THE BENEFITS OF CAREER COUNSELING
by Beverly Baskin, ED.S, LPC, MCC, NCCC, CPRW
If you are undecided or confused about career choices, then you might want to consider using the services of a career counselor. The benefits of receiving career counseling are many. First and most obviously, a career counselor can help you gain knowledge about specific careers, the workplace, and future marketing trends. Second, a career counselor can help you understand who you are and what you want out of your life and your career through helping you take a look at such things as your interests, skills, abilities, values, and goals. Perhaps even more importantly, a career counselor can offer you the support you need as you make decisions about your life and your career and help you actually make the transition to a more satisfying lifestyle.
In an era of downsizing and uncertainty in American business, finding a job and planning for your future is very different than it was in the past. It encompasses creativity and flexibility. Unlike in past generations, you literally have to take responsibility for your own career. If you don't, no one else will. A career counselor can help you learn exactly how to do that, she can teach you the skills you can use today and for the rest of your life.
As career counseling professionals we are often asked these questions:
What exactly is career counseling?
To begin with, career counseling is counseling. It is as personal as any other kind of counseling you may seek out. If you don't know what you want to do, if you feel stuck in your career, if you are unhappy at work, and unsure about which direction to follow, then career counseling might be advantageous; it can help you find the answers already within you, answers you may not be aware are there, just waiting to break through so you can live an authentic, satisfying life. The only difference between career and personal, or mental health, counseling is that in career counseling concerns about work and career are the primary focus from the beginning.
The term "career" can be defined as the totality of work one does in one’s lifetime. This can broadly include the sum of all like experiences including education, work, leisure activities, social and civic memberships and family responsibilities. All of life development can be viewed as an aspect of career. Contrast this to the definition of work developed by Donald Super, a well-known vocational theorist: “The systematic pursuit of an objective valued by oneself (even if only for survival) and desired by others...,” or his definition of employment: “Time spent in paid work or in indirectly paid work....” Clearly, career encompasses a broad range of activities. In fact, career is no less than how we structure our time across our life span. Given this definition, then, we see everyone as unique; the issues you bring to a career counselor are your own and will not be exactly like what someone else might bring. For example, Shake Gawain, in her book, Creative Visualization, explains that people often attempt to live their lives backwards. They try to have more things or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want. A career counselor can help you find out who you are and teach you how to go about getting what you need and what you ultimately want.
What kinds of people seek out career counselors?
Typically clients will fall into one of the four categories listed below. Remember, these are broad categories, and people may be at different stages, even if their approximate age does not coincide with the given category. Regardless of age or stage, people who tune into their natural skills and abilities, will feel they truly own their career decisions. They will feel free to explore, not one, but several career paths that they will utilize in the future and throughout their lives.
Four Types of Clients
The Exploratory Client (ages 17-27). These are people at entry level or not far removed from it. Concerns usually involve initial learning about oneself and one's place in the world of work and how to negotiate early career decisions.
The 30’s Transition Client (ages 28-39). People at this stage have already been part of the world of work, may have been involved in trial and error career starts and changes; they may have been floundering; or they may have stabilized into mastery of early to mid-level career tasks. In any case, they typically are meeting and living expectations of society and family.
The Mid-life Client (Ages 39-52). People at this stage usually have experienced a fair amount of advancement in their careers. They have consolidated their knowledge about the world of work in general and their career paths, specifically. They may be experiencing frustration or they may see themselves either in a holding pattern or stagnating in their career paths. Regardless, they no longer want to meet the expectations of society and are ready to make changes to careers more in line with their internal sense of self.
The Pre-Retirement and Retirement Client (Ages 52-75). These people are beginning to see an end to their working years. They are ready to begin thinking about disengagement from the world of work. A myriad of possibilities may seem just around the corner, or they may feel a sense of despair and dread.
Regardless of which stage you are in, the services of a career counselor can be helpful in aiding you in learning about yourself, the world of work, and your place in it.
What can I expect when I see a career counselor?
1. The Initial Interview The purpose of the initial session, or the intake interview, is to gain as much information as is needed to help you make effective and appropriate decisions about your career. At the initial intake interview the career counselor may begin by looking at how you perceive yourself at work, at school and/or at home, and if there are other factors that may be affecting your career at the present time. For example, a career counselor might delve into the education and occupations of the client’s family members. Because of their circumstances, especially those over which they have no control, some clients may feel depressed. There may even be substance abuse problems or issues relating to the client’s home life that affect work performance. A good career counselor is cognizant of these possibilities and others and is prepared to help the client get help with issues that may get in the way of making effective career decisions. When career counselors are trained in mental health counseling, they may deal with personal problems as well. For example, when entry-level job seekers have pressure on them from parents, the full-service career counselor may meet with other family members so that everyone in the family will be supportive in the likes and dislikes of the person seeking help. The career counselor continually monitors the client’s feelings with the main emphasis on support and helps the client understand that it is desirable to be himself or herself, not just what other people want him or her to be. The trick, of course, is to know the difference. This is where the career counselor's expertise is invaluable. She or he can help you sort through all those pieces of yourself so that you can determine who you are and what you want. Positive thinking yields positive results. Your counselor might very well engage in creative exercises throughout the counseling process to encourage support and have fun during the entire career search process. She or he is well versed in helping you help yourself toward a rewarding and fulfilling life. In order to do this, though, you and your counselor must first set some goals.
2. Setting Goals A very important part of the initial counseling session or the first session or two thereafter is that of setting goals. What do you expect from the process of career counseling? What do you want to accomplish first? After a certain amount of sessions, what can you expect? As you and your counselor collaborate on goal setting, you are working together as a team. There are no surprises. You and your counselor may work hard, but through commitment to the counseling process your goals will be met. Typically, people who seek career counseling have only a limited amount of experience in the workplace and limited exposure to different types of careers. This is especially true of the exploratory-age client. Surprisingly, this may also be true of many more experienced 30's Transition and Mid-life Career clients. Even the Pre-retirement and Retirement client may not be knowledgeable of how and when their career decisions were made. For this reason, a career counselor would want to know how you were influenced in any career decisions in the past and by whom. These influences include those of your parents, teachers, supervisors, mentors, and other significant people throughout your early and later life.
3. Testing During subsequent counseling sessions, testing is usually conducted as an additional facilitation tool to help you and your counselor gain knowledge about different aspects of yourself that will help in the decision making process. There are several types of interest, workplace, and personality inventories that can be administered to help you obtain a profile of strong points about yourself Additional assessment instruments such as aptitude tests and college major inventories may be administered, if and when they are necessary. Most assessments are usually self-reporting instruments, and there are no right or wrong answers. Everyone scores 100%....and you'll come out knowing a little more about yourself and your possible hidden talents than you ever thought possible!
Most career counselors usually administer three or more assessment instruments -- or a battery -- because different kinds of information can be gained from different kinds of instruments and some people will take to one type of instrument better than to another. Taking a battery of assessments should be a pleasant experience; they are not like the usual school-type tests you remember. As mentioned, there are no right or wrong answers, rather either/or answers. For instance: Would you like to live in the city or the country? At a party, do you do the introductions or do you wait to be introduced? Some of the more common career-related testing instruments administered to clients as part of a career counseling program include the Strong Interest Inventory, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The Firo-B Workplace Indicator, and The John Holland Self Directed Search. Results of your assessment battery are interpreted for you by your counselor. The trained professional counselor is well versed in recognizing your feelings and may comment about how you react to each individual instrument. At the very least, your counselor will explore your feelings about the assessment results with you. Remember, the testing process is just one tool your counselor will use, and not even the most important one. You are the only expert in what you want in a career and in a lifestyle. No test in the world was ever designed to take the place of your own wants and desires. At best, the testing will act as a catalyst toward your making your own choices about your own future.
4. Choices The most important thing to remember is that regardless of your life stage, it can be perfectly normal to be undecided about your career choice. It is an extremely important decision. The more undecided you are in the beginning of your career, the more chances you will give yourself to explore the many options that are open to you. If you are later in your career, you may not have known you had choices when you started out. In either case, the fact is that the average job seeker will make at least three career transitions and four to seven job changes throughout his or her life! Nothing is written in stone. All we really have to take with us and to give to another employer, or to give to ourselves if we are entrepreneurs, is our skills and abilities.
In the past, when a person started a job after high school or college, he or she was “married” to the company. Now they are only living together.! The company does not promise an employee a job from “cradle to crave.” With constant restructuring, takeovers, downsizing, and mergers, people do not find security from their companies any more. We find our security, safety, and self-esteem from knowing and marketing our own set of competencies. A career counselor can help you sort out what those competencies are by helping you to consider and investigate these questions:
What is that comes naturally to you? What did you fantasize about becoming as you were growing up? What subjects were you good at while attending school? What do you feel passionate about? What are your hobbies and avocations? What have people encouraged you about or complimented you on? You may very well know what you don’t like, and may even go to any lengths to avoid working in those areas. It is what you do like that is sometimes buried deep because of early conditioning such as parental and societal pressures. Actually, you can conceptualize your “perfect” job as a point in the middle of three intersecting circles. The three circles are 1) your abilities and skills 2) your interests 3) the local and global marketplace. Your career counselor will assist you in understanding fully how these three circles intersect with your unique self.
5. Career Information Job seekers and career transitioners want to be educated about the various careers that are available to them. They would like more information about job descriptions, employment outlooks, and professional qualifications. Some people explore promotional opportunities, wage and salary guidelines, and assessment of their talents as it is related to the world of work. A career counselor can suggest various resource publications and reference books that may be of specific interest to you. These are some of the most popular reference books: The Dictionary of Occupational Titles, The Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Guide for Occupational Exploration, The Dictionary of Wages and Salaries, and various US and State government publication. These are all readily available in any library. Often recommended are vocational, and motivational books such as the popular What Color Is Your Parachute, and The Overnight Job Search Strategy and many, many others. These line the shelves of any bookstore. This process of reading books and disseminating career information takes clients out of the fantasy stage of career development and transfers their job search into a realistic mode.
6. Career Pathing After working with your counselor regarding your needs, interests, personality, and abilities, interpretation of test scores, and related reading, you are now ready for career planning or “career pathing.” You can explore at least two or three career paths simultaneously. For instance, if you excel in mathematics, research, and statistics might consider a career in insurance as an actuary, or a career as a statistician, or a business analyst, or a career as a stockbroker. Additionally, you could look into becoming an economist, a college professor, or an engineer. All of these positions will utilize your skills and abilities, and provide you with future aspirations. As you perform research into various careers, you will begin to narrow down your preference list based on educated decisions and your own intuition. Remember -- you are still the only expert! Then you will learn how to interview or “shadow” people in different professions to gain more insight into the actual jobs. Through a process of elimination you will reach a decision about the best career possibilities for you. Now you are ready for the job search stage.
7. Preparation of Resumes and Cover Letters Once several career paths are being considered, you and your counselor will again collaborate on writing and producing a resume emphasizing your unique and special skills and abilities. The next step is preparing cover letters that will highlight each of the job preferences and serve as an advertisement for the client. When the resume and cover letters are approved and finalized, the actual job search becomes the client’s and counselor’s main focus.
8. Career Marketing Now you are ready for a very important and crucial part of the career counseling process; that is, effective personal marketing to achieve results! The emphasis is on networking. The goal here is to find as many contacts and referred leads as possible, to ask for advice and suggestions of key decision makers in your chosen field or fields, and to get as many names as possible. Notice, the goal is not necessarily to find a job. That would be too big of a step at the start of a job search. You will learn to set small goals for yourself as a job seeker. In this way, you will obtain more “wins” and ultimately achieve your future goal of landing that coveted job.
Career counseling clients employ career marketing techniques including finding the hidden job market, developing contacts and conducting information interviews. Some of the more common methods include replying to newspaper ads, contacting agencies, and working with search firms. It is extremely important to network with friends, relatives, and referred leads. The client also researches target companies, solicits resumes to those firms, and “pounds the pavement” in order to gain more exposure to certain industries.
Preparation for the job interview, salary negotiations, and videotaped mock interviews are reviewed and rehearsed with the counselor. The client is well prepared and can easily discuss his or her strong points, and the strong points in the resume. Thank you letters and follow up letters are utilized at appropriate stages of the job search. You and your career counselor will utilize some or even all of these processes and techniques.
Finally, you are primed for success with a high degree of self-confidence and the ability to communicate your skills and abilities to the prospective employer. More importantly, you will have achieved the competitive edge among other job applicants!
One last point: From our experiences with many clients just like you, we have found that our clients operate most effectively with balance in their lives. The ideal work scenario encompasses what they consider to be the best and most creative aspects of their personalities. Whether it is building something, writing, utilizing teaching or training skills, working with numbers, working in the performing arts, working with one’s hands, or using verbal/ persuasive skills, clients decide what type of creative skills they would like to use at different stages in their lives. Often skills overlap. By the way, we all add to our repertoire as we mature and gain more life experience. Each new job is a rung on our personal career ladder.
Career counseling is really a life-long process....a combination of task work, team work, personal marketing, and promotion. Former clients tell us that what they have learned in the career counseling process will stay with them always. They feel a sense of achievement as they meet larger and larger goals, develop their own instincts and become empowered to make important decisions affecting their lives now and in the future.
So will you. Good luck!!
Beverly Baskin, ED.S, LPC, MCC, NCCC, CPRW, is a Nationally Certified Counselor specializing in career development. She is in private practice where she works with individuals, non-profit agencies and performs organizational consulting and workshops for corporations. Her practice, BBCS Counseling Services, serves a nation-wide client base and can be reached at the toll free telephone number: 800-300-4079.