How to choose a professional coach

As a professional coach myself, I am quite discerning in terms of what I look for in any of the coaches I choose to work with.  If you’re new to coaching, you may find the following list of criteria that I use to screen potential candidates a useful starting place for narrowing down your own search.

ICF Credential

The field of professional coaching (with all of it’s subsets: executive coaching, leadership coaching, life coaching, business coaching, etc) is not yet regulated like law or medicine, which means anyone can call her or himself a coach even without any relevant training, experience or skills.  So to separate the professionals from the masses, I start my search by honing in on coaches that have chosen to pursue - and earned - a Credential from the International Coach Federation (ICF).

In lieu of government regulations, the ICF has established professional standards for coaches and introduced a robust evaluation process for awarding Credentials, which saves me time in searching for a coach that has the relevant training, experience, and skills.  On their website, the ICF writes:

"ICF Credential-holders are part of a self-regulating group of elite coaches who provide accountability to clients and the coaching profession as a whole. They pursue and complete rigorous education and practice requirements that provide unquestioned legitimacy to their commitment to excellence in coaching.”

Also, all ICF Credentialed coaches are expected to adhere to the ICF Code of Ethics, which includes commitments to professional conduct, continuing professional development, maintaining client confidentiality and so on.  Should an ICF Credentialed coach breach any part of the Code of Ethics, there is the possibility to file a complaint with the ICF, which is a reassuring recourse from a client standpoint in case anything goes awry.

You can search for an ICF Credentialed coach using the Credentialed Coach Finder.

Focus or specialty

The next thing I filter for is a coach that has a focus on the area I want coaching on.  Career, leadership, spirituality, business…do they specialize in the area(s) that are most relevant for me and my goals at this time?

Track record

Given the coaches on my shortlist at this point adhere to strict confidentiality standards like the ICF’s, it’s not always possible for them to share the results their clients have gotten unless their clients have given explicit permission to have their story published.  Even so, I’ll have a quick look on the coaches’ websites and LinkedIn profiles to see if there are any testimonials, case studies or recommendations from past clients that indicate the effectiveness of the coaches' work.

How to choose a coach

Trust and resonance

The coach-client fit is very important to the effectiveness of the coaching engagement.  So at this point in the coach selection process, after reviewing the coaches’ websites, I do a gut-check to get a sense of who I feel I might resonate with and will reach out to those who make the cut for an initial conversation.  

On the initial call (or meeting) I’m checking whether I feel I can trust this person, whether I’ll be safe being completely honest and vulnerable with her or him.  If I can’t, I know the coaching won’t be as transformative as it could be.

A role model who walks the talk

This may or may not apply for you, but as a coach, another one of the ‘fit' criteria I’m looking for is whether I get a sense this is someone who does her or his own ‘work' as it were.  In addition to being a wonderful coach, I’m looking for a role model I can learn from, someone who demonstrates excellent communication, self-awareness, self-mastery, and non-judgment.  I find the best coaches are those that are constantly developing themselves, willing to stretch their own comfort zones as much as their clients’.

Program and fee

The next criteria I look at is the detail of the coaching service or program the coach has on offer.  Unless I’m simply looking to have a one-off conversation to clear my head, I’m rarely interested in working with coaches that have a time-for-money/hourly rate business model where they show up for a single session and then forget about me straight afterward.  

I’m usually looking for a partner, someone who cares about my success and is willing to invest in me throughout the course of my journey towards achieving my goal.  A key advantage of working with a coach on a long-term/program-basis is that they get to know you over time so are able to pick up on patterns and share more valuable/in-depth observations than would be apparent in a single conversation.


Please keep in mind, the list of coach selection criteria I’ve shared above is by no means exhaustive - for example, if in-person sessions or being able to speak with your coach in your native language are important to you, you may want to use geography or language as filters, respectively.  

My hope is that by sharing the information above it will help to make the important process of selecting the right coach for you both less daunting and more successful.