Imagine a best friend who wants nothing more than your complete success, who always listens with interest to what you have to say, and who gives you the feedback you need to make tough choices and changes. This is the essential job of a personal coach. Coaches believe that you already have the knowledge and skills you need for successful problem resolution and that their job is to help you bring out these skills and use them effectively.

Most coaches work almost exclusively over the telephone, without ever meeting their clients face-to-face. At first, it may seem strange to be working through issues with someone you can’t see, but almost everyone gets used to it because coaches are trained to use their voices to communicate more than words. Coaches are also trained to listen to the meaning behind the words you are using and can read the tone of your voice as naturally as you can read someone’s face.

What Do You Want to Work On?

It will help your search greatly if you can think about a goal and write it down as clearly as you can. You might start with a general statement such as that your job stinks, but you should try to get clear about why it stinks and what you would like to do about it.

I’ve been doing the same job for five years, and I’m getting really bored with it. I want a job that will be more challenging for me and will pay better than this one does. I would rather not leave this employer because I have a lot of seniority, but I would be willing to leave for the perfect job.
Now, you have a clear objective, and you’re ready to start shopping for a coach.

How to Find Coaches

If you Google™ “personal coach,” you will get thousands and thousands of hits, and you will easily drown in candidates. Instead, try a more targeted approach. Ask your friends if they have had a coach and if they were satisfied—personal recommendation is priceless. Coaches are very big on public speaking as a promotional tool, so if you look in your local paper, you may find someone giving a talk on job stress or beating procrastination: there’s a good chance that he is a coach, and you’ll have a chance to check him out. The coaching registry at the International Coaching Federation’s Web site is a good place to do comparison shopping for coaches—they list coaches’ credentials and specialties without elaborate advertising, and you can search for the combination of specialty and price range that you want.

You’ve Got a List of Candidates—Now What?

When you have a list of four or five coaches that sound suitable, it’s time to comparison shop. Every coach in the world will be absolutely delighted to spend half an hour with you to let you get a feel for his style and to see if there’s good chemistry between you.

Typically, the coach will ask you a little about yourself and your issue and do about 10 or 15 minutes of real coaching with you. He will also be happy to answer any questions you might have about coaching in general or about his specialties and coaching style. In this time you should trust your instincts: if you feel relaxed talking to the coach and if he seems to understand your issue and is able to help you with it even a little bit, then there’s a good chance that he will make a good coach for you.

You don’t have to make a decision after the introductory call—it is perfectly all right to try out other coaches and let them know that you will get back to them with a decision in the near future.

Not All Coaches Are Well Qualified

Coaching is not like psychotherapy, with regulations and licensing; anyone can call himself a coach, put up a Web site, and start doing business. Sadly, many people have done just that, and they have no more training in coaching than you do. It’s not dangerous to work with an untrained coach, but it’s not likely to be very productive either, so you need to ask the coaching candidate some questions. First, find out if they have had specific coaching training, how much they have had, and where they were trained. A coach typically becomes competent after about a year of training and reaches real expertise after about two years. Use your intuition—if you get the feeling that the coach is promising magical solutions to all your problems, you should probably try someone else.

Should My Coach Be Certified?

You will find that many of your coaching candidates use “certified” in their credentials, and you should pay attention to this. Unfortunately, because coaching isn’t yet standardized, the term “certified” may mean any of several things. It’s all very complicated, but if your coach is certified by the International Coaching Federation or any of its accredited coaching schools, you can assume that he has been trained in coaching, has passed an exam, and has at least two years of actual coaching experience. If he isn’t certified, it doesn’t mean that he’s not competent—he may still be in training or he may be finishing the required coaching experience.

About Fees

You’ll find a wide range of coaching fees, from $200 per month to $2000. In my experience, cost is not a good predictor of the coach’s talent or effectiveness, so stay within your budget—you should be able to find a good coach in your price range. Finally, if you’re really short of cash and really need some coaching, ask the coach if he will reduce his fees for you. Most coaches will accept a few clients at reduced rates or for free, for a good cause—anyway, it can’t hurt to ask.

A good coach should be willing to customize his offerings for you. If you can’t afford his standard package, you might ask for a reduced rate for a two-per-month package. If you would rather have two hour-long sessions than four half-hour sessions, he should be flexible enough to accommodate you. Within reason, he should adapt his package to your needs, rather than the other way around.

The Final Word

Hiring a coach should be just like buying a car—it’s important that you find one that suits your needs, feels comfortable, and is affordable. Most of all, be a good consumer, and shop around until you find just the right coach for you. You’ll know when you find him.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Bruce Taylor is the owner and principal of Unison coaching, helping people to improve their jobs and create the careers they have always dreamed of. He provides executive coaching for senior managers who are creating superior organizations; management coaching for leaders who are adapting to new practices; and individual coaching for workers who are upgrading their skills. Mr. Taylor has a Master’s degree in Community Psychology and a Certificate in Job Stress and Healthy Workplace Design, both from the University of Massachusetts. For more information, visit