Hiring A Coach? Top 10 Questions to Ask!

The Jennifer Nash Newsletter

Welcome (back) to the Jennifer Nash Newsletter where I share biweekly tips on human leadership. If you’re new to the newsletter – welcome – I’m so glad you’re here! 

When it comes to developing yourself, a great coach can make all the difference. But how do you ensure that you’re hiring the right coach for you? Start with these top 10 questions as part of your due diligence:

Who is their coach? 

Olympic athletes, Oprah, and even former President Obama have coaches. Why? Because they wanted someone in their corner to help them reach and then exceed their potential. This question is key because every coach should have a coach and great coaches do. It’s a signal that they value continuous learning, have a growth, rather than fixed, mindset, and are aware that they don’t know everything.

What is their top takeaway from the most recent domain-relevant book they’ve read? 

Lifelong learning is essential in an ever-changing world, and nowhere is that more true than in coaching. This question helps you determine if they’re keeping up with the latest trends and knowledge in their domain. This matters because if they’re up to date on the latest thinking, you know that they’ll bring best practices and cutting-edge developments to your sessions, which will help you elevate your game.

Which professional coaching certifications do they hold? 

Certified coaches have dedicated time to complete rigorous training, learn coaching competencies, study and pass challenging certification exams, and agree to adhere to high professional, moral, and ethical standards. If they don’t hold any certifications, it might be helpful to interview several coaches that do so you can compare and contrast and feel confident in making your decision. Pro tip: Coaches who have earned coaching certifications in addition to having substantial experience in their domain are likely to be more effective than those without.

To what extent did their last three clients realize their coaching goals? 

This question gives you an idea of the coach’s effectiveness and their track record. Did their clients achieve their goals? If they fell short, what happened? If they exceeded them, what outcomes were achieved? Understanding how the last three clients fared with this coach may indicate your success potential with this coach.

How do they build a quality coaching relationship with clients? 

Coaches who build quality coaching relationships use three foundational elements: shared vision, relational energy, and compassion per my doctoral research, which directly impacts the likelihood of achieving their desired outcome. Their answer should reflect these elements, plus giving trust first, and any others important to you from a relational standpoint. Ask for three references and talk with them to get the scoop on what it’s really like to work 1:1 with this coach.

What is their specialty/niche focus area? 

This helps you identify if the coach’s expertise aligns with your specific needs and goals. Knowing this ahead of time helps ensure a successful working relationship, sets expectations, and increases the likelihood that you’ll achieve your desired outcomes. For example, looking ahead, I won’t interview a coach who specializes in employment law if what I really need is a competitive ballroom dance coach.

Describe their coaching methodology and tools. 

A clear coaching methodology and proven assessment tools are essential to track your progress and achieve your goals. Furthermore, great coaches tailor their approach to help you achieve your goals. You know the saying – fail to plan and you plan to fail. Understand the customized plan (the coach’s methodology). Determine which tool(s) they plan to use to help you get to where you want to go. In the absence of a plan or tools, consider looking elsewhere.

Explain the difference between coaching, consulting, advising, mentoring, and therapy? 

This question helps ensure the coach understands their role and boundaries as a coach. For example, telling someone what to do is not coaching – it’s advocating or advising. Solving someone’s problem for them by providing solutions or recommendations is not coaching – it’s consulting. Exploring historical trauma is not coaching – it’s counseling. When the coach can’t or isn’t able to define each of these clearly, you may be best served by moving to the next candidate on your list.

Why you? Why do they want to coach you? 

Their motivation for coaching you should align with your purpose for seeking a coach. Your coach should be in your corner and support you in achieving your desired outcomes. If they can’t get behind these outcomes, support you in ways that work best for you, or don’t believe in you, heed those red flags. If there is misalignment between their ‘why’ and your purpose, this may not be the right coach for you.

What makes them the best fit or “right” coach for you, in their opinion? 

This is your opportunity to gauge if they have listened to and heard you, understood your goals and needs, and assess if they can provide the right support for your journey. There are several additional factors that make the coach the right fit for me: I must like them as a human being; their rates must fit my budget; they must operate with integrity and uphold confidentiality; they must agree to speak candidly; and their availability must work with my calendar. 

Choosing a coach is a highly personal decision and it must be a mutual fit. Coaches who answer these ten questions to your satisfaction have a higher probability of creating a high quality coaching relationship with you. Why does this matter? Because the key determinant of you achieving your coaching goals is the quality of the coaching relationship. 

I hope this newsletter’s edition has provided food for thought if you are seeking to engage a coach in your life, leadership, and career.

Drop a note in the comments below about your experience (positive or negative) working with a coach. How did it turn out? What did you learn? What questions do you wish you’d asked before saying yes? What will you do differently next time?

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