What I’ve Learned Working as a Career Counselor

This month marks my third year working in the office of career services at a small university north of Baltimore City. My official title is Industry Specialist for the School of Design, and my job is to coach students and alum in all things career; work with employers recruiting creatives and establishing internships; collaborate with staff and students to develop programs to explore various career paths; and develop thought leadership content in various forms to promote the importance of career exploration.

I didn’t take this job because I had a background in counseling or career development. In my previous work life I was an in-house designer working in marketing and publishing, supplementing my income teaching non-designers about design as an adjunct, and volunteering for AIGA as co-president of my local chapter bringing programs and events that further the conversation of design, locally and nationally.

I’m a forever learner, a risk taker with infinite curiosity, so when this position surfaced, I took a chance and said yes. I was, after all, getting a chance to help new professionals navigate their creative careers, which lined up directly with my passion for mentoring.

To commemorate my anniversary, here are some takeaways I have learned in the past 3 years.

People don’t use interns to get coffee anymore.

Seriously. Most of our hiring managers spent their college days doing grunt work and have vowed to use internships as a learning opportunity for students to explore career options. It doesn’t hurt that now we have the Fair Labor Act to protect interns from working for free or taking the place of an employee, but most employers really dislike assigning menial tasks to their student workers and make sure to tell me they won’t stand for it during our first meeting.

Educating a new generation is hard work and it takes hundreds of people.

My college experience was smooth sailing, never did I realize the amount of people, work, and dedication to my development that was involved in higher education. For those of you that attended an educational institution, take a moment now and think of a person that positively impacted you, send them a note, or even better, give them a hug.

We all have big dreams.

Dreams push us forward and challenge us to take risks, but part of navigating the working world is truly understanding who you are as a person and what motivates you. The fancy job title, salary, and cool company, will only take you so far. Finding the right fit is far more important, and figuring out what the right fit is can take time.

People DO get to work in their dream jobs.

And then they move on. Every job we take, every step forward and experience we have, changes us. What your dream job is today, may not be your dream job tomorrow. Be flexible, be patient.

Job searching is hard, for EVERYONE.

Whether you are just graduating, or have 20 years’ experience, figuring out what you want to do next takes a lot of reflection. Finding people in your industry to help you through the process can help you as you navigate the excruciating job of finding a job.

Doubt is a human condition.

People really just need someone that can listen and help them stay accountable. My job is essentially to be someone’s cheerleader, to be stern when my student’s actions are not matching their expectations and to be a counselor and discover the things that are keeping them from moving forward; giving them the tools to push through and carry on.

Career services is underappreciated.

While faculty have direct impact on the development of a student throughout their time in college, and staff in various departments support the full experience on campus, career is generally thought as something you think about your final year in school.

My job is to be an expert on a variety of job roles in fashion, art, film, design, media, communications, public relations, non-profit, government… to help people find work that matches their interests in travel, people, art, writing…

Career is more than just finding a job, it’s figuring out who you are and how what you’re learning in school aligns with your field and the job market. Why not take advantage of the people that get paid to spend every day learning about your industry?

Being the best at your craft isn’t enough.

You have to share, talk about your work, interests, and aspirations. People want to help, but they need to know what you want. If you don’t know what you want, you will drift aimless through your career taking a job for all the wrong reasons or being unsure of your own talents.

Be intentional about your decisions and your path. You don’t need to know what the end goal is, you just need to know what your next step will be.