Your career takes up approximately a third of your life.
Not having a clear career path or being unhappy with the one you’ve chosen can make life much more stressful and unfulfilling. Career counseling can help you overcome these challenges by finding a job that aligns with your interests, values, goals, and financial needs.
What is Career Counseling?
Career counseling is a support service that helps people navigate their careers – whether they are unemployed, underemployed, entering the workforce for the first time, making a career change, or are looking to make their career more meaningful and satisfying.
In many ways, career counselors are a lot like other counselors. They are there to listen to your concerns, thoughts, and feelings and offer their compassion and professional advice. Their goal is to help you make sense of your situation to make informed decisions about your future.
Who is Career Counseling For?
Although you can benefit the most if you start career counseling at a younger age, your high school guidance counselor or college career services department is not only offered.
People of all ages, professions, backgrounds, and experience levels can benefit from career counseling or career coaching.
As it turns out, a lot of people are unhappy with their jobs. Up to 85% of employees worldwide feel disengaged from their current roles (according to a 2017 Gallup‘s World Poll). If you are one of these employees, a career counselor can help you find job satisfaction somewhere new.
But career counseling isn’t only recommended for those who are first starting their careers or those who feel stuck working at a job they hate.
You might love your job, but know it’s not perfect. Maybe it doesn’t pay very well, or it’s a dead-end job with no room for you to grow, and you need to be proactively thinking about what your next career move should be.
If you’ve been applying for months and have submitted hundreds of applications without any success, a career counselor can help you pinpoint what the problem is and help you fix it.
It can also be very beneficial for those returning to the workforce after an extended absence, international clients who are new to the country, people who are uncomfortable using technology and social media, or those experiencing stress or anxiety related to their job or their job search.
They can even help you with starting your own business!
How Can Career Counseling Help Me?
The job market has always been tough. With recent record-breaking unemployment rates, it’s only getting tougher. Anyone looking for work right now is going to need all the help they can get.
Instead of job searching alone, a career counselor can explore your options with you and get you on the right career path.
They can provide a variety of career services, including:
- Guidance, advice, and support
- Career information resources
- Job search tactics and techniques
- Resume writing and cover letter development
- Job interview preparation
- Job leads and employer referrals
- Recommendations to other support services
- Conducting and interpreting aptitude tests and personality tests
- Assessing your skills, strengths, and abilities
- Career exploration
- Developing career goals and a plan to achieve them
- Assisting with applying for jobs
- Training and professional development opportunities
- Salary and compensation package negotiation tips
- Identifying your barriers, obstacles, or personal issues and helping you overcome them
It’s important to note that career counselors are not mental health professionals. They can help reduce your fears and anxieties by encouraging, gaining more confidence, and better understanding your emotions or other factors that impact your professional development. But for some people, the better choice might be to find a therapist or a qualified mental health professional.
Career counselors are not recruiters, either. They can’t guarantee that you will find the perfect job or magically fix whatever challenges you face. (Steer clear of anyone who promises that they will!) Although they will provide guidance and suggestions, they won’t tell you what jobs to apply to or what position to take.
What Happens in a Career Counseling Session?
Each career counseling session will be different, depending on the counselor’s approach and what you specifically need.
In general, however, there are 3 main things you should expect from the career counseling process:
1. Self Assessment
A career counselor will use various counseling techniques and assessment tools to explore your personality type, background, interests, dreams, ambitions, and current circumstances with you.
You should be prepared to talk about yourself and reflect openly and honestly.
Aptitude tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory are commonly used starting points. But other methods might include interviews, questionnaires, exercises, or discussions.
The goal is to learn more about yourself and figure out what you should do with your life.
2. Career Exploration
Once you have an idea of your skills, strengths, values, and interests, a counselor can advise on what career paths best suit you and help you explore the world of work. They can provide labor-market and occupational information, such as if and where the job is in demand, what companies you should apply to, and salary expectations.
But be prepared to explore on your own, too.
For example, say you discover you really want to be a teacher. Great! But there’s still more to it. What subject do you want to teach? What ages or grades? Do you want to work in a school, or would you rather teach in another capacity, such as coaching a sports team or offering music lessons from your home?
You also have to consider your own education level and need more training or experience to qualify for your desired position. Unfortunately, not everyone can go back to school, which can limit your options.
3. Applying for Jobs
Getting professional help with creating a targeted resume and cover letter is one of the main reasons job seekers attend career counseling.
If you already have a good idea of what you want to do and are looking for direction on how to get there, or are out of work and need to find work as soon as possible, this might be all you focus on.
Between the large number of other applicants you are competing against for the job and the increased use of applicant tracking systems (ATS) and resume scanning software, you need an effective and scannable resume. One that highlights your skills and accomplishments includes the right industry keywords and passes the 6-second resume glance test. (Yes, a hiring manager only looks at your resume for an average of 6 seconds!)
An experienced career counselor knows how the recruitment process works and will suggest strategies to help you avoid being stuck in the seemingly never-ending loop of applying. They will assess your job search process and make recommendations on what you should be doing differently. They will review your job-hunting materials (including resumes, cover letters, portfolios, and online profiles) and revise them so that they market your best attributes and align with your desired career choices.
Career counselors can also help you access the hidden job market and use social media (such as LinkedIn) to help you find opportunities.
When Should I See a Career Counselor?
Too many people think that they will walk out with clearly defined career goals and a polished resume after only one session. If it were that easy, you probably could have accomplished this on your own.
And it would help if you put in some real effort on your own before hiring a career counselor. Particularly if you already have a good idea of what you want to do and how to get there. Do your own research online. Take a few personality tests. Update your resume. Start networking. If you still can’t find a job, start to feel lost, or are losing hope, look into getting help from a career professional.
A couple of sessions may be all it takes to get some people back on track, but the process might take much longer for others. I work at an employment agency, and some clients have been receiving ongoing support with us for years!
Career development is a lifelong process, after all. Very few people stay in the same job for their full careers anymore.
So the sooner you can start working with a career counselor, the better.
It takes an average of 9 weeks to find a new job, but this statistic doesn’t reflect how the pandemic impacted our current job market.
Wouldn’t you rather be prepared for when an interesting or promising new career opportunity is posted? If you are left scrambling to apply, your application might fall short and end up in the “no” pile, even if you are the perfect candidate.
Don’t wait until you’re burnt-out or have reached your breaking point, either. As soon as you start to have more bad days at work than good ones, or are thinking about leaving your job for any reason, start looking at your options.
If you feel stuck and keep sending out application after application because you don’t know what else to do, a career counselor can suggest alternative approaches to get you better results, like job interviews and job offers.
Employees who are happy with their current job might decide to work with a career counselor to further advance their careers by developing a 5-year plan or working towards a promotion.
How Can I Benefit from Career Counseling?
There are plenty of ways anyone can benefit from career counseling, no matter what stage they are at.
You will feel happier.
Feeling miserable all of the time because of your job is no way to live. The main benefit of working with a career counselor is to improve your situation to live a happier life.
Personally speaking, finding a meaningful career path and job that I love changed my life. After spending years in toxic work environments where I was underpaid and unappreciated, I feel like I matter and that I’m making a difference. Who wouldn’t want that? Why would you settle for anything less?
You will make (more) money.
Money is, of course, another major benefit. We go to work to earn a paycheck, and for most, this is our only source of income.
If you are unemployed, getting any job to make some money and gain more work experience will benefit you. Even if it’s not ideal, it’s easier to find a job when you already have a job. You can keep working towards something better with your career counselor.
For those already employed, a career counselor can help you move up the ranks to higher-paying jobs.
You will be better prepared.
The working world has changed a lot in 2020. People who thought they had job security realized they didn’t when they got laid off because companies had no choice—either that or shut their doors for good.
Those that did survive now have more employees working remotely from home.
This changed the way many businesses operate and drastically changed what roles and job skills are in demand. Working with a career counselor can help you identify what transferable skills you have, further develop the ones you need, and identify what sectors are growing.
Is Career Counseling Free?
Unfortunately, in most cases, the answer is no. Career counseling is not free.
The fees for career counseling range drastically from $50 to $500 per hour or session. However, unless you are at the executive level, you should expect to pay $100 to $150.
If cost is a factor, it is still possible to get affordable or free career guidance.
Start with CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. You can job search, learn more about different career options, find training opportunities, and utilize the different tools and resources available on their site. More importantly, you can find free career counseling help at an American Job Center with approximately 2,400 locations throughout the country.
Some career counselors offer sliding scale payments or pro bono services, so it’s worth looking into.
It’s also worth looking into what your insurance policy covers if you have insurance. Most policies don’t cover career counseling specifically, but mental health counseling might be. While they are not specifically trained in career development, they can help you cope with anxiety or work stress and work with you to improve your confidence and self-esteem.
Students, recent graduates, and in some cases, alumni often have free access to career services on campus. How much support these services can provide will vary by institution, and unfortunately, some campuses have eliminated these departments.
Other social services may offer free support through resume workshops, essential skills training, computer training, and temporary job placements. Some can also provide funding to help you develop specific skills or meet common training requirements (such as CPR and First Aid). Check out your local libraries, independent living centers, and continuing education centers such as literacy groups, adult education centers, and community colleges.
You can also contact your local chamber of commerce and the department of labor office, as they often host employment workshops, networking events, and career fairs or provide other job-related resources or referrals.
In Canada, there are government-funded employment agencies where you can get free career counseling, if eligible. The agency I work for only requires you to be a citizen that is unemployed or working part-time and not currently in school so that most people can get free support.
If you have a disability, there are also free services that can help you find employment. These will have eligibility requirements, but many of them now include support for those with mental health challenges.
There are plenty of free resources and courses available online, too!
How Do You Choose the Right Career Counselor?
You may decide to hire a career counselor if the free options mentioned above aren’t available to you or aren’t what you had in mind.
Be careful with who you hire, though, as anyone can call themselves a career counselor or career coach, even if they don’t have any training at all. It’s important to look at their qualifications and read client reviews before making any commitments or giving them your money.
You can use the National Board of Certified Counselors website to find certified career counselors who have a relevant bachelor’s or master's degree, have completed internships or field placements, and have passed required exams. Or you can ask for referrals from your local career agencies or friends and family.
To choose which counselor to work with, there are a few things you’ll need to consider in addition to their credentials and references:
- What are the costs? Are their fees comparable to other counselors? Do they charge per session, or do they require you to sign up for a package upfront (which could be a red-flag)? Do they offer refunds?
- How will you meet? Will everything be done online, over the phone, or in-person? If meetings are in person, how close are they located to you?
- Do you need a counselor or a coach? Although the terms are used interchangeably, some career counselors will have clinical training and a long-term counseling approach. In contrast, career coaches are usually more short-term and direct.
- What is your gut feeling? To have the most success, you should have a good rapport with your counselor.
- What is their counseling style? Do they have a structured process that they follow, or do they customize their approach based on what you need?
- What do you want to achieve? Are you looking for quick help to get back to work or overcome a small challenge? Or are you looking for a long-term relationship with ongoing support?
How Can I Succeed Working with a Career Counselor?
It’s really quite simple. If you want to succeed, you need to do the work by putting in the effort and participating.
You should go to your first career counseling session prepared with more than just a copy of your resume. Come up with a list of questions, career goal ideas, and what your desired outcomes are.
Don’t sabotage your chances for success by not trying what your counselor suggests. You need to be open to change and be willing to step out of your comfort zone.
Be honest with yourself and your counselor. If you are experiencing anxiety or depression, for example, hiding it or ignoring it will only interfere with your progress.
Utilize your other supports like your friends, family, coworkers, and network connections, too. They know a lot about you and can provide different insights or suggestions that you might not have thought of.
When you are facing challenges in life, you might consider turning to a counselor for support. When you are facing challenges with your career, career counseling might be exactly what you need.
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and more. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a free library of career & job search resources.