Caution: Red Flags to Avoid When Searching for a Career Expert

by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

Be sure to read our main career coach article, FAQs to Consider about Working with a Coach to Enhance Your Career.

What are the “red flags” or warning signs that someone seeking a coach should watch out for? Our panel of coaches reveals what to beware of.

“People who judge you, criticize you, or push you to do something yo don’t want to do.”

Ellen Cahill of Leaps & Bounds: Pathways to Success

“A coach whom you don’t click or agree with and can’t seem to be inspired by or influenced by. A coach who is more concerned about being paid than about doing great work and being of service.”

Cynthia Stringer of Success by Design

“I would be suspicious of specific guaranteed results. Also I’d question any coach who talks more than she listens, has her own agenda, or gives non-stop advice.”

Liz Sumner, Life Coach

“Beware of coaches who sound impressive but can’t or won’t back up their impressive-sounding expertise or who don’t provide you with some means of limiting your risk exposure if they don’t deliver what’s been agreed upon.”

Georgia Adamson of Adept Business Services

“Sad to say, I’ve met too many individuals who have attached the word ‘coach’ to their title who don’t have a clue as to the skill set and modality of having that title. They’ve jumped on the most current buzzword bandwagon. Ask potential coaches where their title comes from. Have they or are they attending a recognized coaching school/program?”

Maria Marsala of Maria’s Place: Coaching, Consulting & Courses

“If the coach has no coach specific training, I would be curious as to what he or she thinks qualifies him or her to be a coach. Fees that are too low or too high compared to other coaches [are also red flags].

Janine Schindler, Personal and Career Coach

“Avoid counselors who over-promise what they will do, or say they will take care of everything for you. The coaching process is a partnership in which both parties have responsibility; therefore, coaches should provide detailed contracts clarifying their responsibility and the clients’ responsibility. If they evade qualification questions, and cannot, or do not want to provide client references, look out. Be wary of the coach who tries to put you into a cookie cutter with clients of similar backgrounds. Be wary of the coach who makes promises but refuses to add them to the contract and requires full payment up front.”

Andrea Howard, employment counselor with the New York State Department of Labor

“Be wary of coaches who require you to sign long-term contracts and expect full payment up front. Many coaches offer three- to four-month contracts payable up front and then allow you to pay on a monthly or as-needed basis should you desire to continue.”

Beverly Harvey of HarveyCareers


Katharine Hansen, PhD, QuintCareers.com Creative Director
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, and is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website.