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Why Career Counselling is So Satisfying

by Susan Qadeer

 

Among “therapists”, career counselling may be the poor cousin of personal counselling. It is often seen as less interesting and less important, perhaps because there are fewer tears shed over choosing the right academic or career direction than there is over family breakdowns, relationship break ups and other personal upheavals. There are usually fewer surprises and deep secrets.

 

Often successful career counselling is accomplished in a few sessions and the outcomes can lead to quick but life changing decisions; this is not the usual trajectory for personal counselling.

 

Most people past adolescence develop a sense of what they are good at and how they may want to spend their working life. What they may not know is the name of that career, what they have to do to get there and whether it is even marketable or possible.

 

Therein lays the job of the career counsellor. This can often be accomplished through a few counselling sessions focused on history taking, interest testing, information sharing, and sometimes a creative leap by both counsellor and client. The result can be a satisfied client with a tentative plan.

 

History Taking

 

Taking a good structured career/academic history is just as important as taking a history in personal counselling.

 

You will first want to know why they have come for career counselling and what career solutions they have considered. You will go on and ask about a client’s academic likes and dislikes, their experiences as they progressed or didn’t through different grades, their reactions to paid or voluntary work and how they like to spend time. Their parents work and academic background would also be important to know since that is usually an influence on career choice whether its impact was positive or negative. You will want to inquire about a client’s perception of their abilities and their academic and personal strengths and weaknesses. This may also be the time to explore ideas on what they wanted to do as they grew up.

 

Taking a history gives you important information and clues to what may be possible in the future, based on interests, abilities, accomplishments, family expectations and motivation. Some discussion of disabilities helps clients refocus on strengths rather than invest in areas where disabilities are emphasized. Using a career background template helps you remember to ask all the important questions.

 

Interest Inventory

 

In the absence of psychometric assessments, we often use past grades or admission test scores to get a sense of a client’s achievement levels and abilities, but administering a simple, inexpensive interest inventory can be very useful in helping a client determine career direction. It takes little time and affords a good focus for discussion, while also confirming what clients already know about themselves.

 

It can also offer proof for parents who may be reluctant to support a son’s or daughter’s independent career decisions.  Some inventories like the Strong Interest Inventory have a long research history behind them.

 

Reviewing an interest inventory with a client is a bit like giving a gift; the gratitude from knowing them a little better is often followed by additional important client disclosures.

 

Information Gathering

 

Counsellors need to keep informed on the various academic and training programs, occupational forecasts and current events. The more a counsellor is aware of trends and requirements, the more they can suggest to clients to check on possible and lesser known programs.

 

The computer makes sharing some of this work together timely and efficient. Once a client has been shown how to find information, they are on their way to filling in information gaps such as seeking informational interviews, getting in touch with associations or schools, or checking on changes in the field.

 

Since information changes constantly, clients need to be comfortable with finding information and making sure it is accurate. Career counselling without this information gathering short changes the client and can lead to on-going floundering and/or poor decisions.

 

Creative Leaps

 

Clients tend to know little about occupations except for the ones they have had some personal contact with through friends and relatives. They may also be relying on the portrayals of careers through television and films.

 

An informed counsellor who has read widely about career directions, talked to those working in different fields and researched academic paths may be able to offer other ideas because she/he can see the relationship between what the client presents and possible academic or career paths.

 

After a good history taking, an interest inventory and information sharing, the client will probably be contributing at this stage with possibilities. The process thus far will likely free them to mention what earlier might have felt like impossible dreams or ridiculous choices. Even when you are working with failing students or discouraged workers, when you are generating multiple choices along with the client, sessions full of hope and possibilities. Counsellor enthusiasm is a catalyst for client enthusiasm.

 

The Plan

 

It is worrisome to have a client leave a career counsellor’s office with just one great plan. Sometimes life doesn’t work out as expected and Plan B or C is far more viable. A client may be enthusiastic when she/he finds a path she/he wants to pursue but may be quickly deflated when insurmountable obstacles appear.

 

Paths related to the ideal one should be fleshed out as should reasonable alternatives. I often ask at the beginning of career counselling, and again near the end, for the client to name three directions that look good to them. The difference is that the end usually looks more focused.

 

Personal counselling and career counselling both require clients to focus on what is their “true” self, what they want, what obstacles exist, what compromises are acceptable, what choices they have and how they might make changes. Delivering this service with attentive listening, knowledge, enthusiasm and generosity with ideas can result in a high degree of client satisfaction. When your client is satisfied, you are too.

 

Susan Qadeer has primarily worked with post-secondary students as a personal and career counsellor.

 

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