How to Become A Career Counselor or Career Coach

Dear Dr. Civitelli,

I think I might want to do the same type of work you do, but I don’t know how to become a career counselor or career coach. Can you please tell me how to get started?

Thank you,
Future Career Counselor or Career Coach

Career Development

Dear Future Career Counselor or Career Coach,

One reason this can be a confusing career path to figure out is that there isn’t just one way to pursue it. People come to this career from a variety of different backgrounds and with diverse skills. Some characteristics that predict success in this career are:

– An intense curiosity about people and a desire to help them better their lives
– Strong communication skills
– Empathy and patience
– Willingness to learn about evolving workplace dynamics and change
– Comfort with technology
– Marketing skill to convince clients that working with a career development professional is a good idea (this one is relevant even if you work for an organization…for example, career services offices on college campuses are constantly engaged in outreach to bring students in)

You will find lots of statements online about career counseling vs. career coaching and those statements are often misleading and inaccurate. For instance, many articles claim that career counselors deal mainly in the past and career coaches deal mainly in the present. This doesn’t fit with my observations of the work I see being facilitated by many of my counseling and coaching colleagues. Another common claim is that career counselors mainly help clients with self-assessment and career coaches mainly facilitate the action-oriented part of career development. This, also, doesn’t fit with my experience of my profession. I see counselors and coaches choosing a focus and style of of working that is congruent with their training, personality, and chosen niche.

Here are some ways to explore a career as a career counselor and/or coach. As you gain experiences, you will be able to make decisions about whether this career is right for you.

Take classes

If your interest in career counseling is just one part of a desire to become a licensed professional counselor, you will need to complete a masters degree in counseling. For this path, you will want to look up the state laws for counseling in your state and follow the requirements.

This site links to the requirements to become a counselor in all U.S. states.

Some masters programs offer a specialty track in career counseling. These are usually housed in the colleges of education at universities. Here are some examples:

Colorado State University M.Ed. in Education & Human Resource Studies, Counseling and Career Development

Penn State College of Education – Career Counseling Emphasis

Sacramento State College of Education – Master of Science in Career Counseling

Some masters programs in education or counseling don’t offer any specialization in career development, so their students have to seek specialty training via continuing education. Here are examples of ways to gain career development expertise outside of a masters program in counseling:

Online Workforce Career Coach Facilitator Certificate, Thomas Edison State College

UC San Diego Extension – Certificate in Career Advising

UC Berkeley Extension Certificate in College Admissions and Career Planning

Before you invest a lot of money in any type of education, interview a few people who graduated from the program. Try to find people who finished 2-5 years ago so that their experience is more relevant to you than people who graduated last week or graduated 20+ years ago.

Join a professional organization

The main professional organization for career counselors is the National Career Development Association. They hold a national conference every year, administer several certification programs, compile a terrific list of career counseling competencies, and publish a journal, Career Development. Anyone with an interest in career development may join NCDA.

There is no comparable professional organization for career coaches, but the main professional organization for coaches is the International Coach Federation. ICF maintains a gigantic list of coach training programs and offers a variety of certifications. ICF’s strength is offering a great deal of information about the coaching profession.

Consider a specialization

Career development professionals can be generalists or specialists. Here are examples of some specialties:

– Vocational clarity coaching focusing on helping clients to choose a direction
– Job search coaching, including interview practice
– Salary negotiation and other types of negotiation
– Career advancement coaching to move up within organizations
– Entrepreneur coaching, including identifying business ideas and implementing them
– Work/life integration, creating a better harmony between various life spheres
– Career coaching focusing on a specific demographic (like lawyers who want to change careers, software developers who want to move into management, or stay-at-home parents who want to return to the workplace)

If you are self-employed, one advantage of specializing is that it is easier to master the skills required for a narrower niche and to then market it well before deciding whether to add a second niche.

In organizations, people tend to have a broader set of job responsibilities depending on the needs of the employer.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a smart way to reality test your interest in career development. This is how I started when my job was in the software development industry and I had zero professional experience or education in psychology or career counseling. Job search support groups run by community nonprofit organizations and churches are often looking for facilitators and often someone with experience will be willing to mentor you in the beginning. To find them, use the city where you live in a Google search. For example, if you live in Dallas, you might use this search:

Dallas job search group

When I ran this search, I quickly found this list of list of job search support groups. Note that some religious groups require a statement of faith before they will allow you to be a volunteer at one of their events.

I hope this helps! Please feel free to leave any feedback or additional questions in the comments and I will try to address them.

Comments

  1. I have known Janet for well over a decade and have been a recruiter the majority of that time. I also know a fair number of career counselors/coaches, and there is a very small number of them that I personally endorse/recommend when asked (Janet is at the top of the list).

    Helping someone with their career requires a fairly in depth understanding of the way recruiting and hiring work from the other side as well as helping a person figure out their own motivation, what they are looking for, what makes them happy, and how/what they are able to invest in pursuing a new career. So many times when a job seeker (or candidate as *I* think of them) expresses an interest in a new career, they don’t understand the necessary steps (including sacrifice and potentially going “backwards” in terms of money or work force seniority) they will need to take and an evaluation of whether or not they are in a place both financially and emotionally to take such steps.

    If someone is considering becoming a career coach/counselor, I would also recommend they seek out some recruiting or staffing professionals for informational sessions about what the current landscape looks like. It could be your local unemployment office, or a staffing agency, a corporate recruiter/HR partner, or even a hiring manager. But before you can can help other people look for new positions or careers, you need to understand what employers are looking for and what they may/not be able to do to help/hire your potential clients.

  2. Thank you, Kristen!

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