What do you want to be when you grow up?
It's such a simple question when we're kids, and we answer it with enthusiasm and archetypal answers. "I want to be a firefighter. An astronaut. President of the United States."
But finding the best job to fit our lifestyle, interests and talents is difficult and takes more time than required to answer elementary school questions. Upon growing up, many of us don't feel prepared to launch into any profession, much less the one that might suit us best.
Working with a career counselor might help, whether you're just beginning a job but unsure it's the right one, or if you're in the midst of your profession and still don't have a clear idea of what you really should do. If either of these scenarios rings true, here are the key questions you need to ask.
What is it I really need? Are you looking for the job, or just a job? When your chief motivation is paying next month's bills, call a recruiter. Like what you do but wish to do it somewhere else? Recruiter.
Career coaches and counselors, however, do something different and have a more nuanced objective. "One, career coaches help you find an organized way to find out more about yourself," says Robin Reshwan, founder of Collegial Services, a firm that specializes in career counseling, résumé and LinkedIn profile writing, plus recruiting and placement services. Reshwan is also an On Careers blogger. "Two, a career coach is someone who can give you some tough love. And third, it's someone who can actually give you meaningful action steps that you can take toward your career goals."
Maybe you're set on what you want to do but need to boost your interview skills. Or your LinkedIn page needs an overhaul, and your résumé demands a makeover. Career coaches might also help with that. "Some people want to be coached through their job search, but others want help with their current work performance," says Hallie Crawford, certified career coach and founder of the Atlanta-based company Create Your Career Path. "It depends on what the original goal is when coming in."
OK. I need a career coach. Where can I find one? Do a Web search -- Crawford says 90 percent of her company's business comes in through her website. Word of mouth also works: A good referral could come from friends, LinkedIn or your alumni association, and Reshwan even suggests visiting a local college's career center for recommendations.
Ask prospective career counselors whether they're certified -- it's not necessary for career coaches to receive certification, but those that do have a paper trail of the type of formal training they've had in order to assist you. Crawford says you should ask about their success rates and coaching styles. Speaking of coaching style ...
What is the process like? It's a common misconception that you'll conclude your time with a career counselor or coach with an offer letter for your dream job in hand. But career coaches aren't job genies. "I like to tell clients that they'll know their direction and have the tools to take their next steps, narrow down their options and get into the career they want," Crawford says. "What they're not going to come away with is an epiphany of 'I should be Manager, Level II, Class C at Coca-Cola.'"
Collegial Services works with clients in various stages of their career -- from entry level to experienced professional. "If you've been working for less than three years, then we'll start out by discussing options," Reshwan says. "We'll talk to them to discover who they are, what their skills are and what their priorities are, and to get a sense of what they hope to get from working with us."
Reshwan says Collegial Services's approach is tied to reality. "We like to hear what their priorities are irrespective of a career," she says. "Let's say in our first conversation with them they tell us they want to work in sports entertainment in the Bay Area, but it's their priority to make a lot of money." It's during the second conversation that Reshwan says there's a "rubber meets the road" moment. "This is when we talk about whether real-life jobs match up with their priorities," she says. "We do some deconstructing to determine what options they have that fit in with what they're interested in, what they're qualified for and that they could get hired to do."
Those further along in their career also start by talking about priorities. "At this stage of life, clients have things in their life they can't change," Reshwan continues. "They have a spouse to consider, kids in school, aging parents to care for and salary requirements to keep up with those responsibilities. For these people, it might be about helping them find a job that isn't the absolute end game, but is a step in the right direction to get them to where they want to go."
The process at Crawford's company is slightly different. "The first thing we do is what we call 'the heart piece,'" she says. "What's going to be fulfilling for them? What are their career values, and what would an ideal day at work look like for them?"
Next, Crawford says Create Your Career Path tries to balance practical with passion. "But we hold off on the practical and do the passion part first, because we don't want to squash our clients' creative thinking," she says. "Sometimes starting out with a career assessment first can be limiting. Doing it this way, we might find that this is what the client would absolutely love to do, and that seven of their 10 ideas for a career path aren't things they could be hired for or get paid for. But three of them absolutely are."
How long will the process take? Another misconception: You'll come in for one day, fill out a Myers-Briggs assessment test and presto chango -- instant career. No, working with a career counselor is hard work that most likely will take months.
"You could try some shortcut diet and lose weight really fast, but if you don't put in the work to develop healthy habits, you won't keep the weight off," Reshwan says. "The same is true for your career. The person who should have the most vested interest in your career is you. It's our goal to arm people with the tools, tactics and wording that enables them to determine what would be good for them and how to get in front of the right opportunities, but it's hard work on their part."
Crawford advises people to expect at least a two-month process. "It takes at least that long to get the ball rolling, research a client's ideas and narrow down choices," she says. "It could be month four or five before someone is confident on what path to take and proceed forward."
How much will it cost? That depends on what you need and the time invested, but for a ballpark reference, Reshwan says an entry-level worker could spend around $500 to work with a career coach, whereas more seasoned professionals might pay as much as $2,000 for a full suite of services. Hourlong, one-off sessions could cost between $75 and $200.
You need to speak candidly with a prospective career coach for him or her to come up with a price quote for you and your circumstances. Ultimately, Reshwan says, "you get what you pay for."
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