Shopping for a Coach


If you're reading this paper, then you're probably interested in coaching, and are probably thinking of getting a coach. As you get past the "what if" stage into the practical details of finding the right coach for you, you'll find that the field is very confusing and that it's easy to get lost in the claims and counter-claims of various coaches. This paper is really meant to give you a framework for making the decisions necessary to find exactly the right coach for you.

What Do You Want To Work On?

If you're thinking about getting a coach, there must be something in your life that is frustrating you, for which you need a little extra help. It will help your search greatly if you can think about the frustration and write it down as clearly as you can. So, you might start with, "My job stinks - I hate it!" but you should try to get clear about why it stinks and what you would like to do about it. Your next try might be something like:

"I've been doing the same job for five years and I'm getting really bored with it. I want a job that will be more challenging for me and will pay better than this one does. I would rather not leave this employer because I have a lot of seniority, but I would be willing to leave for the perfect job."

Now you have a clear goal and you're ready to start shopping for a coach. Your next goal should be to get generally familiar with the coaching profession. I suggest that you start at the International Coaching Federation web site, and then check out web sites of a variety of other coaches to get a feel for the different specialties and styles.

Coaching is a new profession and, like all new fields, it is not very standardized. So, you might find coaches who advertise themselves as "Personal Coach," "Life Coach," "Job Coach," or "Executive Coach." Truly, there's no difference in these titles: they have just chosen different specialties and adapted the coaching name to fit. So, for now, don't pay too much attention to titles - just learn what's out there.

How to Find Coaches

This almost seems too easy - if you Google "personal coach" you will get thousands and thousands of hits, and you will easily drown in candidates. Instead, try a more targeted approach. Ask your friends if they have had a coach, and if they were satisfied: personal recommendation is priceless. Coaches are very big on public speaking as a promotional tool, so if you look in your local paper you may find someone giving a talk on job stress or beating procrastination: there's a good chance that he or she is a coach, and you can have a chance to check them out. The coaching registry at the International Coaching Federation's web site is a good place to do comparison shopping for coaches - they list their credentials and specialties without elaborate advertising, and you can search for the combination of specialty and price range that you want.

You've Got a List of Candidates - Now What?

When you have a list of four or five coaches that sound likely, it's time to comparison shop. Every coach in the world will be absolutely delighted to spend half an hour with you to let you get a feel for his or her style. Some will call it a "free coaching session," and others will call it a "free sample of coaching," but it all has the same purpose: to let you check out the candidate and see if there's good chemistry between you. Typically, the coach will ask you a little about yourself and your issue, and do about ten or fifteen minutes of real coaching with you. She will also be happy to answer any questions you might have about coaching in general or about her specialties and coaching style. In this time, you should trust your instincts - if you feel easy talking to the coach, and if she seems to understand your issue and is able to help you with it even a little bit, then there's a good chance that she will make a good coach for you.

You don't have to make a decision at the introductory call - it is perfectly all right to say, "Thank you for your time - I want to call some other coaches for comparison, but I'll let you know my decision in a few days." If the coach wants to charge you for the introductory session, or pressures you to sign on as a client, cross her off the list and move on to the next one.

Not All Coaches Are Well Qualified

Coaching is not like psychotherapy, with regulations and licensing; anyone can call himself or herself a coach, put up a web site, and start doing business. Sadly, many people have done just that, and they have no more training in coaching than you do. It's not dangerous to work with an untrained coach, but it's not likely to be very productive either. So you need to ask the coaching candidate some questions. First, find out if they have had specific coaching training, how much they have had, and where they were trained. A coach typically becomes competent after about a year of training, and reaches real expertise after about two years. If you wish, you can contact the coach's training school and verify her graduation. Ask your coach if he or she is certified, and by whom. It's perfectly okay to work with an uncertified coach, but certification shows that he or she has reached a recognized level of competence. And finally, use your intuition; if you get the feeling that the coach is promising magical solutions to all your problems, you should probably try someone else: coaching is very effective, but it's not magic.

Should My Coach Be Certified?

You will find that many of your coaching candidates use "Certified" in their credentials, and you should pay attention to this. Unfortunately, because coaching isn't yet standardized, the term "certified" may mean any of several things. It's all very complicated, but if your coach is certified by the International Coaching Federation or any of its accredited coaching schools, you can assume that she has been trained in coaching, has passed an exam, and has at least two years of actual coaching experience. If she isn't certified, it doesn't mean that she's not competent - she may still be in training, or she may be finishing the required coaching experience. Base your choice on careful questioning and your intuition, and use certification as one more piece of information in making your choice.

Should My Coach Also Be a Therapist?

Increasingly, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and other traditional psychotherapists are adding coaching to their practice. Should this make a difference in your choice of a coach? Well, yes and no. First of all, coaching and psychotherapy are very different activities, and many of the best coaches are not licensed therapists; so the license isn't a necessary qualification for a good coach. On the other hand, a coach with a therapy license has definitely received a lot of training in many of the coaching skills and in the ethics of coaching, so it's one more clue that this person will be a competent coach.

What About Testimonials and References?

The coach might have some anonymous testimonials on her web site, and you can look at those if you want, but don't expect her to provide references from former clients, because that would a real breach of confidentiality between coach and client. The only way you'll be able to get a reference is if a friend of you referred you to the coach, and is willing to give a recommendation on her own.

About Fees

Different coaches have different fee structures, so comparing their rates might be a little more tricky than just getting a dollar figure. A typical coaching package might consist of three or four sessions per month, plus a reasonable amount of email contact, for a fixed monthly rate. Some coaches offer half-hour sessions and others offer 45-minute sessions: just be aware that the longer session is not necessarily a better bargain than the shorter - a good coach can get a lot done in a half hour.

Most coaches insist that you pay by the month, rather than the session. This is mainly to simplify their bookkeeping and accounting and, because coaching is a long-term relationship, is pretty reasonable. Some coaches will insist (or recommend strongly) that you agree to a minimum of three months of coaching. They aren't being greedy - they just don't want to waste your time and money, because most coaching issues take a minimum of three months to resolve satisfactorily.

Having said all this, a good coach should be willing to customize her offering for you. If you can't afford her standard package, you might ask for a reduced rate for a two-per-month package. If you would rather have two hour-long sessions than four half-hour sessions, she should be flexible enough to accommodate you. Within reason, she should adapt her package to your needs, rather than the other way around.

You'll find a wide range of coaching fees: from two hundred dollars per month to two thousand dollars per month. In my experience, cost is not a good predictor of the coach's talent or effectiveness, so stay within your budget. You should be able to find a good coach in your price range, though you may need to shop more extensively. And finally, if you're really short of cash and really need some coaching, ask the coach if she will reduce her fees for you. Most coaches will accept a few clients for reduced rates or for free, for a good cause - anyway, it can't hurt to ask.

The Final Word

Hiring a coach should be just like buying a car - it's important that you find one that suits your needs, feels comfortable, and is affordable. And most of all, be a good consumer - shop around until you find just the right coach for you. You'll know when you find her.

Copyright 2005 Unison Coaching
About the Author

My name is Bruce Taylor and I'm a trained professional coach. I've helped many people achieve remarkable things in their jobs, at school, and in their lives, and I can help you reach your goal, no matter what it is. I help my clients clarify their goals, make a realistic plan of how to achieve them, and then execute that plan. Please read more about me at

Written by: Bruce Taylor


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