“It takes courage to grow up and become who you are.” e.e. Cummings
It happened. Nearly two months ago. It really did. I graduated. Three years of intense studying and writing many papers to earn my MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Rhode Island College. Three years of working as a graduate assistant while also juggling hours for a full-time internship. Three years of building connections and relationships with classmates, faculty and counseling professionals. Three years of exploring, discovering and receiving validation for my choice to leave a lucrative job to the unknown at the age of 51.
Of course I couldn’t stay in the unknown for too long. Finding a job was a long and arduous process, as it often is when one is entering into a field as a newbie. Below are some thoughts and suggestions I have for those graduating to consider. Please know that this list is geared towards those who have never worked in mental health counseling apart from their internship and practicums.
- Start early! I started applying and interviewing for jobs in December of 2016 and secured several job offers by the time I graduated.
- Update your resume to reflect your soon-to-be new vocation.
- Check if your institution’s career center supports graduate students and meet with one of their staff counselors as well as attend career fairs. I even connected with my alma mater for my bachelor’s degree and was able to get feedback on my resume.
- Update your LinkedIn page. Be sure to add presentations, papers or videos.
- Request a general reference letter from faculty and internship/practicum supervisors or colleagues. What I mean is that it is a letter that is not directed to a particular job; thus allows you to use it for many different job applications.
- Update your reference list for reference calls. Ask faculty and internship/practicum supervisors or even a classmate to be on your reference list.
- Maintain your membership in counseling organizations. If you never joined as student, join now as a professional.
- Initiate informational interviews. Since I was interested in going into college mental health or career counseling as well as the experience of women counselors of color, I checked out the webpage of every college or university in the state of Rhode Island. I was fortunate to meet so many counseling professionals who were more than willing to speak with me over the phone or in person for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Sign up for email notices from hiring companies like Indeed.com.
- Connect with alumni for your program or connect with classmates who had graduated and now working. They may be willing and able to help you in finding a job at their workplace.
- Be willing to be flexible about what kind of counseling you want to do. From the get go I wanted to go into college counseling; however as I took classes, finished my on-site practicums and internship, and learned from classmates and faculty, I began to be more open to consider jobs other than at a college. Also, it turned out that most of the jobs for relatively inexperienced and unlicensed counselors like myself are In-Home Therapy or Substance Abuse.
So, you’re probably wondering what I am going to be doing and where I will be for the next few years. If you haven’t noticed the change in my bio, I’ll be heading north from “little Rhody” to upstate New York to work at Alfred University in the, yes, counseling center! I’m thrilled for the opportunity to continue my commitment and love for college students, to contribute in meaningful ways to the Wellness Center staff and to the campus as a whole and to applying all that I have learned in this new context.
As for future postings, I’ll reflect on what it means to be a mental health counselor working with college students in a rural region. So, indeed, the journey begins…
Elena Yee is a mental health counselor in the Wellness Center at Alfred University in upstate New York. She received her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island. She is interested in the healing of trauma through EMDR and IFS, effectively assessing for suicidality, increasing diverse representation in college counseling centers, and advocating for the needs of those most vulnerable in our society. You can learn more about Elena at www.linkedin.com/in/elenatyee