How to Become a Career Counselor

Three Parts:Getting QualifiedSecuring EmploymentWorking with Clients

Career counselors, or vocational counselors, work with clients to help prepare for a job search by preparing a resume, teaching interview techniques and identifying career opportunities. They may also use assessment examinations to help identify careers that will best use the skills and talents of the client. Counselors must have the skills, education and training to be successful in the field.

Part 1
Getting Qualified

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    Graduate high school. In order to have any type of career (apart from reality TV and inventing the next computer), you gotta graduate high school. None of the big guys will even look at you if you haven't. Get your diploma and then we'll talk.
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    Go for a BA in Psychology. This undergraduate degree prepares the student to pursue the advanced education required for counselors. But if for some reason this isn't your cup o' tea, social work, sociology, or similar people-study coursework will also suffice.
    • A degree in psychology prepares the student to work with clients in a counseling setting and is good practice for the master's program. Courses include research methods in psychology, behavioral and social sciences and an introduction to psychology as a career.
    • Students may also complete an internship for credit in an undergraduate degree program in psychology. The internship is an opportunity for aspiring career counselors to work with professionals in the field.
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    Get good grades. Sure, there will be some psych classes where you wake up, throw on pants, walk into class, find out you have a test (good thing you went to class that day!) and do fine. There will be others that make you wish you just majored in gym. So do yourself a favor and don't risk it. Study up. Your future depends on it.
    • Get good grades now and you'll be looking at some stellar recommendation letters and stellar graduate schools. Get bad grades and you'll be stuck with a BA in psychology selling insurance across the street from your high school. Your choice!
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    Graduate with an eye on graduate programs. When you're nursing a particularly bad case of senioritis, good news! You're about to be a freshman again! In order to be a tried-and-true counselor, you'll need a master's. So when you've almost cinched that BA, start looking into the next few years of your future.
    • There are schools with master's programs specifically in career counseling. While you could just do general counseling or clinical psychology, if you're 110% this is your future, you might as well commit to a program that has "career" in the title.
    • Think about location, size of the program, the cost, and what the program looks like. Do they offer internships? What's their stance on research? Do they help with job placement upon completion?
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    Pursue a master's degree. Career counselors must have a master's degree in counseling with a concentration in career counseling to work in the field. If you want to be a "career coach," that's another story. But generally "career coaches" are people that have given good advice to their newly-divorced sister and decided to whip up a batch of business cards.
    • A master's degree program focuses on counseling techniques, assessment, career development, research and human growth and development. Students learn to evaluate the skills of a client, administer assessment tests and teach clients to pursue career opportunities. Any legitimate business or school will require that you have these experiences.
      • A master's program in education may also include clinical study under the supervision of a licensed counselor, which may be useful if you want to work in a school setting.
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    Get supervised clinical experience. So here's the deal: some places require an official license, others don't. If you have your own practice, you generally need a license regardless of your location. In order to qualify for this (it's best to get one, even if you don't need it), you'll need between 2,000 and 3,000 supervised clinical hours.[1] Again, it all depends on where you are.
    • Your first job out of your master's program will be this. You'll be working as a counselor, but more like a counselor-in-training. You'll be doing a lot of the same work, just being watched. It's for the client's benefit, yes, but it's also for yours.
    • A list of state requirements is available at the National Board for Certified Counselors website.[2]
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    Take the National Counselor Examination. This is usually the test used for state licensure.[3] If you do well enough, you may be eligible to be a "National Certified Counselor."[4] It takes 4 hours and is 200 questions long.
    • The examination tests the candidate's knowledge of counseling techniques, assessments and evaluations as well as the legal and ethical requirements to work as a career counselor.
    • This NCC qualification is generally reserved for those who have been doing it for while. So take the NCE to get your state license first and then worry about becoming nationally certified.
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    Apply for a state license. The requirements for a license to work as a career counselor vary by state. But if you have thousands of hours under your belt and have taken the NCE, you're probably good to go.
    • Candidates must submit transcripts, the score from an examination, the application fee and proof of clinical work experience. Clinical experience provides the candidate with an opportunity to observe a professional career counselor in the field as well as on the job experience providing services to clients.

Part 2
Securing Employment

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    Search for a position or start a private practice. Professional career counselors may work as an independent practitioner or with an organization to provide career counseling services to clients. But if you're just starting out, it's much easier to find a job with an established company or team. Look for work in high schools, colleges, social services offices, employment and staffing agencies.[5]
    • Join an organization such as the National Career Development Association. Membership in a professional organization can assist in finding clients for a private practice career counselor. Participation in an association or organization for professional career counselors also provides opportunities to pursue career development activities such as seminars and workshops.
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    Get a mentor. Everybody needs one. When you're just starting out, your stress level will be seriously reduced if you can depend on someone to show you the ropes and answer all your questions. They'll let you know when you hit the nail on the head and steer you in the right direction when you're not.
    • Odds are you probably know someone from your schooling, from your supervised experience, or from this first job you have. Go through the people that have helped you out in the field and think about who you had a real connection with. It'll be that person.
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    Build your client base if you're thinking of flying solo. Just like finding friends in a new town, when you start out in a career, you gotta find clients. Some of this is going to involve shameless self-promotion -- let your friends, family, neighbors, barely-even-acquaintances, and even the guy flipping your burger that you're a career counselor. And hey! Since you're so close (or the burger was so good), you can give them a discount, too.
    • While this isn't so necessary if you're working for a school or other established organization, if you wanna go private, you'll need to whip out your marketing skills. So get to making business cards, taking out ads, and creating hubbub about your new office.
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    Find a niche. Just like with any counselor (or any job, really), there will be specific types of people you prefer working with, specific work you prefer doing. Do you prefer working with teenagers (if so, what kind? Troubled? Gifted)? College students? Those experiencing a life transition? Big-time CEO? What are you best at?
    • This isn't such a big deal if you're working for a company that hands you one type of client. But if you do want to start your own practice, it's something to keep in mind. It's also something to keep in mind if you find yourself not really jiving with your current job. Maybe it's not the type of client you're best at!
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    Get your continuing education credits. Each year, you'll be required to take continuing education credits.[1] These will be in the form of short classes, seminars, and readings that you'll have to complete. It'll be nothing compared to what you've already had to do!
    • The requirements for NCCs are a bit different. In addition to paying a yearly certification fee, they must prove that they've clocked in 100 hours of continuing education that year or they have to retake the test.[4]

Part 3
Working with Clients

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    Assess them thoroughly. Depending on your work environment, your day-to-day duties will obviously differ. But usually you'll be doing an initial consultation and hand out some tests -- ones like the Holland Code, the MBTI test, and the Birkman Personality Assessment.[6] But don't just assess them on paper! Get a feel for them in real life, too.
    • If you're working with kids, this is especially important. What's their home life like? Their financial situation? While adults generally have control over their circumstances (generally), kids do not. They may be up against obstacles that can't be assessed on a test.
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    Be compassionate to all walks of life. You're going to be working with all colors, genders, orientations, denominations, sizes, shapes, and any other descriptor you can think of. They all deserve the best help you can give them and the best job they can get. Everybody is fighting their own battles and they're coming to you for help. They each deserve the same amount of attention.
    • In other words, there is no room for bigotry in this work environment. The successful protestant white male is just as valid to society as the immigrant working to complete his GED. Everyone deserves your compassion.
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    Be a good listener. First and foremost, you're a counselor. This means those who are coming to you generally have a problem. It could be huge, it could be teeny, but it's still there. To wrap your brain around what they're facing, you'll need to listen to what they're actually saying. Don't stop at "I want a new job," when they're really saying, "I want a new job because I can't stand the pressures and physical demands of my current one."
    • Some of these people will also be coming you to give them hope. They need something that they can't do for themselves. They'll walk in to your office frowning, concerned they're going nowhere -- and by the time they leave, they'll be shaking your hand with the biggest grin you've ever seen.
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    Know the job market like the back of your hand. The last thing you want to do is give bad advice. Telling someone to aim for this career path when it's about to die in a few years' time is not a good idea. Telling someone to aim for a career path that requires 18-hour workdays when they have 3 young children to rear is also not a good idea. Know the market, know what jobs entail, and know someone you can ask if you don't know yourself.
    • Know the area, too. Are specific companies hiring? Are some in a freeze? Is a new, huge business coming to town that needs hundreds of employees in the coming years? Or would you client be better off, well, somewhere else? All things to consider!
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    Think objectively. It's easy to get swayed by emotion with the stories you'll hear every day. You can't do this! If you let your emotions cloud your judgment, your client or their potential employer may be in for a rude awakening. You may want to hand that single mother a six-figure income working from home, but it may not be meant to be. Do what you can within reason for each client, regardless of their situation and how it moves you.
    • Honesty is the best policy. Occasionally you'll get the individual that wants to be an astronaut when they'd be better suited being a paralegal. Not only do you not want to get their hopes up, but you don't want to hand NASA someone who's not qualified. If someone isn't suited for a job, recognize it. It's for the betterment of society, really.
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    Offer all sorts of services. You are not only aptitude tests and a shoulder to lean on. You are networking, resume and cover letter services, job boards, and everything in between. If it's even slightly related to the topic at hand, you should be able to help. Heck, do you have a friend you can call up to talk to your client? Excellent.
    • There's a fine line when it comes to ethics here. While you want to create the best resume for your client, you don't want to give any employers false impressions. Try to do work with them, not exclusively for them. If they can't string a sentence together, don't write for them. Teach them how to do it so they can do it for themselves.

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