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Is a Career Coach Really Necessary for Social Impact Professionals?

Catalina Rojas

May 8, 2024

Navigating a career in the social impact sector often involves unusual pathways and challenges that can sometimes be overwhelming. In this blog post, I explore the potential role of career coaching in helping professionals maximize their potential and make impactful decisions.

Understanding the Effectiveness of Career Coaching

Research consistently supports the efficacy of career coaching. A meta-analysis highlights that coaching can significantly enhance an individual's performance, skills, and psychological well-being, impacting areas like work engagement and motivation (Emerald Insight, 2019). There is strong data on the value of university students engaging with career services and coaching as a critical part of increasing the number and chances of landing employent (NACE, 2022). A study of several hundred students and career support staff in Belgium and the Netherlands found valuable evidence (Niels van der Baan, Wendy Nuis, Simon Beausaert, Wim Gijselaers & Inken Gast , 2024)

The present study shows that (career) coaching in higher education is a valuable
pedagogical intervention to support students in the development of their employability competencies and their learning process, and, in turn, will facilitate their transition to the workplace (p.15)

Of course not all coaching is equal as a great deal depends on the type of coaching services offered, the qualifications and expertise of career staff or coaches, if it is one-off or ongoing, if the service is integrated into the overall university experience, the overall job market, a student's particular skills and subject of study, and more.

Specific Benefits for Social Impact Professionals

For those in the social impact realm, career coaching goes beyond conventional career growth, focusing deeply on aligning personal values with professional aspirations. A critical part of building or advancing an impact career is exploring the wide range of sectors and roles where it is possible to make an impact, how one's skills align with the job market, what are the ethics and values guiding one's job search and much more. Effective coaching aids individuals in enhancing their self-awareness, increasing their resilience, and effectively setting and achieving career goals, which are crucial in navigating the complexities of social impact work (PLOS ONE, 2015).

When to Consider Hiring a Career Coach

A career coach can be a powerful ally in helping you achieve greater impact and fulfillment in your professional life. Consider hiring a coach if you:

  • Feel uncertain about your career direction and need help exploring paths that align with your values and goals for social impact.
  • Seek to develop new skills and perspectives that will enable you to take on more impactful roles and drive positive change.
  • Need support mapping out an actionable plan to achieve your impact-focused career objectives.
  • Struggle with accountability and follow-through on your career development actions and commitments.
  • Are actively applying for impact-focused roles but not getting the results or traction you desire.
  • Lack confidence in your interviewing abilities and need guidance on how to effectively communicate your value to impact-driven employers.

However, a career coach may not be necessary if you:

  • Have a clear, actionable plan for your impact career that you are successfully implementing on your own.
  • Can tap into a strong support network of mentors and connections who provide robust guidance and accountability in your social impact pursuits and/or have strong career services available to you.
  • Are already getting results in your impact job search and feel confident in your ability to navigate the hiring process.
  • Have limited financial resources and cannot afford the investment in coaching at this time.
  • Prefer a more independent, self-guided approach to your career development and do not feel you would benefit from the structure and accountability of coaching.

Choosing the Right Coach

When choosing the right career coach, especially for a career in the social impact sector, several factors can be helpful to to ensure that you find someone who can effectively support your career aspirations.

  1. Expertise and Knowledge: A coach specializing in social impact should ideally have a deep understanding of the sector, including its challenges, opportunities, and trends. They should be well-versed in the specific areas you're interested in, whether that's nonprofit management, corporate social responsibility, environmental advocacy, or another niche within the field.
  2. Proven Track Record: Look for a coach with a solid history of helping professionals navigate similar paths. This includes tangible successes like career advancements, successful transitions, and significant personal growth of previous clients. Testimonials, case studies, and documented outcomes can provide insight into their effectiveness.
  3. Certifications and Skills: While certifications aren't always necessary, they can indicate a coach’s commitment to their profession and their mastery of certain coaching methodologies.
  4. Coaching Style and Personality: The compatibility of a coach’s style with your personality is an important factor. Do you click and are able to explore what can be challenging topics at times in a useful manner. Some coaches may adopt a more directive approach, while others might facilitate self-discovery. Consider what style will best help you thrive and feel supported.
  5. Accessibility and Price: Coaching can be a significant investment, so it's important to consider the cost and ensure it fits within your budget. Additionally, consider the coach’s availability—do they offer flexible scheduling, and are they accessible for follow-up questions or support between sessions?
  6. Referrals and Recommendations: Personal recommendations or professional referrals can significantly influence your choice. If a coach comes highly recommended by trusted colleagues or industry contacts, this can signal their effectiveness and reputation.
  7. Sector-Specific Insight: A coach with experience in the social impact sector will understand its unique dynamics and can provide relevant advice and strategies tailored to this field. They should be able to navigate the complexities of non-profits, NGOs, social enterprises, or corporate foundations effectively.
  8. Content and Thought Leadership: Does the coach produce content—like articles, podcasts, or workshops—that aligns with your interests and challenges? Their public content can offer insights into their expertise and the value they might add to your professional development.
  9. Initial Consultation: Most coaches offer an initial consultation free of charge. Use this opportunity to gauge their understanding of your needs, their enthusiasm for your goals, and their ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

Selecting a coach who not only has the right credentials and experience but also genuinely understands the intricacies of the social impact sector and resonates with your personal and professional development goals is essential for a successful coaching relationship. This approach ensures that you invest in guidance that is not only expert but also highly personalized to your career trajectory.

Leveraging Free Resources

Before investing in paid coaching, it's usually a great idea to tap into existing resources that to help your career in social impact at little to no cost:

Some additional resources to support your career development:

  • 80,000 Hours: Provides evidence-based advice to help you make a significant impact with your career decisions + has a great job board and podcast.
  • Idealist: A platform for finding volunteer opportunities, nonprofit jobs, internships, and organizations committed to social impact.
  • edX: Provides a wide range of free courses from global institutions focused on career development and social impact.
  • TED Talks: Check out their curated list of over 200 talks on all things careers.
  • LinkedIn Learning: Offers skill development courses relevant to social entrepreneurship and leadership + has a number of courses on career development.
  • Devex: Delivers industry news, tools, and career advice for professionals in global development, health, and humanitarian sectors.
  • Impactpool: Helps you find jobs and get career advice in the United Nations, NGOs, international organizations, and more.
  • ClimateBase: A platform for job opportunities and insights in the climate technology and sustainability sectors.
  • Terra.do: An online learning and networking hub aimed at fostering a global community of climate change professionals.

Of course there are also tons of emerging resources leveraging the power of AI around career development. A few key ones include:

  • Major Chatbots - One can use any of the major AI Chatbots to do some great exploration and support around career paths, upskilling and more. This includes ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot, Claude, and Gemini. All have free versions and can be very useful.
  • Customized Chatbots - If you have a paid ChatGPT account check out the PCDN Social Impact Chatbot (it is a trial).

Next Steps

To elevate your professional journey in the social impact sector, selecting a knowledgeable career coach is crucial. Understanding the benefits of career coaching, recognizing when to seek guidance, and choosing a coach aligned with your goals are key steps to enhancing your impact and reaching your career potential. Also being realistic about what a coach can do (a lot) and not (they cannot guarantee results or a a job) is important before signing up for such support.

Looking for help? Consider potentially engaging Dr. Craig Zelizer, PCDN's founder, who is a seasoned expert deeply embedded in the social impact world. Craig has an extensive background as a social entrepreneur, professor, and connector. He has conducted career development workshops both online and in-person across the globe, mentored thousands of individuals, worked one-on-one with nearly 150 clients, and has engaged in cutting-edge applied research on careers. Whether you’re aiming to refine your career objectives, manage transitions, or align your profession with your passion for making a difference, Craig can often provide invaluable assistance. If he isn't the right person for your needs he can often make great suggestions to other impact orientated career professionals.

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