Many times, people feel stuck in their careers. Maybe their work isn't as satisfying as they once felt, or maybe they're too stressed and don't feel able to handle their busy lifestyles. Or maybe they're just looking to try something different.
For those undergoing career changes, or starting their first careers, this time of transition is often a challenging period where they must reexamine skills and abilities, and get in touch with what it really is they want to do in life.
Fortunately for those undergoing this transition, career counselors exist to assist these individuals to analyze their skills, evaluate potential careers, and develop decision-making abilities that will lead them to their new professions.
What do Career Counselors Do?
According to the National Career Development Association, career counselors help people to gain awareness of personal skills and values, generate career and educational options, clarify, set, and meet reasonable goals, and cope with career challenges and transitions.
Often, when seeking out new career options, people feel boxed in by previous job experience, skills, and networks, and simply might not know where to look for a job.
For these individuals, a career counselor provides the perfect jumping off point to explore previously unconsidered careers.
For example, consider a 29-year-old man who recently became dissatisfied with his job at a science lab and wishes to explore new career options.
This man is a very detail-oriented person, but finds his work is too solitary and wants to find a career that allows more socialization and use of interpersonal skills.
The man had worked in the science lab for nearly seven years, and felt utterly lost when faced with the prospect of looking for a new career. He felt all of his skills were too specific to lab work to branch out to a new profession, and he didn't have any contacts in other fields.
To get a better idea of his job options, the man meets with a career counselor. During their meeting, the counselor recognizes that the man is very outgoing and personable, but also has a passion for the sciences. The counselor suggests to the man that they might find a way to combine his interest in science with his desire to work with others, and begins to assist him on his job search.
In the end, the counselor helps him establish contacts with a medical diagnostics company. Most of the medical equipment that the company sells the man worked with in his lab job, providing a great fit for a sales position with the company.
Career Counselor Core Competencies
To effectively meet the needs of clients, career counselors must express competency in 11 different areas:
- Career development theories - Includes counseling techniques and theories related to the growth and development of human life.
- Individual and group counseling - Includes working with clients to establish goals, and identifying methods of achieving those goals.
- Skills and personality assessment - Includes assessing interests and personality, and interpreting that data into a career role.
- Job information and resources - Includes knowledge of the job market, and advice and tips when searching for jobs.
- Career program management - Includes designing career programs that meet the needs of clients.
- Coaching and consultation - Includes mentoring and coaching employees at career centers.
- Working with diverse populations - Includes developing programs that meet the needs of diverse populations, such as the handicapped or disabled.
- Supervision - Includes monitoring other staff members or seeking supervision, recognizing limitations.
- Knowledge of ethical issues and laws - Includes adherence to career counseling ethical codes provided by the National Board of Certified Counselors, National Career Development Association, and the American Counseling Association.
- Research and Evaluation - Includes conducting research on effective career counseling methods.
- Usage of technology - Includes helping the client use various computer-based systems for job searches.
Source: National Career Development Association “Career Counseling Competencies”
In order to gain a better picture of how a person reacts to certain situations, for example, and provide an overall view of a person's strengths and weaknesses, counselors often use different assessments and tests.
Personality tests are one form of assessment that gather information on how clients work with others, and what they value in life. Two major personality assessments counselors employ include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory.
The Myers-Briggs is useful for counselors wishing to gain an expansive insight into the interests and personality traits of clients. Clients answer a series of questions, and then counselors score their answers, assigning them one of 16 different personality types.
Questions range from where clients focus their attention, how they process information, how they make decisions, to how they deal with the outside world.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
How a person answers questions on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator reveals insight on his or her personality. The test focuses on four main areas that each have two dichotomous personality types. The following is an explanation of each area:
Where people focus their attention
- Extraversion - These people prefer to focus on people and interpersonal skills.
- Introversion - These people prefer to focus on inner thoughts and ideas.
How people take in information
- Sensing - These people prefer to focus on immediate concerns.
- Intuition - These people look toward future possibilities and see things in the “big picture.”
How people make decisions
- Thinking - These people make decisions based on logic and analysis of cause and effect.
- Feeling - These people tend to make decisions based on values and subjective evaluation.
How people deal with the outside world
- Judging - These people prefer an organized approach to life.
- Perceiving - These people prefer flexibility and spontaneity, and like to keep their options open.
Source: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Sample CCP, Inc
According to “Career Assessment and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,” published in The Journal of Career Assessment, these personality types are helpful when examining potential career paths for the client.
In the article, authors Mary H. McCaulley and Charles R. Martin show that certain personality types are more likely to find satisfaction in certain jobs.
For example, people who indicate they have an “extroverted” personalities are more likely to gravitate toward action and interpersonal skills, leading to a career in outdoor work or sales. And people who indicate they have “thinking” personalities are more likely to enjoy careers in science or engineering.
While many counselors use the Myers-Briggs test, some question its efficacy. Some counselors believe that people cannot be placed into only 16 different personality types, and that the tests limit the choices available to a client. But for many who feel lost and unsure of what to do in life, other counselors believe that the test provides a good base for examining different career paths.
In addition to the Myers-Briggs test, the Strong Interest Inventory is also a useful tool to measure a person's interests and relate it to a new occupation. The test does not measure skills or abilities, but rather seeks to provide career possibilities to a person who might not have any idea of where their interests fit within the scope of specific careers.
The Strong Interest Inventory
The Strong Interest Inventory is a questionnaire based on six occupational themes: artistic, investigative, social, enterprising, conventional, and realistic.
By answering questions related to these themes, clients determine the themes and corresponding job areas that would best fit their personalities, passions, and interests.
- Artistic - Those with artistic personalities value self-expression and art appreciation. Someone indicating an artistic theme might find a career in creating art, composing music, or cooking.
- Investigative - Those with investigative personalities value curiosity and learning. Someone indicating an investigative theme might find a job in engineering, science, or research.
- Social - Those with social personalities value cooperation and service to others. Someone indicating a social theme might find a job teaching or counseling.
- Enterprising - Those with enterprising personalities value risk-taking and competition. Someone indicating an enterprising theme might find a job in sales, management, or marketing.
- Conventional - Those with conventional personalities value accuracy, stability, and efficiency. Someone indicating a conventional theme might find a job in data management, accounting, investing, or information systems.
- Realistic - Those with realistic personalities value tradition and common sense. Someone indicating a realistic theme might find a job repairing, building, or providing security.
Source: Strong Interest Inventory Sample CPP, Inc.
After gaining a broad view of clients' interests, the career counselor works with them to establish realistic career goals. For example, even if a person finds medicine incredibly interesting, if he or she hasn't developed any skills toward that career path, it's an unrealistic option.
While analyzing clients’ strengths and interests is a large part of career counseling, counselors also assist clients through the job-seeking process, providing resume-building tips, interview techniques, leads on jobs, and introducing decision-making skills to the client.
Because career counseling focuses mostly on providing a client with the necessary tools to instigate change, clients shouldn't expect their counselors to provide them with a job. Instead, the client looks forward to learning strong interview skills, and planning for a new career.