What Does a Career Counselor Do?

career counselor meeting with client in office

In a study of job satisfaction rates among Americans, the Pew Research Center found that 30% of respondents view their work as “just a job to get them by” rather than as a meaningful, fulfilling career.1 This is unfortunate, since work accounts for roughly one-third of the average person’s life.2

Given the importance of career satisfaction, it is perhaps not surprising that career counselors are in high demand. Continue reading this detailed guide to discover what career counselors do.

In This Blog:

What Is Career Counseling?

The ultimate goal of a career counselor is to help clients land jobs they find meaningful, satisfying and financially agreeable. To accomplish this, career counselors work closely with their clients, identifying their strengths, weaknesses and interests and researching career possibilities and job openings.

However, career counselors do more than simply hand out personality questionnaires and check job postings. These professionals help clients envision themselves in various roles. They also improve their clients’ practical skills in building resumes, writing cover letters, interviewing for positions and conducting themselves professionally and effectively in the workplace.

In short, career counselors act as advisors, coaches, confidants and instructors. They provide customized help to each client, tailored to meet each individual’s needs and goals.

What Does a Career Counselor Do?

Many career counselors work with students of varying ages, while others work with separated military service members, people undergoing career transitions and individuals who have sustained permanent disabilities and can no longer fulfill their previous job duties. Since career counselors serve such a range of populations, their typical daily routines vary with the nature of their work environment. In general, however, these professionals may perform any of the following tasks:

  • Administer personality and career tests to assess clients’ career aptitudes and interests
  • Identify career possibilities and educate clients about these options
  • Provide referrals to community resources, such as job training opportunities and educational programs
  • Help clients identify nearby job openings and internship opportunities
  • Assist clients in creating resumes and cover letters
  • Teach clients effective interviewing techniques and hold mock interviews

Career counseling professionals customize their services to meet the needs of individual clients. Those who work in schools will focus more on students’ academic progress, while those who work in social service settings with adult clients will focus more on conducting job searches and assisting with interviewing. Consider the following roles as you discern what kind of population you might like to work with.

  • Elementary school counselors: Counselors who work with elementary-aged children focus primarily on developmental needs. They may work with teachers and school administrators to ensure that curriculum and enrichment programs support healthy child development. They may also meet with parents to brainstorm solutions to a child’s challenges.
  • Middle school counselors: Middle school is a time of transition. Counselors who work with students at this stage primarily help them learn and apply practical skills that will help them later in life, such as time management and decision-making. These counselors also help students stay on track academically and begin thinking about their future careers and academic goals.
  • High school counselors: In this setting, there is a greater focus on college and career planning. The primary goal of high school career counselors is to help students become better positioned to thrive after high school. To that end, they help students identify higher education opportunities, explore vocational training programs, find internships and shape career goals.
  • College advisors: Career counselors fulfill an important need on college campuses and in online higher education institutions. They may help students choose a major, find an internship, develop job interviewing skills and put together a resume. College career counselors may also work with the school’s alumni when they want to change careers or simply find a new job.
  • Career coaches: Some career counselors work with people who have already entered the workforce but need a new job or want to make a career transition. These clients might also need help with resolving workplace issues or finding vocational training opportunities.

As you can see, the day-to-day lives of career counselors largely depend on what kinds of clients they serve.

How to Become a Career Counselor

Now that you know what career counselors do, you may be wondering how to become a career counselor yourself. Before you begin working toward this career, it is always a good idea to check whether the state in which you plan to work has any specific requirements. Some states do have licensing requirements for career counselors in private practice, and all states require that counselors in public schools obtain a state-mandated credential.

After evaluating the requirements for your state and considering whether you would like to become a counselor in a public school, the next step is to plan your academic track. If you are still in high school, visit your school counselor to discuss your career plans and find out whether you can add relevant coursework (such as psychology classes) to your schedule. Since your school counselor is doing the kind of work you are interested in, you may also wish to ask them some questions about your intended career path.

The next step is to choose an undergraduate degree program. There is no single designated major for aspiring career counselors. People come to this profession from many different backgrounds and areas of specialization.

In general, however, a psychology major is a smart choice. Students earning a psychology degree explore cognitive and behavioral patterns, socio-emotional influences and similar matters. In-depth knowledge in these areas is helpful for career counselors as they assist clients in navigating important life choices.

In the course of your studies, you will take a detailed look at pediatric and adult development, societal influences on human behavior and behavioral theories of personality. You will also explore cognitive neuroscience, including the neural processes that affect decision making. During your senior year, you may have the opportunity to complete a professional capstone course, which will involve a major research project that ideally focuses on a topic related to your career aspirations.

Upon graduating, you will need to earn a master’s degree if you intend to become a public-school counselor or if your state requires all career counselors to hold a graduate-level degree. It is a good idea to stay with your chosen course of study and earn a master’s degree in psychology.

If your interest is in becoming a school counselor, you should look for a master’s degree program that focuses on school counseling and leads to initial licensure. An example would be a Master of Education in School Counseling (MEd degree). Another option is to choose a psychology degree with an emphasis in life coaching, as this relates closely to career counseling.

The program you choose may require you to complete an internship or a certain number of supervised practicum hours. These will help you meet any work experience requirements established by your state.

The next step is to complete any other state requirements and apply for certification or licensure, which may involve passing a test. Aspiring school counselors are also typically required to undergo a criminal background check.

What Are the Essential Characteristics and Skills of a Career Counselor?

Throughout your academic journey toward your chosen career, you can begin actively cultivating the skills and characteristics that are essential for effectiveness in this role. Two important characteristics are empathy and compassion, as you will often find yourself working with clients who are undergoing difficult situations and challenging life transitions.

Other important skills and traits include:

  • Interpersonal skills: It’s crucial for career counselors to develop a strong rapport with each client. This takes skill since clients may come from all walks of life.
  • Communication skills: Being a proactive listener is as important for a career counselor as clearly communicating information in speech and writing.
  • Analytical reasoning: Career counselors work with a great deal of raw data, including academic records, personality assessments, vocational assessments and career profile information. It’s essential to be able to analyze and interpret the data competently in order to help clients find careers that are appropriate for their skills and relevant to their interests.

Where Do Career Counselors Work?

In 2019, school and career counseling jobs in the United States totaled about 333,500, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The largest sector employing these professionals was elementary and secondary schools, both public and private.*

Tips for Landing Your First Career Counseling Job

After graduating with your career counseling degree, it’s a good idea to explore membership in professional organizations. Being a member in good standing of a professional organization can enhance your resume. In addition, these organizations typically offer job-finding resources, such as a profession-specific job board and networking opportunities.

Some organizations to consider joining include the following:

  • National Career Development Association
  • American School Counselor Association
  • American Counseling Association
  • National Employment Counseling Association

In addition, you can look for statewide or regional organizations in your area. After joining one or more professional organizations and making good use of their job-finding resources, another step to take is to reach out to your former internship supervisor or employer to find out if they have any openings. While you’re looking for a job, consider taking on a relevant volunteer role to bolster your resume and build professional connections while giving back to your community.

Is There a Demand for Career Counseling?

Choosing a vocation is one of the most significant decisions people make in their lifetime, and it’s often not an easy decision to make. Accordingly, there is a strong demand for qualified career counselors in schools and in private practice.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for school and career counselors to increase by about 8% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average, accounting for the addition of an estimated 26,800 jobs in the field. **

The strong demand for career counselors is largely due to increasing student enrollment in elementary, middle and secondary schools.5 In these settings, career counselors are instrumental in helping students identify their career goals and capitalize on their strengths.

In addition, colleges and universities are expected to increase their hiring of career counselors. On-campus career centers are essential for students who need help developing practical job-finding, interviewing and resume-building skills.

Lastly, there is expected to be a robust demand for career counselors in private practice and at community resource sites. Here, career counselors often work with separated servicemembers who need help transitioning to civilian careers. Counselors are also needed to assist those whose careers are in transition and those who have been laid off.

It is unclear exactly how pandemic-related layoffs and firings will affect job prospects for counselors, although it is safe to say that affected individuals will benefit from career counseling. It is possible that the pandemic will further increase the demand for career counselors.

Are you not quite sure whether becoming a career counselor is the right path for you? There are plenty of other careers for a psychology major to consider, and not all of them require a master’s degree. For instance, you might think about pursuing a career as a psychiatric technician. In this role, you would work under the supervision of a psychologist as you help patients progress toward their recovery goals.

Other career options for a psychology major include the following:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Social services specialist
  • College admissions counselor
  • Corporate trainer
  • Corporate headhunter/recruiter

If you are passionate about helping others discover their purpose in life, you can begin working toward a rewarding career in counseling by becoming a psychology major at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Psychology program empowers students to become knowledgeable and ethical servant leaders, and the curriculum lays the groundwork for further studies in master’s degree programs. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen and begin exploring the possibilities at GCU.


1Pew Research Center, The State of American Jobs, How Americans view their jobs retrieved in May 2021.

2Retrieved from Reference, What Percentage of Our Lives Are Spent Working? in May 2021.

3Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors and Advisors in May 2021.

*COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors.

4Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors and Advisors in May 2021.

**COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors.

5Retrieved from St. Bonaventure University Online, School Counselors: Overcoming 9 Key Challenges to a Rewarding Career in August 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.