Career Counselors: Do You Need One? and What to Expect

career counselor and client

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

Do you feel like you’re in a dead-end job? Are you a new graduate trying to figure out how to start your career — but don’t even know what industry you should pursue? Have you had a series of jobs that just don’t quite meet your needs?

These are just a few of the reasons why people seek the help of a career counselor. Tasked with providing guidance and other services to clients looking to figure out their next professional step, career counselors assist professionals with identifying the careers for which they are best suited based on their skills, interests, backgrounds and other factors. They also work with individuals looking for advice on how to advance in their careers or navigate other professional challenges.

What is a career counselor?

A career counselor helps people identify the best career choices for them. She will assess your skills, personality attributes, strengths, ambition and other factors to assist you with understanding the best career direction or directions for you. 

Career counselors are trained and knowledgeable about the skills and requirements for many different fields. They will present you with the field that will be most beneficial to you in terms of salary, job satisfaction and other factors and work with you to find information and resources about the prospective position and learn and develop strategies and skills for landing your dream role

What to expect when working with a career counselor

To identify your skills and potential career matches, your career counselor will use tools such as:

• Interviews 

• Strengths and skills assessments and aptitude tests

• Questionnaires

Personality tests

She will ask you about your history, background, interests and education. Depending on the match, she might also advise you on whether and how to complete additional education or training. Your career counselor will also inform you about the skills necessary for your career and locate resources for building them, as well as coach you through the process.

Many career counselors assist their clients with finding opportunities and preparing to apply and interview for the role, working with them to hone their resumes and cover letters to strengthen their candidacy. Some may also help clients make the most of their current roles, finding job satisfaction or growing in their careers.

How much does career counseling cost?

The cost of career counseling can vary considerably depending on how much guidance you need, the number of sessions you attend and factors like the assessments and tests your career counselor administers. Sessions are estimated to cost between $75 and $200 per hour, although again, this can vary. Try asking for a free initial consultation to make sure it’s the right fit for you without investing too much monetarily.

5 signs you should work with a career counselor

People see career counselors for many different reasons. Here are five signs it might be time to pay one a visit.

1. Your graduation date is approaching or you recently graduated and have no idea what you want to do for work.

Learning how to take the first step toward job satisfaction and success is just one way a career counselor assists her clients. 

2. You’ve sent dozens (maybe even hundreds) or job applications and nothing has panned out.

A career counselor can help you hone your approach and/or identify roles that are better suited to you and your skills.

3. You’ve been in the same industry for years and are looking for a career change.

Career counselors will guide you toward a new industry where you can leverage your skills and experiences. 

4. You’ve held a series of different jobs across industries but nothing seems to stick.

You’ll learn what you might be doing wrong and find better-suited job matches.

5. You’re unhappy at work and can’t quite pin down why.

Again, a career counselor will work with you to understand what you should really be looking for in a job based on your strengths and preferences.

How to find a career counselor

How do you find a good match in a career counselor? Here are some ideas to start.

• Network with friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances.

• Contact your college’s career counseling center.

Current students can usually access these services for free, while alumnae may need to pay a fee (ask for a reduced rate if the school is your alma mater).

• Contact a local college’s career counseling center.

• Ask another type of counselor (such as a therapist) for a referral.

• Look online through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) or another credible resource.

Before you work with a career counselor, make sure you understand the terms (such as the fees and whether you will be paying for a full package of services or by the session) and ensure that she is properly credentialed (she should be certified by the National Career Development Association — NCDA).

How do you become a career counselor?

1. Complete a bachelor’s degree.

While you don’t need to major in a particular discipline, some programs, such as human services, will help you learn the skills necessary for counseling and offering guidance.

2. Complete a master’s degree.

Most future career counselings earn their degrees in counseling or career development.

3. Gain experience through an internship.

Most counseling programs require you to complete a certain number of hours of counseling as part of an internship. These sessions are generally supervised and will enable you to gain experience in your future role. 

4. Become certified.

Depending on your state or program requirements, you may need to pass a certification or licensure exam such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). 

5. Gain professional experience and find a niche.

Consider specializing in areas like career advancement or job searching, or focus on specific industries or demographics. This can help you advance your practice, which will not only enable you to better serve your clients, but it can also mean higher earning potential.

6. Obtain further certifications and/or join a professional association.

Gaining more certifications through organizations like the NCDA can help you hone a specialty and/or advance in your career further. Joining this or other organizations will also help you stay abreast of news or trends, provide resources for professional development and more and allow you to network with others in the industry

Skills needed for career counselors

In addition to education, certification and training, career counselors must possess certain soft skills, such as:

• Empathy

• Active listening

• Communication (including verbal, writing and listening)

• Research

• Flexibility

• Resourcefulness 

Where do career counselors work?

Career counselors work in a variety of settings, such as private practices, colleges and universities, government agencies, private organizations and others.

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