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What does a good career counselor do?
March 30, 2014 2:42 PM   Subscribe

I have felt stuck in my career for a long time. Disregarding my better judgment, I took the advice of someone I trust and decided to see a career counselor. The experience went very poorly in my opinion and served only to reinforce my disbelief in the value of career counselors. But, I'm still feeling stuck, so I want to see what the hivemind's collective experience has been.

Background: 28 yro male in NYC.

The person I saw billed himself as a "career psychologist." He is a licensed psychologist but he is not a therapist. He used to work as head of the career services office of one of the better business schools in the city. He is very structured, selling his time in four-session packages.

I made an effort to put as much into things as I could. He assigned homework that I spent many hours completing. During our third session he reviewed the results of my Myers Briggs and Strong Interest Inventory exams.

The Myers Briggs revealed that I am an INTJ and the Strong Interest Inventory said that I'm basically only interested in technical subjects.

The Myers Briggs came with a list of suggested career fields based upon my personality. With only a few exceptions, they were all fields that, for me to enter, would require a great deal of additional schooling. Meanwhile, during my initial consultation with the counselor he had assured me that I wouldn't need to go back to school for more than a class or two.

It bears noting that the day of the third session, I was suffering from a depressive episode that had started a few days prior due to unrelated work matters (stress related). I told him that it would be a while until I went back for my fourth session as I needed to treat my depression and work issues are a trigger for me.

I recovered from the depressive episode and scheduled the next appointment. However, I was very distressed by the homework for that final session. (This homework assignment is provided at the end of this question for reference.)

It basically gave me a panic attack and made me really upset with the counselor. I was left with the feeling of having spent hours on homework for him, listing my values, skills, the books I like to read, etc. All of this work felt discarded. It felt like the first two or even three sessions I paid for didn't matter at all. Instead, all that really mattered was what came back on the Myers Briggs and meanwhile the careers listed on it were not practicable for switching into.

I am wondering whether my experience was typical, or if the person that I saw was a charlatan. I am also wondering whether people have had positive experiences, and if so what specifically those experiences were.
CAREER ASSESSMENT SUMMARY

1. List your six to eight strongest and most enjoyable skills:

2. List your six to eight most important career values:

3. What is your Life/Career Purpose now?

4. List your current career interest(s); you may list more than one, but, limit yourself to no more than six.

CAREER EXPLORATION

5. List careers you want to explore; you may list more than one, but, limit yourself to no more than six.

CURRENT CAREER FOCUS

6. List the career from your ‘career exploration’ that best ‘fits’ you.

7. Using your skills, values, interests, etc. list all the reasons why the career chosen in question 6 is the best fit for you.

8. What are your strongest and most threatening external and internal barriers to career change? External barriers may include: fierce competition, insufficient education, training and/or certification, finances, weak job market. Internal barriers may include: fear, confusion about how to strategize a career path, lack of confidence, perfectionistic, risk aversion. The key to dealing with career barriers is recognizing them and taking action.

CURRENT CAREER STRATEGY AND IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

9. How and when will you move towards actualizing your chosen career? List the specific activities and behaviors you will use to keep you motivated and focused on your career goal? Be as specific as possible. Include benchmarks. Think of yourself as an independent company called YOU Inc. Develop a personal ‘business plan’ to organize, fund, launch and market YOU Inc. Have fun!

posted by prunes to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't get what's charlatanesque about any of this. The only thing that concerns me is that she didn't remember that you don't want to go back to school, and maybe that's a big gaffe. What happened when you corrected her on that?

It sounds as if you're not in the greatest emotional place to be doing this sort of self-assessment at the present time, and that that's the biggest obstacle.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:58 PM on March 30


Psychologists use tools to collect data and provide results.

Your sessions sound pretty standard and possibly more helpful than most.

The objective is to provide you with ideas - so if it's just a ballpark idea. Also keep in mind that they're going to tend to give you aspirational results because that's how society is geared - they're going to advise you toward more prestigious positions that require more study. You might need to do extra research on careers in that area that don't require further study. But use the results as a guide.

The main issue here seems to be the unrelated work stress and I recommending seeing someone about that so that is doesn't continue to dominate your life. I think then you'll be in a better position to look at your career intentions.
posted by heyjude at 3:25 PM on March 30


Why does the last piece of homework make you feel that the previous sessions and homework were for nothing, and only the test results matter?
posted by bunderful at 3:25 PM on March 30


I'm throwing the word charlatan around because I feel like all the career counselor did was have me take the MBTI and tell me what I already know: that I have an analytical mind and that I like science and computers. There was nothing to actually help get from point A to point B. Nor even anything related to helping me decide what point B is. Instead I was given a list of unrealistic, broad career fields and told to pick one.
posted by prunes at 3:25 PM on March 30 [4 favorites]


That last piece of homework seems to address the concerns you listed in your follow-up -- you were asked, after doing the foundational work with the counselor, to summarize your skills, your goals, and your values, and to generate a list of careers you might be interested in, then to pick one of your self-generated careers and evaluate what skills or training or confidence you would need to pursue it, then to create a plan to work toward it.

I think maybe you're reading the homework as asking you to choose from the list of careers generated by the MBTI, rather than asking you come up with your own list. That doesn't seem to be the case -- to me, it looks like it's specifically asking you what fields you're interested in, after exploring some possibilities with the counselor, but is not limited to fields suggested by any other person or test.
posted by jaguar at 4:25 PM on March 30 [1 favorite]


Hey there. IAAUCC, but NYCC. (I am a university career counselor, but not your career counselor).

My generous interpretation is that your working relationship with the counselor is 'bad fit', because what the counselor is offering and the way he offered it doesn't entirely mesh to your needs. Briefly: are sort of offering to walk you through a career counseling overview, which isn't helpful because you sound like need a very specific thing unpacked for you: Specifically, it sounds like you need someone to teach you how to identify and explore what career options are available to someone with your skills and interests.

The longer answer is this:

I wrote about choosing a career counselor/coach in a previous post. Basically, I think career counseling breaks down into four stages:
1. Self Exploration: What are my values, what is meaningful to me? What am I good at?
2. Career Exploration: What are career paths where I experience those things I value/am good at?
3. Job Search Strategies: How to I present myself as a strong candidate for those positions?
4. Professional Skills: I got that job, now how do I establish myself in my new job and succeed?

It sounds like your career counselor was trying to get you through the first three stages in four hours worth of counseling, which is ambitious. It sounds like what would have helped you is not a myers briggs, because the issue wasn't self exploration for you (it sounds like you know what is meaningful to you and what you are good at). It sounds like you would have preferred your counselor drill down on stage 2: Career Exploration.

In fact, in your case, I could see four appointments just exploring and discussing the information and skill development involved in Career Exploration, which covers things like - how do I identify 5-10 job titles that are a fit with my interests? Specific job titles, not overall career paths. A job title is something like a "QA compliance specialist at Merck" (I'm assuming you have a BA/BA in something science related, and that is a position that usually requires a BA/BS or MS). A career path, which the MBTI is more known for, is something like 'engineer' or scientist' - it's a little general.

It sound you would have also appreciated understanding questions like: What does it mean to 'explore a career option'? How can I use linkedin to find opportunities? Professional associations? What does it mean to use 'my network'? What is an informational interview and how can I use it to get valuable information? What's the etiquette to approach people? What does the correspondence look like? How do I use the information I glean from those conversations? And after all that when I identify potential jobs, what exactly does it mean to 'research' them to assess that they are a good fit based on my values? What happens if there are 2-4 different possible paths that seem interesting? How to I choose? Ultimately, what criteria should I use to assess that I have successfully explored and identified career options that are a good fit for me?

And that would be totally separate from say, you finally focusing on 1-3 different potential jobs, as that moves you into Job Search Strategies. Which includes information from his last question ( How and when will you move towards actualizing your chosen career? List the specific activities and behaviors you will use to keep you motivated and focused on your career goal?) Except I'm assuming if you knew what activities would be most effective, or what moves would be useful, you'd be doing them. So it sounds like for the job you actually pick when you pick it, you'd have liked to have known what professional steps were needed to move into that field. Perhaps you thought he'd tell you.

As I said in that earlier post, almost all of the career counselors I know are either wide but not deep, or more interested and skilled in helping folks in one of the four stages. So based on what you've said, I'd say less 'charlatan' and more 'bad fit', because your counselor may be the 'wide but not deep' type of counselor who provides an overall framework rather than skill development around a specific stage. Or they are a counselor who really, really likes stage one: self assessment in general, more than being knowledgeable or interested in helping you navigate the other stages. (For example, he may not know specific job titles. ).

Finally, as for your friend who recommended him, try not to be too hard on them, because what the counselor was offering (that overall framework and a lot of self exploration with a MBTI) may have been perfect for them. Or, perhaps that person was going into business, and the counselor could rattle off a kazillon job titles because they worked at a business school. Please know that almost all counselors are specialized. For example, I can name about 5 job titles for graduates out of business school. Maybe three for the arts? But I can rattle off a number of job titles and discuss career paths as well, but only for folks who cluster in the health professions/life sciences/global health/international development/international affairs, because that's my area.

I'm a career counselor at a university. I don't take on private clients. And I do not know the counselor you saw, who could be phenomenal. But I will say that if I was that counselor, and came out of a business environment, after an initial conversation, if I knew that you were was pretty self aware about what you were good at, and wanted to know about career options where you would use that math/science/analytical interest (and my background was in business), I probably wouldn't have taken you on as a client, unless you had specifically said that you were interested in pursuing a business focused career. Because I don't think I'd really be able to help you in the way you wanted (with specialized insight into career exploration into those careers). But that's just me. But I will say that I think that final piece of homework was way too much to ask for in one go. That there is like an outline for a day long career seminar, and even if you did answer all of the questions, it would take me longer than an hour to unpack with a person.

So, in short - not charlatan. But bad fit?
posted by anitanita at 4:31 PM on March 30 [21 favorites]


It's not clear to me whether you have attended the fourth session yet or not.
posted by bq at 5:26 PM on March 30


I think this guy's a glib charlatan. First, because although the Myers-Briggs is often used as an indicative [thing] in career counselling, it's not a psychometrically valid assessment of personality. It's surprising to me that a licensed psychologist would use it, at all, or without serious hedges qualifying it as a tool to prompt reflection (or something); further, that he would privilege it over your considered reflections (or, a valid assessment). I think the Strong Inventory is good, though. (It's at least normed and more or less validly reflects congruence between your vocational and avocational interests and those of people who've worked in their careers for I think 3 [or 5? can't remember] years, who claim to be satisfied with your work. It does reflect some cultural differences and only maps to a small proportion of the possible jobs out there, but it is not a bad starting point. But just a starting point.)

Second, I agree with you that the point of a counsellor should be, at the very least, to help you integrate your reflections with any test results, etc. (That might, even in the absence of normed personality tests, even using Myers-Briggs, be the real value of a good career counsellor.) Why ask you to do all that homework and just ignore it? I mean even if he's claimed to do more of the exploratory type of stuff vs. helping you pragmatically work out a path, he's done a poor job of the first imo.

Third, I agree that it was (at least) careless of this psychologist to ask a person who identified him/herself as in the midst or emerging from a depressive episode to consider his question #8. In the best condition, that should have been prompted in a more thoughtful way, imo. It's just a list of adjectives, which seem kind of unhelpful for nondepressed people, and triggering for someone with current problems.

I have had a reasonably good experience with a career counsellor (not in the US). This person didn't 'solve it' and didn't use formal assessments, but gave me useful exercises, explained them well, and engaged thoughtfully with what I came up with, focusing on what mattered to me.

So yeah, I'd say you got a raw deal here. But as anitanita's post (and existence) shows, there are good people out there doing this work.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:01 PM on March 30


Meaning, he didn't do what a psychologist is uniquely trained to do (valid assessments), and he didn't do what a good career counsellor does (help you think things through).
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:13 PM on March 30


Post follow up - yeah, bad fit. You want something more in-depth. They just don't meet your needs. Keep in mind lots of people just want the "tell me what I should look at doing" and that's why they provide these services, and they rush through it because a lot of people just want answers immediately. They use MBTI because it's known and not obscure. You seem to want someone who provides a more sophisticated service.
posted by heyjude at 6:15 PM on March 30


In light of these people telling you he did a bad job, it's worth considering whether he somehow told you that four sessions was going to be enough to deal with your individual issues. From what you're saying, I'd guess that another four to eight sessions would be necessary to help you get on the track you want. Just because the guy sells sessions in four-block chunks doesn't mean four sessions are enough.
posted by jaguar at 8:41 PM on March 30


I feel like all the career counselor did was have me take the MBTI and tell me what I already know: that I have an analytical mind and that I like science and computers. There was nothing to actually help get from point A to point B. Nor even anything related to helping me decide what point B is. Instead I was given a list of unrealistic, broad career fields and told to pick one.

In my experience, this is how career counseling tends to go. I suspect it works better if you go in with a goal like "Let's work on my resume and cover letter to tailor it to this specific job I am applying for" or "How do I get to become management? What can I start doing to boost myself in this area?" If you come in all airy-fairy and "I don't know what I want, other than it's not this," that's why they give you the silly tests that pretty much tell you what you already know about yourself. I doubt the MBTI has ever told anyone that likes art that they secretly have a passion for accountancy they didn't know about.

And the career counselor shouldn't have ruled out more schooling in any suggestion at the start. LOTS of careers involve "go back for more schooling." But it's up to you to rule them out.

But I will say that if I was that counselor, and came out of a business environment, after an initial conversation, if I knew that you were was pretty self aware about what you were good at, and wanted to know about career options where you would use that math/science/analytical interest (and my background was in business), I probably wouldn't have taken you on as a client, unless you had specifically said that you were interested in pursuing a business focused career. Because I don't think I'd really be able to help you in the way you wanted (with specialized insight into career exploration into those careers).

That is also pretty much how it goes. I wouldn't claim the guy is a charlatan, but career counseling--or any kind of counseling, I suspect--really doesn't work for the person who doesn't know what they want on their own before they get there. All the guy can do is hand you a list of related careers and you can look at them and go "Meh, I don't want any of that," and that's about how it goes. Same sort of experience that you can have yourself with a career book or the Internet or talking to your parents or friends or shrink. I've stumped every counselor I've ever seen this way when I didn't come in already knowing what I wanted. But when you think about it....they can't help you if you don't know how to tell them to help you. No other human can help you figure out what you want because they're not you.

If you haven't gone to the appointment already (it's unclear), I don't think going to it will make anything magically different for you than how things are going now. The bottom line is that YOU have to pick a goal all on your own, not the counselor.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:44 PM on March 30 [2 favorites]


...and Miko had a nice summary of her career counseling experience.
posted by anitanita at 11:14 PM on March 30


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