What makes a university Career Counselor great?

by: Sharon Belden Castonguay, EdD
Director, Graduate Career Management Center
Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business
New York, NY

I recently saw a post to one of my LinkedIn groups asking members to suggest what they felt were the most important skills a career counselor should have. Since I am currently searching for four new career advisors for our office—two replacements and two new lines—I’ve been thinking a lot about that question. Here are the top five things I’ll be looking for in candidates:

1)      Must recognize the difference between career counseling and giving advice.

I know some balk at the term “counselor” since many in our field are not state licensed*. We tend to use the title “career advisor” in my office. But there is a big difference between guiding students through the decision making process and telling them exactly what to do. A great career counselor should help clients figure out what they want, and help them construct a coherent narrative that links their background with their goals. He should instruct them as to logistics—recognizing how these norms can vary across industries—and be an intelligent sounding board during the offer stage. She does not bully or condescend, though is capable of tough love when it’s warranted. We teach students to manage their careers, not just land jobs.

*There is no hiding from the fact that many students do, in fact, need mental health services—and we need to recognize that, watch for danger signs, and be ready to refer them accordingly.

2)      Must understand how social media is used by recruiters and job hunters.

While I don’t expect potential new hires to be tweeting during their interviews, at minimum I will be looking for the ability to teach students how to use LinkedIn and manage their online reputations.

3)      Must demonstrate best practices in managing one’s own job search process.

If you can’t do it, you can’t teach it.

4)      Must know how to collect, analyze, and understand data.

I often say that most of my job as a career services director is fundraising—proving to The Powers That Be in my organization that I need more resources. To do that I need to provide hard numbers and a compelling argument. How do you think I got two new hiring lines?

5)      Must see how career services fits into the mission of a university.

With resources thin on the ground (see #4), it’s easy to see the career office as being in competition with admissions, academic affairs, alumni relations, etc. But academic administration is not a zero sum game: in order for anyone in a university to succeed everyone must understand how different functions interconnect so they do not pursue actions that undo the work of the others. Our admissions office could improve their numbers if they started admitting new college graduates with 750+ GMAT scores into our MBA program—but it wouldn’t do me any favors!

Please submit your own thoughts!


4 thoughts on “What makes a university Career Counselor great?

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