Ask The Headhunter is loaded with critiques about resume writers, Human Resources, career counselors, career coaches, headhunters, and every denizen of the career industry — including extreme career consulting, a.k.a., executive marketing. It’s simple: the industry lends itself to quacks and quick-buck artists. And there are a lot of them. But there are a lot of good practitioners, too. You just need to know the difference.

Nah, I’m not going to try and show you how to figure it out. I get taken by surprise myself sometimes, thinking someone’s a quack, and they turn out to be very insightful and helpful. All I can suggest is, check their references. (Yah, check their references! Turnabout is fair play. And smart.) Talk to their clients. Talk to companies who know them. Know who you’re working with.

(Okay, here’s one tip. Like headhunters, really good counselors know they’re operating in a field full of jargon and tools and techniques that are sometimes over the top. They approach their black art with a bit of black humor. They poke and prod before they administer their potions, and they might turn their clients upside down and shake them out to get a better look. They’re fun to work with. No fun, no dice.)

One of my buddies in the counseling biz manages a coaching program for a big non-profit called the Anderson School of Management at UCLA, where adventurous students earn MBA’s. Sara Tucker glows with enthusiasm, slides down bannisters, and makes career change sound like, well, something more than you expected it to be… I’d pay her for advice in a snap, but you can’t hire her — she’s too busy at Anderson coaching MBA students and alumni. (You could get an Anderson MBA, get a session with Sara, and move on, but that would probably embarrass her, seeing as it would be the most expensive coaching session on record…)

Anyway, I’m not offering any tips today, but I want you to see what career counseling is really all about. Pay attention; there’s a quiz afterwards. This video will perpare you for working with a counselor, and it will teach you that Lesson #1 is, you shouldn’t try to teach a pig how to dance. I’ll tip you off that Sara is just acting — portraying another counselor, Carrie Jameson, who crafted her own experiment and moved into another field… This is how one counselor says goodbye to another. But that’s beside the point. Remember, there’s a quiz.

Quiz: Complete the following sentence.

The point of career counseling is…

a) to get so good at it that you can use what you’ve learned to change careers.
b helping pigs find the right mudpit and giving them permission to roll around in it with impunity.
c) sliding down bannisters.
d) trying to figure it all out, no matter what it does to your brain.
e) none of the above. The real point is _________________________.

BONUS: Answer this one for 5 extra points, using terms introduced in the video.

What does it mean to craft an experiment?

Please post your answers below in the Comments box, and provide a full explanation. If you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs, indicate your type. If you just want a job, any job, skip the quiz and this post, and go to Or, you could go to TheLadders, but read this first. Happy careering!

(Best wishes to Carrie in her new nursing career. Many thanks to Sara for her sense of humor. Special thanks to the camera operator for panning across the bookshelf far enough to get the spine of my book into the video… yah, I replayed that part a few times, sorry.)

  1. The point of career counseling is… ‘e) none of the above.’ The real point is to help people recognize the work they want to do and find an environment that allows them to do their best work. In that respect, is close to ‘b’ but the word ‘impunity’ was too strong for that to be my choice. It really is all about ‘fit,’ both the work and the work place.

    What does it mean to craft an experiment? It means to look through multiple perspectives at the work that engages, challenges, and rewards us the most. If we’re not doing that work right now, the experiment gives us the opportunity to see where we are, where we want to be, and possible ways to get from here to there.

    Myers-Briggs type: INTP

  2. Steve,
    Points well taken! I intentionally loaded option “b” and you caught that… ;-) Wish we’d get more counselors to chime in on this! In my experience, most people are afraid to experiment, rationalizing that to experiment means to give up the safety net (which isn’t necessarily true) and risk the whole enchilada (when all you might be doing is adding a side dish that might or might not turn into an entree…)