You’ve decided to seek outside help to take your career to the next level. Now comes the hard part: finding the best career coach to meet your needs and goals.

Whether you are entering or returning to the workforce, need a different job or want to explore a complete career change, finding the right career coach can set you on the path toward a rewarding and fulfilling career. But before you invest your time and money, make sure you select a reputable coach who can deliver the results you want.

Here are some of the qualities to look for to determine whether a specific coach is right for you:

1. Qualifications and Credentials

select a coach with credentialsCoaching is an unregulated industry, and as a result there are literally thousands of people in the U.S. using the title “career coach.” However, not all career coaches are equally qualified. Some rely solely on their previous business experience, with no formal coach training. Others may hold a certification that was earned from no more than a few weekend workshops. Look for a coach with professional credentials and qualifications, which indicate their level of training and professional development.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is one of the most highly recognized professional organizations for coaches, providing training and credentials that are respected worldwide. More than 13,000 coaches have earned ICF credentials globally, demonstrating not only knowledge and skill, but also a commitment to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. Look for the credentials ACC (Associate Certified Coach), PCC (Professional Certified Coach) or MCC (Master Certified Coach) after a coach’s name.

According to an ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study, clients who worked with an ICF credential-holder were more likely to be satisfied with their coaching experience.

In addition to coaching, some coaches may be qualified in related areas such as psychology, psychotherapy, social work, human resources, etc.

Questions to Ask:

  • Where did you complete your coach training?
  • What are your qualifications and certifications?
  • What are your credentials?
  • What are your professional affiliations?

2. Track Record and Experience

a good coach has relevant experienceCredentials and qualifications are great, but nothing beats having relevant experience – and success – in the field of career coaching. Look for a coach who specializes in career coaching, who has been coaching for a number of years, and who has successfully coached clients with goals similar to yours. And even better if they’ve personally experienced a situation similar to yours, whether that’s making a career transition, returning to school, launching their own company, etc.

Questions to Ask:

  • How long have you been a career coach?
  • What types of clients have you worked with?
  • How many clients have you coached successfully over the course of your career?
  • Can you tell me one of your favorite success stories?
  • Why did you choose to share that particular story with me?

3. Approaches and Methodologies

Career coaching is about much more than simply asking what you want to do with your life and helping you write a solid resume. There are many different approaches to career coaching, from “Ontological and Systemic Change Approach” to “Neuroscience and Neuroleadership Application.”

The best coaches will be well versed in a variety of different methodologies, tailoring their approach to meet your specific needs and personality. Just as a holistic approach to medicine looks at the whole person, a holistic approach to career coaching addresses everything from your thinking patterns and behavior to your awareness and resistance to change.

Questions to Ask:

  • What is your approach to career coaching?
  • What methodologies do you use?
  • How do you tailor your approach to each client?

4. References and Testimonials

References and recommendations are one way to find a career coach. Ask friends, trusted colleagues and business contacts for suggestions and find out what they gained by working with the coach and the results they achieved.

If you don’t know anyone who has used a career coach (or are too shy to ask), check out the client testimonials on coaches’ websites and on review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List (if you’re a member) and Google+. If you have more specific questions that aren’t addressed in the testimonials, ask each coach to put you in touch with a previous client who had goals similar to your own.

Questions to Ask:

  • Do you have any testimonials from past clients?
  • Can I contact one of your previous clients to discuss how you helped them?

5. Chemistry and Fit

be comfortable with your coachEven if the coach has the right qualifications, experience and references, he or she may not be the right “fit” for you.

Career coaching is a very intimate endeavor that delves deeply into your aspirations, interests, perspectives, beliefs, values and more. It can be difficult work, and therefore requires a great deal of trust. It’s important to feel a connection with your coach. Just as in any relationship, the right chemistry is key.

Make sure you feel comfortable with the coach and that there is a good “fit” between you. Most coaches will offer a free introductory call to let you get to know them a bit and ask any questions you may have. If you come away feeling that this is someone you can trust and open up to, you have the building blocks of a successful working relationship as career coach and coachee.

A word of warning: Some coaches will try to pressure you into a free in-person consultation, a coaching sales technique endorsed and taught by many coaching schools. They are designed to get prospective clients into a room in order to utilize methods that create a mood state that increases the probability of a sales “close.” Great coaches aren’t desperate for business and will rarely offer a free in-person consultation.

Questions to Ask:

  • What is your professional background and how did you get into coaching?
  • How would you describe your coaching style?
  • How will we measure progress and results?
  • What has your own career path been like?

When interviewing potential coaches, you’ll also want to ask about fees, what kind of results you can expect, how often you will be meeting or speaking with your coach, and how many sessions/weeks/months the process generally takes. But keep in mind that no coach can predict exactly how long it will take you to work through the process. In most cases, you’ll want to commit to at least three months, but timing will depend on your specific goals, how quickly you complete homework assignments, how often you meet with your coach, etc.

Finding the right coach for you may take time and effort but, in the end, it can profoundly shift the trajectory of your life, bringing you a greater sense of satisfaction, fulfillment and purpose.

What results do you imagine you could achieve by partnering with a career coach?

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