AIPC Graduate Louise Gourley shares her story…

“The six million dollar question when you’re doing this course (Diploma of Professional Counselling) is – will it lead to a paying job and how will I get one. Actually, that’s two questions, but you get the picture. I think just about every conversation I had with fellow students eventually turned to the inevitable “‘what will I do at the end of the course” question.

I loved this course! I’m a middle aged PA who returned from 15 years in London in 2004 to Brisbane – a bit of a culture shock, but I had one definite goal – as I’d been lucky enough to work for a drug and alcohol clinic I knew that was where I wanted to work as a counsellor. So, I started the course in July 2004, finished in December 2005 and began job hunting in January.

About a month or two before finishing the course, I had a bit of a meltdown about finishing – that feeling of loss – I looked backwards from my ultimate dream job to where I was now and worked out options on how to get there. The best advice I was given was that experience is everything. So true. If you are lucky enough to know what direction you want to head into with your counselling, then get voluntary work experience in that field – it is invaluable!

If you don’t know what field you want to work in, just do as much voluntary work wherever you can get it – there is no substitute for experience and often voluntary work leads to a permanent job. I think generic counselling like Lifeline is a great way to get all round experience – and they offer fabulous training. It costs (not much – under $400 and it’s tax deductible) but it’s well worth it for the education and training.

So, I decided to hunt down drug and alcohol counselling and was lucky to get work as a duty counsellor with Queensland Injector’s Health Network from about September until December last year. This looks great on my CV and I received a killer reference from my boss there – bless him!

Now the fun starts. the job hunt. Now this is hard work and I am not a patient person (anyone who reads this who has met me will marvel at that understatement) but believe me – persistence really does pay!

I started by the usual routes – all the job networks on the internet, all newspapers, counselling organisations and surfing the government jobs, charitable organisations and voluntary organisations every day. But you have to do more. Since I had a goal industry, I printed off a list of all the drug and alcohol clinics in my region and telephoned every single one of them to get the name of the person best to address an ‘off the cuff’ application to and had a chat with the person on the phone to establish their culture and hope they would remember me when my letter and CV hit their doorstep. Some said they had nothing and would have nothing due to the structure of their company, but out of the 86 I called, about 78 were genuinely happy to hear from me.

These places didn’t have vacancies, but you never know! I sent a generic covering letter and my CV off – ok, it’s costly and time consuming but it works! I posted 35 off in my first 10 days here and have since been offered 4 job interviews and 11 telephoned to thank me for writing to them and offered me advice and further leads. My CV looked great – I had my voluntary experience, my qualification, anything even remotely relating to the field I wanted to work in and a membership to the ACA and the AIPC – which I thoroughly recommend as I have been asked in interview if I am a member of any professional bodies – it’s highly thought of, believe me.

Anyway, they were all really impressed with my initiative and every single one I talked to was kind, keen and helpful. From the people I spoke to, if they didn’t want my CV, I would ask them if they had any ideas or thoughts on where I could apply to. From that I received more leads – rehab and detox centres, other government web sites, other job centres – until I can say that my job hunting became a full time job. I would sit at my computer at 7am, do my internet search, then send off applications and make phone calls and stop for lunch, maybe continue in the afternoon and every night I would do the admin – i.e. write down where I had applied, when I’d sent my CV and so on.? I know it sounds pedantic, but when they start calling you for interviews (and they will) you want to sound like you know what they’re talking about as it’s easy to get lost in all these applications!

Being proactive and getting in first is not only a terrific way to get a job, it gets your name out there in the industry and you know you are doing absolutely everything you can to get that dream job. In my first 2 weeks of serious job hunting I had 5 interviews, 3 permanent job offers and an offer of casual work – and they still keep calling… I graduated on the 3rd of December last year and I start my new job next Monday – my dream job that I am so excited and terrified of I can barely breathe!

The one I got is with the Regional Health Board as a drug and alcohol counsellor for the MERIT program – the Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment Initiative – you’ll know what that means. A real counsellor! Can’t decide whether I am more excited or scared but all in all I am thrilled. I suggest to others to cast your net wide if you can – all that hard work and sacrifices you made whilst studying, the angst and brain strain – it doesn’t end when you graduate – it ends when you have given every thing you have to get that job – then it’s all worthwhile!”