Signs You May Need A Career Counselor…And How To Choose One – by Barbara Babkirk – November 27, 2018

Few would argue that there are times when it’s best to seek out a specialist about your health. The same can be true when your career needs a check up or a serious intervention.

Since this decision involves both time and money, and can have a significant impact on your career path, it’s important to know what to consider in selecting a career counselor.

  • What exactly is career counseling?
  • How do you go about choosing a professional?
  • What can you expect?

Career counseling is a well-established profession with its origins dating back to the industrial revolution when jobs on farms were shrinking and new technologies were increasing. The demand for workers was an incentive for veterans returning from WWI. But, they needed guidance from career counselors to help them understand the marketplace, find training and secure jobs.

Credentials for career counselors vary from state to state. In Maine, a license is not necessary to practice, although a Master’s Degree in Counseling is one indicator of a professional’s level of expertise.

If you are considering a career counselor, determine if they meet most of the following criteria:

  • Earned Master’s Degree in Counseling or Career Development or a recognized Coaching Certificate with a specialty in Career Coaching.
  • A record of success helping individuals reach their career goals and a process they can explain to you
  • Ability to guide you through a process of determining what you want to do next (if you are not certain you want to continue in your field)
  • Expert knowledge of the job search process and the most effective strategies for securing employment (including proven expertise in Linkedin as a way to leverage contacts as well as present your professional persona)
  • Current knowledge of the local marketplace, including salary information
  • Ability to assist with relevant connections and introductions to people in your target area

Here are examples of situations that warrant a career counselor:

  • Bored with your career with an increasing lack motivation to go to work
  • Have been out of the workforce to raise your family or care for a family member and you’re unclear about your marketable skills
  • Want to raise the bar on your career and need a strategy to do this effectively
  • Have lost your job due to restructuring and want to assess your career direction
  • Have just graduated from college and need help launching a career
  • Want to be ready for the next professional opportunity and need a new resume, Linkedin profile and a clear way of communicating your value
  • Anticipate retiring in 3-5 years and want to begin to think about your life and work in this phase of life
  • Have retired from a primary career, took some time off, and now need a renewed sense of purpose in your life

Career counselors typically meet with clients in person. They may charge an hourly fee for each session, or they may ask you to commit up front to a group of sessions.

Do your research: check out their Linkedin profile, company website, education and experience. Request a brief phone conversation to consider their approach and note how well they listen and seem to understand your situation and needs.

Trust your intuition as well as the specific information you learn and choose wisely, since this relationship could impact the rest of your life.


A Triple Win Strategy to Attract & Retain Your Best Candidates – by Barbara Babkirk, November 6, 2018

Job opportunities for the spouse or partner of prospective new hires have increasingly become key to their successful recruitment and retention.

I see this in my business as I’m regularly asked by employers to propose options for effective transition services for “trailing spouses/partners” as a way to win over a prospective candidate.

That should not be surprising given the findings of two major U.S. research institutions that concluded that “partner employment” ranked in the top two considerations of candidates evaluating job offers (among 15 other factors, including salary).

With such high numbers of two income households in our country, it’s more than likely that a relocation candidate has to consider not only his or her own career, but also a spouse’s or partner’s work opportunities in the new location.

Sustaining a certain level of income is often a primary concern of dual-career couples as they consider relocating. When income replacement is a deciding factor, it may not only affect whether or not the candidate accepts an offer, but how long they may stay. No employer likes to loose a newly hired employee because their spouse or partner couldn’t find work.

It stands to reason that employers who consistently offer trailing spouse/partner assistance would attract and retain their top candidates.

So what can make a trailing spouse/partner program a win/win for the employer, prospective candidate and their spouse or partner?

  • A well-defined and easy-to-navigate program that reflects best practice strategies for securing employment.
  • Partnering with a local firm with established Maine contacts and relationships to introduce to the spouse/partner.
  • Engaging career counseling experts to help spouses/partners explore how their skills & experience align with new career opportunities–because, depending on the career field, building careers in Maine sometimes requires creativity and insight.

A final step should be to track the success of the trailing spouse/partner career transition program over time.


Job Search and Interview Tips: What HR Professionals and Recruiters Notice – October 15, 2018 – by David Lee


You’re about to conduct a job search or maybe you’re in the midst of your job search and you’ve finally landed a promising interview.

What do you do and…what do you make sure you DON’T do?

Since I’m the primary interview coach at Heart At Work Associates, I wanted to consider these questions from the perspective of the job searcher’s “customer”: the HR professionals who will decide whether they get the interview and if they get the job.

This blog post is the first of a series of interviews. The HR professional I interviewed for this article is a highly respected seasoned Chief Human Resources Officer at a financial services organization.

What follows are her answers to some of the important questions you need to ask when conducting a job search and preparing for an interview.

How to Get the Interview

Question: What do you look for in a cover letter and what turns you off?

Answer: I want a cover letter to sell me on how they fit with my company.  What values do we share? They should research the company and use similar culture words in their cover. Please do not repeat anything I can see on the resume.  If your address is outside of Maine, tell me when you will be moving or available to interview.  If your resume would prompt me to ask a question, (what have you been doing for the last two years?), explain it in the cover letter.

Question: What do you look for in a resume?

Answer: I prefer to see the most current activity listed first.  No typos.  Identify gaps.   Make sure it is current; I don’t want you to tell me that is an old resume.

How to Ace the Interview

Question: When you ask “Can you tell me about yourself?” what do you like and what turns you off?

(Note: people often miss the mark with this very vague, open-ended question, going on and on recounting their whole work history, or sharing personal interests and information that should best be kept for social interactions. Once I had someone with whom I was conducting a mock interview start off “I was born in ______”. Because this question can easily go wrong quickly, you want to put serious thought into this question.)

Answer: I like them to explain their career progression and aspirations they have met and what aspirations they currently have.   Maybe life lessons that brought them here today.  I look for “I”’s or “we’s” when they talk about accomplishments.  Are they individually focused or team focused?  I prefer they stay away from religion, children and other taboo topics we are not allowed to ask about.

Question: When you ask “Do you have questions for me?” what do you look for in the questions they choose to ask and what it says about them?

(Note: When coaching someone to answer this question, I ask them to keep the following mantra in mind: Everything Matters. I first heard it from Scott Bedbury, author of It’s a New Brand World, and former brand manager of Starbucks and Nike. As it relates to interviewing, it means that every word choice, every story you tell, every question you ask tells the interviewer something about you. So…Everything Matters in the interview. As you consider what questions you want to ask, think about what the question or questions say about YOU. If you ask a question that is about what the employer will do for you says something very different than a question that reflects your interest in learning how you could make the biggest contribution possible. Questions that speak to the employer’s strategy or mission, or that relate to research you have done on them, speak to a big picture thinker who wouldn’t just be focused on their little piece of the puzzle, and again…wants to know who they can provide the most value.)

Answer: I want them to ask about where the company is going from a growth perspective, and more strategic big picture questions.  Ask me how long I have been here and what keeps me here. Don’t ask about what we can do for you.  If you are in the running, we will let you know when the time is right.


Question: When you think of people who impressed you the most…what was it about them that made them stand out?

Answer: There is truth to the old adage “You never have a second chance to make a first impression.” Be on time or a few minutes early, dress for success, make eye contact, and exhibit listening skills when others are talking.


Question: How do you like people to follow up with you after an interview and what do you NOT want them to do?

Answer: I always tell everyone that I will get back to them and the time frame they will hear from me.  I never leave anyone wondering what happened and I get back to everyone.  I don’t give them a reason to call.

(Note: This HR professional understands that Everything Matters, and how HR treats job applicants, whether they get a job or not, contributes to an employer’s reputation, their Employer Brand. Thoughtless behavior spreads ill will, thoughtful behavior spreads goodwill and good PR throughout the marketplace. Let’s say you don’t hear back, what can you do? Here’s what Heart at Work Associates founder, Barbara Babkirk says: “Follow up with a phone call or email after a week if you’ve not received a response. But, better still, before you leave an interview, ask about the timeframe for the hiring process and when you might expect to hear from them. Ask for the interviewer(s) business card in case you need to follow up…and connect with them on Linkedin in addition to sending a thank you note.”)

Question: What are some other “Don’t do this…” recommendations you have for job searchers?

Answer: Here are six don’t dos:

  • Don’t ask about salary and benefits in the first interview.
  • Don’t ask for a different schedule than what was posted.
  • Don’t give references that don’t know you are giving their names. It makes for awkward conversations.
  • Double check what you put down as your references’ phone numbers. Incorrect phone numbers are both annoying and make you look careless.
  • If you list your phone number on your resume, make sure you have your voicemail set with an appropriate greeting, and that your mailbox is not full.  (Yes, this happens!)
  • If you come in jeans or leggings, the interview will be very quick.


Question: If there was ONE recommendation you have for job searchers, what would it be?   

Answer:Please dress for success. Again…no jeans or leggings (Note: if you aren’t sure what would be appropriate, get advice from trusted advisors who have been in the workforce longer than you, those who work in the industry or organization you’re applying to if you are unfamiliar with their culture and informal dress code.)


About the author: David Lee is a career coach at Heart at Work Associates, who, as part of his work, conducts video-recorded interview coaching.

Will Spring Herald a New Beginning for You? April 25, 2018 – by Barbara Babkirk

If so, then keep in mind that any transition calls for trust!

A fear of the unknown that’s inherent in any transition can take its toll even on the most courageous.

There’s just something about a blank slate of possibilities that prompts creative minds to conjure up lists of “what if” scenarios—most of which instill fear in our hearts and minds.

Our clients consistently express nervousness about their career changes that’s based entirely on what they fear will happen, as opposed to what they hope will occur–in some instances, because they want to feel prepared for the worse case scenario. But, the cost of this focus can hinder positive movement in the change process.

Any transition involves facing the unknown and that typically triggers anxiety.

So what do you do instead of getting stressed out in a transition?

  • While you may believe that your negative projection into the future is necessary to feel prepared for anything that might occur, it actually works against you.
  • This often spontaneous and habitual thought process is a waste of time, energy and attention because it is likely to interrupt your momentum or stop you in your tracks.
  • Successfully maneuvering through a transition requires nimbleness and openness to possibilities. Fear elicits the opposite in anticipation of some threatening outcome.
  • Consciously thinking about what you desire is an effective alternative to the scenarios that typically make you want to hide under your bed covers.
  • I’m not suggesting that you just “think happy thoughts”, but rather, that you become clear about the intention and desired outcome(s) for your transition.

While you cannot control all aspects of any change, you can control your thinking and your response to your transition.

In doing so, you will shift your attention from what you don’t want to occur to more appealing prospects. With this shift to a more trusting mindset, you should feel calmer and more able to move forward and complete the tasks that will make you successful.

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”     – Goethe

The Heartache of an Unspoken Thank You – by Barbara Babkirk, March 6, 2018

It might surprise some to hear that I’m in the business of mending hearts.

Yes, my company is aptly named Heart At Work Associates, but those who know my firm realize that it’s a play on words for a career counseling and outplacement company that gets to the heart of the matter as it concerns career decision making and strategy.

Let me give an example of the mending hearts part of my job.

Tom’s company brought in a manager who decided on a new direction for his division.

After 27 years of service to the same company, Tom was summoned to his boss’s office where he was also joined by the HR Manager.

His stomach sank because he knew what was coming…the proverbial pink slip or termination notice. What he did not expect was the way it was delivered.

In very few words, his boss told him that his experience was no longer needed given the new business strategy. He was told to gather his office belongings and leave before the day’s end. The HR Manager handed him an envelope and told him that his severance agreement and necessary paperwork were included in it. He was not allowed to speak to his colleagues about this, let alone say goodbye.

Tom was speechless.

Several weeks later, Tom called me to set up an appointment. Part of his severance included “outplacement”, a provision of assistance to help laid-off employees find new employment.

Providing outplacement services is a significant aspect of our work and we’re honored to help at this time of need and emotional distress.

While I generally do not have any prescribed questions that I ask all my clients, I do typically ask my outplacement clients, “how are you doing?” given their circumstance.

Tom’s response was “sad” and “stunned”. It was difficult to accept the total lack of appreciation on the part of his employer.  A retirement party or watch? No, not even a thank you for all of those years of service.

At this point, my work as a mender of broken hearts began. Some compassionate patchwork was necessary in order for Tom to feel good about himself and his value before he embarked on a job search strategy.

When I work with people like Tom, I can’t help but wonder why such a heart-less ending was scripted.

It seemed so unnecessary and serving no one: the company loses a loyal employee who is apt to become a disgruntled one and the employee loses a sense of his contribution and value of many years.

Tom did, in fact, land another job. One he reported as “the best one yet”, and I could not have been more pleased.

A “thank you for your service and many contributions” would have made Tom’s exit less of a heartache for him and perhaps an easier task for his boss.

As for me, I’d happily give up the mending hearts part of my work in favor of working with clients who come in feeling whole, appreciated and excited to embark on their next work journey.

The power of thank you is not only relevant in situations where employees are leaving, but also in an effort to retain talent. My next blog will address the impact of gratitude on overall wellbeing.


Will you be a “working retiree”? by Barbara Babkirk – January 10, 2018

A recent study from Merrill Lynch determined that nearly three out of five retirees will launch a new work chapter after they retire from primary careers.

The term “working retiree” may seem like an oxymoron, but it’s a new reality that is here to stay. It’s projected to have a significant impact on the marketplace due to low population growth and high talent needs.

If you’re wondering why this shift in retirement mindset is coming about after just one generation, think about the characteristics of this baby boomer demographic:

  • best educated in history
  • commitment to lifelong learning
  • healthy lifestyles and
  • desire to make a difference (think sit-ins and demonstrations of the 70’s)

But, not all boomers who want to work after retirement share the same reasons or priorities around work. Ken Dychtwald, gerontologist, author and expert on aging issues, has identified four “core profiles” of today’s working retirees:

  1. Driven Achievers (15%) who have consistent derived their identity from work and continue to be driven to achieve
  2. Caring Contributors (33%) who are motivated to give back and make a difference in the latter part of their lives
  3. Life Balancers (25%) who see work at this time of their lives as fitting into larger priorities and want work to be fairly stress-free and fun
  4. Earnest Earners (28%) who need to work to meet financial obligations, whether or not they want to continue working. Since a significant number of boomers have not adequately saved for retirement, this group is predicted to grow.

If you’re among the significant number of retirees who leave work and after 6 to 18 months, miss the structure, camaraderie, or sense of purpose, then you may be joining the emerging group of working retirees.

Identifying your “core profile” from Dychtwald’s list as well as knowing what is motivating you in this next life phase, is essential to forging a successful path.

What to do about your job search during the Holidays…by Barbara Babkirk – November 28, 2017

The Holiday season is here and you’re exploring job opportunities. Do you put your efforts on hold, or carry on? While conventional wisdom may say: “Chill out, no one is hiring in December because budgets are spent.” We have a different perspective at Heart At Work.

Just think about all the people you see only once a year at Holiday events, plus all the new people you might meet who may be great connectors to your next employment opportunity.

However, if you are not clear about your career direction or job target, you might cringe at the thought of people asking what you’re are up to, or worse still, what you want to do.

Once you’re prepared for the inevitable question, you’ll be set to welcome informal conversations and offers of help for your transition. If someone suggests a contact and says, “use my name”, know that this approach rarely works.

You’ll need to then say “Thanks! Would you please make an email introduction for me and I’ll take it from there?” Then you can be certain that the email will not end up in spam or the trash since it came someone known to them.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years can be a particularly effective time to expand your network. With many executives curtailing work travel schedules to make themselves available for end-of-the-year planning and office events, you may have easier access to decision makers at this time.

With an attitude of “anything is possible”, and a challenge to your assumptions about this time of year, you may find yourself in a prime position of opportunity and even a new job to celebrate in the New Year.


Discover who you were meant to be – by Barbara Babkirk – September 5, 2017

Pearl In Open Shell

I was organizing a bookshelf recently and came across an article by author and activist, Parker Palmer, titled “Now I Become Myself.

I took time out from the task at hand to read my newfound treasure. While I believe I had read it before, the article had particular relevancy on this day because of a career counseling client with whom I had just met.

Palmer wrote that we spend the first half of our lives abandoning our essential talents and true nature in quests for approval and ill-fated attempts to establish ourselves in the world.

The sense of a “lost self” increases with age and reveals itself in career and work choices that don’t align with who we are meant to be. That could certainly contribute to the current high incidence of dissatisfaction in the workplace.

It is predictably at midlife and beyond that we find this discrepancy unacceptable and set out to reclaim “the person we’ve always been.”

The serendipity of my finding Palmer’s piece just after meeting with a 42 year old client was uncanny. Jen, as I’ll name her, had just come in stating that, after spending decades in the workforce just “falling into jobs”; she was now excited to take charge of her career.

She was ready to do the work of retracing her life’s path and recognize the truths about herself that would inform new options for her work in the world.

In making connections beyond the obvious about what we’ve done and who we are, we uncover gems that reflect true facets of ourselves.

These treasures can provide precious clues that reveal who we are meant to be and broaden how we see ourselves in the world.

Networking Made Easy by Mark Cook – August 22, 2017

Two managers having conversation




What comes to mind when you hear the word “networking”?

 I recently asked a few of my clients that question and here are some of their responses:

  • Wine and cheese events
  • Meeting lots of new people
  • Awkward
  • Leaving with lots of business cards from people I barely got to know
  • Not easy and not sure how it benefited me

If you are like most, networking is a difficult task you would rather avoid. You may also be unclear about your desired results and whether you have achieved them.

But, networking doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, networking that gets results is not complicated and everyone can do it—and perhaps even enjoy it – when you know what to do and you prepare in advance.

At Heart At Work, we have a unique perspective on networking. We coach clients about the three types of networking meetings:

  • A Professional “networking” Event where people with common interests gather to exchange business cards and quick introductions.
  • Informational interviews, when you are exploring a career field and need detailed and current information to determine if it’s a good fit for you
  • Strategic conversations, when you know the field of work in which you want to work, the position you are qualified for, or when you want to explore how your skills might fit with an organization’s needs

The key for all meetings is to be intentional and have an agenda. You need to be clear about the purpose of your meeting and then prepare accordingly.

If you have an upcoming informational interview, for example, develop a list of questions in advance. Research the person you are meeting with on Google and LInkedin. Make sure you have a current resume that highlights your accomplishments and a LinkedIn profile that draws interest and speaks to your capabilities, since it’s more than likely that your contact may look you up.

Next week, I’ll discuss the types of networking meeting more specifically and how to leverage them for your success.

Take Charge of Your Career in Six Steps by Barbara Babkirk – July 21, 2017

Therebigstock--162279116’s a trend I’ve noticed over the years as a career development professional. Somewhere in the 40s decade, people are often inclined to take action on their careers. It’s as though they feel an internal prompt, rather than an external motivator.

“I just fell into my career and I want to be more planful going forward. If it’s going to happen, it needs to be now.” That’s a common statement that the 40-something clients make.

If this describes you, then perhaps the following six steps will help you shift from a passive to a pro-active approach to your work life and career path.

  1. Take stock of what you want from work in this stage of your life. Ask yourself if your competencies, interests and values are adequately met in your work and workplace. If not, then consider negotiating another arrangement or consider a job search to work that is more aligned.
  1. Be mindful of your assumptions about what’s possible. Keep in mind what you want as outcomes, not what you fear.
  1. Understand the professional value you bring to the marketplace and seek out opportunities to communicate it verbally (meetings, performance reviews), virtually (with a great LinkedIn profile) and in writing (effective emails, outstanding resume, crisp cover letters).
  1. Create opportunities to increase your visibility with your clients, prospective clients or employer.
  1. Stay current with best practices in your field and be innovative in presenting new ideas and practices. Be prepared to communicate your knowledge of trends in interviews or in professional conversations.
  1. Consistently attend to your needs. Take time to replenish your energy so you’ll be in good shape to seize the next best opportunity.
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