Working with a coach to explore yourself, find your purpose and take actions is one of these things in life that everyone should probably do at some point (like therapy, if you ask me, for other reasons) but that very few actually choose.

There are a few reasons why. It’s not just because people don’t want to be held accountable or own their life. It’s because the field of coaching is not always very transparent and easy to understand, partly due to the fact that it’s relatively new. A bit like psychology in the 20th century, coaching is currently growing its own literature and research to prove and validate its credibility.

Another reason why people don’t go to coaching is that there are a lot of different types (life coaching, health coaching, leadership coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, performance coaching, skill coaching, to name just a few) at all the price ranges possible. The title of “coach” can also be used by anyone without any training or experience required, which is not the case for a psychologist for example. When you go to therapy, you know the person in front of you has had an extensive education and some experience. How can you be sure of the same with a coach?

All that makes it hard for people to choose coaching rather than therapy, and to also pick the right coach for them. This guide is aimed at helping you make that decision.

Related article: Do you need coaching, mentoring or therapy?

1. Choose the right type of coaching first

The best way to know exactly what type of coaching you need is to think about the topic you want to discuss and what you want to achieve. The questions below will help you define that:

  • What area(s) of your life do you want to discuss? E.g. personal, professional, relationships, health, etc.
  • What do you wish to get out of coaching? E.g. more self-awareness, set a plan in motion, achieve a specific goal, improve something in your life, etc.

— Professional —

  • If you are a manager and need help with your day-to-day at work, choose an executive coach.
  • If you are a manager and want to develop your leadership voice, choose a leadership coach.
  • If you wish to improve your performance in your current job, pick a performance coach.
  • If you wish to develop a certain set of skills (e.g. public speaking or communication), pick a skill coach who specialises in the skill you want to learn. You might also need mentoring.
  • If you wish to develop your career, pick a career coach. I recommend you also look into leadership coaching if you wish to go towards a leadership role

— Personal —

  • If you wish to improve your health habits, like eating better or losing weight, I recommend a health coach. Make sure the coach has the appropriate experience and education.
  • If you wish to explore your happiness and develop positivity, a wellness coach will support you in that. It is usually combined with health coaching.
  • If you want to make sense of your life and sort out a few areas, work with a life coach who will help you.
  • If you are going through a lot of changes, a life coach or a coach specialised in change management will be the right choice.
  • If you are moving abroad, pick a cross-cultural coach who knows both your culture and the country you are moving into to better support you.

2. Decide if you want face-to-face or remote coaching

In coaching, it is you who owns the agenda, not the coach. The coach is here to facilitate your thinking and provide you with a safe space. The sessions must allow you to explore the topics you bring in a way that works best for you. Once you are clear on what type of coach you need, you should think if you would rather talk to them face-to-face or remotely.

With face-to-face coaching you are able to use creative tools provided by them and the conversation can be very fluid and creative. The coach can read nonverbal cues (your body language) and feed them back to you. The downside is that it requires more time for you as you need to commute to and from the coach’s location.

Remote coaching offers the flexibility of getting coaching from anywhere you want, as long as you have a good Internet or phone connection. It also has the benefit of being very straigthtforward and efficient as there is not a lot of room for distraction. The coach focuses on what you say abd the words you use, which can make the conversation very transformational.

My advice is to pick face-to-face or remote coaching depending on your time, availability and flexibility (or lack thereof), and also on the feeling you’re getting from a coach you come across.

3. The research phase

Now the fun part: the search. I advise you to use three routes:

  1. Ask around you if anyone has had coaching before and/or if they know a good coach.
  2. Go online and search for the type of coaching you need. If you want face-to-face coaching, add the most convenient location in your search as well. If you are looking for remote coaching, you can also add “remote” or “skype/phone” to the keywords.
  3. Go to the websites of coaching organisations to see if they have a directory of their accredited coaches and members.

So let’s assume you have done that and found a few names. Here’s what you should look at.

Which accreditation do they have?

There are three main coaching accreditations:

These organisations have set a code of ethics, training requirements and core competencies that an accredited coach has to follow. They usually have a requirement for accreditation renewal, meaning the coach has to have continuing education to keep learning and being up to date on practices.

Having an accreditation from these professional organisations is not a sign of quality. However it is a sign that the coach follows relatively high standards, has a certain level of coaching training and has completed a certain amount of coaching hours. It is not required to have an accreditation, but I strongly recommend you go to a coach who is linked to a professional organisation.

What training did they do?

Coaching is not yet fully developed as an academic field and very few universities propose a Master’s degree in coaching. However, there are plenty of great training institutes around the world. A coach should be transparent on which one they attended. Obviously you’re not going to do a market analysis of the best courses out there. Here’s what you can check on the training website once you know what training the coach did:

  • How long the training was
  • What experience do the trainers have
  • How the trainees are evaluated

In addition to the main accreditation and training, coaches can be certified in a number of models like NLP or Analytic Network.

I cannot say it enough: training as a coach is crucial. Skip people who don’t have some sort of training, even minimal.

How many hours have they coached and what is their experience?

You should be able to easily find what experience the coach has. Ask the coach how many hours they have coached (all trained coaches keep a log). Check their background on Linkedin.

What is their sales pitch?

For me, the way a coach writes about themselves and their coaching practice says a lot more than client testimonials. Take some time to read their website and see if the tone suits you. Are they promising anything? Are they being clear about their services? Do they seem authentic or too sales-y?

Do they offer a free chemistry session?

Many coaches propose to do a first coaching session for free. It’s usually around 20-30 minutes and it is called chemistry session as you and the coach are both going to see if the relationship is going to work. The coach will ask you why you want to do coaching and what your goals are, and will also explain to you the coaching process.

It’s the moment for you to see if you feel comfortable opening up to that person and if the coaching you wish to do is the right one. Don’t be afraid of asking questions to clarify any doubt you might have.

If this chemistry session is positive for both of you, the coach will then discuss a coaching plan detailing the number and frequency of sessions. All good for you? That’s it, you have a coach.

The importance of asking these questions

Because trained coaches are very aware that anyone can call themselves a coach, they will display their training, experience and credentials on their website. If you find someone who doesn’t, you have the right to question their expertise

It is important for two reasons:

  1. The tangible one: coaching can be expensive, so make sure you pay someone qualified with whom you will have a good experience.
  2. The intangible one: as you develop self-awareness through self-exploration, coaching can get you to go to uncharted territory. You need someone to be able to hold you if you get there.

Now, some coaches with credentials can be very bad and some coaches without accreditation can be amazing. How can you be sure a coach is the right support for you? Remember the points below:

  • Explore why you want coaching, what topics you want to explore and what your goals are.
  • Ask around and do your research before reaching out.
  • Do a chemistry session with a coach for free to see if this is a good fit
  • It’s okay to change coaches: discuss any doubts you have with your coach.

For more tips on hiring your coach, you can check this FAQ by the International Coach Federation.