People frequently ask me how they can find career help. They feel stuck, they can't find a job, they want to change positions, and the list goes on. What to do? There are a number of career assessment tools, self-help career books and career coaches — all of which are valuable for enabling people to navigate their career progress.
In terms of assessment tools, there are many that you can use to better understand your career interests. Some of the more popular ones include the Work Expectations Profile, Career Anchors, Strong Interest Inventory, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Career Leader. These tools are often used to help people see how their interests are similar to others in certain careers, to help them figure out their primary areas of competence, motives and career values, or to measure the importance of various work expectations they have. Using assessments enables individuals to explore fields that they had not previously considered.
You can also use self-help career books. What Color Is Your Parachute? is a well-known workbook that is published annually, offering exercises and thought-provoking questions to stimulate career discovery. Gallup's Strengths Finder 2.0 is another book that includes an online assessment that you can complete to determine your top five talents and a discussion of 50 ideas for action based on your talents. There is also the very popular Knock 'Em Dead series of books (for resumes, cover letters and other career search strategies). All of these resources, along with the many others available, offer advice and tips on skills to practice to improve the likelihood of finding a job with a good personal fit.
You can also work with a career coach to explore your career interests, review your resume and practice interviewing. Career coaches can often help you figure out your passions for what you really want to do or areas where you excel. They can provide the tools or practice needed to help you take your job search to the next level. They can be helpful when you have tried everything you can think of and you are still at a loss in the job market or when you just don't know which direction to go in.
There are plenty of people who say they are coaches, but it is critical that you do some research or ask around to make sure you are getting someone who has the knowledge, skills and experience to do a good job. Career coaches vary in terms of their educational backgrounds and experience. Some are psychologists by training, others may be certified as career coaches, still others have vocational backgrounds, and many more have a variety of other backgrounds. Some colleges and universities keep lists of screened and recommended coaches.
The International Coach Federation is one of the most common certifying agencies of coaches. Another group offering certification is the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches. Still another is the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. They have a certified group of resume writers (Certified Professional Resume Writers), a certified group of interview professionals (Certified Employment Interview Professionals) and a certified group of career coaches (Certified Professional Career Coaches).
But beyond just looking at certifications, get recommendations and check references from others who have used the career coach. What has been written about the coach? How successful has he or she been in helping other people find jobs or determine their career interests? What is his or her area of expertise? How much does the coach cost? A coach should be willing to meet with you first (for free) to determine the level of fit between the two of you.
Once you have chosen a career coach, it is very important to clarify expectations up front for the roles and responsibilities each of you will have in your career journey. Let the coach know what your expectations are so that he or she can give you a realistic view of what is possible.
Do career coaches work? One study conducted by the International Coach Federation and PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 99 percent of professionals who had used a career coach came out of the experience somewhat or very satisfied with the experience. They are mostly beneficial if you need individualized help or you are time-pressed and really need to make a change soon.
Joyce E.A. Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.