How to Handle Top College/University Career Centre Questions: Best Practices Discussions

Posted by: Guest on November 14, 2012 3:36 pm

When I finished my Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology in 2006, I felt like I knew more about how to provide counselling, and at the same time I had realized I knew much less about what counselling might be about. I found a role as a career advisor, which included both employment advising and career counselling to a population of mature college students who were predominantly older than me. The wonderful manager who hired me displayed exceptional confidence in me, given that I had not worked in a career centre except for a few weeks as part of a practicum experience. To my knowledge I did not let her or the students down, but I found myself in a daily struggle to find what I needed to know about providing ethical, responsible service to the students.

I couldn’t find a lot of what when it came to best practices for providing career counselling with a particular client group, recent immigrant professionals, and after a couple of years I realized that I was going to have go and find out what I could do to better support this group, so I did something I had thought I would never do: I applied to doctoral programs in counselling psychology, because I needed (my own selfish need, probably) to find out what to do and also how to help this client group more effectively.

As a doctoral student in counselling psychology, I am daily tasked not only with the responsibility for self-reflection and assessment of my practice, but I will also be evaluated on the understanding I develop through the process of self-reflection and self-assessment, as well as on the practice. You may have had this experience yourself, as counselling or psychotherapy is “…an undefined technique applied to unspecified problems with unpredictable outcome. For this we recommend rigorous training” (Raimy, 1950, p. 150). I often suspect that our clients are more forgiving of us as counsellors-in-training than we are of ourselves. But I digress.

Career counselling seems to possess less of the ambiguity than do other varieties of counselling, and the outcomes are typically learning outcomes, in my experience this far. The techniques are also more defined: testing, psychoeducation and referral to resources, and conversation with the counsellor and with professionals in potential fields of work, are examples.

In my experience, the same small set of issues comes into my office every week. Sometimes when I am reflecting I wonder if I could have handled these questions differently. Using Raimy’s (1950) facets of counselling, I wonder: Did I use the most appropriate technique? Did I really understand that person’s problem, and was it really a career question? And was I aiming at the person’s desired outcome? In response to these articles, I hope as a community we may be able to develop some experience-based best practices for how to handle these frequently asked questions, the first being:

“What program should I take?”

To get us started, I’ll offer my own strategy. My workshop policy is never to ask someone to share something that I would not share myself.

Typically, I’ll follow up with questions like:

  • What programs have you thought about so far?
  • What drew you to those options?
  • Tell me about the kind of work you plan to look for when you graduate, and in the long-term.

If there is consistency amongst programs, attraction to the programs, and the kinds of intended work, I’ll ask about the source of the hesitation (since few people who are truly confident of their decision will come to see a career counsellor), which is often very illuminating. Often its origin is negative feedback from a significant other (family member, spouse, etc), and fairly regularly this well-explicated plan is, in fact, of a significant other’s design and the person I’m sitting with has no interest at all in the kind of career he or she is being pushed toward. This latter variety of college/university explorers is truly confused, and knows that she or he is going to be facing an uphill battle if another major or program becomes the goal.

At that point I’m often asked about testing, because if a formal career-related test says that this person should pursue a different path, then the angle of the hill they will be battling upward grows a few degrees less steep. Some education planners ask about testing right away. I typically defer the discussion on testing until later in the conversation, with their consent, so we can see how far we get with talking. I don’t always offer formal assessment.

The biggest challenge I have seen in both college and university settings, and I’m not sure why this is happening, is that there is a real lack of exposure to the working world and a real lack of understanding of what different kinds of work is like. The jobs people have in sitcoms, the jobs their parents and their friends’ parents have, the jobs of the people who work in offices and banks and who collect data by telephone every night… somehow those often don’t register as sources for career exploration among the (population) I work with.

Among young people, who should be the best at finding resources, since they were born post-Internet and have grown up having instant access to information, I see the greatest lack of initiative in finding information. Instead of Googling for “careers in business” and doing some reading (try it – there’s a ton out there!), they come into my office and ask me, “What’s it like to be an accountant?” I admit, I have twice said to someone who was really pushing me to provide far too much detail about a day in the life of an accountant, because as a career counsellor I must know about these different career paths, “I really don’t know. I studied psychology and I hire someone to do my taxes every spring.” So I do a lot of teaching about Information Interviews, and I give a lot of referrals to resources on how to do them effectively. Of course I also provide websites where these budding explorers can read about careers that appeal to them.

By the end of a 1-hour individual meeting, I will also ensure that I have talked about the four most important areas for connecting the self with work: In no particular order: personality, interests, values and skills. I will have felt those out a little bit with the person I’m helping, and have suggested (whether or not we are doing some testing) that they consider all those four areas further as they settle on their final choices for college/university. Often I recommend meeting again or attending any number of workshops that my department has available.

That’s it. If I could categorize my strategy for handling “what program should I take?” in a large-sized nutshell, that would be it. I’m looking forward to your thoughts, colleagues, on handling this very big question.

To our colleagues who work in community settings, please do not exclude yourselves! I worked in a community setting for 2 years and I saw the same questions there.

By guest blogger Jen Davies, M.A., CCC

Originally posted on the Career Counsellors Chapter blog:



Raimy, V. C. (Ed.). (1950). Training in clinical psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

1 comment on “How to Handle Top College/University Career Centre Questions: Best Practices Discussions”

  1. Linda Thompson says:

    Good morning Jen – welcome guest blogger and thank you for your article which poses questions on how to ‘handle top college/university career centre’ and specifically looking for feedback from readers in relation to the normative question – ‘what program should I take?’ After much reflection, these are my thoughts:

    I am not a career counsellor, however, I do counsel, from beginning to life-long learners seeking crisis, trauma counselling. Much has changed in the socio-cultural and political climate since the ‘1950’s facets of counselling’ you refer to for in my lifetime I have witnessed the basic entry level of education to enter the workforce go from 1930 – grade 6, 1960’s – grade 10, 1980’s – grade 12, 2000 – bachelor degree and future trend 2010 and for the 21st Century – masters into PhD program.

    The ‘professions’ are all going to be regulated soon with established ethics and safe practice standards. Workers will be required to obtain certifications, degrees, advanced training and/or re-certifications as pre-conditions for sustained employment.

    From my perspective, the biggest challenge for all counsellors concerning life-long learners is the safety/security of their personal and work-related environments and how to survive personally on a financial plane to accomodate the on-going, life-long learning costs which many parents can ill-afford, unless they are 6 digit income earners. Many I counsel have ‘bread/butter jobs’ to pay for their lifestyle and educational/private practice costs. Many private practices endure much capital loss.

    May I suggest all counsellors read the seminal work of Miriam Grossman concerning students, the college, university, viral campuses on the local, national and global scenes. She can also be contacted:
    Regards Linda

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