In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

A large number of counselors work in community or governmental agencies. Many counselors work in state employment departments and in federally funded position created by the Jobs Training Partnership Act. I spent five summers counseling and advising youth and unemployed adults in a large agency in Oregon.

Degree Required

BA/BS and master’s degree in counseling for career mobility.

Issues to Understand

Before I began providing career and vocational counseling to the unemployed, my image of career counseling was that it was a low-stress job and a “fun” type of counseling. I had provided career counseling in a college setting to traditional age students who were excited about their careers. Their excitement was in part due to their being on the front end of their work career. Many unemployed adults in their mid-30s to mid-50s who had experienced downsizing, being fired, and a low wage/no-benefit job had a very different perspective.

As a career or vocational counselor, you will encounter people who are either unemployed or underemployed (working below their education, training, and experience level), and those unhappy in their career for other reasons. Career dissatisfaction can lead to depression, increased anxiety, and a decreased sense of life fulfillment (Krumboltz, 1992). Career counselors are then, in effect, providing a type of mental health counseling.

Best Aspects of the Job

Effective career and vocational counselors are professionals who enjoy their job and see themselves assisting people to have more enjoyable, fulfilling work lives. Career counseling can also be very creative and involve the use of helpful assessment instruments such as the Self-Directed Search, Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery, Campbell Interests and Skills Survey, and many others. Assessment, counseling, and collaborating with clients can help counselors craft a holistic approach to career counseling. Some clients, especially young, well-educated ones, will enthusiastically engage in counseling and assessment and will have success in their job search.

Challenging Aspects of the Job

My first significant task as a career counselor was to assist my more experienced colleagues in interviewing some 300 people who had just lost their jobs when a timber mill had closed. While interviewing scores of these displaced workers, I found there were naturally divergent views among them: A few were excited by the opportunity to do something different; several, especially those close to retirement, saw it as an opportunity to work part time and do volunteer work; and most seemed to be very anxious over their sudden unemployment and felt pessimistic at being able to land a job that paid as well. Career counselors will often work with people who feel defeated by life circumstances, betrayed by employers, and jaded from having bounced from one low-wage job to another. Some unemployed people will actually project their anger and frustration onto the counselor, viewing the counselor as a symbolic representation of “the system.”

Occupational Outlook

Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not compile statistics on career counselors, my experience is that this is a viable field. State, federal, and private human service agencies frequently hired counselors as counselors are natural professionals when it comes to working with the unemployed and underemployed. Regarding salary range, my best estimate would be low $30,000 to mid $40,000, depending on education, experience, and agency. Management and supervisors will likely exceed this general salary range.