If you’re considering career coaching as the next step on your own career path, take it from someone who’s recently taken that step. Hi, I’m Karolina, and here’s how I became a career coach.
What is career coaching?
To talk about career coaching, let’s first agree on what coaching itself really is. Because there are many different kinds of coaches (apart from career coaches), anyone can call themselves a coach these days. But not everyone is a certified coach or even works according to coaching standards and principles.
According to the International Coaching Federation and other formal coaching organizations:
Coaching is accompanying people in achieving their goals – in life, work, or business.
And it happens by asking questions. And then more questions.
Now pure, “clean” coaching is just asking questions – no guidance, no advice, no consulting, no counseling. And that’s one way to do career coaching.
But usually, career coaching is a combination of coaching and career counseling. Which means that a career coach, apart from just asking you questions, can also guide you to different resources you need related to your career decisions, like skill tests, mentoring programs, career sites, etc.
What sets a career coach apart from a career counselor, though, is that with career coaching, you usually won’t get ready-made answers. Instead, the coach will work with you to help you find the answers on your own, and then act on them. But whether you do is entirely up to you.
A career counselor, on the other hand, will help you with things like job search, interview skills, career advice, and career planning. They might show you different career paths that fit certain skills and strengths and offer recommendations (which most career coaches won’t do.)
What does a career coach do?
In general, a career coach is there to help clients decide on the right career path or the right job, depending on the circumstances they’re currently in.
In practical terms, a career coach will mostly ask questions. And not just any questions.
There are different tools and frameworks a career coach can use so their clients can:
- define (or redefine) their career path and goals
- dive deeper into their strengths and skills and name them (sometimes for the first time ever)
- find out what it is that they actually can and want to do (and also what they can’t and don’t want)
- then define who they want to do it with and how – for example, whether they’re better off as freelancers/entrepreneurs or working full-time jobs for someone else
- and come up with an action plan to help them get where they want to be.
Now, depending on individual services a career coach offers, they can also:
- help with creating compelling CVs, bios, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles
- practice interview skills
- and generally, help their coaching clients find the right language to talk about themselves in a professional context.
And depending on their target audience, a career coach can support:
- people who want a career change
- people who want to define what it even is that they want to do
- people who’ve burnt out in their jobs and don’t know what to do next (disclaimer: severe job burnout usually also calls for working with a therapist, which a coach is NOT.)
- people who just graduated from college and don’t know how to match their skills with the available job market opportunities, or even go about their first job search
- or people in midlife who are ready for a career pivot and a completely new career path.
(The list is by no means exhaustive.)
How to become a career coach in 7 steps
Disclaimer: This is by no means an easy fit, and these 7 steps are actually quite elaborate (though absolutely feasible.) They’re also essential if you want to become a successful career coach with a successful career coaching business. And also, if you want to offer real value to your clients and guide them to selecting their right career path, and not just quick solutions.
So yeah, we’re not into get-rich-quick schemes here or anything like that – but about how to become a career coach with credentials, skills, and experience that actually benefits others.
1. Get a career coach certification
Depending on your own career path that you want to take and the market you want to serve, this can be a certification from one of the coaching federations or a career coaching school. And usually, if you’re serious about becoming a professional career coach, the various online courses available out there might not be enough.
Note that different countries will have different requirements for who can become a career coach and who can work as one, so check those that apply in your case. Maybe you need a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in something to become a career coach in your country.
I myself took up an ICF-certified (International Coach Federation) career coaching postgraduate course at a local university and am in the process of getting the ICF certification on top. But there are other general coaching certifications you can look into depending on where you want to offer your coaching services, for example:
- Board Certified Coach (BCC): You can get it from the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE). It focuses on competence in coaching skills and ethical standards.
- Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC): Offered by the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), it focuses on co-active coaching principles and interactive learning.
- Gallup Strengths Coaching Certification: This certification aligns with Gallup’s strengths-based approach, which is very popular in career coaching.
- Certified Professional Coach (CPC): Offered by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), it focuses on energy leadership and coaching skills.
- Career Coach Certification: Granted by the International Association of Career Coaches, you can get it at several different levels: Senior Professional Career Coach, Master Professional Career Coach, and Senior Professional Resume Writer.
2. Hone your coaching skills
Apart from certifications, coaching in general – and career coaching in particular – calls for specific skills you will be using daily. Among the more general soft skills, you’ll definitely need:
- Active listening. A professional career coach is there to listen, first of all. It’s a critical skill you need to keep working on to be able to help your clients achieve their career goals.
- Patience. It ties in closely with the previous point. What I personally found quite difficult at the beginning (and people tell me I am a good listener) is being able to listen and not offer instant advice (which is the domain of career counselors, but not career coaches) – so that’s definitely a challenge if you like talking. 🙂
- Asking questions. Questions are an essential tool for any coach – and that’s a skill you’re going to keep perfecting (probably forever.) There are some coaching frameworks and external tools you can use, but the key is to adapt them to your individual client – as none of them are a one-size-fits-all.
- Empathy. If empathy is your strength, then you have a great base for becoming a career coach.
For career coaches, there are also a bunch of skills strictly related to career development that are absolutely essential, including a deeper understanding of concepts like:
- Career paths
- Career change
- Career models and metaphors (because the metaphor of the career ladder is just one way to look at careers, and in this day and age, linear careers in general are becoming quite obsolete)
- Job search (including job interview preparation, resume writing, and recruitment practices)
- Strength and skill development (including reskilling and upskilling)
If you choose a more general coaching specialization like a life coach, for example, these are obviously not as necessary. But with career coaching being adjacent to the job of a career counselor, it’s something you have to be comfortable with.
Bonus tip: Go through your own career coaching process first (it’s a requirement for some certifications, anyway) – to get a really clear idea of the skills you need and the benefits you can bring to your coaching clients.
3. Select your career coaching niche
As a career coach, you can work with many coaching clients and in many industries.
There are career coaches focusing specifically on women in midlife, people in the creative industry, students who just graduated, people with disabilities, minorities, etc. The list is really long.
You can become an executive coach or specialize in working with the typical stay at home mom who wants to return to the job market.
Specializing will help you create more targeted coaching services and more targeted marketing communication to promote them and reach the right people.
I myself, coming from the creative and tech industries decided to specialize in the two, focusing on people who are looking to work in roles that are more suited to their skills and help them feel more fulfilled.
Bonus tip: you don’t have to be an industry expert to be a career coach to people in a specific industry or with specific professional experience. It does help, though, to understand where they’re at, even to ask better questions. (It’s just my opinion, though.)
4. Define your career coaching services
For example, I decided to add my messaging strategy and copywriting expertise to my career coaching business to help people find ways to talk about themselves and the value they can bring to their target audience – whether that’s employers or clients.
The question that I asked myself – and you should too – is how you want to stand out with your career coaching services. Will they be the typical series of several (usually 6-8) coaching sessions that lead your client to coming up with a plan to achieve their goal?
Or is there something else you can offer on top, like mentoring, human resources, group programs for corporations, etc?
Anything that makes your services more noticeable is a plus – and it’s true for any business and industry, not just career coaches.
5. Define your career coaching business model
All of the above should be a part of your business model. Along with lots more, including the answers to the following questions:
- How long is a coaching session?
- How many sessions go into an entire coaching program?
- Do you want to sell individual sessions or package them into something more comprehensive?
- And then, what does a package consist of?
- Will the sessions be online or offline (or both? Which is my case.)
- If it’s offline, do you need to rent a space for your coaching practice? And how much will it cost you? What else do you need in terms of costs?
- What languages will you offer them in (For example, I do English and Polish.)
- How much will you charge for a session?
- And how many sessions can you do daily/weekly?
I know, a lot of questions. But these (and more) are essential questions any business owner should ask themselves. And there are several career coaching business models you could follow.
For me, career coaching is one of the services that I offer (I also work with B2B clients for messaging strategy and copywriting). So I also had to define how I wanted to divide my time between the two areas and how much money I wanted to get from each one.
Practical tip: fill out a business model canvas for your career coaching services to get much clearer about what you want to offer and to whom.
6. Go find your coaching clients
A.k.a., create your marketing plan. How will you reach them? And what message you’ll use to do it?
I already have my own website (though my coaching services are not yet on there, because I just don’t have time to add them), so this is easier (at least in theory, lol.) And if you don’t have one, definitely look into creating one, preferably SEO-optimized, so people can easily find you (and you can get more clients.)
Here’s an example report from Ahrefs showing one coaching website’s top organic pages along with the keywords they rank for.
You can see that they get considerable traffic for terms like tech job boards, tech career coach, or reverse recruiter. You’d expect that some of these visits turn into sales.
Naturally, having a coaching website isn’t the only way to get coaching clients.
You should also tap into things like:
- Your professional network. If you – like me – have been on the job market for a while now you probably already have one. People you’ve worked with, your LinkedIn network, etc. Your potential paying clients are probably already there.
- Social media platforms (and not just LinkedIn, but even TikTok), Facebook groups, and other forums where people talk about professional growth and career development – and where you could also find new clients.
- Other marketing channels – coaches often use email marketing, Google ads, and social media ads, depending on where your potential clients looking for their dream careers hang out.
- You might also consider offering a free coaching session to a selected number of clients to demonstrate your coaching skills (and get some feedback and reviews to start with, plus some practical coaching experience.)
Here’s what my GrowthMentor profile looks like:
And here’s how I use TikTok to connect with my audience and promote my coaching services:
Read more: How to get coaching clients (11 expert tips)
7. Bonus step: Share your professional story.
Let me share mine first. (#storytime)
I decided to start a career coaching business roughly at 42. I’d already run my own business (successfully) as a B2B tech messaging strategist and copywriter – and I’d also had almost two decades of professional experience in different roles and settings: from a team member to manager to individual contributor to freelancer. And when I looked at my career that included being:
- an English teacher,
- social media manager
- project manager
- content marketer
- messaging strategist
I noticed that, though the roles seemed different, they all required me to use my core skillset that I was only learning to name and communicate. And career coaching just felt like a logical next step to use those skills. Especially as the industry was full of people like me – finding themselves in a tech-related job (mostly for their soft skills and non-tech expertise that tech needed) that started feeling confused about what to do next, or whether the career path they were on was actually the right career path.
Plus, besides companies that I worked with, I wanted to work with individual people and contribute something to their lives. (Call it a midlife crisis, I don’t care. :))
So, I had what it took, I wanted to do it, and – maybe most importantly – I saw a market need that I could cater to as a career coach. And with the previous success and experience in my career, I had the insights and tools to take deep dives with my clients into defining their career goals and finding ways to see them through.
(End of #storytime.)
If you have a success story of your own – and it doesn’t really have to be “success” in the standard meaning of the term – it’s the best credential you can have. (Well, apart from all the degrees you still have to get, don’t get me wrong.)
And that success doesn’t have to be six-figure months. It’s more about demonstrating how you’ve been able to discover what you’re good at and what ignites you professionally, find out what the market needs, and find yourself a fulfilling career that ticks all the boxes (and makes you money while you’re at it.)
Because if you’ve done it for yourself, you’re more likely to do it many times over for your clients as a career coach.
Read more: How to start an online coaching business
Ready to become a career coach?
Yes, it will take time and effort (and probably money.) But if you feel like becoming a career coach is your next thing to do, you probably already know it’s worth it. Hope the tips above help you get started. Fingers crossed!