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3 Times You Should Get Career Counseling

July 19, 2019 | Filed in: Your Career

Women today face more questions and decisions in the workplace than ever before, and we’ve been turning to career coaches and counselors to assist us in taking our next steps. Coaches and counselors help us identify professional challenges or roadblocks, find solutions, and reach our career goals. Often used interchangeably, coaches and counselors offer a variety of services, with some counselors specializing in areas such as resume writing or public speaking and some coaches assisting with long-term goal-setting and big-picture career visualization.

Jen Oleniczak Brown, founder of The Engaging Educator and Fearless Winston Salem, says coaches are beneficial if you need a second opinion. “Coaches are fantastic when you can’t see the forest because you’re stuck in the trees, essentially when you get bogged down in details when you’re looking for a new job, promotion, negotiation, raise, [or even when you’re dealing with larger events like] an industry change.” In other words, Brown explains, career counselors or coaches offer a different point of view, one that you won’t necessarily get from friends, co-workers, or family members.

When are some situations where career counseling can make a huge difference? Here are the three major ones that career counselors say they help with often.

1. When You Don’t Like Your Current Workplace Environment

Whether it’s a boss-zilla, a stifling corporate structure, or a gossipy co-worker, every woman faces challenges in the office. When you’re in the thick of a bad workplace situation, it’s easy to become so entrenched and invested in your way of thinking that it’s hard to see alternative solutions.

That’s where sessions with a career counselor or coach can come in handy. “An outside perspective —and one that isn’t your friend or family or partner—can give a fresh perspective,” Brown notes. Depending on who you hire, not only can a career counselor help you come up with a game plan for day-to-day interactions, but they can also discuss what your long-term goals are. Should you stay in your department or company, or transfer elsewhere? Is someone else causing these problems, or is much of your anxiety happening internally? These are the questions you’ll pursue.

2. When You Want to Make a Larger Career Transition

If you’re using a career counselor or coach to help you navigate a transition in your career, like a new job or industry, Alexa Shoen, founder and CEO of job search bootcamp #ENTRYLEVELBOSS, says it’s important to look at the long game. “Think about how urgent your need for change is—your timeline will affect what kind of coaching will be right for you,” she explains. “Career changes can’t happen overnight, as much as we’d all like them too!”

Since big career transitions themselves can take a long time to make, you’ll also need to keep in mind how long you want to employ the services of a coach or counselor and what sort of insight you want from them. Are you just looking for someone to offer a general outside perspective over the course of a few meetings? Someone to be more hands-on and offer industry-specific knowledge? Answering these questions will completely change the type of person you’re looking for. 

3. When You Come Back to Work After a Period of Leave

Whether you took time off from work for parental leave or to take care of a sick relative, coming back to the workforce can be an overwhelming task. A career coach or counselor can not only help you figure out practical next steps but also what you actually want out of your career post-leave.

It’s also important to remember that just because you hire a counselor or coach doesn’t mean he or she can wave a magic wand and make employment happen immediately. “Remember [that] so much of [the process] is you,” Brown explains. “A good coach won’t do it for you, they will guide you and help you, but in the end, you have to put in the work.”

How to Find a Great Career Coach or Counselor

So, what’s the first step to finding a great career coach or counselor? Shoen recommends drawing up a concrete list of what you hope to figure out by hiring someone. “Do you want to do a lot of self-discovery? Do you want to start your own business? Do you need help navigating office politics? Do you want to figure out whether or not an MBA is the right path for you?” she asks. “If you can write up a quick list of the questions that are keeping you up at night, you can better gauge which coaches will be the right fit for you.”

Once you know what your objectives are, it’s time to do your research and start having conversations with prospective coaches. Brown says it’s important that you get good vibes from a coach over the phone or in person and that you don’t simply select someone who sounds great on paper. “Don’t just hire someone off their website and stats; good coaches will put in at least a 15-minute free consultation to see if they can actually help you,” she notes.

And while there are some critical points when women typically look for career guidance, it’s also crucial to know that there’s no “wrong” time to invest in your career and reach out to someone. “Ask for help if you’re crying at work regularly, ask for help if you want to transition into another industry or department, ask for help if you had to take some time off and are trying to figure out how to jump back into the employment market,” Shoen explains. You won’t regret it.

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Lily Herman is a New York-based writer and editor who has written for Refinery29, Glamour, Teen Vogue, and other publications. You can learn more on her website: Read more of Lily's posts.

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