Contract Work

Rather than continuing as a salaried employee at a college or agency position, some counselors choose to establish a private career counseling practice and engage in contract or consulting work. Contract work can be very fulfilling, financially rewarding, and provide tremendous freedom to develop and experiment with numerous interventions while focusing on preferred niches that match one’s highest passions. Success ultimately depends on discipline, setting priorities, and having a measured sense of risk, adventure, and entrepreneurship.

Factors Associated With Choosing Contract Work

A main motivation for many private practitioners that probably influences them to engage in contract work is the opportunity and freedom to concentrate primarily on individual counseling activities with clients and engage in those activities directly related to preferred interests. Counselors choose to be counselors because they enjoy the counseling relationship and believe that this one-on-one interaction can effect change and assist clients with their concerns. Individual counseling does work, and many counselors prefer this one-on-one relationship for good reasons.

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Research findings by T. L. Sexton, S. C. Whiston, J. C. Bleuer, and G. R. Walz indicate the primary factors that effect outcome in career counseling are the type of treatment modality and the duration of time spent counseling and cite individual counseling as the most effective treatment modality. Further research by A. R. Spokane describes individual career counseling as the most efficient career intervention in terms of amount of gain per hour of effort. This one-on-one approach is viewed by J. Rayman as a superior career intervention based on a therapeutic alliance that should be available in comprehensive career centers. Ironically, this presents a daunting challenge to those counselors who prefer the infrastructure of a college or agency setting to consider alternative methods to sufficiently meet client demand. Several factors affect career services providers in college and agency settings and deter them from delivering their preferred mode of individual counseling.

Time Constraints

Time on task is a major concern. The reality is that most career services providers, especially in college settings, are very busy with many noncounseling job responsibilities and unable to sufficiently provide the comprehensive individual career counseling required to meet the needs of their clients. Department meetings, administrative responsibilities such as report writing and budget preparation, orientation and registration activities, academic advising, classroom presentations, and teaching career exploration courses take time and effort, and can detract from concentrative in-depth individual counseling interventions. Even in those college and agency settings where more time might be available for individual counseling, very small percentages of counselors are able to provide the 9 to 10 sessions normally required for effective career interventions.

Client Demand

Another factor that deters counselors from providing individual counseling relates to the large client demand evident at most postsecondary institutions and agency settings. Secondary school students’ needs for career guidance remain largely unmet, and they bring their unmet needs to the college environment, contributing to the estimated half of all undergraduates in colleges and universities who need some form of career assistance. As calls for accountability increase from multiple stakeholders and more colleges and agencies utilize important needs assessment and outcomes research, the evidence of unmet needs will be further documented resulting in more pressure on staff to produce better results.

Insufficient Staff

Finally, there are simply not sufficient numbers of counselors to provide comprehensive individual-based services within the infrastructure of most education and agency settings in the United States or in similar settings internationally. These settings are not structurally organized up to provide comprehensive individual career counseling to large numbers of clients. Few counselors are hired, and yet these few counselors are expected to provide appropriate services to meet the career counseling needs of many clients. Thus, counselor-client ratios are very high leaving a limited pool of stressed-out counselors to attempt to accomplish the important work that need to be done.

Colleges and agencies need to think creatively and wisely as they develop ways to cost-effectively meet the needs of the many clients who frequent their physical structures. Unfortunately, individual counseling, career exploration and planning courses, workshops, the use of computer-assisted career guidance systems (CACGS), and other activities cannot effectively reach the multitudes. In many college and agency settings, the prevailing treatment modality remains career counseling by appointment, a familiar, comfortable, and proven intervention, yet clients’ needs are not sufficiently met. What is needed is the application of systematic career guidance (SCG) with small structured groups that at least begins to cost-effectively deal with this demand. Sadly, the majority of college students will probably experience their college years without spending sufficient time and energy in what E. A. Colozzi describes as committed career exploration activities. Their unmet needs will be carried forth into their first time employment experiences from which they will eventually change jobs 7 to 10 times in two or three unrelated careers during their work history.

A Catalyst for Inspiring Contract Work

These factors will result in a great need for private practice counselors to assist with the growing demand for career/life counseling in an ever-changing global economy. This situation presents a very positive employment opportunity for school, college, and agency counselors who might be considering establishing a private practice because they prefer not to deal with the many other activities that often are an integral part of the job responsibilities at most educational and agency settings. Thus, the stage is set for those career services providers who choose to shift from being salaried employees to being consultants who provide contract work and earn income directly from one or several sources including individual paying clients and corporate or agency clients.

Choosing to become an entrepreneur is an exciting venture that requires a business vision, planning, marketing, constant evaluation, support from others such as family, friends or mentors, and a sense of adventure, even calculated risk. Research indicates entrepreneurs establish an average of 500,000 new businesses monthly in the United States with small businesses (independent businesses having fewer than 500 employees) representing 99.7% of all employer firms. Small businesses are the largest growing segment of the U.S. economy, responsible for more than two thirds of new jobs, and the majority of small businesses are entrepreneurs without employees as reported by S. Gelardin in a new monograph that focuses on starting and growing a new business.

Contract Work Opportunities

There are several creative ways to provide services to potential individual and corporate clients. One involves direct services to clients needing individual counseling and career/life coaching. Another involves providing services to an agency college or corporate client that might include onsite individual counseling and small and large group workshops for employees. Some corporate clients may simply have a need for the development of materials that better serve their target niche of clients and customers, and this type of contract work would preclude directly seeing individual clients and doing group workshops. Distance counseling via telephone or using the Internet with blogs, Podcasting, and video are other ways to meet client needs. New technologies are expanding the many and varied exciting ways to provide career counseling in a global community that presents a thriving economy for the contract career counseling profession.

Establishing the Office and Targeting the Market

The establishment of a private practice where clients come to an office or home office and obtain services directly from a counselor is an obvious choice. Less overhead and other costs result in more income. Penetrating the right market increases income. The focus could be on comprehensive individual career counseling and perhaps small group work. Selecting a niche such as adults 30 to 50 years of age, new entrants to the labor market who have primarily been homemakers, or focusing on young adults are just a few of many possibilities. The key is to start from one’s strengths and passions. Concentrate on abilities, talents, and interests to identify a target niche, and then develop a marketing plan to penetrate that selected market. The focused approach of niche marketing needs to be carefully balanced with creating sufficient content or product diversification to ensure income flow if one’s niche market experiences an economic hiccup! It is difficult and unwise to establish a private practice immediately following graduate school. One requires experience to be successful, and experience is best gained from working in an educational or agency setting where many clients or customers seek career counseling. If one dreams of doing contract work as a private practitioner, consider any work at an appropriate college or agency setting as simply a paid internship—a bridge job that progresses one forward and teaches new skill sets.

Being a Successful Businessperson and Counselor

There are numerous rewards associated with establishing oneself as a contract worker and private practitioner, including a great amount of freedom to do the specific types of work and projects that are fulfilling. One key to success is the clarity one has concerning the role division between businessperson and counselor. It is important, even critical as one develops a business plan, to be aware of the many business tasks that are necessary to success-fully provide contract work as a private practitioner and consultant.

If the assumption is that to be successful in private practice, one must see oneself equally as a businessperson and a career counselor, a 50/50 even split, not a businessperson first and then a career counselor, the contract work may quickly end due to unrealistic priorities. It is imperative to always see oneself and act as a businessperson first—at least 51%. This requires organizing time and tasks in the context of business goals first and then serving customers-clients with integrity in ways that meet their needs. This approach will allow a reasonable profit so the contract work can continue to support one’s business as a private practitioner, doing the counseling and consulting one thoroughly enjoys. The other option is to work for a college or agency setting primarily as a career counselor and not have to deal with the business aspects of running a private practice and doing contract work.

Future Directions

Small businesses have been around from the earliest time a person started to offer a service or provide a product for the community. They are always growing and changing, and will be offering many exciting opportunities for future generations. In the career counseling field many people are discovering opportunities to offer their services for a fee. There are human and written resources that will support this effort including advice, mentoring, and basic tips that facilitate starting and growing a successful business in the career counseling profession. Much of this information is available through the National Career Development Association (NCDA), and their Web site offers excellent free career information and a variety of resources. Another organization that focuses on school youth is JA Worldwide (Junior Achievement), and their Web site offers very user-friendly resources for youth, parents, and educators, including links to arrange having a JA volunteer visit a school and present several workshops for students on many topics such as entrepreneurship, career exploration, and the global economy.


  1. Colozzi, E. A. (2000). Toward the development of systematic career guidance. In D. Luzzo (Ed.), Career counseling of college students: An empirical guide to strategies that work. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  2. Gelardin, S. (2006). Starting and growing a business in the new economy: Successful career entrepreneurs share stories and strategies. National Career Development Association Monograph Series.
  3. Rayman, J. (1996). Apples and oranges in the career center: Reaction to R. Reardon. Journal of Counseling & Development, 74, 286-287.
  4. Sexton, T. L., Whiston, S. C., Bleuer, J. C., & Walz, G. R. (1997). Integrating outcome research into counseling practice and training. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
  5. Spokane, A. R. (1991). Career interventions. Englewood, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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