5 Questions to Ask Before Paying for a (potentially sucky) Career/Life Coach

Think of hiring a coach like I think of getting my car engine fixed or buying a pair of shoes or going to the doctor. Sure, if I were immortal and had unlimited time, I'd just learn to do it all myself; figure out why my engine's smoking, repair that hole in my sneakers, or diagnose my own ADHD. But someone else decided to invest time in that expertise. Paying them for the service of fixing my car or making a pair of shoes saves me time and lets me get on my merry way.

But there are mechanics, shoe makers, and doctors I trust. And then there are those I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole.Coaching is the same way.

Can you navigate your career journey by yourself? Absolutely! Spending time in the job search gives you experience and the longer you do it, the more expertise you're gaining over time.

Can you solve all of your life's blockers and challenges by yourself? For sure. Given enough time, you can learn to process emotions and experiences while asking yourself the powerful questions that gets you to a healthier place. You can learn how to self-manage and be conscientious in your own growth.

How much time you got though?

It took me 7 years to process childhood traumas by myself and put words to some of the maladaptive behaviors I had developed as survival techniques. I saw a therapist when I was 28 for 30mins and got a diagnosis. If I had had the resources to see a therapist sooner, I would have saved myself 7 YEARS of struggling with poor self-esteem, anger management issues, and poor communication skills. Damn.

Why Coaching Sucks

Anyone can call themselves a coach. Put it on a LinkedIn tagline, call yourself the CEO of your own company, and pull some random verbiage about "finding your inner you" or "embodying your own power" and, VOILA, a recipe for Instant Coach.

Seriously. This industry is wildly unregulated and there's no consequences for people who do a bad job outside of negative reviews. Imagine paying hundreds of dollars for someone who's supposed to help you, only to find out they're parroting the same information you could find Googling for five seconds. Yikes!

So before you go and spend money hiring someone to help you navigate your career and/or life, here are 5 questions to ask to make sure they pass the vibe check.

1. Where did you learn coaching and what are your credentials?

There's about 10000 different organizations that teaches people how to be a coach. Every one of them has a different method of teaching. NOT all of them are certified by the International Coaching Federation. A simple way to check whether your potential coach is qualified is to see whether they were trained by an ICF certified program.

2. What techniques do your coaching involve?

Experienced coaches will have no problem explaining to you exactly the process they will use to help you. They've done it hundreds of times before you and they'll do it again and again after you. Matter of fact, you could probably take their techniques and reverse engineer it for yourself if you had the time. After you listen to an experienced coach explain their process, you'll have a crystal clear view of what working with them will look like.Inexperienced coaches generally rely on vague formulas given to them by others. You'll hear some verbiage about "discovering your true self" or vague promises about "taking steps that speak to your soul". Might feel good, but you'll leave the conversation with not a clue of what you'll actually be talking about or working on.

3. What can you promise if I work with you and what can you NOT promise?

Coming off the heels of that last point, many coaches who are not credentialed will sell their service enticing you with the fact that every thing is possible! Nothing is out of bounds and, as long as you are willing to put in the work (AKA pay them more money) you're going to reach your goal. Eventually...

Experienced coaches know that there are limits to coaching and will constantly update you on reasonable expectations to have. And if the work is done, then it's time to move on with the understanding that the service has been rendered.

4. How do you factor in my intersectional identities to your coaching?


Every individual comes into coaching with a spectrum of experiences related to sex, gender, sexuality, career, religion, spirituality, etc. The coach that is unable to consider how these experiences shape a client's interaction with them is one that is NOT FOR YOU. Do not give them your money. I repeat, DO NOT pay them.

5. (Internal Question) Does this person pass the vibe check?

At the end of the day, coaching is all about the vibes. My doctor could be a neurosurgeon from Harvard but if I don't vibe with them, I won't put my life in their hands. If your gut tells you that this person is not for you, listen to it. Don't pick someone because of their prestige. Have a conversation with them to see if you actually believe in their techniques and processes.

At the end of the day, deciding to pay for a coach is an extremely personal decision. It has the potential to affect your income, mental health, emotional health, and other aspects of your life. You should be walking into that professional relationship confident that the coach will deliver on their service. I hope these questions help you do that.