How to Choose the Right Career

One of the best things I’ve ever done for my professional life was work with a career coach. I was feeling stuck, confused, and unsure of my next steps, and conversations with friends and family hadn’t been productive. After a self-assessment about my career path and goals and a one-hour session with my coach, I walked away with more clarity and confidence than I had had in years—not to mention an action plan for the next three months. It was so helpful that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner.

Of course, there were a couple of reasons I hadn’t. One was the money. And yes, that initial investment was tough to swallow, but the result was worth every penny. (Plus, as a friend put it, if paying for a coach led to a higher-paying job or a raise at my current one—which it did—it was money well spent.)

The bigger factor, though, is that I had no idea who to work with. A search on Google (and my professional contact list) produced hundreds of results, but which of these people was I going to feel comfortable spilling all of my professional secrets to?

Here at The Muse, we recently launched a platform called Coach Connect, which lets you book one-on-one sessions with career coaches—and I can imagine anyone who’s considering doing this is feeling the same way I did. While you don’t have to worry about choosing someone who’s high-quality (we’ve done that vetting for you), I know just how overwhelming it can be to decide which of those people is the right one for your career.

To help point you in the right direction, start by asking yourself these three questions:

What Type of Person Do You Work Best With?

Think about the teachers, bosses, mentors, therapists, and other “coach” like figures you’ve worked with in the past. Who encouraged you, inspired you, and helped you get to the next level? What were the qualities they all had in common?

Create a short list, then look for coaches who display those traits. How? Reviews from other clients are a great place to start (and yes, I know this is Before-You-Buy-Anything 101). Some coaches, for example, may be described as “kind,” “encouraging,” and “positive;” others as tough-love motivators who will kick your butt into gear. Both sets of qualities can be great—but which do you most relate to?

What I also found helpful was reading the work of a few different coaches. Most have a blog, a newsletter, or other content they’ve created, which can help you get a sense of their style, their approach, their background, their success stories, and more. As you’re browsing, are your eyes glazing over? Or do you find yourself nodding along, saying, “Yes! This person is literally inside my head!” When I realized I had spent nearly an hour lost in the archives of one coach’s old blog posts, I knew I had found someone I really connected with.

Who Can Help You With Your Specific Situation?

Here’s the good news: Most career coaches have worked with people in a variety of industries and know how to advise people with very specialized skill sets. So, while moving from real estate to software sales or translating your marketing experience into a new sector might seem like an intimidating transition, remember that most coaches who’ve been around for a while have seen a lot and have the knowledge and experience to guide you, too.

That said, it can often make sense to work with someone who specializes in your sector (engineering, sales, marketing, startups) or situation (you’re a new grad, you’re making a drastic career change, you’re returning to the workforce after a hiatus). My coach worked only with women and had lots of experience in the media world. So, check out a few coaches’ sites or online profiles and, again, their reviewers. If the coach has helped people like you, great! A number of good reviews from people across fields and sectors is also a good sign.

How Much Do You Want to Spend?

This is a tough (and very personal) question, but here’s what you should know: Fees range quite a bit, depending on how long a coach has been around, the certifications he or she has, how many clients he or she is taking on, and more. (At The Muse, we’ve put them in three categories: Our Mentors are all smart, vetted career experts who may be just starting their coaching work or doing this in addition to a full-time job; our Coaches are trained professionals; and our Master Coaches are top-rated coaches who’ve helped hundreds of people over the years.)

In general, if working with someone who is very specialized or who has a great deal of experience is important to you, it’s likely worth it to pay for a coach who meets your needs, even if he or she is on the spendier end. Or, if you’re just looking to get some advice and direction from a career expert, or you’re not totally sure about the whole coaching thing, working with someone at a lower price point could be a good way to dip your toes in the water. Either way, make sure you’ve done your research, you’ve read reviews or talked to past clients, and you’re making an informed decision.

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