What Is Career Counseling? And How to Know When You Need It

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Gain an understanding of how career counseling can benefit your career and take steps to decide if career counseling is right for you.

[Featured image] A woman researches career counseling on a desktop computer.

Career counseling is a service that helps people begin, change, or advance their careers. It can include one-on-one conversations between a counselor and a career seeker, as well as assessments, activities, and projects designed to help career seekers make the most of their strengths. 

A career counselor is similar to a career coach in that professionals in both roles can help you navigate your career path and understand your career goals. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, professionals may identify themselves as one or the other and describe their services in very specific ways. 

You may find that career counselors have degrees in psychology, counseling, or human development, while career coaches may have coaching certifications or education in specific fields that they coach people to enter.  Another difference you may come across is in the nature of the career support, with counselors helping you with career exploration and coaches helping you with specific career-related steps. 

What to expect from career counseling

Whether you are a student or recent grad or at the midpoint of your career trajectory and thinking about a career change, career counseling could help you make sound decisions for your professional journey. 

Here are some things you can expect to work on during career counseling sessions:

  • Assessing your strengths, skills, education, and experience 

  • Bringing your desires and dreams to the surface

  • Identifying areas of untapped potential 

  • Considering various career options

  • Exploring industry trends and hiring practices 

  • Researching job listings and employers 

  • Preparing for interviews 

  • Enhancing your resume 

  • Drafting cover letters

  • Finding your first job or changing careers 

  • Charting a rewarding career path  

Considering the expected job growth across industries, from the arts to health care, as well as exciting technological advancements in many fields, now might be a great time for you to pursue career counseling. That way, you can explore your potential with the guidance of a skilled mentor and prepare yourself for an ever-changing professional landscape. 



Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact

I am an adult developmental psychologist by training and a career counselor by trade, currently the Director of the Gordon Career Center at Wesleyan ...


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4 signs that career counseling is right for you

There are many factors to consider before hiring a career counselor, including the cost of counseling, what the experience is like, and the outcomes you can expect. 

The following signs may mean that getting a career counselor is a viable next step for you: 

1. You are about to take a career leap.

Entering a new phase in your career can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. For example:

  • Choosing a major can mean enjoying the coursework and learning about subjects you find interesting, but what careers will a given major lead to? 

  • Graduating from college or university could qualify you for a number of careers, but what if you want to pursue a career that is unrelated to your degree?

  • Changing careers entirely could provide you with improved work-life balance, better pay, and fulfillment, but what new skills will a new career require?  

  • Launching a business could mean working on your own terms, but what financial risks will you be taking on?

If you’re about to take a similar leap, you might be a good candidate for a career counseling program, as working with a counselor can boost your confidence when making decisions.

2. You are reflecting on your passions and purpose.

Do you find yourself thinking about what you’re really passionate about and what you want to achieve in life? Do you wonder what careers would enable you to explore your passions? If so, you may benefit from working with a career counselor to learn more about the following: 

  • How to turn a creative pursuit into a career

  • How to improve work-life balance

  • How to explore your passion in any professional role

  • How to make career decisions based on your values, belief systems, and life philosophy  

3. You want a more focused mentoring experience.

There are many ways to get career support, including:

  • Taking group classes alongside other career seekers 

  • Reading books on professional development 

  • Hiring a mentor in another discipline, such as a life coach or emotional intelligence coach

  • Mastering technical skills and acquiring experience pertaining to a specific career 

  • Conducting informational interviews with people who work in the industry or career field you want to enter 

As you glean wisdom from these sources, you may find yourself wanting to have more in-depth conversations about your career and pointed guidance as to what actions to take. If that’s the case, it may be time to find a career counselor. 

4. You are making space in your life for counseling.

Depending on the counselor you find, going through a career counseling program will likely involve an investment of time, energy, and resources. If you’re making space in your life for counseling, you may be ready to take this step. 

Take some time to evaluate the following:

  • Your growth mindset: Are you teachable, open to feedback, and welcoming of fresh perspectives?  

  • Your budget: Are you freeing up resources to invest in your career growth?

  • Your schedule: Are you freeing up time to invest in the work of developing your career?   



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How to find your career counselor 

Once you decide you’re ready for career counseling, the next thing to do is find your counselor. Follow the steps below to streamline your process: 

Determine your counseling objectives.

  • What do you want to get out of having a career counselor? Consider possible outcomes, such as identifying a new career path, feeling more confident, or finding your dream job. 

  • What kind of program would you like to join? This might be hiring a counselor for a single private session, signing up for ongoing sessions on a regular basis, or joining an online or onsite counseling program. 

  • What do you want to experience while in a program? Examples could include exploratory exercises or taking creative approaches to charting a career path. 

Explore career counseling services.

You’ll find a range of career counseling services available to you, but it’s worth taking the time to find the right fit. Search the internet, job listing sites, as well as college career support offered to students and alumni. Read up on how different counselors work with career seekers, including the structure, duration, and cost of their programs. 

Make a list of career counselors who may be a good fit for you. Reach out to your top choices via email or by phone to gather more information that may not be available online, such as: 

  • The methods they use to help someone get the most out of their goals, experience, and interests

  • The kinds of career seekers do they usually work with

  • What their former clients have been able to achieve through counseling

  • The outcomes they specialize in helping people reach

Hear from an adult developmental psychologist and career counselor on the role that skills and passions play in career development:

“What do you do well?” is a lecture from Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact

Next steps

Taking a career development course can be a great way to learn more about your career potential and how counseling could benefit you. Get started with Coursera. Try Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact to learn more about finding meaning in your work, building professional connections, and more. 


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