How to shortlist executive coaches

There’s a lot of executive coaches out there.  An awful lot.  The Association for Coaching lists over 1,600 members.  The International Coach Federation has over 20,000. There are multiple LinkedIn groups dedicated to coaching practice with 30,000+ members.

The eventual decision on the coaches you choose to work with will often be somewhat subjective (hence why rather vague words like ‘chemistry’ are often used to describe the final stages of selection), but with such a bewildering array of choice, how do you produce a workable shortlist?

There are three key criteria you should be using to source and select your coach shortlist


It is important to know where and with whom has the coach worked before.  The coach will want to protect the confidentiality of the previous clients, but should be able to provide a reference for you to speak to or, at the very least, testimonials from a named person.

The important thing here is to consider how the experience they have might be helpful to the leaders in your organisation. That does NOT mean that you necessarily want someone who works predominantly or exclusively in your industry – in fact the injection of a fresh approach may be exactly what your leaders need!

Professional development

Coaching is an ever-changing and evolving practice.  There is no such thing as the ‘finished article’ and your coach needs therefore to be able to demonstrate a strong and ongoing commitment to their own development.

The critical thing to examine here is whether professional development was something the coach DID, or something they continue to DO.  Ask them about the courses and workshops they’ve attended recently, the books they’ve read, and whether they have a supervisor to support their ongoing development.


There are many coaching qualifications, from a wide range of accreditation and membership organisations, and there is little value in ‘ranking’ these in order of relevance or importance. If potential coaches are stating they have a qualification, ask for the evidence.

It may surprise you that qualifications isn’t the first item on this list, but from our experience it’s the least important of the three.  Some of the best coaches we’ve worked with don’t have a professional qualification, and some of the worst have all of them!  In our view qualifications only serve provide substantive evidence of professional development in the past, and should not take priority over what a coach is doing now, or plan to do in the future.  Having a prestigious coaching certificate may be a good indicator, but only if they are still putting into practice what was learned.

The majority of coaches approach their practice with a high degree of professionalism, and should be happy to discuss any of these criteria with you.  If you’re not happy with the answers they provide, move on – there’s plenty of fish in the coaching sea!

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