When should I meet with a career counsellor at school?

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I’m really happy to start participating in the Talent Egg Incubator. And thank you for the questions you’ve submitted. I’ll start my first posting, with an answer to the following:

When is the best time to meet with a career counsellor at my school? (For example, during first year so I can consider my options, or in my last year when I’m actively pursuing job opportunities?)

When you ask past graduates, “What do you wish you had known when you were still a student?” so many respond saying, “I wish I had known to speak with someone about my career before my last year! I waited until a few weeks before I graduated and there was so much I could have done before.” So it’s great that you are asking this question now!

While there is no one right time to meet with a career counsellor, there are many times during your studies when going to your career centre can be helpful – both for what you are working on at that time, and to set you up better for when you graduate.

Here are some questions you can take to a career counsellor well before you graduate:

What should I major in?

When you are deciding what to major in (or contemplating a switch) it can be helpful to think about the career options that might relate to the disciplines you are interested in.

While you definitely do not need to know exactly what you want to do after graduating to make a decision about your major, it can help to start thinking about career options well before you walk across the stage at convocation.

A career counsellor can help you research career options, and can help you reflect on what majors and careers might best suit you.

(Note: at most schools, if you have questions about career options related to majors your career counsellors can help with this, but if your questions are about courses, prerequisites, etc., you will probably want to talk with an academic advisor.)

How can I get career-related experience and build great skills while I am still a student?

To be a really strong candidate for jobs when you graduate, try to be always building skills and experience (not just through your courses) throughout your time as a student.

Career counsellors can help you explore some of the options, which may include participating in extra-curriculars at your school (clubs, student government), part-time work on or off-campus, co-ops and internships, and volunteering in the community.

The counsellors can also help you reflect on what skills you think would be most important and how to strategically find ways to focus on those.

What things can I do now that will make my job search easier when I graduate?

There are probably two key things a career counsellor will discuss if you ask this question: 1. Researching your options, and 2. Building your network.

For researching options, most career centres have all kinds of books and other information about careers in everything from archaeology, to biomechanics, to cooking, to zoology. And for building your network of people in your field, career counsellors will be able to help you learn networking skills, and may have events and other programs (for example an alumni network tool online) to help you connect with people.

One of the most challenging things about being a student can be juggling all the demands on your time. It can be easy to feel like you never have time to really devote to career planning or visiting a career counsellor. But spending even a couple of hours now can make a huge difference in your future.

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About the author

Cathy Keates is a career counsellor and trainer who has worked with university students and graduates for the past decade, helping them to strategically create careers they will love. She has worked as a career counsellor at Queen's University and was the associate director of the career centre at York University. Convinced that we can all create lives based on authenticity and integrity, she is the author of the new job search book Not for Sale! and shares her thoughts about finding work without losing yourself on her blog, Transform Your Job Search.