Career Counseling Competencies

Career Counseling CompetenciesCareer counseling competencies consist of the knowledge, skills, and personal attributes that career counselors need to deliver quality services to clients. Even in so-called developed countries, large portions of the population are not well served by existing approaches to delivering career development services. Articulating career development competencies that are cross-indexed to client services is a substantial step toward providing comprehensive and quality career development services.

Career development is a lifelong process of managing learning, work, and transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future. Career paths develop over time, regardless of whether people are planful about the process or leave it to chance. Those who are planful about their education and training and the opportunities they pursue are more likely to achieve a meaningful and satisfying life. When people have a vision of what they want to do with their lives, they tend to be more focused, better able to spot opportunities, and more persistent in pursuit of those opportunities.

Some people naturally develop the ability to create focus in their lives, but others need assistance, especially as the rate of economic, occupational, and social change escalates. Comprehensive career guidance and counseling services are designed to provide that assistance. Providing effective and comprehensive services requires a broad base of knowledge, skills, and personal attributes (i.e., competencies). In addition, those providing the services also need to devote attention to developing an infrastructure that makes such services available and to creating a culture that encourages people to seek assistance when they need it.


Over the past 10 years, there have been several initiatives directed at articulating the competencies needed to provide quality career development services to clients. In most cases, the starting point was to identify the types of services clients need, then map out the roles involved in providing those services, and, finally, elaborate on the competencies needed to perform those roles. In most initiatives, career counseling is seen as one of many services that clients need.

Clients also need career information, assessment, advocacy, job-search knowledge and skills, and job-maintenance knowledge and skills. These services are provided by a range of practitioners, with varying degrees of training and a wide variation in competencies. Most initiatives have recognized this and have developed a competency framework that is inclusive of all service providers.

In developing a competency framework, most initiatives have focused on the functions performed in providing comprehensive services to clients. It is a competency-based (rather than a training-based) approach, emphasizing what service providers do to offer quality services to clients rather than how they learned to do it. This approach has many advantages: It recognizes that people become skilled in different ways, not only through formal training; it readily connects to prior learning assessment and recognition; and focusing on the activities professionals perform is easily understood by both practitioners and clients.

Competency Frameworks

Most career development competency frameworks have two types of competencies: core competencies that all practitioners should have and specialized competencies that depend on the nature of a person’s work. In most cases, the areas of specialization extend into the core competencies but are elaborated in more detail and at a more advanced level in the specialization. For example, all career development practitioners need to have a certain amount of competence in assessment (core); however, assessment specialists have these core competencies plus many additional and advanced assessment competencies.

Core competencies are usually grouped into categories such as ethical behavior, professional conduct, advocacy, awareness and appreciation of client cultural differences, awareness of their own (i.e., the professional’s) capacity and limitations, knowledge of labor market information, and the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and clients. Specialized competencies are usually grouped into categories such as assessment; ability to design, implement, and evaluate guidance and counseling programs; career counseling; consultation and coordination; group facilitation and educational guidance; program and service management; information and resource management; work development and job placement; research; and community capacity building. All service providers are expected to have the core competencies, and, in addition, they may have competencies in one or several areas of specialization, depending on the nature of their duties and the services they provide. There is no hierarchy intended between core and specialization or among the specializations. All competency areas are equally valued, and no area of service is more or less important. All competency areas are important in providing comprehensive career development services to clients.

To date, career development competency initiatives have stopped at identifying the competencies needed to deliver quality services to clients. The next step will be to articulate in greater detail the specific knowledge, skills, and personal attributes that make up the competencies, for example, the specific knowledge, skills, and personal attributes needed to work effectively with a diverse range of clients with a social inclusion perspective and in the context of a global labor force. It will also be necessary to specify the knowledge, skills, and personal attributes needed to advocate effectively for all areas of the competency framework. Once these competencies (the knowledge, skills, and personal attributes) have been identified and validated, it will be important for practitioner training programs to modify their curricula to give greater emphasis to these competencies.

Preparing Career Development Practitioners

The career development competency initiatives undertaken to date have adopted a broad vision based on providing comprehensive and quality career development services to clients. Most counselor education programs focus primarily on the core competencies outlined above. However, to offer effective service, career counselors will need to extend their expertise beyond the core competencies to include a range of specializations. Thus, the scope of most training programs will have to expand substantially in order to provide the competencies needed to deliver comprehensive services. There is a need for making program evaluation a more integral part of training programs, teaching the knowledge and skills required for more effective interactions with policymakers and fund providers, expanding the role boundaries of career counselors to include social action and advocacy, and including a greater emphasis on assessing and intervening with contextual variables that affect career-life planning of clients.

See also:


  1. Hiebert, B. 1997. “Integrating Evaluation into Counselling Practice: Accountability and Evaluation Intertwined.” Canadian Journal of Counselling 31:112-126.
  2. Hiebert, B. “Canadian Standards for Career Development: Fostering the Career Development Profession.” Revista Espanola de Orientacion y Psicopedagogta 11:1-17.
  3. Hiebert, B. “Formative and Summative Evaluation of Human Services.” Pp. 96-107 in Canadian Symposium of Child & Family Services Outcomes: Creating a Common National Focus on Outcome Monitoring, edited by K. Ernst, G. Charles, C. Stuart and P. Duding. Calgary, Canada: Canadian Outcomes Research Institute. The International Competencies for Educational and Vocational Guidance Practitioners.
  4. Repetto, E., Malik, B., Ferrera, P., Manzano, N. and Hiebert, B. 2003. International Competencies for Educational and Vocational Guidance Practitioners: Final Report. London, UK: International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance.
  5. Van Estroeck, R. 2002. “Career Guidance and Counseling for Lifelong Learning in a Global Economy.” Pp. 49-66 in Technical and Vocational Education and Training in the 21st Century: New Roles and Challenges for Guidance and Counselling, edited by B. Hiebert and W. A. Borgen. Paris, France: UNESCO Section for Vocational and Educational Training.