A Virtual Career Fair Leads to a Rewarding Position in the State Prison System

Women on a Zoom call

Joy Turel is a Master of Social Work (MSW) alumna and student in the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program who recently landed her “dream job” as a Therapist (non-licensed) at a large health group that supports 16 prisons across the United States.  She graciously agreed to share her personal and professional journey and how attending a virtual career fair led to a new job where she helps incarcerated individuals heal and overcome trauma.

What inspired you to complete your MSW degree and continue on to a MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Walden?
Before starting my MSW, I worked for many years in the shipping industry.  However, I always knew I wanted to do meaningful work to help others improve their lives.  Years ago, I struggled with substance abuse and sought help from an outpatient rehabilitation center where the counselors did not empathize with me. Later in life, I  enrolled in a different recovery center where the counselors better understood what I was going through.  The counselors, staff, and others who were in class with me inspired me to change my life and become a force of change for others.  I knew that the MSW program would help me gain the knowledge and skills I needed.  As someone who had overcome personal challenges, I had the empathy and determination to reach my goals.

You attended the American Counseling Association’s Virtual Career Fair.  How did you end up participating in this event?
I initially worked with Walden’s Career Planning and Development department on updating my resume with new knowledge and skills from my academic program.  I then tried to look for positions using general job search sites such as Indeed and Zip Recruiter, but I did not have a lot of luck.  I received an email from Walden with information about the American Counseling Association (ACA) Virtual Career Fair.  At that time, I was already an ACA student member, which was a requirement for the field experience component of my program.  I decided to sign up for the virtual career fair and attend it. 

Could you share your experience at the virtual career fair?
At the virtual fair, I had an opportunity to visit several booths.  At one of the booths, I connected with a representative from a health group that serves prisons all over the country.  I shared my background and career aspirations with the representative and asked him about what it would be like to work for their company.  I have found that, if you apply for jobs on general job sites, the first time you will interact with an HR recruiter or hiring manager will be during a formal interview.  However, at the virtual career fair, I had a chance to interact with the company representative in a more casual way and ask questions without the pressure of a formal interview setting.

How did you follow up after the virtual career fair and, ultimately, land your current position?
After the virtual career fair, I reached out to the company representative via email and sent him my resume.  He quickly responded to me, and a day or two later, he connected me with their HR recruiter. The HR recruiter reached out to me for a phone screening interview. Later, I was asked to come in for an in-person interview with my current boss.  I believe that what helped me stand out during the interview was my ability to share the counseling methods and techniques I learned in my academic program, along with having a clear vision of my personal counseling philosophy.  For example, I am especially inspired by theories of identity development, and I was able to discuss this clearly and concisely during my interview.  After the interview, I was contacted with a job offer, which I gladly accepted.

What do you enjoy most in your current role? 
I find great meaning in helping incarcerated individuals find the courage and faith to overcome extreme challenges in their lives.  Although faith-based counseling is very close to my heart, I do not bring this up with inmates unless they first share their faith with me.  However, I believe that leaning into a higher power can help during difficult times.  My strong faith inspired my interest in faith-based counseling. 

What advice would you have for other Walden students and graduates seeking employment in their field of study?
My advice is to join professional associations in your field and attend career fairs where you can interact with company representatives directly.  Don’t just post your resume on general job boards; instead, be proactive by attending events and talking to representatives at different companies.  Also, be prepared to share clearly and concisely what you have learned or are learning in your Walden program and what you can offer through your past experience.  You want to sound knowledgeable, even if you do not have a lot of experience yet.  Finally, if you need career support, schedule an appointment with Walden’s Career Planning and Development staff.  They can help you with your resume and job search.

Contributed by Joy Turel, Walden MSW Alumna

Edited by Dina Bergren, Manager, Career Planning and Development