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The Question:

I am currently becoming certified through the International Coach Federation (ICF). I am exploring career coaching as my niche, with high school or college students as my target. I have a bachelor of education and a bachelor of kinesiology. I am seeking direction, advice and information. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

The Answer:

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Congratulations on taking the steps to becoming a certified coach. It sounds as if you have the educational background to work well with high school students and, potentially, college students.

The International Coach Federation, one of the main certifying bodies in coaching, represents over 18,000 coaches worldwide. The ICF sets and maintains the ethical and practice standards for its member coaches and the coaching industry. The ICF also has specialty community practice areas, including one for coaches working in schools from kindergarten through university. This group meets once a month by teleconference for professional development and discussions relevant to coaching educators. Often, guest speakers make presentations at these teleconferences.

If you have not already done so, I recommend that you select a coaching school that will help you develop and hone your skills. Ideally, you will want to find a school that is accredited by the Association of Coaching Teaching Organizations (ACTO) and the ICF. You will want to find an accredited training program that will meet your educational and professional development needs, as well as provide training and support around practice and business development.

You can find accredited programs through the ICF at www.coachfederation.org or ACTO at www.actoonline.org Since you are interested in coaching high school or college students, check to see which programs have trainers with experience in this area. Training programs are offered online, through video or teleconferencing, in person, or a combination of these. Most of these programs will offer certification after the training, which will take a number of months, if not years, to complete. Graduation from an accredited training program will often allow you to achieve your first and higher levels of certification through the ICF more quickly and without having to present a portfolio of your work and pass a written exam at the associate or professional certified coach levels.

Next, find an ICF-certified coach to work with on a regular basis. The coach can help you clarify your target market and niches, and build your business or practice.

Consider hiring a coach who works in your specialty area to help you develop and enhance your coaching skills as well as build your coaching practice. You can find prospective coaches through the ICF coaching educator's community of practice group. You can also use the coach referral services through the ICF or one of the search engines through one of the coaching schools.

Figure out what you need help with respect to coaching. Determine what type of coach you are looking for, including their qualities, skills, background and experience. Consider what you can afford. Pick three to five coaches and do a sample coaching session with each of them. Many coaches offer complementary 30- to 40-minute sessions for prospective clients.

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Have your questions ready to ask each of the coaches. Find out who they work with, what their background is, how they attract their clients and build their practice, and how they help their clients. You can ask them what distinguishes them from other coaches, how they work with clients, what they can do for you, and why you should choose them over other coaches. Also ask them what type of clients they coach, who they love to work with, if they are full or part-time coaches (and what else they might do), how long it took to build their practice or business, and what percentage of their practice involves coaching high school or college students.

Start building your coaching skills and business by coaching clients. You will become more skilled and confident, the more people that you coach. Consider volunteering for non-profit agencies that provide coaching to clients who otherwise could not afford coaching. Be courageous, persistent, and patient since it takes time to hone your skills and build your coaching business. Also consider working as an internal paid coach for a school or college to build your skills, experience and confidence at this stage in your career.

Bruce Sandy is principal of www.brucesandy.com and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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