When people think of career counseling, they often envision a process that involves tests and assessments — personality profiles, interest inventories, skills assessments. Traditional career counseling was built around these formal approaches. The hope was that measurements like these would identify your talents and match them with specific careers.
Perhaps this approach worked well in the old days, when job opportunities were less diverse. However, effective career counseling now requires a much more creative approach. These days, few people stay with a single career for their whole lives. Instead, many folks engage in a combination of activities: full-time and part-time employment, consulting, home-based businesses, as well as many entrepreneurial pursuits.
Before I became a cognitive-behavioral therapist and counselor, I had a background in human resource consulting. I spent over a decade helping to match people and opportunities. Because of this, my approach to career development is far more practical, flexible, and action-oriented than traditional approaches.
Effective career counseling involves numerous activities, including clarification of goals, creative brainstorming, education about networking and search opportunities, resume writing, and even communication skills development. In addition, I find that career counseling often bridges into related realms such as stress reduction, time management, procrastination reduction, and other life skills. This is why career counseling typically blends with other forms of counseling.
In my work as a career counselor, I often touch on the following areas:
Clarification of Your Goals and Visions
This is usually where the career counseling process begins. What is your ideal vision of the future? I encourage my clients to set aside the nuts-and-bolts for the moment, and just let their imaginations be free.
What would your ideal work-life look like? Is business management exciting to you? Or would you like to be a healer of some sort? Do you like teaching? Does it feel exciting to think of being an entrepreneur? Or are there elements of many different activities that appeal to you? Perhaps you only have a vague sense of something greater — in sessions, we can help to clarify this sense.
I do value some assessment instruments at this stage, including the Myers-Briggs typology (I'm an INFJ) and matches based on the Holland codes, such as the Strong Interest Inventory (I'm an AIS). I rarely find that these assessments yield a crisp, "perfect fit" career path – but they can certainly spark some creative thought and discussion.
Whether or not we use assessments, a first step in career counseling is to identify your goals, desires, and visions. The next step is to explore the action-step process to actualize your vision.
Let's imagine that your goal is to play music in your work life. I might ask you as part of the action-step process: What are your thoughts about forming a band and putting your performances on YouTube? Have you ever considered becoming a music therapist? What about a voice teacher? Does music composition appeal to you? What are your feelings about working with children?
It can be helpful to explore — together — the many opportunities that exist. It's always delightful for me to see lightbulbs pop on when people realize how many ways there are to use and develop their talents.
Before brainstorming about possibilities, however, it is essential to clarify your goals, interests, values, and visions. Many of the traditional career counseling approaches focused on interests and skills; however, few focused on values and visions. And yet values and visions often tap into the "deepest" part of the mind. I try to help people clarify these right at the outset.
Resume Development and Networking Skills
Many people who come for career counseling are preparing to apply for specific positions in their field. An important preparation in this process involves bringing resumes and cover letters "up to speed."
As a human resources consultant, I have reviewed (and sometimes edited) thousands of resumes. Over 80% of the resumes that I have seen would have benefitted greatly from a revision.
Professional resume writers usually charge in the hundreds of dollars for a resume overhaul. This can be an excellent investment! However, I help my clients to rework their resumes as a part of the career counseling process. In addition, I explain why I consider the changes important.
As an overview, here are some very common resume traps that people fall into:
- Using vague, generic language instead of specific, concrete language
- Downplaying wonderful accomplishments out of a sense of humility
- Using "insider" jargon that the average person might not follow.
- Squeezing everything to fit on one page — in the old days this might have been wise, but not any more!
- Using overly-creative designs or formats that are difficult to read.
- Not including essential keywords that search programs will be indexing
In conjunction with resume development work, it can also be helpful to discuss how and when to use various networking services. Are you familiar with LinkedIn, a Facebook-like network for career contacts? Do you know how to set up an email and voicemail service for your job search so that you will not be bothered at home by recruiters? Can you locate interest groups that might have leads for you? We can discuss these topics as part of the career counseling process.
For people who are returning to the workplace after an absence — or who are engaged in a career transition — we can discuss ways to "soften" gaps in a resume and find "first-steps" into a new career. Don't worry if you are confused about how to proceed; this is one of the most common reasons that people see a career counselor.
(For some specific resume writing/development tips, feel free to take a look at my resume writing page.)
I am somewhat unique among counselors in that I have been involved in entreprenurial activities for most of my life. I have set up limited liability companies, negotiated contracts, been involved in collections processes, and so on. I am very aware of both the challenges and delights of being an entrepreneur.
I share this because an increasing number of people are embarking on entrepreneurial paths — and addressing this area of life is often an important part of career counseling. Technology and the internet have opened the freelance field enormously. Increasingly, people are writing articles and books, recording music, crafting art, offering information, doing graphic design — and selling their services and products without the "gatekeepers" of large companies.
In addition, as health care is becoming increasingly accessible for individuals and entrepreneurs, more and more people will begin to launch their own businesses. Entrepreneurism is a proud tradition in our country; thankfully, some of the walls that constrained it are falling.
As part of the career counseling process, I can help you to strategize, plan, and take action toward any creative or entrepreneurial activities that you have in mind. In this work, I usually weave in cognitive therapy approaches to help reduce procrastination, manage stress and anxiety, and resolve relationship conflicts. I always enjoy working with fellow entrepreneurs and creative folks.
In addition to these areas, there are many other aspects of career counseling. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
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