Reasonable and Unreasonable Expectations of Career Counseling

A few days ago I received a call from a prospective client needing interview coaching who asked me a number of relevant questions: How does your process work? What are your fees? How many sessions would you expect me to need? Having received satisfactory responses he booked a session.

An hour later he called back with one other question: “What is your success rate in interview coaching?” I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, so he clarified: “How many people whom you have coached on effective interviewing have gotten the job?”

I wasn’t able to answer the question, since most clients don’t report back on the results of their interviews (though I know that my coaching has helped many clients land jobs). I certainly couldn’t pretend to know the exact success rate. But I pointed out to the client that how an interview goes is only one small piece of the package necessary to land a job. Perhaps most importantly, who else is competing for the job? The best interview answers in the world won’t trump a significantly more qualified/experienced candidate. Other major factors that come into play: one’s pre-existing connections to people involved in the hiring process (i.e. “who do you know?”), one’s references, one’s salary requirements, one’s “cultural fit,” etc.

A Good Career Coach

This conversation raised in my mind the larger issue of what is appropriate for a client to expect from a career counselor. There is a (fortunately) relatively small number of clients who in essence expect the career counselor to have a magic bullet, to land them a job, tell them what career to switch to, or lull them into a false sense of security about their career prospects. That’s not what a good career coach will, or should, do.

Just as in sports, a good coach will recommend strategies for success, assign exercises to improve skills, and build self-confidence. But in the final analysis it is the athlete’s commitment to following the coach’s guidance and the athlete’s inherent talents and acquired skills that will predict success. The best coach in the world can’t create a winner out of an individual or team that is lazy, oppositional, or clearly below par vs. competition.

So, when thinking about hiring a career counselor, do your best to develop a clear and reasonable list of expectations and then share them with the candidates you are considering.  Listen carefully for overpromise, as of course the candidates will most likely be interested in landing you as a client and unscrupulous ones may wildly exaggerate their abilities to contribute to your success (I’ve heard, for example, about resume services that tout a 90+% success rate which is patently ridiculous since a resume is only one small, initial step towards landing a job.

Career counseling is in most cases a very smart investment. If you, the client, are willing to follow the direction of a wise and experienced coach your odds of success will dramatically improve. But no one can guarantee complete success, no matter how talented. You must wholeheartedly step up to the plate as well.