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Career Coach or Mentor? What’s the Difference and How to Find the Right One for You

22 June 2022   |   by Explore Careers

Once you leave school or graduate from university, there’s not going to be a dedicated careers advisor on hand to answer your burning questions.

If you hit a wall, decide to change careers or are stuck wondering how (or why) to progress in a specific industry – a career coach or career mentor could definitely come in handy.

But what’s the difference between the two? And how do you know which one you should work with?

Let’s take a look.

What is a Career Coach?

Career coaches can help with a range of career-related services.

They might not be specialised in any particular industry, but they may focus on a key area of support such as:

  • Helping graduates find their first jobs.
  • Helping mid-level career professionals achieve promotions.
  • Assisting with career changes or transitions into a new industry.
  • Helping professionals through redundancy to find a new job.
  • Helping leadership professionals find new ways to grow and secure career fulfilment.
How Do They Help?

Some career coaches might work with you via Zoom meetings and emails, offering general guidance and support.

Others might help you create a complete, structured, step-by-step plan to help you reach your career goals.

To determine how they can help you, most career coaches will want to know:

  • Where you’re at in your career and where you want to be.
  • What your primary and secondary goals are.
  • If you’re happy or unhappy with how things are.
  • What you’ve done before or been doing to help achieve your goals.

Career coaches also range in terms of how they charge and the upfront versus ongoing fees.

As they vary so much, it’s always worth researching and having initial conversations with a few different coaches to help find the right match for you.

What is a Career Mentor?

A career mentor differs from a career coach as they tend to focus on a specific industry. A mentor is someone who has almost ‘been there’ and is now offering their advice and support to help you get to where you want to be (likely, the place where they’re at!).

It’s really common for graduates to have or seek out career mentors who are established within their chosen industry to help them learn how to be successful and overcome common barriers.

How Do They Help?

Career mentors are often voluntary, but some charge for their time and support. You can usually expect to be assigned a career mentor if you apply to an internship or graduate program.

Universities also offer career mentoring services, which might be based on supporting your studies, securing work experience, or learning more about postgraduate study.

Many companies offer career mentoring services, where they match new employees or employees seeking to level up their careers in the organisation with more senior employees.

Career mentors might:

  • Be active professionals in your chosen industry.
  • Offer weekly or monthly catch-ups to answer questions and advice on overcoming challenges.
  • Offer their insights on how they progressed their own career and problem solve ideas with you for how to move forward with your own.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re at a point where you’re wondering whether you need a career coach or a career mentor, the following three questions can help.

1. Am I happy in my chosen industry but unhappy with my job?

YES: If you’re happy with the industry you’re working in but want to level up your job or professional accolades, then you might be better off seeking a career mentor.

A career mentor can offer insights into your chosen industry and help you problem-solve how to move on in the ways you want.

NO: If you’re not happy and you find yourself daydreaming about working in another industry, then a career coach who specialises in helping individuals to change careers could be the right way to go for you.

2. Am I happy with my resume and interview technique?

YES: Sweet – keep doing what you’re doing (although if you’re not landing interviews or the job after dozens of applications and attending interviews, you might want to tweak a few things!)

NO: A career coach can offer insights here to help you maximise your chances of success.

3. Do I know what I want to do next with my career?

YES: Great – a career mentor can help you formalise what you want to do and offer industry-specific insights into ways to achieve those career goals successfully.

NO: That’s all good – sometimes not knowing is an exciting way to find new opportunities you wouldn’t have thought of before. A career coach can help you evaluate your values, overall goals, passions and dislikes and see where there’s alignment with possible next steps.

Final Thoughts

The world of corporate career development, coaching and mentoring probably isn’t something you’re too concerned with right now – and rightly so!

But that doesn’t mean there won’t come a time when you start to wonder what all the good stuff out there is and how it might help you.

Feel free to bookmark this blog and come back to it when the time is right for you – we hope it helps!


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