Q&A with Career Counselor Janet Lenz, Ph.D.
Q: How did you get started in career counseling and what preparation is needed for the field?
A: I had an interest in psychology and sociology. Most people would probably go straight into a master's in career counseling. I was intrigued by the higher education degree at Florida State, but I also had the opportunity to work at the career center on an assistantship while doing my master's. Ideally, a person would obtain a master's in career counseling. The other key is gaining experience in providing career counseling and advising services in whatever capacity one can while completing the degree.
Q: In general, are there any specific traits that work well in this career?
A: Certainly, [you need] a regard for other people and the ability to relate to a range of individuals. Our career center is open to the public so we see young people, college students, and older adults. A career counselor should be comfortable working with a diverse range of people, be creative, be resourceful, and be able to stand up in front of a group and deliver a presentation. Career counselors should also have skills in designing and delivering programs for targeted populations. [Counselors] have to be comfortable with information and helping clients think through the complexity of their life situations. It's a creative, social, problem-solving kind of role.
Q: What can students expect from a position in career counseling?
A: It depends on the setting career counselors are in. If they are in private practice, they will typically see a steady stream of individual clients. They may conduct workshops, run groups, and do some consultation-maybe do some distance counseling. [At a university], the day is very mixed in that counselors see clients, and then, they often go teach, make presentations to various campus groups, and create or revise materials. They may collaborate with other individuals, both on and off campus to enhance the services provided to students. No two days are alike. It never gets dull because unique people come through the door every day.
Q: What are some of the challenges in the field?
A: The thing I have to tell people is that you won't get rich in this field. At a master's level, you won't make a large salary, but there are some real perks to working at a university: the collegial work environment, flexible scheduling, the longer breaks and the professional development opportunities. One challenge is simply keeping up with all the information and resources available in order to use them well with clients. A potential concern for someone in private practice is the ability to make a steady living from seeing individual clients. Some private practitioners choose to supplement their income by pursuing outside contracts or consulting. But, if you're in a school setting, it's by-and-large a really good situation...Most of our graduates end up in college or university settings.
Q: What kind of changes have there been in career counseling over the last few years?
A: [One change is] keeping up with technology and how to make good use of what's out there, exploring ways to use video conferencing, Skype and other ways of interacting with clients. In countries where they don't have ready access to professional career counselors, taking advantage of technology is critical. One of the big things about the field globally is the growth of career counseling around the world in countries where there weren't career counselors before. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) has been training paraprofessionals; they're not master's degree counselors, but they're career development facilitators (CDFs). NCDA was a leader in developing the CDF curriculum (120 hours, 12 modules). That curriculum has taken off and been translated into many different languages. The career counseling field has a range of service providers: professionally trained career counselors, career services administrators, paraprofessionals and career development facilitators-along with technology, this has been one of the biggest changes in career counseling.
Q: Because of technology and the Internet, people have access to more information than ever before on jobs and career planning. How is this affecting the industry?
A: There are people who get the information they need and maybe don't come in, and that's okay. A lot of what you see is that people are overwhelmed by the information. People have accessed bad information. You see discouraged job hunters. You have to help [job seekers] think about different strategies that may incorporate technology, but also don't overlook the things that have always worked-networking, looking into hidden job markets, doing information interviews and paying attention to the entire job search strategy, not just clicking on links. The other thing that you see with people is that it's not just about having information. [Some people] have personal struggles; they're anxious; they're frustrated; they're discouraged. A professional career counselor knows how to deal with all that, along with helping someone make a career choice, make a career transition or find a job... Our goal is to teach people an approach to solving career problems, so that they will be able to solve them on their own.
Q: As the coordinator of Florida State University's (FSU) career counseling specialty, what do you look for in students who apply to the program?
A: We don't look for a particular [undergraduate] degree. We really look for people who have a clearly identified career goal that [career counseling] is what they want to do. How did they determine they wanted to go into this field? What qualities do they have that would make them successful both in the field and in graduate school? They should have a passion for career counseling. This information should be reflected in their personal statement.
Q: What can students wishing to pursue the career counseling track at FSU expect from the program?
A: I don't know of any program that is more connected to the actual career center, combining learning in the classroom with hands-on experience. We ensure that students get the full range of experience that a career practitioner would have. We blend together teaching, research and service.
Q: Any other thoughts for aspiring career counselors?
A: It's an inspiring and exciting field. It's a way to make a difference in people's lives every day.