Where Are You Going? | Career Counselors Help You Find Answers

Graduate school is the stepping stone to your professional future. It provides the knowledge and skills that will launch your career. Where do you think you are going?

You may have a very clear idea of what you want to do and how to get there. Or you may be considering a number of options. Or you might not have given the matter much consideration.

Whatever the case, talking with a career counselor can help you turn your dreams into reality.

Finding the Career Center

Career SignMost research universities now have career counselors who specialize in working with graduate students. These experts may have a PhD themselves. They have developed expertise on the career needs of grad students in part through their own national network.

The Graduate Career Consortium is a membership organization for career counselors who specifically work with graduate students. 87 institutions are represented, which is 33% of all universities granting doctoral degrees. Of these, 47 are AAU-member institutions (75% of the AAU); these schools are the top research universities and the largest doctoral producers. So odds are that you can find the help you need and deserve.

There are two models. Either the main Career Center serves graduate students (and sometimes postdocs) or there are career services inside of the Graduate School central offices. At larger universities there may also be separate career centers in specific professional schools, like law, medicine and business, particularly serving those students. A quick web search for “Graduate Student Career Center” should land you in the right place.

If you find that specialized career advising for graduate students are NOT available on your campus, then become an advocate. Talk to the graduate dean. Careers and career preparation are on the radar of most graduate deans partly because of national report on Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers. Enlist the graduate student government to lobby on behalf of all graduate students.

Career centers offer a wide-range of services, which I describe in the post Using the Career Center | Eight Services to Take Advantage Of. The rest of this post focuses on one-to-one career counseling.

One-to-One Counseling

Talking to a career counselor on your campus will help you in whichever stage of your job search you in.

A typical appointment allows you talk directly with a career counselor in a face to face (or phone or Skype) appointment for up to an hour. What you discuss is up to you. Here is a wide-ranging list of what a career counselor can help you with. (It was informed by the University of Michigan, University of Illinois, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University graduate career center websites.)

Self-exploration: Talk about your interest, skills, values, and how to assess your strengths. Strategize ways to explore your options further. Identify and prioritize your strengths, interests, and preferences as the foundation for career exploration.

Career-path exploration: Identify and explore a variety of possible career tracks that use your advanced skills and subject expertise. Narrow in on specific areas and uncover additional places to get information on the fields you are considering. Help you with informational interview and networking.

Career counselor reviews a CV

Career counselor reviews a CV

Job search advice: Craft and implement targeted job search strategies. Help you communicate your value persuasively and confidently in application materials, interviews, and job offer negotiation. Troubleshoot a slowed search.

Written materials: Give feedback on your resume, curriculum vitae (CV), cover letters, other correspondence, and LinkedIn profile. Convert a CV to a resume.

Practice interviewing via Skype, phone or in-person.

Information and contacts: Point you to on-line and campus resources. Connect you with alumni and employers.

On-Going Relationship

As you can see from that list, it is helpful to meet with a counselor early in your time in grad school. Over and over I have heard career counselors say, “We YEARN see grad students a few years BEFORE they graduate.” But it is never too late. Make an appointment today.

Many students find that they develop an on-going relationship with a particular counselor. For their part, counselors love helping students move from the question-asking stage to landing a job. Nothing is more satisfying for both of you than celebrating the successful conclusion of the job hunt.

One other note. Counselors are used to seeing students in distress. They all keep boxes of tissues in their office because students often cry. Coming up short on the job market—no interviews, no prospects—is very disappointing. Reach out for consolation and help.

Specific Questions

Another reason to visit with a career advisor is when you have a question and don’t know where else to turn. A career counselor can be a sounding board and provide a different perspective.

Some examples of specific questions that come up in appointments (this list was inspired by Duke University):

  • How can I get the mentoring I need while enrolled here?
  • What are my options if I decide to stop after a master’s degree instead of a PhD?
  • How can I make use of my experience coordinating a conference for my faculty advisor?
  • Where can I locate internship opportunities?
  • Should I describe all my projects and/or list all my publications on my resume?
  • I hope to find a position in the Pacific Northwest. How can I achieve this goal?
  • As an international student, I’ve heard that my search for employment in the US may be extremely difficult. Is this true?

More Services

Career Centers provide many services beyond individual advising appointments. These are described in my post Using the Career Center | Eight Services to Take Advantage Of. There is great advice in the Three Keys to Graduate School Success interview with Julie Miller Vick, one of the pioneers of the field of Graduate Student Career Services.


Published March 30, 2016

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