By Jean C. SetzfandJean-Setzfand-300x239

I often ask job seekers with more than 20 years of experience how they got into their careers. Surprisingly, most say it was by accident. Think about your own experience. Maybe you took a skills assessment or a career survey in high school or college. Or maybe life circumstances factored into your career choice. Perhaps you took what was available at the time, or made your decision based on family obligations. That’s how a lot of us fell into careers that weren’t necessarily our first choice.

Fast forward to where you are now. Are you satisfied with the work you do? Are you under- or unemployed? If you think it’s time for a change, consider connecting with a career counselor or a career coach. You can also take advantage of AARP’s free resources at www.lifereimagined.org/work and at www.aarp.org/workresources.

Let’s take a look at what career professionals can offer.

What Career Professionals Do

Career professionals help people get into the workforce, make career changes, deal with difficult workplace issues, and more. The terms “counselor” and “coach” are often used interchangeably, but they are different.

All good counselors and coaches can help you find the job or career you’re seeking. A career counselor, though, is educated and trained to take a holistic approach. They help with the big picture – exploring your skills and abilities and helping unearth what motivates you. They hold advanced degrees, typically in counseling, and certifications from professional associations.

Career coaches, on the other hand, help their clients achieve a specific goal. People often turn to a career coach when they know what they want to accomplish, but need help doing it. The “it” could range from landing a job in a specific industry, to a resume refresh, to improving communication skills.

You can work with a career professional by phone, email or in person. A typical arrangement is to have an in-depth conversation in person, and the remaining on a set schedule by phone. Career professionals typically charge by the hour or set a monthly fee. The average is about $160 an hour, but exact charges vary widely.

What Career Professionals Can’t Do

Career professionals are only as good as the commitment of their clients. It takes work from you, whether it’s a matter of reworking your resume or going through the process of moving onto your next career. If you meet a career counselor or coach who promises you the world, move on.

 How to Choose a Career Professional

The best way to find a career professional is through personal referrals. Ask friends, relatives and colleagues if they know and trust someone. You can also search websites of professional counseling and coaching associations (see the list below.)

Once you have some names, check out their credentials and request referrals from other clients. Also, make sure the person you ultimately choose has plenty of experience working with people aged 50 and over.

Many states have licensing laws for career professionals. Whether licensed or not, you definitely want someone with certification from a professional association. These include:

Free or Low-Cost Resources

If you aren’t ready to spend money on a career counselor or coach, here are some resources you could tap into:

  • Online tools. Check out www.aarp.org/workresources for resources to help you start a business or use your experience to find a job you may like. Also, AARP’s Life Reimagined for Work website, www.lifereimagined.org/work, helps connect job seekers to companies that have signed a pledge stating they value experienced workers and are committed to hiring them.
  • Job clubs and career workshops. Check with your local library to find out if it offers workshops or hosts job clubs.  You may also check with local nonprofits or your place of worship.
  • Employee assistance programs at work. If you’re currently employed, find out if you have access to an employee assistance program. It may offer career counseling or coaching.

Spring into Action

Anyone who’s been through the process of a potential career change knows how stressful and time consuming it can be. But with the help of a good counselor or coach, you may find the fortitude to forge your new career path – one that suits your skills and interests. Spring is a time for change. Is it your time for a career change?

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Jean C. Setzfand is Vice President of the Financial Security issues team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP’s educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial ‘peace of mind’ in retirement.  She can be reached at jsetzfand@aarp.org.