Note: This article was first published in February 2015, updated December 2017, July 2019, and now January and April 2021 to reflect most current information.
A critical part of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) credentialing process is to submit coaching session recordings when you apply for your MCC, PCC or ACC credential. This is called a Performance Evaluation by the ICF.
Here are my top ten tips for putting yourself in the best position to have your coaching session recordings pass.
1. Choose a non-coach client. Even though the ICF allows you to have a coach as your client if they are clearly an ongoing client, I recommend you carefully consider if you submit such a session. This is because coaches are trained in the skills you are seeking to demonstrate, and will often be overly helpful, or overly coach themselves. This means your skill level demonstration has to be higher, or may not allow you to showcase the full range of your coaching skills. This may result in an overall lower score since the Assessors are not able to clearly determine your coaching abilities.
*Having written that, there are coaches who have coaches as their primary target audience and such recordings do pass ICF credential process. Remember this is a coaching exam where you need to showcase your coaching skills. If you do consider a coach as client, then perhaps agree to coach them on life or work topics, that minimize their mentioning they are a coach.
If you want to work with some current clients, then have a specific conversation with them to clarify the way your coaching may be different. Let them know the structure of a coaching session, and what to expect.
If you don’t want to record current clients, then inquire into your personal or professional networks. Perhaps offer 3 coaching sessions to 3 clients at low or no fee, in return for recording sessions. That way you are only committed to 3 sessions, and have the option to offer one or more of these clients further sessions if you want to. Interview potential clients for this process as you want to have clients who will support you be able to demonstrate a full range of coaching skills as measured by the ICF Core Competencies. Don’t accept whoever wants to take up your coaching offer. Ensure they have some specific goals or outcomes. Make sure you choose clients that are somewhat reflective about themselves versus verbal processors who talk all the time. That’s because most coaches haven’t developed their coaching skills to work skillfully with a verbally expressive client. If you have, then by all means, work with such a client. Note: Constantly interrupting the client is not a skillful approach.
Additional Tip: You can begin (or finish) coaching sessions with a statement like, “Thank you for allowing me to record for mentoring and credentialing purposes.” This lets the Assessors know the client is aware of being recorded and you have explicit permission to record (demonstrating Ethics). However, you are not required to say this at beginning, or end, of a session as you have to “attest” in your credential application that you have explicit permission from the client to record for your exam purposes.
2. Have a Coaching Plan. I wrote about the importance of having a Coaching Plan with your client. Even if you work with a pro-bono client for the purpose of recording coaching sessions for your credential process, make sure you establish what their goals or outcomes are for coaching with you. This allows you to refer to their goals, and ask questions related to their bigger goals during the session. Coaching with a plan of the client bigger picture, positively impacts many core competencies.
3. Rarely submit a first session with a client. When you start coaching a client, you are learning about each other and the coaching process. Especially to demonstrate MCC skill level, you need to have deeper rapport with your client and a first session is where you are only beginning to build rapport. Submitting a first session may affect other competencies including Maintains (Coaching) Presence and Cultivates Trust & Safety. In the Individual Mentoring portion of our MCG program, we do not accept a first coaching session to review, unless you want to use it as a learning opportunity. There are always exceptions, however better not to count on a once-off or first session for your ICF credential application.
4. Aim for 30-55 minute coaching sessions*** The ICF allows you to submit 20-60 minute coaching sessions (and not a minute more). I recommend 30-45 minutes as any less than 30 minutes may mean that you aren’t demonstrating all the competencies. It can be challenging for most coaches to stay fully in coaching mindset for 50 or 60 minutes, and may instead move in to mentoring, teaching or advising. However, you can go to 55 minutes – be conscious to stay fully in coaching mindset.
***NOTE: Let your client know you will aim for 35-45 minutes, but ask them to allow up to 55 minutes for each coaching session. This means you can close the coaching session when it feels like the coaching is complete, rather than stopping when there might be some great awareness unfolding for the client. This is especially important for MCC skill level as you want to stay connected and present with your client “from the very first breath” in the session, to the last breath in the session. A rigid time stop can be detrimental. So if a longer session supports you be your best, then go that route. Likewise, if the session ends sooner, that’s okay too.
5. The two most crucial competencies to master. In my model of the ICF core competencies called, The Upgraded Target Approach, the core competency of Maintains (Coaching) Presence is at the center of the target. Your presence is what determines what you believe your role is as a coach, how you listen to your client, what you believe is important to ask, or what you never ask about. As you progress from ACC to PCC to MCC, you need to be more attentive to the “Who” of the client than the “What” that they bring. The “Who” is their beliefs, values, ways of thinking, feeling, processing, etc. We coaches need to engage with our own “Who” and understand how our [Coaching] Presence determines our level of coaching effectiveness. This is why ICF now has a separate Core Competency called, “Embodies a Coaching Mindset” which is for the coach to develop and maintain a coaching mindset.
Similarly, we need to master the core competency of Establishing the Coaching Session Agreement, which I term a “structural” competency in The Upgraded Target Approach. You need to know how to structure the coaching session agreement for each coaching session, and demonstrate that you are following the client’s agenda throughout the session. If you are applying for the MCC credential, there is an even higher level of skill required to be demonstrated with this critical competency.
6. Seek out a Qualified Mentor Coach. Invest in a mentor coach, someone who studies and understands the ICF Core Competencies at a deep level. You can engage in group and/or individual mentoring settings. By engaging with mentoring early, you avoid cramming because you can integrate feedback in to the next coaching sessions that you record and continue to develop your skills to the level of the credential you are seeking. My experience of mentoring over 500 coaches (and counting) is that a combination of group and individual mentoring is more effective for most coaches, than individual mentoring sessions alone. The collective learning as well as competency distinctions offered within the group environment translate into faster integration and upgrading of coaching skills for most coaches.
Study the Updated ICF Core Competencies, the Code of Ethics, and the Updated PCC Markers. For MCC, also review the “Key Skills Evaluated” by Core Competency in the MCC Minimum Skills Requirements available on the ICF website (Credentialing tab). Note that the Updated PCC Markers are more relevant than PCC Minimum Skills Requirements. For ACC preparation, I use the Updated PCC Markers, and advise my mentoring clients on what my perspective is of the minimum skill level for ACC.
7. Record, Record, Record! When I’m assessing coaching recordings for the ICF, it’s often obvious this is the only (one or two sessions) the coach has ever recorded. You need to record many sessions and choose the best one or two for your submission, as not every coaching session will allow you to showcase your full coaching skills for an exam process.
You will likely be nervous or self-conscious at being recorded, which affects your Presence and coaching skills in general. So record several/many sessions, then listen to your recordings, and/or review them with a qualified mentor coach against the ICF Core Competencies. As a mentor coach, I also use the PCC Markers as well as they are great, even for distinguishing ACC and MCC skill level differences.
You will learn a lot by listening to your own coaching, including how you sound in terms of tone, pitch and volume changes over the course of a session. Also, you’ll hear ‘small words and sounds’ you make such as Hmmm. Ahhh. Okay. Right. Too many of these, too often, can interfere with the space and silence for the client, and be an interruption. In our mentoring programs, we require participants to fill in a core competency worksheet on their coaching sessions so they learn to listen for and identify their coaching skills, and any habits they might not be aware of in their speech patterns.
Additional Tip: The ICF requires an mp3 or WMA file format. You can record in-person sessions using the Voice Memo feature on an iPhone, or similar App with Android and other phones. You can record audio only if you use Skype with a program such as Amolto Call Recorder. Or you can record on a teleconference line such as Zoom or Free Conference Call
Another Tip! Ensure you are coaching in a quiet environment, not a cafe or open air that has music playing, a lot of people talking (or coffee machines, etc). Or people moving around in the background. Or dogs constantly barking. Or wind whipping across the microphone if you are outdoors. Really pay attention to background noises. All of these can be picked up when recording and are louder than you think. This can interfere with the ability to clearly hear you coaching, and might not be suitable recordings to submit.
8. Study and Prepare! Many coaches believe that because they have 100, 500, 1000 or 2500+ hours of coaching that they are demonstrating great coaching skills. Sadly, that is not often the case because most coaches haven’t had a qualified mentor coach listen to their coaching and give competency based feedback since they completed their coach training. Many coaches may be getting great results with their clients, but that doesn’t mean those results are because of their great coaching. It could be that they are doing more training, mentoring, teaching, influencing and consulting than coaching. And we all get into ‘bad’ habits if we don’t regularly review our own coaching skills.
Most coaches begin thinking about their mentoring requirements too late and don’t give themselves enough time to uplevel their skills and prepare the recordings to submit.
The ICF credential is an exam, and your coaching recording/s (Performance Evaluations) have to meet exam requirements for ACC, PCC or MCC skill level. Study and prepare as if you were applying for anything that has an exam process.
NOTE: If instead of renewing your current credential, you plan to apply for your next credential (i.e. now ACC, applying for PCC, or now PCC applying for MCC), the ICF process may take up to 18 weeks. So start early in the year of your renewal with your mentoring or development process.
9. Give yourself at least 6 months to prepare your credential application. Many coaches expect that all they need to do is fill in the paperwork, record a couple of coaching sessions and submit their application and they will be awarded a credential. Make sure you give yourself time to study and prepare, and to record many coaching sessions.
If you are applying for your MCC credential, my experience is that 6 months is the minimum amount of time to engage with a qualified mentor coach for MCC preparation, perhaps up to 9 months. Generally less time is needed for PCC and ACC preparation. Most coach training programs teach beginner (ACC) and intermediate (PCC) coaching skills.
MCC (or Master level) coaching skills are not generally taught in the majority of coach training programs. This is a BIG missed opportunity (read “MY DREAM IS…” at the bottom of this article).
Most coaches with 2500 hours have 2500 hours of PCC skill level coaching, unless they’ve had a Qualified Mentor Coach review their coaching with them since receiving their PCC credential.
I now accept PCC coaches with around 1000 coaching hours upward, so they can learn the differences to MCC skill level, and have enough time to integrate higher skill level to a “new normal” long before they have 2500 hours currently required by ICF to apply for the MCC credential.
Many coaches applying for their MCC have not had their coaching reviewed by a qualified mentor coach, maybe since they took their coach training years earlier. This is a big reason why many coaches fail their MCC the first time; they haven’t evaluated where their coaching skills are now, and compared to the standards for MCC skill level.
10. Be a great Learner. Decide that you are going to use the credentialing process for your personal and professional development. We coaches ask our clients to be Learners and reveal themselves to us. ICF now has a separate competency called, “Embodies a Coaching Mindset” which requires coaches to engage in their ongoing development. We are in the “human development” business, so continually developing ourselves as humans is vital, so we can serve our coaching clients best. Then developing our coaching knowledge, and regularly evaluating our coaching competency skills is vitally important so we can continue to be of best service to our coaching clients.
We can be great role models and demonstrate being congruent as coaches by also being Learners. The bonus is that at the end of a mentoring process, you will have an ICF credential, AND improve your coaching to a new level. Your clients will notice, and report higher satisfaction with your coaching, and even better results. Another benefit is when you have also experienced transformation within yourself, that has your clients wanting to hire you more often.
My Dream is…
Transparently, I feel the the coaching training community, and the ICF, misses a huge opportunity to continue to uplevel and evolve the professionalism of coaches as most coaching training is aimed at ACC and PCC skill level. Having mentored around 500 coaches (and counting), my experience is most coaches stop at the PCC credential, and have NO IDEA how much better their coaching skills can be at MCC skill level. I’ve had so many coaches I mentor toward their MCC credential who tell me this; why wasn’t I informed how much better my coaching can become by studying MCC skills? I mentor many Faculty for different coach training programs who tell me how much they have improved their coaching skills by studying MCC skill level, and how much better they are serving their ACC and PCC coaches-in-training as a result.
Overwhelmingly coaches report their clients are gaining even more transformational results from their coaching at MCC skill level (versus their mentoring, training or consulting mindset). You can read some of the voices of my clients on my Real People page.
Imagine that from the beginning of any (ICF Approved) Coaching skills training program, you are given the “Path of Development” and you were always aspiring to become a Master Certified Coach. You were informed of the distinctions and knew the path began at beginner/basic coaching skill level (ACC credential). Then you continue your development by aspiring to mid-skill level (PCC credential). Then you continue your development by aspiring to master coaching skill level (MCC credential).
By promoting this path of coaching skills development, Coach Training program providers, and the ICF, would be reinforcing Core Competency #2: Embodies a Coaching Mindset, sub-point 2: “Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach.”
Note: Late in 2021 ICF announced changes to their coaching education structure to include for the first time ever, a “Level 3” designation, which is coaching education of 75 hours that is specifically training coaches for MCC/Mastery coaching. This is so exciting for the continued development of my (our) beloved profession!!
Thank you for reading all the way through this article. I wish you every success as you embark on your coaching skills upgrade and credentialing journey.
Written by Carly Anderson, MCC
Are you ready to upgrade your coaching skills, and prepare for your next ICF credential?
The Mentor Coaching Group Program is an ICF approved individual / group program with 24 Core Competency CCEs on offer, including 10 hours of mentor coaching.
I offer a rich, experiential mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for participants. You can read some testimonials from real people, FAQs, or find out more about The Mentor Coaching Program here
I’m a long term (since 2005), experienced and active MCC Assessor. I’ve been trained by the ICF to assess using the PCC Markers. Since 2005, I regularly assess for ICF MCC, PCC and ACC credentials, and was one of 15 coaches on the core global team involved in the 2020 update of the PCC Markers to align with the ICF Updated Core Competency Model.
One of the unique offerings for my clients is access to an extensive, exclusive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching session recordings, many of which have passed the ICF credential exam process. These are an incredibly valuable self-learning tool, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions at each skill level.
I offer other products including The Upgraded Target Approach: Clarifying the ICF Core Competency Model, as well as Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level. And a very unique opportunity to hear 15 consecutive coaching sessions with one of my clients in the Butterfly on the Wall Coaching Series. You can learn more about these here