How to find a career coach who will actually help me narrow my search?
April 30, 2014 8:31 PM   Subscribe

I had an exhausting conversation with a "career coach" today. It left me wondering - are there any career coaches that are actually concretely helpful in a given industry? Snowflake details below the fold.

Long story short, and to keep negative editorializing to a minimum, I felt after talking for a long while that his core expertise was resume doctoring, followed by an interest in "teaching me to network" and "find mentors in my field" to help me assess my competitiveness (or what skills I might need to improve) for the job(s) I'm interested in. He emphasized that many/most/the best jobs are never even posted and get filled by referral candidates brought in by people they know (totally agree with him there; I don't think that's in dispute. The problem is -how do you find out about these positions, figure out if you're what they're looking for, and get in line?)

In the course of asking him to better describe, verbally, what he did and didn't do, it became obvious that what WASN'T on the menu was any active networking on my behalf (i.e. He is not a recruiter, nor someone who could introduce me to potential "mentors," whatever that might mean), nor was he able or willing to perform any detailed assessment of how competitive my capabilities and experience are for my desired career field.

It would be easy enough to write this guy off (for reasons I don't want to bog down in, I wasn't impressed with him), but the last "career coach" I spoke with offered to charge $5,000 and the pitch sounded similar. I just don't have that kind of money to polish skills I already have after several years in sales: writing and networking. I'm sure I'm not perfect, but my biggest problem with my resume is I don't know the best job to apply for with my skillset, so my resume is too broad.

So here's my question, finally:

Is there any way to hire an expert to tell me what jobs should I be looking for, based on looking at my resume, and/or how competitive I would be for fields I want to pursue? Anyone who can help me understand what the pay scales are, how tight that particular job market is? What companies are really hiring in the area I want to be in? If I knew that I could network those companies, career fields, etc., and write a resume that was honed for those areas.

I've tried talking to recruiters, people in industries I'm interested in, etc., and for various reasons I feel people don't have incentive to really spend the time it would take to help me. And that's understandable - it's like the difference between a friend and a therapist. Problem is, in talking to two would-be "career coaches," I've become convinced that what they're selling is not what I want to buy. Now what?
posted by randomkeystrike to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In your question, sometimes "industry" and "field" are singular, and sometimes they are plural. I think it might help to pick one career field at a time. One industry at a time.

You could join the relevant professional association, go to its meetings, volunteer to help with something unglamorous, and do the networking you know how to do from your time in sales.

But if you come across like you're not totally committed to that particular field, people in the field probably aren't going to want to invest much time in showing you the ropes.

it's like the difference between a friend and a therapist

I see what you're saying here, but I think in this situation, I'd focus on finding more of a friend and less of a therapist. I mean, if I had serious, long-term difficulty making friends, I'd see a therapist. And then after I improved my friend-making skills, I'd just make friends. If you already have networking skills, then spending more time building and engaging with your network will probably pay off quicker than any career coach.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:31 PM on April 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A few years ago now, I paid for the services of three people who offered about what you got. I don't think there's any recruiter or career counsellor who can speak to lateral moves across industries with the kind of specificity you're after. That takes in-depth knowledge of a given sector, which takes time and specialization. Once you have or have decided on an area, obviously there are specialist recruitment agencies (that might be able to offer feedback) for e.g. IT, creative/marketing fields, etc. 'Generalist' recruiters tend to deal with general (if professional) office admin like HR, project management, etc.

On your own, you could try to identify easy translations from your existing skills by carefully reviewing your work history in terms of general job functions and particular skills. Maybe, use a few questions here on AskMe and see what people say, as others have done. There are also countless books on this; The Pathfinder and What Colour is Your Parachute (sorry, it can be helpful!) are classics. The Pathfinder has a great chapter on making decisions, which I think is the crucial thing that people most want help with, and that few can support well. Payscales and competitiveness are things you can partly research online (e.g., labour statistics). Once you've got a shortlist of jobs, talk to people; do those informational interviews. They really for real help.

Once you've done that, I think, go to those specialist recruitment agencies and see where they might put you. And, I think, ask here. Because the really hard thing is to get a sense of your value in the market, with your past experience (plus the speculative value of changes you make, like volunteering or taking training courses). If you're making a career change, it's impossible to know for sure except by trial and error, and if you pitch yourself too high or low to start with, you'll do yourself a disservice. Friends will find it hard to be more truthful than kind. But then some people get lucky, and luck is almost always down to networks, especially in this market.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:07 PM on April 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

That's exactly what career coaches do: they help you tailor your paperwork. You have to basically go in with a plan and a goal on your own, but they are NOT good at helping you search your soul and switch career paths or figure out a career path. (See this thread.) Plus they tend to be more generic than specific in the way that you sound that you want. It sounds like you need to talk to someone who's a specific expert in whatever field(s) you're working in and/or interested in. A mentor-type.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:16 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Look for a coach with a background or stated specialization in the industry you're in and ask for what you've stated here. It may take some looking, but it's the only way.
posted by shivohum at 11:57 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is what networking is for, unfortunately. You want to know if you would be a good fit in Industry? Then you have to talk to people in Industry.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:10 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree that the way to do this would normally be lots of networking and talking to people who have the information you're looking for. But I wonder if you could find either a recruiter or someone very knowledgeable in the industry, and ask if they would consider working with you as a paid consultant to help you learn more about a career path in the industry. In other words, find someone who doesn't do this type of career coaching as their job, but might spend, let's say, 5-10 hours working with you at an agreed-upon hourly rate. And if they say no, you could ask if they know anyone who would be willing to do this.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:25 AM on May 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

The secret jobs that you get through networking aren't things you can find out about, basically some folks get together, see that they need someone who can do X and someone says, "I know the perfect person for that!" The job might get posted, on the company website for about 2 hours, then they hire the person they had in mind all the time.

I got my current job because:

1. I could pass the test.

2. Through a fluke, it turned out that I knew the hiring manger from a previous gig.

Sure, it was advertised, but trust me, it was only becasue they were having a problem finding people to pass the test.

I've seen 4 positions here get filled by referral, commonly overheard in our break room, "Hey, how did so-and-so do on the test?" Because passing the test is EVERYTHING where I work. Once that happens, if you were referred, hiring is a formality.

I was verbally notified 48 hours after my interviews that I was selected, and I got my formal offer a week later.

You personally have to know where you want to go, especially if you're changing titles or functionality or industry. I went from Pre-Sales Data Engineer for the phone company, to Sales Operations Data Analyst. Once you identify the KIND of work you want to do, it's pretty easy to map out a route to get to it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the answers! It's kind of one of those good news/bad news things, in that you're confirming my general opinion of the good and bad of career coaching (with some exceptions, as noted). :-)
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:18 PM on May 1, 2014

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