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What to Look for When Hiring a Professional Coach

So you have decided to hire a coach, either for you or your organisation, but you are met by a seemingly endless stream of options and you have no idea what you should even be looking for. There are generalists, specialists, ads appearing on every form of social media ,

and then there are a million acronyms flying around. On top of that, you are

aware that there are thousands of people out there who call themselves ‘coaches’, but have little to no training and/or experience.

With this in mind, here are some practical tips to help you choose a coach you can trust.

1) Accreditation

Qualifications aren’t the be all and end all, but in the case of coaching an accreditation means that a coach has to have met a certain set of rigorous standards to practice with these credentials.

The most widely known and respected accrediting body is the ICF (international Coach Federation) which offers 3 levels of accreditation: ACC, PCC, and MCC. These don’t reflect general professional experience, but instead the number of hours of training and spent delivering coaching specifically.

Coaches accredited by the ICF have to meet a number of criteria, which means you can feel more assured that you are getting the real deal:

  • The coach has received high quality training through an approved institution

  • The coach has undertaken at least a certain threshold of coaching practice hours (ACC = min. 100 hours; PCC = min. 500 hours, MCC = min. 2500 hours)

  • The coach has been observed coaching clients by a more senior coach

  • The coach has had a recording of their coaching reviewed and assessed according to a set of very rigorous professional standards

  • The coach has passed a 3-hour exam based around the coaching standards

  • The coach is bound by a set of strict ethical regulations, ensuring clients are treated with a high level of care and respect

Bottom line: of course there are brilliant coaches out there who didn’t undertake formal training, or don't have professional credentials, but this can be hard to discern when faced with a sea of options. The only way to actually ensure that the coach will meet high coaching standards is to check their accreditation.

2) The Trial/ ‘chemistry’ session

Most good coaches will offer a free trial session (some call this the ‘chemistry’ session, the sample session, or the ‘discovery’ session) where you will get the chance to meet the coach (virtually or in-person) and so be able to assess if you have a good rapport with them, as well as being able to ask any questions you might have about the process, and, often, actually having an experience of coaching itself.

My personal advice is to avoid coaches who want you to pay for coaching packages up front without having met you; both the coach and the client need to be able to assess that the relationship is the right fit before they can commit to working together.

3) Testimonials

If you come across a coach you like the sound of, have a read of their testimonials from past clients. Of course they are likely to share only the best reviews, but it will give you a good idea if you are looking for the same thing from coaching as these clients have gained from it.

Better still, ask friends, colleagues, or your network if they have worked with specific coaches they might recommend.

4) Experience

Coaches are trained to coach you on any topic you bring to a session, professional or personal, specific to your industry/situation or more general. Any good coach will be able to coach you on whatever you want to focus on, and help you find clarity, more self-awareness and make progress towards the changes you want to make. But, with all the choice out there, it can sometimes be helpful to look at the coach’s specific experience – which industry(ies) they have worked in, which topics they have covered with past clients, which specialist areas they have – when making a decision. Or, instead, to ask yourself 'does their message resonate with me/my organisation?'

5) Gut feeling

So you have found a few different coaches, all accredited, all with great testimonials, experience or a message that resonates with you and offering free trial sessions. How do you choose? I’m a big believer in going with your intuition. It’s a powerful tool in any decisions you have to make, and it’s something I often try to help my clients develop. It’s that little voice, that spark, that ‘just knowing’ feeling that nudges you in a certain direction. I encourage you to listen to it even if (especially if) it nudges you towards something surprising.

Sit quietly with your available options, go below all the noise and clutter in your head, and just ask yourself, which one feels right? And trust your answer.


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