Career Counseling Job Profile

career counseling
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A career counselor is a professional who helps people choose a career and achieve their vocational goals. Counselors work with clients to help them enter the workforce, change careers, and look for employment opportunities. People who work in this field are employed in settings including schools, government agencies, private businesses, and community agencies.

Choosing a career can be a real challenge. How do you know what type of jobs are right for you? Is a particular profession suited to your personality, interests, and goals? High school students, college graduates, and adults interested in a career change have to face these difficult questions, and this is where a career counselor can help.

This article discusses what career counselors do and where they are employed. It also explores salaries and job outlook for people in this profession.

What Is a Career Counselor?

Career counselors work with people who have questions about different careers and educational paths. If you're a job seeker, working with a career counselor can help you make the most of the planning and decision-making process and find a job path that's perfect for your needs.

Career Counselor Job Duties

Career counselors perform a range of duties. Depending on where they work and with whom, they might:

  • Administer personality and interest inventories
  • Advise students about what courses and educational programs they need for particular careers
  • Aid clients in the job search process by teaching them where to look for open positions and connecting them with job search resources
  • Counsel clients who are considering a career change
  • Evaluate clients' educational and work backgrounds in order to help them determine what they need to do next to achieve their goals
  • Help clients select the right schools or programs for their needs
  • Help students locate sources of financial support to pay for school and other training programs
  • Teach job-search skills such as interviewing, resume writing, and networking and help clients practice them
  • Use achievement tests and aptitude tests to help clients get a better idea of what they're good at

Recap

Career counselors perform a range of duties, including helping clients determine their talents, values, preferences, and goals. They may do this by performing assessments, administering personality tests, interviewing clients, and using interest inventories.

Important Skills for Career Counselors

There are a number of different skills and abilities that might make a person well-suited to work as a career counselor. People who enjoy helping others, for example, might excel in this profession. Some other skills that might help include:

  • Analytical skills: Career counselors use a variety of tools, such as interest inventories and personality tests. Being able to analyze the results of these assessments is an essential part of being a successful career counselor.
  • Compassion and empathy: People who are in need of career counseling may be experiencing stress and anxiety related to indecision or changes in their lives. Counselors should be understanding and compassionate as they help people develop their career goals.
  • Strong listening skills: In order to get an idea about what a client needs and wants, it is essential to listen. Interviewing people about their preferences, needs, and experiences is an important part of career counseling.
  • Speaking skills: It's also important to be able to talk to clients to help them better understand their options. 

Career Counselor Work Environments

Career counselors may work in a variety of areas. Usually, the client population that they work with will varies based on the setting.

Educational Settings

Educational settings such as high schools and colleges, government agencies, and private practices are just a few of the major areas of employment for people working in this field.

Some counselors work in high schools and help students make college and career choices. Others work in higher-education settings and counsel university students who need help picking a major and deciding what they want to do when they graduate.

Adult Workforce Settings

Other career counselors specialize in working with adults who are already a part of the workforce. These individuals might seek out the assistance of a career counselor because they are considering a career change, want to find ways to advance in their current careers, or need assistance finding new work after being laid off.

Vocational Settings

In some cases, career counselors might also work with people who have disabilities and need assistance to acquire job skills and find employment. These counselors are often employed by private or government agencies that offer assistance to children and adults who have a range of disabilities.

Teaching basic job skills, connecting clients with resources in the community, and communicating with potential employers are just a few of the tasks counselors might perform when working in this area.

Where Career Counselors Work

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, there were approximately 322,000 jobs in school and career counseling in 2020. They were distributed across several settings:

  • Elementary and secondary schools: 45%
  • Junior colleges, colleges, professional schools, and universities: 35%
  • Healthcare and social assistance agencies: 6%
  • Self-employed: 2%

Wages for Career Counselors

As of May 2020, the median annual salary for all school and career counselors was $58,120. Those employed by healthcare and social service organizations earned considerably less, with a median annual wage of $42,300.

Educational Requirements for Career Counselors

The majority of employers prefer counselors to hold at least a master's degree in counseling with a specialization in career development. Career counselors generally do not need to be licensed, although many employers prefer it, and some require it. Those who want to work in private practice usually do need to be licensed.

Licensure typically involves completing a master's program in counseling, performing up to two years of full-time supervised clinical experience, passing a state licensing exam, and pursuing continuing education credits.

Those who are interested in working in elementary or secondary school settings generally need a master's degree in school counseling. Educational programs often have internship requirements where students gain hands-on experience by working under the supervision of a licensed professional.

Counselors in school settings must also have a license or certification to work in the state where they intend to practice.

Benefits of a Psychology Background

In some cases, individuals with a bachelor's degree in psychology can find entry-level positions in career counseling. Having a background in psychology can be helpful for people who are interested in this field. Psychology topics such as personality, motivation, and goal-setting are highly relevant for career counselors, so understanding these subjects can be beneficial.

Career Counselors vs. Life Coaches

While career coaches and life coaches both help people make decisions about their future, the scope of the two professions is different. Career coaches are focused on helping people with career choices, whereas life coaches assist people who are encountering a variety of personal life challenges or changes. There may be some overlap between these two, but the focus tends to be different.

Career counselors often help people:

  • Choose a career
  • Decide on a future career direction
  • Improve job-seeking skills
  • Learn to negotiate and solve conflicts
  • Feel happier in their current role
  • Decide whether to pursue other career directions

Life coaches, on the other hand, often help people: 

  • Set life goals and create plans
  • Develop an understanding of themselves
  • Create work-life balance and boundaries
  • Learn to practice self-care
  • Improve interpersonal skills and relationships
  • Find hobbies and passions

They also typically differ in terms of training and educational background. Career counselors often have at minimum a bachelor's degree in psychology, counseling, or a related field. Most professionals in this field hold a master's degree in counseling, and many are also certified by the National Career Development Association (NCDA).

Life coaches only need a few months of study to gain certification from the International Coach Federation.  However, some life coaches may have more than this entry-level training.

Recap

Life coaches and career counselors differ in terms of the scope of their duties and their training. Career counselors are focused on vocational issues, whereas life coaches deal with many areas related to a person's personal life. While training for life coaches often takes just a few months, most career counselors have a minimum of a master's degree.

Job Outlook for Career Counselors

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the job demand is projected to grow by approximately 11% between the years 2020 and 2030, which is faster than average. Most of this growth will be fueled by the increase in students enrolled in colleges and universities.

During economic challenges, a slow job market might also spur the demand for career counseling services.

A recent and ongoing economic trend that has been dubbed the "Great Resignation" may also fuel the need for career counseling services. Many workers have voluntarily left their jobs, a phenomenon caused, in part, by the pandemic as well as other factors including wage stagnation and job dissatisfaction. Some may seek guidance from a career counselor to re-enter the workforce.

Regardless of the causes, such trends may help drive a need for the services of trained career counselors.

A Word From Verywell

Career counselors can help people make decisions about their careers. While they help people better understand their skills, interests, and goals, they don't tell people what job to choose. 

These professionals can play an important role at critical points in life, such as when students are nearing graduation or when working adults are thinking about a career transition.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. School and career counselors. Occupational Outlook Handbook.

  2. American School Counselor Association. State certification requirements.

  3. National Career Development Association. Introduction to credentialing.