Seeking Professional Advice

The cost of getting (and not getting) help in times of transition

By: Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC

When it comes to career transition and change, a professional career coach or counselor can offer valuable unbiased advice and perspective.  People need help in times of transition.  If you were laid off and your last company did not provide any outplacement assistance for you, consider hiring a professional.

It‘s your job to be an expert in what you do.  It’s a career expert’s job to know what it takes to get hired in today’s job market and to provide you with a detailed plan for doing so.  A good career adviser will also help you identify your key strengths and transferable skills and then devise an action plan to get you to where you want to go.  Sure you can do all of this yourself.  But having a professional to guide you can chop weeks and possibly months off of your search and often costs less than a couple weeks worth of paychecks.

For recent college graduates, a few sessions with an experienced career coach can be a great idea.  First, some offer a discount to those who are unemployed or recent graduates so the cost of getting help may be less than you think.  Most fees are in the range of $60-$150/hour before any sort of discount.  Secondly, a good career coach is actively making contacts, researching the job market, and devising techniques and strategies to get their clients hired.  Meet with someone who’s well versed on the X’s and O’s as to what it takes to gain employment in an unstable economy.  Recent graduates are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to landing a job because they often lack the work experience so many employers are looking for.  They may also be competing with tenured workers who have recently been laid off.  Ask a prospective career coach how they would assemble a strategy specific to your needs and increase your chances for gaining employment in your desired field.  Also ask them what kid of success they’ve had working with recent college graduates.

The average job search now takes between 5-6 months.  Most people need between $3000-$6000 per month just to meet their economic needs.  That means that for the average person, being unemployed can “cost” anywhere between $15,000-$36,000.  If a good career coach can chop one or two months off of your job search, the savings in lost income can be tremendous.

My very first experience with a career counseling professional was a few years back.  I had just quit my job and was looking for other career options.  I called the first career coach I found in the yellow pages and scheduled an appointment.  When I arrived, I found that the person worked out of their home in a screen porch.  We sat on a picnic bench and discussed what I liked and didn’t like about my last job while his dog walked around and sniffed me.  Then, after about an hour of discussion his final response was, “Just follow your heart.”  What a waste, I thought as I left.  This person offered no tips, no suggestions, no exercises and didn’t even call back to follow up with me.  The moral of this story is that it pays to do your research, call around, and find a career coach that is going to work hard on your behalf.

As in any profession, some career advisors are better than others.  I would recommend calling at least 3-5 from your area and asking them key questions that are of importance to you.  Ensure the career coach you choose is reputable and can describe to you a proven track record of success.  Check to see that they work in a professional environment where all conversations are confidential and private.  Also, see if you can get some client names or references to call and ask them about recent client success stories.    Make sure your success is their full-time job not some sort of part-time hobby.  Would you really trust your career’s future to someone who isn’t 100 percent committed to your success or lacks confidence in their ability to assist you?

Because the best advice is given from experience, ask a prospective coach where they have gained their expertise, how much time they have spent in corporate America and how long they have been away from it.  I’m always cautious of people who carry an alphabet soup of credentials behind their name when it comes to career coaching.  I’m not sure these people have spent enough time in the “real world at work” to skin their knees, fight the battles and gain valuable experience as to what works and what doesn’t.  It’s theory and academia vs. practicality and real-world advice.  Also, ask them what they are doing in addition to one-on-one career coaching.  Do they write, volunteer their services, conduct seminars, etc.?

Of course I’m going to be somewhat biased towards seeking professional help when it comes to making a career transition—I know for a fact that a good career advisement professional can make a real difference.  In most cases, the cost of getting help far outweighs the cost of being unemployed for large stretches of time not to mention the mental duress of having to endure an extended job search period.

Good luck!

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and President of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a training and consulting firm for businesses, professionals, executives.  He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at