Mentoring week

Career coaching is a trend that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. For a profession that was little known 20 years ago, more people than ever are looking to a professional to help them get more from their career.

But what exactly does a career coach do? Is it a bit like workplace therapy? Will your coach be able to tell you your life’s calling after taking a quick look at your CV?

Following an eight-year career in corporate recruitment, I’ve been working as a career coach since early 2017, and have found people’s assumptions about career coaching vary a lot.

Here are four common misunderstandings about coaching, highlighting when hiring a career coach might not be a good idea:

If you’re looking for someone to ‘fix’ you

Hannah Salton

Coaching aims to raise an individual’s awareness and accountability for their own personal development and work on a plan to create a future that is better than their current reality. Rather than assuming we have permanent personality flaws that need fixing, coaching focuses on purposefully cultivating useful behaviours and long-lasting habits now.

Reflecting on your past can sometimes be useful, however coaching generally has a forward-facing focus. Spending time dwelling on previous mistakes or obsessing about where your problems came from can keep us stuck in the past. Coaching can create change faster through identifying and building upon your strengths.

If you’re looking for someone to tell you what career you should be in

Most of us have somewhat dubious memories of the careers advice we received (if any) at school. I remember an online test in high school confidently telling me I should become a carpet fitter. Many people aspire to have that level of direction from a coach – they’d like me to take a look at their CV and tell them what career path would be perfect for them.

Career paths these days are varied and complex, and a wide exploration of roles and companies is often required before people learn what path they might want to pursue. Coaching can provide structure to explore options, but there is no shortcut to discovering our ideal career. No one is better placed to fully understand your career dreams than you, and a coach’s job is to facilitate the creation and achievement of these dreams, rather than tell you what they should be in the first place.

If you’re looking for a passive and supportive friend

When thinking of the role of a coach, some people channel images of adults gently encouraging children to try a little harder at sports. While encouragement can be a very useful part of a coaching relationship, unconditional positivity with no feedback or insight can be unhelpful.

A coach is there to raise your aspirations, ask challenging questions and share honest observations as to what we are seeing in our clients. Whether asking a difficult probing question or providing honest and specific feedback after a mock interview, a coach can offer objective reflections and insight that friends and family cannot.

If you just want to feel more comfortable staying where you are

Coaching can create huge, long-lasting change. It can empower you to become significantly more fulfilled in your career. But only if you are willing to nudge your comfort zone. You will achieve more in your professional life if you are willing to experiment with ideas and challenge your own view of what is and isn’t possible for you.

This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do, it means stretching yourself over time to increase confidence in your own ability to take action. Nudging your comfort zone looks different for different people, and whether it’s big or small steps doesn’t matter – what is important is that you’re moving forward in your own journey.

Hannah Salton worked in corporate HR & recruitment for eight years, most recently looking after UK graduate recruitment for Allen & Overy. In 2017 she transitioned to become a career coach and consultant, delivering bespoke career coaching programmes for graduates looking to develop the skills and awareness needed to secure their dream job. Drop her an email with any questions at