Should You Hire a Career Coach?

Job seekers confess about paying big bucks to land their next gig

by Penny Wrenn •
woman career image

In 2007, Alexander Williams*, 38, was hating his job as a corporate attorney at a major law firm in New York City. Bottom line: Williams felt that his work was no longer fulfilling, so he hired a career coaching firm to help him figure out what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life.

A series of personality tests revealed that Williams had the potential to excel in more of a do-gooding profession, so he quit his lucrative lawyer gig and took a job as a public affairs director at a university.

There was just one problem. Six months into his new career, Williams found himself in the exact same position—feeling similarly unfulfilled, but also now … underpaid. He wanted to go back to law, but the recession had just hit, so firms weren’t hiring.

 “I couldn’t go back to my old law firm because they were laying off people left and right,” says Williams. And although he was getting interviews at other practices, the meetings weren’t turning into offers. So when a friend told him about Karen Elizaga, an executive coach who specialized in helping people find what she calls their “sweet spot,” he pounced on the idea. Maybe this time he’d find his perfect match.

Related: 6 Generational Stereotypes to Bust on Your Job Hunt

Of course, he wasn’t making attorney money anymore, so hiring Elizaga—whose expert advice starts at $500 per hour—was a splurge. But Williams was desperate. “Even though the market was bleak,” he says, “I wanted every possible advantage to make sure that I was coming across well in interviews, and basically doing everything that I could to get back into legal practice.”

Over the course of about five sessions, six months and lots of hard work, Elizaga helped Williams to ultimately land a plum position with a firm in Austin, Texas, where he’d been dreaming of moving.

Related: How I Did a Career 180 When I Was Almost 40

“When Alexander came to me, he was down in the dumps and thinking that his life had totally taken a wrong turn,” says Elizaga. “So my number-one job was to get him to feel good about himself—and project that positive confidence to potential employers.” Mixed in with the self-analysis was also rigorous practical work: Elizaga prepped Williams for interviews the way someone would train a prizefighter, recording him in mock scenarios, and then playing back the videos to give him a blow-by-blow of what he was doing wrong.

Elizaga admits that her approach can seem like therapy, but Williams, who paid around $2,000 for her services, notes that he’s proof it works. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten my job if it weren’t for Karen,” he says. “She got me to focus on my strengths and helped me realize that I’d be a valuable asset to potential employers.”
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Image courtesy of Helder Almeida

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