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The Five Roles of a Career Coach

A good career coach learns to change his/her orientation in order to respond to the specific needs of their clients at different stages of the career coaching or job search coaching process.  It is helpful to break down the coaching roles into the following: (1) Assessor, (2) Information Provider, (3) Referral Agent, (4) Guide, and (5) Tutor.  

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The Assessor’s job is to identify specific strengths of the client (through assessment instruments or by simple observation) and provide appropriate and objective feedback.  For instance, if the client has completed in intake biography in a very complete and detailed manner, it is appropriate to say “You seem to be very detailed and thorough in your approach to projects”.  A nonobjective approach to providing feedback might be “You seem to be very perfectionistic or compulsive”.  Given objective feedback can assist the client in articulating his/her strengths to a job interviewer as well as including them on a resume.  A positive side effect of strength assessment is the resulting elevation of the client’s self-esteem.

The Information Provider's job is to inform the client about options and barriers.  The coach is often aware of various options and should share that information with the client. There are two areas that the coach needs to be cautious about.  First, giving too much information to the client tends to promote passivity and dependence on the coach for the “right” information.  I believe the “real” role of the coach is to encourage the client to actively manage his/her own career change or job search and become as independent as possible.  The second caution is about alerting the clients to barriers too soon.  The client is often a expert on finding barriers and the coach needs to be careful not to introduce a barrier too quickly, which can tend to turn the client off.  I would rather that the client discover the barrier and report it to me than to tell him/her about the barrier.

A third role is that of Referral Agent.  There is a tendency among too many coaches (and their clients) think that the coach is “all knowing” and can resolve all of the client’s problems.  The coach needs to be clear about the boundaries of his/her expertise.  A career coach can effectively deal with most career and workplace related issues.  But most career coaches lack the knowledge to give financial advise.  Most also lack the credentials to provide therapy for emotional or psychological problems.  The key here is to be able to recognize when the client’s problem is beyond the coache’s expertise and to have a referral source readily available.

A very important role of the career coach is that of a Guide.  The guide’s job is to facilitate the client’s decision-making behavior without dictating what the “right” decision should be.  Clients come to coaches asking “Should I take this job?” or “Should I return to college and get a degree?”  The skillful career coach reacts to these questions with his/her own questions.  “What do you think the pros and cons of taking that job might be”?  or “What impact will returning to college would have on your earning capacity? and how might it affect any family member”?  The coach need to skillfully guide the client to make his/her own decision without pointing out what the “right” decision ought to be.

Finally, the fifth role of the career coach is that of Tutor.  This role is particularly important when the client has decided on a specific goal and now must develop a plan to get to there.  The coach can best tutor the client by asking questions rather than giving advice.  Examples include “What is the very next step will you take in order to move toward your goal”? or “You indicated that you plan to ‘research’ the Ajax Company.  How will you go about conducting your ‘research’?  Will you be researching on-line or at the library or by some other method”?  If the coach is very disciplined in asking questions (rather than giving advice) the client will be able to develop his or her own career strategy plan.In my opinion, the best career coaches know what the client needs and assumes to appropriate “coaching role” to foster client success.

© Richard Knowdell, National Certified Career Counselor trains and certifies Job & Career Transition Coaches.  He can be contacted at

 Richard Knowdell
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