Career counselor: Washington DC

This article, “Career counselor: Washington DC – Find the best match for you”, was previously published in a subsidiary magazine of the Washington Post; it explores how to find a career counselor or career coach. An updated version is provided here.

Career Counselor: Washington DC – 2017

You feel that your work-life is not quite on track. You had a job you loved — but, over time it began to feel routine or mundane. Or perhaps you loved your job but it began to consume your entire life. And you began to feel that there must be more to life than work, work, work! Or, maybe, you found yourself trapped in “golden handcuffs”, working in a less-than-interesting career for a more-than-interesting salary. Or, maybe you never felt that you had the ideal career. Maybe you were of the work-to-pay-the-bills, “remember, that’s why they call it work”, mentality.  Over time, however, you came to realize that you wanted more out of your job. You didn’t want a career, you wanted a “calling”.

You’ve been thinking and talking about this for a while. You have asked the significant people in your life, and your friends, about it. You’ve consulted colleagues and mentors. But you still aren’t sure how to go about charting your career path.

You want to explore it with someone who is knowledgeable and experienced, someone who can help you formulate and pursue a work-life plan. You are considering seeking career counseling but how do you wade through the array of options to find a career counselor who is the best fit for you?

Washington DC might be arguably one of the most credential-oriented towns in the country, but how do you go about assessing whether a career counselor’s qualifications and background are a good fit for your needs? In choosing a career counselor, consider these four questions:

(1) Before you select your career counselor, how can you assess your own needs and expectations?

(2) How can review your prospective career coaches qualifications?

(3) How can you evaluate whether you should work individually or in a career counseling group?

(4) How can you decide what to pay your career counselor?

Each will be addressed in turn.

(1) How do you assess your career counseling goals?

An important prerequisite to selecting a career counselor is to clarify your own career goals and needs. Yet, if you knew the exact nature of the help that you needed, you might not need to seek career coaching. It is the old “chicken and the egg” problem.

Before getting started, take the challenging step of writing a paragraph about the kind of help that you think that you need. Ask yourself these challenging questions:

Do I need help determining my career goals?

Do I need help developing a strategy for pursuing my career goals? That is, are you one of the many people who have clarity as to your career goals – but, uncertainty as to how to pursue them?

Do I need help overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving my career goals? Are you among the people who know what they want to do, have a plan for doing it, but can’t seem to overcome roadblocks that stand in their way?
If, you know what you want to do but can’t seem to overcome the obstacles that get in your way, list these obstacles. Ask yourself, what is preventing you from achieving your goals? Is it not knowing your goals?

Is it not knowing enough people who have successfully achieved similar goals? That is, are do you have a network of people with similar goals who are at various stages in their own professional development? Or, is this something that you need to develop?

Are you looking for help with specific aspects of work life such as salary negotiation or being more assertive with your boss?

After writing this paragraph, write a second paragraph. Describe your special talents and strengths.

If you are uncertain as to your special skills — ask five friends to identify your best five talents. The key here is to set up the task so that your friends are prepared to say what comes to mind without a lot of forethought. If you do this, you will find a very fascinating thing: people who know you well, but who do not know each other, will often come to very similar conclusions about your special gifts.

Next, write a paragraph describing how you will know if the career coaching or career counseling has been successful. That is, describe what, specifically, will be different.

Don’t say something like, “I will have a lucrative job that I love”. Think about what it will really take to actually change your circumstances.

Do two things: First, describe, very specifically, what the ideal result of career counseling will be. Second, detail the steps that you will need to take in order to achieve your career goal. That is, describe something of the career counseling process that you feel you need to help you to achieve your goal.

Here’s an example:

At the end of my work with my career counselor, I will have a clear idea about what sort of career I would enjoy. Since, I want to remain in Washington DC; this job will have to be in the Greater Washington DC metropolitan area. After I’ve clarified my career goal, I develop the skills to launch an effective job search. I will learn how to use social media and I will implement other modern job search strategies. Tempting though it is to surf the internet and say that I am actively engaged in my job hunt, I know from experience that this isn’t an effective strategy. Instead, I will use the knowledge and these tools that I have developed to successfully implement a job search. I will find a job that I love, or at least, a job that I like a lot. Since I want to remain in Washington DC, I will need a career counselor who is familiar with this market.

I realize that the career counseling process will take some time. I need to develop knowledge and proficiency that I do not yet have. To make this process work, I will need to schedule, attend and actively participate in career counseling sessions. I will need to be as honest as I can be about my likes and dislikes. When I find myself avoiding homework assignments, I will need to talk openly with my career counselor about what getting in my way. Also, if I find that I’m not following through, I need to consider what psychological factors might be at play. That is, for example, am I afraid of success? Am I worried that I’ll eclipse a sibling, a parent or a spouse? Am I anxious or depressed? Or, are other things a priority for me such as my family or my current job? When I find myself stuck, I need to think about, and talk about, what obstacles are getting in my way.

This step is crucial for two reasons. First, many people seek career counselors or coaches expect or wish for magical or instantaneous solutions to problems that have persisted for many years. They may seek career counseling with the thought that after attending 3-4 sessions, their long-standing difficulties will be resolved.  And they may be disappointed when their difficulties do not remit, immediately.

While a short-term focus may be very appropriate and realistic for a new or a relatively situational difficulty, long-standing struggles may yield only to a more persistent effort. For example, in the vignette above, the individual makes reference to possible difficulties that suggest that he may need a career counselor who is also a licensed, psychologist or psychotherapist. Taking this kind of personal inventory will help you to clarify your expectations and your strengths; it will help you to assess whether your time-table and expectations for career coaching are realistic.

The second benefit of this step is that your self-inventory will help you clarify the nature of the career counseling that you require. For example, the array of professionals who offer career coaching includes, persons with MBA’s, masters in information technology, published authors, masters in counseling, psychologists, social workers, psychoanalysts and numerous other backgrounds. Each offers something unique.

A side note: I’ve been an MCC (Master Career Counselor) and a psychologist, psychoanalyst for many years. My experience has been that career difficulties generally break down into three areas:  (1) difficulty identifying fulfilling career goals; (2) an ability to identify meaningful career goals but difficulty identifying a plan for pursuing your career goals; (3) an ability to identify career goals and an ability to identify a plan for pursuing them BUT difficulty galvanizing yourself to implement  your career plan.

Over time, I’ve discovered that more insidious than any of these difficulties are two other challenges. (1) an inability to tolerate rejection; and, (2) being a “bad beginner”. These areas are, no doubt, correlated with the first three difficulties. I have found if someone can be helped to become more tolerant of rejection and failure than they are more likely to be successful.

Career counselor: Washington DC  – Find the best match for you

How do you decide what sort of help you need?

If you know that you want to pursue training to become an internet administrator and your career goal is to figure out how to network in that world, you might consider seeking a career counselor with special expertise in that area. If you want to write, than you might seek out a career coach who is a well-published, author.  If you are considering medical school, you might find a career coach with expertise in guiding people toward that goal. Similarly, if despite economic success, you have never enjoyed your work, you might consider working with someone who might help you begin to become more aware of your likes and dislikes, such as a psychologist, a psychoanalyst or a mental health professional who specializes in career or work-life concerns.

What if you find it impossible to write these paragraphs?

Difficulty writing these paragraphs is a “diagnostic” sign that you should seriously consider a psychoanalytically-informed, career assessment. This type of assessment is described in detail in the August 2000 issue of and in the Washington Business Journal. For career counselors and coaches, and the interested public, it’s more comprehensively described in two articles within the Career Convergence the magazine of the National Association of Career Development. These articles are: Understanding the Role of Unconscious Conflict in Career Counseling and Understanding the Role of Transference in Career Counseling.

A psychoanalytic, or psychodynamic career assessment can be helpful in clarifying what kinds of psychological factors get in the way of you identifying and achieving your career goals.

A side note to parents who are paying for their adult child’s career counseling:

Often, parents who are concerned about their adult child’s unhappiness offer to pay for evaluation, coaching, counseling or psychotherapy. While this can be very helpful, prior to making this offer, I’d encourage parents to consider three steps:  First, read the two articles above to obtain an understanding as to why career counseling efforts sometimes fail. Second, read this Washington Business Journal article on failure to launch.

Third, both parents should consider talking with an expert (ideally, someone with expertise in psychotherapy and career counseling), together, to understand what sort of steps they can take to support their adult child’s maturation. Many parents are so frustrated with their adult child that they resent this recommendation. Understandably, they may feel that it’s not their responsibility but rather their child’s. However, like we said in the sixties, “if you aren’t part of the solution, you may be part of the problem”. Those who follow through, consistently, often are more able to help their adult child to get on track and find career satisfaction. While the immediate road ahead may be rocky, kids who are supported in growing up often express gratitude to their parents though sometimes years later.

(2) How do you review your prospective career counselor’s qualifications?

After you define your career goals and needs,  how do you go about selecting a career coach or career counselor?

Career Counselor: Washington DC - Find the best

Career Counselor: Washington DC

This is especially challenging when one considers that the titles “career counselor” or “career coach” are not regulated by state law in most states. This means that anyone can legally hang out a shingle and call themselves a career coach or career counselor. Yes. Anyone. So how do you assess whether your prospective counselor has the requisite skills to be helpful to you. For what sort of expertise are you looking? Do you want someone with expertise in information technology? Publishing? .coms? Or, do you feel that your career struggles are more related to difficulties with self-esteem, conflicts about success, self-doubt or other struggles that you do not fully understand?

In any case, you need to seek information about your prospective career counselor’s credentials. Anyone who you are considering should be willing to describe and document their background.

The National Career Development Association (NCDA) provides a list of people who have met to qualifications to be Master Career Counselors (MCC). Here’s their national list of Master Career Counselors.

Unless you need highly specialized, career-specific, expertise, you should seriously consider seeking out someone who is both a Master Career Counselor (MCC) AND a licensed, psychologist, social worker, counselor,  or some type of helping professional; these individuals may specialize in career counseling or career coaching AND have expertise in psychotherapy and mental health. An advantage to working with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in career coaching is that they have broad-based training in understanding human behavior. Often, they are trained to understand and to address roadblocks to change. Moreover, they are trained in, and expected to adhere to, the ethical and professionals standards of their discipline. They are well trained listeners. Finally, if they feel that they lack the requisite skills to help you, they can do an assessment and refer you to someone whose skills match your needs.  Another alternative is to seek out someone with an MBA or a business background, again, this depends on how you define your needs. Another possibility is to seek someone with field-specific expertise (i.e. if your goal is to publish, someone in publishing).

Finally, there are a plethora of “career coaching” programs. They are still in their infancy and consequently, less is known about them than about career counseling programs. The important thing to remember about unlicensed professionals is that they may not be prepared to deal with psychological and emotional concerns. And, while some will be very skilled with niche-specific expertise, others will have few or no credentials at all.

(3) How do you consider whether you should work individually or in a career counseling group?

When you contact your potential career counselor, you should consider whether you should work individually or in a career counseling group. Individual consultation, which is often a good place to start, can afford you the opportunity to focus very specifically on your unique issues. However, real benefit can be derived from working in a group and sharing the wisdom of the group. Often group members provide helpful suggestions, ideas and support to each other. Beyond these benefits, groups are often cost-effective. Ask your career coach if they lead groups.

Career Counselor: Washington DC

Career Counselor: Washington DC – Individual vs Groups

(4) The cost of career counseling

People working in the career counseling arena, with individuals, vary greatly with respect to the fees that they charge. Some charge a per session rate for a 45 minute session while others charge a per program rate (which can cost several thousand dollars). Beyond this, one should be a bit wary of anyone who asks you to make a financial commitment to a long-term program. Ideally, the career counselor will charge you only for those sessions that you schedule. I do not recommend seeing any career counselor or career coach who requires that you sign on for an entire program. An exception to this rule seems to me to be participating in a time-limited group. Career counselors who lead groups need to ensure that the group is viable. Therefore, they often require “tuition” at the outset. This seems quite legitimate to me.

Other than that, my bias is to urge people to pay a per session rate. In this way, you can re-evaluate the benefits as you progress. I know that Richard Bolles, the author of, “What Color is your Parachute”, shares this view.

To be fair, I do know some reputable people who charge by the program. The problem is: I don’t know how to tell you to differentiate between them and those who are less than scrupulous. Consequently, it seems to me that paying per session, or for a few sessions, as you go is the most prudent course.

Career Counselor: Washington DC – find the best match for you


Career counseling can be enormously useful. However, prior to embarking on this journey, it’s important to take a self-inventory. In this way, you can assess what sort of help would be most useful to you. Taking a few preparatory steps can improve your results exponentially.

Consultation – Career counseling or psychotherapy

I hope this article Career Counselor: Washington DC – Find the best match you, has been helpful. If you are interested in consultation regarding career counseling or psychotherapy feel free to call me: 301.656.9650. To streamline things, leave your name and number and the time that it is best to reach you.

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