Explore, Plan, Create, Practice, and Reflect: A Practical Assignment for a Career Counseling Course
By Angie Smith
Teaching a graduate level career counseling and development course offers many opportunities to engage in “real world” application whereby students can draw upon their own personal experiences. An assignment I would like to share is one that I created and added after teaching the course for several years. I noticed as students moved toward their practicum and internship experiences, they often experienced some anxiety, trepidation, and even panic when asked to provide employment documentation, such as a resume to prospective practicum and employment hiring managers. The assignment entitled “Preparing for Employment” provides the opportunity for students to reflect on their employment history as well as their current and future career aspirations while learning more about career counseling through practical application. Additionally, having your employment documents ready to go “just in case” can’t hurt either, right?
Overview of Career Counseling and Development Course
The career counseling and development course is a course required in most graduate-level CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) programs. A few of the new 2016 CACREP standards highlight the importance of career planning, identifying labor market trends, and job search resources.
As we prepare counselors-in-training to serve others in the labor market, it is imperative that students begin with themselves as they identify ways to prepare for the job search process. Through this assignment, students not only explore career topics and create their own career documents, but they also learn more about career counseling by “doing”. The hope is that students, even if they decide not to focus on career counseling, will develop the skills and identify resources necessary to support their own career development along the lifespan as well as feel more prepared to counsel future clients related to career related topics and issues.
Overview of Assignment: Preparing for Employment
I believe there are two primary areas of focus for the student:
- Personal: Reflection about their own career journey, and
- Professional: Development of career counseling skills, information, and relevancy for their clients, students, and community.
In an effort to stimulate reflection and incorporate practical application of skills into the course, I added the “Preparing for Employment” assignment, which consists of three parts.
Each student engaged in the following activities:
- Visit and explore O*Net (Occupational Information Network) to identify a position of interest (other resources could be reviewed as well, if desired),
- Review resources and material about resumes to create/update resume or curriculum vitae (CV), including reviewing sample resumes through sites like Quintessential Careers, and
- Develop a list of at least 5 questions to ask an interviewer/hiring manager related to the position, employer, etc., in the event that the student was selected to interview for the fictitious job. Students are not asked to submit their resume to an actual job. However, students have been compelled to apply for jobs soon after, if their qualifications meet the requirements.
Students select a partner from the course. After completing the finished documents from Part I, students exchange their resume/CV and a minimum of 5 questions with a partner for their partner to review. To guide the peer resume review, students were given, and encouraged to utilize, a “resume/CV sample guide”, which served as a checklist and basic guide. Students were asked to include comments in a professional and thoughtful way to their partner. Students were encouraged to add written feedback and meet face-to-face to dialogue and share suggestions with one another.
After the peer review process, students submitted the following finished documents:
- Job description for the fictitious position,
- Minimum of 5 interview questions,
- A list of resources or references students used for creating documentation, and
- One to two pages to share and reflect on the student’s final thoughts about the process of developing the documents and peer review process. Students were required to respond to the following prompts:
Share how the various components and aspects of this process was for you:
- Conducting a job search and developing resumes/questions
- Reviewing resumes/CV questions
- Providing feedback to a partner(s), and
- Receiving feedback from a partner(s).
Points of Consideration
- At the beginning of the course, I recommend and encourage students to review and become familiar with the career center website at the university and to visit the career center since it is a valuable resource on-campus and their student fees are paying for the service.
- Instructor comments/feedback: The peer review process does help when reviewing the resumes for the final version of grading. However, it can take quite a bit of time to review each resume, if you are planning to provide thorough feedback. As I noticed common themes or omissions, I would create a bulleted list of the broad topics and provide a review to the class all at once.
- Resume format: Students were not permitted to use a template, but rather needed to create the document using Microsoft Word (or some platform that allows for editing) for ease of editing and updating their resume/CV in the future.
- Rubrics for peer review: I provided a detailed rubric for students to use as a way to review their peer’s documentation. The rubric was found on the NCDA website (on a members-only page). By providing the rubric, students indicated they felt more secure in reviewing the resumes and understanding the major components to focus on within the resume review process.
- Confidentiality: If students are not willing and/or reluctant to share their employment documents, they were encouraged to let the instructor know early on in the semester. A discussion around confidentiality of information and privacy was included in the process.
Benefits for Students
- Typically, for many students, the practicum and internship experiences are within a year or less from taking the course in which this assignment is used. After completing the assignment, their documents are ready to be sent to prospective practicum sites and/or employers after the class is over. Bonus: If students experience a career change, loss of job, unexpected career opportunity, etc., their resume is updated for rapid submission to the prospective employer.
- Reviewing and providing feedback in a gentle, supportive, and helpful way is often required within counseling sessions, particularly for career counselors who work with students on their resumes, cover letters, and other employment documentation. Albeit uncomfortable at times, practicing and preparing for these types of situations prior to entering into the practicum and internship experience can prove to be beneficial for students.
- Preparing interview questions moves students beyond simply submitting their documentation to an employer, but also helps them to envision themselves in the environment. It highlights the point that interviewing is a “two-way” street and an active, not passive, process.
- Through instruction and practice, students learn more about career counseling and the related tasks involved. Students are encouraged to visit the career center and related resources/materials (i.e. website) to experience career counseling first-hand and expose themselves to the vast array of career resources available.
- In many courses, students complete an assignment and place it on the “shelf”, either virtual or actual shelf, after the paper is graded and returned. The assignment has a “built- in” reward structure. It is a tangible outcome of the course that can be used in a realistic and practical way well into the future. Also, having gone through this process, we are teaching students how to manage and adapt their document in the future.
The Preparing Employment Documentation assignment is designed to help students prepare for future employment, explore career counseling concepts, practice engaging with a colleague by reviewing their resume as well as offering critical and constructive feedback, and build confidence in the job search process. Planfulness and preparation are essential within the job search. Starting early and identifying a support structure well before the employment opportunity presents itself will, hopefully, reduce stress and enhance the confidence in all of our students.
Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). (2016)
CACREP 2016 Standards. Retrieved from http://www.cacrep.org/for-programs/2016-cacrep-standards/
NCDA Sample Forms. Retrieved from Members-only Resources. www.ncda.org
O*Net Online. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.onetonline.org/
Angie Smith, PhD, LPCS is a Teaching Assistant Professor, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Supervisor (LPC-S) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her experience as well as research and teaching interests include career counseling and development, online teaching and learning modalities, supervision in counseling, college counseling, and student development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org