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

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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

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

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

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

Education and experience

Career counsellors may have degrees in psychology, counselling, or human development. In contrast, 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 counsellors helping you design a professional path and coaches helping you with specific career-related tasks. 

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

Here are some things you can expect to work on with a career counsellor:

  • Assessing your strengths, skills, education, and experience 

  • Bringing your desires and dreams to the surface

  • Identifying areas of untapped potential 

  • 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, and exciting technological advancements in many fields, now might be a great time for you to pursue career counselling. That way, you can explore your potential with the guidance of a skilled mentor and prepare yourself for an ever-changing professional landscape. 

Read on to explore career counselling possibilities and how to get started. 

4 signs that career counselling is right for you

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

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

1. You are about to take a career leap.

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

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

  • Graduating from university could qualify you for many careers, but what if you want to pursue a career unrelated to your degree?

  • Changing careers could provide 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 terms, but what financial risks will you take?

If you’re about to take a similar leap, you might be a good candidate for a career counselling program. Working with a counsellor 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 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 counsellor 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

As you glean wisdom from these sources, you may want 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 counsellor. 

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

Depending on the counsellor you find, going through a career counselling program will likely involve investing time, energy, and resources. If you’re making time for counselling, 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?   

How to find your career counsellor 

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

Determine your counselling objectives.

  • What do you want to get out of having a career counsellor? 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? You might hire a counsellor for a single private session, sign up for ongoing sessions on a regular basis, or join an online or onsite counselling 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 counselling services.

There is a wide range of career counselling services, but it’s worth taking the time to find the right fit. Search the internet, job listing sites, and college career support offered to students and alumni. Read up on how different counsellors work with career seekers, including their programs' structure, duration, and cost. 

Make a list of career counsellors 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 counselling

  • The outcomes they specialize in helping people reach

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

Next steps

A career development course can be a great way to learn more about your career potential and how counselling could benefit you.

Ready to take a course? 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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