Life as a New Professional
by Brian M. Montalvo
People always say that you will never forget your first job. But they never really tell you why. I went to graduate school at a large southeastern university and graduated from one of the eight accredited career counseling programs. I recently took a position within the Career Development Center of another large southeastern university--my first full-time career development job since completing my degrees, which of course comes with adjustments and a learning curve. Some of the experiences I will describe are not unique to seasoned professionals, but they are often overlooked by graduate students transitioning from school into the world-of-work.
While in graduate school, I juggled the demands of two graduate degrees, co-taught an Introduction to Career Development course, worked a graduate assistantship-which often involved working beyond the 10 hours I was paid for, and I interned at the career center where I held weekly counseling appointments, presented workshops, and helped out in any way that I could. Believe it or not, I would consider all that to be a light load compared to working full-time. Yes, it's true that I no longer have to stay up all night in a caffeine-induced high studying for an exam or writing a term paper, and I actually have a salary now, but like everything else, there are pros and cons.
My current position requires me to serve on numerous committees-one of which had me actually deciding the homecoming queen and king of the university. This committee was not a requirement for my department, but it was one of the many opportunities I had to participate in something fun. Besides serving on committees, I manage, supervise, and train graduate students. I'm involved in coordinating major fairs, assisting with most career center activities (e.g., career fairs, informational sessions, marketing), present workshops on anything related to career development, and of course, daily counsel and interpret assessments for a small "army" of students. The hardest part has been the adjustment period. It seems like overnight I went from a graduate student trying to understand theory to a professional.
In graduate school it's almost like I was immune to society. I could get away with a whole lot more, like sleeping in until 11:00am, dressing poorly or not being "professionally" groomed, and people will say "that's ok, he is in graduate school and he is probably tired from studying all night," or whatever the case may be. As a professional, I no longer have that "immunity." People consider me an expert. Students, community members, and staff will depend on me for information and guidance that they normally would not have asked me for if I were in graduate school. Also, my hours are all accounted for. I pretty much have to be somewhere at all times of the day. There are conferences and meetings to attend, as well as keeping up with professional development, reading the necessary journals, and talking with mentors. I often get asked, if I could turn-back time, would I go back to graduate school and once again become "immune" to society? My answer is a definite No! But I would do some things (like most of us) differently.
Here are some suggestions for current graduate students who are preparing to enter their first job:
- Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone and do things you normally would not do. This can include presenting at a national conference or assisting with research.
- Get involved in everything you possibly can be involved in. Serve on graduate student committees; yes, they exist!
- If you are planning on staying in higher education, learn the systems, its politics, and the overall organizational structure of the university.
- Absorb information like a newborn. Even information you perceive to be meaningless, you never know when it will come in handy.
- Begin relationships with individuals that have experience and knowledge in your field. These individuals can later become mentors. Mentors are your guiding light-use them wisely!
- Attend conferences and local professional meetings.
- Conduct informational interviews with individuals that are currently in the field.
- Join and be active in professional associations. Actually read the literature they provide. NCDA's website www.ncda.org provides more than enough information about the career development profession and opportunities to get involved. (Note, in particular, the listing of http://188.8.131.52/cgi-bin/WebSuite/tcsAssnWebSuite.pl?AssnID=NCDA&DBCode=130285&Action=DisplayTemplate&Page=AWS_NCDA2_about_committees.html">committees found under About NCDA).
There is of course an adjustment period that will be a lot easier if you 1) have support from your current staff-which thankfully I do, 2) develop good strong foundations and values, and 3) are informed of what you are getting yourself into before you take the leap and become a full-time professional.
Being a new professional is not all bad. Actually, I would say that it is not bad at all. The work itself is more gratifying. I no longer have to ask myself "why do I have to do this assignment, I'll never use this is in the real world." I have more free time to pursue other interests, and like I mentioned before, I get paid!
Brian M. Montalvo, M.S., Ed.S., NCC is currently the Assistant Director of Florida Atlantic University's Career Development Center. His responsibilities include managing the CDC's assessment program which includes the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory, and the Self-Directed Search. He also coordinates the Explore FAU Living Learning Community activities for first-year students and the Majors Fair. Brian received his M.S. and Ed.S. in Counseling and Human Systems with an emphasis in Career Counseling from Florida State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (561) 297-3533
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