Article contributed by Nathan Beel
Reality hit me hard when I graduated with my first counselling degree. I was 23 years old and confident that obtaining my degree meant that I would become employed as a counsellor in the first weeks of looking for work. I diligently applied for successive positions and on occasions when I received replies, they politely declined and indicated that I needed more experience. I learned the hard way that degrees in counselling were not a guaranteed ticket to employment.
I returned to study for a graduate diploma in counselling with a 200 hr internship for experience and was fortunate to pick up a counselling job soon afterwards. After two decades in various counselling related roles, including being on panels interviewing for counsellors, my understanding of counselling employment has grown, and I can see how naive my presumptions were in the early days.
A key assumption I operate on now is that counselling employment is a competitive supply and demand market. Employers aim for the most attractive candidate who applies. This attractiveness is based on the perceived value the applicant can bring the role. Value is subjective depending on the position and the hirer, and the field of applicants.
What applicants often do not see is who they are competing against. This is an important factor that shouldn’t be overlooked. Missing out on a job does not mean that one was necessarily deemed inadequate or under-qualified. It may mean that there was another applicant with more diverse or specialised experience and training who gained the position. However it is measured, the applicant who gains the job is deemed by the panel to offer the role the most potential value in comparison to the other candidates. The challenge for the job seeker is to help shape the panel’s perception that s/he is the most valuable applicant.
Some counselling job seekers will miss out on positions because they disqualify themselves from applying. They may believe they are slightly underqualified for a position, that the position is difficult for them, or that others going for the position will be more qualified and experienced. However, if these job seekers do not apply, they may potentially miss out on gaining the job that they may have otherwise gained. If they were to put their application in, they may potentially be the most attractive candidate in comparison to the other candidates. I recommend against self-selecting out of applying when there may be a small number of criteria that are not met or when the position description may appear intimidating. I have gained a number of positions which I perceived were above my capabilities and experience, but which if I had not have applied, I would have missed out on gaining the employment and discovering that I could do the role in spite of my self-doubts. While job seekers have increased chances of gaining work when they meet all the job criteria, their chances reduce to zero if they self-select out from applying at all.
In this instalment, I have highlighted that advertised counselling positions are competitive by nature and that organisations are seeking the most potentially valuable person from among a number of applicants. Missing out on a position does not necessarily imply that one is professionally deficient or unemployable as a counsellor but may simply reflect high-quality competition. I also recommended job seekers to go for positions that one may not meet all the criteria or where the position description tasks appear too difficult, as the job seeker may still be the viewed as the most potentially valuable person for the role in comparison to the other applicants. In the next instalment, I will discuss five specific strategies for increasing one’s perceived potential value of applying for jobs.