Why Your Career Coach Won’t Help You Change Careers

Career change often begins with a phone call to a career coach or career counselor. Many clients find the investment more than pays for itself. But others get frustrated. Recently a reader complained, "My coach would not help me. She told me I do not need a career change. I should just stay in my job.

Frankly, I was baffled. What would motivate the coach to make this claim?

First, I wondered if this coach was assigned through an outplacement service. When your company pays for outplacement, or when you're working with a state employment service, someone else is writing the check. You play by their rules. After all, when an insurance company pays for a service, they can (and often do) decide who you are allowed to see.

Often outplacement services are paid a fixed fee so they are motivated to move everyone out as fast as possible. They play the odds. Sure, some people will get a job faster by switching fields, especially today. But even now you may get a job faster by staying in your own field.

Second, I wondered if my reader received this advice on a complimentary "get-acquainted" call with a new coach. It is important to understand that the purpose of a free call is not to solve a complex career problem, although you may get some new ideas. Most coaches and consultants use the free call to see if you're a good fit for each other. If a coach says, "I don't think I can help you; I wouldn't know where to start," he is being honest. Ideally, he would recommend a resource but he may not know the best resource for what he believes you need.

Third, career change takes lots of motivation, time, energy and often money. When one of these components is missing, it is appropriate for a coach to say, "I don't agree with what you are asking me to do. You want a new career; I think you need to focus on your current career."

Fourth, you may tell the coach you can afford only the minimum amount of coaching. The coach may say, "To help you, I would need at least three months of weekly calls. With your current investment, I can help you develop your current position." That's being honest. You may be able to find another coach who agrees to help for a lower investment. Usually you get what you pay for, but sometimes you find a lower-cost hidden treasure.

Finally, the coach may sense that you are thinking of a career change for the wrong reasons. To take a strong example, suppose a client says, "My friends are all getting promoted faster than I am. They've been encouraging me to change careers." An ethical coach would realize that's not a good reason to change careers.

More commonly, your career coach may sense a subtext to your story. For instance, Coach "Benita" realized her client "Lucy" was miserable because she needed to develop certain skills and get a credential. Lucy was a gifted professional but she was losing out on assignment because she didn't have the right piece of paper. She also needed some coaching in higher-level office politics because she was playing in a different league.

Sure, Benita could have taken Lucy's money and helped with a career change. But would that be the right thing to do? I don't think so.