When it comes to professional development, having both a career coach and a mentor can be beneficial. But what’s the difference between them, and what purposes do either of them serve? Below, we’ve broken down the distinctions of each.
A career coach is a professional dedicated to helping you reach a specific goal. For a fee, they might be hired to build certain skills or make a career move. You could think of them as more of a guidance counselor — they’ll ask questions, provide feedback, and put together a structured plan to help you move along towards your goal. The purpose of a career coach is also performance-based and short-term, and the engagement will eventually come to a close.
A mentor, on the other hand, is a longer-term relationship you build with someone senior in your industry. Rather than hiring a professional to help you with a specific goal, you form a connection with someone who can support your overarching career growth. You can think of them as more of a guide — they might provide more holistic advice, experiential knowledge, support, encouragement, and more. The mentorship may be formal or informal, either through a company program or through meeting someone yourself, and because they’re not a hired professional, there’s no fee and no designated end point.
Are you aiming for a particular outcome and are willing to pay a fee for professional resources to help it come to fruition? Or do you want an open-end relationship to help you with broad career development? Or do you think it would be advantageous to use them in tandem? At the end of the day, you’ll want to take into account what you’re looking for, what you’d like to get out of either a career coach or mentor, and what you want to invest in it.