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A Day in the Life of a Career Counselor

Career counselors serve as teachers, confidants, and advisors to their clients. They help people examine their interests, styles, and their abilities to find and enter the profession that best suits them. They can be helpful to people who have yet to choose a career and people who are unhappy with their choice. Career counselors spend most of their day meeting with clients. Early sessions explore the history and behavior of the client to help the clients understand their own motivations and desires more thoroughly. Working with younger people, especially, career counselors must understand and appreciate the role of parents and the student’s home environment. An understanding of the client’s peer and familial pressures, along with a familiarity with current events and culture, allow the career counselor to make contact and earn the trust of his or her clients. Most career counselors have a degree in counseling or another mental health field. After conducting a thorough evaluation of the client’s personality traits, counselors must use their expertise to help clients assess their skills base and direct them to a career wherein those skills may be most profitably employed, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. Counselors are responsible for knowing what skills are needed in a broad variety of professions, how much they pay, and what a hiring authority will want to see in a successful applicant. They then coach the client through the process of researching fields that match their interests, setting up informational interviews with people to supplement their research, and finally targeting or creating specific job positions that meet their needs. Counselors try to empower the clients to become as active as possible in their search.

Paying Your Dues

Most career counselors have a master’s degree in a field such as mental health counseling, psychological counseling, or community counseling. At the moment, career counseling is an unregulated field, but most members of the profession are licensed in their state of business as a professional counselor. Nevertheless, people come to the profession through a variety of paths. Some counselors come from social work or human resources management. Others come to career counseling from a discipline such as law or medicine and then use their industry expertise to counsel people in their former field. Many professionals embark on continuing education courses in counseling or psychology. Familiarity with basic personality, interest, and skills tests, such as the Holland Code, the Myers-Briggs Analogy Test, and the Birkman Personality Assessment (a customized version of which appears in this book) are invaluable aids in assessing clients’ occupational aptitudes. Usually, a successful career counselor works as an independent counselor but receives references from other services, therapists, or agencies. The profession may entail long hours, intense listening and assessment, and the ability to think objectively without being swayed by emotion.

Present and Future

Many occupations, such as high school vocational counselors, job retrainers, and psychotherapists, used to have career counseling as one part of their overall job description. The Internet has allowed counselors and potential clients to troll for one another with seeming ease; however, the uncertain provenance behind some career-counseling sites and the tools they offer makes the public wary, as it should be, of snake-oil salesmen with no training in the field. Indeed, career counseling is a rapidly growing field. At their core, legitimate career counselors depend on the funding from government agencies to do the bulk of their work. It’s now estimated that the average person will have as many as half a dozen distinct jobs in the course of his or her career, and the need for this service is likely to increase.

Quality of Life


Typically, career counselors start out by working with established professionals who have an existing client base. Many counselors are still moving through training programs associated with established testing authorities and spend significant time attending professional seminars and keeping up with professional reading. A number of career counselors come into the profession as psychotherapists, and many professionals make the transition to career counseling gradually. Many career counselors are hired by local school districts, private schools, rehabilitation agencies, and social welfare organizations.


By now, most counselors have begun to see progress among their clients—many of whom have successfully shifted careers in these first five years. Among the more successful counselors, client bases have broadened through word of mouth. Salaries have gone up, hours are significant, and satisfaction is strong. Those professionals who began with more established counselors break off between years four and seven to establish independent practices. Marketing skills become important. Many career counselors become involved in professional education seminars, conferences, and other professional establishments to train in cutting-edge counseling techniques.


Those who’ve survived 10 years in the profession have earned solid reputations and have shepherded many clients to new occupations. Many established professionals begin scaling back hours and professional commitments during these later years. Many 10-year veterans of this profession are prolific contributors to professional journals and mainstream publications. Salaries level off as professionals work fewer hours at higher hourly rates.