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How Do I Become an Executive Coach?

Shannon Rist
Shannon Rist

The path to becoming an executive coach usually starts with a great deal of training in combination with an outgoing personality and a strong to desire to sell one’s self along the way. Some people are hired as coaches directly out of school, but in most places it’s more likely that you’ll need to work your way up to a position of respect and authority, usually through a combination of intense networking and being willing to start small. Thinking about the sort of work you want to be doing can also be helpful when you’re in the planning phases of your career. Some executive coaches work for big firms and are assigned to clients automatically, whereas others work more or less on their own, often as freelancers or individual entities. There are pros and cons to each approach, though getting started in either track usually requires the same basic components. It’s important to realize that simply being hired isn’t the end of the line, either. In order to remain successful, you’ll usually need to continue marketing yourself and improving your own training and expertise along the way.

Understanding the Job Generally

A coach may work one-on-one with an executive.
A coach may work one-on-one with an executive.

An executive coach is an individual who observes behaviors within an organization, recognizes individual talents, and then mentors employees on better ways to conduct business. Many different sorts of corporations and businesses employ people with this sort of expertise to help with personnel issues, often on a short or long-term basis — and sometimes even permanently, though permanent arrangements tend to be more rare. At the upper levels, this career can be financially lucrative, and many coaches also feel that a career focused on helping people succeed is extremely rewarding.

An executive coach mentors employees on better ways to conduct business.
An executive coach mentors employees on better ways to conduct business.

Like so many nuanced careers, it can be hard to know how to get started. Almost all coaches begin with a university education, and an undergraduate degree is almost always required. Fields of study that include business management, human relations, and psychology are usually good choices, but almost any degree can be leveraged to get started. Personality is also usually quite important, and outgoing people tend to do better in these positions than introverts. In most cases the job is about self-promotion and an ability to read people as much as it is about book learning.

Importance of Regular Training

An aspiring executive coach must be willing to go through continuous training.
An aspiring executive coach must be willing to go through continuous training.

At the same time, though, regular training is often very important, both at the beginning of your career and as things progress and you advance. There are many companies that offer comprehensive training to the person wanting to become an executive coach. These programs not only teach their clients how to coach, but also how to develop business and marketing plans, build up organizational capacity, and present a variety of new skills related to self-employment.

When choosing a program, be sure to ask about the median income for coaches who graduate from the program, what business-building skills they teach, and what continued ongoing support is available after the training program. It is important to find a program that addresses all aspects of coaching and has available testimonials from previous students. If you’re looking to get certified, asking about certification-specific training programs might also make sense.

Different Work Settings

In most places you’ll have a couple of options when it comes to actually settling into day-to-day work. Some people are hired at executive consulting firms, which are retained by corporations generally; in these situations, you’ll likely be assigned a portfolio of clients, then assessed based on your success with them. You won’t normally have much choice when it comes to jobs, but the security of your position and the guaranteed paycheck are popular reasons for the tradeoff.

Consultancy firms aren’t always hiring, though, and may not have jobs in the locations where you want to be, either. Many successful coaches work for themselves, either as freelancers or by founding boutique firms. The marketing is often a lot harder in these situations and it can take a long time to build up a dependable client base, but this sort of work environment usually offers a lot more flexibility in return.

Marketing and Individual Drive

No matter your situation, marketing yourself is usually an important part of success, both as you become an executive coach and in the years following. Convincing people that they need your services isn’t always easy, and early customers often do not pay the full rate. Being an expert in a field is one thing, but getting paid what you are worth is another.

Marketing, contact management, and visibility relations can all be helpful in the beginning. Internet marketing can be an inexpensive and effective tool. Writing articles, involvement in social media, blogging, and forum posting can all help the new coach to gain exposure and bring in new clients.

Discussion Comments


@ BabaB - I have to agree with you on some points. Careers in executive coaching are fairly new, and were not too well accepted. But in the last few years, executive coaches have become better trained. They have learned how to market successfully to clients and have discovered how to coach using new and better techniques.

A friend of mine told me her story. She quit her job with a large corporation and found an excellent course in executive coaching. After getting her certification, she tried hard to get clients, with little success.

Then her former company hired her to work part time as an executive coach. She was fairly happy with what she accomplished. But she decided she needed to do more research to figure out how to help her clients.

After devoting five years to learning how to be an executive coach, she finally became established and started making good money.

It's a long and challenging journey, but with persistence, it can reap big rewards in wages and job satisfaction.


It seems to me that becoming an executive coach would be a long road. The training part and getting a certification is probably the easier part. But I would think it would be quite a challenge to find clients who will keep you employed for the long haul.

I'm not sure how a coach from the outside could work with employees in companies without being concerned about stepping on the toes of managers.

I know that life coaches working with individuals to groom them in various way, can be pretty successful. But I'm not so sure about helping employees in companies.

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    • A coach may work one-on-one with an executive.
      By: Adam Gregor
      A coach may work one-on-one with an executive.
    • An executive coach mentors employees on better ways to conduct business.
      By: Elenathewise
      An executive coach mentors employees on better ways to conduct business.
    • An aspiring executive coach must be willing to go through continuous training.
      By: Monkey Business
      An aspiring executive coach must be willing to go through continuous training.