What can a vocational / career counsellor do for me, and are they worth it?
July 2, 2012 12:48 PM   Subscribe

What can a vocational / career counsellor do for me, and are they worth whatever they cost?

I'm a recent humanities PhD who is currently doing the whole adjunct thing but getting tired of it. I want to broaden my job-hunting net to include non-academic and alternative academic work, but I don't know much about what's out there.

I have been thinking about visiting a career counsellor, but am not entirely clear on what they will actually do. Does anybody have any experience with career counsellors? What did they actually do? Do they offer anything I can't get from reading and doing research on my own? How much did they charge, and was it worth it?

I don't particularly want to pay somebody to tell me I am an INFP and that I should consider becoming a teacher, or that I should pursue informational interviews, or that I should use "action verbs" on my resume, et cetera.

I have contacted a couple of counsellors in my area, and one has offered to meet with me next week. But I want to know what I'm getting into so I don't waste my time (and hers). Thanks.
posted by synecdoche to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, no. My mom paid Haldane $4000 to learn how to network. (I BEGGED her not to do it.)

I was lucky and I got all of this as part of a Union package about 20 years ago. I took all those tests and discovered that I had an aptitude for accounting. The phone company offered to send me to graduate school to get my MBA (free!) I took them up on that.

So now I do spreadsheet stuff for a living.

My feeling is, unless this testing will lead you to a free education, that you might not get much out of it.

A better use of time might be a head hunter in your field who might give you some guidance.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:56 PM on July 2, 2012

If you're an adjunct, you can probably take advantage of your school's career counseling center. I'm not even faculty, just staff, at a university, and I've made good use of their services. They're not just for sophomores trying to pick a major (hopefully; I guess it varies from school to school).
posted by Kriesa at 1:02 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've used my university's free career counselling services.

Stuff that's been kind of useful to me:

- Getting resumes/CVs/cover letters read by other people, especially in conjunction with a job description.
- Tips about how to prepare for interviews.
- "Networking" guidance (that stuff has always been kind of foreign to me.)
- Having an objective, external figure to whom I'm accountable.
- Encouragement.
- A database of informational interview contacts. (But if you hire a career counselor, they probably wouldn't make this available to you.)

I wouldn't pay for it, though. I haven't gotten anything monumentally useful from career counselling. There's only so much a counselor can do, right? It's sort of like therapy - they can provide support, but you have to do all the hard stuff.
posted by mellifluous at 1:11 PM on July 2, 2012

I have contacted a couple of counsellors in my area, and one has offered to meet with me next week.

WARNING! There be dragons. I have cold-called dentists, lawyers, doctors, shrinks and vets out of the phone book (or off the internet) and I would NEVER select a career counsellor without a personal referral. That's because the industry is overrun with fucking "life coaches" who now litter the universe.

My guy is great at helping me see what jobs my weird career history might actually get me hired for, and helping me to look at what I'd want in terms of work environment, responsibility and compensation. Working with those, he's also helping me to find a couple of low-hanging qualifications I can put on my CV that will make me a lot more hireable in particular areas, and when I eventually get there, will help me write a resume I'm really confident sells me into positions I'm excited about. If that's what you want, you need a careers counsellor who specialised in academics transitioning to the private sector. You should ask your network on LinkedIn and on Facebook for referrals.

My guy has been doing this for 15 years, works with people I know, and has authored more than 1 book on careers published by a major publisher. He does not have a life coaching qualification. He does charge a lot of money. If what you want is the kind of basic help mellifluous describes, then no it wouldn't be worth it. If what you need is someone to bootcamp your career, finding someone like I did probably would be.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few years back during a career transition, I paid $100 to a career counselor. Her office occupied a gothic old building above a men's club founded for businessmen during the Gold Rush.

She asked me if I was against the death penalty. I said, yeah, sure. She said, had I thought of working as a Death Penalty Mitigation Specialist? It would mean collecting positive and uplifting information about convicted murderers from their friends and family, in the hopes that it would make them look good at sentencing hearings. I said, uh, no, I don't know about that.

She said that this was just a start, and that next week we would "helicopter up" and look at other options. I didn't come back. I have gotten much more out of just researching on the Web, including in Ask Metafilter threads.
posted by steinsaltz at 2:49 PM on July 2, 2012

Depends on who you see. They can be good for helping you write a resume/cover letter and tailoring those for a job. They can possibly suggest areas to apply for. But if you're there to find out you're an INFP and like writing and art, then it's pretty useless. I wouldn't go to one to find out what I like to do so much, it's kind of a waste. Go to one who can direct you somewhere concretely.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:38 PM on July 2, 2012

Thanks, everyone. I went to the career counsellors' office at my school and I do indeed qualify for free service, not as staff but as an alumni, for up to a year after graduation. It was a basic intake appointment and involved some assessment, which revealed that I should be a... desktop publisher. Acting coach was also up there. (I've never acted in my life.) Okay.... Anyway, hopefully when I sit down to work a bit more with the counsellor one-on-one things start to be more productive.
posted by synecdoche at 2:13 PM on July 3, 2012

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