How to Find and Choose a Career Counselor or Coach

Career coach with client
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If you are uncertain about your job or career goals, then you might consider engaging the services of a career counselor or coach to help you clarify your situation. A coach will work with you to help with immediate needs like writing a resume or cover letter and finding a job. They may also provide guidance on longer-term plans for your career, including planning for a transition to a new career or phasing into retirement.

What is a Career Counselor?

A career counselor is a professional who helps clients to plan their careers and achieve their employment goals. Career counselors and coaches work with clients to teach them strategies for how to find new or different employment successfully. Career counselors are employed by state departments of labor, community agencies, school systems, two and four-year college career offices, and private counseling firms. 

Services Provided by Career Counselors

Career counselors and coaches provide a variety of services. You can get assistance with any part of the career planning process that you need. Here’s an overview of the services that are offered:

  • Help clients to assess career values, interests and skills; investigate career options and envision a career path; identify and apply for jobs; network; interview; develop resumes and cover letters, and establish integration between work and personal life. 
  • Use a variety of tools including assessment exercises, interest inventories, personality tests and client interviews (in-person or long-distance via phone, Skype or video chat) to help identify appropriate options for consideration. 
  • Help clients identify obstacles impeding progress toward the establishment of career plans and coach clients on ways to overcome these challenges. 
  • Make referrals to psychologists or therapists if clients are unable to engage in the career-planning process or finalize decisions due to anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. 

Education, Training, and Certification

Career counselors usually acquire a master's degree in counseling or career development. Career counselors can be certified by organizations like the National Board of Certified Counselors.

Career Counselor Skills

  • Career counselors must have the ability to put a client at ease and engender trust to facilitate sharing of personal information.
  • Strong interviewing and active-listening skills are required to extract information from clients. An analytical mind is required to make connections between an individual's personality type, abilities, interests, values, and appropriate career options.
  • Career counselors need strong research skills to find information about careers and educational preparations related to client needs.
  • They must be able to clearly convey information to individuals and groups about job search strategies, approaches to interviewing, and resume and cover letter development.

How a Career Counselor Can Help Your Job Search

Career counselors and coaches provide assistance with identifying and exploring career options, selecting from career choices, changing careers, resume and cover letter writing, focusing and targeting a job search, and with helping job seekers through the job search process.

Working with a career coach is a process that can help you understand yourself and where you fit best in your career, education, and life.

Career counselors focus on achieving work-life integration with an understanding of how a person acts in their role and how different roles interact. They can even help you to explore new career options and resolve issues at work or even problems in your personal life that may be affecting your job performance.

How to Find a Career Counselor or Coach

There are several different ways you can find the right counselor or coach to help you secure your next job:

Ask friends and family if they can recommend a counselor or coach.

Contact your college career office if you're a college grad, and ask if they provide career counseling or advice to alumni. Many career offices provide services for life to alumni, or may charge a lower fee than you would pay for a private counselor. If not, ask whether they can give you a referral.

Reach out to a local college career office and ask for a referral to a private counselor. The school may have a list of local counselors available.

Use the Counselor Find function offered through the National Board of Certified Counselors. Activate the 'career development' filter to identify some prospects.

How to Choose a Career Counselor to Work With

Before you sign an agreement with a counselor or coach, take the time to check their credentials. Also, be sure to have a conversation about your goals to clarify that you’re both on the same page regarding desired outcomes.

Ask for three references from any counselor before finalizing an agreement for services. Ask the references questions like "What were her strengths and weaknesses as a counselor?", "What progress did you make after meeting with her?", "Would you use her services again?" and "Do you have any reservations about recommending her?"

Give preference to counselors who charge per visit as opposed to those who offer an expensive package of sessions and assessments (costs can run to several thousand dollars). Fees will range from $75 to $500 per hour. However, you shouldn't pay more than $150 per hour unless you are a highly-compensated executive.

Check credentials. The governing body of career counselors is the National Career Development Association (NCDA). It has created certain expectations, guidelines, and requirements for professionals to acquire before entering the career counseling field.

The NCDA expects certain competencies of professionals at or above a graduate degree level, such as training in career development theory, individual and group counseling skills, individual and group assessment, resourcing, program management, consultation, implementation, diverse populations, supervision, ethical and legal issues, research and technology.

What Career Counselors Don't Do

While career counselors and coaches can help you to understand better who you are and the factors that most influence your lifestyle, they will not tell you what to do, what job to take, or which career to pursue.

Career coaching can benefit people at all points in their careers, from high school students approaching the next stage in their education to adults returning to the workforce after an absence, seeking to change career mid-life, or planning a post-retirement second career.