Using a Career Coach

In this age of “bleeding edge” developments and paeans to productivity, more and more people are hiring coaches to help them with their careers or businesses. But what, exactly, does this new kind of coach do, exactly? (That was easy to figure out when we were in high school or college -it was someone who yelled at us to do more push-ups or “take a lap” when we got out of line.) And, if you choose to hire a coach, how do you know what to look for?

For answers to these questions, I contacted Mark Nida, who is a coach based just north of San Francisco. Mark said his job, as a coach, is to conduct one-on-one sessions with his clients in order to help them develop a fuller life. “It’s whatever is important to them. Whatever they want more of or less of, whether that is starting a business or changing careers. Many people also hire a coach to help them achieve some balance in their lives, between work and other priorities. I help them to tailor their thinking, to clarify exactly what they want and how they want their lives to be.” Often, he says, a client will have a “little voice” inside them that says, “You could be doing something differently here.” The client will hire Mark to help them fine tune the changes originating from that voice.

“People frequently want to change some aspect of their life but feel afraid. We call that the ‘gremlin voice’ – the voice that stops us, wants us to stay in the status quo”, Mark says. His job usually consists of weekly 30-to-60 minute sessions with a client on the phone. During that time, he helps to motivate his client, clarifies goals, helps a client around obstacles and holds the client accountable for making changes. “Basically, a coach helps keep you moving and gives you an outside voice that can make observations you may not make yourself.”

Mark is quick to point out, however, that coaching is not psychotherapy. “The main difference is that a coach sees his client as a whole, natural person. The coach believes his client has the answers, and helps the client to see them. Coaching is also somewhat more task-oriented, in that concrete goals are set. However, those goals are always compared to the client’s core values. This allows the client to evaluate: ‘Am I straying? Am I on track?’ “

So, how do you go about deciding if a coach is for you?

� Most coaches will provide you with a free session to help you determine whether you want to hire them.
� Coaches also tend to specialize, Mark says, with some focusing on career and business issues, others in health care, etc. Ask your prospective coach if they have a specialty.
� Like psychotherapy, the coach-client relationship is considered confidential, and the coach should be willing to confirm that for you.
� Coaches are usually not required to be certified, but many coaches choose to be certified to enhance their professional standing. Ask your prospective coach if he or she is certified, and the name and location of the school which certified them. (Note that coaches working on their certification may have slightly cheaper rates, as many programs require the prospective certificant to have experience with a certain number of clients.)
� Although mandatory licensing does not yet exist, coaches can receive credentials voluntarily through the International Coaching Federation ( This group is seeking to enhance the professional standing of the coaching profession.
âÂ?¢ Keep in mind that choosing a coach is a very subjective process. “There are people who I wouldn’t be a good fit for, and other people are better suited to me than someone else,” Mark says. “Personality plays very heavily in choosing a coach, although one of the first things I do with a client in the initial session is try to find out how they want to be coached. I try to change my coaching style to fit my client.”

As for paying for the sessions, check with your employer or health insurance company. “Not too many insurance plans cover coaching right now, but a fair number of employers will either pay for coaching outright or sponsor it as part of their wellness program.”

In speaking with Mark, I found out he is a success story of coaching himself. Having worked in the printing business for over 20 years, he met a woman who was a coach. “Within five to ten minutes of that conversation, she had me rewriting my rÃ?©sumÃ?©. I realized I would rather be doing coaching than working in the printing business.” He says the coaching also gave him the ability to enhance his career as an artist. “Before the coaching, I just really played with my art. It wasn’t something I took too seriously.” His art now hangs in at least one gallery near his home.

To contact Mark Nida, the coach contacted for this story, you can e-mail him at

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