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Paul Work, JD '89, MBA '95

Paul Work, JD '89, MBA '95

WHEN IT COMES TO CAREER TRANSITIONS, women and men both can use some help. Just ask Paul Work, JD ’89, MBA ’95. After making some money in the dot-com bubble, he moved on to a position in corporate strategy/business development at McKesson in San Francisco. Then his wife was offered a prestigious position as a deputy general counsel in Southern California, and the couple decided to move. “I never thought I’d be the trailing spouse,” he says, “but it was the right thing to do.”

Work didn’t know anybody in Orange County. So he picked up the phone and contacted Jennifer Winn, MBA ’90, a professional career coach based in Alamo, Calif., who had helped him make the jump to McKesson in 2005. “She gave me some incredibly helpful pieces of advice about how to meet people and build a network rapidly,” Work says. Today he’s the chief operating officer of a Southern California-based social networking startup called Xenii, and an angel investor as well.

Unlike executive coaches, who are hired to groom talent within organizations, career coaches work with individuals to help them refine their career goals and strategies. Typically they charge by the program, month, or hour ($150 to $250 on average, with some significantly higher) and meet periodically with their clients over weeks, months, or even years. Some of the folks who come to them have been laid off. Others are attempting to reenter the job market after years of home-based work. Some are unhappy in their current jobs and want to move to a new company or industry. Others love their companies and want advice on getting ahead. Still others aren’t sure what they want to do and need advice from an objective individual.

Mercy Eyadiel, director of alumni and Sloan career services at the GSB’s Career Management Center, says she’s happy to refer alumni to a list of highly qualified career coaches, including several who have MBAs from top institutions and professional coaching credentials. [See http://alumni.gsb.stanford.edu/career/advising.] Among them is Michael Melcher, JD/MBA ’94.

Michael Melcher, JD/MBA '94

Michael Melcher, JD/MBA '94

“Now that there’s this gigantic recession, all of a sudden the work that I do has become incredibly validated,” says Melcher, who works in the New York office of Next Step Partners. “The old way of looking at careers — picking out a path and doing that same thing for 20, 30, or 40 years — doesn’t work anymore. … People want expertise. They want a partner to help them navigate the process.”

Melcher usually starts out meeting his clients once a week and assigning homework between sessions to help them clarify what they really like to do and what they bring to the table. He also spends time helping them improve their networking skills. “Eighty percent of my work,” he says, “is communications based: How do you talk to somebody you haven’t talked to in eight years? How do you talk to the parent of your kid’s soccer buddy who happens to work in an industry that you think would be interesting? Saying things exactly right is very much an art.”

Winn, the coach who helped Work find his footing in Orange County, says it’s common for clients to call her back months and even years after their first sessions, depending on what’s going on in their lives. “Sometimes they get into a company, and then six or seven months later they might have a conflict with their boss; so we talk through that,” she says. “That’s probably the biggest difference between me and a traditional job placement counselor. Career coaches take a more holistic approach.”

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Also on Stanford Knowledgebase:

  1. How to Steer Your Career Around Life’s Curves
  2. QOTD: Online Life Morphing with Real Life
  3. Balancing Career and Family Commitments

12 Responses to “A Career Coach Can Help Keep Your Professional Life in Shape”

  1. I have never hired a career coach but I could imagine they would be very helpful especially if they had contacts and experience in the industry your are interested in. It would be helpful to bounce career decisions off of someone that has been there before.

  2. Iverson says:

    Though there is no harm in having a career coach but one should first try to set things straight by himself because everyone knows their own capabilities to the fullest and can guide themselves better. But yes if you lack confidence than career coach is a good option.