Online career services  are they temporary or permanent

This year has been full of challenges for everyone. We live in a digital age, but it´s not always easy to offer career services only online. It takes time for both counsellors and clients to feel comfortable with digital services.

The Counselling Centre at the University of Tartu supports students in many ways, offering academic, career and psychological counselling as well as information and workshops on various topics and supports students with special needs. Career counsellors offer individual and group counselling as well as seminars and lectures on career issues, mediate internship and job offers, and arrange career events.

This year, suddenly, life was turned upside down. The world shut down, and we had no way of knowing how long it would last. Teaching at the University of Tartu was transferred to the web for several months. Therefore, all support services also migrated to the web. It was a completely new situation, where both students and university staff needed time to adjust and understand how to manage. Communication is the most important factor during a crisis, and we tried to communicate as fast as we could, letting students know that counselling was available via the web. After a few weeks, students started to make contact again, and most of them were ready to meet online.

There are always some students who prefer eye-to-eye contact and express their dissatisfaction with virtual meetings. This is challenging for the counsellor because you always want to support your client and help them in the way that best suits their needs. We have to ask how we can support them if they are not ready or don´t have a suitable environment for online counselling. The counsellor must look inside themselves and determine their personal limits and barriers.

Online counselling and seminars have been part of our work for some time. However, if you have to do all of your work in online, it is necessary to plan and implement goals differently. The quality of services depends of the counsellor and students’ digital literacy as well as the internet connection and its speed. Just as important are an adaptive mindset and the ability to find a private room for discussion without interruption. I can say from our experience that online counselling has both benefits and difficulties.

What are the benefits of online counselling?

  • It makes services more accessible and flexible.
  • It´s quicker and more convenient for the client to get support when they don’t have to leave their home.
  • Many foreign students have to remain in their home country and are still able have to contact with university counsellors.
  • Information sharing is quick and easy.

What makes it challenging?

  • Communication and mentoring through a “keyhole” and sometimes without web camera takes much energy and time.
  • The counsellor only receives minimum feedback from the client´s body language.
  • Methods are limited.
  • Facilitating deeper information processing and self-analysis may be complicated.
  • There is a greater strain on the eyes and back.

Working online has enriched the counsellors’ toolbox in many ways. I can say that we are used to it by now, and it´s definitely a part of our everyday work. We feel much more confident working online now that we are familiar with various tools at our disposal and able to overcome technical challenges, but there is still room for improvement. I believe that online career services will remain a normal part of the career counsellors’ everyday work. But beside that, we don´t want to lose the possibility of meeting with clients in person, which has its own benefits.

This year online career services have been a more important option than ever before. Discussions with counsellors bridged the connection with everyday life, giving clients the hope and courage to carry on. In some situations, talking with a counsellor was the client’s only contact with the outside world. Students expressed gratitude that counsellors were so flexible and offering the online meeting option. Several students pointed out that without counsellor support, they wouldn´t have survived the required period of isolation and wouldn’t have been able to adapt to the changes, manage with their studies, find the motivation to carry on, or maintain a clear and hopeful vision for the future.

Life always has its ups and downs. Some situations that at first seem to be hardships eventually reveal themselves as opportunities for development, which you can be thankful for in hindsight. The coronavirus pandemic is a great example of the opportunity to participate in lifelong learning – we as career counsellors must expand our approaches and skills and fill the toolbox with new methods. It´s a challenge that has turned out to be the gift of self-development.

Kristel Lään-Saarik

University of Tartu

Head of the Counselling Centre, career counsellor