Effective Career Counseling
Due to the change in the workplace society has also seen a change in the approach used in career counseling. Although, the trait and factor approach to career counseling prevailed throughout the 20th century and ultimately required a change in the way assessments were used. Today career counseling considers not only the purpose and use of assessments but the career counselor realizes that client self-knowledge, education and vocation experiences, interest, and intervention of clients are equally important to the career counseling process. In fact, the clients are a much bigger part of the career development counseling process and to assessment, the decision to participate in an assessment and it is necessary that the client clearly understands the purpose of the assessment. Career counseling in the 21st century must continually change as society evolves requiring the career counselor to be in step with the change. Niles and Harris-Bowlsbey (2013) suggest the process of career development includes several steps:
- Becoming aware of the need to make career decisions
- Learning about and/or reevaluating vocational self-concept
- Identifying occupational alternatives
- Obtaining information about identified alternatives
- Making tentative choices from among available occupations
- Making educational choices
- Implementing a vocational choice
According to Niles and Harris-Bowlsbey (2013) assessments are defined as,
…use of any formal or informal techniques or instrumen6t to collect data about a client—should still be valued in the 21st century as a tool used by counselors or by clients themselves to gather data useful in the career planning process (p. 160).
Assessments in the 21st century are used differently than in the past. Today assessments are considered only one of the tools the counselor and client use that assists the client in making career decisions (Niles & Bowlsbey, 2013). Assessments are used more for identifying areas of growth as opposed to predictions about the future (Niles & Bowlsbey). The client is more of an equal partner in the career counseling process today and thus, the choice and purpose of assessment require the client’s involvement (Niles & Bowlsbey). Assessments are either informal or formal assessments.
Purpose of Assessment
When using standardized testing it is necessary to consider the intended purpose of the test itself. Holloway (2001) indicates in an effort to demonstrate accountability educators and policymakers may use tests inappropriately. Therefore, the counselor and client must guard against expecting too much from tests, must be sure to discuss the purpose of the test and what information may be gleaned from the test. Assessments should only be used if there is a specific purpose for conducting the assessments and the purpose is understood by both the client and the counselor. Interviews are often used as an alternative but only when the counselor has the appropriate skill set and the time to glean pertinent information that will assist the client in their journey.
Reasons for Assessment
Three primary categories encompass the reasons counselors conduct assessments: “To learn more about the needs of the client, to learn more about clients and help clients to learn about themselves and to determine the change or progress of the client or group” (Niles & Harris-Bowlesby, 2013, p. 166). Counselors must be cognizant of the purpose of assessment but must also be both competent and responsible when choosing to use assessment. If the counselor is not properly trained and lacks understanding of an assessment tool the counselor could harm the client. The counselor must also possess adequate interpretation skills relative to an assessment or again this may result in harm to the client. Counselors are guided by ethical guidelines developed by the Joint Committee on Testing Practices are available to the counselor at http://ericae.net/code.txt (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. and these guidelines need to be reviewed, digested and understood by counselors who use assessment in their practice. These guidelines are “…summarized into four areas: (1) developing and selecting tests, (2) interpreting scores, (3) striving for fairness, and (4) informing test takers” (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013, p. 166). The ethical guidelines developed by the professional community are especially important, however, equally important is for the counselor to assure that they have at least three other professionals, whether mentors or colleagues, to bounce ideas off and share concerns as well. Input from other professionals is priceless and provides the career counselor with varying perspectives that may very well provide the career counselor with a different path that might have been chosen had the counselor not collaborated with other professionals.
Informal assessments include checklists, games, career fantasy, forced choice activity, card sorts, and structured interviews.
Informal assessments have their advantages: they allow for assessment of current skills, often easy to assess range of skills, a variety of strategies and materials may be utilized to assess skills, often low cost and sometimes free, time involved in administration of informal assessments is often less than formal assessments and informal assessments may not be as anxiety provoking as formal assessments (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). Further, a variety of strategies and materials to access skills may be used and assessment may take place in more natural settings. On the other hand, it is important for the counselor to consider that informal assessment may not have been subjected to scientific rigor and thus, reliability and validity may not be known. The results of informal assessments may not be compared to the results of others who have taken the assessment and there are no standards for interpretation of results (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey).
Formal assessments are standardized, they may be timed or not; if there are no right or wrong answers the assessment may be referred to as an inventory if right or wrong answers the instrument is referred to as a test (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). Formal assessments have been developed out of scientific rigor are supported by research thus, authors and publishers have a stake in the product (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey).
When selecting a formal instrument the counselor must consider validity, reliability, fairness related to diversity, and comparability (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). There are numerous types of formal assessments and according to Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey these instruments may be divided into three categories: Identifying the needs of the clients, learning more about clients, and measuring progress and change. It behooves you to review the litany of tests listed in the text pages 177-182.
When considering an instrument it is critical that the particular characteristics of an assessment fit diverse individuals. Without fail the counselor must consider age, reading level, comprehension, gender, race, ethnicity as well as diversity (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). In other words, “the counselor must consider “the nature of items, the nature of the norm group and the mode of administration and interpretation” (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, p. 169). Reading the manuals for a particular instrument is wise; the manuals provide detailed specifications about the instrument. It is also important to consider the method in which the instrument is administered whether computer, paper, and pencil or if the test needs to be modified to fit those with disabilities. The counselor needs to prepare the client for the test, explaining what the client can expect in terms of time, results, interpretation, purpose; assuring the client understands and agrees to the test and informing the client when results will be returned.
Further, counselors have a responsibility to assure that they: possess a general knowledge about assessment, have detailed knowledge about the instruments they use, evaluate the instrument for usefulness with diverse populations, prepare students or clients adequately, administer instruments properly, interpret instruments properly and follow through with clients (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). Without sound skills in this area, the client can be harmed and thus, it is the responsibility of the counselor to thoroughly review and understand assessment.
Another concern is the counselor needs to assure tests are administered properly. In other words, the counselor needs to follow the test instructions explicitly to assure the appropriate conditions are met for the instrument. Further when interpreting results of a test Niles and Harris-Bowlsbey (2013) suggest 3 points of consideration:
An overall understanding of the relevance of assessment to the process of career planning and choice 2) the reason the individual has taken the instrument and 3) the guidelines provided by the publisher for use of the instrument and/or the instrument’s technical manual (p. 171).
Follow through is another important consideration i.e., the counselor needs to make sure they follow through explaining the results in a meaningful manner that the client understands i.e., talk the client’s talk. How does the data apply to the client’s situation; the counselor will need to make inferences about the meaning of the data/results and how it is related to the client (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013).
The counselor also has responsibility relative to sharing information with the clients. These responsibilities include: selecting high-quality print materials and computer-based systems; availability and assisting the client in making meaningful use of the data gathered (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013).
A variety of decision-making styles exist that impact how and why a client makes decisions relative to their career choices. Additionally, several factors affect decision making such factors might include: physical, cognitive, intellectual, lack of strong self-concept or vocational identity. Drinklage (1968; as cited in Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013) suggests eight types of decision makers: playful, impulsive, intuitive, agonizing, compliant, delaying, fatalistic, paralytic. It is a good idea to understand the different characteristics of each since the counselor will likely encounter these styles in the future. Understanding each will allow the counselor greater insight into reasons a client may not be progressing later on in the therapeutic process (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey). Decision-making styles are different yet again when we consider different cultures. I suggest that socioeconomic factors affect decision making as well. In fact, I have a number of years of experience working with populations who lived at or below the poverty level and have noticed that this population seems to make decisions based on a number of different factors. For example, this population frequently thinks in terms of immediate needs and thus, a career decision may be made without thinking about long-term impact.
The counselor must understand the importance of client autonomy and independence and be prepared to assist those clients who are not adequately skilled in taking responsibility for their own actions. In other words, identify when a client lacks this skill and be willing to develop strategies that actively engage the client in practice or learning how to accept responsibility for their own actions. Though this may seem obvious and even second nature to many, this is not common to others or even understood as a necessary component to the process of career counseling.
Technology has changed the face of business. Some have had to learn new things as the technologies infiltrated the workplace; others already understood the technologies, having grown up with access to digital advancements. Basically, the world is divided into two groups of people when it comes to technology, digital immigrants, and digital natives. Digital immigrants: people who grew up without new technology but adopted it as it entered the mainstream over the past 20-25 years. Digital natives: younger people who were born into a world that was already digitized, with all of the newer technologies at their fingertips. They have always had new media technologies in their lives. Consequently, it is important to know the client and their needs. Is the client comfortable with the electronic environment? The method used to administer assessments must fit the client’s abilities and comfort zone whether paper and pencil or electronic. Keep in mind it may be necessary to modify test taking methods to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Some computer software may be easily tailored, to assist different groups with understanding the process, information and data some may be developed with other populations in mind. Finally, it is the counselor’s responsibility to know who their client is; their weaknesses and strengths, to cultivate client strengths while helping the client to overcome weaknesses.
The client also has a responsibility in the career counseling process. The client’s responsibility includes completing assessments and tasks, demonstrating a commitment to the process and making use of the information gathered by the client and counselor to make informed decisions. Finally, the client must accept responsibility for their own decisions (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). According to Niles and Harris-Bowlsbey “Career planning is defined as the sequential process of making educational and vocational choices based on knowledge of self and of the environment” (p. 187). Given this definition, it is the client’s responsibility to consider, learn, and access different programs of study, occupations and training available, financial aid, job-related organizations and military opportunities. Further, it is also the client’s responsibility to at the very least learn a modicum of information relative to the same information in order that the counselor is able to make appropriate suggestions and referrals.
The resources and information available relative to career counseling is daunting and may even be overwhelming to the client. Consequently, it is the responsibility of the counselor to learn about the many different resources available. This is not to say that the career counselor must know all resources inside and out. However, the career counselor must be at the very least familiar with the resources available and those resources the career counselor chooses to use he/she must know inside and out. A good practice for the career counselor to engage in is to review four assessments a month, one a week, an hour day, reviewing and learning. This will familiarize the counselor with assessments old and new or those that are up-and-coming. The counselor must have the ability to discuss the many different resources available with the client to help reduce client angst regarding the overwhelming information available. This requires the counselor to assist the client in selecting assessments or resources that fit the client and their needs. The client needs to be responsible to review the materials in a thorough manner reflecting on what will work for their situation and what resources they are most comfortable accessing.
Technology as a Support
The career counseling process has evolved and since the 60’s the computer capabilities used in the field have developed tremendously and will likely continue to increase at a rapid pace. I can remember when a system, the Michigan Occupational Information System (MOIS) was first introduced to the school district where I was working in the 70’s. It was a stand-alone system and at the time all the rage; I clearly saw that “times were a changing”. I remember feeling that it would be necessary to be trained using computers. The MOIS seemed to be a jumping off point to a much larger system that I soon became enmeshed in. The state began developing software and systems to support the employment of the many jobless residents in Michigan.
Computers have had more of an impact on career counseling than any other technologies because of the capability of computers i.e., scoring tests and interpreting tests, storage, searching, cross-referencing, teaching skills, and communication. Technology that was developed for career counseling in my day began as stand-alone computer systems requiring large mainframes and evolved into networked personal computers finally, advancing to the World Wide Web of computers.
No doubt about it the computer really has transformed the career counseling process. From big clunky mainframes to the Internet, the computer has clearly assisted and supported both the career counselor and the client. A thorough review of Chapter 7 for specifics on technology is necessary