Career counselling

Written by Ellen Lees
Ellen Lees
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Lindsay Roadnight
Last updated 19th October 2022 | Next update due 18th October 2025

Career counselling is an option for 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. 

What is career counselling?

BACP accredited therapist Caroline Plumer explains more about career counselling, the common reasons you may seek support and how to find a therapist who can help you.

Why is career support needed?

For many, the 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 - 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 over 40 hours per week at work, if you're not enjoying your job, you could be spending a large proportion of your life feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. 

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

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you may benefit from seeking additional career support and guidance. Keep reading to find more information about career counselling, what to expect from sessions and the difference between a counsellor and a coach.

How can career counselling benefit you?

If you choose to seek career guidance, there are a number of issues and topics the counsellor may address, depending on what you want to gain from career counselling.

Common 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 letter 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.

Counselling for imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological belief that you are not as competent as others think you are, despite your clear successes. You may frequently doubt your skills, and capabilities and 'play down' your success. People living with imposter syndrome often experience worries that they might be exposed as being a "fraud", even though this is not the case. Despite it being referred to as a 'syndrome' it is not a diagnosable mental condition. 

People who have imposter syndrome often struggle to change their belief that they are a fraud, despite obvious achievements. Although it can therefore motivate people to constantly strive for success, it usually comes with constant anxiety and may lead to depression. People with imposter syndrome will usually work much harder than the average person to ensure nobody "finds out they are a fraud". One example might be staying up all night to revise for an exam, which leads the person to believe that this was the only reason they did well - not their natural competency and ability. 

Signs you might have imposter syndrome include:

  • belittling your success
  • having a fear you won't meet expectations 
  • constant self-doubting
  • setting hard goals and feeling disappointed if you do not meet them 
  • overachieving 
  • unable to assess your skills and abilities 
  • putting success down to external factors 

Imposter syndrome frequently presents itself in the workplace. Those experiencing it might think they don't deserve their job because they are not good at it and are unable to accept positive feedback. As those with imposter syndrome tend to have perfectionist tendencies, it can lead them to overwork and may cause burnout

If you recognise any of the signs of imposter syndrome in yourself, a colleague or an employee, career counselling can help to break down your thoughts, help recognise your skills and set realistic, manageable goals. 

Counsellors who can help with career

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. Alternatively, you could seek out 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. Some areas you may cover include:

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 objectives and what role would be most suited to your situation and needs.

Exploring your skills and attributes  

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.

Personal goal setting

Also essential in career 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 counselling because they feel personal issues or problems at work are affecting their job satisfaction and performance. These 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.

Career counselling vs counselling for work-related stress

It is important to note that a career counsellor will usually take a different approach to a counsellor dealing with work-related stress. 

Work-related stress is when the demands in your job role exceed your ability to cope and you become overwhelmed. It could lead to other mental health problems like anxiety and depression. On the other hand, a career counsellor can help with a range of workplace problems and will generally take a more holistic view. 

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.

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 on the challenges and worries of a new job.

Do you need a counsellor or a coach?

Career support and guidance aren’t there to tell you exactly what to do. Your counsellor will work with you to identify issues, potential triggers and the areas that are holding you back, and work with you to overcome and control them. A career counsellor will not tell you what to do, and they cannot specifically make referrals to employers and/or jobs that are relevant to your situation. Only you can make these final decisions. But, with the support of a counsellor or coach, making this decision is a lot easier.

The type of support that is best for you will depend on your situation. For example, if you are struggling with a mental health condition, such as stress, anxiety, low self-esteem or confidence, or issues that are affecting you physically and emotionally, it’s important that you see a qualified professional such as a doctor, counsellor or psychotherapist.

What qualifications should I look for in a career counsellor?

Finding a professional counsellor or therapist is key to ensuring that you receive the right support for you. There is no specific training required to become a career counsellor, but finding a therapist with relevant experience and qualifications in the field will be the most beneficial.

All of our members are listed with a professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) or the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) so you can be sure they have met the requirements outlined by the professional body. 

To get started, we recommend reaching out to a few career counsellors by using our advanced search tool. Many offer a free initial consultation, so you can decide who is the best match for you before you embark on your counselling journey.

If you’re feeling stuck in other ways, perhaps you’re feeling lost career-wise and simply need a push in the right direction, a coach may be better suited to help you. Coaching helps you to get where you want to go in life, including tips on setting and achieving goals, CV and interview advice, navigating life changes and finding a way to thrive.

To read more about the difference between career counselling and career coaching, visit Happiful.

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 how she finally found career confidence.

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 session will also involve career tests and exercises that help to shed light on your motivation, interests, personality and skills, helping you to get an idea of the career options you may want to consider. From here, your career counsellor can make recommendations on how to proceed, e.g. enhancing your understanding of your situation, researching your career options and taking purposeful action.

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How to prepare for career counselling

As well as knowing what to expect from sessions, it can be beneficial to know how to prepare to ensure you make the most of what counselling has to offer.

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. 

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