Career counseling and career guidance are similar in nature to other types of counseling, e.g. marriage or psychological counseling. What unites all types of professional counseling is the role of practitioners, who combine giving advice on their topic of expertise with counseling techniques that support clients in making complex decisions and facing difficult situations. The focus of career counseling is generally on issues such as career exploration, career change, personal career development and other career related issues.
There is no agreed definition of career counseling worldwide, mainly due to conceptual, cultural and linguistic differences. This even affects the most central term counseling (or: counselling in British English) which is often substituted with the word guidance as in career guidance. For example, in the UK, career counseling would usually be referred to as careers advice or guidance. Due to the widespread reference to both career guidance and career counseling among policy-makers, academics and practitioners around the world, references to career guidance and counselling are becoming common.Career counseling or career guidance includes a wide variety of professional activities which help people deal with career-related challenges. Career counselors work with adolescents seeking to explore career options, experienced professionals contemplating a career change, parents who want to return to the world of work after taking time to raise their child, or people seeking employment. Career counselling is also offered in various settings, including in groups and individually, in person or by means of digital communication.
Several approaches have been undertaken to systemize the variety of professional activities related to career guidance and counseling. In the most recent attempt, the Network for Innovation in Career Guidance and Counselling in Europe (NICE) – a consortium of 45 European institutions of higher education in the field of career counseling – has agreed on a system of professional roles for guidance counselors. Each of these five roles is seen as an important facet of the career guidance and counselling profession. Career counselors performing in any of these roles are expected to behave professionally, e.g. by following ethical standards in their practice. The NICE Professional Roles (NPR) are:
The Career Educator “supports people in developing their own career management competences”
The Career Information & Assessment Expert “supports people in assessing their personal characteristics and needs, then connecting them with the labour market and education systems”
The Career Counsellor “supports individuals in understanding their situations, so as to work through issues towards solutions”
The Programme & Service Manager “ensures the quality and delivery of career guidance and counselling organisations’ services”
The Social Systems Intervener & Developer “supports clients (even) in crisis and works to change systems for the better”There is no standardized qualification for professional career counselors, although various certificates are offered nationally and internationally (e.g. by professional associations). The number of degree programs in career guidance and/or career counseling is growing worldwide. The title “career counselor” is unregulated, unlike engineers or psychologists whose professional titles are legally protected. At the same time, policy makers agree that the competence of career counselors is one of the most important factors in ensuring that people receive high quality support in dealing with their career questions.Depending on the country of their education, career counselors may have a variety of academic backgrounds: In Europe, for instance, degrees in (vocational/ industrial/ organization) psychology and educational sciences are among the most common, but backgrounds in sociology, public administration and other sciences are also frequent. At the same time, many training programs for career counselors are becoming increasingly multidisciplinary.