Spotlight – Nancy Bilmes, UCONN
Director – University of Connecticut, Center for Career Development
Nancy received a Master of Arts in Counseling with a concentration in Higher Education from Central Connecticut State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from Ithaca College. She has been with the University of Connecticut for 20 years and in her current role for 1 year.
What was your career path to get your current role? When I first started at UConn 20 years ago, friends and family would ask “how long are you going to stay”? I would provide the expected response of 2-3 years; and I meant it. However, I had many opportunities present themselves to me that kept me challenged and provided for advancement throughout the years. I started as a Cooperative Education Coordinator, then became a Career Consultant, followed by a promotion to the Assistant Director for Experiential Learning, then Associate Director and last summer I was appointed to Director of the department. I would still generally recommend that it is a good idea to move around to get a variety of experiences in the Career Development field, however I came to learn that it is not a necessity.
What was your first job? I changed linens and filled water pitchers for a nursing home. I’m not sure why those two tasks were in the same job description, but they were.
Why did you choose this career? I was a Peer Career Counselor as an undergraduate at Ithaca College. My major was Communication and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started in the Career Center as a senior. I loved helping students with their résumés and cover letters, but it wasn’t until near the end of my first semester when I realized that I could do this work as a full-time job! I was hooked.
What is the skill that is most important in your current role? Problem solving and critical thinking skills. These are skills that I use everyday whether working with students, supervising staff or solving a problem in the office.
How did you develop this skill and how do you fine-tune it regularly? I have been using both problem solving and critical thinking skills throughout my career. These skills have been honed over the years of repeated use. When I look back at how I use to apply these skills it was through smaller, but just as important problems. As I progressed in my career those problems and situations that required those skills became larger and more all encompassing. I realized in retrospect that all of the smaller problems earlier in my career prepared me for the larger ones that I currently encounter as Director.
Did you have a mentor? If so, how did that mentor help in your career development? I had several mentors along the way. However, the most influential and longest lasting mentor is John Bradac. He was my supervisor as an undergraduate Peer Career Counselor, introduced me to career development as a career field and has been there for me along the way. To this day, I seek John’s advice when looking to make decisions about my department and/or my career.
Did you hold any EACE leadership roles? I was the conference committee chair for the entertainment committee for the 2013 conference; you may fondly remember the Michael Jackson impersonator. I’ve also been a conference presenter and encourage my staff to get involved.
What is your biggest career accomplishment? This is a tough question to answer as I’m not sure that I’ve had a “big” career accomplishment. I always value the relationships I develop with colleagues, students, co-workers and employers. I feel that my biggest accomplishment is having the opportunity to provide a positive impact on people’s lives while at the same time learning from everyone I come into contact with. I take away something important from each person with whom I interact.
What is your advice to students looking for their first job? Go outside of your comfort zone and start early. Don’t sit in your dorm playing video games and watching TV. Get out there as early as a freshman and sophomore and go to events, join clubs, listen to lectures that you wouldn’t have normally done. You never know when you will learn about a new career field, who you will meet at an event, or what you will learn. Be proactive not reactive in your career planning and management.
What is your advice to young professionals in the field who aspire to your current role? Network, Network, Network! Use LinkedIn, meet people at local and regional conferences, volunteer to be on committees. And just meeting people isn’t enough, make sure you cultivate those relationships by keeping in touch with periodic updates.
What was the best career advice you have ever received? It may sound cliché, but do what you love. Find something that you’re passionate about and see if you can make that into a career.
What would you like colleagues to know about your organization? The Center for Career Development at the University of Connecticut is dedicated to excellence through offering the highest levels of service to our students, across all schools, colleges, campuses, and disciplines. We support the intellectual growth of our students by providing programs and experiences that promote self-awareness and engagement as they identify a course of study and pursue opportunities to become contributing members of the state, national, and world communities. Through partnership with employers, alumni, faculty, and staff, we connect students to quality career development resources, internships, experiential learning, and post-graduate opportunities.