I met a career counselor recently and her advice has been very helpful. I urge anyone who is unhappy with their job, unhappy with their field, or coming back to working after taking time off to look into it. I actually recommend it to anyone unless you’re pretty happy with your job and certain you’re in the right field. If that is the case, congratulations, that is no easy feat.
1. Decide what you need
There are career counselors and life coaches, and some professionals that are a hybrid. Both career counselors and life coaches will probably refer you to someone else if there are significant emotional issues in your life that you need to take care of, unless they’re a practicing mental health counselor. Both will help you understand whether you need a job change or a career change. As an analogy, I tend to think of career counselors as a Type A personality and life coaches as a Type B personality. Career counselors tend to think more linearly and are data driven. Life coaches often think more big picture and abstract/emotion-based. Both are valuable, they just have different styles of doing things. This isn’t to say that career counselors have Type A personalities and life coaches have Type B personalities (though they might) it’s just to say that their approach and the way they see things is different. If you think you want a career counselor or life coach, carefully listen to how they get you there once you know your direction. If I know I want to be a zoo keeper, for example, how do they help me find the tools and resources I need to be sure this is a good fit and that it’s practical?
Life coaches are particularly helpful if you think there might be other issues holding you back. They help you look at your life as a whole and figure out what the place you want to be looks like. Many life coaches tend to focus more on the road blocks getting in your way (such as emotional issues, self-doubt, fear of failure, etc). They’ll help you figure out strategies when you hit road blocks and that can be very helpful. They’ll also help you think of steps you need to take, but they function more to get you motivated and sort your journey into steps. Many life coaches focus on periods of transition, not just in career, but changes caused by marriage, moving, divorce, health, or finances. This could be helpful and tie into your career objectives or it might not be very important for your purposes.
Career counselors are more like what you might find in a college or university setting. In my experience, they tend to use more data, namely personality tests, a strong interest inventory, and FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation, basically how you function in a group). They often help you prioritize your values, such as how much you need to help people, how much structure you need, and how much of a work/life balance you require. Career counselors are good at helping you figure out what you want, what’s practical, and what you need to do to get there. They are often specific about how to find resources. For example if there are two academic programs in nursing that are similar, they might have you talk to students, look at cost, consider the prerequisites you need, and so on, to help you figure out which program is the best fit. Many counselors also have skills in helping you develop a résumé, creating an online presence, and locating resources for job searches. They won’t find jobs for you, but they might suggest places to find job listings or how to increase your network to find a job. Career counselors only focus on career, they aren’t very specific about other areas of your life.
2. Ask around
Once I mentioned to a couple of people that I was considering a career counselor, I had four or five resources and referrals given to me. If someone knows you well, they might know someone who would work well with you. Word of mouth is often more reliable than finding someone online, but the internet is actually how I found my career counselor, so don’t rule it out all together. The International Federation of Coaching and National Career Development Association are good places to begin an online search. Schedule a phone appointment with your potential career counselor or life coach to get more information about what they do and to ask them any questions you have. See below for some standard questions and be sure to check their website or LinkedIn account if they have one. Even a post on Facebook or contacting a school you’ve attended might provide some ideas.
3. Look at Credentials
Their Specialty & Who They Primarily Work With
Some life coaches or career counselors specialize in mothers transitioning back into work, some specialize in developing an online presence, some like to incorporate art or visual images, and some help with resume writing and interview skills. Many career counselors work more in a collegiate setting with students whereas others prefer to work with people making a mid-life career shift.
Their Degrees, Certifications, & Experience
I knew I wanted someone who had experience counseling people my age who aren’t very established and who don’t have a long work history. Awards or distinctions often indicate who recognizes this person as being good at what they do. If they’re vague about their certifications, be sure to ask. This may or may not be as important to you as real-world experience, but more information will help you make an informed decision. Here are some of the certifications for both career counselors and life coaches:
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC): means they typically have a master’s degree in psychology or social work and have worked many hours with clients. It requires state licensure.
National Career Development Association (NCDA): provides the Master Career Development Professional, Master Career Counselor, and National Certified Career Counselor certifications. All of these certifications require an application and supporting documents, showing their experience and education. If you’re looking for a career counselor and don’t know where to start, the NCDA is a good place to look. Click here for their “Need Career Help?” page.
National Certified Career Counselor (NCCC): obtained through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which requires demonstrating related work experience, satisfying course prerequisites, and completing a national exam process.
Master Career Development Professional (MCDP): recognizes experienced career counselors who provide specialized career development services. MCDP’s may include career development facilitators, resume writers, employment agency professionals, career coaches, career management professionals and workforce development professionals. They hold Master’s degrees in career development or related fields (organizational behavior, human resources, psychology, educational leadership, etc.) The degrees, licenses, and levels of supervision may vary.
Master Career Counselor(MCC): recognizes people who can offer a full range of career services (including assessment) to their clients. They hold master’s degrees in counseling or related fields and have related credentials such as the NCCC, NCC, LMHC, or licensed psychologist. These professionals are screened to make sure that their level of ability meets six or more of the NCDA counseling competencies.
International Federation of Coaching (IFC): a network of professional coaches such as Life Coaches, Executive Coaches, and Leadership Coaches. The IFC develops core competencies, a code of ethics and standards, provides training programs, and is an internationally recognized credentialing program for professional coaches. They provide certification for Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC). The “Need Coaching” page of the International Federation of Coaching (IFC) is a good place to start a search for a life coach.
Associate Certified Coach (ACC): There are a few ways to attain this certification, but it requires about 100 hours (75 paid) of coaching experience and about 60 hours of training.
Professional Certified Coach (PCC): There are three ways to get to this certification, requiring varying amounts of time, but it requires about 125 hours of coach-specific training and 750 (675 paid) hours of coaching experience.
Master Certified Coach (MCC): Requires 200 hours of coach-specific training, 10 hours of mentor coaching, 2500 (2250 paid) of coaching experience with at least 35 clients, performance evaluations, and completing the Coach Knowledge assessment (CKA).
Questions to ask a career coach, career counselor, or life coach
1. What is your educational background?
2. What is your professional experience & how long have you been doing this?
3. Do you have any specific certifications?
4. What demographic do most of your clients fall into?
5. How much does it cost? Are there any extra fees that could come up?
6. What makes you or your style different from other people in your field?
7. How long does the process usually take & how many sessions does the average client need?
8. How do you help someone figure out how to get where they want to go once they’ve found their direction? (This will vary based on the client and what direction it is, but they should give you a general sense; for example how often they help people with deciding on an educational program, finding job hunting resources, networking, developing a résumé etc)
9. How do you assess how practical a goal or career change?
Meeting with a Life Coach or Career Counselor is a valuable tool. It can help ease anxiety about a change and even if the first person you meet with isn’t the right fit, they might ask enough questions to get you headed in the right direction.