Why Career Counseling Clients Fail

Lessons on client and counselor success.

Posted Mar 08, 2019

How-to writers tend to present success stories. I’m guilty of that. But of course, much can be learned from failure. So in this blog post, I describe common ways in which career counseling clients fail and what individuals and counselors can do to help.

In career exploration

Typically, career counselors help clients identify career areas for exploration, and for homework, have them do some reading and watching of videos before reaching out to talk with a person(s) in the field. Too often, the client’s Googling skills turn out to be inadequate. That’s a perhaps surprisingly demanding skill, requiring excellent reasoning ability.

Occasionally, teaching the client how to improve Google-search skills works, but more often, it’s wiser to accept that reasoning skills are difficult to improve, especially within the amount of time a career counselor has to work with a client. So the career counselor is often wise to identify the specific articles and videos the client should review.

The self-directed career explorer who has difficulty unearthing on-target material might be wise to use an online tool such as My Next Move, which asks you specific questions and then matches you to careers. For each career, there’s an article and/or video. My Next Move also offers links to institutions that offer training for that career.

In job seeking

For most people, job seeking isn’t fun: putting yourself out there to usually get ignored or rejected. And when you’re not, you’re subjected to stressful interviewing and negotiation. Plus, you’re having to craft a compelling LinkedIn profile, custom resumes, cover letters, and perhaps collateral material such as work samples, a white paper, or business proposal.

So it’s not surprising that many job seekers procrastinate. They’re just not motivated enough to push past the fear of rejection, embarrassment, imposing, and even of success. That’s especially likely if someone else is supporting them: spouse, parents, taxpayers, or an inheritance. Procrastinating the job search is likely also if the job-seeker lacks the foundational value that being productive and self-supporting is non-negotiable, that being responsible is cosmically required.

Job seekers and their counselors can boost motivation using one or more of these:

  • Assessing if the job target is not too demanding nor too easy.
  • Accepting that central to the life well-led is being productive and self-supporting.
  • Breaking down the job hunt into baby steps, which can be charted.
  • Staying vigilant to maintain the right level of perfectionism: not slipshod yet not taking too long by being unnecessarily perfectionistic.
  • Using anti-procrastination tactics.
  • Picturing the benefit of landing a job, for example, his family in a house. The picturing can even be literal, for example, using a jpg of the benefit as their computer’s wallpaper.

Career counseling clients give up on their job search for these reasons:

  • Inflated self-assessment of the kind of job they’ll be a top candidate for. An antidote is to ask yourself, colleagues, or a career counselor, “In that most publicly advertised good jobs get many applications, what is the probability that I will be among the top contenders for this job?”
  • Interview preparation focused on spouting canned answers to common interview questions. They end up sounding scripted or insincere, certainly lacking in the necessary interpersonal chemistry. Interview prep should focus on developing a few PAR stories: A problem you faced related to the kind of job you’re vying for, the clever or dogged way you approached it, and the positive result. Also worthy is developing a mindset that says, “I’ll be authentic (including revealing an immutable weakness that the job might require), humanly connecting in the interview, and thinking that if I don’t get it, it probably means there’s a better-fit job somewhere else.”
  • Focusing too much on low-payoff activities: resume and LinkedIn profile primping, interview prep, and acquiring skills that may not be important. The focus usually should be on tapping your network connections that are stronger than paper-thin LinkedIn connections. If needed, build your network, for example, by attending or presenting at conferences, writing an article for a trade publication, and/or being active in online or in-person professional forums. Also, if it’s not too intimidating, a good use of job-search time is to write, phone, or even walk in to target employers, asking for advice and even to propose working for them, if only as a volunteer, intern, or fill-in worker.
  • Too little time spent on the job search. Unsuccessful job seekers do a drips-and-drabs search in which they spend just a few hours a week. As a result, they too infrequently get encouraging news, for example, that they’re a finalist, and thus, after a few months, give up. Successful job seekers who are unemployed spend 30 hours a week of actual job-searching time. If you’re working full-time, 10 hours.
  • A diffuse job search. In their desperation to land a job, they apply to a too-wide range of roles in multiple fields, so, in the job-search process, they never learn enough about a particular role or field. Successful job seekers focus on just one or two roles and one or two fields, for example, product manager and project manager in enterprise productivity software and in genomic research software.

On the job

A common reason for failure on the job is having used job-search tactics to land a job that’s more challenging than they’re qualified for. For example, dissembling on applications and interviews, and convincing people to give a stronger-than-deserved reference occasionally lands an applicant a job. But on the job, the disparity between the pre- and post-hiring performance is often a shock, leading the employer to quickly terminate the employee.

I recall, for example, a tech-light person who really wanted to work for a website aimed at middle-aged women. The only job opening there was for a tech-savvy person. She had a friend help her with the at-home tech tests, as a bright person, she managed to BS her way through the interviews, and got hired. But she struggled on the job and a few weeks later, crashed the website, whereupon she was fired.

Other people fail on the job because of lack of soft skills: emotional intelligence, the art of persuasion, being high-maintenance, too insistent you're right, or calling out others’ even minor errors. Ameliorating such weaknesses requires concerted effort; for example, journaling daily successes and frustrations, and trying to unearth, perhaps with a counselor’s help, what to do to improve. Simply being vigilant can in itself be helpful.

The takeaway

Most people who are successful in their career take only moderate time to identify a career and job target or two that use their strengths and skirt their weaknesses, prioritize integrity and hard work in landing the job, and recognize that, on the job, soft skills can matter as much as hard.