Paul Sancya  /  AP
Robin Keyser, top, looks for advice on her resume while attending a job fair in Southfield, Mich.
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updated 4/8/2011 1:23:49 PM ET 2011-04-08T17:23:49

The tough economy has disrupted millions of workers' lives, putting many out of a job and exponentially increasing the workloads of many others. The uncertainty of it all can leave people wondering what to do next.

So when is it time to call in the pros?

Here are tips on what career counselors do and how to decide whether they can help you.

HOW IT WORKS:

Career coaches will guide you and give unbiased career advice. They can provide assistance on a variety of issues from polishing a resume to navigating workplace conflicts and, most often, planning career changes.

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The length of counseling and kinds of meetings you have will vary depending on your needs and your counselor's techniques. Someone seeking resume help could be done in one or two sessions, whereas someone making a major life transition could take much longer.

The meetings are typically one-on-one and in person. In some ways career counseling is like cognitive therapy, where you work with a provider to find solutions together.

"If they come to me and say, 'I've run out of ideas,' then there is probably just value to a new approach and new way of looking at things," says John McKee, a business life coach and author of several career books.

Story: Career coaches may not always be best call

Career counseling differs from the services employers typically make available after layoffs, which tend to focus on unemployment benefits and job search basics. Career coaching is also not a job-hunting service. Counselors can help you enormously, but the leg work is still up to you.

"Neither a career coach (nor) a counselor is going to be a guru to save you," said Cameron Powell, a counselor in Bend, Ore., and founder of Feroce Coaching. "The client still has to do the work."

WHAT IT COSTS:

Career coaches and counselors typically provide a free initial meeting, where you discuss the process and get to know each other. This is when you should establish how long it may take and how much it's going to cost.

The average cost for an hour of career coaching is $161, according to the International Coach Federation. Exact charges vary greatly. Some coaches will work with groups so each member pays less, but one-on-one meetings are generally regarded as more effective.

While it can be expensive, coaches argue you should consider the return on investment for being happier in your career.

"There are not many better investments than investing in yourself," says Jeff Neil, a career coach in New York.

He pointed out that if you earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year, the fee to speed up a job search — even with several sessions at $161 an hour — may be much less than the $25,000 to $50,000 you could lose out on if unemployed for six months.

HOW TO CHOOSE:

Ask people you know for recommendations or ask a potential coach for testimonials from past clients.

Some coaches will have credentials from the International Coach Federation or the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, though those are not mandatory. Learn the history and training of coaches you're considering. You may find it more helpful to work with a coach familiar with your industry.

It's important to make sure you have a good chemistry with the coach you select and you're comfortable with the kinds of goals he or she sets and the counselor's techniques. The initial meeting is a good time to assess that.

"There are a lot of sharks out there that call themselves coaches," McKee said. "I believe and can say with confidence — and I think most people in HR would agree with this — career counseling should have a very clear payback."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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