What Is a Career Coach?

A career coach is someone trained in walking others through the practices and behaviors most likely to lead to continued success and growth in a career. They often teach research-based frameworks to help professionals grow more intentionally in their careers, and hold clients accountable for the steps they commit to take.

Historically, career coaching primarily consisted of hiring external consultants to work with current and high-potential business leaders. However, in recent years, coaching has taken off (it is now a $15+ billion industry) as its value to a broader set of professionals (not just top leaders) has become generally acknowledged.

You shouldn’t use employees as coaches because it will be more difficult for those they coach to be fully forthcoming about work situations. Coaching may be provided by a company for its employees through external partners, or employees may find and fund coaching on their own.

What Are the Benefits of Providing Career Coaching?

HR is often defined as the function that sets and implements the strategy to attract, develop, and retain talent for an organization. Providing a career coach for your employees is a decision that can directly support all three of these directives.

Attract

When the economy is in a strong job seekers’ market and companies are scrambling for ways to differentiate themselves and attract applications from the best possible candidates, personalized career coaching can be an exciting and unique offering. Competitive job seekers are often looking for organizations with excellent structures in place to support them to become the best they can be at the company.

Develop

The foundational purpose of career coaching is to help people develop and grow into the best possible versions of their professional selves. Imagine the version of your organization where every person (or at least a higher proportion of your workforce) is intentionally studying themselves and their tendencies, building their strengths, and shoring up their weaknesses. That organization would be likely to see far more promotions from within overtime, which would be a good indicator of how well you are developing your people.

Retain

Career coaching can be expensive for individuals. If your employees have had an excellent experience taking advantage of your corporate-provided coaching, how much more difficult might it become for them to choose to leave for a different employer who doesn’t offer that benefit? If good employees are receiving coaching on what they need to move forward in their careers, they will likely feel that they have a greater possibility of upward or lateral mobility than they might in a new organization that doesn’t provide the same level of support. Career coaching and continual development makes it easier for employees to see a reasonable pathway for them with your company for far longer than they might have otherwise.

In short, career coaching has the potential to be a triple-threat benefit that changes the game from the beginning to the end of the employee lifecycle.

How Coaching Can Be Detrimental

It is possible for coaching to actually detract from a company’s culture. Some companies use coaching in a way that makes it seem like a sign of impending doom! If the only people who are ever assigned a coach are leaders who are on the verge of being asked to leave the company if they don’t make a change quickly, then selective coaching assignments will feel like a punishment and a threat, not a benefit or a resource. If your company has a history of using coaching in this way, you will need to do extra communication work when you implement more coaching opportunities.

Who Should Receive Coaching?

There are multiple options for how broadly to provide career coaching to employees. Each possibility below has inherent pros and cons depending on your company strategy, resources, and culture. It’s likely that some of these will not be on the table for you at all, and this is not a comprehensive list. It’s simply meant to help you start a conversation about different ways to consider increasing the use of career coaching in your organization.

You can implement coaching as:

  • A requirement for all employees
  • An optional but unlimited benefit (e.g., any employee can use a coach as much as desired)
  • An optional and limited benefit; e.g., any employee can use a coach, but all are limited to three sessions per year, similar to many Employee Assistance Programs
  • A required (or optional) benefit for everyone at or above a certain job level (e.g., any employee from the level below people leadership roles on up must work with a coach)
  • An optional benefit provided to a limited number of employees who apply or whose managers nominate them (e.g., 10 employees of all those who apply for the opportunity are selected to receive a coach for the upcoming year)
  • An assigned opportunity for specific employees (e.g., those identified as high-potential employees being groomed for leadership, leaders who are struggling or seem to be at a high risk of leaving the company soon, etc.)

You could consider beginning with a limited approach, such as creating a pilot group or making it an option initially for a smaller cohort of employees. This provides an opportunity to measure the effectiveness and popularity of coaching before opening up to a greater proportion of the company and investing more resources in the initiative.

What Services Does a Career Coach Offer?

The beautiful thing about a trained career coach is that they are meant to help set employees up for success in their work, regardless of what that might mean. Most coaches have a framework in mind of the strategies and tactics they like to use. However, there will typically be some flexibility in services offered, depending on the needs of individual employees.

Here’s a list of common services coaching can include.

  • Standard one-on-one meetings, including:
    • Creating and discussing career development plans
    • Following up on “homework”
    • Discussing and role-playing complex or challenging work scenarios (real or anticipated)
    • Discussing possible career destinations and pathways within the company
    • Practicing and preparing for critical work scenarios that could have a strong impact on future success of the employee
    • Preparing the employee to apply and interview for internal roles aligned with their career development plans
    • Discussing how the employee can better demonstrate and leverage their value to the organization
  • Assessments (personality, career interest, and work- or leadership-related skills)
  • 360-degree and other surveys and data collection about the employee
  • Training and/or coaching for larger groups of employees

What to Consider When Hiring Coaches

There are a few things to keep in mind as you search for the right coach (or coaching business) to contract for your organization’s needs. Don’t forget to ask about and consider the following details. 

Cost

Get quotes from multiple individuals and coaching organizations. Make sure to get quotes for different volumes, since the cost may determine how many employees you are able to offer coaching to.

Services Offered

Which of the services listed above is the coach in question willing to perform if needed? Are there services that you consider deal-breakers if they will not be provided?

Mediums Offered

Do you like the idea of contracting with coaches who will meet with employees virtually, or are you committed to in-person coaching? Especially in today’s work environment, allowing (and perhaps even encouraging) virtual engagements may be a good move.

Specialty

Many coaches specialize in a particular area of career development. Are you looking for general career coaching, or are you looking for specialty work related to developing future leaders, team coaching, or specialized experience, such as coaching employees from underrepresented backgrounds?

Is Career Coaching Worth the Investment?

You may be asking yourself if career coaching is worth the investment. At the end of the day, companies that want to compete and win the war for talent should consider investing in the career development of their employees. Here are a few reasons why career coaching is usually worth the money.

Attract and Retain Younger Generations 

As more millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce, company leaders need to understand the wants and needs of the changing workforce. Per Forbes, it’s predicted that millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. As millennials and Gen Z make up a larger and larger portion of the workforce, it is these generations that will drive changes in workforce culture. 

Whereas previous generations often stayed in jobs for paycheck, security, and benefits, younger generations want more than just a paycheck. They want to understand how they fit in with their jobs, teams, and companies and know that they have a purpose. To add, Gallup reported that 59% of millennials said that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job. Companies that fail to understand the wants, needs, interests, and expectations of millennials and Gen Z will fail to create a work environment and culture that attracts and retains these generations. Overall, career coaching is a step in the right direction to invest in your employee’s career development.

Greater Productivity and Profitability

Career coaching can be expensive, but that is why it’s an investment. Career coaching is not just an investment in your employee’s development, it’s also an investment in your organization’s culture, member engagement, and workplace retention.

Per Gallup, organizations that have made a strategic investment in employee development reported 11% greater profitability and are twice as likely to retain their employees. In addition, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Association Resource Center both concluded that the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was seven times the initial investment, with over a quarter reporting an ROI of 10 to even 49 times.

How to Determine if Career Coaching Is Helping Your Organization Reach Your Goals

As with any new program a company may implement, you must monitor and measure your company’s ROI. Such measurements can be done by conducting annual employee engagement surveys and exit interviews, and analyzing monthly data trends and key HR metrics (turnover rate, retention, etc.). 

In addition, you may arrange quarterly or semi-annual strategy meetings with the coaching business to discuss any issues or concerns you or the coaching business may have. In these meetings, ask the coaching business to provide you with statistical data that outlines the demographic information (e.g. title, tenure, age, sex, etc.) of the members who are participating in career coaching and who are actively engaged in the process (e.g. members who have attended more than one coaching session). 

These meetings will help you better understand the outcomes and implications of offering career coaching to your workers. Overall, continual data collection and analysis are fundamental to concluding if your investment is meeting your company’s goals.