Bayonia Marshall was getting a paycheck, but she lacked any kind of passion for her job. The only thing keeping her in the position was her salary, so she knew she needed some guidance.

She met D.C.-based career coach Bianca Jackson at a women’s empowerment conference and began working with her on a career plan. Together, the two have discussed everything from Marshall’s skills to her cover letter.

Marshall, 23, is currently unemployed but on the hunt for a marketing and PR position. She feels confident that her sessions with Jackson will lead to a role that makes her feel ambitious, not ambivalent. “She’s helping me get a job that I really want, instead of just settling for something,” Marshall says.

Investing in sessions with a career coach can result in the kind of professional fulfillment Marshall and plenty of others dream about. The key is finding a coach whose expertise and techniques match with your objectives and learning style.

When Irnande Altema, a first-generation American and law school graduate, was having difficulty landing a position in government, she sought out a coach whose background aligned with her goals. “I spoke to a few career coaches who were not attorneys or who did not work in government affairs, and I did not think they would be a good match for me,” she says. Instead, she found a coach who was a woman of color and had worked in law and government.

Once Altema, 31, secured a job with a Maryland state senator, her coach worked with her to improve her networking and communication skills to help her shine in her current position and keep working her way up the government ladder. “She pushed me and definitely made me think a lot,” Altema says. “We ended our sessions after six months or so, but I have continued to apply the information long after our agreement ended.”

Whether you have a specific career path in mind or are at more of a crossroads, a coach can help you gain perspective and determine the next steps. “A lot of people don’t know how to find something that matches with their background, interests and personality,” says Jackson, who works exclusively with women. “Working with a coach can help bundle all of it together to find the job best suited for that individual.”

A coach can also prove beneficial even if you’re happy in your role and already on the right track. They can help with career advancement and with increasing your earning potential, says Alexandria-based Lisa Lewis, who works primarily with 20- and 30-somethings through her company

. “Or they can set you up with productive mental models and problem-solving tools to navigate every challenge coming your way,” she says. Those challenges could be internal (like a self-confidence problem) or external (like a difficult co-worker).

Coaching sessions — which can take place over the phone, via Skype or in person — typically involve lots of open-ended questions that get the client thinking. “The science behind coaching is that if you give someone an answer, it’s very unlikely that they’re going to follow through on it,” says Vik Kapoor, who focuses on millennials at his D.C.-based Extra-M Coaching & Consulting practice. But asking powerful questions that get clients to come up with their own answers, he says, greatly increases their chances of success.

Expect to work with a coach anywhere from a month to six months, and be prepared for the investment of time and money required. Jackson, for example, charges $2,997 for a three-month program, while Kapoor charges $5,000 for five months of unlimited coaching.

But all the coaching in the world won’t accomplish a thing if you’re not willing to do the work involved. “I try to always be upfront with my clients that they’re going to have to do homework,” Lewis says. “I think that just as many breakthroughs happen while doing the homework as happen in our conversations.”

For Chad Ryerson, 34, a training manager in the federal government, his coaching sessions with Kapoor keep him on a path of constant growth and improvement. “If you’re going to invest in anyone in this world, you’ve got to invest in yourself first,” he says. “I come from a background in international development, and you can’t help other people until you help yourself. Once you stabilize yourself, you’re much more efficient and effective.”