Career Counseling 101

Career development is an ongoing process that is constantly evolving and growing with you. There are a number of factors that influence your career development including interests, abilities, values, personality, background, and circumstances. Career development is more than just deciding on a major and what job you want to get when you graduate. Throughout your life, your experiences, opportunities and choices will continually shift and shape the course of your career path.

Career counseling is a supportive resource that will help you to know and understand yourself in the context of the working world, in order to make important career, educational, and life decisions. The goal of career counseling is to not only help address immediate crossroads or path making, but to imbue the knowledge and skills you need to make future career and life decisions.

So, when is it time to stop feeling paralyzed over job applications, unable to make your next move? Often, the best laid intentions to pick yourself up by the bootstraps just won’t work when it comes to making major life changes, particularly decisions that could alter the course of your life. You may need a professional to offer real actionable guidance if you’re feeling stuck. Here are some indications that it may be time to hire a career counselor.

  • You have sent hundreds of resumes without much luck.
  • You are overwhelmed by the thought of searching for a job. Maybe you have been out of the job market for a long time or you have recently been laid off.
  • You’re ready to make a major career change.

These are all reasons to reach out to a career counselor who can help you understand the recruitment process, and pinpoint problems that are causing your applications to get overlooked. A good career counselor can be the push you need if you are stuck and not sure how to get the ball rolling. And, making any sort of job transition can be tough. A career counselor can make it feel easier by supporting your goals, validating your choices, and sharing resources.

What is career counseling?

Career counseling is a service that helps you make important career choices in both the long and short term. It can also be referred to as career coaching or career development. This type of guidance can help you identify and stay focused on career goals, as well as offer support while you take the steps needed to meet those goals.

Is this ever really necessary? Considering most Americans will spend roughly a third of their lives at work, and only 52.3% of Americans reported being satisfied with their job in a 2014 study, it could definitely be helpful to seek out professional help. Job stress is very real and has been proven to lead to disorders like anxiety or depression, so finding a fulfilling career is considered to be important to mental well-being. When choosing the most fitting career or finding a new job when one proves unsatisfying or frustrating, the services of a career professional counselor may be helpful.

How can a career counselor help?

A trained career counselor can help anyone facing tough career decisions, confused at a crossroad, or looking to explore. A career counselor could come from many backgrounds; they could be a therapist, life coach, or a volunteer from the business world. No matter their experience, a career counselor will be trained to be a source of career guidance, provide career information resources, discuss career development, and administer and interpret aptitude and ability assessments.

For example, students might see a guidance counselor in high school before applying to college and then again while attending college to assist in selecting or changing majors. But really, career counseling can help anyone at any stage of life who wishes to change careers, leave work altogether, or explore ways to be more satisfied with a current career. Some counselors may also even be able to offer advice on how to improve your current position at a job that is mostly enjoyable and satisfying by exploring possible ways to earn a promotion or the best methods to negotiate a salary increase.

The order in which they’ll assist you is fairly standard. First they will help you identify factors influencing your career development, and assess your interests, abilities, and values. From there, they can gather resources and sources of career information and work with you to determine next steps and develop a plan to achieve your goals.

Overall, a career counselor is there to help you navigate out who you are and uncover what you want out of your education, your career, and your life. Like any therapist or counselor without a specialization in careers, they can be someone for you to talk to about your thoughts, ideas, and concerns. All counselors and therapists are equipped to help you sort out, organize, and make sense of your thoughts and feelings.

What happens during a career counseling session?

In a career counseling session, the counselor will help you explore skills and strengths, consider education levels and potentially offer advice about continuing education. They may also want to dig a little deeper into your interests and personality type by administering a personality or aptitude test. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has also been shown to be useful at helping individuals determine possible careers based on personality traits.

Some potential topics of discussion in career counseling could include:

  • Known skills or talents
  • Educational commitment required of various careers
  • Potential earnings
  • Daily working environment preferences
  • Opportunities for change or advancement within in a particular career
  • Necessary skills/education for a desired career shift

Choosing a career is an important task, but it may also be a difficult one. It’s not easy to decide what type of job will be the best fit before you have hands-on experience doing it. Since career counseling helps people assess their skills, needs, and desires in order to find a career that works for them in a holistically way, this type of counseling is considered to be an important step to take before deciding on making a permanent career decision.

Researching a range of potential careers may be overwhelming, and information on required skill sets and education needed for a particular position may be contradictory or difficult to find on your own. A career counselor will often be able to provide valuable information in these areas and others.

If you’re trying to narrow your focus when considering a career change, some questions to answer before or during your counseling sessions are:

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What kinds of activities are fun and fulfilling for me?
  • What am I good at?
  • What is my skill set?
  • What are my qualifications?
  • What is my desired salary?
  • What jobs are available in the place(s) I’d like to live?
  • Am I OK traveling for work?
  • What do I value in a workplace?
  • Is it important to me to be of service to others?
  • Am I looking for intensely challenging work or something low stress?
  • How am I best managed?
  • How important is stability and security?

How can I find a career counselor?

Career counseling can benefit almost anyone. Whether you are in the beginning stages of choosing a career, re-entering the workforce, or recovering from a layoff, a career counselor can help you navigate your work-related options. Career counseling can even be a beneficial resource if you’re currently employed and looking to advance in your company or find more satisfaction in your role.

There are several different ways you can find the right counselor or coach to help you secure your next job. The easiest place to start is to ask friends and family if they can recommend a counselor or coach. No matter how long it’s been since you graduated, it’s not a bad idea to contact your college career office and ask if they provide career counseling or advice to alumni. Many collegiate career offices provide services for life to alumni, or may charge a lower fee than you would pay for a private counselor. If not, ask if they can give you a referral. If you don’t have an alma mater, reach out to a local college career office and ask for a referral to a private counselor. The school may have a list of local counselors available. You can also use advanced, trusted therapist matching services like Advekit.

After finding your career counselor, but before you sign an agreement, take the time to check their credentials. Also, have a frank conversation about your goals to clarify that you’re both on the same page regarding desired outcomes. In fact, it’s not unusual to ask for three references from any counselor before finalizing an agreement for services. This is common practice for most employers, and you will be employing your career counselor. Ask reference questions like "What were her strengths and weaknesses as a counselor?", "What progress did you make after meeting with her?", "Would you use her services again?" and "Do you have any reservations about recommending her?"

Always give preference to counselors who charge per visit as opposed to those who offer an expensive package of sessions and assessments, which can end up costing several thousand dollars. Besides, you don’t want to get locked into several sessions if you end up not needing that many, or getting along with your counselor. You can expect to pay between $75 to $500 per hour, but beware about paying more than $150 per hour unless you are a highly-compensated executive.

That said, check credentials. The governing body of career counselors is the National Career Development Association (NCDA), and it has certain expectations, guidelines, and requirements for professionals to acquire before entering the career counseling field. The NCDA expects certain competencies of professionals at or above a graduate degree level, such as training in career development theory, individual and group counseling skills, individual and group assessment, resourcing, program management, consultation, implementation, diverse populations, supervision, ethical and legal issues, research and technology. A certified counselor will be your best bet in getting the career resources and support you need to make your next career choice or plan a career transition.

Whomever you choose, it’s important to feel confident in their ability and comfortable in their presence. Once you’ve found the right counselor, your career will soar in ways you never even expected.