Career Coach: Who to Hire, Who to Fire

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Career coaches, like personal trainers, tax-preparers and housekeepers, are one-time luxuries that have now found a place in many professionals' third-millennium support systems.

Every Olympic athlete knows that choosing the right coach can determine the difference between going for gold and going home empty-handed. Now, many professionals, including a respected surgeon writing in The New Yorker, feel the same.

Alas, finding a canny career coach is only slightly less daunting than winning the gold. Career coaching is a magnet for mediocrities; those who can't do, coach. The wrong coach can hurt, not help so caveat emptor

The following slide show will introduce the dramatis personae of career coaches. Understanding the player profiles -- and their individual pros and cons -- will allow you to better choose a coach that will award your career with a winning edge.

Make sure to see the last page for my five questions you must ask any potential coach.

Agree? Disagree? Please share your career coaching experiences in the comments section of this article.

The Slacker

Any recent grad can wake up in their parent's basement and decide to become a career coach. With no barriers to entry, no start-up costs, no licensing and no widely recognized certification, career coaching is The Slacker's dream job. Inspired by the success of millennial coaches such as those detailed in The New York Times, The Slacker needs only to throw up a blog, schedule some Skype calls, and let his frat house-acquired personal charm and people skills work their magic. It beats selling Amway.

Hire: On the bright side, The Slacker is inexpensive, and his youthful enthusiasm can be appealing. So if you always wanted to have one of the "cool kids" pay attention to you and encourage you on the cheap, then The Slacker is the coach for you.

Fire: Having not actually had a career, the 20-something Slacker may, well, you know . . .

The Sage

In contrast to The Slacker, The Sage is an eminence grise who has seen and done it all. A retired military officer, a defrocked nun, or, you guessed it, a former Olympic coach, The Sage has had a far more interesting career than you -- and now she's willing to share her pearls of wisdom.

Hire: The Sage may inspire you with Shakespeare's St. Crispin's Day speech, or maybe she'll remind you that getting laid-off is not as bad suffering from leprosy in the Black Hole of Calcutta; such left-field, out-of-the-box insight can often inspire productive ideas.

Fire: The Sage often doesn't know the difference between a CD and a CDO. Thus your uplifting discussions are destined to remain at 50,000 feet.

The Stay-at-Home-Spouse

The Stay-At-Home-Spouse remembers, longingly, the intellectual engagement of the office; the happy hum of corporate life before the arrival of children or the trauma of economic dislocation. His other half's job keeps the wolves from the door, so why not tackle his own career ennui by helping others achieve some excitement in theirs.

Hire: The SAHS is all about empathy; he feels and shares your pain. He doesn't have a ton of clients so your success is his success. Heck, you may even hire him at your next job. So he's gonna work hard to help you achieve a breakthrough. Evenings, weekends, it's all good.

Fire: The SAHS doesn't possess the keys to the temple, otherwise he wouldn't be bored witless while working from his dining room table in Cos Cob. Hence he may default to prepackaged programs: the "Seven S's of Self-actualization" and whatnot. Sadly, the blind leading the blind can often lead down blind alleys.

The Swami

Old hippies never die, they just fade into career coaching. After a lifetime of rolfing, est, gestalt dialogues, zazen meditation, sex therapy and finding their inner child, these pseudo-shrinks are ready to help you obtain career nirvana. They post groovy profiles on groovy Web sites like Noomii.com -- get it? "new me"? They're great at group hugs, and even better at emotional manipulation.

Hire: Do dialogues such as those discussed in Parlour Magazine ("I feel such a strong energy, fearfulness, anxiousness, frustration . . . I want you all to know that you are all infinitely talented and capable of achieving goals beyond your wildest imagination . . ") get your career juices flowing? If so, you've found your coach. Peace.

Fire: If, per chance, you prefer a little red meat with your granola, then read on.

The Suit

The Don Draper of career coaches, The Suit is an actual mid-career professional, not a semi-retired, "hyphenated" wannabe who coaches when he's not chasing the kids or teaching a spin class. Instead, The Suit has meaningful experience in your field. He knows -- and might even coach -- executives at companies where you'd like to work. And -- gasp! -- he even has an office.

Hire: The Suit can critique your resume, discuss the differences between McKinsey and BGC, and opine on the future of Investment Banking: all with intelligence and authority. If you ask him very nicely he may even pull a referral from his ample Rolodex.

Fire: The Suit is expensive; his hourly rate is akin to what you'd pay a good accountant or attorney. Plus, he often requires that you prepay for a "package" of sessions. Last-minute cancellations? You're gonna pay anyway; and fuggedabout evening or weekend meetings. Finally, you're not The Suit's most important client, so don't expect to be treated as such. Yes, he did just forget your name when he said "good-bye."

The Career Iconoclast's 5 Must-Ask Questions for Any Potential Career Coach:

1. What makes your approach more effective than other coaches?

2. How will you tailor your program to address my individual needs?

3. What specific experience prepares you to provide perspective to my career?

4. Describe a client success story. (Then, ask for that client's contact information! If he winces, you'll know that he just invented or amplified the anecdote.)

5. How will I know when I no longer need your services?

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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