You were probably asked the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as a kid. It was probably a lot easier to answer back then—you wanted to be an astronaut, or an explorer, or perhaps even a dinosaur.
As you grow up, though, this question becomes far more difficult. Maybe you have some idea of what kind of work appeals to you, what industry you are drawn to, or perhaps simply what you are good at. Getting from those vague ideas to a definitive, actionable plan for your career development takes time and effort, though, and very few get there on our own.
Lucky for you, there are people out there whose job and passion is helping with exactly this problem! Career coaching is a valuable resource for anyone trying to figure out what they want to do with the thousands of hours they will spend at work, and they are especially useful for those considering an MBA.
Career Coaching and the MBA
Any good MBA admissions consultant will tell you that a crucial aspect of your MBA application is demonstrating that you have a clear vision for your career—a set of goals that you aspire to achieve, and a plan for how to make that a reality. If you are still struggling with the question of what you want to be when you grow up, though, then laying out a clear short- and long-term vision for your career is a . Enter a career coach.
A professional knowledgeable about your target industry can help you identify a realistic path and gain a deeper understanding of the nuances of your chosen career. These are important aspects of your MBA application, in addition to being very valuable in their own right. A career coach engaged early in the process can provide crucial guidance, particularly to those seeking to change their career or industry.
What is a career coach?
Broadly defined, a career coach is anyone who helps to guide, inform, or advise you in your career. You can reach out to mentors (personal or professional), seek advice from friends or peers in your field of interest, or even reach out to professionals and leaders you admire and who you believe could help you better understand your goals. You can and should do all these things, and these people will all play a role in “coaching” you along your career journey.
However, a dedicated professional career coach typically offers a more substantial service than informal, unpaid mentors. It’s important to find the right person: They should be specialized or at least have in-depth knowledge of your field or industry of interest. If you are seeking an MBA, they should have received theirs, ideally several years ago, and figured out how to use it effectively in the real world. Finally, they should have experience and a good track record of coaching, advising, informing, and guiding aspiring MBAs to clarity in their career goals.
With this experience, a coach can both guide you in making career choices leading up to the MBA and help lay out goals for after graduation.
What Does a Career Coach Do?
Let’s make one thing clear up front:. A career coach does not have all the answers, nor are they going to hand you a golden ticket to your dream MBA program or subsequent dream job. They are a resource for you—providing insider information about your desired role and asking the right questions. That’s right, they’ll be asking YOU about as many questions (if not more!) as you’ll be asking them.
Your career coach’s goal is to help you come to informed, clear, carefully thought-out decisions, not make those decisions for you. They’ll guide you from the early stages—identifying what you want to do with your career and how to best use your strengths— to the later stages, such as identifying target companies and roles and developing an interview strategy.
How to Find a Career Coach?
These days, it’s easier than ever to find good career coaching. Consider the following resources your first destination for career coaching:
- Admissions Consultancies
- University Career Services
- Online Coaching Platforms
Before you dive into an endless Google search, start with LinkedIn. You can of course tap into your own network, but it’s likely you are searching for a professional career coach because you don’t have adequate guidance in your own network. Rather than limit yourself to your existing connections, utilize the advanced search tool on LinkedIn. You can filter by industry, alma mater, title, and various other criteria. While we would encourage you not to narrow down your search too much, use these filters strategically to search for a career coach who has a background in your target industry, or perhaps add a filter that includes a handful of your top choice schools, so that you can browse coaches who actually attended an MBA program you are interested in. If it is important to you to be able to meet your career coach in person and move beyond the virtual relationship, you can search by location as well.
University Career Services
You will need to invest some time in finding the right coach, but don’t focus all your energy on only one strategy. Often resources from your university or most recent alma mater are the simplest and easiest career coaches to access. HBS has 40 dedicated career coaches on staff to help their students think through, plan, and design their ideal careers. If you are not yet enrolled in an MBA program, you can and should tap into your most recent alma mater’s career services—they may have career coaches on staff or at least a network of career coaches to refer you to. Universities are increasingly being judged by their graduates’ employability, so many have an interest in helping even relatively old graduates succeed.
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that you can find a good career coach online. Enterprising former MBA students have launched online platforms like Evisors, which now contracts with many MBA programs to provide additional career coaching services and can be a great place to meet a career coach online. There are many other reputable services out there—but do your research before you pull the trigger.
MBA Admissions Consultants
Finally, while they are not solely career coaches, finding an MBA admissions consultant can be an effective way to meet your career consulting needs. These individuals, like MBA career coaches, have received their MBAs and worked in an industry for a number of years. They have experience in the field, they know what it takes to get into a top MBA program, and they can guide you both on the application process and, depending on their experience in your industry of interest, on your career goals as well. Consider what your needs are—if you need a lot of help figuring out how to make your MBA dreams a reality and a little help defining your career goals along the way, then admissions consulting may be the right path forward.
What should I Look for in a Career Coach?
Like any profession, there are certain skills that make a person a good career coach. Here are three key coaching skills to look for:
Coaches have many different styles. It’s crucial that you keep in mind that your career coach is someone you are going to be getting very personal with, and the stakes can feel very high—this is your career, after all. This individual needs to be someone you can trust, and feel comfortable confiding in. You will probably talk in depth about shortcomings in your candidate profile, and what actions you need to take to get where you want to go. You need to ensure early on that you can handle this person’s individual coaching style, whether that’s forceful and relentless, or a little gentler and more encouraging. If it’s not a good fit, you are going to get a lot less value out of the experience.
Secondly, you should look for someone that has experience in your industry or field of interest. If you are very unsure of what you want to do, or your interests lay in a variety of directions, then you may be better off with a generalist—but that’s not often the case. If you are very sure that you want to go into, say, commercial real estate, or the energy industry, then you will benefit from finding a career coach with expertise in that field. You wouldn’t expect your florist to be able to tell you how to make a perfect macchiato, so why would you expect a career coach specialized in healthcare administration to be able to guide you into a career in real estate?
In addition to the importance of fit in personality and style of your coach and the crucial career experience they should have under their belt, you should look for a track record of success.
- How long have they been coaching MBAs?
- Are their former clients satisfied with their experience?
- Do they work independently or with a firm or university career services? (While not a surefire sign of a good track record, connections to an organization can be a positive indicator.)
The Benefits of Career Coaching
So, what should you expect to gain from all this? Here’s our shortlist:
- A better knowledge of yourself—your skills, your goals, and how your career can fulfill you
- Insight into career paths that interest you, and a better idea of why they may or may not suit you
- A solid plan that includes short- and long-term goals and more than one path to get to your desired end point
- Concrete, actionable steps for pursuing your short-term goals
- A greater degree of confidence in your strengths and abilities and a knowledge of how to make a case for yourself in interviews
- Long-term strategies to build your skills, network, and experience in pursuit of your longer-term goals
What are you waiting for? Get out there and find your MBA career coach.