From Where I Sit

What is Career Counseling?

Career counseling is often a misunderstood process.  Somewhat like personal counseling—but not quite—it is sometimes imagined to be a one-session appointment where a career counselor listens to your career and life history and then suggests a specific job that you had never considered before.  While this is a very appealing fantasy, it is rarely the case that a counselor can offer such career advice at the first meeting.

While career counseling is generally more focused and short-term than personal counseling, it rarely takes only one or two sessions if your goal is to choose or change a career, so it is best to plan for 4-8 counseling sessions. The exact number of appointments is hard to determine without meeting first to discuss your career goals, but 4-8 sessions is probably reasonable, depending on your situation. Some people require more than the suggested number of sessions and some may require only one or two, if their immediate goal is to upgrade an existing resume or discuss a specific work situation, for example. For general purposes, however, quite a lot can be accomplished in just a few sessions. Talk with your career counselor about their particular approach to career counseling and be sure to have some idea of what it might involve before you commit to the process. Remember that much of the outcome of career counseling depends upon factors such as your temperament, comfort with risk, networking ability, willingness to consider more training or re-training, and the level of motivation you have for making important career decisions.

It is easy to assume that you are ready to engage in career counseling when you don’t enjoy your work or have lost your job. In fact, people often consider working with a career counselor when they are unhappy at work for any number of reasons—they have a boss who is unreasonable, colleagues who are difficult, their work has lost its appeal, or they have been downsized or fired and need immediate employment.

But career counseling is not only for people who are in immediate need of employment—there are times when “career management” or “career coaching” can be very helpful for those who wish to strategize for future career growth within a job category, a company or an industry. Career counseling can be helpful for a number of situations and is not just for people who need to make an immediate change.

People often come to career counseling with ideas about what it will involve. These are frequent comments that I hear from clients:

  • “I don’t like my job and it’s hard for me to get motivated to go to work.”
  • “I never really chose this job—I just fell into it and here I am, 10 years later.”
  • “Management has changed and my new boss is out to get me.”
  • “My job is OK but I wonder if there is something out there that I would really like.”
  • “Are there people who really enjoy going to work? I wish I felt that way.”
  • “What else can I do with my background and skills?”
  • “I never went to college (or “I majored in Roman History”)—what options do I have?”
  • “My company is downsizing and I need to find another job/career.”
  • “I want to make sure I’m considering all the possibilities and not leaving something out.”
  • “I want to take a test that will tell me what to do.”
  • “What do I do if I haven’t looked for work in years? I don’t know where to start.”
  • “My self-esteem is pretty low right now. How can I present as a more confident person?”

If you have ever found yourself thinking or saying something similar, you might want to engage the services of a professional career counselor. It can be very helpful to discuss your concerns with someone who is knowledgeable about human nature, skill sets, employment trends, training opportunities, and work environments.

Here are some things to be aware of in working with a career counselor:

1. Career counselors cannot tell you what you should do for your life’s work, and they absolutely cannot make recommendations or suggestions without knowing something about you. This means that coming for only one or two appointments and expecting “The One, Right Answer” is unreasonable.

2. You and your career counselor might decide to use assessments for more information about your situation. Assessments can be very helpful in providing objective feedback and can yield a lot of information within a short period of time. However, no “test” can tell you what you “should” do for a career. Assessments provide clues—and maybe some surprises—but they are not the whole picture.

3. Career counseling is not generally helpful for people who are unable or unwilling to do some work outside of the appointment. This might involve “homework”, such as doing research, talking with people, or simply taking the time to think more deeply about your situation.

4. Career counseling generally takes some time, just as it would if you were going to a physical therapist for help in healing an injured shoulder. It would not be reasonable to expect instant results from a complicated or long-standing physical problem and the same applies to doing career work. On average, expect to meet for a few sessions in order to find a satisfying solution, unless your situation is very specific and focused.

As a professional career counselor with many years in the field, I can tell you that clients who are willing to invest the time to explore their career concerns usually find better jobs (e.g., higher-paying, more meaningful) as a direct result of utilizing career counseling. They are also better able to articulate their abilities and preferences when meeting or interviewing with a potential hiring manager. You will too, if you are willing to be an active participant in the process.

Remember this is YOUR life and no one but you can or should decide on a course of action to take, but there are professionals who are qualified to help you make those decisions. Check to make sure that the career counselor you are considering working with is licensed, credentialed, and experienced in the career development field.

You won’t regret it.

Kate Nelson
Seattle Career Matters