Career management is a process that all workers engage in, consciously or unconsciously. Career coaches bring the advantage of insight, information, and planned action to the pursuit of goals.
Hazen and Steckler, 2010, p. 312
Career coaching has become a popular industry for academics and educated workers who are encouraged to become sellable (Fogde, 2011). These individuals are tasked with creating unique resumes or curriculum vitae, having positive attitudes, responding correctly to different interview questions, and dressing appropriately for interviews. This is where the career coach comes in.
A career coach works with individuals or groups to determine the right job for them by helping them identify their skills and interests. The coach will develop a plan to help their clients find the right career path. These helping professionals can also help their clients achieve their desired level of success within their current roles.
Although career coaching has been practiced predominantly in a one-on-one model, this type of coaching can also be conducted in a group setting (Meldrum, 2021). Coaches provide counseling, coaching, and advice, as well as access to resources such as job boards, networking groups, and online courses.
On your path to becoming a career coach, you will notice that this professional field is often unregulated. While you could get a college degree and earn a certification, it is not critical to enter the field. Earning a degree or certification will allow you to stand out among your peers, demonstrate professionalism among your clients, and highlight your unique skill set.
Some certifications also allow networking opportunities, job board posting privileges, and a professionally accredited seal to display on your website or business card.
Besides education, soft skills such as communication, interpersonal, listening, speaking, writing, organization, technology, and coaching skills will also be beneficial.
Experience within the field is also a plus. Try to choose a program that includes fieldwork. If your chosen program does not include this element, there are alternatives to getting hands-on experience that we will discuss.
Once you become a career coach, it would be wise to remain current on the newest strategies and coaching techniques through continuous education. Continuous education is professional development and is also referred to as continuing education, continuing education credits, and continuing coach education units. Different entities use various terms; therefore, we will be referring to the chosen term called for by each program.
Qualifications of Career Coaches
Although you don’t have to be licensed to practice as a career coach, it is advised that you participate in a coaching program.
According to Lyons (2022), the Harvard Business Review strongly recommends certification from the International Coaching Federation, which requires that the coach uphold a coaching code of ethics and engage in continuing education to recertify every three years.
While it is not necessary to get a college degree to become a career coach, you may pursue an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in psychology, business, counseling, or a related discipline. A degree will provide you with an advantage over other coaches and higher earning potential.
Furthermore, there are both hard and soft skills critical to entering and remaining in the field of career coaching. You should be self-aware, identify if you have these skills, and include them on your resume if so.
17 More Work & Career Coaching Exercises
These 17 Work & Career Coaching Exercises [PDF] contain everything you need to help others find more meaning and satisfaction in their work.
In the United States and many other countries, a specific career coach certification is not required. However, certification is evidence of professionalism and expertise that can provide a competitive advantage when marketing your services and lead to higher earnings.
The program allows you to coach right away and provides over 21 hours of step-by-step video training and 312+ downloadable and ready-to-use resources. It revolves around the effective Knowdell Career Transition Process, which aims to aid individuals transitioning careers.
If you enroll in the course for at least 35 days, you will also gain access to the level 2 coaching program at no extra cost. This part of the program involves a hands-on coaching practicum that requires you to use what you have learned in actual fieldwork.
As a bonus, completing this level 2 certification also entitles you to a listing in the coaching directory for the Holistic Coach Academy.
Although this program is not accredited, it would be a great supplement to another degree or certification and an excellent method to foster experience within the field.
International Association of Professions Career College
The IAP Career College offers a Career Coach Certificate course online that can be completed in four to 12 weeks, depending on your schedule.
For this certification, you will learn about career coaching, how to deliver coaching services, how to start your own business, and how to get your clients.
This program may also be great to supplement another coaching program, as it does not require any type of practicum and is not accredited by an agency.
This certification can be awarded if documented experience can be provided and specific criteria are met. These criteria include 600 hours of clinical experience, 60 hours of approved continuing education, or the completion of specific courses. For the variety of options to qualify for this certification, be sure to visit their website.
This certification is not intended for beginning career coaches, but it would be a great addition once you have begun your practice.
In this program, you are required to complete 120 curriculum hours, take part in supervised career development hours, and abide by the GCDF code of ethics. You are, however, not required to complete an exam.
Several US states professionally recognize this program, as well as 23 other countries.
This course is two weeks and requires 90 minutes per week of remote classes and two hours of self-study.
In this globally recognized coach training program, you will determine if career coaching is your true calling. You will also learn how to stay in the career coaching field, what it takes to build a successful career coaching practice, how to coach clients, and how to market your practice.
Both programs include an overview of the changing nature of careers and job search techniques. The Job and Career Transition Coach program has three-day in-person or virtual options.
Both programs are offered in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia and include instructors from all over the globe.
These two options contain courses that are approved for continuing education hours for professions that require continuing professional development opportunities and continuing education hours mandated by the ICF.
Goal setting is an important element for career coaches and individuals seeking a career. In your practice, you will most likely require your clients to establish manageable goals. Our SMART Goals Worksheet will surely come in handy when creating appropriate, career-oriented goals for obtaining and progressing within a career.
As we mentioned, active listening will be a critical skill to have as a career coach. Our Active Listening Reflection Worksheet will come in handy whether you are trying to refine your own active listening or encourage one of your clients to enhance this soft skill. Likewise, our Effective Communication Reflection worksheet will help you strengthen your verbal and nonverbal communication skills to be a more successful career coach.
Our Past, Current, and Future Strengths worksheet can help clients determine their strengths, which is needed to apply to a future career. Our Goals and Strengths worksheet can also help when creating goals for a job search. Understanding your clients’ strengths will help you steer them in the right direction for a fulfilling career.
Career counselors, similar to career coaches, strive to help clients plan their careers. Unlike career coaches, career counselors require licensure and are employed by school systems, college career offices, private counseling firms, community agencies, and state departments of labor.
If you are considering career counseling as an alternative to career coaching, check out:
To determine if coaching would be a wise career move for you, consider completing the Is Coaching Right for Me? worksheet. This worksheet is a great tool to evaluate whether coaching would be an appropriate career choice for you.
A Take-Home Message
Deciding to become a career coach is an exciting commitment. It’s important to choose the right certification and training programs to be confident in your ability to help others reach their professional goals.
When deciding on a program that meets your needs, ask yourself:
Is this program accredited?
Does this program include all aspects of career coach training?
Is it delivered by passionate professionals highly experienced in the field?
Does it require practical fieldwork to put your knowledge into action?
Is there an assessment process required for the certification?
What types of support or networking opportunities are offered during and after the program?
Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how to become a successful career coach, we wish you the best of luck in entering this impactful helping field.
A career coach should have a mix of hard and soft skills. Hard skills include career development, professional development, and career services. Soft skills include communication, interpersonal, listening, speaking, and writing skills.
Effective organization and a familiarity with technology will also be beneficial. Coaching is also a unique skill set that requires empathy, goal setting, active listening, and motivation.
How do I get coaching experience?
Some career coaching certification programs include a coaching practicum. However, you may consider asking to observe an experienced coach or try a career coaching session out for yourself.
What does a career coach do?
A career coach helps people determine in which career their skills will be most valuable and prepare the individual for that career.
How long is a career coach certification?
Many career coaching certification programs allow you to go at your own pace. Some career coach certifications could take you as little as 12 hours to complete or as long as six months, depending on the type of program and the intensity you desire.
Fogde, M. (2011). Governing through career coaching: Negotiations of self-marketing. Organization, 18(1), 65–82.
Hazen, B., & Steckler, N. A. (2010). Career coaching. In E. Cox, T. Bachkirova, & D. Clutterbuck (Eds.), The complete handbook of coaching (pp. 311–323). SAGE.
Lyons, M. (2022, February 9). Do you need a career coach? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved June 24, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2022/02/do-you-need-a-career-coach.
Meldrum, S. (2021). Group career coaching: A critical pedagogical approach. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 46(2), 214–225.
About the author
Tiffany Sauber Millacci, Ph.D., is an educator for both university students and elementary-aged students. She is a continuous learner who seeks facts through research and enjoys sharing her learning through her writing.