Start by identifying
If you’ve lost your job recently or are dealing with other work-related issues, you may have thought about seeking career counseling.
If so, you have no less than two major challenges: 1) Identifying how you expect to benefit from career counseling, and 2) Finding a qualified career counselor.
Definitions of 'Career' and 'Career Counseling'
“Career” is a very broad term. One of the most cited definitions comes from the academic John Arnold. For him, a career is “the sequence of employment-related positions, roles, activities and experiences encountered by a person.”
A good definition of “career-counseling" comes from Nathan and Hill (1992). “Career counseling” is “a process that enables people to recognize and utilize their resources to make career-related decisions and manage career-related problems.”
The career counseling needs of a high school student or recent college graduate may be very different from those of a middle-aged manager who has just been downsized or someone who is getting ready to retire. So before you go looking for a counselor, you might want to consider the questions in the list below. They are all grounded in career theory and career counseling theory.
1) How fully aware are you of your personality, interests, skills and abilities and the implications they could have for the kind of work you want to do?
2) To what extent are your career issues and options related to your age or phase of life and the roles you fill in your personal life? Are you in a period of relative stability, or does everything seem to be changing all at once?
3) Has your upbringing or national culture limited the opportunities available to you?
4) What have you liked or not liked about the organizations and work environments that you’ve experienced?
5) Considered all together, what do the career-related decisions you've made so far reveal about your career values and preferences?
In the United States, no special certification is required to hang out one’s shingle and call oneself a “career counselor,” so the potential for wrong information and bad advice is great. Still, there are some things you can to do to try to avoid people who are not qualified to help you.
1) Ask prospective career counselors whether they have certification from any recognized organizations, such as the National Career Development Association (NCDA), which is a division of the American Counseling Association. The NCDA’s Website has a Find a Counselor link, and also a link that offers Guidelines for Choosing a Counselor.
2) If you need testing, ask whether your counselor is qualified to administer and interpret some of the most widely used work-related instruments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. The publishers of these and other well-validated tests often will not sell them to individuals who can’t prove that they have the credentials to use them.
3) Do some selective name- and term-dropping. Even if you aren’t familiar with P-E fit theory, John Holland’s RIASEC, Donald Super’s stage theory and what is meant by “structural factors,” a qualified career counselor ought to be. If your prospective career counselor draws a blank when you ask whether s/he is familiar with these ideas, consider moving on.
4) If you’re seeking information only, you might be able to find what you need on your own. The U.S. Department of Labor makes some very good tools and materials available on-line free of charge. You can find a variety of interesting sources here at O*NETOnline.
5) If the help you need is less about finding information and more about dealing with issues, consider therapeutic counseling. Therapeutic and career counseling are not as far apart as you might think. An advantage is that therapeutic counseling may be covered if you have health insurance, but private career counseling is typically fee-for-service.
If you are considering therapeutic counseling for a career-related issue, you should know that there are different approaches to this form of counseling, and therapeutic counselors often blend them in various ways. A therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavior therapy will try to help you think rationally and critically, while a therapist who takes a person-centered or Rogerian approach offers empathy, acceptance and unconditional regard but not advice.
A therapist who relies on a psychodynamic approach will help you look at your past and identify unresolved issues that may be stumbling blocks to your mental health development. A newer, less widely available approach called “narrative therapy” aims to help you reframe past experiences in a more healthy way.
▪ Part 1: Career Anchors: Are you in tune with your career values?
▪ Part 2: Career Anchors: Which one would you give up last?
Jan is the author of The Cultural Psyche of India: Guidance for the U.S. Marketer. She is a member of the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology and an associate member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She holds a master's in organizational psychology from the University of London and has written as a consultant for the life sciences industry since 1993.