First from the client point of view.
What can you expect out of career coaching? The best way I can explain is with a metaphor. Imagine you have been in a tunnel your whole life. You have been moving forward towards the end of it while focusing on the light ahead of you. Sometimes as you move forward you see little doors on your left and right and sometimes you wonder where those doors would lead, but the light is so bright and distracting that you just shrug the idea off and keep moving.
Then a couple of years down the road you see one of those side doors actually opening and you see a person go through it and cross your path. He stands there for a minute looking for more doors on the side then picks one and goes through it. You are flabbergasted. You are asking yourself why the fuck did he do that, doesn't he see the light?
That person is the coach. Should you run after him/her and ask a couple of questions he will be able to show you that the tunnel you are in is not real. The light at the end of it is not real either. In fact, there are many ways out and its the side doors that sometimes lead to better places. You just have been chasing that light at the end of the tunnel your whole life and you never knew why.
The role of any good coach is to make you stop and help you understand where do the side doors lead, whether or not should you want to go through them and also help you understand why you have been chasing the light in the first place and whether you should continue to do so. Then as a career coach he might help you physically go through one of the doors should you decide to do so.
I am an Engineering Graduate and I have been wandering around for the past 5 years. At first I hated the idea of working with machines, spending so much time in front of a computer and not seeing the results of my work. I knew I wanted work with people rather than machines so at first I decided that I wanted to jump into project management and then operational management. Each time, a career coach has helped me navigate my own thoughts and desires and make clearer decisions. With his help I was also then able to develop the tools required to succeed at my new position. The natural evolution of working with people for me was coaching.
From a coach point of view. What will a coach expect of you?
As an ICF-certified coach (International Coach Federation, the organization that regulates the coaching profession) it is not my role to find a career for you, not even as a career coach. In fact, my job involves giving my advice as little as possible. My job is to make you realize that there are side doors and give you the courage to look through them. What you see through those doors is up to you. What you decide to do once you see what's behind them is 100% up to you. My job is done when you have stopped for a long while in your tunnel, explored around you for a bit, reflected on who you are as a person, then confidently chosen yourself a path that you want. If that means following the light again, then at least you will know why you do so and will stop wondering about the side doors. The results are 100% your own responsibility. My job is to make sure you have explored enough. My responsibility is to take you through the exploration process.
In my experience most people that want to make career changes often fail to be happier. They are miserable at work and they are miserable trying to follow the light mostly because of these three reasons listed below. Now obviously toxic workplaces exist and this alone can make you hate your job, but I am generalizing here.
Their work or how they work is misaligned with their strengths and values.
Their work does not serve the vision they have for their future. Or they don't have any vision in the first place and so they drift aimlessly.
They don't see any positive impact that they have on others.
As social animals the only way we find deep fulfillment is when we sacrifice our own time and energy to help someone else in need. Not because we want anything in return, but just because. And so for most people finding a new job is the solution to their issues only if they find a job that satisfies the three criteria above. Otherwise it's like switching a rotten potato for a rotten tomato: over time, you still get the same stomach ache.
So in practice most of my job ends up being the exploration of the three points I listed above: What are you strengths and values, what kind of vision do you have for your future and what kind of impact do you want to have in the world. Because most people frankly, do not have a clue.
Once that is done, and only then will you have a better idea whether you still want to chase the light or take one of the side doors. At that point my job because to simply support you and make sure you keep on track.
Now obviously this is all just my opinion and various coaches will have different approaches. The most important thing is to find the right coach for you. None of us work in the same way, with the same clients. We all have our quirks and personalities and that enables to work best only with a specific type of client. The wrong coach is a waste of time and money. The right coach will change your life.
However should you look for a professional (and ICF-certified) coach, the general outline of what you should expect is what I have written above. I hope it clears up some of the misconceptions around the profession and helps you make a more informed decision.