* A young woman making the rounds of employment agencies--with dreams of a beginning-management position--complains that "all they wanted to do was give me a typing test."
* A law-school graduate, who turned to a career-guidance firm for help on her resume', "paid $55 for an hour and a half" and got, she laments, very little advice and a lot of chatter about the resume' writer's "life story."
* A 34-year-old federal lawyer anxious to leave the government--and the legal profession--approached a large, nationally advertised career-search company. For $5,000, they would repackage him as a dressed-for-success, confident interviewee and make available to him a computer network of thousands of positions. But, he says, "They had a preconceived notion of what they could do for me. I told them it didn't have to be a law-related job, but they didn't want to hear." He also believes he had some of the skills they were trying to sell. When the firm persisted in pushing for a job-search in law, "I didn't feel I needed their help."
Washington's rigorous employment market is pushing job-seekers into the arms of career advisers. Many get what they pay for from skilled and conscientious counselors. But others end up disappointed, sometimes poorer, still jobless and--perhaps worse--with a reinforced feeling of hopelessness.
Choosing the right career counselor or consultant can take effort. Experts in the profession recommend that you:
* Get referrals from friends, your personnel office, professional association, college placement office.
* Attend a career-planning workshop for an idea of help you might need, and to make contacts.
* Read one or more of the how-to career books on the market.
* Practical knowledge of the job market. "A major career experience in something other than government and academia," suggests counselor Ralph L. Minker.
* A good listener, interested and willing to answer questions.
* Involved in counseling networks.
* Contacts with the medical community, a lawyer, financial consultant, should a client need special assistance.
* Compatible personality.
Before Signing a Contract
* Meet your counselor. In some firms, the person selling the program is not your adviser.
* Shop around.
* Check credentials. Find out how long the firm has been in business; ask for references and a biographical profile of the counselor. (An issue being debated by the profession is whether the adviser should have a graduate degree in counseling.)
* Know the costs. Do you have to pay a lot of money up front? Or can you pay as you go? "It seems to me," says Minker, "anybody truly professional will allow a deferred payment." Ask about a money-back settlement if you find the program is wrong for you and want to drop out.
* Determine specifically what services the counselor will provide, and make sure promises are spelled out.