What is Coaching? A Quick Guide to Getting Started
The thread that connects top-performers
“Everybody needs a coach,” stressed Bill Gates in the opening of his TED Talk. He points out that the one characteristic that high achievers share in common, from executives to athletes, is that they all had a coach.
Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) has an acting coach, Oprah has a life coach, and even Steve Jobs had a business coach to bounce off ideas and get feedback.
But coaching isn’t only reserved for executives, actors or all-star athletes. Anybody can benefit from having a coach.
Let’s dive deeper into what coaching is (with a focus on career coaching), how it can benefit you, and clarify some common misconceptions.
The simplest definition of coaching
Coaching is a practice that helps people increase their self-awareness, generate insights and level up thinking that can lead to a lasting mindset and behavior shifts. Coaches help people get unstuck and to take action.
Coaches may use a combination of questions, tools, frameworks and content to personalize the learning experience for each person. Ultimately their mission is to help you achieve your goals, whatever those may be.
My favorite definition is:
“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.”
What can coaching help with?
There are various types of coaching and often coaches have a couple of specialities. The most common are helping people with the following:
> Finding a new job
> Switching to a different career
> Improving your communication skills
> Leveling up at work
> Moving to a new country
> Growing your business
> Dealing with a stressful time
> Managing burnout
> Becoming a better leader
> Improve your overall well being
The most popular coaching topics are self-management and people-management. How do you better manage your stress? What can you do to become a more effective leader? How do you know when to quit and when to persevere? A coach cannot solve your problems for you but they can help lead you to your own solutions. Register here to view all of our coaches and coaching categories.
Finding a good coach
People are often skeptical about coaching because there’s a lot of fluff out there. Anybody can throw up a website and say they’re a “coach.” There are three ways for you to assess whether a coach is qualified and a good fit for you:
- Track record. Check for their referrals and testimonials. See if they have successfully coached people with a similar background to yours and can cite specific outcomes (they got a job, improved their performance rating, sold their business, etc).
- Certifications and industry background. A certification (popular ones include ICF, CTI and EMC) ensures they have a certain number of coaching hours under their belts. Industry & domain background is important if they are a business coach in particular; for example, an interview coach helping you prepare for your interview at Amazon should have experience working there or helping people get hired there!
- Chemistry. Most coaches offer a free 15 minute call with them to see if you’re a good fit for each other. During this call, you should ask them specific questions (here’s a few) and have them walk you through a demonstration of what coaching with them would look like. Usually, this is going to be very powerful and eye-opening for you. But if it doesn’t feel right, then move on.
Coaching vs. therapy
Let’s say you’re going to climb a very tall mountain and you have the choice to bring along a doctor or a local sherpa (guide). If you’re injured or physically ill, the guide isn’t going to be of any use to you. You need to see a doctor first before you’re ready to tackle the climb. But if you’re generally pretty healthy, you’d choose the sherpa to help carry your supplies, give you the best climbing strategy and guide you towards the right path.
Similarly, if you’re looking for treatment for past traumas, grief or addiction, you’d best see a therapist. Coaches are not psychologists and they shouldn’t be a replacement for therapy. But if you’re already in pretty good shape (mentally speaking) and need a push to create an action plan, a coach is the right choice. A coach is more like a guide, and plays on your strengths to focus on current challenges in front of you.
What about coaching vs. mentoring?
A mentor is usually somebody that you want to become or be like. They are a master in a particular area, and you want to emulate them by following in their footsteps. You take on the role of student/apprentice and they’re the teacher. A mentor can be very useful for general inspiration (I could be like that one day!) but they may be too busy to give you the hands-on practical guidance to get there.
A coach doesn’t necessarily have the career path that you want to follow. They may have similar experiences and knowledge of your industry, but it’s not a requirement. Rather, they’re going to be there more frequently to get you from A to B.
“Whereas mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty,” says Google chairman Eric Schmidt. He continues:
“They don’t just believe in our potential; they get in the arena to help us realize our potential. They hold up a mirror so we can see our blind spots and they hold us accountable for working through our sore spots. They take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments.”
Training vs. Coaching
Training is usually a one-time event. Unfortunately, training outcomes are not always effective. Studies have shown that after one hour, people retain less than half of the information presented! After one day, people forget more than 70 percent of what was taught in training. Just think about the time you were in a classroom setting and literally the next day forgot what the teacher told you.
Coaching, when done frequently, is an ongoing process of development that facilitates critical thinking and decision-making. Frequent coaching is more likely to lead to lasting behavioral change and results than a one-off training.
Coaching vs. the Socratic method
Coaching is similar to the Socratic method because it relies on asking powerful questions. The coach doesn’t have all of the answers, but they can guide you to realize your own answers. The big difference, though, is that coaching is not an interrogation. Socrates tended to be sarcastic and snarky in his comments. Coaches are empathetic and caring.
Two things a great coach does
Over the years, I’ve sought out feedback from coaches. Some knew how to build teams and start companies, and others taught me about managing my emotions. All of them gave me the valuable tough love that I needed at different times in my life.
I have two criteria for finding a coach. They have to be great at:
- Giving me honest feedback and
- Asking great questions
If they’re really good at both of these, they should make you feel a bit uncomfortable.
Their sharp feedback cuts to the bone of the problem, and their questions make you confront truths you’d rather not.
As Tim Ferris once said:
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
How do I know if I need a career coach?
Here are eight questions you can use to gauge whether or not coaching could be useful.
- Do you consistently tell yourself that you’re not good enough to accomplish your goals?
- Do you have a vision but no clear path?
- Do you have specific goals but find yourself procrastinating (or you fail to follow through)?
- Do you have a fierce desire to grow and learn but feel like your situation is limiting you?
- Do you feel overwhelmed at work?
- Have you experienced any burnout in the past few months?
- Do you feel like you could be a more effective leader but aren’t getting the support you need?
- Is your confidence at a low and you feel like it could use a boost?
- Do you have an interview coming up but need extra help to prepare?
- Are you looking for a job or career change and want some guidance?
Did you answer YES to one or more of these questions? It’s likely that a conversation with a coach could be useful in addressing some of these obstacles.
What kind of coaching do I need?
At Carrus we categorize career coaches into several categories. Our top three categories are:
Career coaching – Finding happiness in your work is an emotional process that involves overcoming challenging feelings like rejection and self-doubt in healthy ways rather than allowing them to sabotage your progress. The right coach can empower you to take action, overcome setbacks, and maintain your focus. A career coach can also help you identify the right role to apply for, revamp your resume/CV and guide you through the overall application process to find your next role.
Interview coaching – During interview coaching, you’ll meet with a professional coach to learn various strategies and receive feedback on how you’re handling practice interviews. You’ll spend anywhere from 90 minutes to several hours practicing mock interviews with your coach who will help uncover blindspots and improve your communication skills. You’ll prepare for—and feel more confident about—upcoming interviews. They can also help you craft answers to tricky questions and situations. Did you get fired from your last job? Are you switching fields or industries? An interview coach can teach you how to address these topics during interviews.
Offer negotiation – Are you heading in to a salary negotiation? It’s important to do your homework on the company you’re interested in — but it’s equally important to do your homework on how much you’re worth in the market. You’ve got one shot to get it right. Our coaches have helped thousands of people negotiate more favorable offers and can help you along the process to make sure you get the best deal.
Do I need more than one coach?
I’ve found that coaches are like potato chips – you want more than just one, depending on what you’re focused on. On average, executives have two coaches. Some have three. I’ve had half a dozen in my life so far. When hiring an interview coach on Carrus, you can get matched based on their previous company (Amazon, Facebook, Google etc). It’s common for someone to have an interview coach for each role you apply for.
How much does it cost and how often should I get coaching?
Traditionally coaching fees range anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per hour depending on the level and expertise of the coach. The frequency all depends on your situation and type of coaching you need. Typically people speak with their coach for 1-2 hours, a couple of times a month.
For example, if you’re looking for a totally new career, it may take 3-4 months to plan and execute your job change with your coach (relatively short). Other times, you may really want someone to help coach you on leadership or growing business, and you’d schedule a 2 hour call once a month for several months. An interview coach typically spends 4-5 hours preparing you for an upcoming interview through practicing mock interviews.
We want to make coaching easily accessible and have standard pricing for access to all of our coaches. You get matched with one coach based on your specific need, but you’re free to speak with other coaches at any time.
How do I choose the right career coach?
At Carrus.io we match people to the best coach for their needs. We have over 75+ coaches who have helped thousands of people reach their goals from all walks of life — including full-time employees, freelancers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and general managers of Fortune 500 companies.
To match you with the best coach, we’ll need to know a little bit about your background and current challenges. Take a minute to fill out the form below, and then you’ll be matched to have a free 15 minute chat with up to 3 coaches.