I’ve often been asked, “What’s the difference between a career counselor and a career coach?” It’s a good question because people who seek career help will often see both terms used interchangeably. But the reality is, career counselors are not the same things as career coaches. Here are some of the main differences between career counselors and career coaches.
Looking Back vs. Looking Forward
Career counselors tend to look at their clients’ past experiences and focus on obstacles that may be causing their clients challenges in their careers or hampering their pursuit to find a job. For example, if someone is having trouble with the interview process, a career counselor can offer suggestions on how to overcome their interview fears and give tips on how to give a successful interview.
In contrast, career coaches focus on their clients’ current situations to create action plans and goals to move forward. Rather than spending time on what is not working, coaches look at where their clients want to go and how they can help get them where they want to be. Take, for example, a person who is dissatisfied with her current career. My coaching process is designed to figure out the future – whether this person should stay in her current career and, if so, how to make it better or whether she should consider moving on and, if so, where to and how. Rather than focus on what this person hates about her job, we will identify her strengths and skills, clarify her priorities and figure out what makes her happiest at work. We will also work together to identify what are her best accomplishments as a professional and what made them possible.
Job vs. Passion
A career counselor will take an educational approach at building tools for acquiring a job. A career counselor can help assess the current employment landscape (i.e. provide employment statistics, salary expectations, industry trends). They can also assist people with their resumes and cover letters and help them land their first interview. This approach is particularly helpful for people who are new to the workforce and are seeking entry-level positions.
While similar in many ways, career coaching focuses more on clients’ personal strengths, talents and values, and helps clients build their ideal career path based on these core factors. In my practice as a career coach, I try to work with people to help them find a career that will give them true purpose and satisfaction. Career coaching is based on the principle that if you are going to be spending eight hours or more a day at work, it might as well be doing something that you actually love.
Steps vs. Outcomes
A career counselor will assess their clients’ past and then help them take steps to address the obstacles or issues that are preventing them from making progress in their careers or career searches. For example, if a client is procrastinating about looking for a job, a career counselor will likely try to figure out why he seems to be stuck. The career counselor may determine that the procrastination has a deeper root somewhere else and will help talk the client through the experience and provide steps to make it easier for him to start the process.
A career coach is similar to an athletic coach. Career coaches assess where their clients are and encourage and challenge them to become even better. In my coaching practice, I focus on outcomes, results and accomplishments and then, together, we take practical steps to achieve my client’s goals. For example, if a client is looking for a new job, we set dates to get her resume ready, deadlines to write a compelling cover letter and a timeline to connect with a new person in her (or my) network. We focus more on what needs to be done today and tomorrow to move her forward in the process. Coaching is all about working on a strategy to help people think beyond what they would normally consider a good way to find a new career. Coaching will move clients into some form of action.
Both career counselors and career coaches can help people in their careers. There is no right or wrong or better or worse. Whether you are looking for greater insight into what is getting you stuck or you want an action plan to achieve your career goals, people should choose the approach that fits with their personal styles and ideas of professional and personal growth.
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