There are a lot of career and leadership coaches in the world and a lot of people who would benefit from coaching. However, what makes a fantastic coach for one person might not work at all for someone else. Since most coaches put some effort into marketing themselves but are by no means experts, it often comes down to the client to choose a coach who is right for them.

But if you’ve never worked with a professional coach before that can be a daunting proposition.

Working full-time as a career and leadership coach for the last 6 years, I’ve learned an incredible amount about how important fit is for myself as well as for my clients. These are the five questions I always review with potential clients to make sure the relationship will be a successful one.

1. What are the most important qualities in a successful client?

Every client is different from their personality to their needs and situation, but if a coach has been working professionally for a good amount of time they should have a good sense of what qualities make for their most successful clients.

For example, I always ask potential clients if they want me to hold them accountable to meeting a certain number of times a week/month. This foundation serves as a great building point for communication needs and expectations. Myself, I do best with clients who are self-motivated. I want to be a partner, not a coach that turns into a nag or a bother when my clients have busy lives. Being upfront about those expectations and desires helps me filter a potentially successful relationship versus a potentially bad one.

It’s important to know what kind of support you want from your coach and find someone who enjoys giving that kind of support.

2. How many clients have you worked with who are in my situation/industry/experience level?

Some coaches will try to market themselves to be a coach to everyone, but I’ve found in my years of working that there are certain types of clients who help me do my best work. My two greatest joys in coaching are helping people navigate a career transition and help emerging leaders find their confidence and their unique leadership style.

If you know who you are and what you want help with, find a coach who specializes in clients like you and enjoys working with you from the ground up.

3. What’s your communication style?

It’s true what they say: communication is key. In the coaching business communication is a direct pathway to compatibility.
If you are a direct communicator, find a coach who is or you might risk not hearing their messages. If you are someone who appreciates nuance and careful language choice, find a coach who thinks similarly.
This isn’t to say your entire world view must match that of your coach. In fact, many clients and coaches learn to adapt to each other’s communication styles. However, language and communication are incredibly important aspects of the coaching relationship, so finding some common ground is important.

4. How do you see our coach/client relationship?

For me, a great coaching relationship is like a partnership. Both my clients and I are bringing something unique and valuable to the table. We are setting the roadmap together based on their needs and preferences with my input about what is realistic and attainable.
Some other coaches look at their jobs more as an enabler, where the client entirely takes the lead and the coach provides support as necessary. Other coaches act more as a mentor where much of the coaching comes from them providing insight and feedback to you.
All of these coaching approaches are valuable, but different. The selection comes down to fit for you and what kind of relationship you’d like to have with your coach. Think about how you’d like the relationship to feel and you should be able to answer this question yourself without any issues.

5. What’s your sense of humor?

Now, this might not seem related to coaching, but I promise it is. Coaching should be challenging. You won’t be moving forward if your coach isn’t pushing you to new awareness and challenging you to take action. But that doesn’t mean it’s all work and no play! Trust and connection is an important part of a coaching relationship. Approaching life with a sense of humor, and finding common ground here, will make the coaching much more fun and much more impactful in the long run.

These five questions to ask before hiring a career coach help to eliminate any potential issues that might arise when you hire a new coach. Knowing your communication style and needs, how your potential coach sees their relationships with their clients, their experience, and their idea of a “successful” client can help ensure that you get paired with the right coach for you.