According to Howard Figler’s 1-2-3 counseling method, the following three questions capture the essence of career counseling:
- What do you want to do?
- What is stopping you from doing it?
- What are you doing about it?
For now, I only want to look at the first of these three questions in the context of university career services. Contrary to what we do as career advisers, our students come to us looking for direct answers instead of guidance. Their question is usually, “what should I do?” when it really just depends on what it is they want to do. Furthermore, they often fail to realize that they already have the answers they need. Our job then is, not to impose our opinion, but to drive them toward honest self-actualization.
Should you find yourself grappling with a student that insists that they, “just don’t know” or who feels silly disclosing their deepest career desires, charge them with Figler’s first question. Then consider using two of my favorite methods for helping students define their career goals:
1. Values Assessment: I almost never conduct a career decision-making or assessment appointment without first having the student complete some sort of job or workplace values handout. This exercise allows students to self-select from a list of multiple choices:
- What they are motivated by (power, recognition, money, enjoyment, etc.)
- What they’d enjoy spending their workday doing (taking on challenges, brainstorming with others, meeting new people, coaching others, etc.)
- And, what they want from their workplace (autonomy, supervision, structure, flexibility, etc.)
Once they have identified their desires, have them consider which they are willing to compromise on and which values are their “non-negotiables.” Now that there’s something on paper in front of them, it’s time to let their minds wander.
2. Guided Visualization: Though I don’t ask that students close their eyes or sit in any particular position, I do provide them with an opportunity to carry out an uninterrupted daydream. I prompt this exercise by having the student consider a world where anything is possible and money is of no concern. I then ask the student to imagine arriving at work, parking and getting out of their car, then walking through the front doors of their workplace.
Next, I have them describe what they see, how they feel walking in, what they are wearing, how people around them look, and what these people doing. I conclude the visualization period by telling the student that they are going into their office that day to complete a project, then asking what type of project it might be. This exercise is especially helpful for students struggling to decide between pursing a passion and choosing a less desirable but lucrative career path.
These exercises provide the student with a tangible and intangible basis for setting goals.
After the values assessment and visualization, the student has taken the first step toward choosing a major, deciding the types of jobs or internships to search for, and formulating questions to ask during interviews. While this process is only the beginning of the career advising journey, it helps establish trust and rapport throughout your partnership.
Our offices should be safe havens; places where students can come in to un-apologetically share their secrets and leave with plans of action. Do your own research, make changes, and make these exercises your own.