Career Center’s Wise Wanderings method teaches students how to translate any major into a career

This fall, the Vanderbilt Career Center is launching a unique interdisciplinary career development program designed to help students and new alumni find great jobs by building the nimble thinking processes and communication skills they need to be successful in today’s rapidly changing job market.

Katharine Brooks, Evans Family Executive Director of the Vanderbilt Career Center, says she was inspired by Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, which explores the role that right-brain thinking skills—like creativity, emotional intelligence, design thinking and storytelling—play in personal and professional fulfillment.

“Incorporating Pink’s ideas into Career Center programming and services will teach students the best methods for presenting their talents to employers and graduate programs, model the mindsets that employers are seeking from our students and serve as a national benchmark for other schools to emulate,” she said.

It’s the perfect complement to Brooks’ signature “Wise Wanderings” coaching method, which empowers students with a suite of creative exercises designed to help them mine their past experiences for marketable talents and skills and brainstorm possible futures based on their interests. Brooks details her system in her newly revised book, You Majored in What? Designing Your Path From College to Career.

Wise Wanderings

What are the things you’ve done all your life naturally, without even thinking about it? And what are the careers you’re thinking about, and how might they use those very same elements for factors of your life?

“My Wise Wandering system starts with a map of your life where you analyze all the things you’ve done, and then another map, called a ‘possible lives map,’ which is all the things you might want to do. And then we start looking for the threads and themes that show up in both places,” Brooks said. “What are the things you’ve done all your life naturally, without even thinking about it? And what are the careers you’re thinking about, and how might they use those very same elements for factors of your life?”

Students then conduct “experimental wanderings” such as internships, build probability plans and work on intention-setting exercises to guide them toward their short- and long-term goals, begin curating a professional online presence, and develop compelling resumes, cover letters and interview skills.

The beauty of this method is that it works for students in any major, no matter how clear a line there may be from their degree to the next step, Brooks said. “One of the stereotypes of a career center is that they’re only interested in you if you’re interested in a business career,” Brooks said. “We do like business and we do like consulting careers and banking careers. But we are also about creative careers and careers in education and careers in the nonprofit and service fields and politics. [rquote]You tell us where you want to go, and we will help you get there.”[/rquote]

Liberal arts major? No problem.

Another stereotype Brooks is eager to quell is that you can’t get a good job with a liberal arts degree. “I think the great thing about a liberal arts education when it comes to careers is that it opens up so many paths and doors. You’re not limited because of one specific course of study,” Brooks said. “In fact, the liberal arts education encourages you to be creative and to look around and try different things, and that is going to serve you very well in the workplace.”

She says having a liberal arts background signals to employers that a student has honed a number of valuable cognitive and interpersonal skills that will make them good employees, including analytic and strategic thinking, writing and communication, and even just the ability to ask useful questions.

We want to be the center that says, ‘You belong here.

Brooks wants to make visiting the Career Center as welcoming as possible for everyone. “The Career Center can be a source of anxiety, quite frankly, because it makes people think about things they’d rather not think about,” she said. “We don’t want to be that. We want to be the center that says, ‘You belong here.’ We want to provide services that reach the students whatever their background is and whatever their interests are in.”

But I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!

Brooks emphasized that the Career Center is not just for students who already know their goals—it’s also a place for students to discover them. “One of the things I’m particularly excited about that we’re developing—and it’s unique to Vanderbilt—is a place called the Vision Place,” Brooks said. “It’s a place for students to come in and think creatively about what they want to do in the future.”

The Vision Place will be stocked with computers, magazines and even paper and markers. Students will have the opportunity to create vision boards, mind maps and even a personal brand—projects that help students, no matter where they are in their journey, both zoom in on what’s important to them and zoom out to see what’s possible.

And it’s also a place for students whose original plans aren’t working out. “It’s not unusual to get started on a path that you think is where you want to be and then discover six months, a year later that it’s really not what you thought it would be,” she said. “You’ve learned and now you’re ready to move on to something that hopefully will be more fulfilling for you.”