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Coaching 101

By Sarah VanderMeiden, M.S., BCC

Education, Career and Management Coach



Have you heard of life, career or business coaching and wondered what it is all about?  Perhaps a friend or colleague mentioned their coach when talking about a recent accomplishment.  Is coaching for you, and, if so, what should you look for in a coach?


What is Coaching?


Coaching is a process that helps people facing a transition, those who want to make the most of a new opportunity, who want to improve their life in some way or want to make their good life even better.  Although coaching as a profession is relatively new, elements of the coaching process have been around for as long as people have been helping each other.  The International Coach Federation, a major coaching organization, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” (


Who Can Benefit From Coaching?


Coaching is a great resource for people desiring more satisfaction in life, those seeking clarity for their life's purpose or mission, individuals desiring to learn a new skill or make a lifestyle change, students wanting career direction or success in college, busy professionals who seek a more balanced life, those wanting to be more effective at work, people considering a career change or individuals contemplating retirement.  Coaching can even be beneficial for business, civic or volunteer groups seeking to strengthen their team or increase their effectiveness in reaching their goals.


What Happens in a Coaching Session?


Coaching utilizes a client-centered approach.  Because you are viewed as the expert on your own life, coaching is centered around your desires and efforts.  An effective coach will take the time to get to know you and engage you in conversations to help clarify what you want.  The coach will help increase your awareness and understanding through asking questions, listening intently and utilizing techniques to assist you in exploring options and deciding upon action steps to achieve your goals.  Hallmarks of an effective coaching partnership include the client spending more time talking than the coach, the client determining goals and action steps, and the client continuously and positively moving toward their goals.  


How Do I Select a Coach?


In selecting a coach, it is important to understand that currently, coaching is an unregulated, unlicensed profession.  Anyone can call themselves a coach regardless of their background or training.  This is not to say that someone with little experience or formal education cannot be a good coach.  However, to ensure you find a professional that will be effective for you and your goals, assess the following:


What experience does the coach have?

What coach-specific training have they received?

What ethical standards do they adhere to?

What is their coaching philosophy?

Can the coach provide you with references or success stories from previous clients?

What is the “fit” between you and the coach?  Does the coach seem to “get” you?  Is this someone you can work with?  


Many coaches will offer a complimentary session so you can assess these factors prior to committing to working with them.


If training and experience are important to you, be aware that there are many credentials which coaches can earn, ranging from completing a five-hour course to participating in 30 or more hours of coach-specific training, mentoring from an experienced coach and passing a rigorous examination.  Coach credentials that indicate a significant amount of training and experience include ACC, PCC and MCC (Associate, Professional and Master Certified Coach, and BCC (Board Certified Coach,  These websites are an excellent resource for more information about coaching.

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