The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Career Counselors

by Evonne D. Olson

"We must constantly evaluate what we do, lest habits and past wisdom blind us to new possibilities." ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Identifying habits and practices that sabotage our best career counseling efforts was the focus of a program presented by Lorraine Trujillo, Jeff Maxted and me at the Career Development Across the Lifespan Conference. We presented six bad habits and called upon members of the audience to suggest the seventh. A summary of the habits is presented.

1.Being a know-it-all

I worked with a long-time counselor who generously shared her counseling knowledge and experience but she was not open to learning from others. In mandated continuing education programs she spent her energies finding fault with the presentation and rationalizing her own perspective. She dismissed colleague's differing points of view as uninformed or illogical. Shutting yourself off from new information and learning by thinking that you know it all precludes developing expertise in our evolving profession.

2.Not practicing what we preach

When we as career counselors are not committed to our own positive career development, our effectiveness is diminished in the following ways:


      When we lack enthusiasm for our work, fear change and become out of touch with our changing needs and wants, this is what we model for our clients

      We influence client interactions with issues of our own frustrated career development.


      A colleague pointed out my propensity to suggest to clients that they go back to school. I was in a job that presented few new challenges and realized that I was projecting my own frustrated "love of learning" onto my clients.

      We lose an effective way to increase our understanding of clients' struggles.


      An exciting new job became available, and I engaged in the stressful process of getting my resume updated, applying, interviewing, waiting for the call (that never came) and dealing with rejection. I became much more sympathetic to clients' job-search woes after this experience.

3.Using the "one size fits all" approach

Counseling practice characterized by rigid adherence to a preset agenda fails to address clients' unique needs. In his first counseling job, a colleague strictly adhered to a process mandated by an agency contract. He tested each client for basic academic skills, performed an intake interview, administered and interpreted a career interest inventory and made recommendations for "appropriate" training and careers. He developed proficiency and comfort with this routine and started using it as a "one size fits all" approach for every client with career concerns. Experience proved the limited effectiveness of this practice.

4.Avoiding advocacy

As counselors we are in a unique position to discover the detrimental effects that oppressive policies, procedures and people have on our clients. Too often our efforts become focused on helping clients adjust to bad situations and we rationalize that changing conditions that contribute to clients' problems is someone else's job. When we avoid our responsibility to advocate for change of oppressive practices, we become part of the problem.

5.Imposing the quick-fix

In our quick-fix society there is a demand for easy answers and fast solutions. Institutions want expedient solutions to client's career concerns and clients say, "I want to take a test to see what I should do." Standardized tests are convenient, easy tools to use in these circumstances and we may too readily accept them as authoritative and a quick-fix solution to career dilemmas. Using tests to provide clients with quick and easy answers undermines the client's authority and responsibility to evaluate experience, self assess, explore options and make career decisions. The career counseling profession is trivialized by and often equated to quick-fix solutions. A client told me, "I sought career counseling in high school and it said I should supervise motel maids."

6.Disregarding multiculturalism

Effective counseling with a culturally diverse clientele requires sensitivity to multiculturalism. I use the term multiculturalism to describe a perspective that

      values the differences among people,


      considers a variety of beliefs and views equally legitimate, and


      promotes the strength and value of diversity.

Sensitivity to multiculturalism is not implied by the following perspectives:

      "We are all culturally unique."


      "Stressing differences serves to separate us."


    "It is enough to be a nice, accepting person."

Continued development as a counseling professional goes hand in hand with a commitment to the challenging, ongoing process of developing cultural competence. To believe that you can disregard multiculturalism and still develop as a competent counselor is to miss the point.

7.These were suggested as the seventh habit:

      Overwhelming clients with too much information; trying to do too much in one appointment


      Giving advice


      Making choices for clients


      Not saying the hard stuff; allowing clients to pursue a field without addressing accountability factors


      Waiting for clients to come to us; not following up with clients


      Separating career and personal issues


      Stressing what is wrong rather than what is right (The perspective of this article is a good example of this habit!)


      Not taking the time and effort to develop a good working relationship with clients


      Making assumptions


      Confusing clients with counseling jargon


      Forgetting what we learned in Counseling 101: be a good listener, check in with the client, etc.


      Fearing silence

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi admonishes us to not be blinded to new possibilities by unexamined habits and past wisdom. Awareness of counterproductive habits and practices can open our eyes to new and improved ways to contribute to positive outcomes for our clients.

Evonne D. Olson, MA, LPC, NCC, entered the Counseling Education Doctoral program at University of New Mexico in Fall, 2003. Her previous work experience includes counseling and teaching career related courses at Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Email: evonneolson@hotmail.com

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