Career Counseling

Career counseling helps students and job seekers with some or all parts of the employment process, including choosing a career, understanding and planning to meet job requirements, applying for employment, and job related skills and planning.

Career counseling can be provided at any time across the educational and employment lifespan, including for high school students, college students, individuals looking to change careers or for a new position in their current career, those seeking promotions, and individuals interested in working after retiring from their primary career.

Many individuals encounter career counseling for the first time during high school, when career or guidance counselors often meet with students to help them determine what type of job might be right for them. High school career counselors often help students determine what type of areas they excel in and which types of jobs might fit these skills, as well as the best educational, training, or other steps to take to obtain a job in the desired field.

During college, career counseling is often done by academic advisors, who help students choose majors, identify internship opportunities, and determine whether a graduate degree is required for the type of work the student is interested in pursuing. Many college students feel lost with so many career possibilities open to them, and career counselors are trained to help them sort through these options to find one that will be a good fit for their interests, skills, and experience.

While many career counselors work in high school and college settings, career counseling can also be valuable for individuals who are considering changing careers and individuals who are applying for a new job in their current field.

Deciding to leave an old career path and embark on a new journey can be exciting but stressful. Career counselors can help provide both guidance and emotional support during this difficult time. They can help with assessing strengths, weaknesses, and experience to determine what a good fit for a new career might be. Career counselors can be especially helpful in identifying areas of strength that may not be directly related to the individuals's previous employment and thus might be overlooked. For example, an individual who had been a financial services executive but who is looking for a change of career might be well known among friends as an excellent baker, and the career counselor can help determine if this strength might be a good fit for a new career as a bakery owner or caterer.

In addition to helping individuals identify careers and jobs that may interest and be a good fit for them, career counselors often provide assistance with the job application process. They may help write and revise resumes and cover letters, do mock interviews, and identify skills that are likely to be important to the employer. In some cases they also provide guidance after a new job has begun, helping with transitions, communication skills, and improving workplace interactions.

To help individuals determine what career might be right for them, career counselors make use of a variety of assessment tools. There are several different assessments available, many of which are proprietary, but they tend to fall into a few basic categories. Some assessments seek to identify skill areas, such as computational reasoning, interpersonal communication, and attention to detail. Other assessments may assess individuals’ personal needs, such as a friendly work environment, autonomy, and being able to spend time with family. The outcomes of these assessments are used by the career counselor to narrow the types of opportunities that might be appropriate for and appeal to job seekers and can also help them get to know their own skills and preferences better.

Career counselors use a variety of techniques and materials for teaching skills to their clients. Some clients come in with a desire to work on a specific skill. For example, individuals who have received many interviews but no job offers may seek career counseling to help improve their interview skills. The career counselor may ask them to recount their previous interviews and what they perceive the strengths and weaknesses were of those interviews. The career counselor might provide handouts with interviewing tips, conduct a mock interview with clients, or provide homework assignments to help clients practice answers to common interview questions. Other skills career counselors may help their clients work on are effective oral communication in the workplace (including making sure that their ideas are heard), preparation with asking for raises or promotions, effective written communication, organization, time management, and motivation.

People with a wide variety of backgrounds become career counselors. Career counselors in high schools and colleges often have master's degrees or PhDs in educational psychology or a related field. Others have degrees in school counseling, cognitive psychology, organizational behavior, clinical psychology, or related fields. In some cases career counselors do not have degrees specializing in psychology but have worked in a human resources or other departments where they became experienced in helping employees navigate the workplace environment.

When choosing a career counselor, individuals should find out about the counselor's background and experience, as well as their areas of expertise. Career counseling covers a wide range of subjects, and some counselors have areas in which they normally work or with industries or age-groups with which they have the most experience. Some career counselors specialize in helping individuals find the right first job, whereas others specialize in helping more established adults transition to a new career path. Whatever the background and experience of the career counselor, the most important criteria is that individuals seeking assistance feel comfortable and feel the career counselor understands their needs and concerns.

See also Educational psychology ; Organizational psychology.



Brown, Duane. Career Information, Career Counseling, and Career Development, 11th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

Dugger, Suzanne. Foundations of Career Counseling: A Case-Based Approach. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

Pyle, Richard. Group Career Counseling: Practices and Principles, 2nd ed. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association, 2015.


Cheeks, Demetrius. “10 Things You Should Know About Career Coaching.” Forbes. (accessed September 14, 2015).

Nemko, Marty. “How to Get the Most Value from a Career Counselor.” Time Magazine. (accessed September 14, 2015).


National Career Development Association, 305 N. Beech Circle, Broken Arrow, OK, 74012, (918) 663-7060, (866) FOR-NCDA (376-6232), Fax: (918) 663-7058, .