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 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.A. in Counseling and Career Development

Penn State University – M.Ed. Counselor Education with a Career Counseling Emphasis

Sacramento State University – M.S. 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:

UC San Diego Extension – Certificate in Career Advising

UC Berkeley Extension – Certificate in College Admissions and Career Planning

University of Central Florida – Certificate in Career Counseling

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

Some people choose to join a professional organization such as the National Career Development Association or the International Coach Federation. This is optional because lots of successful professionals forego membership in these organizations and instead focus on joining the organizations where their clients are.

In the early years of my career, the organization that supported me the most was Webgrrls (which was an amazing organization when Aliza Sherman owned it). By attending events in my industry niche, I stayed current in the types of problems that my clients were tackling and I met prospective clients. There was a time when the majority of my clients were members of Webgrrls.

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
– A specific industry, such as tech, law, or finance
– 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.


Volunteering is a smart way to do a reality test about 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.

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