4 Things to Do in Graduate School to See Post-Program Career Advancement

Oct 10, 2019

By Guest Author Keara Cormier-Hill 

One of the biggest hopes of graduate school candidates is that their selected program will be an opportunity for career advancement. Whether it be via specialized knowledge, enhanced skill development, higher earning potential, a larger professional network or greater recognition within specific fields, graduate degrees can be a great launching pad for professional growth. 

However, the path between your program and the desired next-level career is not always a prearranged or guaranteed one. While your program may get you closer to where you want to be, you will need to act with intentionality to hit the mark exactly. Here are 4 things I did while I was in graduate school that I believe will also help you find the right path to your unique post-transition goals. 

1. Take advantage of counseling and coaching 

As a graduate of a Master’s program in school counseling, seeking third-party consultation was something I heard about and did constantly. In my specific program, we reflected on what drove us, as students, to our field, what personal biases and experiences we brought to the work, and what elements we wanted to see that would complement our personal traits. 

Additionally, I took advantage of the coaching sessions with our university Career Service Office, where coaches would ask questions and provide information around industries, positions and regions of interests. Finally, my university had highly accessible and visible mental health counselors who were accustomed to supporting students. I decided to meet with counselors to see what it felt like to be on the other side of counseling sessions and, by doing so, I was given insight into my ways of thinking that had caused some patterned professional barriers and past stressors in the workplace.

Because of the coaching and counseling support I received, when it was time to begin searching for my next opportunity, I was firm and skilled in expressing what I wanted and why I wanted it. At the same time, my perspective of what would be an advantageous step forward was broadened because I understood some of my non-negotiables could exist in a variety of organizations. 

If you have any counseling or coaching opportunities offered through your program, do not let your access go to waste. These resources are unique ones that are often not easily available once you transition into the workforce and they allow you to sharpen your career focus and give you practice asking yourself and others questions that get you unstuck and visualizing positive change ahead.

2. Be aware of news and trends related to your desired outcome

After I moved into the application process, I knew that in order to see the full benefits of my degree, I would need to make explicit the relevance between my education and unique experiences and the advanced-level opportunities I was pursuing. 

Something that helped me do this more than I expected was Google alerts. In my time in school, I had narrowed down where I wanted to live long-term to a specific city. Though I was uncommitted to a specific position, I knew the topics that interested me most. With these things in mind, I set up Google alerts to make sure that I was able to recognize key players, issues, and programs along with relevant local breaking news in that city throughout the 2 years of my program. As a result, I was able to have strong interviews and deeper conversations with leadership, not only because I brought a fresh perspective from academia, but also because I was able to discuss recent developments and nuanced challenges in the work.

Keeping my eye on industry and local news also helped keep me focused on my post-graduate goals while I was in my program. Being in graduate programs and fellowship programs alike can present so many new career possibilities that you can lose touch with what brought you there in the first place. However, by staying connected to how the issues look outside of your program,  you make sure your passion is grounded in reality.

3. Negotiate

I did not have the great fortune of being in a fully-funded graduate program (which I still regret not researching before). However, because I was paying for my education and aware that I needed to minimize costs, I decided to negotiate my financial aid package and other living expenses. Though it seemed an uncomfortable feat when I first approached it, after I had been granted my requests, I could not believe that I had almost paid more when I could have paid less.  

By the time I got in the workforce, I had those experiences in my memory bank to give me confidence that I was a valuable asset. I knew I was in an advantageous position to inquire about better compensation. Though I was still nervous, the reminder that if I hadn’t asked for a revised financial aid package, I would have paid more than necessary gave me the push I needed to negotiate again. I did my research on salaries at comparable agencies and in comparable positions, estimated what my take-home salary would be, and laid out what value I felt my education and experience brought. To my surprise, my compensation request was not only matched but exceeded. Yet again, I was thankful that I had not passed up the opportunity to, at the least, inquire.

4. Work 

This last one might seem the most unoriginal, but it cannot be emphasized enough. Every day, I am surprised at how old trainings, planning documents, programs, and practices allow me to better navigate the completely new territory a career move upward brings. I am even grateful for positions where I was frustrated to no end by the ambiguity and lack of consistency at the time because they allowed me to now have an already-developed skillset for producing quality work despite of those conditions. 

However, this isn’t something that comes only from full-time paid positions. Practicum experiences I had while in my graduate program along with previous volunteer experiences have provided a wealth of information about best practices along with cautionary tales that I have shared in my post-graduate workplace which have, in turn, been supportive in advancing our project goals.

Graduate schools are designed so that students leave the university more knowledgeable than they were when they entered. However, you want to make sure that your knowledge allows you to achieve the goals you set out to accomplish. Allow these 4 practices and insights to complement the resources and research available in your graduate program, and you will be moving on up as you hoped.

Keara Cormier-Hill is an alumna of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education (HGSE), there having completed her Master’s of Education , Certificate of Advanced Studies in School Adjustment Counseling, and Child Protection Certificate from the Harvard François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights. Prior to HGSE, Keara collaborated with youth-centered international organizations in the Dominican Republic for two years as a Princeton in Latin America Fellow. Keara currently works with schools to support partnership among the school, parents and the community to improve student academic achievement and bolster positive development.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved