Trying to navigate your career path can seem overwhelming, if not impossible, sometimes. Professional career advisors of different stripes are available to help you along that journey.
The National Career Development Association, a professional association serving more than 5,000 career advising professionals in the U.S. and abroad, recognizes two categories of professionals: counselors and specialists.
A career counselor must hold a master's degree or higher in counseling and fulfill certain continuing education requirements.
A career specialist must have a bachelor's degree or higher in fields other than counseling, have completed the NCDA Career Development Facilitator Training Program and have one year of supervised career development experience. Specialists also must fulfill certain continuing education requirements.
Whom to work with depends on what you need.
What an expert can do for you*
A career counselor or career specialist can assist you in:
Source: National Career Development Association
(*Note: See a longer, annotated list here.)
"If you have a clear sense of direction and high energy regarding your career, you can work with career specialists," said Carol Vecchio, career counselor and founder of the Centerpoint Institute for Life and Career Renewal.
Specialists can help you with building career-related skills, such as résumés, job search, networking, career exploration, interviewing, salary negotiation and moving within a job, she added.
"If you're questioning your career path, with a low level of energy, it's wise to work with a master's-level career counselor," Vecchio said.
In that case, an extensive counseling background is important, according to Eleta Jones, Ph.D., a career counselor in private practice and a licensed professional counselor. "A client can be dealing with all sorts of issues — depression, learning disability, family concerns," she said. "All of these have an impact on career planning."
"There are as many approaches to career counseling as there are in the mental health traditions," said David Reile, Ph.D., managing director of the Career Development Alliance and president-elect of NCDA.
He lists three main approaches of career help (which are not mutually exclusive):
Vecchio of the Centerpoint Institute adds an additional category she calls "life design."
"We take more of a holistic and transition-focused approach as we look at a client's life patterns, how they work with people, problems they can solve for an organization, etc.," she said.
The NCDA offers a searchable online database of its members, as does the National Board for Certified Counselors. In addition, Reile of the NCDA and the Career Development Alliance suggests asking university career centers for names of professionals who work with the public. Sometimes community colleges will work with a non-student, he said.
Private practitioner Jones offers a list of items to ask about, including:
"It's important to get clear on the financial commitment," Jones said. "Ask if the services are packaged and can you terminate and pay for only the services rendered if it's not a good match."
Fees for career professionals vary by region, ranging from $75 to $200 per hour, usually with three to six visits, depending on services rendered, said Reile.
"You need to know what you're looking for," said Linda Kobylarz, a career management consultant with extensive experience in the career development field.
She offers some questions to consider:
"There's a real need for a range of different kinds of career services," said Vecchio of the Centerpoint Institute, summing up the landscape. "We can all help in different ways."
— By Deborah Nason, special to CNBC.com