Career Counseling: Initial Interview

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Idealistically, one could expect that the development of effective career education programs in American schools might eliminate the need for career counseling entirely. After all, one might reason, if we provide continual opportunity to learn about oneself, to understand society's work-oriented values, and to have extensive contact with the world of work, it should be a simple matter for every individual to make a satisfying and fulfilling career choice. Realistically, one might just as reasonably conclude that providing an effective program of hygiene and health education through schools and the communication media will eliminate the need for medical care. Both programs, career education and health education, would be of great benefit to many individuals, but each is insufficient to cope with the myriad problems, concerns, and needs encountered by some members of society. Just as there are varying tolerance levels for physical pain, allergic reactions to different substances, irregular developmental processes, deficiencies, diseases, and other physical anomalies, so too are there many factors that prevent, impede, or disrupt career development.

Many, perhaps even most, individuals will deal effectively with career problems and decisions, just as many people cope successfully with matters of health. There are times in the lives of most individuals, however, when they wish to consult a physician. The reasons as viewed by the individual at the time are of sufficient consequence to justify the action. From the professional viewpoint of the physician, some of those reasons or symptoms may soon be established as insignificant and meaningless and others may require immediate, even massive, treatment to restore the well-being of the individual. Further, many individuals misread, ignore, or suppress physical danger signals until the physician can no longer help. Therefore, it is common practice for many physicians to tell their patients that if the patient has a problem, or thinks he or she has a problem, to let the physician help in determining its severity.

This behavior of the physician perhaps provides a role model for the counselor. Although everyone is a potential client for career counseling, most people, most of the time, do very well on their own. Sometimes, however, for varying reasons and with differing levels of validity, some individuals will wish to consult the counselor. At this point, the counselor knows neither the nature of the problem nor its severity, but knows only that this person comes because of a desire to see and talk to a counselor. On this basis, preconditions and assumptions are unnecessary. The client may be unnecessarily distressed about a very minor matter or, on the other hand, in desperate need for extensive and intensive therapy with a highly skilled specialist. It seems reasonable for the counselor to be involved at this point in exploring the nature and gravity of those concerns so that appropriate subsequent action or referral is chosen. Thus the counselor deals with the client, recognizing that the client's self-diagnosis may be precisely accurate, totally erroneous, or somewhere between the two extremes.

Career counseling, like counseling in general, requires the counselor to identify properly and respond appropriately to feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors expressed by the client and to assist the client in developing desired and appropriate behaviors that reflect the increased understanding and insight resulting from counseling. Further, it requires the counselor to be competent in assisting the client in acquiring, processing, and applying information and skills required in effective decision making and subsequent implementation of plans. While many clients may focus on personal or social aspects of life, the majority of clients served by most counseling centers indicate primary concern about matters that are career-oriented, and a large portion of the other cases may well involve career elements.

We will now consider the first contact between client and counselor. Occasionally, but not often, the activities usually completed in the first interview may extend over two or three sessions rather than the customary first interview. Similarly, and also rarely, the activities completed by client and counselor may include more than those we propose as first interview business. Discrepancies from the usual pattern are of less significance than a pace that is comfortable for both client and counselor and compatible with the needs of the client. We will consider the typical first interview to extend from the initial face-to-face contact through the development of tentative plans or goals for further counseling and/or supporting action and the arrangement of specific next steps for the client.

Goals of First Interview

The specific content, format, and sequence of the first interview may vary considerably from client to client. Nevertheless, the counselor usually has certain fairly clear-cut objectives for the period or periods we are calling the first interview. Several authors concur on the basic purposes of this session. Cottle and Downie (1960) open their discussion of the initial interview with the following paragraph:

The initial interview has at least four primary purposes. One of these is to establish a good working relationship between the counselor and the client which will last throughout counseling. Another is to validate and expand the data about the client collected prior to the interview. Still a third is to observe the client directly and to collect information which will show client feelings about values, interests, attitudes, and goals. In addition this first interview is used to establish the structure within which counseling will take place.

Tyler (1969) includes similar purposes in her statement, as follows:

We have been thinking about three objectives the counselor has in mind for the initial interview: (a) getting a sound counseling relationship started, (b) opening up the psychological realms of feeling and attitude within the person, and (c) clarifying the structure of the helping process. The order in which these have been stated corresponds to their importance.

Hansen, Stevic, and Warner (1977) have drawn directly from Tyler's position when they identify the three purposes of the initial interview as follows:
  1. To lay the foundation for the counseling relationship.

  2. To begin opening all the psychological realities in the client's situation.

  3. To structure the situation for the client.
Stewart et al. (1978), describing a "systems" approach to counseling, summarize their view of initiating the counseling process, in part, with the following:

Successful counseling practice is based upon the concurrent development of two types of understanding. On the one hand, counselors attempt to create a relationship of trust and understanding with each client. Concurrently, they develop a comprehensive model or "picture" of client concerns.

At some time during the initial interview, counselors describe the process commonly used in counseling as one vehicle for establishing a sound relationship with the client. Elements of the process identified are the purpose of counseling, the respective responsibilities of both the client and counselor, the focus or convergence of attention upon one concern at a time, and the limits within which counseling is conducted. This shared understanding of the counseling process provides a sound foundation for the development of mutual trust that is so essential in counseling.

Along with developing a comfortable working relationship with client's counselors are concerned, during the early phases of counseling, with helping clients to "tell their story".

Finally, Hackney and Cormier (1979) describe their view of this activity in these words:

Based on what has been said about the client who is entering counseling, follows that you would have some fairly clear responsibilities. These responsibilities are above and beyond creating a favorable climate for counseling even beyond being a good and caring listener. It is your role to hear the needs as clients describe their problems, and to help them hear those needs a well. It is then necessary to help clients translate these needs into wants in order that the working mode can be translated from a passive to an active one. You must listen for those solutions the client has tried that have become part of the problem, and help the client see this. Next it is your role to help client formulate goals that will help meet the needs from these goals, plans of action may be constructed, implemented, and evaluated.
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