of introspective work may not always be comfy. That’s because your coach isn’t there to keep you in your comfort zone — they’re there to help you break through whatever walls or ceilings are holding you back.
What to expect from your session
If you’re facing a challenge that you need to discuss right away, you and your coach might hit the ground running. They’ll ask some questions about the situation and help you talk through what you’ll do next.
But if you have more time, then your first call should be exploratory. Here’s what you can expect in that case:
A warm intro. Your coach is going to be excited to meet you — and learn more about how they can help.
Time to ask your coach questions. Feel free to ask your coach anything you’d like to know about them or the process ahead. The more comfortable you are, the better your call will go.
Sharing your story. In general, coaching is forward- and future-focused. But during your introductory session, you’ll tell your coach who you are and how you got where you are today. This isn’t a resume review. It’s a time for you to tell your story, however is most comfortable for you.
Your coach might also ask whether you’ve worked with other coaches in the past (life coaches, sports coaches, any kind of coaches) — and if so, what worked well, and what could work even better in the future.
Some powerful questions. Here’s where the two of you start to put the real work in. Your coach will ask about your values, strengths, challenges, motivations, learning style, and other personal areas like that. Be as truthful as you can — with yourself and with your coach — because your answers to these questions will help your coach figure out how, exactly, they can best help going forward.
Goal talk. Finally, the two of you will talk about your short- and long-term goals. There probably won’t be much time for action planning in this first call, but getting your goals on paper now will help with all your future calls.
Be straightforward and transparent during that first call. Don’t hesitate to reset the agenda, interrupt, or ask questions. This is all about you — so don’t be afraid to tell your coach exactly what you need … even if what you need is to spend time figuring it out!
You already have what it takes to take charge of your career and keep climbing that ladder. But a career coach might be able to help you do it faster, and more effectively. And you might just learn a whole lot more about yourself along the way.
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