1. Name: Jaclyn Welstein
2. Current job/past jobs: Currently: Counselor at a Chicago high school. Formerly: Senior Media Strategist at Starcom (worked on Kellogg’s & BlackBerry accounts)
3. Last school attended; major: Undergraduate: Indiana University/Communications & Marketing major; Graduate School: Northeastern Illinois University/Counseling with concentration in school (also hold Type 73 certification with Illinois State Board of Education)
4. Did you need to have an internship to help get your jobs?: Yes, in order to complete my Masters program, a year-long internship in a school (750 hours) was required
5. Did you contact prospective employers cold? What percentage of your search was conducted online? What were your best and worst interviews?: For my first career in advertising, job hunting was an incredibly different experience than it was while searching for a job in education. I found a company I wanted to work for out of college, sent my application in online, had a few interviews and was hired. When I wanted to change companies it was again as easy as replying to a posting, interviewing, and getting the offer. I had not really had the experience of applying for jobs and not getting them.
I knew the education field was incredibly tough to break into in Chicagoland. When it came time to job hunt, I did it all: contacted prospective employers cold, through job postings, and through friends. Most of my search was conducted online through various education job boards (such as County Board of Education websites, the CPS job board, and generic sites like Indeed). I also went around to various schools and hand delivered my resume, attended job fairs and had teacher friends drop my resume in front of guidance directors.
When I first began looking for a job, I told myself I would not turn down any interview, being that the field is so tight and jobs for school counselors are not plentiful. That was a mistake. My worst interview took place in Macomb, Ill., 4 hours from Chicago. I got up at 4 am and drove in the rain to a tiny town OUTSIDE of Macomb in order to interview to be the only school counselor for a tiny, unincorporated school district. I figured that any job was a good start and if I liked the people and school I would be willing to move away from my family, boyfriend, dog, friends, etc. for a year to gain some experience in the field. They offered me the job on the spot and I knew right away it was a less-than-ideal opportunity. I quickly realized that while it is important to jump at job interviews, it is also important to have a bar and to know what you are willing to give up for a job. While I thought I might be willing to move away for a year, I realized that I truly was not willing to do that, especially to be the only counselor in a school of 400 in a very rural community.
My best interview, ironically, was for a job I did not end up getting. One of my very first interviews out of graduate school was for a lucrative position in the suburbs. I met the guidance department chair at a job fair, and we had a great conversation. He called me in to interview with his team and I had a 1st then 2nd round interview and I thought they both went terrifically. In the end, it came down to me and one other person and I did not get the job. I felt defeated and devastated, asking myself what I could have done differently. A month or so later I learned the person who had gotten the job had a lot more experience than I did, and spoke Spanish.
I learned the valuable lesson that while an interview may go great and you may be a good fit for a job, there are ALWAYS factors out of your control that play a role.
6. What is the biggest obstacle you deal with now? School debt; life-work balance; job satisfaction; lack of promotion opportunities; time management?: The biggest obstacles I deal with are debt from graduate school and the instability of the system for which I work. My school debt is actually quite low for a graduate degree, and I have attending a state school to thank for that. I was careful when choosing between Northeastern Illinois University and the better-known (but private) DePaul University. Though accepted by both, DePaul was literally twice the price. NEIU gave me a great education and I do not think I’d have a better job had I gone to DePaul. However, I still have to live on an educator’s salary while squirreling away a huge chunk of money every month to pay my loans. This became an even bigger deal as my now- fiancé and I started to plan and save for our wedding. A factor I did not even consider when I took out the loans in the first place.
As for the instability, that is the nature of working for the Chicago Public School system, or any state/government funded system. Education in general is prone to budget cuts and attendance rates play a large role in what positions get filled. Non-tenured teachers and staff and always fearful of their positions being eliminated. I also have long-term fears related to CPS such as my pension being funded (educators are not eligible for Social Security) and a factor as seemingly small as the residency requirement. CPS requires teachers and staff to live IN the city of Chicago. Not a huge deal right now, but it’s a potential factor down the road when I have my own children.
7. Who would be your ideal mentor? How have you sought a mentor and how has that person played a role in your career?: I have to say that currently, I am incredibly lucky to have a department chair who is a wonderful mentor. She is so supportive, positive and giving and truly cares about the profession as well as helping new counselors grow and learn. She gives me autonomy to do what I need to with my students, yet is always able to give me constructive feedback when I ask. She is trusting and allows me, a brand-new employee, to design and take on projects and with her guidance implement then. Most importantly, she is an advocate for me and the other counselors in the school. She fights for our interests and stands up for our department so we have a voice.
Though she is a new boss for me this year, I hope to have her mentor me as I go for my National Board Certification. I can appreciate how helpful she is because I have had bad bosses and mentors in both my professions. I’ve worked for very nice people with no backbone or ability to fight for the needs of the guidance department, as well as having worked for completely haughty, condescending women who take every opportunity to belittle. One of the filters I have always used in job hunting (especially after the last experience I mentioned) is that there need to be nice people around me.
8. How and where do you network with others in your field?: I am a member of a few professional organizations (ASCA, ISCA, IACAC) and attend conferences and conventions held by these organizations. I also attend a lot of professional development workshops put on by CPS.
9. What conferences or networking events do you attend? What would your ideal conference address?: I attend many CPS events, the ISCA (Illinois School Counseling Association) & IACAC (Illinois Association for College Admissions Counselors) and CACC (Chicago Area College Counselors) meetings. I also attend a lot of events put on by different colleges so I can learn about new schools and meet representatives from various colleges.
An ideal conference can be anything for me from a stress & anxiety workshop to a consortium put on by a large group of colleges. Anything that is well-run, provides detailed information in digital form, and provides free food is ideal for me.
10. What helpful advice can you give to someone who wants to follow in your field? Are there specific classes that should be taken in high school or college? What internships should be applied for?: The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to work, in some way in some field, before entering graduate school. Though the fields may seem unrelated, I use a lot of the skills garnered in my advertising career on a daily basis as a school counselor. Being able to make those connections and speak to them has helped me land jobs. It is also important to job shadow a school counselor and other educators. Be sure you want to enter this field before shelling out the money for a Masters degree.
I would also suggest breaking up your internship to find placements at many types of schools (urban, suburban, elementary, high school); being versatile is necessary and having some experience in many situations can come in handy since, as I noted, jobs in this field are few and far between.
Also, get out there and job-hunt like crazy. Make job-hunting a full time job. You need to be open to working in many different settings and be a shark about applying for jobs: They are posted and quickly filled. Hit the ground and hand deliver resumes. Network like crazy during your internship and do observations at as many places as possible.
Finally, if you are truly invested in this as a job, know that you may not land a job as a counselor right out of grad school, so be open to other opportunities. I took an extended maternity leave position right out of school and it was phenomenal experience. I was also able to parlay that maternity leave position into a position as a daily substitute when the counseling job ended, giving me valuable classroom experience. Get your substitute certificate and start subbing, or work as a classroom aid for special ed. Basically, get yourself into a school in any way you can!