Career Coaches and Coaching ~ A Closer Examination

  By Dr. Frank Burtnett  |    Friday August 31, 2019

Category: Columns, Expert Advice

When the term “coach” pops up in your day-to-day affairs, it is mostly used to identify those people who are responsible for guiding your favorite athletic teams. Bill Belichik, for example, is a future NFL Hall of Fame coach who has steered the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl victories in eight appearances, both records for professional football coaches. 

The late Pat Summit enjoyed incredible success with the University of Tennessee women’s basketball program as her eight NCAA championships and 1,098 game victories represented the most ever at the time of her retirement in 2012. That’s what coaches are supposed to do---guide people toward victories and success.


Unfortunately, the term “coach” is one that is not regulated by state licensure laws and the work world is currently experiencing the emergence of a glut of coaches, each claiming to be skilled and competent in some sort of people need like career mobility, job finding and other people transitions. While there are licensure and certification rules that can tell you if you are dealing with a certified public accountant  (CPA), registered nurse (RN), certified financial planner (CFP) or a licensed professional counselor (LPC), the work of “coaches” goes on in most places with zero to limited regulations and an unsuspecting public has to contend with the consequences.

An individual’s career, education and life are just as important as their health (physical and mental) and wealth, and citizens should hold individuals giving themselves titles like “career coach,” “career consultant” or “lifestyle coach” to a set of standards. To do so, the following six questions may be applicable:


· Does the “coach” hold membership in an organization that sets professional and ethical standards for the practice in which they are engaged?

· Has the “coach” learned her or his craft at a formal educational institution or program, one that is accredited by the appropriate educational monitoring body? Life experience can be a great teacher, but few would risk turning their taxes over to the improperly trained or untested accountant.

· Of even greater concern is whether the “coach” has engaged in any form of formal education at all. Your author once saw an ad for a “college advisement coach” whose only experience was that she had managed the raising of four children and claim she oversaw their successful admission to college. Parenting, while a valuable learning experience, is not the end-all, cure-all of knowledge and competence attainment. 

· What does the “coach” present in the way of a track record to support their claims of success? Too many individuals wander in and out of these so-called helping roles and show little in the way of experience to claim competence or capability.

· Does the “coach” make outrageous or extreme assertions about their past performance? This is certainly a circumstance where the adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t” applies.

· Does the coach offer services at a reasonable rate and extend a consumer “bill of rights” or service disclosure statement that outlines exactly what services will be provided and exactly what those services will cost?


Until the consumer has asked these questions of and is satisfied with their investigation of any “coach” they are considering, they should be wary of becoming engaged with any individual who will be addressing their career, educational or lifestyle concerns on a fee-charging basis. Remember, there are many professional and credentialed counselors working in educational, community organization and private practice settings that one can turn to for personal attention, often at no-cost or for reasonable fees. There are also credentialed search and staffing professionals and recruiters who can help with employment mobility and job acquisition transitions.


Bill Belichik and Pat Summit represent those rare coaches who rose to the very top of their profession. Finding people of their stature is difficult, if not impossible. Career development facilitators, however, need not be superstars to be valuable. There are many qualified and competent “coaches” out there. Until coaching is regulated better than it is today, don’t settle for anything short of the most experienced and highly competent---those holding credentials and working in accordance with an established set of professional and ethical standards.

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