Careers Counsellor

Careers counsellors are teachers,confidants and advisors to their clients. They help people examine their interests, their styles, and their abilities to find and enter the profession that best suit them. They can be helpful both to those who have yet to choose a career and those who are unhappy with their choice. They are also known as vocational guidance counsellors.

Careers counsellors spend most of their day meeting with clients. Early sessions are used to explore the history and behaviour of the client to help the clients understand their own motivations and desires more thoroughly. This process can be hard work. Some people expect to achieve a perfect understanding of what job they should do for the rest of their life within a very short space of time. Unfortunately, it is not that simple or quick. Career decision-making is a process, rather than an overnight event. Most career counsellors have degrees in psychology or are licensed therapists.

Therapists and counsellors alike are facilitators - the client must play the most active part in the process. After conducting a thorough evaluation of the client’s personality traits, the counsellor must use their expertise to help the client assess their skills base and direct them to career fields wherein those skills might be most profitably employed, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction.

Counsellors are responsible for knowing what skills are needed in a broad variety of professions, what level of pay can be expected and what hiring authorities look for in a successful applicant. They then coach the client through the process of researching fields that match their interests, encourage them to set up informational interviews with people to supplement their research, and finally target or create specific job positions that meet their needs.

Counsellors try to empower clients to become as active as possible in their search. A lot of people tend to be rather passive and expect counsellors to find them jobs. Counsellors can only guide clients in the decision-making process and, in some instances teach them the skills they need - how to write effective letters, highlight their skills in an interview, negotiate a salary, and make people remember them; however, in the end, the clients have to do it themselves.

Most careers counsellors have some degree of higher education, often a masters degree in a field such as mental health counselling, psychological counselling, or community counselling. Careers counselling tends to be an unregulated field, so people can come to the profession through a variety of paths. More recently, however, career guidance counselling is now beginning to come into its own as a discrete profession.

Some come into careers counselling from social work or human resources management backgrounds. Others come from such disciplines as law or medicine and then use their industry expertise to counsel people in their former field.

Familiarity with basic personality, interest and skills tests, are invaluable aids in assessing clients’ occupational aptitudes. Usually, a successful careers counsellor works as an independent counsellor but gets references from other services, therapists or agencies. This entails long hours, intense listening and assessment skills, and the ability to think objectively without being swayed by emotion.

Careers counsellors have skills that involve helping other people to understand themselves better and take proactive steps to improve the quality of their working lives. Many careers counsellors are able to transfer these skills into the realms of teaching, vocational counselling in schools and social work; others go on to get advanced degrees and become therapists. Those who are more interested in the business applications of their craft go into employment recruitment, outplacement and professional headhunting.

Personal Requirements

  • enjoy working with people
  • able to communicate well in speech and in writing
  • good analytical and assessment skills
  • able to work independently and in a team
  • objective, patient, sensitive and compassionate
  • able to lead and inspire others
  • able to uphold a very strict ethical code

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass
Compulsory Subjects: None
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

In addition, check the university admission requirements for a degree in Psychology or Social Work to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do.

What to Study

Degree: Appropriate degrees, such as BA with majors in Psychology, Sociology, Social Work, are offered at all universities. A certificate in Career Guidance is offered at some universities. 

Typically, careers counsellors start out by working with established professionals who have an existing client base. Many move through training programmes associated with established testing authorities, and spend significant time attending professional seminars and keeping up with professional reading. A number of careers counsellors come into the profession as psychotherapists, and many make the transition to career counselling gradually.

Training to become a careers counsellor can be a lengthy process, as there is much to learn. Furthermore, education continues throughout this profession, as new careers emerge in changing societies and economies. Once a careers counsellor becomes established, marketing skills become important. Many become involved in professional education seminars, conferences, and other professional establishments to train in cutting-edge counselling techniques.


  • institutions of higher learning and high schools
  • universities of technology, universities
  • employment and recruitment agencies
  • self-employment

Further Information

Any of the above potential employers

PACE Career Centre
Box 23975
Claremont, 7735
Tel: (021) 674-0036

Getting Started

  • arrange to speak to a careers counsellor about this type of career
  • undergo careers counselling yourself

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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