What a career counselor taught me about myself and my ‘perfect’ job

With the exception of a few ineffectual sessions with an in-house therapist at my college following a bad breakup, I had no experience with the counseling process when I made my first appointment to see a career counselor earlier this year. I had heard the gamut about counseling, though: it’s so helpful, it’s a total crock, it changed my life, it’s a waste of money. All I really knew was that I’d hit a wall with my own efforts to clarify my job goals, and seeking professional help seemed like a good next step.

When I first contacted my counselor, she suggested we speak on the phone for a few minutes to make sure it would be a good fit. I told her my central problem (“I’m interested in a lot of jobs and am having trouble narrowing down”) and she laid out a path to clarity: we’d take stock of my strengths and preferences, then match them up with careers that would put them to best use. Sold!


Talking to a career counselor can be like talking to an old friend - except you get job tips after some venting. (Photo credit: Linzi Clark)

Personal revelations

My counselor spent the lion’s share of our first 50-minute session taking a wide-ranging personal inventory of me. Questions went from “Did you go to a private high school?” to “What are your relationships with your siblings like?” By the end, I felt a little self-conscious from blabbing so much, but my counselor wanted to learn as much about me as possible. Toward the end of that first session, she asked what impressions I thought my parents’ working lives had made on me. As I thought aloud about it, I found myself saying, “They gave me a sense that there were no limits, but also that there was little direction.” After saying it, I realized that this one sentiment explained a lot about how I’d lived my life thus far. A good counselor can help draw you out and let you reveal for yourself factors and habits currently operating undercover.

Identifying themes

Another benefit of this kind of personal reflection was being able to tease out the strongest themes in my personality, with the goal of matching them to career possibilities. My counselor gave me a post-first-session homework assignment called “Seven Stories.” You jot down brief descriptions of 25 different times you can remember enjoying doing something, thinking you were doing it well, and feeling proud to do it. Not just one or two of those things; all three. Then you take the seven stories you like the most from the bunch and write a paragraph about each of them. The exercise takes time, but can quickly reveal some striking trends in personality. In my case, I immediately noticed themes of close personal relationships and a desire to help; in addition, my counselor picked up on the tactile nature of many of the stories, and on how most of the goals I reached came from me setting my own bars and reaching them.

After identifying themes like these, we moved on to more formal methods of personal data mining, including the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (for professional use only!). Using info from all these sources, we compiled a list of some of my strongest personality trends (artistic, extroverted, collaborative, intuitive), then dove into career matching. The Strong especially includes lots of cool matching tools, but there are other helpful sources available free to anyone online, including O*NET’s Interest Profiler (created by the U.S. Department of Labor).

The total picture

Something I found at first frustrating but then comforting throughout career counseling was my counselor’s contention that there are thousands of jobs any person can find satisfying, and by the same turn, there is no such thing as a job without drawbacks. So she emphasized that career search is not about finding the one magic title that will solve everything, it’s about matching your interests and skills as much as possible to a line of work. Kind of like Dr. Phil’s 80/20 rule.

In this vein, my counselor also appreciated that there’s a lot to every job that’s not in the description, but that affects its total scope tremendously. A doctor’s bio blurb might indicate his academic degrees and areas of specialty, but it won’t mention that it can be lonely running a private practice, that his office is a two-hour commute from his home, or that insurance paperwork takes up half his time. Another example comes from my counselor herself: she always enjoyed counseling, but it took her awhile of working with teens, then business school students, before she realized she would really feel most at home working with young professionals in the arts, which is her focus now. When searching for the right opportunity, pay attention to the kind of daily lifestyle (work environment, potential colleagues and peers, even seasonal changes, etc.) your work could entail.

A few notes on choosing a counselor

A trusted friend gave me the name of a counselor she’d seen and found helpful, and since my friend and I are a lot alike, I was confident that I’d see eye to eye with the person on at least some things; it turned out she was just the counselor for me. If you can’t get a recommendation, make sure to scour potential counselors’ websites for clues to their style, and ask for a ten-minute phone chat before you book your first appointment (if the counselor doesn’t suggest it first) so you can get to know each other a tiny bit before starting. If you’re not at ease with the person’s demeanor, or you feel they’re focused on different goals than you, take an initial pass and try someone else.

Career counseling can be expensive, no doubt about it. Frankly, I don’t think I’d ever spent so much per hour on any activity, except perhaps flying. And it absolutely stretched my budget. But for me, it was worth every penny. I consider it a great investment in the future, ounce-of-prevention style: the new ideas and methodologies I learned have streamlined my thinking, and will save me time and headaches down the road.

Tell us about your experiences with career counseling!

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Comments (6)

  1. WALTER C KIRUI writes:
    August 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm


  2. C writes:
    August 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Wow – your career counselor sounds great. Is there any possibility of getting their contact info?

  3. April writes:
    August 13, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Hi C,

    I did think my counselor was great! She can be contacted through her website: http://www.ilanalevitt.com/.

    Also, the National Career Development Association maintains a nationwide database of counselors and a helpful FAQ about choosing a good counselor for you: http://associationdatabase.com/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/consumer_find.

    All the best!

  4. Saint writes:
    August 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for the thought, every time I think about consular, I get turned off by how high and costly their prices are, higher than a medical doctor visit (and I am not insured), for something that I am not even sure would lead me anywhere. I have visited counselors at the county offices, they were “kind of” helpful but not that helpful to make me look for highly paid ones.

  5. Agil writes:
    August 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Becoming part of the helping prfosesion can be a highly rewarding job indeed! A licensed prfosesional counselor (LPC) is a highly versatile licensure. There are several areas you can work in, including state-run facilities and private practices. An LPC can provide family counseling, addiction treatment and behavioral counseling along with most of the other fields of specialization. This is one reason that this title is one of the most coveted. While you can specialize in a specific area such as LMFT (Licensed Marital and Family Counseling) or LMHP (Licensed Mental Health Counselor), the LPC title covers a wide array of work areas. If this is the path you want to journey down you first have to know where to begin, so let’s start at the beginning!What you need to get startedIt goes without saying that you must have a high school education in order to go to college for any major. If you have a GED, check out the availability of schools that will accept that in lieu of a high school diploma so you know exactly what your options are. This will prevent you from wasting your time applying at schools that will not accept you. In order to major in any counseling program, you first must take your core college classes (math, English, science, etc.). Depending on the course load you take on, these are usually completed within the first year of college. The next three years are focused on your major which if you want to become an LPC, should be psychology.The first yearsThe first four years of college will earn you a bachelor’s degree, and the best one to choose is a BS (Bachelor of Science). You can opt to get your BA (Bachelor of Arts) but graduate schools and employers generally prefer a BS over a BA, as the BS will have given you an education that had a degree of scientific concentration in it and, after all, psychology is a science. Your bachelor’s degree will prepare you for what is to come in graduate school. Yes, more school! If you want that LPC license, you must have a master’s or doctoral degree in your field. You can get all of your education in an online college or a traditional college, or a combination of both.I opted for the online degree, and the University of Phoenix was a fantastic experience for me. To find out more about UOP as well as on campus colleges that offer your desired program, take a look at that provides info on the top ten online and campus colleges that offer your desired program.Post-grad studiesAfter you earn your BS in psychology, your next step is to apply for grad school. You most likely do not want to get your master’s degree in psychology. After getting your bachelor’s in psych, it is a bit redundant and harder to find employment after graduation. To become an LPC, the best majors are Counseling or Mental Health Counseling. Your master’s program will be much more demanding (and rewarding) than your bachelor’s program was. Now you are into the meat and potatoes of your major and are actually learning about how to be a counselor instead of the basic psychology history and principles you learned in your BS program. In the master’s program you will learn theories, practice, and ethics of practice. You will also be required to do one or two residencies (the number depends upon the school’s requirements) as well as an internship. The internship comes at the end of your program and cannot be paid. The amount of hours required, again, depends on the university’s rules. For example: I am now at Capella University, and in order to graduate, I must complete 600 hours of internship: 300 supervised and 300 unsupervised. Yes, this sounds like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, it is very little time and also serves another purpose that is in your favor. In order to get your license, you must complete a certain amount of hours in internship or direct work. This amount varies from state to state, so be sure to check out your state’s LPC examination site. In North Carolina (where I live), you must have 2000 hours so through your college internship, you can subtract 600 of those required hours. To find out more about your state’s licensure requirements, check out . What’s the timing like?How much time it will take for you to obtain your degrees depends on how you choose to get them. At a traditional brick and mortar school, you can finish your BS in four years if you go full time. Your MS can be obtained in as little as three years at full time status. If you plan on attending an online college, though, things are more flexible. Going full time, you can complete your BS within four years but part time, it may take up to six. I highly recommend that you do full time if at all possible. This means taking two classes at once and is fairly easy once you get the hang of online learning. For your MS online, you can take up to six years to complete your courses. Taking two classes at once knocks this down to three years but keep in mind that your master’s program will be more demanding, and if you are an adult learner it may not be possible to take on a full time course load. Now that you know the basics of what is involved, if you still want to become an LPC, don’t hesitate get started right away! Just the act of learning itself was enough motivation for me, and it could be for you as well. Good luck!GD Star Ratingloading…

  6. vibhav writes:
    September 2, 2013 at 6:31 am

    This is the great post and also use full for the Career Counselor in Delhi.

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