A career in career development

There are many opportunities to work in career development, from working as careers support, a careers adviser or careers leader in schools, colleges and higher education, to working in careers providers or independently as a careers coach, consultant or counsellor. There are also opportunities to move into careers education and training, from freelance training and assessor roles to working as a lecturer, researcher or policy-maker.

What unites everyone working in career development is their commitment to professional practice and desire to enable young people and adults to thrive in their careers. It is so much more than talking about jobs, it is helping individuals identify what they want from their future career, explore the pathways to achieve it and develop the career management skills that will support them throughout their lives.

Inspiring young people and adults

Career development professionals inspire people of all ages and from all communities by providing personal career guidance either in person or online which enables the client to 

  • Consider their circumstances, values and aspirations;  

  • Confront any challenges and remove barriers;  

  • Strengthen motivation;  

  • Build resilience, confidence and curiosity;  

  • Develop new perspectives;  

  • Learn about relevant careers, jobs and the labour market;  

  • Justify their thinking and be happy with the plan that they make to achieve their career goal. 

  • Skills which will also help the client throughout their life.

They do this by: 

  • Listening to their clientinitial ideas, qualifications, skills, experiences, circumstances and life aims; 

  • Enabling the client to identify and consider the choices available to them; 

  • Explaining information about the labour market and how to use this;  

  • Outlining and exploring possible courses of action; 

  • Helping the client plan how to achieve their goals; plans may involve employment, training, education, or a combination of these; 

  • Supporting the client to see how they could overcome any barriers that prevent them from moving forwards, or referring them to other agencies that could advise them. 

Qualifying as a career development professional

Providing effective careers education, information, advice and guidance requires an in-depth knowledge of theory and practice,  gained through a graduate or post-graduate level qualification in career development in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and a post graduate qualification in Scotland.

Many people entering the career development profession self-fund their qualifications though some employers offer trainee positions, apprenticeship routes in Scotland and a higher apprenticeship route in England.

Anyone working in the profession who is a member of the CDI must abide by the CDI Code of Ethics and to join the Register of Career Development Professionals, you must commit to undertaking 25 hours of continuous professional development each year, to maintain and develop your skills and knowledge.  

In addition, to work with children, young people or vulnerable adults you will also be required to undergo safeguarding checks.

The CDI provides and supports a range of professional qualifications.

career development qualifications

What you would do as a career development professional

The work of careers professional is as varied as the clients they support or the area of practice they work within, and can also include;

  • Work with groups, to help clients make decisions about their future learning options, or with their job search; 

  • Work with people and organisations in designing and developing career development programmes; 

  • Maintain and develop professional networks and partnerships to support their work with clients; 

  • Keep up to date with and use sources of career and labour market information and assessment tools and techniques. This can involve visiting local colleges, training providers; FE colleges, universities and employers; 

  • Organise a wide range of careers events and activities, where clients can meet representatives from education, training and industry; 

  • Use tests and guides (often computer-based) to help analyse clients' interests, aptitudes and abilities; 

  • Write reports and keep records; 

  • Manage and assure the quality of their own work.

As a professional role, those working in career development adopt professional values and ethical standards in all roles, engage in continuous learning and critical thinking and advocate for the profession.

Who career development professionals support

Careers education, information advice and guidance is hugely beneficial to people of all ages, and in particular when exploring future careers and undergoing career transitions. Career development professionals work with people in many different contexts from primary age through to retirement, including:

  • Primary and secondary school pupils
  • FE and HE students
  • Apprentices and trainees
  • Graduates
  • Employees in a wide range of organisations
  • Career changers
  • People in custody
  • Armed Forces veterans
  • Young people and adults with Special Educational Needs and Difficulties (SEND)
  • Returners to the labour market following maternity leave/caring duties or illness
  • Those who are unemployed or facing redundancy, and
  • People planning their retirement. 

Where careers professionals work

There are many different areas of work in career development and a range of job titles that match. Those who deliver information, advice and career guidance may be a careers adviser, career coach, career consultant, career counsellor or talent manager. There are also roles as a careers assistant, careers leader, head of careers and careers managers.

Employers for those engaged in careers practice include schools, sixth-form and FE colleges, universities, local authorities, independent schools, voluntary and community sector, custodial settings, private practice, Careers Hubs and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

There are also many roles in the government-funded careers organisations across the UK; the National Careers Service providers in England, Skills Development Scotland, Careers Wales and the Careers Service Northern Ireland.

There are also opportunities in training careers practitioners as well as in research, either as a freelance consultant or working for one of the universities or other research bodies.

Career development is a flexible profession where you can be an employee, on contract, self-employed or a combination. Roles can be full-time, part-time or term-time only and this flexibility means career development is a profession that can suit many people.   As the skills and knowledge of careers professionals is transferable, many people work in both career development and allied roles. 

Although the CDI is a UK-based professional body, we have members who are based around the world as well as UK members who have clients based abroad, offering support through online coaching sessions.

What you can earn

In England, there are no set national pay scales. Salaries for newly qualified careers practitioners can start from £25,000 to £28,000 per year, rising to between £30,000 and £40,000 depending on experience, responsibility and where they work. Management roles including careers leaders and heads of careers can earn more.

Salaries tend to be lowest in schools and colleges, as well as National Careers Service providers. Careers roles in universities across the UK tend to pay more, often around £40,000 for qualified careers advisers.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, most roles are with the national provider of careers - Skills Development Scotland, Careers Wales and Careers Service Northern Ireland. Salaries tend to be higher than in England, often starting above £30,000.

Those careers professionals who are self-employed or freelance (often referred to as private practice) set their own fees and often take on a mixture of contracts  with schools, colleges or universities, with private careers coaching for individuals or careers support for employers.

A key feature of working in career development is your own continuous development, and this can lead to specialisms and opportunities to carry out research, offer consulting and work in careers training and lecturing. Freelance specialists can earn anywhere from £250 to £800 a day.

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