Employment services are important to people looking for work and those looking to employ. A good career professional needs the passion and skills to find and place the right person in the right job, and when they do so, they not only satisfy the employer and employee's needs, buty can also have a very positive and ongoing impact on the workplace they are servicing.
Careers counselling is a specialised, professional form of guidance focussed on career development. It looks at the client in terms of:
- personal attributes
Although the focus is on the client’s professional life and career progression, it’s important to understand that career counselling still looks at individuals in terms of their whole selves – it doesn’t ask the client to separate themselves into a set of personal strengths and weaknesses and professional strengths and weaknesses, but rather looks at how to integrate the whole self to help the client find work that is meaningful and promotes agency in not only their career, but their life as a whole.
Talk about where careers counsellors can end up – so recruitment agencies, but also skills in human relations, or working in professional development, developing job-ready skills and training.
While careers counsellors talk to their clients about a variety of issues, and that this may extend into how to deal with complex situations that arise in the workplace, including workplace relations and difficulties with colleagues, it’s also important to understand that despite the term “counsellor”, careers counsellors are not mental health or psychological professionals. A careers counsellor’s role is always career-oriented.
What careers counsellors do?
Helping people further their career development encompasses a wide variety of roles. Some careers counsellors choose to specialise in a particular area, like workplace training for developing communication skills, while others are generalists who work with clients across a multitude of areas.
Careers counsellors can work independently, as part of a careers counselling firm, for recruitment agencies, and even in-house at larger companies. The everyday tasks of a careers counsellor will vary according to their type of employment.
Careers counsellors can be involved in helping clients:
- identify the best job for their skills and interests
- find work that better meets their personal and financial needs
- transition fields or disciplines, e.g., move from agriculture into landscape design, move from public relations into retail management
- achieve job satisfaction through appropriate choices
- plan and cope with career changes, particularly during times of instability in the job market
- better adapt to the workplace, or transition to new workplaces
- improve their potential for advancement in the workplace
- identify new career possibilities when circumstances change
- improve skills, or learn to adapt to challenges, particularly when they touch on a client’s weaknesses
- sell their strengths
- learn new skills or receive appropriate professional development and/or training.
Important skills for careers counselling
Careers counsellors require a diverse skill set; they must be flexible and agile in order to meet the changing demands of the 21st century workplace. Vital skills for a successful careers counsellor can include:
- strong communication skills, with a particular understanding of active listening
- developing a network of contacts, particularly if specialising in a particular industry
- identifying transferable skills, i.e. the ability to see connections between skills and industries
- recognising the value of diversity in the workplace, being able to promote diversity and hear from clients and companies with Cultural and Linguistic Differences (CAL/D populations)
- writing and editing resumes and CVs for maximum impact
- solid understanding of workplace health and safety regulations, relevant legislation for fair work in the country and state of operation; if the counsellor specialises in a specific industry, this extends to knowledge of legislation for that particular industry
- legislation and protections for protected classes, including persons from minority backgrounds and persons with disability
- understanding the importance of accessibility in the workplace and how needs can be met, e.g., providing equity and access for all employees, which may include physical access (e.g., wheelchair ramp) or flexible work conditions (e.g., work from home days)
- how to write recruiting advertisements for new positions, how to read recruiting advertisements effectively to identify a company’s needs
- how to deliver workplace training.
It’s important to note that this list of vital skills varies according to the role the careers counsellor is in; a careers counsellor working in-house at a large company must be able to deliver workplace training, while a freelancer may not need this skill because they specialise in individual coaching sessions paired with resume and CV development.
To be able to assist a client in each or any of these processes, a Careers Counsellor must also be aware of:
- the diverse nature of employment opportunities
- requirements for success in different types of jobs
- reasons that people hire and fire employees
- workplace conditions including contract law, industrial relations systems, health and safety issues, ethics
- useful contacts among employers, government departments, funding bodies, professional associations, industry experts, etc
- factors that hinder or promote a person’s job-seeking effectiveness
- trends in the local job market.
Communicating in Careers Counselling
Strong communication skills are essential for working with clients. A good careers counsellor must understand how to:
- establish and maintain rapport with clients
- communicate effectively in verbal and written modes
- work effectively – and cooperatively – in group and team environments.
Establish and maintain rapport with clients
A careers counsellor is only effective when they are attuned to their clients needs, wants, and goals. This requires them to develop a strong rapport – i.e., a good working relationship based on understanding and empathy – with their client. Such a relationship must be founded on the five pillars of:
Once this foundation has been laid, the client is better positioned to share openly about their needs, wants, and goals.
Active listening is an important part of this process. This is a specific listening technique that focuses on building rapport and encouraging openness in a relationship through the listener using positive reinforcement behaviours directed toward the person sharing/talking. These include:
- remaining present and engaged in the conversation – the listener gives their full attention to the speaker, staying focussed in the moment rather than completing other tasks, taking calls, or letting other parties interrupt the conversation
- showing interest in what the speaker has to say – traditionally, it has been suggested such interest can only be shown by maintaining good eye contact. While engaging in eye contact can be a valuable way to show interest for some people, there are many neurodiverse people who are uncomfortable with eye contact or find maintaining eye contact difficult. Another, potentially useful way to show interest without causing discomfort, is writing down key points or information throughout the listening process.
- noticing non-verbal cues – a lot of communication occurs on a non-verbal level, including tone, movement, and facial expression. Paying attention to the way a client says something can provide valuable information about their feelings; looking at their expression, to see if they smile or frown, can also be helpful. It’s important to note, however, that many neurodiverse people show differences in non-verbal communication, or may have difficulty reading these cues; if you have difficulty reading non-verbal cues, this does not mean you will be an ineffective listener! It simply means that your listening skills may be more geared toward other parts of how people communicate.
- asking rather than assuming – questions are an essential part of the listening process. Sharing is often difficult, and one of the major barriers to good communication is assumption. If something is unclear, rather than assuming you understand what the client means, ask for clarification, or if they can provide further context. If the client is in the middle of sharing and you feel you can’t interrupt, that’s okay – write a note and ask them when they’ve finished speaking about that specific topic or idea.
- asking open-ended questions to encourage further responses – open-ended questions such as "can you tell me more about that?" encourage the client to explore their thoughts and provide more information about areas which may inform the support, training, and opportunities you can offer.
- sharing to encourage further responses – active listening is a process built on trust and openness. Everyone experiences and builds trust differently. Often, sharing something, such as a similar experience or feeling, can help build trust – it says “yes, I understand”. Different people engage in this type of sharing to a different extent; it’s more common among neurodiverse individuals. If you’re a neurodiverse person who engages with others via sharing, remember that that’s okay – it’s a form of validation for many people. The trick in a professional setting is to set boundaries around the time frame for your own sharing, because you’re in a very limited space for each appointment. As such, it can be valuable to decide ahead of time that you may share in this way no more than twice per appointment – this gives you the opportunity to encourage your client, validate them via your own brand of listening, and ensure that you’re maximising the amount of value they get from their time with you.
- Paraphrasing and reflecting to validate and ensure understanding – take some time at the end of each of the client’s responses to paraphrase what they’ve said. This is an important step in validating them and their experience, and also helps ensure that you understand their perspective and meaning – i.e., it makes sure you’re both on the same page. This final step is especially important in maintaining rapport. When the client knows you’ve heard them and can feel you’re on the same page, they feel supported and like you will understand what they need, and that they can work with you.
Careers counselling is a rewarding profession that requires a diverse skill set – but it comes with a rich variety of opportunities for working with industry, either for yourself or as part of a larger team.
Learn more about how to get started with counselling. A good professional development course is occupational psychology. For other opportunities Use our free career development advisory service today.