Every year, engineers seeking results in their career come to us at OACO and ask, “What is the difference between an engineering career coach vs a life coach?  And which one is right for me?” 

This is a great question.  We can certainly understand the need to know the difference.  Coaching is an investment into your future, and you want to get the return you’re looking for.  The choice of coach you make will impact the experience and results you create.

The Right Coach is Unique to YOU

The key is choosing a coaching solution best suited to YOUR agenda.  This article is going to explain the differences between career and life coaches.  It will highlight the pros and cons of each.  I’ll do my best to be honest and transparent, so in the end you’ll be able to identify which is the best fit for YOU.

At OACO, we have created a solution that includes the best of both career coaching and life coaching.  We believe that your career is part of your life, and the two are inseparable.  To reach the next level, your whole life must level up.  That said, our system might not be the best fit for you.  In fact, working with a life coach or focused career coach might be the better option.

What is a Life Coach?

A life coach concentrates on the major challenges of your whole-life.  The most common areas of focus include items such as:

  • Personal relationships
  • Setting clear goals for the future
  • Balance between conflicting priorities at work and home
  • Making a big decision, or dealing with change
  • Authentic self-exploration and discovery

The aim of a life coaching relationship is to help you find clarity, make choices, and put them into action.  Your coach helps you deepen the learning you experience along the way.  I love this definition of coaching from Jenny Rogers:

“Coaching is the art of facilitating another person’s learning, development, well-being and performance.  Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Through coaching, people are able to find their own solutions, develop their own skills, and change their own attitudes and behaviours.  The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between people’s potential and their current state.”  – Jenny Rogers (Coaching Skills, The definitive guide to being a coach, 4th edition.)

There is one complaint I often hear about working with a life coach.  That is, life coaches do not usually make a specific recommendation.  The focus is very personal, and assumes that you have the resources to make your own choices.  On one hand, this helps you to become more resourceful.  On the other, learning every lesson the “long way”  leaves many engineers frustrated.  You hired a coach to avoid trial and error!

I work with a life coach to this day, and recommend it.  But, when I’m seeking to accelerate growth in a specific area such as my career, I want more.

What is a Career Coach?

A career coach is an expert who will offer you advice.  A great career coach will also show you a system of success, and hold you accountable to action.  Like many other advisory services, these experts often refer to what they do as coaching.  For example, a personal finance expert may provide “Debt Coaching” services.  A marriage counselor may repackage their services as “Relationship Coaching.”  It is the same with career advice.

There are many areas of focus for career coaching, some of which include:

  • Creating an effective resume
  • Interview preparation (including technical or coding interviews)
  • Clarifying goals and career path planning
  • Improving soft skills and emotional intelligence
  • Identifying your gaps and closing them (customized development plans)

You may prefer to associate the services of a career coach with that of a consultant.  They are expected to bring domain-specific expertise and make recommendations.  The focus is on being objective, and helping to solve problems.  A career coach will provide you with a specific plan of attack for your goals. 

So… What is the Difference Between a Life Coach and a Career Coach?

The lines between any types of coaching are often blurred.  This makes it challenging for you to know what you’re getting.  Many life coaches claim to help with careers.  Many career coaches offer support for other areas of life.  Here are three distinctions between life and career coaching practices to consider.

What domain of life will you FOCUS on?

A life coach will support you in any area of your life that is a barrier to forward progress.  The coaching depends on your goals.  You look at the big picture, then focus on whatever need you have in the present moment.

No surprise, a career coach focuses on your career-specific challenges and goals.

What is the coaching PROCESS?

Life coaching is about your agenda, and what you bring to the sessions.  There is no set curriculum or program.  This is often referred to as “dancing in the moment.”  Lack of structure allows your coach to use their intuition.  The coach is your guide.  What may seem aimless, often leads directly to deeper insights and breakthrough.

Career coaches have a framework or system for how they help their Clients.  These structured programs are in place to ensure results.  Implementing a proven system is valuable.  You know it has worked for others in your situation.  And, it enables you to continue getting results after you finish the program.  Many engineering leaders benefit by applying the tools with their teams.  The best way to become a great coach, is to be coached by a great coach!

What kind of EXPERIENCE does my coach have?

A life coach is best qualified to help the person they once were.  Yet, the best life coaches may have experiences completely different from your own.  This does not disqualify them from coaching you to success on your goals.  In fact, you may prefer working with a coach who is not biased from decades of experience in your same walk of life.  This helps uncover powerful new perspectives. 

Career coaches leverage their own experience and success to help you achieve results.  So, it is best to find a coach who comes from your education background and career field.  If you are in sales, find a coach who also worked in sales.  Make sure they have coached other sales professionals to new levels of success.  If you’re an engineer, find a coach who is an engineer.  Look for someone who understands the challenges of technical career and management ladders.

OACO Believes in the Best of Both

If you are still reading, then you are probably serious about hiring a coach.  You may also feel some confusion.  I know I did before quitting my corporate engineering career and founding OACO.

There is value in both!  Life coaching is transformational.  Career coaching is effective and also essential.  Professionals looking to build their career also want to balance their life, and need both sides of this coin in a single solution.

Explaining our coaching programs for engineers is not the goal for this article.  And like I mentioned before, our approach is not for everyone.  If you are curious to learn more, feel free to click here and set up a quick intro call.  It’s free, and one of our coaches will help assess your situation to get clarity on what you need.

Which Coach is Right for Me?

I’m an engineer, so to honor my training I’ll give the only appropriate answer.

It depends.

Ha!  I love being an engineer.  I’m also a coach, so now I’ll give a useful answer (you’re welcome).

The best thing you can do is get involved with the options you are considering and sense what resonates for you.  Think of this like a new car test drive.  You know a vehicle is not a fit when you take it for a spin and nothing excites you.  And you know “the one” when you hit the gas and it feels just right.  It’s the same when hiring a life coach, or selecting a career coaching program that is best for you. 

Get off the internet and get on the phone or video call.  You’ll never research your way to the answer.  Great coaching is as much about the relationships as it is the information and systems.

Then be decisive.  I’m talking to my engineering community in particular.  DO NOT OVER-ANALYZE.  That behavior, perfection paralysis, is part of what keeps you stuck and slow in the first place.  Find your options, test them, and decide. 

Your next level of success depends on one thing.  Start taking action NOW.