Coaching from Human Resource Services aids UMB employees looking to improve their job performance or change their career path.
When Eileen Eldridge was hired for her first job at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), she thought she would stay in it for about six months. After all, the role didn’t allow her to use her training as a graphic designer or apply her other interests.
But three years later, she found herself in the same job. She knew she had to act, but she didn’t know what steps she needed to take. That’s when she learned about UMB’s Career Development Services program offered by Human Resource Services (HRS) and run by certified career coach Elisa Medina, LCSW-C, MSW, ACC.
“Although I didn’t feel confident, she created a space and environment for me to explore something that I would not have explored otherwise,” Eldridge said of Medina. “She wanted to know: What is it that I can provide to help you? What is it that you are looking for? What is it that you need? How can I support you?”
Medina’s coaching led Eldridge to find her dream job in February 2021 as a web content specialist for the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
Eldridge is one of hundreds of UMB employees that Medina and the free program have helped to navigate the system by offering resources — and hope — as they examine the direction of their careers and pursue their passions.
Medina said UMB doesn’t want its employees to feel like they have “to go to grow.”
“The role was created to make sure that there are opportunities here and the ability to have internal mobility,” she said. “We have such a breadth of awesome opportunities and a range of different fields that there should be opportunity for employees and the ability for people to progress in whichever way they want.”
Mark A. Emmel, MAS, director, organization and employee development, HRS, said the program was launched when few resources were available to staff and career paths were not clearly defined.
“A university is its people. An engaged university dedicated to improving the human condition and serving the public good requires engaged, dedicated employees. Engaged employees need to feel that there are opportunities for development, growth, and promotion. The career development program provides that,” he said.
Confidentiality and Trust
Medina, who has met with employees from each of the University’s seven schools as well as each department and unit during her nearly two years in the role, said sessions can range from an hour to a quick chat to touch base and can be virtual or in person. She mostly coaches staff members but will meet with faculty and student employees, too, and she emphasized that sessions remain confidential.
Eldridge said knowing you can trust your career coach goes a long way.
“It’s safe, it’s reliable, it’s trustworthy, and she keeps your confidence,” she said. “She will only share and do what you agree to. She doesn’t do anything without your consent.”
Medina said that while she offers classic coaching such as résumé reviews, practice interviews, and salary negotiation tips, she also does broader coaching by asking employees open-ended questions: What is your dream job? What do you think your options are? What are you comfortable with? What is getting in the way?
She said the UMB job database is a useful resource for employees. She advises those she coaches to look at their job description, decide where they want to go in their career, analyze what skills they are missing, and then take action. She said, for example, supervisory experience is one job description qualification that can lead to questions.
“The next step up may say you have to have supervisory experience to qualify for that job, but you’re not in a position to be a supervisor. But maybe there are other areas that you can start supervising. You could be supervising some tasks,” she said. “I look at it as trying to be strategic about your career, what steps you need to take to get to the next place you want to be.
“I never squash anybody’s dream.”
Eldridge appreciated that Medina was so engaged when they talked during their half-dozen sessions last year.
“She paid attention to what my reaction was; she paid attention to how my demeanor changed, whether it was more positive, more energetic, or less excited,” Eldridge said. “When I was talking about graphic design and creating things, she heard the excitement in my voice.”
She said Medina’s support boosted her confidence.
“The way that I was coached was absolutely necessary because it helped me to get out of my head and to be more confident to apply for a role that I otherwise would not have applied for,” she said. “Having unbiased support was absolutely transformational and helped me to get into this role.”
Medina, who has coached employees at every stage of their careers from new staff members to those who have worked at UMB for decades, said the coaching program is not only for people who want to switch careers.
“Not everybody comes to me who wants a new job: It’s about career development, developing the career you are in or want to be in at some point. And so that knows no age or no level,” she said. “None of us are beyond needing an outside perspective or somebody to help strategize.”
Transparency and Empowerment
Medina also works to make the internal job hiring processes more transparent for employees (though she emphasizes that she has no sway when employees she coaches are applying for University jobs).
“I want to help make the processes at UMB more transparent, because they’re often hidden,” she said. “If you don’t have a manager who’s keyed into these processes or who’s looking out for your career development, it can be challenging. I try to help explain what they are.”
She said ideally supervisors would receive training to be able to help develop employees and their careers, adding that one of her goals is to “empower employees and managers to have these conversations.”
She said employees who are returning to campus this summer and fall — some for the first time in 18 months because of COVID-19-mandated telework — may find the career coaching helpful.
“People are always re-evaluating their careers, but this time in particular is allowing people to do that even more,” she said.
Ultimately, Medina said, the coaching program shows that UMB cares about supporting its employees’ careers, but employees need to be proactive.
“I constantly say UMB doesn’t own your job. They give you a job, they give you opportunities you can take advantage of, but your career is yours,” she said. “You have to be responsible for it, you have to nurture it and take care of it, and you’re working for an employer that has hired me to help you. So already, that is saying that UMB values your career development.”