Counseling Home Blog How to Become a Career Counselor: Your Comprehensive Guide

How to Become a Career Counselor: Your Comprehensive Guide

14 Nov
Female career counselor talking to young professional

Although the old adage, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” has been attributed to various sources, from Confucious to Mark Twain to a Princeton professor, it speaks to the profound impact your career choice has on your happiness.1 Decades of research supports a strong correlation between job satisfaction and life satisfaction.2 Career counselors facilitate this happiness by helping people find their dream jobs through assessments, evaluations and personalized advice.

This guide will cover how you can become a career counselor, including the education requirements, the licensure and certification process, and your career outlook.

What does a career counselor do?

Career counselors work with clients to help them understand their career options, make informed decisions, and chart a path toward rewarding and fulfilling careers. They’re strategists who use multiple methods when working with job-seekers.

Before career counselors can help their clients find the best job match, they have to understand the unique mix of talents, interests and skills they possess. An introvert, for example, will probably be miserable in a job that requires interaction with people all day, no matter how well it fits that individual’s abilities. Various assessments, such as personality tests, aptitude quizzes and interest inventories, help clients understand their strengths, weaknesses and preferences. These assessments serve as tools to facilitate self-discovery and to provide a starting point for career planning.3

Based on the results of the assessment and discovery phase, career counselors will help their clients explore options that might be good matches for them. This may include conducting research through job shadowing and informational interviews. Then, they’ll help clients develop short- and long-term career goals and action plans. Goals might include applying for jobs, networking or developing new skills.4

They also strategize with clients on job search techniques, including networking, resume-building and interviewing skills.5 If their clients don’t have the full range of skills they need for their ideal job, career counselors will help them develop a plan to bridge the gap through additional educational opportunities.6

How To Become a Career Counselor

Career counselors are highly trained professionals who work with a wide range of people at all stages of career development. They need strong communication and interpersonal skills as well as organizational, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. By combining classroom education, practical experience and certification, career counselors achieve the skills and knowledge they need to help their clients.7

Complete Educational Requirements and Degrees

If you’re interested in a career path as a career counselor, your first step will be finishing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, behavioral science or another field related to human services. Focus on courses that cover interpersonal skills, human development and counseling techniques. The foundation you establish here sets the stage for advanced studies and specialization later.8

In addition to a bachelor's degree, career counselors need at least a master’s degree to get certified. Your graduate degree should be in a counseling-related field and should include specialized courses in career development, theory and practice. Many programs include supervised clinical experience.9

Gain Counseling Experience and Internships

Many programs offer internships or practicums as part of the curriculum, or you can pursue an internship with a career counselor after you graduate. You'll gain hands-on experience working with clients under the supervision of an established career counselor. Practical experience will ensure you're prepared to work as an entry-level counselor, provide valuable additions to your resume and help you meet credentialing requirements.9

Pursue Professional Certifications

Counseling licenses are issued by the state where you’ll be practicing. Every state has its own licensure requirements, but you’ll generally need to have an advanced degree, pass an exam and accumulate a certain number of hours providing services under supervision.10

The National Career Development Association offers the Certified Career Counselor (CCC) credential that recognizes the dual aspects of counseling and career development. The certification process includes education, references, clinical experience and an exam consisting of four case studies.9

Network and Build Professional Relationships

Career counselors often recommend their clients build their networks and join professional associations to find career development opportunities. Professional associations allow you to meet other professionals, learn from experts and benefit from exclusive resources. Consider joining the National Career Development Association (NCDA), the American Counseling Association (ACA) or other professional organizations for career counselors.11

Develop Counseling Techniques and Strategies

To be effective in providing the support and guidance job seekers need, you’ll have to develop specific counseling techniques and strategies based on the needs of your clients. If you’re working with a college-bound high school senior, your approach will be different than if your client is switching careers later in life due to outdated skills. Cultivating empathetic communication and listening skills will help you understand your clients’ needs and wishes and create useful intervention plans.

Although the specific session plan will be unique to each client, there are typically five stages to a career counseling treatment plan:12

  • Exploring who the client is, including their past experiences and current situation
  • Clarifying what they want from their career
  • Identifying their options for achieving their goals
  • Identifying the obstacles that are interfering with progress
  • Developing an action plan to meet their career goals

Stay Updated on Career Trends

The world of work is changing rapidly. According to the leading research and advisory firm Gartner, one-third of the skills needed in job postings in IT, finance or sales in 2017 are already obsolete.13 Career counselors need to stay updated on the latest career and job market trends to help their clients future-proof their careers. There’s a lot of hype around how new technologies, such as generative AI, will affect the workforce. While everyone has an opinion, your best sources of information should be authoritative and data-driven, such as the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report and the World Economic Forum.14

Career Outlook for Career Counseling

According to the BLS, the field of career counseling is expected to grow by five percent by 2032, which is faster than average. In 2022, there were 342,400 jobs for career counselors with a median annual salary of $60,140. The working environment for career counselors includes colleges and universities, career centers and private practice.15

Make a Difference as a Career Counselor

William & Mary’s Online M.Ed. in Counseling program will instill the skills you need to make a difference by helping people find rewarding careers. Led by seasoned experts, this CACREP-accredited curriculum will equip you to work in diverse environments with maximum impact. Enjoy the flexibility of online education while expanding your career potential.

Make your move toward a future you’ll love. Schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today.

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