Only Superstars Use Coaches for Their Job Searches

by Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR

Article content is provided by HigherEdJobs.
Once upon a time, those who fell behind relied on tutors, coaches, or advisers to help them get back up to speed. External assistance came with a blight to one's reputation because getting help was a sign of weakness. However, somewhere in the early part of this century things changed. Coaches were no longer for remedial performers; instead, they began to be used by superstars who sought a competitive edge. Now it is vogue for those who occupy the 'C-suite' to have their very own executive coach -- and often more than one. This same wisdom applies to today's job seeker. Career coaches, search firm consultants, resume writers, outplacement counselors, and a host of other purveyors are now providing insight, advice, and assistance to those who are wise enough to use their services.

The athletic world is filled with famous duos -- champions and the coaches who propelled them to greatness. Their names are usually mentioned in tandem. Ali and Dundee, Jordan and Jackson, Brady and Belichick, and Com?neci and Retton both with Károlyi are some easy examples. The doubters have largely been silenced. Roger Federer, considered the best men's tennis player of all time, initially rejected this conventional wisdom and went without a coach for about a year at two different career intervals. Yet, after noticing his subpar performance during those periods, he got religion and now is a champion -- pun intended -- for the virtue and value of having a coach. On occasion he has even touted the virtue of having two coaches at the same time.

Good coaches can give great players an advantage over their peers. Unlike in some sports, the hiring practice offers no consolation awards, silver medals, or prize money for runners-up. Only one person gets the job. This should be an imperative, for anyone who is smart enough, to not go at it alone. There is value in getting external assistance, regardless of one's inherent ability or performance. Coaches can help one get ahead of the pack.

In all walks of life from SAT preparation tutors, to pop stars with vocal coaches, to award-winning actors with audition coaches, the best of the best appreciate the advantage of getting a different look, second opinion, critical review, or just a sounding board. I have witnessed many capable candidates undermine themselves in interviews by making rookie mistakes that could have been avoided if they had only known some basics about interview etiquette. As an HR manager, I have wanted to whisper a few key words to numerous candidates, and some I have wanted to advise to stop talking after they had already answered questions. Now, as a career coach, I get to say, "Here are some do's and don'ts that you must heed if you are to be successful."

In a resume or CV a typo, grammatical error, or missing word is often used against otherwise qualified applicants. Good editors can do wonders on the most basic level, but they might also provide the clarity of style and purpose that conveys the right message about one's background. In all cases, a second set of eyes and an extra brain can make the difference between good and great, or competitive and outstanding. For those who have been out of the job market for a while, a resume writer might provide a more contemporary look to one's application materials. While headhunters are not usually found in higher education, executive search consultants usually play a similar role and can teach a candidate how to polish their presence and interview performance. How does one learn to network if they have never practiced this indispensable art before?

Career coaches provide a variety of services. They include general information about how to efficiently and effectively canvass the marketplace for positions of interest. Networking know-how is an essential skill for every job seeker. Of course, coaches help applicants develop good application materials -- cover letters, resumes/CVs, statements of teaching philosophy, portfolios, and other documents. Interviewing preparation, mock interviews, establishing rapport with committee members, and how to research a position or organization are a few of the other services typically offered. One of the biggest advantages seasoned career coaches offer is assistance with compensation negotiations. They provide data on labor markets and assistance with contract details. This alone can provide the job-seeking client with a return on investment that is two-, five-, or even 10-fold if a better salary is secured because of good advice. Coaches can also help professionals after the job search has ended, for a successful probationary year, and beyond.

The era of executive coaches in higher education has only just begun. Like athletic performers or thespians on the big stage, a big interview day is in your future and the most successful candidates prepare, and prepare, and prepare. Coveted positions as tenure-track faculty, endowed chairs, directors, deans, vice presidents, provosts, or presidents are highly competitive, and there are always other equally qualified, smart, experienced, and exceptional finalists. The job is more likely awarded to the candidate who performs the best during the interview. The selected candidate might have had the advantage of looking, in their mind's eye, to the sideline coach who had prepped them for the day's challenges. In the ultra-competitive, zero-sum game of job searches and interviewing, smart candidates get assistance.