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.