Do you feel stuck in your career? Confused about your professional path? Stressed and overwhelmed? A career coach can facilitate the process of gaining clarity and making a change. But, like a personal trainer, they can’t do the work for you — nor can you expect results overnight.

Chances are you will hear people asking, “What does a career coach do? How will they help me?” Having realistic expectations about what the career coaching process involves, who can benefit from it, and what career coaches do and don’t do all combine to set the stage for a successful coaching experience.

How much of what you believe about the career coaching process is true, and how much is fiction?

Myth: All career coaches are the same.

Reality: The truth is, career coaching is currently an unregulated industry, so anyone can say they’re a coach, print business cards and hang a Career Coach sign on their door. In order to find a qualified coach — and one with whom you’ll get the best results — it is essential to do your due diligence.

seek strong coaching experienceStart by looking for someone with strong coaching experience and training. Inquire about both the number of years they have been coaching, as well as the number of one-on-one coaching hours they have completed. To reach a level of mastery, it generally takes about 10,000 hours. Also, ask about the coaching certifications they hold, which will help distinguish those with formal training from those who rely solely on past business experience.

Next, look for someone who has personally experienced a situation similar to your own, whether that’s a career transition, starting their own company, going back to school, etc. They will be able to integrate what they’ve learned and share that insight with you.

And don’t stop there! Conduct a search to find guest articles the coach has written in other publications — and to see where they’ve been quoted. Read reviews: What do current and former clients say about their experience via Yelp, Google+ or Angie’s List?

Finding the right career coach for you — one whom you trust, whose philosophy resonates with you, and with whom you feel comfortable having authentic conversations — is a critical step before you even begin a coaching engagement.

Myth: Career coaching is for the young.

Reality: It’s never too late to improve your life. For some people, that might involve a bold career change or heading back to school. Others might be considering re-entering the workforce after an employment gap (as in the case of many stay-at-home moms who took time away from their career to raise their children) — but question whether their “former” career is still a good fit.

Myth: A career coach will find me my dream job.

Reality: Career coaches are not recruiters or head-hunters. They can, however, help you identify the career that best aligns with your innate talents, abilities, interests and values, as well as suggest effective job search strategies. They can’t do the work for you; rather, your coach will work with you, guiding you through the interactive process.

Together, you and your career coach will explore not only the world of career opportunities, but also your own strengths and aspirations to find the career that’s a right fit for you. When you approach the process with patience, curiosity, honesty and a willingness to work, the results of career coaching can dramatically impact the trajectory of your life.

coach assists with right career fitMyth: Why do I need a career coach? I can do it on my own.

Reality: Some people do — with great results. Unfortunately, they are in the minority. Only around 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are engaged in their work, according to Gallup’s daily index. Making a poor-fit career choice is a common source of regret for many adults, who feel disengaged, stuck, anxious or depressed as a result.

While there are plenty of online aptitude tests available, they can’t take into account the factors that make your career journey unique. In addition to getting to know you as an individual, a career coach will integrate the results of several types of assessments into a holistic approach to finding the best career fit for you.

Myth: Career coaching is too expensive … too time-consuming … too touchy-feely.

Reality: Given that you will spend approximately 50 years of your life working, devoting that time to something you enjoy will have an immeasurable impact on your quality of life.

Change often requires leaving your comfort zone. The price you’ll pay for quality career coaching is far less than the cost of making a poor-fit career choice, or pursuing the wrong college major. There are no quick answers because career coaching isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Conversations may extend beyond the topic of “career,” but the more your career coach gets to know you — how you think and what makes you tick — the better results you can expect.

Myth: Hiring a career coach will always result in a career (or job) change.

Reality: Coaching isn’t always about making a career change; sometimes it’s about “staying where you are” because you’ve changed. A career coach can help you experience greater meaning in your current profession, improve work-life balance, reduce stress and anxiety — and help you pave new paths to your professional goals.

Stuck in the wrong career - four steps to get unstuck