Posted with permission from the authors and original publication in Peer Resources Network Peer Bulletin No. 179 (August issue) ISSN: 1488-6774

Many coaches wonder whether acquiring an International Coach Federation (ICF) credential will really make a difference in their coaching careers. This is a legitimate question worthy of exploration.
We might ask our ourselves: “In a non-licensed profession, why obtain credentials if they are not required by law?” Based on our research and experiences we believe the following adequately and thoughtfully answers both the advantages and the downside of this question for all coaches committed to our growing profession.
Let’s begin with the advantages of credentialing:

  • According to the ICF-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers survey in 2007, 52% of coaches report that their coaching clients expect the coach they hire to be credentialed. This illustrates how consumers are becoming more educated and savvy in their coach selection process.
  • As coaches often work directly for or subcontract with companies, they often see credentials as requirements when applying for business and organizational work.
  • In this economy, it is important for coaches to differentiate themselves from their coaching peers. A credential is one very important way of doing this. Several comments on the Coaching Commons website indicate that, since the financial meltdown, clients are becoming more cautious in their coach selection process.
  • Credentialing portrays to your clients the importance you place on investing in your professional development.
  • Credentialing shows that you are part of an organization that adheres to a strong code of ethics.
  • In the mind of the consumer, credentials may take the place of licensure in a non-regulated industry.
  • Additional revenue streams can develop to meet the growing demand for credentials, such as comprehensive mentor programs, coach assessor, and mentor coaching, all of which require holding a credential.
  • Many coach training programs and coaching companies will hire only ICF credentialed coaches to work as trainers, coaches, and for business referrals.
  • Coaching, as in other non-licensed professions, leaves room for untrained and inexperienced practitioners. Credentialing differentiates a coach by removing some of these doubts or concerns.

More and more coaches recognize the above information to be true. In fact, according to the fourth annual Sherpa Coaching Executive Coaching Survey (2009) done in conjunction with the University of Georgia and Texas Christian University, published earlier this year, 50% – 70% of American coaches are finding credentials to be either very important or absolutely essential.
So, with all of these benefits, is there a downside to credentialing?
In order to help coaches make an informed decision regarding credentialing we offer some of what the research indicates may be the downside to this debated topic within the profession.
One of the leading advocates of an informed approach to credentialing, Rey Carr, Ph.D, has written A Guide to Coach Credentials: Types, Issues, and Sources (2005) in which he makes the following points regarding credentialing:

  • This process is a political tool, in that the main beneficiaries are the organizations who charge monies for and govern the credentialing process and certificates.
  • Credentialing exploits the inexperienced, by creating the illusion that they are necessary to attract clients. Older, more experienced, and life-seasoned coaches may not see credentialing as necessary.
  • Requirements for coaching are arbitrary, and based on the outdated university system of giving degrees after number of hours completed, rather than on client results and outcomes.
  • Business personnel responsible for hiring coaches typically are more concerned about experience in business, and place credentials lower on a list of needed criteria.

Angela Spaxman, the current President of the International Association of Coaches (IAC) reinforces the caution that certifications and credentials do not validate the proficiency and mastery of coaching in all situations, but, instead, can be a starting point for an international quality control standard within the profession.  She recognizes, as do we, that mastery comes through practice and experience, and, most importantly, bottom line results. She believes credentials can be one method of helping clients choose a potential coach.
The new ICF research on coached clients published in 2009 indicates that 41% of clients found a coach’s credentials or certification to be important, but this jumps to 56% when asked if the coaches level of coach specific training was important. Most clients are not well-informed about the meaning of certification vs. credentialing, and this may be one reason why these numbers are not higher.
The profession continues to grow. More coaches are becoming credentialed as a means of creating an industry standard of excellence. It is likely that the public will undoubtedly recognize and demand these credentials as a matter of routine, as has occurred in many other professional fields.
We believe it is up to individual coaches to decide for themselves how important credentialing is to them. We also recognize that selecting a coach is a very personal and individual process for the client, and many criteria must be considered when making a decision on who to hire. Credentialing can be one of those important criteria and has many benefits as described above.
Recognizing that many coaches who are interested in advancing themselves in the field have chosen to pursue their ICF credentials we have created the A.I.M. (All Inclusive Mentoring) Program to meet this need. If you are looking to obtain your credential via the portfolio pathway, have completed more than 35 hours of training, and have provided 50 hours of coaching, please contact us for more information regarding our next session.
About the authors
Katherine Poehnert, M.Ed.Psych., PCC, is an Executive/Life Coach, and Certified NLP practitioner whose clients include Deloitte & Touche, Liz Claiborne, and Borders Books. She works primarily with women leaders using Emotional Intelligence as a medium for effective leadership. She is currently a lead trainer and former mentor coach for iPEC Coaching, an ICF accredited training program, and is a consulting trainer for Rutgers University. She can be contacted through her website at:

Janine Schindler, MA., MCC is a Peer Resources Network member and an Executive Coach with over 25 years experience spanning the corporate ranks in start-ups to Fortune 100 firms. She works with teams and leaders to develop the competencies required for an organization’s strategic success. She graduated from ICF accredited programs at Coach University, iPEC Coaching and Results Coaching Systems. She is a Results Coaching Systems Trainer and mentor coach, a former iPEC trainer, and is currently an NYU adjunct professor. She served as a two-term President of the ICF, NYC Chapter. She can be contacted through her website:

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