I don’t have too many regrets in life, but not realizing the importance of career counselling for students is definitely one of them. Most of us become so overwhelmed with exams and essays that we just don’t have the time or energy to think about what comes after school, let alone 6-12 months later.
I should have slowed down to take advantage of that counselling when I had the chance, and you should too if you’re still in school. Read this before you tell yourself that you still don’t have time to talk about your future.
Discover programs you never knew existed
As a student you just don’t really know what’s out there. That’s totally natural after spending 4 years in high school and possibly another 4 in college. It would be a poor use of your time to strike out on your own without knowing about all of your options.
Instead, you could seek out post-grad career guidance to see what other programs might give you an edge in the job market before you start slinging job applications left and right. The importance of career counselling for students here is that you get a professional’s understanding of the job market plus that professional’s take on the skills you’ll need to succeed.
The counsellor can direct you toward new opportunities based on your interests—including programs that you might have never known about otherwise. It could include:
- Work placements
- Professional programs
- Master’s or other graduate degree programs
- Trade apprenticeships
I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my last year of undergrad until I received some advice. I was too involved in my studies to walk away from the history field at that point, so I was pointed toward a graduate program in another city a few hours away. It let me grapple with primary sources and to gain experience as a teaching assistant—and that was exactly what I wanted. It was a good next step to see if I truly wanted to pursue a PhD in history.
I didn’t continue down the academic path as I’d intended, but I gained valuable experience and a new perspective on academia that heavily affected my career path for the better.
Get directions to navigate the job market
Teachers, professors, parents, and guidance counsellors all tell you to “plan ahead” before graduating, both in high school and in college. That’s all well and good in high school, but planning major life steps after college without any experience outside of school is kind of like trying to organize a cross-country road trip without a map (or a car).
It just doesn’t work like that.
Most of us need help planning out next steps because we don’t have the experience to anticipate the expectations, commitments, or workload involved with various career paths. There’s also the fact that graduates take 7.4 months to find a job after college on average, highlighting the importance of career counselling for students even further.
Career counsellors can provide insights that comes from years of experience—even decades’ worth. They’ve been in your shoes, so let them show you the most practical way to proceed.
Get an external perspective that sees the forest, not just the trees
Exams are hard. Final assignments are hard. Saying goodbye to friends is hard, too—and it’s all crammed into the last 2 months of your school year, just like those lectures everybody forgets to review until the end of the semester.
That was my situation too (seriously, I was the worst at writing exams).
So many of us focus on treading water that we slip into tunnel vision. It’s just a survival mechanism—and that’s okay to a point, but getting comfortable with it tricks us into leaving opportunities on the table
That’s where a career counsellor comes in with a wider perspective of the playing field.
For example, career counsellors might know that unemployment rates for recent graduates in the United States skyrocketed from 3.8% in March 2020 to 13.3% in June 2020. Based on their understanding of the poor market prospects, they might recommend that you find a professional program to meet these more competitive conditions while also waiting for the market’s prospects to improve before diving in.
Your mentors aren’t exaggerating the importance of career counselling for students when they tell you to book an appointment. Counsellors have a certain level of expertise about the factors facilitating successful job searches, including these:
- Which industries and roles match your interests.
- Which companies would be a good culture fit for you.
- Career paths uniquely suited to you.
- How the economic outlook bodes for your job search.
- How your financial situation underpins all of those other factors.
More than that, they can help you pull together all of those factors into a plan. Believe me: there’s nothing quite like the disillusionment of walking into the brick wall known as unemployment for 9 months straight. Advice really helps.
Connections with alumni and hiring managers
Career counsellors have connections. Those connections may be able to help you. Some might even want to hire you.
You shouldn’t rely on receiving an introduction to counsellors’ networks, but they’re usually happy to meet eager young minds… if they show effort.
At least some of those connections will be your school’s alumni, highlighting the importance of alumni associations for your career development. Others will be involved in the regional talent acquisition industry, and some will be entirely unique to your counsellor. All of them are worth meeting at least once, for several reasons:
- They might remember your name if they encounter a relevant position.
- They can introduce you to even more people, growing your network.
- They can offer alternative perspectives on your career trajectory.
- They might even have some freelance assignments to build your portfolio.
Schools usually have some means of bringing together regional employers and alumni with existing students. My own alma mater has these kinds of programs because it understands the importance of career counselling for students, and it’s not even a large school. It hosts a mix of these events on a regular basis:
- Public Q&A sessions with the Dean of Students to answer career questions.
- 1-on-1 mentorship meetings with alumni.
- A lecture series with different alumni speakers for every event.
- Alumni award events where you can meet new people.
If you’re willing to put yourself out there at events and to meet new people then your counsellor can point you toward the right places to look. At the very least you’ll start professional networking, which can put you several months ahead in landing a job.
You don’t need to meet with a career counsellor every week, but they can give you realistic next steps to complete a larger career plan. On top of introductions to new connections and pointing you toward programs that will develop you into a formidable professional, you’ll regret not booking an appointment with a career counsellor. I know I did.