How to Choose a Career Counselor or Coach
How to Choose a Career Counselor or Coach

How to Choose a Career Counselor or Coach

Whatever stage you are at in your career, whether coming out of education and looking to start out, feeling dissatisfied in your current position and considering a change of direction, or just needing to refocus your work goals, it can feel overwhelming.

One way to take some pressure off and make yourself stand out from the competition is to seek the services of a trained professional such as a career coach or counselor.

This article will discuss tips on choosing a career counselor or coach.

What Is a Career Counselor?

Essentially, a career counselor or coach is a trained professional who can offer career guidance and advice for people who may want to enter the workplace for the first time, change career direction, start or leave a job or are having trouble setting career goals for themselves.

They can also assist students to prepare for their future career paths.

As well as career counseling, they help clients to identify their skills, make practical decisions, format plans, draft cover letters and resumes, or prepare for interviews.

Is There a Difference Between a Career Counselor and Career Coach?

Career coaches will often follow a tried and tested methodology to assist their clients, with the primary focus on career decision making. They are often very solution-focused and will guide you to answers for ‘How to find a job’ or ‘How to negotiate your salary’.

They are best suited to those who:

  • Have a short time frame in which to work (for example, those who need to find/change job quickly)
  • Already have some understanding of where they want to be/their career goals
  • Are in a job they enjoy but need a little guidance about progression
  • React best to practical advice and have clear questions that require definitive solutions

Career counselors will usually have a background within humanities or psychology and will take a more holistic approach to the task at hand.

They will sometimes spend more time than a career coach getting to know you and helping you to understand yourself in addition to exploring your career goals.

You can expect to undertake aptitude and personality tests with a career counselor and explore your interests and skills more broadly.

They will be a suitable option for anyone who:

  • Is considering changing career completely or feels unsure about their future
  • Has no cohesive or concrete goal in mind
  • Would benefit from learning more about themselves and their personality traits (such as a student/young person with limited life experience)
  • Has a longer time frame in which to explore career options
  • Has a lot of open questions to ask

The approaches of both a career coach and a career counselor can be an asset to those who need some direction and assistance navigating the job market.

It is best to take some time to consider your specific requirements and situation to decide which would be best for you.

Where to Search for Career Help

You can ask your local US Department of Labor (DoL) branch if they have a list of accredited career counselors or coaches and also check in with a nearby job center.

If you are a student, there may be a qualified career counselor on campus who can assist you.

You can also search online.

Some reputable websites have curated lists of career coaches. Consider what other qualifications the person lists, such as a degree in psychology, sociology or business.

Read on for more discussion of this.

Also, take note of other people’s experiences. Ask on local business forums or social media.

Getting genuine recommendations from people who have successfully used the services of a career counselor or coach is often a great way to find a suitable match.

How to Choose a Career Counselor or Coach
How to Choose a Career Counselor or Coach

What Qualifications Do Career Counselors or Coaches Need?

Research what qualifications and experience a potential career counselor or coach have before you decide to work with them.

Career Counselors

For a career counselor to work in an educational setting, such as on campuses, they are typically required to hold a master’s degree in counseling.

Career counselors are not obligated to hold a license; however many employers will require it.

A small percentage of career counselors are self-employed, and they are required to hold a license if they work in private practice. This is something you should definitely check for.

To become licensed, they would need to have completed a minimum of two years of supervised work within a clinical setting and passed a state licensing exam, in addition to finishing their higher education.

Also look for qualifications such as CCC (Certified Career Counselor, offered by the NCDA).

Career Coaches

To become a career coach, there are no standard qualifications or requirements you need to fulfill.

This means that someone can set up as a career coach with little or no experience or training. However, many successful business coaches will have a background within business and will have completed a higher level of education with at least a bachelor’s degree.

There are also certain accreditations that are well regarded within the business coaching community, and many coaches choose to enroll in ICF (International Coach Federation) accredited courses to appear more credible to potential clients.

Another alternative is the CCP (Coaching Certification Program, offered by the NACE).

New York University and Georgetown University offer popular career coach certification programs, costing upwards of $10,000.

Although it is not automatically the case, if you have found yourself a coach that has been willing to invest time and money in themselves and their own career, this is likely a vocation that they respect and believe in.

What Other Qualities Should I Look For?

Although accreditations and qualifications are an important factor to consider when choosing your career counselor or coach, you also want to keep in mind their skills and experience.

Someone who is just starting out may have had limited contact with clients and less practical experience, so you may feel more comfortable choosing someone who is well established with a significant list of past successes.

Conversely, you may feel that someone whose career is in its infancy may have fresh eyes, be able to better empathize with you, and have a more modern, innovative approach than a career coach or counselor who completed their training many years ago.

Ultimately, choosing a professional to help guide you through your career choices should be guided by your personal feelings as well as their reputation and qualifications.

An impressive client catalog and list of accreditations is meaningless if you do not feel that your career coach or counselor is listening to you or understanding your needs.

Successful career coaches and counselors should be:

  • Great listeners
  • Able to put you at ease and understand your concerns
  • Confident offering practical solutions

It is also imperative that they have excellent organizational and communication skills: it is likely that you will be approaching them during a time of uncertainty in your life so they will need to offer some structure and reassurance.

If you are not confident that a coach has an organized and thorough approach to their work, it is best to look elsewhere, as this casts doubt on their ability to help you to navigate your career path.

How Much Will a Career Counselor or Coach Cost

Fees vary significantly with this kind of service and a high price tag is not always a definitive way to identify the most successful coach or counselor.

Instead, set your boundaries and ask yourself:

  • What can I realistically afford?
  • Does the gain outweigh the financial cost?
  • Is this person providing value to my career?
  • Does this feel like an investment in my future?
  • Is there a way to get financial assistance? (Your school or college may be able to advise on this or provide free career services; you may also want to contact your state DoL)

If you are unsure about committing, it is advisable to consider a coach or counselor that offers the option to charge per session/hour or who offers an initial informal consultation.

Expect to pay upwards of $75 an hour and for an expert coach or mentor, you should anticipate being billed significantly more (up to $500).

Are Career Coaches and Counselors Worth It?

The answer to this is entirely subjective and will depend on various factors, including your personal and financial circumstances and the options available to you in your geographical area.

You would need to consider the merit of receiving professional and expert advice and the potential opportunities that may open up as a result (that you may struggle to achieve alone) versus the financial burden it would place on you and whether you can access a coach or counselor who is a suitable fit.

How Do I Narrow Down My Options?

You may feel overwhelmed at the amount of choice you are presented with when you begin an internet search, are given a list from a college, contact or colleague, or ask for recommendations in an online forum.

Here are some ideas on how to narrow down your options:


First, you may want to consider looking for someone who is based locally or within an easily commutable distance if you are someone who reacts best when meeting face-to-face.

If you feel comfortable communicating remotely, this may not be a high priority, but it always something to consider, especially as your coach or counselor needs to be able to become familiar with you, your personality, and your goals and aspirations to make this a successful pairing.


As coaches, in particular, often come from a multi-disciplinary background, it would make sense to find someone who has experience within your specific job area.

If you are working within a highly specialized field, it would benefit you to find someone who meets your needs, even if it means paying a higher rate.

If you have recently left education or wish to change the career you trained for, it may help to contact your former college to see if they offer career services to alumni.

This is sometimes offered for free or at a lower rate.

If you are feeling unsure about your career options, it may help you to gain some perspective by being in a familiar place or even seeing a familiar face to discuss your options with.


The affordability of career services is an important factor in choosing a career counselor or coach.

It will help if you can view the exchange as an investment in your future, though only you know your own budget constraints.

You need to be realistic in your expectations but also ensure you are not leaving yourself open to exploitation or in unmanageable debt, so set sensible limitations, do your research and trust your instincts.

Final Thoughts

There are many reputable and successful career coaches and counselors throughout the US that can offer a mix of advice, guidance and practical tips to help you navigate your way to a successful career.

If you have done some thorough research, including checking out their website, certification and credentials, exploring and comparing several options, requesting testimonials from previous clients, and setting aside a realistic budget, you are empowering yourself in the best way to make an informed decision.

If you feel you need help with reassessing your career or exploring your potential, at any stage in your life, it may be worth seeking advice from a professional career counselor or coach.

You could consider the costs incurred as an investment in your future, in the same way we might when accruing tuition fees, paying for workshops or purchasing tickets to attend business conferences.

In times of economic uncertainty, with college graduates facing unprecedented challenges within the job market, people working longer and retiring later, in addition to the constant reminder that we need to grow and adapt as a workforce, the demand for trained career counselors and coaches is only set to increase.

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