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The Brazen Careerist

Career coach can help sharpen edge

A good way to insulate yourself from a bad economy is to deal with your weaknesses so your employer doesn't have to. This advice applies to everyone -- from those hoping for a big promotion to those just hoping to interview for a job.

Weaknesses are hard to beat, so if you're really serious about making a personal change, I recommend a career coach. But be careful, because a good coach is hard to find. I learned to find good coaches by enduring bad ones. I also learned that when you find a good one, you can change in ways that will surprise you.

The first career coach I ever hired was someone who my boss recommended. He gave me the guy's phone number and I called.

The coach's voicemail message closed with, "Have a wonderful and life-changing day!"

I told my boss I could not work with someone who was so positive about change that he was a psycho.

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My boss said, "This guy is renowned for working with famous businesswomen." (My boss dropped the name of a woman who worked with this coach. I am not going to tell you this woman's name because you know her, and to this day I still question her judgment.) But the name-dropping worked. I wanted to be famous. So I agreed to meet with the guy.

He told me that most women he worked with needed to learn to be more assertive. He said, "I can tell you would be responsive to that sort of training, because you're wearing a skirt." Then he winked at me. So for my first lesson in assertiveness, I fired him.

My second coach was someone my boss read about in a newsletter. This coach told me I needed to appear grounded and stable as a leader. Her vision hit a nerve: I had catapulted up the corporate ladder, and some days I wondered what I was doing there. I thought I was wondering privately, but the coach showed me how my demeanor gave it away.

"You walk like you're on air," she told me. "Your bounce belies giddiness and your swinging arms look impetuous."

She showed me how to walk so that I looked grounded and stable. The most interesting thing she taught me was that if I could change how I walk, I would change how I felt. I wouldn't have believed that until someone forced me to try it.

Later I saw a coach speaking at an entrepreneur's conference. I hired her to help me handle board meetings. I learned not to smile so much. She pointed out that women smile a lot and men don't, and it makes men nervous. To soften the blow, she smiled at me. She told me my sweater was cut a little low, which made me happy since I never thought of myself as a woman with cleavage. But for the most part, her thing was public speaking, and I am definitely better at keeping an audience's attention because of her coaching.

So here's my advice on choosing a coach: Interview a few, because each coach has a different approach, and not all will be right for you. To get a sense of the coach, ask, "What are you best at doing with your clients?" If you like the answer, do a short trial session. If you ask someone what he or she is best at and you don't get a straight answer, it's because he or she is not good at anything, so hang up.

Recommendations from a respected friend or co-worker are a good bet. But, as you can see from my experience, a recommendation isn't foolproof. I have had good luck going to a bookstore and perusing the careers section for books by coaches. If you like a book, you will probably like the coach who wrote it.

Many coaches speak at conferences, so go listen to a few if you're on the prowl. If you absolutely cannot get up off your sofa, then get a recommendation from the career coach hotline: (800) 887-7214.

Enlisting the help of a coach may seem like a high-risk move -- after all, a bad coach is really bad. But you also take a risk by not getting help to address your weaknesses.

-- Posted: Oct. 20, 2003

 
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