14365668676_082f54ecb4I received a phone call from someone asking me whether I’m a career coach or a career counselor. I reversed the question to see whether the caller knows the distinction between the two terms. As expected, the caller did not. But that caller was not in the minority, because almost everyone uses the two terms interchangeably. In fact, there are even more such terms: career consultant, facilitator, mentor, and even manager-as-coach.

Marcia Bench in her book Career Coaching: An Insider’s Guide describes in detail the nuances of each term. However, for practical purposes and for the majority of people, the only question that counts is whether any of those people who hold the various titles can help clients get jobs or assist them with career changes. Of course there are also many other issues that any one of these professionals can help with.

What do clients want?

Clients look at a coach and expect the person to be someone who is confident and responsive. The coach needs to demonstrate knowledge of how to maneuver between the myriad job search strategies that are out there, and the coach must be current with rapidly changing platforms in, say, social media, for example. In terms of expectations about what clients can get from a coach, many clients come with certain preconceived ideas, and so a coach must stay open-minded and often call on intuition and experience in order to produce optimal results for a client.

An experienced coach develops an eye for clients’ strengths, innate talents, and skills but at the same time has to help clients face—and overcome—weaknesses. Everyone has perceived weaknesses; some don’t see them objectively and thus can’t deal with them effectively. Here’s where a good career coach can be potentially crucial. Working with a career coach definitely reduces job search time—occasionally, quite significantly. Above all, a good career coach has to be an excellent listener and know to ask probing questions.

What is a session with a coach like?

Similar to other professionals, each coach has an individual style with which the coach feels confident and effective with clients. Many coaches are generalists, meaning that they help clients with a wide variety of topics such as résumé creation, networking, social media, LinkedIn profiles, written and verbal communications, interview preparation, and salary negotiation. As an example, my subspecialties are interview preparation and salary negotiation, which is of course not to say I don’t help clients with all the other subjects involved in career coaching as well!

While doing interview preparation, we conduct extensive mock interviews. I videotape clients for a few minutes, and then we analyze the tape together. I also provide feedback on a client’s image and make suggestions for improvement.

What is the cost?

Career coaches’ fees vary widely. Most career coaches have Web sites, but not all of them list their fees there. Why? Sessions can last anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours. Some coaches charge by session; others charge a global fee in the thousands of dollars.

My suggestion is caveat emptor: let the buyer beware—and do a thorough evaluation with due diligence. Interview a coach before handing over your money, and above all, if there’s no chemistry between the two of you, run away and find someone else regardless of the cost.