Dr Oliver Jenkin PGCE RCDP
Registered Career Development Consultant and Freelance Careers Writer

(NB this article was originally published in the Trotman Publishing Blog, 12th September 2018)

Whether you are in Year 11 or 13 working towards GCSE or A Level exams, the chances are that at some point you will be offered (or will seek out) an interview with a professional Careers Adviser. This article seeks to help you get a better idea of what to expect from your interview so as to gain the most from the help offered.

What is the guidance interview for?

People seek career guidance with different career, educational and training-related needs. While at school or college you may need support with making effective subject choices or with weighing up the pros and cons of options such as going to college/university versus doing an apprenticeship for example. You may also need help sifting through the vast (and ever changing) range of occupations available. While significant people in your life such as teachers, parents or carers will be able to help with this to some extent, they may only know about the jobs they have held themselves and their knowledge may also be out-of-date. Whatever you need to discuss with your Adviser, there are some common features to career guidance which should apply in all cases.

What will it cover?

Most importantly, your career guidance interview is about you. This is your time, and no-one else should be setting the agenda about what should be discussed in your interview. This does not mean that your Adviser will not at times make suggestions regarding options that might be worth considering – they may for example be aware of work or educational opportunities that you were not aware of – but they should never tell you what you should do or treat anything you choose to share during your interview do with anything less than respect. We spend a significant amount of our lives in education and/or work and if we are being honest, most of us want to engage in learning and work that stimulates and satisfies us and hopefully makes the best use of our talents and personal qualities. As such we are all entitled to be listened to, acknowledged and supported when exploring something as fundamental as what we choose to do with our lives.

This is not to say however that your Careers Adviser will just be listening to you, albeit this is essential. In spite of what the job title suggests, as you will have gathered by now that Careers Advisers do not give directive ‘advice’ as such. When we consider that in many other countries and contexts career guidance professionals are often referred to as ‘career counsellors’ or ‘career coaches’, this more accurately hints at the skills you can expect to be used in your interview. Counselling skills used in therapy (for comparison) involve not just the qualities of empathy and unconditional respect outlined above, but also highly developed listening and communication skills and professional career guidance is no different. Your Adviser will ask you questions for instance, but for the most part these will be open questions starting with ‘why’, ‘where’ or ‘how’. After all, they need to get to know you in order to get a sense of how best to support you and can only do this be asking questions that prompt you to share your qualifications, achievements, anxieties and just generally ‘what makes you tick’. The benchmark of a successful career guidance interview should be that you do the majority of the talking rather than the reverse! As well as this, all professionally trained Careers Advisers should maintain impartiality with regard to the different educational or occupational options being explored so that the guidance they offer is never influenced by their own personal opinions.

What will I gain from it?

You will hopefully have noticed by now that professional Careers Advisers are trained to work in the best interests of students; from my own experience I would say that for the most part they are a caring bunch who genuinely want to help people succeed in their goals and maximise their potential. This is not to say however that nothing you share in your career guidance interview will be questioned or challenged. Part of a Careers Adviser’s job is to make sure that you leave your interview with an accurate understanding of your strengths, your areas for development and also the challenges you may face in pursing any of the options that you explore together. It may be for example that they will need to challenge any misconceptions or knowledge gaps you may have around certain occupations or different qualifications. They will also help you understand some of the practicalities you will need to consider, such as the typical qualifications needed for entry to certain occupations and the availability (and location) of particular jobs in the current labour market.

Hopefully by now you will have built up a better idea of what you can expect (and are entitled to) when you meet your Careers Adviser. Your school or college is responsible for providing you with career guidance and this should be made available from at least Year 8 up to Year 13. Don’t worry if you are not sure what courses you want to do after Year 11 or what job you want to do when you are older; Careers Advisers are trained to help students in exactly this situation and can usually help you get to the point where you have some ideas for further exploration at the very least. If you school or college offers opportunities to meet with employers or undertake work experience then this may also provide some useful clues about what you might enjoy doing once you have left education.