What the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Teaches About Career Success

joe hayes

Joe Hayes, Assistant Director, Employer Relations & Internships, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Twitter: @_JosephHayes
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josephhayes1

Perhaps you were among the 20-plus million Americans that watched the women’s world cup final between the United States and Japan on July 5. It wasn’t very close. While the lopsided final of the tournament’s biggest game was unexpected, the success of the U.S. team throughout the summer was no accident. Instead, the U.S. team came prepared for work—just like students can—and met success.

Capitalize on second chances

Four years ago, the United States was stunned by Japan, losing the World Cup finals in penalty kicks. In a way, that failure provided extra motivation ultimately leading to an Olympic gold medal in 2012. This year the team came out focused and seemingly on a mission to capture the first World Cup in 16 years.

Second chances may not always be as grandiose as a rematch of the World Cup final. For a student, it could be the ability to retake a course and achieve a higher grade that leads to graduation. It could be a second interview or call back from an employer after, admittedly, under-performing at the first interview. It could be getting off an employer’s blacklist from reneging on a job offer. It could be getting a new project as an intern despite the first project not going so well.

This second chance should viewed as such—a chance to right a wrong or missed opportunity—but also, a chance to learn, grow, and improve. In a sense, capitalizing on a second chance can be easy. There may not be a road map for success, but a road map for failure exists and intuitively that can lead to the inverse—success mapping.

Let go of past accomplishments – focus on the future

The U.S. Women’s National Team has been one of the premier teams in the world over the past quarter century, yet only three times have they won the games most coveted prize—the World Cup. Despite constantly contending and putting fear into opponents based on past success, the team needed to do more than simply show up to win more games. Here the U.S. team needed to let go of past accomplishments and focus on how they could accomplish new feats.

Much like the U.S. team, students shouldn’t get complacent during their career or job search. This means that a student can’t and shouldn’t automatically think their degree sets them up for success. The student shouldn’t assume that because they had a high GPA, they will be employable. The student shouldn’t think that because they had an internship or some form of experiential learning in the past that they are guaranteed an opening with that organization the following year. Instead, the same amount of hard work (and perhaps more) that went into accomplishing past goals will be needed to accomplish future goals.

Timing is everything

In soccer—a game that is played with a running 90-minute clock—successful and strategic team substitutions often decide games in key moments. This is especially important when a team is limited to only three substitutes per match (hence the extreme value of putting in the right player at the right time). This was never more evident than in the semifinal match vs # 1-ranked Germany, when the U.S. subbed in Abby Wambach in at 80 minutes and Kelley O’Hara in at 84 minutes. Moments later both played a role in the clinching goal (Ms. Wambach chasing down the ball and Ms. O’Hara scoring the goal) to put the United States up 2-0 and on their way to the World Cup finals.

Much like the key substitution that occurred right as the German squad was getting tired, students and professionals should think in terms of key moments and strategies that put themselves at the greatest advantage for success at the right time. This could be as simple as drafting a handwritten thank-you note moments after any interview while it’s still fresh in the moment. Or it may be networking with current interns at organizations a year before you are intern-ready (so as to make in-roads with companies before the official recruiting cycle begins).

In other words, one should constantly use time to their advantage.

Developing Career Goals Holistically

Melanie BufordMelanie Buford, Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Career Development Center, University of Cincinnati
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/mebuford/
Website: www.melaniebuford.org

Dan Blank, a career coach who works primarily with creative professionals, offers the following advice in his webinar “Take Back Your Creative Life.”

“Career goals should not be formed in isolation. You must take into account all of your responsibilities (personal and professional), and be sure to account for your own well-being. This includes physical and mental health.” Blank encourages his clients to integrate their career and personal goals in order to set themselves up for success.

Many undergraduate students start their career decision-making process by selecting a major based on the subjects they enjoyed in high school. Students interested in majoring in one of the applied sciences tend to follow this pattern. Several students I’ve worked with tell me they’ve chosen to major in engineering because they were “smart” in high school or strong in math and science, but they don’t know much about the field itself. Time and again, these students arrive at the career development center wondering why they’re not more interested in the engineering coursework and field experiences.

The problem isn’t engineering. The problem is that these students formed career goals in isolation. They didn’t consider the environment they’d be working in, the physical location of their organization, the skills they enjoy developing and want to build on, or the ways they hope to grow as people and as professionals. Fortunately, the University of Cincinnati provides a co-op program that allows engineering students to get full-time work experience before graduation.

Career goals, increasingly, need to be formed holistically. Gone are the days when choosing a career was simply a matter of matching your best school subject to an industry. The market is volatile; new opportunities are being created and other avenues are becoming less viable. A law career isn’t the safe choice it once was, and the nonprofit world has expanded to include diverse organizations tackling new social issues. It’s more common that professionals will relocate to a new city for a job opportunity, and more workers than ever are changing jobs and moving to new sectors over the course of their careers.

We are facing the so-called “paradox of choice.” Research has demonstrated that if we are presented with more opportunities, decision-making becomes more difficult and satisfaction less likely.

When a student steps into a career development office today, they’re faced with a much broader set of options than they would have been 30 years ago. They could go to medical school in their hometown or they could spend two years in the Peace Corps and teach grade school students in Lithuania. They could go to graduate school for computer science or launch a start-up with friends based on their ideas for a new app.

In order to make these decisions, students have to consider not only what talents they have, but what kind of life they want to lead.

It is critical, therefore, that students take a holistic approach to developing their career goals. We encourage them to apply this lens both to themselves and to the field they’re considering. Here are a few questions students should consider during the career exploration process:

What skills do I have and want to develop?

What type of work environment might best fit my temperament?

What type of diversity do I hope to have in my work environment?

How is the industry I’m considering expected to evolve in the next few decades?

What city, state, or country might I want to live in?

What have my career goals been and how have they changed?

What role would I like technology to play in my career?

How important is stability to me and how willing am I to take risks?

Each of these questions will take time to answer as students develop more clarity on their identities and values. Is it any wonder career goals formed at age 18 often feel premature? These are questions we wrestle with throughout our lives.

To me, this only underscores the importance of committing to a continuous career development process, not just for students, but for graduates. Attempting to build your life looking only through a narrow lens of career is bound to work against your happiness. We must support students around this process by acknowledging its complexity and encouraging them to consider the multiple implications of a potential career path.

NACE members can pick up a student-directed version of this blog, Develop Your Career Goals Holistically, in Grab & Go.

Sources:

Blank, Dan. (2015). Take Back Your Creative Life Webinar. We Grow Media.

Cole, Marine. (2014). U.S. Job Market Has Changed Dramatically in 15 Year. The Fiscal Times. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/05/15/How-US-Job-Market-Has-Changed-Dramatically-15-Years

Hedges, Kristi. (2012). The Surprising Poverty of Too Many Choices. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/work-in-progress/2012/11/26/the-surprising-poverty-of-too-many-choices/.

 

Redefining Professional Development for Career Advisers

Ross WadeRoss Wade, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

Does professional development for career services staff need an update? Is the model of “go to a conference or do an assessment training” still as relevant as career services is changing so much and so quickly? What can we do to grow as professionals, connect more with employers and alumni, and gain credibility with our students and other stakeholders? I think it is time to consider redefining what professional development for career services staff means, and how it is done. I’m not talking about ditching annual conferences, they are of great value, what I’m saying is I think it is time to add a few more options.

In July of 2014, Farouk Dey and Christine Y. Cruzvergara, co-authored an article called “10 Future Trends in College Career Services.” Number 10 in their inspiring and thought provoking piece, “New Breed of Professionals,” resonated with me—especially the statement, “To be successful, career center staff must become agile content experts and network catalysts who will lead communities and develop meaningful connections among their constituents.” In my experience, in order to gain credibility with students, having experience in the field in which I advise (media, arts, and entertainment) is very important. When I tell students that I’ve worked in documentary and digital media, and know of some great companies that could be a good fit for them (based on my personal experience) I get student buy-in very quickly.

My ideas for tweaking career services staff professional development options involve creating opportunities for gaining industry experience; generating and growing relationships with employers, alumni, faculty, and staff; and serve as a means for staff to gain some “street cred” (with students, employers, and faculty).

The concept of career staff having the option to do some form of industry internship during the summer is very exciting to me. The internship doesn’t have to be full-time; it could be eight to 10 hours a week over four to six weeks. The internship could be hands-on, or more observational and include informational interviews. Regardless of the specifics, this experience would give staff a chance to understand industry skills and trends as well as positions and roles within specific industries and companies, and the chance to connect with experts and HR professionals.

For example, there is a wonderful art start-up in my area connecting artists to consumers via social media and storytelling—I’d love to intern there, creating content, connecting with artists, and growing the art scene in my community. Think of all the connections I’d make and skills I’d learn. My improved knowledge of this industry and number of contacts in art I’d make would generate credibility with faculty and students.

Approaching employers with the idea of hiring an “adult”/career staff intern may at first raise some eyebrows, but just as we tell our students, if one creates a pitch and plan (with a timeline, tasks, and goals), that is brand new or a modified version of an existing internship program, what could we lose? Don’t want to intern at company? Try an internship at another office at your institution.

For example, it would be a great opportunity to intern with the communications office at my home institution, or in the multicultural center. Think of the new connections to be made and opportunities to find points for future collaboration! Is research your thing? Approach a faculty member focused on an industry or topic of relevance to career development, and pitch a research idea. Spend 10 or so hours a week during the summer researching and writing. Career staff doing research with faculty – whaaaat?! It may sound crazy, but I think it is a wonderful idea, and I bet it is already happening at institutions across the country.

Other benefits include staff cross training opportunities after the internship or research is completed, heightened staff engagement and excitement, and great content (e.g. photos, blog posts, interviews with professionals) to share across campus via social media to generate interest in career services. What ideas do you have? I’d love to get employer thoughts on this. How would you redefine professional development for career services staff?

Career Services Becomes a Primary Focus for Student Affairs

Heather TranenHeather Tranen, Associate Director, University of Pennsylvania Career Services
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heathertranen

With increasing attention on return on investment in higher education, it’s no wonder that the pressure subsequently increases on career services professionals to deliver. As a result, career services becomes a more central point of discussion within the realm of student affairs.

My former colleague, Leah Lattimore, and I submitted a career services focused workshop for National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to explore the effective communication strategies that promote lifelong career development.

Luckily, our crawfish dreams were answered and our proposal was New Orleans-bound for NASPA 2015: Navigating Courage.

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We felt excited about presenting on our topic to a different audience. What I did not expect to find was the plethora of other career-related sessions throughout the conference. I was able to learn more about data/assessment, the future of career services, the importance of early engagement, and recruitment trends. Sessions were also well attended by a cross-section of departments (housing, student activities, and alumni relations to name a few).  Undoubtedly, other student affairs professionals are recognizing career development as a high impact area of their field.

A few weeks later, I am now fully able to digest (literally and figuratively), the main takeaways from the conference as they relate to our work as career services practitioners. None of this information is surprising. However, it all provides interesting insight into where the industry is at the moment, and reminds us how to focus our work.

Data, data, data. As you might suspect, data and showcasing ROI through hard numbers was a hot topic. I don’t mean to brag, but Penn collects data and showcases it in a way where it frames a story for its students (e.g. What can I do with my major, or Where are people with my major working geographically?). One question posed and potentially worth considering to include in your placement surveys would be, “Why didn’t students use career services?” I enjoyed learning what offices at John Jay and FSU are doing during these discussions, and think it is worth thinking beyond just our placement statistics to explore how the data creates a story.

Customized, targeted services. Thought leaders from RIT, NYU, Stanford, and George Mason talked about the future of career services. The need for the core services with a targeted approach will only become an increasing pressure on us as career services professionals. Additionally, Georgia State discussed their targeted programming/niche career fairs. This was also a leading theme in our presentation.

Early engagement. Schools like UConn are offering credit-bearing First-Year Experience (FYE) courses. This definitely seems like an interesting way to tie career services to the academic enterprise and to put career services at the forefront of students’ minds from the very beginning of their college experience.

Recruiting trends. Employers pursuing a “soft” recruiting approach by targeting candidates via social media and at career development events vs. the more traditional recruitment events (e.g. career fairs and information sessions) is also a trend schools are seeing.

That career services has become a central focus within higher education came when speaker Trudy Steinfeld addressed a standing-room only group. She said, “I presented at NASPA many years ago. Guess how many people were in my session? Six.”

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Trudy Steinfeld said to a standing room only group, “I presented at NASPA many years ago. Guess how many people were in my session? Six.”

Now it’s up to us as professionals in the field to continue delivering top-tier work, and to innovate ways that connect our students to the placement numbers society seeks and to the careers that lead them to fulfilling work.

 

 

Is Career Counseling for Everyone?

Melanie Buford

Melanie Buford, Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Career Development Center, University of Cincinnati
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/mebuford/
Website: www.melaniebuford.org

The other day, a colleague posed an intriguing question. I told her about my work in the career center at the University of Cincinnati, and after a contemplative pause, she said:

“Do you think career counseling is for everyone? I felt lost after graduation, but my husband never used career services. He knew what he wanted to do and he’s doing well now.”

I’m sure that most of us don’t find this surprising. Though a great many students come to career services desperate for some sort of post-graduate direction, there are certainly those who have chosen a path and may only want another set of eyes on their resume or some similarly light support. There are still those who never come at all, likely relying on their friends, family, and the Internet to fill in their gaps.

Of course, I can only speak from my own experience, but I believe that there are benefits to one-on-one career counseling that even the most prepared would find helpful. A few of those benefits are:

Career counseling creates space for exploration.

For every student who struggles to choose one career direction, there are those who have prematurely narrowed their options. Students bring different strengths and personalities to the career development process. Decisiveness can certainly be an asset, but so can the ability to tolerate the uncertainty of exploration. The best decisions combine reflection and action, and career counseling provides the space and support to do both.

Career counseling prepares students for a changing job market.

We know that as technology, Millennials, and global communication reshape the world of work, the relevance of today’s positions isn’t guaranteed. If a student chooses to pursue one career today, there is no guarantee that technology may not eliminate the need for that work before that student reaches retirement. With self-driving cars on the horizon, who’s to say what human services we’ll need in another 30 years? Students need to be familiar with current market trends, and the variety of talents and interests they have to offer. This knowledge, combined with the ability to self-promote, will prepare them for the possibility that their career of choice may not always be a viable path.

Career counseling provides frameworks and language for grappling with career challenges yet to come.

A core component of most career development programming is some sort of personality or skills assessment. One thing that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells you, for example, is whether or not you prefer introversion or extroversion. Those who prefer introversion tend to feel more comfortable in workspaces that allow for independent work and alone time to recharge and develop ideas. Those who prefer extroversion, on the other hand, tend to have a need for collaboration and the ability to work with other people for energy and inspiration.

One of the staff members at the UC Career Development Center tells a story about a young man she counseled a few years ago. We’ll call him David. David was an extremely hard-working student who graduated from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences with a near-perfect GPA. He was hired by a well-known tech company and was making a six-figure salary as a new graduate. Ostensibly, this was a career success story, and yet, within a few years, David came to us for help. He was shocked to find that despite his interest in the work, he was miserable in his new position. So much so that he reported feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness, classic symptoms of depression.

After a few sessions with David, it became clear that his unhappiness didn’t stem from the work itself, but from the environment. My colleague administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and David reported a clear preference for extroversion. During a typical workday, however, he had almost no human contact, from the moment he arrived to the moment he left. Once David had language for interpreting this experience—that he had needed more interaction with people as part of his day—he was able to communicate this need to his supervisor. He was eventually moved to a new role as a sales representative for the product and was much more satisfied.

David knew he was unhappy in his role, but without the language for interpreting these feelings, he struggled to act on them. Even students who are satisfied in their current work may reach a point where their needs are no longer being fulfilled. Career counseling can provide a framework to understand why they aren’t thriving.

As many career development programs at public colleges and universities are being downsized, the relevance of one-on-one counseling will be an increasingly pressing issue. We will need to be innovative as we prepare students for a lifetime of career success, not simply a post-graduate job.

 

 

“How Shall I Wear My Hair?” – Students Navigating Professional Identity Politics

Jade PerryJade Perry, Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University
Twitter: @SAJadePerry1
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/jade-perry/21/667/b25/
Website: jadetperry.com 

During graduate school, I worked as the diversity program assistant in the primary career services department for a university. I provided programming and advising concerning the ways that our identities influence our career development process. I was asked a myriad of questions on topics that ranged from international visas and sponsorships, to gender in the workplace, to assessing a company’s commitment to inclusivity. But I could always tell that some of my students weren’t always paying attention to the resume/cover letter advice I was giving. They were looking at something else….my hair.

In my professional life, I have chosen to wear my hair naturally. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, this simply means that I wear my hair in the tightly coiled, curly form in which it grows. I work a myriad of styles: voluminous, curly afros, braids, wash-and-go, silky straight, and pompadours. Though the options are endless, these styles include anything that allows me to least amount of manipulation to the way my hair naturally grows.

Now that we’ve gotten definitions cleared, you might be wondering why I’m talking about hair in this particular form. It is because I cannot count the times that my students, particularly women of color, have asked in hushed tones, “So….I’m meeting a recruiter/employer tomorrow and I’m hoping to get a job. I wear my hair naturally. So, what do you do—what should I do—about my hair?”

It is one of my favorite questions, but it is always a loaded one. The trained ear will notice that these students are not just asking for fashion advice. They are trying to figure out how to navigate identity politics. They are looking for understanding on how they might “assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations…” as Heyes asserts. They are looking for ways to be authentic in spaces that may be largely homogenous, and in professions that may be largely male. Questions about hair are typically never just about hair.

They saw me sporting worlds of curls, yet would I admit to them how tough it was to get to that point? Would I tell them about the qualitative generational gap between Millennials and a few of the older professional staff of color: some of whom asserted that true professional style was wearing the hair straight and pulled back? Would I tell them about these conversations?

On the subject of hair, a male recruiter that attended a networking dinner for our students declared, “When it comes to your appearance, you do what you have to do to get that job. Your own expression of personal style comes later.” I cringed. A few other recruiters chimed in to admonish women specifically to wear the hair swept off of the face. In other settings, I’ve seen this question posed and witnessed career service professionals gasp at the thought that someone would face discrimination due to choice of hair style, among other things. I’ve witnessed this astonishment give way to awed silence, and students left without an answer. Then, I’ve seen other professionals admonish young women not to change a thing.

Since career services professionals know the concept of appropriate disclosure, I kept these anecdotes to a minimum in appointments. We all want to be taken seriously in our careers. Our students do, as do we. We want to have our personal and professional identity validated in the workplace. For many of us, your students and your colleagues, hair has a lot to do with that professional identity. In light of that, here is what I shared when students posed questions about hair and identity politics in the workplace:

Your experience is valid. Starting there is always a good idea. Students of color, low-income students, and/or first-generation college students are already working through varying intersections of their identities before they come to our offices. Often times, by the time they get here they have been silenced in both subtle and explicit ways. As student affairs professionals, we do well to understand that the career search process does not just involve crafting resumes, writing cover letters, strategizing searches, and so forth. We know that there is an internal process going on that is valid and that holds a variety of implications for their career-search process.

Reflect on your career values and which values you would look for in the workplace. Before an interview, I encourage students to get clear on the values they are looking for in a work environment. For example, it is important to me that I work in a context that is validating to my cultural sense of self (and that includes the natural way in which my hair grows and how I groom it). Typically, I assist the students in brainstorming a few of the values that they hold: large amounts of monetary capital? Cultural validation? Flexibility? Mentorship? Often times, this exercise has been particularly salient for the women of color that I work with. It is their time to decide what they want out of an experience. It often takes a lot of encouragement to sift through the opinions they have received from their community, family, friends, and industry professionals.

For example, a student might say that he or she values authenticity in the workplace that straightening/processing his or her hair feels inauthentic, but they were told by a family member that it should be done to get the job. While they are sifting through these opinions, I ask students to briefly reflect. Through what lens might a student have been given this advice? Does this line up with his or her value of (insert chosen values here)?  What are the salient and non-salient points of the advice a student was given? Posing questions allow career advisers to serve as a guide for students to work through that type of dissonance. It also allows students to understand the thing that they value and begin to explore professional opportunities that reflect those values.

Do your research on prospective employment opportunities. Search for information on the culture of the company / organization. The “culture” of an organization might include anything from organizational structures and reporting lines, spoken and / or unspoken workplace norms, leadership trends and more. Knowing this information helps our students to understand what a company values and can serve as a loose discerning point as to what it might be like to work there. Does this provide a direct answer to the question, “What should I do with my hair?” Not exactly. Yet it provides keen insight for students to make informed decisions on their career journey. For example, I encourage students to ask the questions: Are there any professional affinity groups? Who is in leadership and what does that reflect? What can I perceive about the norms of a particular atmosphere? Do I have enough information? As we reflect on this, I typically pull up the website for the office that I work within. We mine the “data” for the mission, the leadership, the programs, the services and I ask them to work through such questions as What insights does this give you about the culture of this organization? Now, what might that mean for your personal choices in clothing and hair in this atmosphere?

There are times that I have chosen to naturally stretch out/ straighten my hair and pull it back. This was particularly early on in my career path, when I did not feel equipped with enough experience or knowledge about the organization. Moreover, there were times that I decided to do a large bun or a complicated pompadour. Three measurements allowed me to make my decisions about race/gender expression in an interview setting: 1) Do I feel comfortable with the process it took to get my hair this way? 2) Does this style allow ample room to see my face? 3) Will this style hold without touch-ups after arriving to the interview site? This was the practical piece as these measurements allowed me to show strong non-verbal energy and did not require me to compromise my own cultural validity. Typically, my students take these measurements as a rubric that they can use, as well.

Keep it real and “mind the gap.” Brown talks about “the gap” in her book Daring Greatly. The gap is symbolic for the values that we aspire to and what actually exists. In my office, we talk in great detail about “the gap” that our students are navigating; the world as we wish it to be and the world that is. It is a concept that I chat about with my students, as well. Navigating identity politics in the workplace is a complicated thing because of the gap. While we rightly hope for settings in which such cultural expressions of hairstyle are widely appreciated, there is also the reality that in some circles, the appreciation is not there. There are times that our colleagues and our students may be faced with cold stares and uncomprehending eyes. It is inexpressibly tragic that this is the case. Yet, I must prepare them for the world that is. So, I keep it real and talk about what to do if they sense workplace discrimination at the point of their interview.

You may be thinking, “This sounds awfully complex for such a simple question: How should I wear my natural hair for an interview?” And you are right. Navigating through identity politics is inherently complex. Students, particularly women of color, are not asking trite questions about fashion. In these moments, they are looking for our understanding and guidance on the ways we navigate identity in the workplace. Thus, as student affairs professionals, we have to come with a bit more complexity than, “You should wear it off your face.”

End Notes

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Heyes, Cressida. (2014). Identity Politics, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1999). Enacting diverse learning environments: Improving the climate for racial/ ethnic diversity in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 28, No. 8. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Once More a Student: Will an Ed.D. Make Me a Better Counselor?

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search Inc.
Career counselor, Widener University
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

When I made the transition from executive search to higher-ed career counseling a year ago, I felt pretty sure that my mid-life master’s degree in higher-ed student services completed my formal education. Gaining a foundation in a dozen counseling theories and learning about challenges such as lack of access for underrepresented groups provided important context for my role at an institution that serves many first-generation students. Graduate internships at very different types of institutions—one a religiously affiliated private university, the other of a large regional community college— offered invaluable opportunities for applied learning.

As I continued to apply this learning in my first formal higher-ed role, I realized there was still more to learn and integrate. In a moment of suspended sanity, I applied and was accepted to the higher ed doctoral program at my own institution, a continuation of the master’s degree I earned two years earlier. No one pressured me to do this or suggested that it might make me a better counselor, especially since the program’s focus is on leadership and administration. And yet, here I am a student once again, steeping in the literature, relearning APA-ese, and regaining my appreciation for nighttime caffeine. I can compare notes with my students on writing end-of-term papers, mastering SPSS, and keeping a complicated life in balance.

The past year, I feel like I won the lottery. As my institution’s career liaison to undergraduate liberal arts majors—from history to astronomy to anthropology— I’ve melded pure exploration with hands-on skills development and pulled out my back-in-the-day undergraduate English major when it underscored a point. I’ve also been humbled by how truly difficult it is to be a student today, how different it is from my previous experience when internships were a “nice-to-have” and a decent entry-level job for a hardworking English major was reasonably assured.

Most of my students compete for multiple internships—nearly always unpaid—while juggling at least one “gritty” part-time job, student research, significant community service, half a dozen extracurriculars, and full course loads.  As a group, they are inspiring, appreciative, exhausted—and fearful about the future. In short, they are like so many of the students that we support at our NACE member institutions. As their counselor, I celebrate every milestone with them—a sought-after interview, an offer, a grad program acceptance—and empathize with every disappointment.

In my alternative universe as a student, while two years away from formally starting my dissertation, I have begun to shape a research agenda around the career applications—and implications—of earning a liberal arts degree outside of a small liberal arts college. In this light, the dreaded advanced statistics courses become an avenue to discovering knowledge with the potential to make a difference for both my students and the organizations that might employ them. Will this make me a better counselor?  I certainly hope so.