How to Become a Career Counselor

What is Career Counseling?

Career counseling helps people to figure out what career path is right for them. The field of career counseling is based on the principle that people spend much of their lives working and that the work they do should be enjoyable and also fit with who they are as a person. A person’s career should not be something they dread. A career should match with their personal values and goals.

What Does a Career Counselor Do?

Career counseling is a form of counseling in which a counselor would meet with people to discuss their career interests and possibilities for what career path they might want to take. To do this, a career counselor completes certain types of personality tests, such as the Myers-Briggs test, to help the client to have a better picture of who that person is. Career counselors learn about their client’s natural tendencies, their values, what is important to them, their temperament, and their interests.

Career counselors meet with clients usually on a one-on-one basis to talk about these topics. Sometimes they might work with people who have been employed at an agency for many years and who are just not satisfied and really want a change in life. They might also work with people who are in college or even high school that have not had much work experience. These people might come to them to get a better sense of what direction they should take.

A career counselor’s client base can be very diverse. They work at various agencies, as well. Some might work at high schools, colleges or universities. Some might work in private practice. Some might work for social services offices or employment agencies, as well.

Why Do We Need Career Counselors?

Career counselors perform many important functions for many people. For high school and college students, career counselors offer assistance in narrowing down one’s areas of interest such that post-secondary education can be molded to fit those goals. As a result of working with a career counselor, these students can take the college courses or pursue technical training that will allow them to achieve their career goals.

People that have been fired or have quit their job can also benefit from the services of a career counselor. Career counselors provide guidance in finding the resources people need to retrain for a new job. This might include providing assessments to help job seekers determine where their occupational interest are at, and helping those people find classes or training that will help them transition into a new job.

Workers that have stable employment but might have lost some of their enthusiasm for their job can also reap benefits from working with a career counselor. Career counselors help workers develop an improved attitude toward work, help them achieve a better work/life balance, and get workers back to enjoying their careers through career counseling.

What are the Educational and Licensing Requirements to Become a Career Counselor?

You may obtain a job as a career counselor with a bachelor’s degree in counseling. Bachelor’s degrees generally take about four years of full time coursework. However, if you were to obtain a master’s degree in counseling, you would likely have more job opportunities. You may have more job choices to choose from. You may also obtain higher pay with a master’s degree. Master’s degrees usually take about two years. Many employers prefer candidates with “a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on career development” (BLS).

In many settings a license is not required. However, some employers may prefer licensed career counselors. Furthermore, career counselors in private practice generally need a license (BLS). Licensing process should be completed by following through with your particular state’s requirements and regulations. Each state varies but generally you would be required to have a master’s degree (in counseling or related field) and complete certain number of hours of work while being supervised. Contact information for each state’s board is available at the National Board for Certified Counselors website.

To be supervised, you would work at your job while meeting on a regular basis with someone who is licensed and board-approved. This person can help you improve your skills, talk about how your cases are going, and answer any questions or concerns you might have. There are also fees and paperwork attached to becoming licensed counselor. Additionally, if you would like to further your education even more, you could obtain a Ph.D. However, this is not at all necessary in order to obtain a job in the field.

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Career Counseling?

Individuals that hold a master’s degree in career counseling can work in a wide variety of settings with all kinds of clients. However, there are common tasks that career counselors undertake, regardless of their employment setting. Career counselors work with clients to assess their aptitudes and interests, their educational level, and their personality to develop a clearer picture of the most appropriate career path. This work is often done by administering a battery of tests, including interest inventories, personality tests, and IQ tests.

Many career counselors work in educational settings, usually at the secondary or collegiate level, to offer career services to students that will soon enter the world of work. In this context, career counselors offer students insight into the educational requirements of their intended career, assess students for skills, interests, and aptitudes, or help arrange job shadowing or practicum experiences in order to expose the student to real-life work environments.

Other career counselors work for agencies like the Department of Workforce Services to help unemployed or underemployed individuals find work. Again, much of the job duties associated with working in this environment revolve around assessing clients regarding their aptitudes and interests. Career counselors in this setting also assist job seekers with a variety of tasks, including creating resumes and cover letters and practicing interview skills.

Some career counselors make an excellent living working in private practice. In this context, career counselors offer a more therapeutic approach, working with clients that have been laid off, or even clients that are struggling to adjust to life after their retirement. Losing one’s job or retiring is a significant event, and career counselors assist clients in those situations to develop the skills they need to seek different employment or to deal better with the stress and emotions associated with a major life change.

Where Does a Career Counselor Work?

A career counselor generally works in the following environments:

  • Private practice
  • Prisons
  • High schools, colleges, and universities
  • Social assistance facilities
  • Career centers
  • Employment agencies
  • Government agencies

What Skills are Needed to be a Career Counselor?

Flexibility

Because career counselors work with such a varied population, one of the most desired skills is the ability to be flexible to meet the needs of their clients. With clients that range from those that may have no work experience at all to those that have worked for decades, career counselors must be able to adapt their services to assist their clients with a host of career-related issues.

Communication Skills

Career counselors, like any other counselor, must also have top-notch communication skills. They must be able to speak to clients effectively, as well as listen intently as their clients explain their issues or concerns. Written communication skills are also important because career counselors must keep detailed records, including case notes.

Empathy

There is a need for empathy in career counseling as well. Being unprepared for work or unable to find a job can be a very stressful and humbling experience. As a result, career counselors must be able to demonstrate genuine care when working with their clients. Career counselors that display empathy and back that up with their actions have a much greater likelihood of forging a bond with the client and motivating that person to make positive strides toward employment.

What are the Pros and Cons of Being a Career Counselor?

Career counseling has many attributes that make it an excellent choice for a job. Among the primary benefits are:

  • Constant need – Career counseling is a field that will always be in demand because people will always need jobs. What’s more, career counselors work with people from first-time job seekers to workers near retirement that want a change of pace. There is no shortage of work for people that pursue a career in this field.
  • Various work settings – Qualified career counselors can work in a wide variety of settings, which opens many doors for their employment. Some career counselors work in high schools and colleges while others work for government agencies like the Department of Workforces Services. Still other career counselors work for themselves in private practice.
  • Relatively predictable schedule – Because of the nature of their work, career counselors have a more predictable schedule than other counselors who must respond to mental health emergencies at all hours of the day. Instead, because they deal with clients that aren’t necessarily in the middle of a mental health crisis, career counselors can usually adhere to a typical schedule of working on weekdays.

Of course, there are some downsides to working as a career counselor. Some of the major cons to this line of work include:

  • Mentally taxing – Career counselors must meet with people each and every day that are struggling to better themselves. Although the work is rewarding, it can be discouraging to see people in a bad situation.
  • High stress – This is a field of work that is naturally stressful, but when economic times are tough, a career counselor’s job is that much more difficult.
  • Potentially low pay – Depending on the employment setting, career counselors may make a relatively low wage, especially compared to career counselors that work in private practice and other fields within counseling.

What is the Job Outlook for Career Counselors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school and career counselors can expect only average job growth over the course of the next 5-8 years. The BLS pegs job growth at 8 percent, which is typical of most jobs in the counseling and psychology field.

Factors that indicate stronger than average growth include rising public school enrollment. The more students there are at the high school level, the more career counselors are in demand. Growth is projected to be much stronger for career counselors in government settings, such as the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and in private practice, where counselors work with workers of all ages, background, and needs.

A major factor that could cause slower than expected job growth in this area is the recovering economy. As the economy becomes stronger and more jobs are available, fewer job seekers look for assistance from a career counselor to find employment. Likewise, positions in this field that are funded by local or state governments, such as those in the education sector, run the risk of being cut if budget shortfalls occur.

What is the Salary of a Career Counselor?

The average annual salary of a career counselor varies depending on the location of your workplace, such as in a rural or urban setting, and with the type of agency you are at. For instance, an individual will likely make a higher salary working for larger corporations rather than at a rural high school. Wages might also vary if a career counselor opts for private practice. The average annual salary, overall, though is approximately $53,610 (BLS).

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