Our Point of View: It is Better to Volunteer!

by Sue Pressman and Tanya Bodzin

The nexus of this article started with a conversation about how hard it is for career counselors to get paid what they are worth and a comment about the nature of getting contract work with the Federal government. If corporations have a lock on the transition counseling opportunities at many government agencies then they are setting the counselor compensation rates. We believe the qualified career counselor should not accept an insignificant compensation but rather they should take the option of volunteering.

Shrinking Government
Due to a shrinking governmental workforce, more opportunities are developing for career counselors. Based on an article from the FedJobs.com e-Newsletter of February 2006 by Ross Harris and talk in the corridors, Uncle Sam is going to shrink its workforce because of the unchecked spending and tax cuts over the past five years. The Department of Defense, the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies who have not had their budgets funded will be cutting positions. On the other hand, the Department of Homeland Security anticipates hiring close to 4,000 new employees in 2007, and the Department of Commerce is planning on hiring more employees to work on the census and catch up with the backlog of patent applications.

As a general practice, Federal agencies contract with corporations which provide counselors rather than contracting directly with individual counselors. This saves time, energy and paperwork for the agencies. It is common practice for Federal agencies to look for the best value which often is interpreted as the lowest cost for their programs. They shop around for the best deal and this does not necessarily mean that they seek counselors with professional qualifications for their programs. As a result, several key corporations today hire career counselors who are willing to work at non-professional wages. This practice undercuts the professionalism of the career counseling field. It belittles the counseling professionals who maintain their credentials and hone their skills, keep abreast of the latest developments and resources in the field, and attend professional conferences to keep current. This practice makes it difficult for career counselors to earn a wage that is commensurate with their education, experience and credentials. This is not to say that every corporation or Federal agency follows these same practices. However, awareness of these practices is critical for the profession to raise the bar and maintain high standards.

Counselors: Know Your Worth!
Most counselors were never taught consulting skills or how to set career counseling fees. This has created a problem for the career counseling profession and a challenge for those of us who are trail blazing the way for the consulting aspect of our profession.

After learning what some firms were offering to pay professional counselors and the profit margins they pocketed at our expense, our response was "We would rather volunteer our services than belittle the status of our profession." Certainly, volunteering is noteworthy in and of itself, but being compensated for professional work and intellectual capital is one way we counselor/consultants can help raise the bar for our profession.

We urge career counselors to take a stand in demanding pay that is commensurate with other professionals in like professions. We recommend that graduate counseling programs, the American Counseling Association, the National Career Development Association and other branches with similar missions include presentations on the professionalism of career consulting and how to set their fees. We urge career counselors not to settle for a salary that belittles their professional stature. To accomplish this here are five easy steps you can take to help you know the going rates and also determine your bottom line:

  1. Do a little research to find out what career counselors are currently earning in your area. Calculate in the benefits and then divide it by the number of hours worked per year. That should give you a starting point for an hourly rate.
  2. Go to the Office of Personnel Management's website to learn more about Federal compensation: www.opm.gov. In the Federal government a certified career counselor would most likely be classified a GS-13 or above or compensated with a pay range of approximately $75,000.00 - $100,000.00 plus a benefits package with a value of $20,000 - $25,000.00 per year.
  3. Use the Federal pay scale as a benchmark to set your fees. Do some calculations to set your equivalent hourly rates keeping in mind that you will pay your own self employment taxes and social security benefits, etc. After taxes your take home pay will be reduced by about 40%.
  4. Compare what like professions are charging in your area. This includes coaches, psychologists, social workers. Those coaches who are charging $150.00 to $250.00 per hour are doing it for a reason. They take 40 percent off the top of their rate for Uncle Sam.
  5. When setting your fees, try to avoid the desperation game. Your skills are marketable and are in increasing demand.

And if there is a parting message from us today perhaps it is: don't be afraid to say "no" when you are offered a rate that is below your bottom line. In the overall scheme of things you will be respected and sought out for the higher paying projects because the greater message will be one of self-confidence and respect for our profession.

Sue Pressman, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, NCCC, MCC, GCDFI
Sue is the President of Pressman Consulting, LLC a certified woman owned small business based in Arlington, Virginia since 1992 whose largest client is the Federal government. She can be reached at drsue@pressmanconsulting.com. Visit her company website at www.pressmanconsulting.com.

Tanya Bodzin, MA, NCC,NCCC, MCC, and certified international job search coach is an independent career consultant who has worked on contracts in the Federal government for more than 20 years. She can be reached at coachtanya@aol.com.

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