February 6, 2012

Are You at the Bottom of the Pool?


Why do some people walk into a burning building when everyone else is running away? Why to some people become fire fighters when others become teachers? What motivates an individual to become a doctor versus an engineer? It is part of the fabric of who they are – a combination of innate talent and early life experience.

Some people - lifeguards, and firefighters are motivated to save lives. While others - teachers, doctors, and counselors, are motivated to help people. I was a lifeguard before I was a career counselor. I guess you could say I save lives by helping people. In my experience, people do not always know they need help or that they are in danger - that they are in water, way over their head.

I recently worked with a person who had been looking for a job, unsuccessfully, since graduating in June of 2011. He finally admitted to himself that he needed help and came to see me for the first time. Within an hour we had sorted out what the key issues and problems were and developed a plan of activities to move him towards a solid career job.

I was a lifeguard for eight years. I spent every summer throughout high school and college working at swimming pools and lakes protecting people from drowning and stopping them from making stupid moves that put them or others in danger. I also taught swimming lessons to countless kids. It was my job to begin by teaching them to get comfortable with being surrounded by water. Then I could move to the bigger things- blowing bubbles, dog paddling, treading water, freestyle, backstroke, and so on. As with most things it was a progression of learning.

No one ever drowned on my watch! The thing that I dreaded most of all was having to pick someone up off the bottom of the swimming pool.

Counseling someone after 6 months of unsuccessful job seeking is like picking someone up off the bottom of the pool. It is way better to teach someone how to look for work long before graduation or immediately after a layoff.

Every lifeguard and every swimming instructor assesses the level of every swimmer under their responsibility. Those assessments give warning signs. I became expert at assessing skill level and watching for the signs of struggle – any sign that someone was in danger. Flailing on the top of the water is a sure sign that someone is in danger. So was seeing someone underwater - still - for too long. A good lifeguard springs into action with the first sign of trouble. I was hired as a lifeguard because I was good at preventing dangerous situations and I was good at saving people.

Those early life-guarding and swimming instructor experiences are the foundation of the counselor that I became and continue to be. As a career counselor, I worry when I see a student or job seeker flailing and I worry when I see someone who is too still - unmoving.

In my experience there are five essential elements to a good solid career plan.

  • Awareness – knowing what industries are growing and why

  • Focus – identifying what occupations fit your knowledge, interests, and skill sets
  • Organization – collecting, and organizing career info, contact names, and lists of companies that interest you
  • Strategy – Networking with professionals in your field, and developing an aggressive job search plan
  • Presentation – developing highly professional resume, portfolio, and interview skills



My job as a career counselor is to teach people how to explore their goals, values and interests in order to identify career directions, and connect with opportunities. I also teach people that it is important to network with professionals in their field of interest to expose them to career and job options - the earlier the better.

Activities that will propel you forward early in your career planning:

  • Research companies that hire your major as early as possible
  • Apply for internships that expand your knowledge and skills
  • Attend Career Fairs
  • Take a Career Planning class
  • Join professional organizations and attend conferences in your field
  • Develop your resume and portfolio and update them often


Learn to swim with the big fish!!!!