Career counseling is a type of advice-giving and support provided by career counselors to their clients, to help the clients manage their journey through life, learning and work changes (career). This includes career exploration, making career choices, managing career changes, lifelong career development and dealing with other career-related issues. There is no agreed definition of career counseling worldwide, mainly due to conceptual, cultural and linguistic differences. However, the terminology of ‘career counseling’ typically denotes a professional intervention which is conducted either one-on-one or in a small group. Career counseling is related to other types of counseling (e.g. marriage or clinical counseling). What unites all types of professional counseling is the role of practitioners, who combine giving advice on their topic of expertise with counseling techniques that support clients in making complex decisions and facing difficult situations.
Counseling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client. Professional counselors help clients identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional turmoil; seek to improve communication and coping skills; strengthen self-esteem; and promote behavior change and optimal mental health. Counseling provided by trained professionals can make a profound impact on the lives of individuals, families and communities. This service helps people navigate difficult life situations, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, natural disasters, school stress and the loss of a job. In a career counseling session, the counselor will help a person explore skills and strengths, consider education levels and give advice about continuing education, and determine interests and personality type. Counselors may also administer an IQ test or an aptitude test.
Empirical research attests the effectiveness of career counseling. Professional career counselors can support people with career-related challenges. Through their expertise in career development and labor markets, they can put a person’s qualifications, experience, strengths and weakness in a broad perspective while also considering their desired salary, personal hobbies and interests, location, job market and educational possibilities. Through their counseling and teaching abilities, career counselors can additionally support people in gaining a better understanding of what really matters for them personally, how they can plan their careers autonomously, or help them in making tough decisions and getting through times of crisis. Finally, career counselors are often capable of supporting their clients in finding suitable placements/ jobs, in working out conflicts with their employers, or finding the support of other helpful services. It is due to these various benefits of career counseling that policy makers in many countries publicly fund guidance services. For example, the European Union understands career guidance and counseling as an instrument to effectively combat social exclusion and increase citizens’ employability.
One of the major challenges associated with career counseling is encouraging participants to engage in the process. For example, in the UK 70% of people under 14 say they have had no careers advice while 45% of people over 14 have had no or very poor/limited advice. In a related issue some client groups tend to reject the interventions made by professional career counselors preferring to rely on the advice of peers or superiors within their own profession. Jackson et al. found that 44% of doctors in training felt that senior members of their own profession were best placed to give careers advice. Furthermore, it is recognised that the giving of career advice is something that is widely spread through a range of formal and informal roles. In addition to career counselors it is also common for psychologists, teachers, managers, trainers and Human Resources (HR) specialists to give formal support in career choices. Similarly it is also common for people to seek informal support from friends and family around their career choices and to bypass career professionals altogether. In the 2010s, increasingly people rely on career web portals to seek advice on resume writing and handling interviews and to do research on various professions and companies. It has also possible to get a vocational assessment done online.
Assessment tools used in career counseling to help clients make realistic career decisions. These tools generally fall into three categories: interest inventories, personality inventories, and aptitude tests.
Interest inventories are usually based on the premise that if you have similar interests to people in an occupation who like their job, you will probably like that occupation also. Thus, interest inventories may suggest occupations that the client has not thought of and which have a good chance of being something that the client will be happy with. The most common interest inventory is a measure of vocational interests across six domains: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional. People often report a mixture of these domains, usually with one predominant domain.
Aptitude tests can predict with good odds whether a particular person will be able to be successful in a particular occupation. For example, a student who wants to be a physicist is unlikely to succeed if he cannot do the math. An aptitude test will tell him if he is likely to do well in advanced math, which is necessary for physics. There are also aptitude tests which can predict success or failure in many different occupations.
Personality inventories are sometimes used to help people with career choice. The use of these inventories for this purpose is questionable, because in any occupation there are people with many different personalities. A popular personality inventory is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It is based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality, but Jung never approved it. According to Jung most people fall in the middle of each scale, but the MBTI ignores this and puts everyone in a type category. For example, according to the MBTI, everyone is either an extrovert or an introvert. According to Jung, most people are somewhere in between, and people at the extremes are rare. The validity of the MBTI for career choice is highly questionable.