If you've been laid off and your company hasn't provided...

WORKING WOMAN

January 24, 1993|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

If you've been laid off and your company hasn't provided help with job search or career counseling, you may be in the market for one of the career counseling centers that have proliferated all over the country during this recession.

This sort of help can be valuable, especially if you believe you'll have to change career fields entirely in order to find employment, but it's important to remember that career counseling still is a largely unregulated field, with no licensing requirements in most states.

You'll want to do some careful detective work before investing one dime with a career counselor, therefore -- and most of it can be done by telephone.

Call and ask about counselors' education, credentials, experience and special training, and how long they've been operating in your area. Ask if you can expect to meet with the same counselor each time, once you've signed a contract, or if you'll be passed around.

Then inquire about fees (which will vary widely depending upon the area of the country in which you live), if the center you're calling charges a flat fee or for each visit, if aptitude and other testing costs extra, and if there are any other expenses you can expect to incur.

You may not get to-the-penny information via telephone, but reputable career counselors should be willing to give you ballpark figures, at least -- and if they want a percentage of your future paychecks, cross them off your list! Employment agencies operate on this basis; career counselors do not.

Ask counseling centers if they're willing to give prospective clients referrals from satisfied ex-clients, as well. If they're not, watch out. Then check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints filed against the career counselors you're considering.

Your next step will be face-to-face interviews with several prospects -- to continue gathering information, not to sign a contract.

Here are some questions to ask yourself during this final stage of your investigation:

* Does this counseling center look and feel like a place where things get done in a relaxed, friendly, efficient atmosphere?

* How do the people here seem to feel about people in my situation? About women in general? Do I feel patronized, or taken seriously? Do they seem to view me as an individual, or do I feel as if they're stereotyping me because I'm female, unemployed, of a certain age or race -- something?

* Do these people seem to be listening carefully to what I'm saying, or are they looking bored or restless, or interrupting me with their own ideas about what I "should" be thinking, feeling or saying?

* Am I being pressured to sign a contract right now -- one full of convoluted language and small print -- or is this counseling center willing to let me take a copy of its standard contract home and think about it?

* Assuming that I've been clear about my goals -- whether they entail becoming a rocket scientist or simply coming up with new career plans -- do I feel as if these people are able and willing to help me achieve them?

If you want to become a rocket scientist and a career counselor keeps advising you to consider clerical positions, you're in the wrong place.

In short, most career counselors are well-trained, highly reputable professionals, but some are not. And the best defense against charlatans in this -- and every -- field is solid information-gathering, faith in your own good intuition, and remembering always the caveat: "Let the buyer beware!"

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