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The Great Debate: Career Coach vs. Recruiter

Job hunting can be a daunting process, and even the words “job search” may trigger all sorts of dark judgments and fears of where to start, what to do, and “Oh dear, am I even doing this right?” If you feel stuck somewhere in the job-search process, seeking advice and support from an expert is a great option.

So, when should you start looking for assistance? And who is the right one to guide you to career nirvana? A career coach and a recruiter, also known as a headhunter, are two professionals that are equipped with the tools to get you a job. So which one should you hire? Let’s take a look at the differences between the two.

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The most important thing is that you begin somewhere. Anywhere. There’s an enormous market of options for career-seekers in need of assistance. Talk to friends, research online, call a few staffing agencies, revise your resume. Inaction has likely gotten you stuck and staying stagnant – living inside your head alongside the “What ifs” – will only allow your fears and frustrations to increase. A body at rest stays at rest, right?

Rather than be a victim to the scary unknown, it’s critical that you take back the job-search experience and create something deliberately. There’s no wrong choice except no choice at all.

When do I hire a career coach/recruiter?

My first answer, is IMMEDIATELY. As soon as you find yourself asking questions, reach out and begin the next step. The time is now, because later often becomes never and a satisfying career is too precious to sit back and wait for.

With that in mind, here are some common places that will trigger the career coach/recruiter search:

  • “I don’t know what I want, but I know I’m unhappy at my current job.”
  • “I know what I want, but I don’t have the experience.”
  • “I know what I want but it doesn’t pay enough.”
  • “I’ve applied everywhere, but I don’t get called back.”
  • “I’ve interviewed at several places, but there’s been no offers.”
  • “I need a new job FAST.”
  • “I want to get paid more.”
  • “I haven’t been promoted and want to be.”

Any of these resonate with your story? Then get to it!

What does a career coach do?

Who are they? Career coaches come from all walks of life in age, experience, background, and knowledge. However, you can categorize them in two areas: those who have a background/accreditation in coaching and specialize in careers, or those who have a pedigree in recruiting and Human Resources and specialize in coaching. What unites them is the compassion and connection to the client they work with.

Qualifications? Career coaches will have either many years of experience in the job-search world to qualify their expertise, or will have a certification or accreditation in coaching (eg, with the International Coaching Federation).

Who do they work for? The job-seeker. Period. Career coaches have no other agenda than the agenda that the client brings. They work on what’s best for you, which sometimes means looking outside the “safe” jobs and into the stretch opportunities.

Focus? The entire process; the big picture. Coaches break down the common, limiting career-seeking paradigms that will keep you in a dis-empowered frame of mind, and have you thinking outside the box of options. Rather than considering a job that you’re worthy of, coaches look at opportunities that are worthy of YOU and your passions. Coaches piece together what you’ve done – your resume and experience – with what you would like to do – internal passions and desires. And, depending on the person, they’ll also coach you through your resume, job finding prospects, networking, and interviewing.

Contractual agreement? Career coaches usually work on a monthly basis, and can cost anywhere between $50-$250 an hour. Typically included in the total cost are resume revisions, LinkedIn training, and interview coaching.

What will a recruiter do?

Who are they? Sometimes they’re called headhunters or staffers. Any way you spin it, they’re job brokers, and they’re employed by either themselves or the agency they work for. Their job is to match job-seekers that have the right qualifications with an employer who has retained or hired the recruiter. Essentially, a recruiter’s role is sales-focused – sell the role to the candidate and the candidate to the role.

Qualifications? In this day and age, recruiter’s background can wildly vary from no experience to a lifetime of recruiting experience. Their professional pedigree can be in anything from farming to international business, but oftentimes the background matters less than how the recruiter is with sales.

Who do they work for? Usually, the agency or employer that has hired them. That means you won’t have to pay them in advance, but they do have an agenda that’s primarily in service of the employer and not you.

Focus? On filling the open positions provided to them, using a generated leads list of individuals. The relationship between the job-seeker and recruiter will be transactional, at best, and typically ends when the job seeker secures a position, the role is filled, or the recruiter isn’t able to match your experience with a potential job.

Contractual agreement? The recruiter will either be paid hourly by their employer or agency, or receive a commission from the placement. Either way, the job-seeker usually does not foot the bill.

Career coach vs. recruiter: When do I hire whom?

Keep in mind that career coaches will sometimes assume the role of interview connector and recruiter. And conversely, there are some headhunters and agencies that will provide additional guidance and assistance outside of matching you to a well-fitting job. As said before, the most important thing is to do your research.

Hire a career coach when:

  • You’re unhappy and want something more out of your career
  • You need help with your resume and LinkedIn profile
  • You know what you want but don’t know how to get it
  • You don’t know what kind of career you want
  • You know what you want but don’t have the experience
  • You have a secure job but want to be promoted and/or make more money
  • You’ve gone through interviews and phone screens but don’t receive the offer
  • You want to pursue your passion but don’t know how
  • You need assistance in the entire job process
  • You don’t know where you’re stuck in finding a job, but you know you’re stuck
  • You don’t know who are the right people to talk to in getting a job

Seek a recruiter when:

  • You know what positions you want and need to get the interview
  • You are excellent at interviewing and need more job options
  • You’ve been working with a career coach and are ready to land the position
  • You have a defined, desired skill set and looking to be matched with the right company

Short-term fix vs. long-term investment

It’s all about your goals… what is it you want to achieve? Are you looking for a one and done or for a journey towards holistic career satisfaction? Neither one is right or wrong.

Consider the old adage: Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. You teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Recruiters will give you a fish, while Career Coaches will teach you how to fish. Coaching is a longer, more expensive process, and the payoffs tend to be proportionally larger as well. If you partner with a recruiter – staffing firm or headhunter – you’ll get a targeted spaghetti-against-a-wall process with, likely, some resulting job options.

Career coach vs. recruiter: The conclusion

The answer to the question “I need career help; who do I hire?” is… DRUMROLL PLEASE…

It depends. Overall, career coaches will act as sherpa’s up a mountain – guiding you every step of the way towards what you really, really want and ensuring that you get it, no matter what the obstacles are. Recruiters are the crew at base camp – they’ll see you after you climb the mountain to collect your things and sell you souvenirs to put on your mantle.

Career coaches will provide an exceptionally well-rounded job-search experience and oftentimes be able to give what recruiters give (access to jobs), but it requires a personal investment of time, energy and money. Recruiters, on the other hand, are minimal investment with no guaranteed outcome, but are a useful and necessary part of the job-search process. Like the old saying goes, you get out what you put in.

In the end, no matter what/who you choose to go with, do your research and go with your gut. It’s usually right.

Thinking of hiring a career coach? Browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!

About the Author Lisa Pachence

Lisa Pachence is a Life and Leadership Coach who specializes in Career Transitions, Entrepreneurship, and Enhancing Leadership Skills. In addition to private practice, Lisa is a Graduate and Affiliate of Accomplishment Coaching – an Accredited Coach Training Program – and also works as a Mentor Coach, training and coaching the program’s students in New York City. Lisa's background includes recruiting, talent acquisition, and human resources management. She can be found on Noomii and her website

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