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Differences between career counseling, work orientation and vocational guidance.

Orientación profesional, vocacional, laboral

It is common practice to use the terms professional orientation, vocational guidance or work orientation with the same meaning, but vary considerably in their functions. We could even expand the range and include the term of orientation for the career, widely used in Anglo-Saxon world.. These types of guidance refer to a common concept: work. It is what differentiates them from other types of guidance, such as education (learning difficulties, school adaptation, etc.) or family orientation (problems with children, adoptions, etc.).

In general terms we could say that the main difference between the different types of orientation of the scope of work lies in the following:

  • Vocational guidance: job choice.
  • Work orientation: search, maintenance or change of job.
  • Professional orientation: involves career development (and vital) in general. It is practically similar to the term career orientation.

We will go a little deeper in defining the terms and their differences based on professional guidance, as it is currently the most widely used term in the European space.

Professional orientation (career counseling).

Before we continue, we should not stay with the term orientation as the only meaning of advising, since the orientation requires a series of processes that involve the knowledge of the person, the environment, the work and social world to all help the oriented To their own self-realization in whatever context, be it educational, organizational-labor, socio-community or personal. Currently the term professional guidance is the most used in the European space.

Therefore, career guidance is a process of technical assistance aimed at a person or group with the intention of acquiring complete knowledge of their own abilities, skills or potential with the aim of adapting professional choices and integrate them into their personal, educational development , Social and labor.

One of the classic definitions of professional orientation is that of Super in the middle of the 20th century:

“The process by which a person is helped to develop and accept a complete and adequate image of himself and his role in the world of work, to test that concept against everyday reality and to make it a reality for his Personal satisfaction and for the benefit of society.” (Super, 1951)

The counselor serves as a guide, encouragement and support to the guided through the accompaniment and mediation. In short the counselor is a career educator and will act advising, informing and contributing learning experiences to favor the acquisition of knowledge, attitudes and skills that everyone needs to be able to successfully develop their career. Orientation is a planned and preventive process in which the person oriented has the role of protagonist and main asset until achieving a responsible and efficient self-orientation. This advice is what you could call today as coaching.

The term counseling is one of the most important within career guidance. The counselor is the person who advises the counselor objectively depending on his personality and abilities. The National Vocational Guidance Association defines career guidance as “assisting the student”. Likewise, the General Conference of the International Labor Organization speaks of “aid provided” as part of the functions of the counselor towards the counselor.

Vocational guidance can also be defined as psychological assistance:

“A form of psychological assistance with characteristics of enlightenment, whose objective is that the consultants elaborate their vocational identity and mobilize their autonomous decision-making capacity in order to satisfy their own needs related to the historical and cultural context and the concrete situation in which Their choice takes place.The systematic process is usually performed in special moments: steps of evolutionary cycles or educational stages. ” (Lopez Bonelli 1989, 27).

Target Audience.

Vocational guidance has multiple targets:

  • Child and adolescent students. Although educational guidance (learning difficulties, school adaptation, etc.) predominates in these ages, they can also benefit from some professional orientation, especially in the ages close to contact with the working world. It is important in the face of the choice of their studies that guide them towards their future work expectations. Let us recall the preventive nature of vocational guidance.
  • University students. In this area we work with the labor insertion, labor practices or search of the first job. In addition, they also receive academic guidance and learning skills.
  • Adult population: young; Disheveled adults; Occupied with aspirations for improvement or change of employment; Or people with problems to reconcile working life with staff.

Difference between work and career counseling.

Work orientation is a term that encompasses any work-related orientation process, usually involving search, maintenance or job change processes.

Career guidance goes one step beyond career guidance and is immersed in career development. That is, the term vocational guidance should be used when the counselor also receives advice for the improvement of his career, planning the same. Thus, it is a term that encompasses the professional and personal development of the oriented to its own self-realization.

Therefore, the difference lies in the fact that the professional orientation does not stop when the job is found but continues throughout the professional and vital project of the person.

Difference between vocational and vocational guidance.

The term vocational refers to tasks that involve work or occupation, but whether they are paid or unpaid. However the professional term always refers to a paid occupation and, in addition, needs some qualification for its performance. Therefore, there may be cases in which terms coincide, as there may be people who need professional guidance in a job that is already vocational.

The vocational counselor will guide the orientated in the choice of the job in an objective way to their capacities, needs and possibilities.

According to Castaño (1983: 239), “vocational orientation, insofar as it is inseparable from the process of maturation of the personality, is aimed at awakening, enlightening and enhancing the individual’s ability to achieve his own self-realization through the exercise of Professional life “Castaño (1983: 239).

The differences between terms seem clear, first a vocational orientation is made to know where the future work may be headed, then a job orientation is made for the search of the ideal job or maintenance of the same and throughout the process is followed up Of the development of the career of the person, which would be proper professional orientation towards personal self-realization.

Therefore, as a conclusion, the term vocational guidance encompasses other guidance processes in the field of work.

If you believe that you identify with the need of a counselor do not hesitate to consult with a professional, the counselors are specialized people with training in the field of psychology and education, with knowledge in the business environment.



Álvarez González, M. y Sánchez García, M.F. (2012). Concepto, evolución y enfoques teóricos de la orientación profesional. En M.F. Sánchez García (Coord.) y M. Álvarez González, Bases teórico-prácticas de la orientación profesional (pp. 4-48) (CAPÍTULO 1). Madrid: UNED.

Sánchez García, M.F. (2009). Principios, contextos y dimensiones principales de intervención en orientación profesional. En M. F. Sánchez García (Coord.) y M. Álvarez, Bases-teórico prácticas de la orientación profesional (pp. 55-75) (CAPÍTULO 2). Madrid: UNED.

Super, D.E. (1957). The psychology of Carees. New York: Harper and Row.

>> Related article: How to be a good interviewer.


Iván Pico

Director y creador de Psicólogo Colegiado G-5480 entre otras cosas. Diplomado en Ciencias Empresariales y Máster en Orientación Profesional. Máster en Psicología del Trabajo y Organizaciones. Posgrado en Psicología del Deporte entre otras cosas. Visita la sección "Sobre mí" para saber más. ¿Quieres una consulta personalizada? ¡Escríbeme!

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