Defining Career Consultation

By Chadwick Royal

Career development professionals provide services that are outside of what typically would be defined as career counseling or career planning. Some of these activities are perhaps more accurately labeled as career consultation activities. From a Counselor Educator’s perspective, it is important to clarify what these activities can mean for a career counselor in practice or in training. The purpose of this article is to clarify how career consultation is different from career counseling and career planning.

What are Career Counselors Trained to Do?

As a counselor educator, I believe it is important to be intentional and clear about what we are training our counselors to do. At times they are counseling and planning (what their unique training provides), and sometimes they are consulting. Sometimes, career counselor trainees get into a rut of only providing consultation to clients, and not doing all the counseling they are capable of doing. If this is what the client needs, it is not wrong. At the base of a career counselor’s training are counseling skills – how to listen, be empathic, encourage development and wellness, or promote behavioral change, and so on. Being a career counselor means utilizing that base which is beyond consulting.

Defining Counseling and Consulting

Counseling is about the relationship that is formed with clients – it is a collaborative and supportive relationship. According to NCDA, “'career counseling’ provides the opportunity for a deeper level of involvement with the client, based on the establishment of a professional counseling relationship and the potential for assisting clients with career and personal development concerns beyond those included in career planning” (NCDA, 2015; p. 3). When a counselor or consultant provides a resume review and critique, sometimes this is not really a collaborative endeavor (it is often a one-way exchange of information) – and does not really require the forming of a relationship with the client. There are university career centers, for example, in which students submit their resume online, and a career development professional reviews and critiques the document digitally – potentially without ever meeting with the client. This approach is a fine form of consultation; it can be incredibly convenient for a busy student. It is not, however, reflective of what typically would be labeled as career counseling or career planning. It is a career consultation activity because a relationship was not developed (Scott, Royal, & Kissinger, 2015). Career consultation can be part of career counseling and career planning, but the elements are not dependent on each other. Career consultation is not a collaborative activity and it does not blend personal development concerns with career concerns.

Activities That Are Consulting Rather Than Counseling or Planning

For lots of career development professionals, the following consultation activities are their “bread and butter” activities -- they engage in these activities on a regular basis:

Some may argue that they are conducting counseling when engaging in these activities. In some cases, this would be accurate – when the discussions crossover into more personal development concerns and become a two-way exchange.

In consultation, an expert opinion or information is being given to the client. The activities are not “counseling” because of the potential lack of depth and focus on the relationship. Consultation is unlike the other “planning” activities, because of the one-way exchange of information. Other non-credentialed professionals can’t counsel and/or administer and interpret some assessments, but they can provide expertise related to resumes, cover letters, networking, etc., and this is perfectly acceptable.

Career consultation activities are the provision of advice or expert opinions that assist with accomplishing career tasks (e.g., reviewing, critiquing, and editing a client’s resume) – and do not require a graduate degree in counseling (Scott, Royal, & Kissinger, 2015). The service is not a collaborative activity and it does not blend personal concerns with career concerns. The service provided is a one-way exchange of information, rather than a two-way exchange. When the interaction becomes a two-way exchange, and the professional starts discussing more personal development concerns, then it can change from consultation to counseling.

Career “planning” includes activities such as “…identification of occupations based on values, interests, skills, prior work experience, and/or other characteristics; support in the job-seeking process; and assessment by means of paper-based and/or online inventories of interest, abilities, personality, work-related values, and/ or other characteristics” (NCDA, 2015, p. 3). These activities, like counseling, require a two-way exchange of information and dialogue.

Who Provides Career Consultation?

Other career related professionals (non-counselors) are qualified to provide consultation activities (such as resume review/editing, cover letter review/editing, provision of job interview strategies and networking strategies). Think of the volume of information on these topics that could be found on the Internet and in bookstores, written by coaches, career development facilitators, certified professional resume writers, and those who may work in the career field and have other credentials but are not trained as professional career counselors.

A recent experience may help to illustrate times in which these activities need to be clarified by counselor educators. This past semester, I had a practicum student (a career counseling major) that I will refer to as “Carly”. Carly was sharing a practicum placement site (at a college career services center) with an individual who was pursuing a degree in Educational Leadership (I will call this person “Ed”). At times, Carly and Ed were doing lots of the same things… resume review and critique, review of cover letters, and suggestions of interviewing strategies. In a discussion, Carly and I agreed that Ed appeared knowledgeable enough to do some of these things… but he did not have the training to stray into the realm of counseling. The service Ed provided was only one way (from Ed to his client). A collaborative service, or a blending of personal development concerns with career concerns would have called for the specialized and professional training of Carly. I wanted to make sure that Carly understood that she was trained to do more – that she could go beyond what Ed was doing. Counselor educators should work to ensure that their practicum and internship students are getting a variety of counseling experiences – and more than only consultation experiences in their site placements.

Important Distinctions for the Field

It is important to label and define tasks and skills explicitly as NCDA moves toward credentialing (Pritchard & Maze, 2016). There may be ethical implications regarding the distinction of activities. Some career development professionals may be credentialed to only conduct what are considered career consultation tasks. Keeping consultation tasks grouped with career planning may create some confusion regarding the interpretation of ethics. The reader is encouraged to consider the ethical implications by reviewing the 2015 NCDA Code of Ethics (NCDA, 2015).


Additional Resources

National Career Development Association. (2015). 2015 NCDA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: http://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/3395?ver=738702

Pritchard, C. J., & Maze, M. (2016, August). NCDA launches new credentialing initiative. Career Convergence. Retrieved from: http://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/125538/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false

Scott, D. A., Royal, C. W., & Kissinger, D. B. (2015). Counselor as Consultant. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Chadwick Royal

Chadwick Royal, PhD, LPCS is an Associate Professor in the Counselor Education Program at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC – and is the Associate Editor for the Counselor Educators and Researchers Department at Career Convergence. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor as well as a licensed school counselor in North Carolina. He teaches courses in introductory and advanced career counseling, consultation, human growth and development, family counseling, advanced clinical assessment, and practicum and internship. He is a co-author of Counselor as Consultant, published by SAGE in 2015. You may contact him at croyal@nccu.edu.


Printer-Friendly Version


Kenya Smith   on Thursday 03/02/2017 at 08:05 AM

Thank you for this article! I am preparing to start a consulting business and I was pondering between the consulting aspect and counseling. This article really clarified my mindset!

Leigh Mundhenk, PhD   on Thursday 03/02/2017 at 12:34 PM

I found these definitions helpful if not a bit academic. I have had a career "consulting" practice for 25 years. My training is in organizational and group development,, and as such, I have acquired excellent listening, emphasizing, and supporting skills. I also acquired these skills as a manager before my life as an academic and consultant. I have had several hundred clients, over my 25 years, with whom I have established highly collaborative relationships. To suggest that all I would do for them is to provide expertise in a one-way relationship would undermine what I am most proud of in my practice, my ability to really collaborate with my clients. I think there are many of us who establish relationships with our clients that might better be described as counseling. I understand counselors want to protect "counseling" as a practice, but I think there are many ways to acquire the skills to create get to a truly collaborative relationship with clients.

Beth Huebner   on Thursday 03/02/2017 at 01:18 PM

As career counselor practitioners, we do often cross the line from counseling to consulting. I agree, Dr. Royal, that we absolutely can't leave out the counseling piece. It does not serve our clients to ignore their underlying thoughts and beliefs, unless the client truly just needs a resume done! Another area that might be interesting to explore is counseling vs. consulting vs. coaching. Our clients often benefit from coaching as well. Thanks for the thought-providing piece!

Morgan Ray   on Thursday 03/02/2017 at 01:41 PM

This was very helpful and informative Dr. Royal. It definitely placed some definitive information into perspective when considering the Counselor vs. Consultant.


Chad Royal   on Thursday 03/02/2017 at 01:49 PM

I appreciate all of the feedback and comments!

Just for the sake of clarity, this piece is more about defining the task or activity (i.e., behavior) of career consultation - as opposed to defining what someone who self-identifies as a career consultant does.

Career consultation versus career counseling versus career planning (not the work activities of career consultant versus career counselor).

Certainly, someone who self-identifies as a career consultant would offer consultation - but they may also offer other services as well (collaborative activities included).

Career counselors would offer counseling - but other services as well. These services are not always counseling. What I've found is that a lot of our placement sites have our students doing primarily consultation activities (and not too much practice in counseling).

Sylvia Withers   on Tuesday 07/11/2017 at 06:52 PM

Can someone clarify... So if you do not belong to NCDA and consult is there any legal repercussions? I have a Masters in social work and belong to NCDA but want to inquire for my colleagues who are not members of NCDA.

Chad Royal   on Thursday 07/13/2017 at 09:38 AM


Thanks so much for your question.

Legal repercussions, to me, imply that there is a license or credential to provide a specified type of service. This is independent of membership in NCDA. Licensure, in the US, is a state-based concept. A state would likely define who is able to provide a specified service (who is allowed to do what) and the ethical codes to which the professional should aspire.

I am primarily familiar with the licensure laws for counselors in NC. I am not aware of any laws in NC that outline who is allowed to provide career consultation...which I think this is reflected in how many different types of professionals provide consultation services. Perhaps others can chime in on this discussion to provide information for other states...but to address your question...this is independent of memebership in NCDA.

In my opinion, it really depends on what you are allowed to do where you are. Think about it this way, even though I am not a member of the American Medical Association, that doesn't mean that I am allowed to practice medicine.

This is, admittedly, an extreme example, but I think it illustrates the point. I think that many different types of professionals are permitted to provide career consultation activities.

Hope this helps...and I would love to hear what others think.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.