If you enjoy working with people and helping them realise their ambitions, being a careers adviser could be a great job for you…

As a careers adviser you will provide information, advice and guidance to help people make realistic choices about their education, training and work. You will deal with a range of people, from school children over the age of 13, up to adults who may want a career change or need help with further training.

Careers advisers help to identify options for suitable careers, build CVs, identify skills gaps, advise on where to search for jobs, help with the application process and locate relevant training courses.

You can work in a range of locations in the public, private and voluntary sectors, including schools, colleges and local authorities. One of the biggest employers is the National Careers Service, which also runs an online and telephone advice service.

It is possible to specialise in higher education careers advice and to work in a careers service based within a university. For more information on this role see higher education careers adviser.

Responsibilities

The work of a careers adviser varies depending on the type of organisation. If you work in a school, you will deal with different issues to a careers adviser who works in colleges or job or community centres.

The variety of work that can be carried out includes:

  • interviewing people one-to-one or in small groups to discuss career or education options;
  • identifying skills gaps and how to deal with them;
  • helping young people to draw up action plans for employment, education and training and supporting them to achieve these goals;
  • researching careers, options and support organisations to meet people's needs;
  • advising people on how to source relevant training courses or qualifications and what funding might be available;
  • providing advice on CV, applications, job hunting and interview techniques;
  • running small group sessions or larger presentations on all aspects of careers work and topics related to personal development;
  • helping people to understand the current job market;
  • liaising and negotiating with other organisations on behalf of people;
  • using IT for administrative tasks, such as recording interactions with and tracking clients;
  • using computer-aided guidance packages, skills assessment tools, career planners, psychometric tests and personal inventories;
  • writing careers literature or sourcing information products from elsewhere for use within the service;
  • planning and organising careers fairs and conventions;
  • keeping up to date with labour market information, legislation, and professional and academic developments by visiting employers, training providers and training events run by educational and professional bodies;
  • managing a caseload of clients.

Salary

There is no single or nationally recognised salary scale for careers advisers. Salaries vary by employer, location and entry level.

  • Starting salaries may range from £18,000 to £22,000. This may rise to £27,000 with experience and the relevant qualifications.
  • At managerial level, you could earn up to £35,000. Those working for an organisation with a full management structure may earn more.

Salaries are often higher in London and big cities. Further education colleges may offer higher salaries.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Careers advisers usually work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday, but they may be required to be flexible with the hours and some may need to do evening or weekend work depending on where they're employed.

There are opportunities for part-time, temporary or fixed-term work, job-sharing and flexitime, but this varies from employer to employer. Career breaks are possible.

What to expect

  • The work may be based in a variety of locations including schools, colleges, community centres, jobcentres, libraries, Connexions offices, Sure Start Centres and housing associations.
  • Opportunities in this profession exist nationwide. The National Careers Service operates through many different organisations (with some services being contracted out) across the UK.
  • Careers advisers may need to travel during the day to their different places of work and also to meet employers, training providers and professionals from other organisations. Occasionally they may need to travel to other parts of the country for meetings and conferences, which may involve overnight stays. Overseas travel or work is unlikely.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree, HND or foundation degree in a sociological or educational related topic would be useful. In particular the following subjects may help:

  • counselling;
  • psychology;
  • social work;
  • teaching;
  • youth work.

Foundation degrees in working with young people and young people's services are available and may be useful to those who wish to work in schools or colleges.

The majority of employers will look for those who have, or who are willing to work towards, the Qualification in Careers Guidance (QCG). This combines theoretical academic study with practical work experience and takes one year full time or two years part time. The usual entry requirement is an undergraduate degree in any subject, but those without this qualification may still be considered if they can demonstrate an interest and commitment to the subject and perhaps some relevant experience.

For more information on the QCG and relevant training providers see the Career Development Institute (CDI).

Work-based qualifications are also available, which include the Career Information and Advice Level 4 (NVQ) Diploma and the Career Guidance and Development Level 6 Diploma. For more information on these qualifications see OCR Examinations Board.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • a high level of communication and listening skills;
  • the ability to motivate and build a rapport with people;
  • flexibility and adaptability;
  • an empathetic, non-judgmental and ethical approach;
  • the ability to work individually or as part of a team;
  • the ability to manage your own caseload;
  • the capability to work under pressure;
  • organisational skills;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • familiarity with information technology.

To work with young people or vulnerable groups you will need to undergo relevant criminal records checks. A driving licence is usually required. In some settings, such as rural outreach, you may need your own transport.

Work experience

Experience of working with young people or in advisory positions will be helpful when applying for jobs. Other customer service positions where good communication skills are required will also be good experience.

Employers

One of the main employers of careers advisers is the National Careers Service. This is delivered by the Skills Funding Agency and operates an online and telephone service as well as having careers centres in local community locations.

You could be employed at one of the telephone service centres, which are located in Leicester and Manchester, or you could work in one of the National Careers Service offices, which offer face-to-face appointments. These are available in many different regions, and due to the work being sub-contracted out to different organisations, the offices may be based in a variety of locations. Premises can include:

  • schools or further education colleges;
  • jobcentres;
  • training providers;
  • libraries;
  • community centres;
  • probation offices;
  • Sure Start Centres or Connexions offices;
  • housing associations;
  • healthcare settings;
  • charities;
  • places of worship;
  • local authorities.

It is also possible to work within consultancies or within large businesses, advising the employees on career management.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland careers advisers work for all-age guidance services. For more information, see:

It may be possible to work for the Independent Schools Careers Organisation (ISCO) through their Futurewise service.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Training varies according to the employer and the qualifications and experience you have when you start in the role. Each employer is likely to carry out their own mandatory training on the job, which is specific to that particular service. This may include data protection, equality and diversity or dealing with difficult clients.

If you haven't already got the Qualification in Careers Guidance (QCG) it is likely that you will study towards that or one of the relevant NVQs available in career guidance through the OCR Examinations Board. Or you may wish to study for a Masters-level qualification in career guidance, of which there are several. For information on available courses, as well as continuous professional development (CPD) opportunities, see the CDI.

The CDI also provides the national register of career development professionals, which careers advisers are strongly encouraged to join.

Career prospects

After working as a qualified careers adviser it may be possible to move on to a supervisory role and then on to a team leader or manager role where you would be managing a careers centre or team of advisers.

After a number of years' experience it may be possible to move into senior management, although this may mean a move into a local authority department. Movement into management positions may require relocation to a different town, city or region.

There may be the option to specialise in certain areas such as special needs or working with ethnic minorities or travellers. You could also go on to work in the higher education sector - for more information on this role see higher education careers adviser.

It may be possible to move into related careers such as youth and community work, health and social care, counselling and employment services.

You may want to become a careers consultant, but substantial experience is usually required for this role. You would typically work for a careers or management consultancy and would go into organisations to work with its employees to provide them with advice and guidance on career management. Some may be based in the HR or personnel department of the organisation or business itself if it is particularly large.

It is possible to be a careers consultant working on a freelance basis with individual fee-paying clients in a private setting. You may specialise in certain client groups such as mid-life career changers, those returning to work after having a family or those with mental health issues. Other typical employers of careers consultants include local education authorities and health-related public bodies.