Before I share my thoughts about what constitutes a qualified career exploration specialist, I want to emphasize that everything on this page is just my professional opinion.  I encourage you to also read others’ suggestions about what makes for a qualified career exploration specialist, and then judge for yourself.

This seems like a good place to remind readers of what I shared on the Overview page regarding the distinction between career exploration and job preparation: they are not the same thing.  Thus, there are plenty of career specialists who provide competent career services around job preparation but may not have the necessary experience to expertly facilitate career exploration.  This is why I intentionally use the word “exploration” when talking about a “qualified career exploration specialist.”  Just because somebody is a career development professional does not mean they are experts in career exploration; they may instead be good at other aspects of career assistance, such as job preparation.

Who is “qualified?”

In my opinion, a qualified career exploration specialist is a professional who has acquired enough high-quality career exploration training and experience to effectively assist a wide variety of clients from various demographic/cultural backgrounds with their career exploration needs.

A qualified career exploration specialist should be able to demonstrate competence not only in the domain of career development/exploration/theory/practice but also in the domain of counseling.  The National Career Development Association articulates this intersection of competencies nicely.

In my experience, people’s personality, temperament, and mental health status often exert a powerful influence on the career exploration process.  As a career counselor, I found that half the battle was helping my clients effectively deal with the difficult thoughts and feelings that often arose during the career exploration process.  We can’t help but bring our personal baggage into the career counseling process… it’s just what humans do, myself included.  Therefore, I recommend that people looking for assistance with career exploration from someone with demonstrated competence in counseling.  There are, however, many career exploration specialists who do not have formal training in counseling/therapy who are naturally talented active listeners that can effectively help clients deal with the difficult thoughts and feelings.  The bottom line is that, in my opinion, it’s best to work with someone who has both career and counseling skills.  Of course, such a person may not be readily accessible, in which case a professional with career expertise but no counseling expertise may be your best option.

I want to give a special shout out to cultural competence here.  When I talk about competence in counseling/therapy, this necessarily includes the ability to work with diverse clients in a culturally-sensitive manner.  Our cultural identities shape how we see the world, treat others, and are perceived by others.  When a career exploration specialist provides career assistance, these forces are at work, impacting both the client and the specialist simultaneously.    If specialists are not mindful of the values and preconceptions they  bring to this work, they risk forcing their values on their client and may do or say things that disrespect their clients’ lived experience.  Therefore, I think that a qualified career exploration specialist is someone who has foundational training in culturally-sensitive practice.

In conclusion, if you have some choice in what career professional you will get to work with, my professional recommendation is to work with a qualified career exploration specialist, which I have defined as someone who has expertise in (1) career development/exploration/theory/practice, (2) counseling/therapy, and (3) culturally-sensitive practice.

How do I figure out if someone is “qualified?”

It is hard to know if someone is qualified until you’ve worked with them for a time.  However, there are some indicators that you can look for up front, which will suggest (but can never guarantee) that the person is qualified.  The more indicators a given person shows, the more confident you can be that they are qualified.

  1. When you communicate with them, they demonstrate transparency (i.e., openness) and non-defensiveness about their qualifications, training, and experience.  This transparency includes honesty regarding the boundaries of their competence (i.e., the things they don’t have expertise in).  No one person can know everything there is to know about career exploration.  Anyone who claims to know everything may not have a realistic perception of their own abilities.
  2. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) maintains a Credentialing Commission that seeks to establish and maintain different types of career specialist credentials.  Specialists who meet the qualifications for a given credential, such as the “Certified Career Counselor,” are eligible to complete an application and pay the NCDA a monetary fee in order to be granted this credential.  These specialists can then show proof of this credential to prospective clients in an attempt to demonstrate to the client that they are qualified to provide them competent career services as outlined by the credential.  Therefore, if career specialist has the Certified Career Counselor credential, this suggests but does guarantee that the career specialist has substantive training and experience in career development/theory/practice and counseling.  It is an indicator that they could likely provide competent career exploration assistance.  It is possible that career specialists with one or more of NCDA’s other credentials (e.g., Certified Career Services Provider) may also be qualified, but the Certified Career Counselor Credential seems most promising, given it’s direct inclusion of the counseling skills portion I’ve been talking about on this page.  There are other organizations that seek to credential career specialists, though I do not confess to know what the consensus is regarding the quality/rigor of these credentials and the organizations which control them (here’s just one list of credentialing organizations).  I should also mention the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE). The CCE manages the Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) certification. The GCDF requires 120 hours of in-class instruction and homework assignments. It provides individuals with exposure to both the theory and practice of career development.  Holders of this certificate are likely qualified to assist you with career exploration.  Finally, a professional who has worked in human resources within a large corporate, government, or nonprofit setting who has worked extensively in helping employees navigate their career exploration and development is also likely to be qualified to assist you.
  3. They can clearly articulate the process/protocols/theories/systems/tools/resources they use to facilitate their clients’ career exploration.  If they have trouble describing how they help people, this is a sign that they need additional training or experience before they will be ready to provide high-quality assistance.
  4. A master’s degree in counseling psychology, counseling, or a closely related counseling degree from a regionally and/or nationally-accredited higher education institution
  5. State licensure as a psychologist or counselor
  6. They have a good reputation in the community and among their fellow professionals.  However, a special note about online reviews is in order.  Take online reviews with a grain of salt.  Recognize that typically only people who really loved or really hated their experience with a professional are likely to post online reviews of that person.  Also, for some types of helping professionals, the ethics code for that profession may severely limit their ability to respond to unfair online reviews due to confidentiality issues that can arise by responding to a client.  Thus, online reviews may or may be a reliable indicator of a person’s competence and integrity.  They are worth examining, but not basing your whole opinion on.
  7. They recognize the importance and influence of family, diversitycultural identity, unconscious bias, privilege, stereotype threat, internalized discrimination, and structural discrimination on the career development and exploration process.  They incorporate these concepts into their work with clients in ways that the empowers clients and respect clients’ preferences.

If you haven’t already, I recommend reading my advice regarding qualified mental health professionals.  Or, you can use the left-hand menu to return to where you left off in the Systematic Career Exploration Process.