This article, “Find a career counselor in Washington DC,” was previously published in Washingtonjobs.com a subsidiary magazine of the Washington Post. It explores how to find a career counselor or career coach.
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 career counseling. However, you are wondering, how to wade through the array of options to figure out what kind of counseling might be most helpful. Washington DC might be arguably one of the most credential-oriented towns in the country, so 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 counselor’s 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.
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. That is what obstacles do you face? Do you need help:
List the roadblocks that you are facing. Ask yourself:
After writing this paragraph, write a second paragraph. Describe your special talents and strengths.
This step is crucial for two reasons. First, many people seeking career counseling or coaching, understandably, expect or wish for magical or instantaneous solutions to problems that have persisted for many years. They may seek career coaching with the thought that after attending 3-4 sessions, their long-standing difficulties will be resolved. If this is the case, inevitably, they will be disappointed when their difficulties do not magically 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. Thus, 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 counseling 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 counseling 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.
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 counselor 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.
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 Washingtonjobs.com and in the Washington Business Journal. For career counselors and coaches, it’s more comprehensively described in Career Convergence the magazine of the National Association of Career Development.
It can be helpful in clarifying what gets in the way of you identifying the sort of career counseling that you need.
After you define your career goals and needs, how do you go about selecting a career coach or career counselor?
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.
Unless you need highly specialized, career-specific, expertise, you should seriously consider seeking out someone who is both a Career Counselor 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.
For example, if you want to establish a small business, you might seek someone out who has successfully navigated that journey. That is, you might 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.)
There are a plethora of “career coaching” programs. Usually, these are not university based. Rather, they are established, and sometimes trademarked or patented, by groups of individuals who have established their own approaches to career coaching.
These certifications 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.
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.
However, groups can be demoralizing for the individual who finds that their challenges make it difficult for them to keep up. Similarly, groups are not helpful when their is a mismatch between the goals of the participants.
If you are considering a group, ask your career coach if they lead groups or they can recommend someone who does.
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. Some career counselors exhort prospective clients that they must make this financial commitment if they wish to succeed. I have not seen any evidence to substantiate that contention.
Ideally, the career coach 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 Dick 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. I’d at least recommend that you take the career counseling situation for a “test drive” before you make a long-term commitment.
In sum, career counseling can be enormously useful. Taking a few preparatory steps can improve your results exponentially.
If are considering career counseling, psychodynamically-informed, career assessment, psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, with me, you are welcome to call: 301.656.9650.