Apart from meaning there is no minimum technical standard, this also means that there are no legal or ethical standards, nobody that you can complain to and no legal sanctions if they do it wrongly. This doesn’t mean that everybody offering advice is bad, a lot of them are excellent. It’s just that you don’t get any guarantees and you can’t easily tell who are the charlatans and who are the real experts; somebody saying they’ve got a certificate or belong to a “Professional Organisation” doesn’t usually mean much.
For that reason, I’d suggest that if you want to get somebody to help you with career choices (whether you’ve been forced into it by redundancy or want to consider a new path) you look at getting a Registered Psychologist. They aren’t going to be “regulated” in career guidance as such, but you do know that they have a Doctoral level qualification, have to do ongoing CPD, have appropriate insurances, comply with an ethical code etc. They are also liable to lose their licence to practice psychology if they don’t display the appropriate competence. So if they haven’t really studied career guidance both in theory and practice, they are stepping outside their remit and you can complain about them, and get their licence taken away. They might be able to carry on working in “Career Guidance” (until and unless it is regulated) but they will not be able to work as a registered psychologist any more. That might sound a bit harsh, but it is important for your safety and well-being, and until there is proper regulation in this country, it is the best protection you have.
The professional organisation for psychologists in the UK is the British Psychological Society (BPS). You can search by area in the psychologist directory . You can look me up on there to check it’s working (postcode is RG42 3DX).
The problem is that it doesn’t help a lot, since there is no category for career advisers. You probably want an Occupational or Educational Psychologist, but the main consideration is that they do specialise in career advice and life transitions (such as redundancy etc.) You’re not talking about the counselling aspects, the stress, anxiety etc., what you want is somebody who knows about the issues around finding a new career, deciding what you really enjoy and are good at, how you go about identifying transferable skills etc.
It is even more complicated because although the BPS is the professional organisation, the register of psychologists (the formal list and disciplinery actions like striking off) is now handled by the Health Professions Council. You can check whether somebody you are considering seeing is on the HPC register. Choose “Practitioner Psychologist” on the drop down menu under “step1: Select a profession” and put in the name. It tells you whether the person is currently registered with the HPC. Again, you can look me up on there to make sure you’ve got the system to work when you are trying to check on a psychologist with whom you might want to work.
I’m going to set up an unofficial list on this site to start to give people an idea of who is well qualified in the area. I’ll do that until the powers that be work out that the public need to be protected. However, that will take time to develop, and until then the other place to look is the Institute of Career Guidance.
Their registered members are at NVQ 3 or 4 or above (about A-level, towards first year degree level and beyond). That’s good, it shows they are interested and know something about the area but it isn’t really enough on its own in my view so I’d go for Registered Psychologist who specialises, and ideally is a member of the ICG as well. There is a search facility for Institute members, so with a bit of electronic wizardry, you can check who is on both lists!
At the moment, checking on both lists (BPS/HPC and ICG) is the best way to find a career guidance advisor – if you’re not going to do that then check very carefully on the qualifications and membership whoever you are going to see claims to have. If you want to check with me, to see if I can help or refer you to somebody, let me know.
If you want to “do it yourself” there are some books around on finding a career, this is a good general purpose one.