Career Counseling for Techies
by Allan Hoffman
Now and then it's important not only to focus on the daily demands of your job, but to step back and think about your career in a broader sense -- about your skills and achievements, your satisfaction level and your goals. One option, especially for those who feel they are in a rut or who are considering a career change, is to consult a career counselor.
A career counselor will help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, establish short-term and long-term goals and craft a plan to help you meet those goals.
Here is some advice for technology professionals interested in seeking the services of a career counselor:
1. Don't expect a career counselor to know all about Linux, C++ or other programming languages and technologies.
"Technology changes very fast, and it's hard to be a walking encyclopedia," notes Linda Friedman, founder and director of the Centre for Career Decisions. Instead of micro-managing your career, a career counselor will help you step back from the daily grind and examine your plans. Typically, a counselor will begin by focusing on an individual's needs, motivations, and goals; from there, it's a matter of looking at the marketplace to see which direction the individual should pursue. Resumes, interviewing skills, and negotiating tactics may all be discussed. For much of this, expertise in career counseling, rather than in technology, is what's important.
2. Look for a counselor who has experience working with technology professionals.
While your counselor may never have coded a line of Java, he may have encountered clients who have, and that can work to your advantage. "If you're not familiar with the industry, then you're not familiar with the nuances," says Maureen Shiells, a career consultant with the Career Action Centre, who is working on a contract at Sun Microsystems. "I have worked with people from all different kinds of backgrounds, but when you're not familiar with the industry, you may not know the particulars." Ask your counselor whether he has had clients who have been in situations like yours, whether you're looking to break into IT from an accounting background or you're a database pro thinking about looking for a job at a Web start-up.
3. Be open to your counselor's methods and advice.
Career counselors employ any number of tools, including various tests, to assess their clients needs. "The most important thing is to be open and willing to discuss many different aspects of your background, to be willing to face up to the positives -- as well as the negatives -- in your career path thus far," says Friedman. And remember, much of the work will happen outside of your counselor's office. "You need to look at the counselor as your partner in the process," says Friedman, "not as a Mr. or Ms. Fix-It."
Where do you find a career counselor? The National Board of Certified Counselors offers a service that allows you to request names of nationally certified career counselors such as Friedman. Look for someone with whom you feel comfortable. "You need to meet them, you need to believe they have the knowledge and expertise to help you and you need to have a rapport with them," says Friedman.