So you want to become a coach: the three most important considerations before you pick a certification

Every week an acquaintance or friend asks me for recommendations on coach trainings and whether they really matter. In this article I want to share what I’ve learned after ten years as a coach. 


Here’s what you need to know: 


The best way to learn to be a coach is to hire a fantastic coach to coach you. 


Hire someone who you resonate with. Read his or her website thoroughly before you reach out. Recommendations are nice, but the website review is a better snapshot. Here’s why: you are not your friend and your challenges and goals are not your friend’s challenges and goals. 


Selecting a coach is as individual as selecting a bra. You want to be supported, comfortable and, well, challenged to be your best self. 



Certifications don’t matter. Most of the time. 


I work within corporate settings. I do not have an actual coaching certification. I have lost exactly zero business because of my lack of certification.


Some people need certification because they will coach internally as an employee. Others need certification because their egos require it before they can feel legitimate calling themselves coaches. Still others just love certifications and what they mean and the process. 


I happen to be none of the above and am much more about results than process. My path has equipped me with all kinds of models and frameworks and tools to apply to coaching and consulting. I’m blessed to have a quick mind and voracious appetite for information. I’m observant and intuitive. I’ve also coached (sports of all kinds) since I was 15 years old. Helping clients achieve goals is something I’ve done for over 20 years. So for me, the certification doesn’t matter. 


But part of being a good coach is knowing yourself. Check in and see what the certification means to you. If it’s important, do it. If not, you can develop your methods in other ways.


How to pick a certification program.


You can attend university programs (like those at Georgetown and Columbia). You can go to programs online and offline that take anywhere from a weekend to three years. 


The options for coaching certifications are myriad and confusing. 


First decide if you plan to pursue ICF certification. ICF is the International Coaching Federation and the recognized governing body for the industry. If you want the ICF designation of CPC, etc, then that will narrow your search and many coaching programs do not comply with ICF regulations. 


You can probably tell by now that I’m not particularly enamored of official certifications and designations so make sure you have a good reason to go the ICF accredited route. 


Whether you go accredited or not, you’ll find a huge spread of options for training. You can spend a lot or a little money and a lot or a little time. Money and time spent are not directly proportional to quality of curriculum, instruction and/or fellow students. 


So do your due diligence. Ask current and former students about their experiences. Check out students’ websites and businesses. Hire a couple of different coaches from different schools to see how their methodologies differ. 


Above all, google every single institution or person who hosts a training. Look for them on the Better Business Bureau. Sadly the coaching industry seems to attract charlatans and more than a few of my friends have ponied up time and money for programs that promise and don’t deliver. 


At this point, I do not make most of my money from 1:1 coaching but I still have clients because they are, literally, my practice. 


I maintain a small coaching practice because it challenges me at the same time that I challenge my clients. It pushes me to learn and to grow in order to serve my learning and growing clients. 


Ultimately, I go back to #1. Hire fantastic coaches and keep learning and reading on your own. Your clients will benefit from any work that you do for yourself.