I don’t know about you, but everywhere I turn these days I see someone who’s started a new endeavor in the world of life coaching. It feels very de rigueur—perhaps the trendy new job of the moment for those looking to explore something new in their lives.
But it got me wondering how one finds the right, qualified coach in an ever-populated sea of possibilities. Wanting to be a life coach doesn’t necessarily translate into becoming a good one, so I decided to talk to some local experts about how to dive into the process and make sure you find a proper match.
“Coaching” in and of itself is a blanket term that can encompass many types of professionals whose job it is to help you improve your life, your business, and more. They are as varied in their areas of expertise as their clients are with their goals and expectations and much like finding a good therapist, it’s important to do your due diligence to make sure the two of you are compatible before investing your time and money into the process.
Working with a coach can be an incredibly fulfilling and life-changing process—but first you’ve got to find the right person to work with. Here are some helpful tips from the pros to get you started.
Do Your Homework First
Before you even start speaking to prospective coaches, you need to figure out what it is you are looking for out of the process. “There’s some work that needs to be done prior to actually interviewing coaches because it’s on the person who’s going to be coached to have a clear understanding of the outcomes that they seek,” executive coach Starla West tells us. “Typically, there’s a growth and development gap that they’re trying to fill. So the question is, what is that gap? And usually, the way that I asked that question of my clients is to say, ‘How are they thinking, behaving, and performing right now?’ And when they’re finished with the coaching, how would they be thinking, behaving, and performing differently?”
Leadership coach and consultant Teresa Sabatine agrees that managing your expectations ahead of time is key. “If you go in with the wrong expectations, no matter how much money you spend, or how good your coaches are, you are not going to get what you want,” she says.
Check Out Their Accreditations
There are many educational programs coaches can enter to earn various kinds of accreditation. Now, that’s not to say that you won’t be able to find a fantastic coach that hasn’t completed one, but they can give you a jumping off point in your research. Sabatine, for example, completed a 10-month intensive program through the business school at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and is accredited through the International Coaching Federation, which can be a good place to start your search.
There is no singular governing or regulatory body for coaches, but ICF is one of the larger organizations that can hold coaches accountable to standards, guidelines, and their own code of ethics.
Remember Coaches Aren’t There to “Fix” Your Life
Along with those expectations and goals you have going in, you must remember that a coach is not going to give you five items to check off that will automatically make everything in your life magically better.
You will have to commit time to doing the work laid out through your coaching process. “If your expectation is that you’re going to learn new tools in order to manage your own self, get more disciplined, take better actions, and be less fearful—and then manage yourself moving forward, even when you don’t have that coach on your team, then yes,100% hire a coach,” Sabatine says. “But if you don’t implement the strategies that are provided to you and if you don’t do the work yourself, it’s not a magic pill.”
Also, Coaches Aren’t Therapists
Every coach I spoke with made clear that while there may be some similarities in the working models of coaches and therapists, they are not the same thing by any means.
“It’s also my job to help determine whether someone needs coaching or needs therapy. And I’ve come up against that quite a few times in the last six years because they are very closely linked,” life and career coach Angela Jorden says. “Typically if someone comes in and they just haven’t been able to move forward and they’re having some depressive tendencies and had struggles in the past, I would probably recommend that they maybe see a therapist first before coming to see me.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask About Their Process and Their Success Stories
Sabatine recommends people interview at least three coaches before hiring someone. “As a business person, you’d always look at multiple vendors, it’s the same thing with coaching,” she says. “If you can’t find three, ask someone you’re interviewing. If they’re a good coach, they’re going to be willing to let you explore, to get a feel for what’s out there.”
West says to pay close attention to how the prospective coach communicates with you throughout the interview process as that will give you insight into how they work. “I would consider this to be a taste of their coaching style and approach,” she says. “And they should be really savvy at focusing the conversation on identifying gap areas and the outcome you seek.” Take note of how they pull information from you to “get to a place where you’re clearly articulating” your goals and expectations. She adds that if you leave having had conversations in ways you’ve never had them before, that could be the sign of an effective coach for you who will stimulate and challenge your thinking.
If They’re Selling You Too Hard, That Could Be a Red Flag
Both Sabatine and West warned against coaches who are all about closing the deal quickly. As mentioned, exploring your options is really important—as is having a good understanding of both the monetary and time commitment you’ll be looking at. “I always say, if someone’s trying too hard to sell you, that’s kind of weird,” Sabatine says, adding that if it doesn’t feel like someone has your best interests at heart, that’s not the right coach for you.
You should also pay attention to how a coach secures their clients, West says. She recognizes that everyone has to “sell” themselves, but those who aren’t always aggressively selling and get most of their work through referrals and word of mouth can carry a lot of weight.