I was in college before I ever heard the term “career counseling” — not unusual as a first-generation college student. I remember the announcement during orientation that free career counseling was available. I thought, why not check it out, especially since I was curious to see what it entailed and there was no cost involved.

I already knew I wanted to be an elementary education teacher; I thought it would be interesting to see what the experts would say. As I suspected, the career assessment I took confirmed teaching.

Although the assessment itself was enlightening, the most dramatic impact wasn’t the assessment result but the career counselor delivering it! As a new college student, I found him to be supportive, helpful and encouraging. It was a new experience for me and quite gratifying.

Little did I know it on that first day, but we would establish a rapport that has grown into a lifelong friendship. That counselor became my mentor before I even knew what a mentoring relationship was! Our relationship grew as I would see him on campus and he would ask how things were going. Because I also worked at the campus after transferring to a university, I could keep him up to date on where things were.

Bottom line: during career or educational transitions, whenever I was at a crossroads, our paths would converge and we would meet, informally or intentionally, to discuss the options and talk out a plan of action. Over the years we shared life events and built a professional relationship that was mutually beneficial and positive. The input and support were not only helpful but empowering, giving me the confidence to set higher goals, initially from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree, and later to complete a master’s in training and another master’s in counseling.

Although my educational path was unconventional as an adult student, I did eventually get back to teaching while working in higher education. Along the way, the advice and encouragement of a successful coach helped me navigate my career path. In our last professional endeavor together, I had the opportunity to work with him directly in his human resource management consulting firm while I was pursuing graduate school. I was so grateful that the relationship we built led to this experience. It was very valuable in my career and very rewarding as well.

Throughout my career, this person was pivotal in giving me the courage to step out and take risks that were daunting at the time. The lesson learned here is that a solid therapeutic relationship, or several, can be key to a person’s success in progressing their career, education or even personal or spiritual development. Not everyone has the desired support at their fingertips, so seeking out those with appropriate expertise is well worth the pursuit.

Relationships like this are built on personality (some might call it chemistry) and connection, two factors which are critical in a symbiotic relationship. If you’re a student reading this, seek out a career counselor or career development office where professionals understand what your needs are and can offer helpful solutions.

When I am approached by individuals for career counseling, my primary focus is to put their needs first and evaluate whether I am the best fit to help them achieve their goals. How can I best be of service? What areas can I support? After our initial conversation my first course of action, 99 percent of the time, is to suggest they take our Personality Type assessment. Then I can confidently begin the process of enlightening the individual as to the strengths and talents they possess, and how that knowledge can help them pursue more satisfying careers and workplace cultures.

This method allows us to get on the same wavelength for discussing situations and developing a plan that uses a commonly understood approach. It is also imperative in empowering the client to learn or develop the self-advocacy skills necessary in reaching their career goals.

If you are seeking career guidance, start with the local colleges in your area. Many offer free or low-fee services. Additionally, some quasi-educational organizations offer services for residents of given geographical areas for free, low cost or on a sliding scale.