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What To Look for in a Career Counselor?

When you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up or if you are losing sleep over what’s going on at work, a professional Career Counselor can offer you sound advice.  You are entitled to an empathic career development professional with strong credentials and a high level of competence.  You’re paying him or her to be your trusted advisor so be sure you get your money’s worth.  Maybe you can’t afford to work with one, but every week you are out of work is costing you money.  When the stakes are so high in this job market, hiring one might be a very smart investment.  Before doing so, do your research in these key areas.  

1. Process – It is very important to be crystal clear about what you can expect since career services vary.  Be sure to ask about their process and philosophy of career development.  Do they even have a process?  How long does it take?  Do they offer single sessions or a package of appointments?  Are the sessions 45, 60 or 90 minutes long?  Are they done on the phone, in-person or by Skype?  What types of assessments and inventories are they qualified to administer and interpret?  I send new clients a Confirmation Letter and Welcome Letter.  These explain my 5 to 7 week Career Transition Program in detail, and it reiterates what we have discussed in our initial phone consultation.  If you buy a package of appointments, I would expect your Career Counselor to guide you through the three sequential stages of the Career Development Process.  These include, 1) Self-Assessment – Who am I?, 2) Career Exploration – Where am I going?, and 3) Action Plan – How do I get there?

Career counseling should: 1) enhance self-knowledge, 2) generate career/life options, 3) increase understanding of the world of work, 4) improve focus, 5) boost decision-making skills, and 6) promote self-advocacy for future career development.  Your Career Counselor should be able to teach you job search strategies, networking skills, interview techniques, and encourage further learning opportunities.  You should expect a customized approach for clarifying and setting short, intermediate and long-term goals.

A good Career Counselor will assign readings and homework to be done in between the appointments.  These assignments should get you to stop, think and push you outside the comfort zone which is where real change occurs.  I offer unlimited phone consults Monday through Friday as part of my Career Transition Program to provide constant support and encouragement.  I also provide 19 Career Development Videos.  Ask if similar services and support are available.  

2. Credentials – Be informed about the credentials of the person you choose.  Career counseling requires the expertise of an extensively trained and experienced professional.  The level of qualifications and competencies differs widely.  A Career Counselor typically holds a graduate degree in counseling, education or related fields and on the rare occasion a doctoral degree.  Please ask how long and where they have been practicing, where they went to school and find out where did he or she cut their teeth.  There are lots of credentialing bodies out there.  I trust the National Career Development Association.  In the “Find a Counselor” section of their website (, you will locate Career Counselors that have earned either the Master Career Development Professional (MCDP) or Master Career Counselor (MCC) designation.  Credentials matter so check them.

3. Fee Structure - How do they get paid?  Do they offer a package of appointments or do you pay per session?  Does the package include a resume critique, assessment testing, ongoing phone consults outside the sessions, etc.?  Their fees should be reasonable.

4. Recommendations - Be sure to review the Career Counselor’s profile on LinkedIn.  Are they a Super Connector with 500+ Connections or does their online reputation send a different message?  How many past clients or colleagues have recommended them?  Do they have a video or career blog you can check out?  Do they have a track record of success?  Do you know of anyone who has had a positive experience with them in the past?

5. Chemistry - Rapport is critical.  The initial pro bono phone consultation should be a Chemistry Call.  Do you like this person?  Will you be able to trust and confide in them?  Are they optimistic and empathic?  They should create a supportive environment for anyone experiencing job transition, loss or stress.  They should improve coping skills to manage anxiety, disappointment, and self-confidence.

6. Expectations - You should request a detailed explanation of services, time commitments, confidentiality, fee structure and billing policy.  Discuss in advance your desired outcomes as a result of your work together so you are crystal clear about the expectations.  Skip anyone who offers guaranteed results, easy answers or quick fixes.  Career Counselors are not head hunters, placement agencies or executive recruiting firms.  They do not find you the best job.  They do find out what jobs are best for you.  

Career consulting involves an active collaboration between the client and the professional.  It is essential that you ask questions about the process whenever they arise.  They can also make appropriate referrals to other trained professionals including therapists, financial planners and clergy.  Career counseling issues are complex and hard.  Career Counselors, just like doctors and therapists, are not perfect practitioners.  Some are effective and others are not.  If you are not benefitting from the one you have, get a new one.  You also have to do your part.  Be prepared to spend the time to do the difficult work in and between each session.  If career counseling didn’t work for you, it may be that neither did you.  They want you to win, but they can’t want it more than you do.  No one goes to the Olympics without a coach.  Please find someone you like and trust so you are not going it alone in your career development.

Dr. Tom’s Career Tip: “Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed..” – Proverbs 15:22

© 2013, Dr. Thomas J. Denham, Careers In Transition LLC – TU Blog – Friday, November 1, 2013

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