Should You Seek Professional Advice?

Enlisting the help of a career coach or career counselor

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.  Career coaching is not (and should never be) psychotherapy.  However, people do 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.

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

For career changers, the unemployed, recent college graduates, and even the “employed but disgruntled,” a few sessions with an experienced career coach can be a great idea.  First, the cost of getting help may be less than you think.  Most fees are in the range of $60-$150/hour.  Secondly, a good career coach is actively making contacts, researching the job market, and devising techniques and strategies to get their clients hired.  So meet with someone who’s well versed on the X’s and O’s as to what it takes to gain employment in a tough economy and highly competitive job market. 

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.  Determine if the career coach will be a good fit for you per your needs and personality.  Ask a prospective career coach how he or she would assemble a strategy specific to your needs and increase your chances for gaining employment in your desired field.  Also, see if you can get some client names or references to call and ask the career coach about recent client success stories.  The career advisor should have a web site with information regarding their practice and offer a professional and confidential setting for meetings.  Make sure your success is their full-time job! 

My very first experience with a career coach was far from ideal.  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 homein 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 the final response was, “Just follow your heart.”  “What a waste,” I thought as I left.  This person offered no tips, no strategies, 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.  It’s buyer beware.     

Ensure the career coach you choose is reputable and can describe to you a proven track record of success.  I feel the best advice is always given from experience, so 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 also cautious of people who carry an alphabet soup of credentials behind their name when it comes to career coaching.  Certainly a degree in psychology or a related social science field may be helpful, but if you’re looking for strategies and techniques for getting hired in today’s economy, 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 can be a matter of taste: 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, or conduct seminars? 

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.

Career assessment is a vital first step in any job or career change situation.  Always do homework on yourself first before considering any career move.  From a larger perspective, you should also continually reassess your career even if you’re not planning on making an immediate career change.  Evaluating where you are in relation to achieving your goals, both personal and professional, is imperative to your overall success.  When assessing your career direction, take your time and complete all the necessary steps.  To skip or blow through this phase means that your chances for landing up in the wrong job—again—will be greatly increased.  Take the time to really get to “know yourself.”

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a career training and management firm for businesses, professionals and 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
Just Published!  Get Hired!  10 Simple Steps for Winning the Job You Desire—in Any Economy by Donald J. Strankowski
Available at the Boulder Bookstore, Tattered Cover, and online at