A career coach is similar to a sports coach — they help you improve, turning abilities into strengths and developing skills that enable you to grow. A coach can help you avoid costly job-search mistakes and help expedite the process. Consulting with a career coach can be extremely valuable if they’re selected correctly — and a waste of time and money if not. 

Here are five tips to help you decide if a career coach is right for you, and if so, how to choose the best one. 

1. Clarify Your Big-Picture Goals 

Managing your career strategically begins with a plan for the short and long terms. The first step in the process of deciding whether or not you’re going to work with a coach is determining exactly what your priorities are. Where do you want your career to go, and do you need help achieving those goals? 

A career coach with extensive experience will help you set and achieve your goals, targeting opportunities that are aligned with them, and helping you strengthen your resilience and maintain motivation despite your ups and downs. You will learn how to work through and overcome potential barriers while staying focused on your objectives, and you’ll learn to identify and surmount self-sabotaging behaviors. 

2. Identify What You Want on the Micro Level 

Now that you have determined your priorities and your career path, you will want to finalize the small details and strategies that lead to your final success. 

A career coach works with you to identify the changes you are seeking in your professional life, and then helps you devise a strategy for realizing them. You will get the most rewards if you can articulate to them exactly what it is that you want help with. 

3. Know What a Coach Can’t Do 

Many people believe that a career coach will land them a new job, but they do not place people in jobs—this is what recruiters and headhunters do. A career coach can’t tell you where you should work. They aren’t necessarily going to leverage their own network to help you find work, and they can’t get you a job.  

What a coach can do is help you define actionable steps that will get you where you want to go, and then help you chart that course. Think of a coach as an accountability partner— you need to answer to someone in order to stay on course and achieve your stated goals. A good career coach will sustain the focus you have around your career strategy, even beyond the job search. 

4. Find Your Fit 

Selecting the right career coach means finding someone who will challenge you in a beneficial and productive way. Selecting the wrong one can be disastrous. Coaches who are properly trained and adhere to a professional code of ethics understand that you need to assess your options in order to find the appropriate coach. Not every coach is right for you and your needs and an experienced, ethical coach knows this. They could even give referrals to coaches who better fit your needs. 

5. Keep Things Ethical 

Your career coach is your personal sounding board. Coaching should be a safe environment in which you share your thoughts and feelings and fine-tune your communication style to achieve your desired outcomes. Ensure that your coach is ethical. If you have questions about this, one good place to start is the International Coach Federation’s website, which spells out its code of ethics. 

As with any engagement, you need to understand your goals and the value the service provider is adding. If you are frustrated or confused, ask for clarification. A good coach-client relationship is interactive and responsive, and a coach will be collaborative, engaged, and adaptive. 

Don’t make your coach a crutch. Track your progress and be aware when you’ve reached your goals. Then evaluate whether or not you want or need to continue working with the coach. It’s up to you to decide what you need and want out of a coaching session. One of the reasons it’s so important to have clearly defined goals going into a coaching relationship is because they will help you determine when the relationship has run its course. Coaches are a valuable resource – use them wisely!