Read as Karen Rieker talks about her career as a College Career Counselor. Find her at www.albright.edu/elcdc/.com and on the Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.
What do you do for a living?
I work with college students to determine all aspects of their career path. I do workshops on resume writing, the job search, and finding a major. I also work with students one-on-one to help them select a major or career path, write their resumes and cover letters, find internships and jobs, and do mock interviews. And to round it out I administer and review two career-based tests, the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs.
How would you describe what you do?
I would describe it as very helpful for the students who take initiative and work with us. We have a huge network for connections and a lot of real world experience. On busy days, it can be hard to keep track of the students I’m meeting with and what we’re discussing, but it’s so rewarding when we’re able to accomplish what they need. I’d also say it’s more administrative than you may think. Although the majority of what I do is interaction with others, I also keep notes on my meetings, send and respond to emails, and do internet research on relevant topics.
What does your work entail?
My work entails a lot of passion and knowledge of the real world. You also need a lot of patience and the ability to problem solve/think outside the box. It helps if you have solid computer skills.
What’s a typical work week like?
I don’t think I have a typical week! My hours are from 8-5, but it’s not uncommon to stay late to catch up on things and prepare for the next day. We also are sometimes required to come to campus on weekends for open houses. I LOVE that every day is different. Some days have student workshops, some days are conferences, and some days are all student appointments.
How did you get started?
I was originally going to be a high school history teacher. As I progressed through my undergrad, I realized I enjoyed working with college students, and student teaching was a rough experience for me. I enrolled in graduate school for Student Affairs in Higher Education and loved the experience. I did internships with Housing, Women’s Services, Career Development, and Study Abroad. I kept in touch with my supervisors, and when a job opened where I did my Career Development internship, it was a perfect fit.
What do you like about what you do?
I like that every day is different, and it’s a chance to help students. Not knowing where you want to go in life is definitely scary, so it’s rewarding to help ease some of that stress.
What do you dislike?
I think what I dislike the most is when students don’t want to be helped. Like when they make an appointment but then never show up for it. It’s hard to know you can make a difference but they aren’t open to it.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
It can be different everywhere you go. I get paid monthly. I also get good benefits and the opportunity to go to conferences for professional development.
How much money do you make?
Again, this can vary depending on where you are. I make about $35,000, but that is starting level. Directors can make upwards of $65,000 depending on the state and type of institution.
How much money do you make starting out?
I started at $35,000, but I know some places can start around $50,000.
What education or skills are needed to do this?
A strong knowledge of the working world is beneficial. Most schools also require a Masters degree in a related field. A lot of my Masters-level classes were counseling based, and I think that is what’s most helpful for me.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging part is hitting that wall where you don’t know what else you can do to help a student. Either what they want isn’t offered at this school, or they just have so many interests they can’t pick which to really pursue. It’s also challenging to collaborate with faculty sometimes, because we’re on very different schedules.
What is most rewarding?
I really enjoy seeing the proverbial light bulb go off! When they realize “Oh yeah, I really can do that for a job” or “wow, I’m actually pretty good at interviewing.” It’s an incredible boost of confidence for them.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Have a good knowledge of yourself first. You can’t help someone else figure themselves out if you can’t figure your own self out! You also need to keep up on research that’s being done, too.
How much time off do you get/take?
It depends on where you are. I get sick, vacation, and personal time, some of which rolls from year to year.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
We can’t place students. We don’t automatically give you jobs. We give you the tools to do it on your own, but we can’t do it for you.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I would love to get more involved on campus and in professional organizations. I also want to become resume and Myers Briggs-certified. And it would be nice to get a Doctor of Education, too!
What else would you like people to know about what you do?
It’s so fun and many students are inspirational! There are also lots of opportunities to continue to learn.