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The Globe Tests

Putting career counselors to work

The right professional advice can help job seekers launch a career, or navigate a switch into a new field

By John M Guilfoil
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2008

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Whether you've just graduated from college or feel stuck in a dead-end job and want to switch careers, ads for career counselors can draw your attention.

The Globe tested three career counselors, looking to see whether the service is worth the money - and it tends to cost a decent amount of it, too.

With the help of Elaine Verelas, a managing partner at the Keystone Partners career management firm and a contributor to the Globe's Job Doc column, we gained some valuable insight to the job search process. We also learned a lot about ourselves along the way.

Verelas recommended three practitioners with whom we consulted: Andrew S. Brown of Career Ventures Consulting Services Inc.; Priscilla Claman, president of Career Strategies Inc.; and Julie E. Miller, the former director of career services at the Boston College Carroll School of Management, who now offers individual career counseling.

When looking for a career counselor, Verelas says, prospective clients should be mindful about what they are looking for and in what area the counselor specializes.

"Do they need someone to help with career exploration or job search implementation?" she asks. "They may need both, but people need to identify which is their primary concern and be willing to ask the people they're considering for potential career counselors what their focus is."

Brown at Career Ventures seems very into helping clients figure out the type of person and worker they are. He comes off as part teacher and part therapist, which makes sense because he's educated in both fields. He can certainly help you figure out what field you might fit into best.

Claman with Career Strategies seemed very interested in how we could take what we have learned and done in school and in our career and best apply that toward our career goals. She also pushed the "be your own boss" angle and offered suggestions on how we can turn our pet project, a Web-based magazine, into something profitable. This was a refreshing change, whereas the other two were very focused on finding a "job." Career Strategies also has another human resources veteran, but we did not meet with her.

Miller was great to talk to. She has clients of all ages and experience levels, but coming out of higher education, she is great for graduating college seniors who may not have a clue about "what's next."

All three offered valuable insight into career planning and job hunting and each had their own specialty. We had a very hard time picking a favorite, but gave Claman a bonus point for encouraging our entrepreneurial spirit.

If you choose a career counselor, be mindful what you are buying. Some counselors may promise to find you a job or offer guaranteed placement, which should raise a red flag, Verelas says.

"This is a really good place to say that people need to know what it is they are buying. If people tell them they're buying a job, then they need to go away," she said. "You can buy a franchise, a [delivery] route, restaurant, business, but you can't buy a job, and anyone who does career counseling that says that you can is not someone you want to be working with."

John Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com.