Career Hack: What Does Your Office Communicate?
EACE Blog contribution by Katie Damon, Career Counselor, Career Development Center, Thomas Jefferson University
In August, I wrote about career “hacks” – little tricks or methods to make things more interesting, more productive, or more effective. For this month’s career hack, let’s talk about the visual cues in our office environment; instead of body language, we’ll examine office language.
In my first job after college, I never got around to decorating my office (I had a window, what more did I need??) I admired the lamps, table cloth and abstract art in my boss’s space, but I thought she was simply decorating her office. At the time, I didn’t understand that creating a comfortable environment for your clients can impact the tone of your appointments. A few years later, when I set up my office at Jefferson, I made some very intentional choices
1) Chair set-up. When I first started working here and a student entered my office, there was usually an awkward moment as he or she tried to decide where to sit. Now I always pull out their chair (and push mine in) in advance of the meeting so our first exchange is not me asking them to switch seats so I can see the clock. I want my appointments to immediately feel comfortable, not that they have made a faux pas.
2) Preparation. As a student, it always bothered me if an advisor or faculty member did not know who I was or why we were meeting until I arrived (it made me feel like another number on their list). For appointments like mock interviews, I will place out materials in advance of the meeting to signal “I am ready; I have prepared to meet with you.” For counseling or exploratory appointments, I keep materials away so we can focus on the conversation, but review my notes and emails before we meet.
3) Art. I like to encourage excitement and action in my students about their careers, and my Jasper Johns print has a great deal of energy and movement. If your style is more calming and reflective, you might choose an ocean scene, for example.
4) Tissues. Sometimes conversations can get emotional, and I have been in one or two situations where I haven’t had tissues within arm’s reach for my client. After those experiences, I always make sure to have tissues available. I feel it also communicates to students that it is ok to open up and that my office is a safe space.
5) Plants. I don’t have a green thumb and have trouble keeping flowers alive, but I like to have live plants in my office (these paper flowers are temporary!) Studies have shown that plants make people happier and more productive, which I hope benefits both me and my clients.
6) Inspiration. This quote reflects my personal journey when I was in undergrad, and I like to reference it during conversations with my students and alumni. I’ve had clients remark that this quote speaks to them as well.
7) School spirit. I serve mostly graduate students, so my Nittany Lion and Bucknell mug are great conversation starters for the students who attended those schools for other degrees.
8) LGBTQ sign. At my first EACE conference in 2013, I attended a session about LGBTQ students and this sign was provided to attendees to place in a prominent spot in their office. I’ve had multiple students mention the sign during an appointment; it is a simple way for them to transition to a topic that might not come up naturally. It has also been a great conversation starter: “What does my affiliation with the LGBTQ community have to do with my career?” Finally, it is another indicator that my office is a safe space.
What does your space communicate to clients? What can you do to make your office environment more comfortable, welcoming or inspiring?
Katie Damon Scheuer is a Career Counselor at Thomas Jefferson University where she advises undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, and alumni in healthcare fields. She is a co-chair for EACE’s Professional Development Committee and an adjunct instructor for Drexel’s LeBow College of Business. Katie earned her Master’s in Higher Education from Penn GSE and Bachelor’s in Management and Psychology from Penn State.