Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Interview with Kelly Mitchell, BA: Employment Counselor

SJS is expanding the topics we present and we are very pleased to introduce one of our newest guest writers, Kelly Mitchell, BA who focuses on Career Advice & Employment Counseling. This often overlooked area certainly affects all helping professionals. Career advisors and employment counselors can be a tremendous help for an individual who is unemployed, returning to the job market, looking to change jobs/employers or even wanting to make a significant change in their current career. An employment counselor needs to have many of the same skills that a social worker does, empathy, compassion, good listening skills, organizational skills, problem solving skills, a willingness to make a difference, creativity, resource access and most importantly the genuine interest to assist others.

Why Employment Counseling?

Just prior to becoming an Employment Counselor, I was working for the Region of Durham as a Caseworker, carrying a caseload of approximately 180 files representing about 350 people. In this role I was responsible for ensuring that all these people continued to be eligible for ongoing assistance on a monthly basis, and that they received their money for housing and food on a monthly basis. Adding in phone call, face-to-face meetings, faxes, letters, mail, documentation checks etc. there really was very little time on a consistent basis to do much proactively with respect to employment and exit strategies.

An Employment Counselor on the other hand, is in more of a proactive rather than reactive position, and discussions can and do occur daily on helping people move forward with their plans and hopes for financial independence. I felt that given my past experience not only in Social Services, but in Retail,  Recreation, Not-for-Profit, Municipal, Provincial and Self-Employment, I was in a good position to empathize with people and come to the discussion table from multiple perspectives. I’d worked as an Executive Director, Shoe and Clothing Salesperson, Co-operative Games Consultant, Recreation Manager, Youth Leader, Program Director, acted in community theatre, volunteered on Boards of Childcare organizations, Drug Awareness Groups, and coached boys in soccer and girls in softball. It seemed to me I had a wide, diversified background that would serve the clients I would come into contact with well.

I also felt that acting and singing love ballads on a stage to 700 paying theatre patrons was a transferable skill that would be similar to standing in front of a crowd of people and facilitating a session on Resume Writing or Interview Preparation. I could bring that assertiveness and preparation to the workplace and when needed get creative, put myself out there, and expose myself showing others how in the end, I’d still be alive and breathing and therefore so would they if they’d risk a little in a safe controlled setting where they would be respected, encouraged to try new things, and thereby grow and learn that they were made of sterner stuff than they gave themselves credit for.

I applied for a job as an Employment Counselor and didn’t get selected the first time from the interview process. I was too creative in my application which involved a short presentation to the panel as if I was conducting an interview workshop for clients. The second interview process I scaled back my presentation to a traditional one, but delivered with confidence and used the STAR interview format exclusively. This format means for every question, you state the situation you found yourself in, the task to be accomplished, the action you took and the result that came about as a result of your actions.

The two questions I had for the panel of three were these: “I believe in the concept of Servant Leadership. Therefore I see myself as working FOR our clients, but being employed BY the Region. Does this fit with your own Leadership style?” Second question: “I willingly give 100% of myself from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily, often working with a shorter lunch hour and through breaks. However, at 4:00 p.m.  sharp my philosophy is that it’s ‘Kelly time.’ With an hour commute home, I want to leave daily at that time to preserve the work/life balance so critical to being continually effective in the field of Social Services. Does that pose any obstacle?”

Luckily for me, my current boss sat on that panel and she too believed in Servant Leadership and like me, checks out at 4 p.m. daily for the same reason.

How Did You Get Started with Blogging? 

It was my daughter actually who introduced me to blogging and Twitter. Initially, I wasn’t sure about Twitter. She asked me a couple of questions, knew my likes and interests, and before I had done a thing I had ‘followers.’ That didn’t appeal to my principles because I wasn’t taking those people anywhere and it seemed improper. Anyone I would follow, I’d like to think they had a purpose, a goal, some direction. Maybe it was just me, but I never did a thing with the Twitter account.

Now the blog on the other hand I thought about. I read some other people’s efforts and looked at what I liked and didn’t like. I decided that the best advice I found was the tried and true, “write about what you know.” It was like Harry Chapin was whispering those words from his songs in my ear. So what I know best is the subject of getting and keeping a job, advancing or changing careers, etc. So I started with a title called, “Myjobadvice”.

The second most relevant piece of advice I read was that to be followed and trusted for relevant information, you have to blog at least twice a week. Otherwise people move elsewhere and you can’t be relied upon as much. So, I decided that I’d blog every working day and see how it went. The first blog was in February 2012. I’ve been blogging once every business day since not counting vacation days, holidays and of course weekends.

Do You Consider Yourself an Expert?

I don’t see myself as an expert, but as someone who is willing to share advice, thoughts, and suggestions accumulated over time from a variety of settings and interactions with others. My advice is free and if it interests you one day and not another, so be it. Each reader takes a little or a lot as the case may be, that they find helpful and leave the rest. No one has all the answers and my blogs are not meant to be read a streams of thoughts in a logical order such as pre, present and post jobs. It may be preparing for an interview one day and the next it’s a blog about dealing with the issue of aging. By having a constantly different article, but all centered around a theme, I think the approach keeps things topical and fresh.

The inspiration for a blog may come about from a conversation during the day with a client, an observation about someone’s behaviour, a comment or two on a radio show, a headline in the news or just a peaceful drive in to work clearing my mind and seeing what flows in.

I think everyone is an expert in many ways, and I can learn from others as much or more in return. When someone reaches out and asks for help or advice personally, I try to respond quickly and do my best to give them whatever they need that’s in my ability to provide. And if they ask for much and give nothing or little in return, that’s fine with me. After all, I don’t know much about such requests and the people behind them, where they are at, and what’s going on with them, so maybe they really aren’t in a position to give anything right now. And who knows, one day in the near or far future, they may be in a position to offer an ear or give their advice to someone else; it sure doesn’t have to be me.

Talk About Your Involvement on Linkedin

When I came across Linkedin, I learned almost everything I know about it from trial and error. I decided right off the bat that I would jump in entirely in my own situation. So I included a poorly shot photo from my laptop camera. I added my work history, endorsed some people who in turn returned the favour. I recommended others work that I could stand behind and in so doing, saw myself get some wonderful endorsements that are to this day very much appreciated.

I added my contact information, my likes and dislikes, and kept adding until the profile said I was 100% done. I understand really why some people choose not to add things to their profiles like photos and contact information. We’re in an age of stalkers, scammers, and cheats. However, I may be naive, but I believe I have to be all in and try the features of Linkedin in order to determine if it works or not for me.

I know of a person who has next to nothing on their profile; no picture, no accomplishments, contact information, no description – just a current job title and their name. “Doesn’t really work for me” he complained. “What did you hope to get out of it?” I asked and ask still. The connections in Linkedin are designed to be people you already know. I decided however that rather than connect with people I’m already connected to in other ways, that I would try to connect not only with who I already know but whom I would like to know who work in the same field as I do, or the same job but in another organization or country. I have been then enriched by contact with these people and hope in turn I can help them.

The discussion groups in Linkedin has resulted in some great partnerships, discussions, exchange of ideas and sometimes yes, differences of opinions; welcomed all! At 53 years old, I’m trying to learn more each day, converse with thoughtful people, try new technology, and share what is asked for or needed by others. I’m fortunate to say I’ve helped people in the U.S., Australia, England, Italy and here in Canada. I’ve been approached to meet in person with some nearest to where I work, and over a cup of tea provide guidance, feedback, ideas and suggestions. Don’t think I’m not without my limitations; I still haven’t even tried to buy a cell phone yet!

• • • • •

On a regular basis Kelly will provide articles to SJS related to his work that focus on career advice and employment counseling. His posts are a mixture of reflection, practical sound advice, humor, and as he shared with me: “My goal is to provide helpful, thoughtful advice to those who are open to help with respect to job advice; both seeking, maintaining and advancing.” He can be reached through his blog: My Job Advice or by email:

A few of his previous posts that were shared here on SJS; Your Life Picture in the Final Frame, What it all Boils Down to is One Thing, and Ever Lost a Job and Been Thankful.

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer

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