Career Coach / Counselor
What’s the difference between a career counselor and a career coach? It’s tough to tell because, when you are looking for career help, you see the two terms used interchangeably. This is because most people are new to both terms and don’t realize there are important differences. But we need to set the record straight: career counselors are not the same as career coaches!

Career counselors and career coaches have unique approaches to helping clients. So here are the 3 main differences between career coaches and career counselors followed by examples you can use to determine which career professional is right for you.

Moving Forward

Career coaches focus on the current situation and often create action goals to move forward. On the other hand, career counselors may look for past experiences or barriers that may be causing the challenges.


Career coaches may have certifications from an accredited body like International Coaches Federation (ICF) but career counselors are often required to have a formal license (e.g. Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC) to practice in the state they reside.

Outcomes vs. New Directions

3) A career coach is similar to an athletic coach. They are going to assess where you are and encourage/challenge you, to a better you.  They may focus on outcomes/results/accomplishments. A career counselor will also assess your situation but then may help detangle confusion or address the emotional reasons why you’re not making progress in your career – ending with a new direction.

Bottom line, both will lead to a better you, but you should choose which approach fits with your personal style of professional and personal growth. If you are trying to decide which one will best fit your current needs, here are some situations and approaches that may help you decide.

Do you need help with overall career direction?  Are you not currently happy with where you are now, but not sure what direction to go from here?

Counseling Approach: this approach may start with understanding the barriers. A counseling approach may take a holistic view.  For example, asking what you wanted to be when you were little. They may ask about what influences you had in college and what is holding you back now from pursuing those passions.  From those answers a counselor may recommend certain homework and follow up with suggestions on how to limit the negative emotions that may be in conflict with your future goals. For example, if you are having trouble with the interview process, you might uncover that the fear of failure is at the root. A counselor may help you detangle this and offer suggestions on how to remedy this to be successful in the interview process.

Coach Approach: a career coach may start with an assessment to understand your preferences and skill base. They will help you plan a career that closely aligns with natural ability and the goals you have defined. If it’s unclear they may ask you to reflect and bring this homework to the next session to talk through. In the example of an interview, the approach may be to have you practice using a web camera and discuss action steps you can take to lessen your anxiety.

Do you need help with transitioning into a new career?  Maybe you already know the direction but not sure how to get there. 

Counseling Approach:  a counseling approach may talk about the fear and anxiety associated with the career transition. Let’s face it, pursuing your dreams isn’t an easy task. It often times brings to the forefront the fears that hold us back.  A career counselor will help detangle the fear and help you come up with ideas on how to work through the fear.  You may be assigned homework to understand where the root is coming from and develop strategies that may help you manage that fear and anxiety.

Coach Approach: a career coach may ask you to identify specific outcomes you’d like to accomplish during your sessions. For example, you want to make sure your resume is ready for this new market. Or you may want to discuss different interview styles that the new career path may require (case vs behavioral interviewing). A career coach will also help you be accountable for those changes. For example, we all have on our to-do list to update the resume or contact that person, but time is always pulling at you. Think of it like a workout buddy to ensure that you are fit and ready for the new transition.

Do you know exactly where you want to go AND how to get there, but need help getting unstuck and actually taking the steps you know you need to take?  Similar to a financial goal where you have a set plan, but are having trouble sticking with it.

Counseling Approach:  a career counselor will likely ask about why you seem to get stuck in the first place.  Where is the real motivation and if your procrastination may have a deeper root somewhere else. Many times it does and keeps us from pursuing what we know we are capable of. A counselor will be there to remind you, encourage you, and talk you through the experience of the process. It’s hard to find a job and pursue a new career. Many emotions surprisingly come up that can influence your ability to go forward.

Coach Approach: the career coaching approach may go into high gear in setting dates and deadlines to get your resume ready and connect you with a new person. They are going to focus more on what needs to be done today and tomorrow to move you forward. Sometimes it’s dealing with the fear, but then you still need to print your resume or pick up the phone.  They may help you with strategy and help you think beyond what you would normally consider a good connection. For example, maybe you need to join a professional organization or start volunteering. (I know, but sometimes!) Coaching will move you into some form of action.

There is not a right or wrong or better or worse here – what matters is what type of help you need and what approach best fits with your style. Whether you are looking for deeper insight into what gets you stuck or you want an action plan to achieve your career goals, look for a firm that has career coaches and career counselors on staff. Set up an initial call to see what fits for you.



, Difference Between Career Counselor and Career Coach

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