5 Key Questions to Ask When Looking for a Coach

According to the International Coaching Federation, there are nearly 50,000 professional coaches worldwide - and that's not even counting the many, many people who call themselves coaches without any type of training or credentials.

While coaching has been around since the 1990s, its popularity has grown in recent years. And - for good reason. Coaching can be a powerful process for creating positive change and oftentimes radical transformation in our lives - from gaining the courage to leave an unfulfilling job, to designing and creating work that deeply aligns with our passions, to taking our 'side hustle' to a full-time business, to creating more balance and clarity in our lives. 

When looking for a coach, finding the right coach is essential. With 50,000 certified coaches to pick from and thousands more without any certification or credentials, there are many fish in the coaching sea, despite the fact that coaching is a relatively niche industry.

Here are 5 key questions to ask your potential coach(es) to help you find the best match.

1. Who do you coach?

If the answer is "anyone," think very carefully before moving forward. Good coaches are clear on who they can serve best and who they are most passionate about working with. This question is less about demographics ("I coach 30-40-something men") and more about ensuring your potential coach has alignment, purpose, and clarity in his practice ("I most love working with people to create clarity during times of transition, because transition has been a crucial part of my own journey to today.")

In my own practice, for example, my compelling 'why' is impact, which means that I most love working with people who care about making a positive impact in the world in a way that feels alive and aligned. Under the umbrella of 'impact,' I coach people on a number of specific topics: career transition, leadership, launching and growing a business, bringing all of who we are to our work in the world, creating more impact while also creating more balance, joy, and ease. While the details of our work together might vary across clients, the alignment with my 'why' of impact remains consistent and unwavering.

2.  How did you begin your coaching journey?

The best coaches I know bring a combination of experience, perspective and approach, and training/formal learning. It's helpful to explore all three with your potential new coach.

Experience: our experiences shape and inform us, and it's important to understand not only who your coach is as a coach, but also as a human being. Some questions to ask include:

  • What was your experience and path prior to starting your coaching practice?
  • How does this part of your path fit into or shape your approach to coaching?

Perspective and approach: there is no one-size-fits-all approach to coaching. I once made the mistake of hiring a "coach" who spent all 60 minutes of every single session telling me how to run my business (the way he ran his, of course) and telling me stories about how much money he made (a lot). Clearly, I hadn't fully followed this process prior to hiring him. I ended up spending a lot of money (paid up front) for a coach whose perspective and approach were completely misaligned with mine. Big mistake - and big lesson learned. Questions to ask to avoid repeating my mistakes include:

  • What is your approach to coaching? 
  • What can I expect from our work together?
  • How might this approach be similar and different to that of other coaches out there?
  • Can you tell me a little bit about what a session together might be like?

Training and formal learning: while I know a few great coaches who don't have a formal coaching certification and some really bad coaches who do, it's important to feel confident that this individual is not only qualified - but also brilliantly equipped to coach you. Typically this means that the individual completed an ICF-accredited coach training and certification program. While there are many programs available, both online and in-person, I have found that the strongest coaches in my own personal network are those who have completed a program that involves both in-person training and a subsequent certification process. (note: there are, of course, exceptions on both sides of this general observation.)

I did my training through The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), which is the largest and oldest coach training program in the world - and one that I highly recommend to other new coaches who are starting out on their own coaching journey. 

Some specific questions to consider here include:

  • Did you complete a formal training/certification related to coaching?
  • If so, which one - and how did you select it?
  • What parts of the training/certification do you find you use most...and are there any that you don't/that you disagree with?
  • Outside of formal coaching training, what other tools do you typically use in your work with clients?

3. Do you have a coach?

The analogy here is that most of us wouldn't feel confident going to a doctor who doesn't go to the doctor. The same is true for coaching. Coaches typically become coaches because they believe in the power of coaching. But believing in the power of coaching and believing in the power of coaching enough to pay for it out of our own pocket every month are two different things.

I recommend thinking carefully about hiring a coach who doesn't pay for some sort of coaching herself. This might mean having a 1:1 coach, being part of a mastermind group, and/or being part of a group program. Personally, I currently work with two different types of 1:1 coaches, I regularly talk with an executive-level mentor, I work with a spiritual advisor, and I'm part of several mastermind groups. I am a coach because I believe in the power of coaching - and I believe in it enough to make a significant investment in it for myself. The greatest coaches I know believe in it that much too.

4. When do you coach?

Great coaches have boundaries.

When I first started my coaching practice, I was accepting coaching sessions at 7 am, 7 pm, and anytime in between. I quickly realized that I couldn't best serve my clients with this model - and just as quickly changed my approach. 

I've talked to many struggling coaches who have said, "I have to accept coaching sessions early in the morning and late at night, because people work, and it's the only time they're available." Ironically (or not), these coaches are still struggling to create a financially sustainable business, while burning the candle on both ends in order to accommodate these "potential working clients." 

These days, I take on a very select number of coaching sessions in the evening - and do all of my other coaching during the day. My clients all work. And, my clients value and prioritize our time together, so finding times that serve both of us well is easy. 

Part of the coaching process involves creating more clarity. Find a coach who is clear on who she serves and how she works. This provides a great foundation for powerful, clear, and transformative work together.

5. Does this feel right?

The last and possibly most important question to ask yourself when finding a coach is, "does this feel right?" As Derek Sivers says (and many others have since repeated), "if it's not a hell yeah, it's a no." 

As a coach, I want to work with "hell yeah" clients. After talking to your potential coach, you'll likely know if it's a "hell yeah." While the financial commitment might feel like a bit of a stretch (which is often a good thing), the connection and the alignment with the individual should feel clear. 

Is coaching feeling like a "hell yeah" for you? Interested in talking more? Connect with me here.