A guide to life coach selection

photo by tonywl

Earlier this week my post on the the excessive number of life coaches available to professionals rankled a few Brazen Careerist community members, who came to the defense of the coaching profession.  Having worked with several coaches myself, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to ask a few what advice they had for prospective clients in search of a coach.

One of the issues brought up in the comments section is how to distinguished qualified coaches from the amateurs who can do more harm than good.  As with any good debate, even the experts don’t always agree on what earns the title coach.

For Lynda, coach-specific training is important:

This should be a no-brainer, but it’s not as simple as it appears.  Coaching is a new and unregulated field, and as you point out in your original piece, a wide variety of service providers call themselves coaches these days.

That said, a Life Coach (sometimes called a Personal Coach) who takes the profession of coaching seriously will have trained at some type of coach training school.  The International Coach Federation is the gold standard for accrediting coach training schools and provides a list of accredited training programs on their website.

Susan, however, cautions that formal training is not always the best route to becoming a great coach.

You can not learn how to empathize or guide people in the same way as when you have lived through and overcome the very same or similar obstacles.  I did learn quite a bit from teachers over the years and how human beings operate and how to let go of the blocks that are big stoppers but I live and breath what I teach so it isn’t coming from the outside.  I’m passionate and did not choose coaching as a profession it chose me. . .

The most qualified coaches that I learned from where not the ones who went to coaching schools or even had degrees but who have personally overcome many obstacles and have a knack for seeing the greater picture and many possibilities and are continually growing and learning themselves.

Both agree that people skills are incredible valuable and are vital to a good life coach.  Here’s what you should be on the look out for.


Again, a seemingly obvious but difficult to pin down category.  A potential client can discern whether their prospective coach has these skills in two ways:

  • look at the coach’s background to see what the coach has done in the past
  • get a personal experience of the coach to see how they interact with you (most coaches offer a free introductory session or lower-fee seminar or workshop where you can get a sense of what it would be like to work with them)

Susan makes the point that a coach who is qualified to work with one client, might not be the best fit for another:

I think a coach is a better match also if you particularly resonate with that person and can be pushed into your greater good by them.  No matter how great a guide may be, if you can not connect with them in some way and be able to take the coaching I don’t think it is a good fit.  Neither is a coach who just lets you spew your problems or past without being the catalyst for real change in your life.

Lynda also wants prospective clients to consider the ethical boundaries set by their coaches.

This covers everything from clearly defining what the coach does and does not do; their fees and payment policies; the boundaries of the coaching relationship; returning phone calls and emails in a timely fashion; making appropriate referrals when necessary; and knowing when coaching is not the appropriate modality for a particular client.

I’d like to add that it’s important to clarify what confidentiality expectations you have as a client. I want a non-disclosure agreement presented on day one to ensure my tales don’t travel.   I worked with a coach who realized she limited her own career by maintaining complete confidentiality.  An edit to her policy for clients later down the road  maintained her right to use her experiences coaching you (respecting your confidentiality by using another name) when she wrote her books and articles, unless the client specifically opted out in writing.

When asked about other intangibles to keep in mind when selecting a coach, Lynda reminds clients that the relationship should be about you.

– Is this coach a person you are comfortable with?
– Does the coach support you to define and achieve your goals without imposing their own agenda on you?
– Is the coach flexible and open to your questions and feedback?
– Is the coach consistently supportive of your goals?
– Is the coach gracious when you want to end the coaching relationship and always mindful of your best interests?

As Susan adds, don’t be afraid to shop around.
It’s a bit like choosing a doctor.  Find the coach you feel comfortable working with and it’s okay to get second and third opinions before you commit to a lengthy agreement.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask around.  The coaching industry is booming and you, more than likely, know someone who can recommend a good coach through personal experience.

Have you worked with a life coach?  What tips can you add to maximize your odds of finding a good match?

I’d like to thank Lynda and Susan for taking the time to share their insights from the other end of the coaching experience.  Tune in tomorrow when our coaches respond to the question: How does a client know when he or she is ready to move on from a particular coach?

Lynda Levy is a psychologist and life coach dedicated to helping women achieve their professional potential based in the Los Angeles area.  Though her website is under construction, she can be reached via email.

Susan Marque is a food and life coach that uses nutrition to help her clients achieve their life goals; she’s also based in the Los Angeles area.  She previously stopped by my blog to discuss office nutrition dos and don’ts.

Disclaimer: I have never been a paying client of either of the above coaches, but I still like them both lots.

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