Photo courtesy of Daniil Kuželev
Finding the right career path can be daunting, whether you’re a student just starting out or a professional seeking to switch careers. Career counseling can bring focus and clarity to that search and ultimately set you on the right path.
Who needs a career counselor?
While you may think college students and entry-level workers are the only ones who can benefit from the services of career counsellors, that’s not the case. People at every level of their careers can get help, according to the National Career Development Association. Career services practitioners can assist with everything from a job search and personal branding to additional professional training and career transition.
Strategic career counselor Jane C. Hardy, founder of Career Resources, tells us that no matter your age or background, “we all come to points in our lives when our careers need thoughtful attention. Finding a career is not the same as simply finding a new job. The process of clarifying career goals is often challenging to do alone. Career counselors can save time, money, and the agony of rejection—or worse, finding yourself in an unfulfilling position. When you are clear on a choice of career, you can then launch a job search.”
Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Change Careers?
What credentials should you look for in a counselor?
Your best friend or work colleague can give you advice about your career. But if you’re considering a fundamental shift, you might consider getting the help of a professional. However, not all career services practitioners are equal, nor do they offer the same services or have the same credentials. Adding to the confusion for the uninitiated is the titles they use: should you look for a certified career counselor or a certified master of career services? Maybe a certified career service provider will do?
There’s a great chart by the NCDA that sets out the education and common work settings for these professionals, so you can decide the type of counselor you wish to work with. For instance, there’s no minimum level of education or experience required to be a certified career services provider (CCSP), while both a certified career counselor (CCC) and certified master of career services (CMCS) have undergraduate and/or post-graduate degrees and extensive work experience.
At first blush, it might seem that a career counselor and career coach are interchangeable. Although they do provide overlapping services, they are different, according to the professional coach directory Noomii. “A career counselor provides you with industry information and advice to help you find a job. A career coach does the same, but also takes a deeper look at your life as a whole, paying attention to your values, strengths, and interests.”
When searching for a career counselor, first try to find a referral through work colleagues and your professional network. You can also use the directory at the Institute of Career Certification International, or The National Board for Certified Counselors (where you select the option “career development” from the menu). And whether you get a referral or not, make sure to use the free first visit to see if you think you would work well with them.
“Look for counselors who have at least several years of experience with people in similar situations to yours,” advises Hardy. “If you recently finished school, a career counselor who has experience with recent graduates will most likely be a better fit than one who has primarily worked with senior executives.”
Read more: How to Find a Job You Love (No, Really)
What can you expect from career counseling?
The reason you’re considering consulting with a career counselor is because you want change. You may already know the direction in which you’d like to head (lateral move in the same industry or switch careers entirely) or you only know that your current career is not fulfilling and you’re itching to try something new.
The professional you work with should be knowledgeable about the job market and trends. This way, they can steer you away from creating long-term goals for a career that may actually be at risk of obsolescence due to automation or is in an unsustainable industry.
That means you’ll need to actively participate in your counselling sessions: The process relies on your input for the counselor to make targeted suggestions. You’ll likely receive a list of questions to consider or answer prior to your first meeting. These will pertain to everything from your values and morals to your educational background and top skills. Be ready to speak candidly in interview sessions and fill out personality tests and aptitude tests for best results.
How much will it cost?
According to personal finance writer Maurie Backman, writing at The Motley Fool, each career counseling session can cost between $75 and $150 per hour—and that’s at the low end, with prices going to thousands of dollars for career counseling packages.
For example, career coach Don Georgevich, founder of the Simple Hiring System, charges nearly $500 for a program that includes one 60-minute personal session plus training and email support. Similarly, Marty Nemko, Ph.D., author of Careers for Dummies, charges $450 for his first two-hour session, which includes reviewing a completed new-client questionnaire. If follow-up sessions are required, he charges $175 hourly. However, he has an extensive list of articles and a radio show that give you the benefit of his counselling for free.
The pay-off of course is that your career can move into a place where you’re more fulfilled, earning more and enjoying a better work-life balance.
Career advisor Lauren McAdams cautions against paying anything in advance. "Always pay by the hour for a career consultant's time. This ensures that you aren't locked into a potentially underwhelming service long-term and protects you from by a fly-by-night operation."
What if you can’t afford a career counselor?
Career One Stop is a great resource for anyone looking for work or exploring a career change. Operated by the American Job Center Network under the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, counseling centers are located in every state, providing a full array of services such as workshops, training, and career counseling. If you have no idea what change you want to make, you can use the online assessment tool and see careers that fit your interests. The online toolkit also allows you to compare occupations or look at those that are the fastest-growing or have the most openings.
Career database TuCareers offers a career guidance assessment for working professionals: the summary is free; a detailed report costs $35. It consists of a questionnaire (which takes 30–40 minutes to complete) regarding your interests, work styles, abilities, skills, and more. It provides recommendations on suitable job families and specific occupations and roles. Other free assessments include a career abilities test and a competencies self-assessment.
When we asked Hardy about this, she provided a list of tips and free and inexpensive career counselling resources:
Read books and articles about career choice. I often quote my mentor, Richard N. Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute? 2020: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, who says: "The key to a happy and fulfilling future is knowing yourself. This self-knowledge is the most important component of finding the right career."
Complete and review online career assessments.
Participate in career change and job search workshops and support groups offered in libraries, churches (or other communities of faith), college career centers, and local YWCAs. These are often open to the public.
If you are considering further education now or later, go to the admissions office of a program that you would consider and learn what they offer.
Observe or shadow someone who does work that interests you.
Go as a guest to the monthly meeting of a professional association in your field or a field you’re interested in.