Ultimate Guide to a Career Coach in Japan

Author : John Cunningham | Date : June 10th, 2020

This article on career coaching in Japan was written by John Cunningham, an executive coach and trainer with more than 20 years experience. This article is one in our extensive series of guides on getting a job in Japan and how to develop your career here.

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Why Read our Guide on a Career Coach?

Do you feel stuck in your current job position, or like you're not improving your abilities as quickly as you would like? A career coach who can hold you accountable from week to week and make sure you move forward might be what you need to take you to the next level. 

Your career coach can either help you improve your professional and communication skills among other things or assist you in acquiring a new job. These tracks are very different and each requires a unique game plan. Whichever path you need help with, a good career coach will have the experience and the mental tools to help you reach the next step on your developmental ladder and by the end of this article you will understand more deeply how a coach can help and how to find the right one for you.

For those who may not be able to afford a career coach, we share resources and materials to help you do it on your own.

To excel at the highest level - or any level, really - you need to believe in yourself, and hands down, one of the biggest contributors to my self-confidence has been private coaching.

Stephen Curry

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    What do job and career coaches do?

    Your coach is someone who will help you understand yourself more deeply. She will bring to the forefront the skills and characteristics that need your attention, clarifying where you are now and helping you get where you want to be. She will then help you to create a plan and more importantly to help you stay on track to achieve your goals by holding you accountable.

    Ms. T works for the Japanese national government. As a manager, she sees her job change every couple years. In her last assignment, she was having difficulty communicating with her staff. Many of them had worked in the same department for five to ten years. During her coaching sessions, she focused on improving this part of her job performance, we did a deep dive using DISC to understand not only her communication style but also how others perceived working with her. 

    Once she was clear on her own DISC tendencies, I taught her how to conduct a Group DISC assessment. This focuses not only how individuals communicate but how they interact as a team. This was helpful in learning about each individual's work style tendencies and the inner workings of the collective team. 

    We then worked together to create and execute a plan to make this learning beneficial for every member of the team. This process helped her to be more empathetic to their concerns and career goals, allowing her to alleviate many of the communication problems she had and more effectively work with her staff.

    Similar to how I helped my client above, your coach will help you to move ahead faster than you could on your own. He will work with you to build good habits, recommend education programs and mental frameworks, and help you to evaluate your performance in situations or skills you are working on. Expect straight and honest feedback from your coach about how you're progressing and be open to trying new approaches. You will not do well your first time, but you will get better through repeated practice with your coach.

    Career coaches can help with careers like County Director/Executive, Executive Search Consultant, and more. If you are already in these positions, consider an executive coach like the co-author of this article Tyson Batino at Scaling Your Company in Japan.


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    Changing Careers with a Career Coach

    Career change coaching involves support with developing your resume, cover letters, interviewing skills, and industry knowledge. As your coach, I would guide you through each of these steps via repeated feedback until you really understand how the interview process works. I know I did a good job when you can go through the job change process again in the future without my help.

    As your coach I would give you templates, recommend courses, and go over common interview questions until your delivery sounds authentic and polished. I prefer to work with behavioral tests like DiSC, Strong interest Inventory, and Meyers-Briggs to quickly reveal your interests, personality, strengths, and weaknesses. Then we will decode what the results mean for you together. Once we have a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses we can design a plan for getting you where you want to go.

    Through the feedback of your coach, you will learn how to tell your story to potential employers. You will also have a better understanding of what employers want to know about you, and how the questions they ask help to reveal that. This insight will set you apart from other candidates who do not directly answer questions or try to take control of the interview in hopes of covering up their weaknesses. I will help you understand what the interviewer is assessing at each stage of the interviewing process based on my own experience and information I have gleaned through professional relationships with recruiters and hiring managers.

    Ms. B was a veteran English teacher interviewing for a teaching job. She had the advantage of knowing the company’s salary range for the position. When the question came up, “What is your salary expectation?” she was able to surmise what their expectations were for someone at the high end of the scale, then sell her ability to achieve those results. 

    We started our coaching sessions by understanding what her previous experiences were, analyzing her strengths and weaknesses as an employee, and why she wanted this position in particular. Based on my management experience, I was able to explain what they probably would be  expecting at the upper range of the salary and how that would benefit the company if someone could do that. 

    We later connected what the company wanted back to her previous experience and since she knew what they were looking for and because we had practiced this question, Ms. B was able to assertively answer and received an offer at the top end of the salary range. Furthermore, once she started the position, she was given more responsibility and fast tracked to a promotion.

    Even going through the hiring process once with a coach will direct you towards a brighter and potentially higher earning career path. Now that you understand what an interviewer wants, you can further upgrade your resume and cover letter yourself highlighting your skills and achievements. Then personalizing for the role. Knowing how you should be answering and the content you need to provide, you could also even practice for the next interview with a friend or a video camera, assessing yourself. 

    Working with a coach will provide foundational knowledge that you can use in any job search. Essentially, a good coach will take you from a 2/10 in readiness and professional appearance to a 7 or 8/10. Making the jump from 2 - 8 on your own is really tough and that is why most people never succeed at it. Working with a job and career coach can be your shortcut to making up the gap in a short time and in many cases, the increased salary you receive from being a better negotiator will more than pay for the coaching you received.

    Final Thoughts on Career Coaching in Japan

    There is a high level of trust required to work with a job and career coach because a good one will push you hard at times so that you can achieve the results you desire; your coach is an influencer, not a player. There will be times you leave a session frustrated or angry, that’s to be expected as you continue to grow. “It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.” Just remember that they are pushing you for your own benefit and that you're paying for someone to go out of their way to hold you accountable.

    If you are interested in learning more about other tips for finding an ideal job in Japan, we have created a comprehensive list of guides covering everything you need to know about job hunting in Japan. Don't miss them out!


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    Tyson Batino

    Tyson is the director and a co-founder of Japan Switch and One Coin English. He has spent 15 years in Japan and achieved N1 in just 3.5 years. Listen in as he shares his tips to becoming successful.


    Colten Nahrebesk

    Colten is the owner of Risu Press. He spent 6 years working in various industries in Japan and achieved N2. Tune in to hear more about his experiences and advice for living in Japan.

    How to Find a Job and Career Coach in Japan

    There are a few ways to find a coach. Their credentials are not as important as selecting a good fit. If you are interested in a specific skill, you could seek out a subject matter expert and ask them if they offer coaching services. Twitter, Quora, Medium and Linkedin are good places for that. All of these channels allow you to sample a coach's style before you commit a small fortune to working with them directly. 

    I met my coach through his podcast. I chose him because I liked his message and communication style. In just three months he brought out the writer in me, and now I am getting offers to publish articles in a variety of publications. My initial goal was to understand coaching from the other side of the table, but it has turned into much more than I had ever expected.

    Websites for coaching certification like the International Coaching Federation and famous coaches like Tony Robbins can be good places to find coaches too. Be aware that some of these coaches pay to be in the directories. So, their being there is not necessarily an endorsement. In other cases, the coaches are franchisees or advocates of a specific method. So just because they are listed in prominent directories does not mean you can forgo your due diligence. I recommend you do a short consultation with them to make sure you are good matches before making the commitment. For example, in my practice I offer a free 15 minute consultation to anyone interested in coaching.

    How to evaluate professional coaches

    Once you find a coach, your initial sessions will be about your goals and obstacles. Be as clear as possible about what you hope to achieve and why. 

    As an example, in my first session with a potential client, I would assess what you want to achieve and whether or not I could help you with that. If I could, I would lay out a short term plan to move you forward. If I couldn’t, I would recommend a next course of action for you. I would want to know your reasons for committing to personal development at this time and also your expectations. Then answer any questions you have. This would take about 15 minutes with an experienced coach.

    Some coaches use contracts while others do not; instead, offering a trial period that helps to ensure you are both happy with the way things are developing. In reality, a professional coach will want to keep you as a client for life. The only way they will be able to do that is if you continue to be satisfied with the coaching and results. Similar to going on a first date, you normally can tell immediately after 10 minutes if something is going to work out or not and coaching chemistry is the same.

    A coach would initially communicate with you through email and offer a free or one-off consultation to understand if you are a good fit for each other. Pay attention to these initial discussions and how you feel about the communication. Those bits of information will give you a good indication of how things will go moving forward. 

    Some coaches are certified, and others are not. While certification guarantees that the coach has done some classroom study, it does not promise that they are the right fit for you. When I chose my coach, I decided on someone I had known for a long time through his podcast. He had experienced success in some of the areas I wanted to develop. He also has an MBA and a Ph.D. in metaphysics. We exchanged emails back and forth for several months before finally being able to meet for our initial session, be patient and persistent. The coach you choose will be a game changer for you. Other coaches, however, rely more on experience and street smarts and since they have been in your shoes, they know what likely works and does not work. 

    Two essential things for successful coaching are to believe that the person you choose has your best interests in mind and that you are seeing development in yourself. A good coach should also have a coach and several mentors. Otherwise, how can they know what it is like to be on your side of the table? While references are helpful, it is also crucial that they have some sort of web presence (i.e., a website, social media, a column, podcast, etc.). This shows that they are credible and serves as an indicator of how they will help you. Sample their works and notice who is following them on social media. That will help you to understand their style and reputation.

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    Accelerate Your Career in Japan

    John Cunningham has been coaching both Japanese and foreign professionals for the last 20 years. Looking for some support to reach the next level position or how to get a raise, John can help.

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    6 Questions to Ask a Potential Career and Job Coach

    Once you have chosen someone to work with, be ready to ask questions just as they will ask questions of you. Here are six to get you started:

    1 : Why did you choose to become a coach?

    You have motivation for working with a coach, they should also have a strong motivation for helping others to succeed as well. Make sure to look at their facial expression and see what emotions they express when talking about this. Are they smiling, indifferent, excited and energized? The emotions they express can tell you everything you need to know about the person.

    I chose to become a coach because I get excited about helping people to reach their dreams and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

    2 : How will you know if I am the right client for you? / What are your expectations for me?

    Ethical coaches know that their style is not suited to everyone. They may even have ended relationships with clients because the client did meet some criteria of progress that the coach expected. Hopefully, you will be working together for a long time, it is critical for both people to feel that the professional relationship is a good fit.

    The more concrete and detailed an explanation a coach gives, the more likely they have helped many people and seen positive results. This coach will then want to apply those best practices to help you achieve your goal.

    I will know if we are a good fit in a few sessions based on you doing your homework and seeing some progress in your development. I will also sense personality conflicts in those first sessions that will help me understand whether or not we will be able to build a long term professional relationship.

    3 : Could you explain a standard session? 

    Coaches have different styles of working through their sessions. Nevertheless, they should have a format that they follow and be able to explain it. Another goal for this question is for you to evaluate their communication skills. If the coach can explain their process in a way that you can understand and connect the dots, you can be rest assured that they can help you to do the same when it comes to more complex topics like how to do interviews and ask for a raise.

    I start with a review. We would then work on the developmental point for that session and conclude with a summary. I then follow up with email recapping our session.

    4 : Please tell me about a time you pushed a client out of their comfort zone and the results.

    Part of the coach's job is to push you to achieve more than you could on your own. That is going to be painful and challenging at times. Know that they are doing that with good intentions and because they believe that you can achieve what they are asking. Remember that your relationship with your coach is to get results and win a championship. Their job is not to meet your emotional needs, but to make what was previously impossible for you, based on a lack of experience or limited mindset, to something that is reachable and achievable.

    I often push people out of their comfort zone. One recent example is where I demanded that the client do their presentation without the aid of their computer or slides. At first they struggled. However, in the end they delivered a smooth and persuasive presentation. Knowing they could do that, they were able to repeat the delivery style again and again.

    Which would you prefer, a coach who will take your money and tell you that you are fine and do not need to worry or a coach that helps you to jump from the stumbling presenter to the polished and persuasive one? Skills like that are the ones that will get you noticed by managers, raises in salary and promotions.

    5 : Tell me about one of your successes.

    Professional coaches should have many of these, that is not the important part. What is critical is the way they relay this information to you. Does the explanation make sense to you? Do they focus on you by providing an example similar to yours or a high profile client to establish credibility? Hopefully, they don't get off on a boastfully long-winded tangent, losing sight of the fact they should be helping you to visualize your own success.

    I have helped many executives to be more effective. One of my biggest successes was helping a global executive for a medical equipment company with a problematic subordinate. The subordinate was in jeopardy of losing his job because of the conflict he continually created with other regional managers. The friction was negatively impacting the teamwork and performance of the division as well.

    Together my client and I uncovered the problem, the subordinate’s inability to communicate effectively with people at his same level. We then did a brainstorming dive into possible solutions and I was able to elicit an actionable solution from my client. We then role played the conversations he would have not only with the direct but also the CEO, who had suggested terminating the manager. He implemented the suggestions through multiple conversations with his subordinate and his performance improved dramatically, saving his job.

    ※ please note that the correct technology terminology is “direct,” but we chose to use the word “subordinate” to be easier to understand for readers.

    Here, not only did I help the executive see the problem and create a solution, but I also save the career of someone I will never meet

    6 : How has coaching helped you?

    Your prospective coach should have also benefited from life-changing success through coaching; otherwise they will not be able to give it to you. This is an opportunity for you to evaluate that the coach practices what she preaches.

    Coaching has helped me to achieve much more in my professional career than I ever thought possible. Not only by getting me over rough patches where I was severely reprimanded but also through those times that I moved up in my career or wanted to acquire a new skill. Using a coach has allowed me to achieve my ambitions and explore new areas I never would have seen without outside guidance. And most of those lessons will stay with me for a lifetime.

    Your initial coaching session will probably be about 15 minutes long, so be prepared with one or two questions. Also, be ready to answer some questions about why you are seeking coaching and what you hope to achieve through the sessions. Payment arrangements and some administration topics may also be part of this initial consultation.

    How Much Does a Job and Career Coach Cost?

    Many coaches work on a sliding scale, charging fees in accordance with your professional situation and the length of time they think you will be a client. Their fees will be anywhere from a couple hundred thousand yen per year to hundreds of millions. Working personally with Tony Robbins, for example, is about a hundred million yen per year!  Don't get sticker shock. Remember, this is an investment in you, and while getting coaching for the first time may seem like a big expense, the reason to seek it out is to achieve better results than you are currently getting on your own. 

    As an example, my fees for standard coaching start at just ¥9,700 per month for one 30 minute session and one 15 minute check ins plus email support. They go up to ¥49,700 per month for an hour-long session once a week. Other things to consider are the costs of recommended courses and assessment tests and your preparation time. Those will also affect your total investment costs. 

    If you like your new coach but the price is more than you can afford, make a counter-proposal. A lot of coaches are entrepreneurs and have the ability to customize plans and pricing for a customer they are interested in working with. Make a good impression on them and they may be open to an alternative to their standard offering.

     Just remember, it has taken them a lifetime to develop their craft and a good coach is someone who has helped many people over many years or someone with years of professional experience who knows how managers and recruiters think because they have been in those shoes before. Having a coach who is older than you can also better prepare you for those high pressure situations where you have to speak to someone more senior than yourself. Remember that excellent professionals in any industry make very good salaries working full-time, so imagine your bosses salary and how much he would charge to do job coaching for an outsider. then you will have a general understanding of why coaches charge what they do.


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    What to do if I Cannot Afford a Career Coach?

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    For those just graduating from high school or university, you may not have the money to hire a veteran with many years of HR and recruitment experience to guide you on this journey. The good news is that there are many options online to help you start on a high note. We have written extensively about how to get a teaching job in Japan or how to get a full-time job in Japan

    For those who have found companies they want to work for we have created guides on resumes and cover letters to help you stand out and avoid common mistakes that foreigners in Japan make. We also have information on how to interview for English speaking positions in Japan, which covers some of the questions you should ask and why and the meanings behind common interview questions asked during an interview. After finishing the interview, follow our post interview tips to keep yourself top of mind when they make the final decision for the position.

    Our guides are quite extensive and serve as a valuable resource as you look for working opportunities in Japan. Most blogs are very general and do not offer actionable advice specific to working in Japan. Also, be careful of blogs offering insight from people whose work experiences were not good due to their own shortcomings.

    Online Courses

    There are a ton of courses on UDEMY which you can find for cheap that go over the interview process. They usually have deals where you get 70 - 90% off the course and make sure you avoid paying full price. You may also be able to find free courses provided by Universities on sites like COURSERA. If you want to go the do it yourself route, I would strongly recommend Manager Tools. Their Interviewing course, Interviewing Series, and Resume Workbook, and First Job Fundamentals course are all excellent tools for finding and achieving success in your new job.

    Resume Services

    You may also find many resume review services online. They may not be able to coach you one on one in real time, but they can give a quick look and give you advice. For those on budget, this would be a more viable option for getting past the resume gatekeepers. My friend James offers a resume review service for those looking for a teaching position in Japan at ALT INSIDER job resume review.

    Summary for a Career Coach in Japan

    A career coach in Japan will take you farther faster than you could get on your own. Because they have seen a lot, not just their own experience but also others in similar situations to yours. As a result, they have a broad perspective of what can be achieved and how to get you there. They will help you to avoid pitfalls and push you to achieve more than you thought possible. If you have read this far, you are most likely ready to explore coaching more seriously. Where do you see yourself two years, five years, ten years from now?

    John Cunningham - Synergy Personal Development

    John Cunnningham is a professional coach with nearly two decades of experience helping professionals at all levels to meet and exceed their goals. To find out more about him, visit his website, Synergy Personal Development. You can also follow him on Medium, Twitter, and Linkedin.

    You can start with a free consultation by filling out a brief form on my website - Synergy Personal Development

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    Ready to work with John?

    If you are ready to take the next step in your career with John, let's start with a free 15 minute consultation.

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    If you are looking for more advice on how to find a job in Tokyo, our job website provides other helpful articles on guiding you through every single step of finding an ideal job in Japan.


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