In the first part of this series, I discussed the competitive nature of advertised counselling applications. We have established that employers are looking for who they perceive to be the best applicant out of their pool of applicants. Your role then is to give yourself as many chances as possible to be the best applicant. Below are five strategies that may help increase the perceived value of what you might offer an employer:
Qualification: These days, more employers are looking for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in counselling or a related discipline. Given that bachelor degrees are more common now than previous years, a bachelor’s degree or higher will generally provide an edge over a holder of a certificate or diploma.
Experience: Accredited counselling degrees nearly all have a placement component in them. However, if you and two of your fellow graduates are going for the same position, it is better to have additional experience. I recommend people consider volunteering at Lifeline, Drug Arm, or similar service that provides ongoing experience and close supervision. Quality volunteer experience plus a degree often gives a significant edge over a degree alone. In addition, there may be pathways in the volunteer organisations for becoming a volunteer supervisor, allowing additional skills and experience to be accrued.
Demonstrate commitment to the profession: When I would look at counsellor or counselling educator applicant CV, I always look for mention of membership in a counselling association. When I see a CV that indicates membership in a counselling association, it sends me a signal this person is committed to their professional identity and growth. When I see CVs without mention of membership, it raises questions in my mind. Is the depth of this person’s interest in counselling only limited to the possibility of gaining employment? Membership maintenance requires commitment to an ethical code, maintaining professional development, maintaining clinical supervision and contributing financially to the profession. When I’m involved in hiring, I’m looking for evidence of commitment beyond the pay packet and promises made in the interview itself.
Get known: Counsellors are often introverted. We don’t put ourselves out there but prefer more intimate relating with our clients behind closed doors. However, our profession is a relational profession. I recommend people aim to become known. When people become familiar with who you are and the value you represent as a person, this may influence them if they are on your interview panel. Counselling is a fairly small profession, so it is fairly easy to get known by other counsellors. Attend professional development events and get to know other counsellors. Contribute to the association newsletter and blogs. Join an association subcommittee. Seek opportunities to provide professional development in an area you have knowledge and expertise in. Set up a LinkedIn account to put your CV for the world to see. When meeting people, give them your business card and later invite connection with LinkedIn. You might also consider setting up your own special business Facebook page or website as another ‘shopfront’ for your brand. The more people who become familiar with who you are and learn to trust you, the more likelihood that someone on your interview panel may know you and your ‘brand’ and may trust you over other candidates whom they do not know.
Develop a positive reputation: Your interactions with others in person and online, and your online footprint, will contribute to developing your reputation. Likewise, if you are studying, will your interaction with fellow students and behaviour in classes send signals of someone committed to the journey of becoming a counsellor? What type of person do they see? Do they see someone who they would want to refer clients to? Your reputation begins in university and people are unlikely to forget the behavioural impressions you leave with them. If people Google or Bing you, will the results send a signal of professionalism and other qualities associated with counselling? Determine what type of counsellor you want to be viewed as and ensure that is what you communicate in person and online. Employers and clients will look you up online or may ask questions of people who know you. A good reputation takes years to build and can be lost quickly. Aim to build it and protect it.
This segment has offered five ways of enhancing the chances of success in gaining counselling employment. In the next installment, I will list a further four strategies that I believe will enhance your chance of employment as a counsellor.