How to Work with a Professional Coach

When I recently set out to find a professional coach for myself, I had many questions: What happens during coaching sessions? Is the coach my cheerleader? My taskmaster? My shrink? What can this person really do for me?

It turns out coaches can do a great deal, if you’re willing to do the work.

Types of Coaches

There are different types of coaches specific to the kind of help you’re looking for.

  • Executive Coach – This coach works with an executive on goals and changes for the organization. Often, executives also use coaching to prepare for a higher management position.
  • Life Coach – You’ll find a hodge-podge of people working in this category, from those who are focused on the spiritual side of life to those who are more career and job oriented.
  • Career Coach – These professionals are focused on career and job goals and issues. This category often includes job coaches.
  • Organizational Coach – When a department or even an entire small company needs help instituting change or refocusing, this type of coach comes in to work with the entire group.

What can a coach can do for you?

Although most of my own big goals are career-related, I opted for a life coach. Why? Because I feel you really need to understand yourself and how you work with people before you can institute substantial change. Putting myself under the microscope seemed to be a good place to start.

No coach has a crystal ball and all the answers for you – steer clear of anyone who says they do. You are establishing a partnership with your coach and each one is unique. There are, however, some general results you can expect from working with a coach:

  • You should learn a lot about yourself – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The coach will guide you through an analysis of where you are now, both concretely as well as mentally.
  • An effective coach will help you set realistic and achievable goals. You should emerge from the coaching relationship with a clearer view of yourself, your priorities, and your aims.
  • A coach will help you identify your communication style and how you work with others.
  • Working with a coach should improve your performance in the areas you identify.
  • Ideally, working with a coach should make you happier.  Whether you are working on personal issues, strengthening your career, or looking for a job, you should be moving forward on an action plan that helps you feel committed, fulfilled, and happy.
  • You should be more focused and productive, and less stressed.
  • Coaching can also help with basic issues of procrastination and time management.
  • Relationships with people can improve – even with the prickliest clients and co-workers.
  • New thought patterns should develop. For the most part, we are all like actors in a syndicated rerun: we keep using the same learned behavior patterns we always have. A coach can help you develop new ways of approaching situations and for working with people.
  • If your life – personal or professional – is out of whack, coaching can help you restore some balance.


Picking a coach is a bit like dating — it comes down to chemistry.  Before I decided to hire a coach for myself, I had met a number of successful professional coaches. They were busy, highly regarded, and sought after – but they weren’t for me.  I met my coach at a business luncheon. I found the right chemistry and we connected.  If you don’t click with your coach, the relationship likely won’t work out in the long run.

You also have to do your homework. These days, almost anyone can become a coach. Examine the person’s career path and any training they have had. Make sure that you interview a number of potential coaches and find the right fit.

  • Unlike a doctor or lawyer, there is no general licensing for a coach. Different organizations have certifications and training, but there are no across-the-board standards.
  • It’s an expense. A pile of self-help books and dedicated work could get you similar results for less. The experience is on par with a personal trainer: You will get results faster and more efficiently with a professional who holds you accountable.
  • Not every match is made in heaven. You may work with a coach and find he or she isn’t for you. Make sure you inquire about these issues before you sign the coaching contract.

In person or on the phone?

Most life and career coaches can work with you in personal or via scheduled phone calls, or some combination of the two. The optimum choice depends upon your personality and preferences. Do you need the physical contact and accountability of a face-to-face meeting? Are you more likely to be honest about issues over the phone?


The low end of coaching fees is around $80 per hour and can go as high as $400 or $500 per hour. Generally, the more famous the coach, the higher the fee will be. Top coaches who are nationally well known popular authors can command fees of $30,000 or more for one day of private coaching.

You don’t need to drop the cash equivalent of new car on coaching, but you do need to commit to a contract for a prescribed plan or package of sessions. Just as one trip to the doctor won’t cure a chronic disease, one session with a great coach isn’t going to make lasting change in your life. Any reputable coach should be willing to meet with you to describe his or her philosophy, goals, and fee structure before you sign on the dotted line.

Image credit: Crossfit Fever

About Vera L. Dordick

Vera L. Dordick is principal with Tangible Development LLC, public relations practitioner, and creative provocateur. At Tangible Development, Vera specializes in crisis management and public relations but has a particular interest in creativity training and helping companies foster more creative environments. She also blogs on the Albany Times Union website on marketing and creativity. Vera holds a BA in Journalism and Russian from Indiana University and an Associate degree in Culinary Arts from SCCC.

  • Lisa Jordan

    Great post Vera! I really appreciate the points about the chemistry & the self help books. I’ve had a coach I loved and a coach I wish I had done more exploratory work with beforehand. I highly recommend meeting without obligation first and trusting your first instinct from there.