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Taking a test drive of one career coach’s services

Newspaper reporters can be a cynical lot. Then again, most newspaper journalists could probably use a little career advice — particularly these days.

So I was immediately skeptical and yet intrigued when Scott Graham offered me the opportunity to take one of the free introductory classes that he sometimes provides prospective clients of his career and personal coaching business, True Azimuth LLC of Boston.

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Graham, 50, who has run True Azimuth since 2006, suggested a session might help the research for my story on the career coaching field. But before my half-hour coaching session, I had to fill out an online “Quick Goal Planner” and answer some “Test Drive Prep” questions.

Among other things, the Quick Goal Planner asked me to list five key goals in my life (amazingly, this stumped me for a while); five new skills to learn (I basically responded that I’d like to understand technologies better); and five problems to resolve (where to begin?).

I have to admit that the Quick Goal Planner helped me focus on goals and ideas I hadn’t given much thought to before, so I started somewhat impressed.

The Test Drive Prep questions asked, among other things, how I would describe myself (“active” or “thoughtful”?) what were my greatest career challenges at the moment, what would be the one regret that I wouldn’t want to have, and what were the top three decisions I had to make right now.

I completed the two questionnaires and pressed “submit.” I was done within about 15 minutes.

Next up: my half-hour session with Graham.

First, it should be noted that Graham has bachelor’s degrees in psychology and communications and a master’s degree in business management. A former Outward Bound counselor and director of a substance-abuse treatment program at the Vermont Department of Corrections, he is also a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and a licensed clinical supervisor.

Human resources experts says it’s important for consumers, when they are thinking of hiring a career coach, to make sure potential coaches have degrees or experience in appropriate professional career fields and some sort of counseling or teaching experience. Graham’s credentials certainly seemed to meet those suggested standards.

It should also be noted that Graham prefers to conduct his sessions by phone and Internet, which he believes is more efficient and just as effective as personal meetings — something proponents of online education say, too. So this didn’t bother me at all.

When we finally spoke on the phone, his first and second questions caught me off guard a bit: Where did I think I would I be two years from now if I was successful? What would that work entail in two years?

The reason it caught me off guard is because it forced me think about my own definition of “success” and “progress” over a very specific time period.

Then other questions were zipped at me: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would I rate my skills as a journalist and blogger? How would I rate my knowledge and use of social-media tools and sites? What was the top priority on my career things-to-do list? What could I specifically do in coming days and month to help my career along?

By the end of the session, it became pretty clear to me that: A) Like almost everyone else, I know, I’m concerned about my financial future and want to stash away more money for retirement. B) I generally like my career, something many other people can’t say, and yet I want to get more out of it — especially in terms of, frankly, money.

They weren’t earth-shattering revelations, but they helped clarify my thoughts.

Graham also suggested some financial books and pamphlets that I might read, as well as coming up with a very short things-to-do list of items that I could tackle over the next week.

Graham’s normal fee is $110 per 45-minute session, so it’s fair to ask: Did he give me $110 in value?

I’d say yes, especially if I follow through on the simple career steps he suggested.

Jay Fitzgerald is a Globe correspondent and longtime business journalist in Boston. He can be reached at jayfitzmedia@gmail.com.
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