How to Become a Career Counselor in 5 Steps (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published December 7, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published December 7, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Career counselors are important counseling professionals that support their clients through career transitions, aptitude assessments, professional development and overcoming challenges to achieve goals. Becoming a career counselor requires considerable education, as many employers require these professionals to have a master's degree to enter the field.

If you're interested in becoming a career counselor, there are several important factors to consider. In this article, we'll explore the role of a career counselor, what they do, what the job outlook is and how to become a career counselor with some helpful tips so you can decide if this is the right career for you.

What is a career counselor?

A career counselor is a professional who applies career development theories and informal and formal assessments to help others identify and leverage their skills and abilities to achieve career goals. A career counselor often works with high school and college students, career veterans in transition and even military veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce. Essentially, career counselors will help individuals set career objectives, find ways to develop important skills and support others' overall professional and career development. Additionally, career counselors are important professionals who can provide others with the tools and resources they need to achieve their professional goals.

Related: What Is Career Counseling and Coaching?

What does a career counselor do?

Ultimately, a career counselor's responsibilities focus on helping others find purpose and apply skills and techniques to achieve career goals. When a career counselor works with someone, they typically take on a variety of responsibilities that help others meet these goals, including:

  • Evaluating and applying results of informal and formal career, personality and aptitude assessments to help others identify career fields that support these results

  • Assisting others in identifying the factors influencing their career development and providing resources and tools that aid in others' professional development

  • Counseling clients throughout their job search, including providing advice on education, training, development resources and tools for improving skills

  • Coaching clients in setting goals, planning out actionable steps to achieve their objectives and supporting their development

  • Conducting counseling sessions in individual and group settings and educating clients on career opportunities

  • Promoting self-advocacy, initiative and motivational techniques that help clients succeed in achieving their goals

  • Supporting clients through career development issues, including job stress, termination and issues that affect social policies and legislation

Related: Learn About Being a Guidance Counselor

What is the job outlook for a career counselor?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for both educational and career counselors will experience an increase of 8% over the next 10 years. This is much faster than the average job growth rate for many occupations, which makes career counseling a stable job field with plenty of prospective opportunities. Additionally, career counselors typically earn an average salary of $32,974 per year, with senior counselors averaging an income of $60,650 per year, making career counseling and advising a field where you can advance to earn a substantial income.

Related: 9 Types of Counseling Jobs to Consider

How to become a certified career counselor

Most employers require career counselors to hold a master's or other graduate-level degree to work in career counseling roles. The following steps provide an outline for how to pursue this career path:

1. Earn your bachelor's degree

Complete your bachelor's degree in a human services-related field, such as social or behavioral science, psychology or sociology. A four-year degree program that prepares you for working as a career counselor should focus on topics like human development, counseling methodologies and other psychological and sociological studies. You'll need these types of prerequisites to enroll in a master's program for career counseling.

2. Pursue your graduate degree

Most employers look for career counselors who hold master's degrees in counseling or career services. A graduate degree program for career counseling will build off of the prerequisites you covered in your four-year program, including career counseling theories and practices, assessment counseling, research practices and standards and ethics in professional counseling.

3. Gain work experience

Most educational programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels may require you to participate in an internship or practicum. These types of real-world work experiences can help you build valuable skills that you'll need in your career. Additionally, completing internships or practicums throughout your educational training will also help you gain applicable work experience that you'll need when entering your career as an entry-level counselor.

4. Obtain your certification

After you graduate with your master's degree in career counseling, you'll need to obtain your professional certification. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) administers the National Counselor Examination (NCE) which grants the Certified Career Counselor (CCC) credential. You may also need to obtain state licensure in order to practice as a career counselor, but not all states require this.

5. Keep your license current

You will need to renew your professional counseling certification every two to three years, or however often your state requires it. Typically, this means obtaining continuing education credits through development workshops, seminars and even research. The NCDA also requires continuing education to maintain your national career counseling certification, with a focus on development in the field of career services.

Related: How to Become a Life Coach

Tips for working as a career counselor

From strengthening your soft skills to applying specific strategies that support others in goal achievement and development, there are many responsibilities you'll take on as a career counselor. Consider the following tips for additional insight into working as a career counselor:

  • Develop your interpersonal and communication skills. These soft skills are crucial in a counseling role, as you'll be working with diverse individuals to help them set goals, achieve career objectives and sometimes even resolve conflicts and provide emotional support.

  • Learn how to apply specific techniques. Career counselors must rely on a variety of methods and techniques that help them gain understanding of their clients' needs. For instance, communication techniques like open-ended questioning and active listening are important when counseling clients. Assessment and evaluation techniques are also important for providing appropriate resources, tools and advice to your clients.

  • Take initiative with your personal development. If you feel you need to improve your skills, build on your current knowledge or apply professional development strategies to be more successful, it's important to take initiative to do so. Not only are you self-advocating your own advancement, but you're modeling this process for your clients, which can be motivational and influential for them.

  • Stay up-to-date with the job market. This will ensure you have current knowledge of various industries and career opportunities that match with your clients' skills, abilities and qualifications. Additionally, staying current in this regard will allow you to provide your clients with the most up-to-date resources and applicable tools for their job searches.

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