Great Expectations for Career Counselors
by Peter Manzi
Counselors’, Students’ and Clients’ Views
I began with views of other counselors, and then those of several graduate students in a career development course at Buffalo State College. I also questioned several clients, and reviewed two journal articles (Career Development Quarterly and Journal of Employment Counseling* ) about client attitudes and client and counselor expectations for career counseling. The discussion of client expectations is based on many settings, but those in independent practice are likely to encounter them in their own offices.
Counselor’s view. Jack Bland, an Employment Counselor and Professional Service Group Facilitator in a One-Stop Career Center in New Jersey, said clients expected to “be affirmed in the occupational category they are seeking employment in… to have the counselor reiterate or emphasize their most salient skills and qualifications.” Another counselor said that clients often want the counselor to use assessments to help identify careers the client has not considered (“better choices”) or to help them implement new goals. “Providing encouragement and motivation is very important” said Betty Smith, a senior counselor at Monroe Community College (www.monroecc.edu) in Rochester, New York. “Really listening and hearing what the client says brought them here helps them buy into the career counseling process… which involves creative and steady work.” Betty, working in a community affected by layoffs, sees the need for realism in career expectations, a tough balancing act when “you encourage clients to “go for it.” Pat Mikols, a colleague of Betty’s, said she is seeing more traditional students, “who are scared to death of making the wrong decision in a major or career.”
Student’s perspective . One graduate student felt a career counselor should “tell me the employment outlook and provide resources to build my skills if necessary.” She added, “I want the counselor to be knowledgeable about the community in which I live … and in areas of interest related to my skills and abilities.” Another student offered this wish list: “strong communication skills, being trustworthy, ethical, be active and involved, knowledgeable about many career fields, know how to use technology, resourceful, a sincere or true desire for helping, and most of all, to challenge and empower the client.” Another student said the ability to work with a diverse population, having specialized training, having a master’s degree and license, and being able to demonstrate full knowledge of the field would be needed. A few students cited NCDA, but also included what they expected as past or potential clients. One other student opined that being honest and truthful was critical, citing a bad experience with a counselor who acted knowledgeable but “gave me a lot of bad information.” Underscoring this, one non-traditional undergrad valued field-specific knowledge to “prepare for entry and advancement … because fields have ever-changing buzz words and expectations for employees.”
Client’s take. One of my young adult clients expected me “to assess my strengths and weaknesses, help me find a direction, and also show me where I could put my skills and talents to best use.” She added, “A counselor should have a broad understanding of the skills needed to be successful in the workplace, and to have empathy.” A male client appreciated the role of technology in uncovering new fields (re: Strong and MBTI reports), and also “to avoid stressful jobs, because I choose to spend quality time with my family.” Another client liked when “you gave me extra time to set my agenda.” One 60 something client indicated that flexibility in meeting, including Internet use, “quick responses to requests”, were helpful. One AA female client said she expected her career counselor to have an advanced degree, certification, and to be active professionally.
Furthermore ... These compelling comments highlight the importance of a good relationship with a counselor with in-depth training, cultural awareness, experience, field knowledge, and a strong desire to help the client. The two journal articles examined client attitudes and expectations regarding career counseling. They echoed similar counselor and client expectations, but also raised a significant new one; the need for clients to have realistic expectations about their roles and responsibilities in the counseling process. No matter how ardent and skilled the counselor is the client has to buy into the process for counseling to work. Having a counselor adopt an expert role can be disempowering and too often was a formula for a poor outcome. A client once asked me to “wave your magic wand” to help him make good decisions. In jest, I asked him where I could get one, for myself as well. For many clients an internal locus of control (not hocus-pocus) is associated with career satisfaction. With clients with collectivist values ( e.g., family-rooted decision-making), the client can be the best family “actualizer.” Whatever the values base of a client, it makes sense to appraise his or her expectations and motivation for career counseling, at the onset, during and following a counseling relationship. The client’s work ethic, perhaps ironically, may never have more value than in a career counseling relationship.
Journal of Employment Counseling. Volume 38(2), June 2001, pp. 82-90
Career Development Quarterly, Volume 52(4), June 2004, pp. 309-322
Peter Manzi, Ed. D, NCC, NCCC, MCC, CDFI is a part-time faculty member in counseling and education and a full-time vocational consultant and counselor, who resides in Rochester NY. His interests include technology in counseling and career development and education, working with diverse populations, people with disabilities, and the relationship between mental health and career development. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org