Getting Career Counseling: NCDA Consumer Guidelines for Selecting a Career Counselor

Career counseling requires the expertise of a trained professional. Be skeptical of services that promise you more money, quick promotions, better jobs, resumes that get speedy results or an immediate solution to a career problem. Career issues are usually complex and require a multifaceted approach by a career counselor who has extensive education, training, and experience.

The following guidelines developed by the National Career Development Association (NCDA) can assist you in making this selection.

Credentials of the Professional Career Counselor: A Nationally Certified Career Counselor (NCCC) signifies that the career counselor has achieved the highest certification in the profession. Further, it means that the career counselor has:

* Earned a graduate degree in counseling or in a related professional field from a regionally accredited higher education institution
* Completed supervised counseling experience that included career counseling
* Acquired a minimum of three years of full-time career development work experience
* Obtained written endorsements of competence from a work supervisor and a professional colleague
* Successfully completed a knowledge-based certification examination

PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING ORGANIZATIONS

* National Board for Certified Counselors
* National Career Development Association

Other professional counselors may be trained in one- or two-year counselor preparation programs with specialties in career counseling and may be licensed by state counselor licensure boards or certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

What Career Counselors Do: The services of careers differ, depending on competence. A professional or Nationally Certified Career Counselor helps people make decisions and plans related to life/career directions. The strategies and techniques are tailored to the specific needs of the person seeking help. It is likely that the career counselor will do one or more of the following:

* Conduct individual and group/personal counseling sessions to help clarify life/career goals.
* Administer and interpret tests and inventories to assess abilities and interests and to identify career options.
* Encourage exploratory activities through assignments and planning experiences.
* Utilize career planning systems and occupational information systems to help individuals better understand the world of work.
* Provide opportunities for improving decision-making skills.
* Teach job-hunting strategies and skills and assist in the development of resumes.
* Help resolve potential personal conflicts on the job through practice in human relation skills.
* Assist in understanding the integration of work and other life roles.
* Provide support for persons experiencing job stress, job loss, and career transition.

Ask for a detailed explanation of services: (career counseling, testing, planning employment search strategy, resume writing). Make sure you understand the service, your degree of involvement, and any financial commitment.

Fees: Select a counselor who is professionally trained and will let you choose the services you desire. Make certain you can terminate the services at any time, paying only for services rendered.

Promises: Be skeptical of services that make promises of more money, better jobs, resumes that get speedy results, or an immediate solution to career problems.

Ethical Practices: A professional or Nationally Certified Career Counselor is expected to follow ethical guidelines of such organizations as the National Career Development Association, the American Counseling Association and the American Psychological Association. Professional codes of ethics advise against grandiose guarantees and promises, exorbitant fees, and breaches of confidentiality, among other things. You might wish to ask for a detailed explanation not only of services offered, as suggested earlier, but also of your financial and time commitments, and a copy of the ethical guidelines used by the career counselor you are considering.
Obtaining a Career Counseling Referral: The following are sources that you could contact for a referral to a career counselor:

  • National Board for Certified Counselors: Call or write for a list of National Certified Career Counselors (NCCC) in your area: National Board for Certified Counselors, 3 Terrace Way, Suite D, Greensboro, NC 17403.
  • Your network of contacts: Ask around, including family and friends, if anyone knows of a qualified career counselor.
  • Local college career counselor: Contact career counselors at local community colleges (they may offer services through the college to members of the community at a reduced or reasonable fee, compared with private-practice career counselors) or universities for referrals to private-practice career counselors who offer their services to the public. In fact, they themselves might also have a private practice, in addition to the college position.
  • Local college placement office: Professional staff (directors or assistant directors of placement) will know of those in the community doing career counseling. Their offices can be known by a variety of names:

    * Placement Office
    * Career Placement Office
    * Career Planning and Placement Office
    * Career Planning and Development Office
    * The university you graduated from might have services for its alumni. If you do not live in the area, you might still call the university for a referral to someone near you, or they may have (or be willing to set up) a reciprocal agreement with a university placement office closer to where you live.

  • Social service organization staff: Contact places such as the Jewish Vocational Service, Forty Plus, Operation Able, women's centers, and so forth. They might either provide the services your looking for or provide a referral.
  • Churches and synagogues: Some local churches and synagogues may offer support groups, resources for researching career ideas and employers, and individual counseling.
  • Public libraries: Librarians in business reference sections or educational and job information centers (more than 100 nationwide) offer workshops, lectures, resource materials and computer use, as well as possible referrals to career counselors and related resources in the community.
  • Other options: You can also try the following for a referral: your physician, your HMO staff, your employment assistance program staff, and the Yellow Pages.

Regardless of how you make contact, you want answers to these basic questions:

* What are the specific services offered?
* Who is going to provide the services, and how long have they been doing it?
* What are the fees for these services?
* Can I pay as I go?

In addition, request the names of current or past clients that you may speak with. Counselors need the permission of the client before giving out personal information, so a short amount of time is needed here.

Don't expect any guarantees. You can expect a lot of homework and a good coach who can guide you through the self-assessment phase and the job search as well (including resume writing, interviewing skills, and job search methods). He or she can lend objective insight and support but cannot get you a job. You will have to go face to face with potential employers and convince them of your value. You might be capable of going through the career planning process on your own, but if you need help, then get it.

Excerpted from "Career Change" by David P. Helfand (VGM Career Horizons 2nd ed. 1999).