Sitting down with a career counselor

What is your role as a career counselor?

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My role as a career counselor is to collaborate with my clients to understand what their needs are, whether it be career transition, career exploration, job-search strategies — each client is usually at a different stage of career development.

Understanding what you want helps the employer understand if you’re the right match. It really is a partnership with the client. It’s not the counselor telling the client what to do. The answer ultimately comes from the client.

What services do you offer at Washington Career Services?

We offer individual career counseling, as well as outplacement, where we partner with organizations if they have layoffs of their employees — so I see clients sometimes one-on-one when their employers have given them outplacement packages.

What methods do you use?

We use person-centered theory, which is focusing on the client and understanding what their needs are. We also use cognitive behavioral techniques, helping people to understand their feelings, thoughts and behaviors as it relates to their career and life. We also use assessments with our clients. The two that we use the most are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which helps people understand what their personality preferences are and who they are and why they like to work, and the Strong Interest Inventory, which is more about their interests and how they match up to people who are in selected fields. 

With whom have you worked?

I’ve really touched upon every industry and occupation — from nonprofits to the Hill to for-profit to law firms, associations and Fortune 500.

How can a career counselor help an individual?

By identifying where they are, helping them to understand themselves from an objective point of view. Really asking the right questions ... questions they may not have asked themselves before. In their current position they may be unhappy, but what are they unhappy about? Identifying what people enjoy doing, what they don’t enjoy doing and really helping them to focus on linking their talents, passions and values together to find a more satisfying career situation.

What are some steps someone considering a career transition should take?

I go by a chart system to success. The first step in career exploration, career transition or career management is self-assessment. The secondary step is more about research, doing informational interviews, looking at career trends, those types of things. Then it’s about decisionmaking — “What are my personal career objectives?” Step four, which is where everyone wants to start, is job-search strategy, sending out resumes, interviewing, etc.

What is the value of pursuing higher education?

In a town like Washington, where a master’s degree sometimes is the entry point, I think it’s very valuable. Knowing what you want to study is also important because you’re going to be spending a lot of time getting that second degree ... People have different reasons why they want to go back. For some people it’s an entry point and for other people it really hones your skills and talents into a certain area.

What advice would you give to someone worried about funding his or her higher education?

I’m a big believer in finding an organization that can pay for your degree. That’s the best value for them and for you. Employers do have tuition reimbursement, and there are still a lot of them around.

What advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

Your 20s are really a time for exploration. While I do advise going through the steps to try to home in on what your talents, interests and values are, it’s also a time to explore the areas in which you have always been interested. With the next few years, you’re going to have more information and more experience to make a better decision on what career field you might want to focus. We have three to five different careers over our lifespan. It’s important to gain good experience, but don’t feel like you have to get it right in the first job.

What makes career counseling different in the Washington area?

Whether it’s a down market or an up market, it’s always in demand because it is so competitive here that people really need to be able to market themselves to employers, to differentiate themselves. It’s a highly educated population, too.