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What can a career coach do for you?

If you’re looking to give your job search a boost, consider using a career coach, says Catherine McGinnis, MS, a nationally certified career counselor with Phoenix Career Services™ for University of Phoenix.

“When I was about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in anthropology, I went to my college’s career placement office,” she says. “I asked where I could get a job with that degree, and they just told me, ‘Go look in that file cabinet over there,’ instead of helping me. That’s what set me on my own career path — I wanted to help people like me who didn’t know where to begin a job search.”

The University offers complimentary career coaching of one to two hours to students nearing graduation and to alumni, and two hours to military students. If you were to hire a private coach, you could expect to pay between $50 and $150 per hour, notes McGinnis.

Here, she shares what a career coach can help you do to give you an edge in today’s competitive job market:


Establish a direction and focus.

Job seekers often need assistance zeroing in on a career path that matches their qualifications, McGinnis says. “Some new graduates come in wanting to work in management when they really should be looking at entry-level positions,” she notes. “I tell them they need to get some experience first, and I help them look for jobs that can put them on track to become managers within a few years.”

A career coach also can work with you to identify transferable skills if you’re laid off from a job in a disappearing industry or suggest training for a new career. “Career development doesn’t stop when you graduate,” McGinnis notes. “You could be starting over at 50. It happens when it happens.”

For example, if you’ve spent the past 10 years working in retail banking and got laid off, you could transfer your experience to a job in accounting or financial management in other industries. “In my experience, everyone has something to offer, but some people need help finding it,” McGinnis says.

Polish your resumé and cover letter.

“I frequently have clients come in with a resumé and cover letter they think is great, when it’s really a mess or terribly dated,” McGinnis notes. Career coaches know how to whip your professional documents into shape, she adds.

“We can help you retool your resumé and cover letter using the latest buzzwords, skills and formats,” McGinnis stresses. “We’re in constant communication with employers, and we know what they want to see.”

Tap into the hidden job market.

Finding a job is all about networking, something many applicants don’t know how to do, according to McGinnis.

“Networking is really an art, and it takes practice,” she says. “[At least] 50 percent of jobs are filled because the applicant knows someone at the hiring company. So if you’re not networking, that job isn’t going to you. In fact, by the time most jobs are publicly posted, they’re often already filled.”

A career coach can offer tips on how to find networking events, how to seek and connect with other professionals, and how to sell yourself without being annoying.

“It’s not just setting up your LinkedIn® profile and waiting for people to contact you,” McGinnis notes. “You have to reach out, and every touch point — email, telephone, in person — has to be crafted carefully.”

Prepare for interviews.

You might have stellar credentials and an attractive resumé but not be getting hired because you don’t interview well. “Maybe your body language is awkward, you don’t make eye contact or you say something offensive without realizing it,” McGinnis explains. “A career coach can help you identify and avoid these pitfalls.”

Set realistic expectations.

Occasionally, a career coach is “the bad guy” who gives you the stern wake-up call nobody else will, McGinnis says.

“Sometimes I have to say things like, ‘Look, I understand you want to earn $150,000 a year, but you live in [a small town] and aren’t willing to relocate, so that’s not going to happen,’” she says. “Or when a client whose personal values are more in line with the nonprofit sector doesn’t understand why she’s miserable working a corporate job for high pay. A lower-paying nonprofit job might be a better fit.”

Clients are often more willing, McGinnis adds, to take frank advice from a trained career professional than they are from friends and family.

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