Career counselling

For many, a main goal in life is to pursue a career that is meaningful and fulfilling. It can be highly rewarding to be in a role that you are passionate about and that reflects you as a person - where you can apply your skills and talents while growing at the same time.

Unfortunately not everyone ends up in such a role, and many people are in jobs that make them feel bored, unmotivated and frustrated. With the average Briton spending such a significant amount of time at work (over 40 hours per week) not enjoying your job means for a large proportion of your life you will be both unfulfilled and unhappy.

Resolving your career issues however can be a difficult process. Many people are clueless as to what job would satisfy them and feel stuck in a rut, while some desire change but feel unable to leave their current role. Others may be struggling with a personal issue or problem at work that is preventing them from enjoying their job and performing at their best.

If you are one of these people, you could benefit from career help, guidance and support in the form of a career counsellor. This page will look into career counselling in depth, exploring the benefits of this service and what to expect in sessions.

What is career counselling?

Career counselling or work counselling is sought when an individual needs confidential support and advice about areas of study and possible career movements, developments or changes. It provides an opportunity for people to discuss and discover opportunities in their career plans and work with a qualified professional who understands the difficulties of navigating a career that is rewarding and makes you feel fulfilled.

Career counsellors work with a wide range of individuals with all kinds of skills, passions, values and career motivations to help them better understand their thoughts and feelings about work and education and how these can be resolved. 

How can career counselling benefit you?

If you choose to seek careers guidance and support, there are a number of issues and topics the counsellor may address, depending on what you want to gain from career counselling. Some of the types of issues and topics covered in career counselling sessions include:

  • Helping you to identify negative thoughts/behaviours so you can change them.
  • Working out what career path/role/opportunities would make you truly happy.
  • Looking into personal issues that could be impacting your work life.
  • Identifying and addressing problems at work that are holding you back.
  • Learning to make the most of your skills, attributes and experiences.
  • Advice on CV and cover letting writing.
  • Assistance with using creative ways to find a job that suits you.
  • Realising the importance and impact of your work within your life.
  • Formulating a set of attainable goals and a plan of action.
  • Taking steps to change your life and become healthier and happier. 

Sharon Belden Castonguay, EdD explores the psychology of career decisions:

What does career counselling involve? 

Meeting with a career counsellor will typically take place in one-to-one sessions where you will be asked a variety of questions about your life plans, career intentions and goals. You can, however, request to take part in group sessions where you can support others and share interests and abilities.

Career counsellors are trained to help with a wide range of work-related issues and will respect your individual needs and values in their approach. Sessions are safe, supportive and completely confidential - providing you with the opportunity to explore your concerns in depth and put together constructive career plans. 

The content of your sessions will ultimately depend on your situation and what you hope to gain from work counselling. Below is an exploration of some of the areas you may cover during your sessions. 

Realising your career objectives 

A key aspect of career counselling is helping you to explore and better understand what you want from a career, what interests matter to you personally and what your goals and aspirations are.

A career counsellor will also discuss factors that could influence your decisions or affect your goals. Answers to these questions should help to assist you in realising your career objectives and what role would be most suited to your situation and needs. A career counsellor will also aim to provide you with as much information possible about the path you are considering and ensure it suits your personality. 

Exploring your skills and attributes  

You may feel that you are fully aware of all the skills you have picked up throughout your education and/or working life, but a career counsellor can help to identify additional skills and attributes you possess which will be appealing to potential employers. They can put your qualifications, experience, strengths and weaknesses in a broad perspective while helping you to consider the desired salary, job market, location, and educational possibilities.

Consider the compatibility of the job role and your inner resources. Do not underestimate yourself: often people are able to achieve much more than they believe they could. Try and remember the times when you have done something really well. Remember the feeling and use it when you need to motivate yourself.

- Counsellor Sofia Kolesnikova, MBACP on the challenges and worries of a new job.

Personal goal setting

Also essential in careers guidance is the setting of personal goals and learning skills to help you make positive career choices. A career counsellor will ensure your targets are realistic and will help you to look for jobs that suit your expectations. Some people may feel under pressure to enter a career that doesn’t actually appeal to them, but this will leave them feeling unmotivated and unsatisfied in the job role. 

Resolving difficulties at work

Many people will seek career help from a counsellor because they feel personal issues or problems at work are affecting their job satisfaction and performance. These may be may include:

These issues often make it difficult for people to feel comfortable in their job and can affect their ability to complete and manage work responsibilities such as giving presentations or taking part in team meetings. A career counsellor will be aware that these issues may be related to the job itself, and so their approach will be focused on teaching their client appropriate tools and strategies which can be used in the workplace to help them manage these more effectively. 

I felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy every day, which led me to depression. I would feel afraid every day when I got up to go to work....

- Soma Ghosh shares her experience of workplace bullying, anxiety and how she finally found career confidence on Happiful.

What is not included in career counselling 

There is the misconception that for people needing career help, career counselling is a quick solution and will directly link them to their ideal career. Although a career counsellor helps to clarify exactly what you desire from a career - whilst guiding you towards resources that will help you find a suitable job or placement - they cannot specifically make referrals to employers/jobs that are relevant to your situation. 

It is also important to remember that career counsellors are not academic advisors, nor can they tell you what your ideal career path is. There is no 'test' to establish what you should or shouldn't do - sessions are focused on helping to explore your options and develop strategies that will help you to make informed decisions. On a final note, career counsellors do not provide a CV writing service. Instead, they will work to help you develop and revise your own CVs and cover letters. 

For CV writing support and tips, visit Life Coach Directory.

What happens in career counselling sessions?

Career counselling usually begins with an initial consultation in which your career counsellor will ask various questions to establish what career help you need. These questions may delve into your current employment status and what specific areas you want to address. This introductory session will also involve careers tests and exercises that help to shed light on your motivation, interests, personality and skills. This will help you and your counsellor get an idea of the career options you may want to consider.

From here your career counsellor can make recommendations on how to proceed. Below is an example of what to expect from work counselling sessions:

  • Enhancing understanding of your situation - You will be encouraged to review previous work and education experiences alongside personal considerations to gain insight into how these influenced your decision to seek career help. Gaining a thorough understanding will help you to make satisfying career decisions.
  • Generate career options - With this new clarity, you and your counsellor can work together to generate some career options that are suitable for you.
  • Research your career options - The next stage typically involves your own research to find out more about the career sectors you have identified as options. Your career counsellor may recommend you look into training options, entry requirements, costs, availability etc. Researching your job prospects will help you to understand the reality of what the work will be like and how certain roles will fit with your self-understanding.
  • Make a choice - You will reach the stage in career counselling where you are able to make an informed decision about the career path you wish to pursue. Your career counsellor will help to put together a plan to clarify the necessary steps and goals to help you achieve this. This may involve an analysis of how such a career may affect other aspects of your life, such as your family and financial barriers and will also look into psychological preparation.
  • Take purposeful action - From here your counsellor can help you take the necessary steps to work towards desired changes and areas of career development.

Woman in orange blouse standing proudly against brick wall

How to prepare for career counselling

As well as knowing what to expect from sessions, it can be beneficial knowing how to prepare to ensure you make the most of what career counselling has to offer. See below for some tips on preparing for your sessions.

Have realistic expectations  

Before starting sessions, bear in mind that a career counsellor can help you find your own answers and reach important career decisions, but they cannot give them to you. Career counselling is a supportive process of guidance and development and is not a quick solution.

Be prepared to play an active role

Working with a career counsellor involves actively participating in sessions and completing homework tasks. You will be required to get involved in career planning and research projects designed to help you make an informed decision about your future.

Know what you want to accomplish 

You may want to 'gain a sense of direction' or 'more focus' in your career, but keep in mind that your counsellor will be looking to work with specific career goals. Goals are essential for driving the career counselling process forward, for they help to establish direction and an endpoint. If you are unsure of what it is you want, your counsellor can help you to identify this in the introductory session. From here you will work together on a plan which outlines exactly what you will be doing in sessions and why. 

Available help

Career counselling can offer sessions on an individual basis or within a group setting and services are available at most colleges and Universities around the UK. There are also a number of private professionals offering careers guidance if you would prefer to deal with your issues away from your college or University.

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or therapist?

There are no official rules or regulations stipulating what level of training a career counsellor needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind, you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in career counselling.

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