NACE Journal, February 2022
College and university career services practitioners should continuously search for, review, and consider implementing practices that have proven successful in the service of trans students.1 Such practices can be identified within various fields of literature by seeking feedback from leading professionals and by seeking input from those in the trans community. This article reviews successful practices.
Student Interactions Require Individualized Interventions
When working with trans students, college and university career services practitioners should recognize that, while there exist successful practices for service of trans clientele, each student may present with specific career development needs or concerns and require a personalized approach to consultation. Additionally, what works for one population of trans students may not work for another. Further, what has worked well for a specific population of trans students may not be effective practice for a particular individual. Finally, practitioners need to remember that, while a trans student may present with specialized needs, they may also have the same needs as everyone else. Career services practitioners should proceed with caution when applying commonly identified successful practices and remain cognizant of the fact that effective service will likely require highly individualized interventions.
When initially meeting with students of trans experience, career services practitioners should understand that the students may be wary of specific campus resource offices or professional college or university personnel. Some trans students may, as a mechanism of vigilance or self-protection, assume that a specific setting is hostile until proven otherwise.2, 3 Other trans students may have endured negative experiences with the discomfort of others and may be hesitant about opening up to those with whom they are unfamiliar.4, 5, 6 In some instances, practitioners may need to work to overcome barriers of mistrust.7 Practitioners who recognize this possibility and attend to students with empathy, compassion, and competence may have success in breaking down student barriers.8
Pronouns and Names: Legal Versus Real
When meeting with and addressing students, career services practitioners should never assume a student’s gender based on their legal documents or presentation.9, 10 While career services practitioners should never bluntly ask students how they identify, they should share their current pronouns—the “current” emphasizes that pronouns may change over time as gender may be fluid—and ask students to share theirs.11, 12, 13, 14, 15
The same goes for student names. Career services practitioners should ask for, respect, and use students’ names.16, 17, 18 As an undergraduate student and graduate student explained in interviews, career services practitioners should never assume that the name on legal documents is the name the student uses; the name the student uses is their “real” name, regardless of what legal documentation might indicate.
When considering the proper use of terminology around trans individuals’ pronouns and names, career services practitioners should be aware of antiquated, often offensive language that is commonly used within institutional settings and literature regarding trans inclusion. Many people and institutions refer to trans individuals’ names, when different from their legal names, as “preferred” or “chosen” names. Such terminology may be considered offensive as it implies that one’s name and identity are the product of a choice rather than an “inherent expression of self.”19 Career services practitioners should also note that referring to trans individuals’ pronouns as “preferred” is met with similar criticism. The “preferred” terminology acts as a qualifier that serves to distinguish the pronouns people choose to use from their “true” pronouns, or as a presenter at a SUNY conference asserted, “Pronouns are not preferred, they just are. Names are not preferred, they just are.”20, 21 Career services practitioners should treat both names and pronouns used by all individuals as “real.”
Trans Topics and Language
As demonstrated by the criticisms of terminology related to names and pronouns, language around trans topics can be complex. Although career services practitioners working with people of trans experience should learn about trans-specific terminology, they also need to understand that language changes over time and is highly individualistic.22, 23
This sentiment was echoed by the graduate student interviewee who stated, “Everybody uses different language because language is so personal, especially within the LGBTQ, you know, Q, I, A, A, P, P asterisk communities. There's a lot of personal definition of personal attachment to language and the way that we use it.”
In an effort to prevent solecisms, gaffes, offense, or misuse of language, practitioners may want to ask about students’ language preferences and how they define or use specific terms.24, 25
Understanding Issues Impacting Decision-Making
When collaborating with college and university trans students in search (for a job, internship, graduate or professional school), application, interview preparation, offer negotiations, or other related career activities, career services practitioners should be aware of the variety of issues that may influence students’ decision-making processes.
For some trans students, and noted by both the undergraduate and graduate student in their interviews, real or perceived potential discrimination, harassment, or threats to safety in a workplace may be a major concern. This concern may be strong enough to steer a trans student away from a specific field.26 While career services practitioners may not like that a student chooses to turn away from a career for which they are fit in terms of skills, abilities, talents, or interests, they should ultimately respect and affirm a student’s decision and personal agency and assist them in identifying appealing and fulfilling career options.
Similarly, career services practitioners should be aware that some trans students (or other LGBTQIA+ community members) may subscribe to limitations regarding their career choices based on marginalization related to geographies and their accompanying laws, legal protections or lack thereof, or social climates.27, 28, 29, 30 Career services practitioners should affirm trans students’ concerns and partner with them to research specific regions, states, or localities of interest. They should collaboratively research state and local laws or workplace protections with students and discuss options for targeting geographic searches for jobs, internships, graduate or professional schools, or other related vocational endeavors.
Supporting Trans Students in the Employment Search
When approaching the employment search, career services practitioners should possess awareness of inclusive employers that support and enforce gender identity nondiscrimination policies.31, 32 In addition, practitioners should use trusted trans-specific or other LGBTQIA+ inclusive employment resources to review employers that have demonstrated inclusiveness of trans and other LGBTQIA+ populations.33 Among the resources practitioners can use are Corporate Equality Indexes (Human Rights Campaign) and Companies That Champion LGBTQ Equality Hiring Now (Glassdoor).
Career services practitioners should also be aware of employers in their local campus communities that are known to be inclusive of trans workers. Providing students with these resources and using them during employment searches may demonstrate to trans students that practitioners are competent in assisting them and invested in producing positive career outcomes for them.
When potential employers are not listed on LGBTQIA+ or trans-specific employment resources, career services practitioners can help guide students in the search for signs of potential inclusivity by examining nondiscrimination, restroom, and professional dress policies; by looking at the employer’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ employees historically; by tracking resources through such resources as Open Secret; and by determining if the organization has LGBTQIA+ affinity groups.34, 35, 36, 37
Career services professionals may also find success advising that trans students conduct one-on-one informational interviews with current or former trans employees, particularly those who share an alumni connection with the institution at which the students study.38 Additionally, career services practitioners may find it beneficial to advise that trans students connect with current or former trans employees and affinity group on professional social media sites such as LinkedIn or job-search sites.
In preparing job application materials, career services professionals should demonstrate appreciation for trans student concerns and competence in navigating what can be challenging tasks for those with trans identities. It is critical that career services practitioners understand trans students’ concerns around names and legal names on resumes, cover letters, job applications, offer letter materials, tax forms, direct deposit forms, and other materials. If a student wishes to reveal the use of a name that does not match that associated with their legal documents on a resume, cover letter, or job application, career services practitioners should respect and affirm their decision to do so. However, when it comes to legal documents, Beck contended that practitioners should advise the student to use their legal name.39
At times, some trans students may express dissatisfaction, frustration, or other negative feelings about the need to provide a legal name that differs from the one they use, navigate noninclusive applications, or fill out forms or other documents that do not affirm or acknowledge their identities, particularly those who do not conform to the rigid, false gender binary. Career services practitioners should affirm the validity of trans students’ feelings and demonstrate compassion. Debating the validity of trans students’ emotions or making arguments that undermine their sense of agency (“Well, if you want this job, your only option is to fill out the application the way it is”) is unlikely to produce positive student outcomes and may actually serve to inflict damage to students’ wellbeing.
When trans students craft resumes, they may encounter disclosure concerns related to revealing leadership or other participation in LGBTQIA+ groups. Motulsky and Frank opined that career services practitioners advise students to thoroughly contemplate whether doing so is a good idea for them at the time.40
While practitioners should provoke reflection, they should not question a student’s decision to disclose or withhold information, and, ultimately, should respect and affirm the student’s choice. In many cases, the process of omission may lead to a loss of human capital, however, career services practitioners should be able to lead informed discussions with students regarding redirection tactics to mitigate bias triggers while including relevant candidate information, such as leadership experiences, scholarships, and fellowships, for example.
In the event that career services practitioners are assisting trans students in preparing for interviews or job fairs, they should provide nonjudgmental guidance on trans students’ treatment of pronouns, honorifics, and professional dress and respect and affirm students’ choices. Treatment of professional dress for interviews or job fair events, particularly for students of trans experience whose gender identities do not align within the rigid, false binary system or whose physical characteristics may complicate the manner in which others “read” their gender, may provoke concern.41 Motulsky and Frank noted that career services practitioners should counsel students to dress “professionally for their gender identity[ies].”42 They also indicated that practitioners should include examples of professional dress that model trans individuals.
When consulting with trans students regarding job offer negotiations, career services practitioners should be aware of a wide variety of concerns that may impact students’ decision-making. They should ask students what their specific concerns are, allowing students to lead the process, and advise them on how to negotiate for the specific terms that best meet their needs. When considering healthcare, Dries and Inselman proposed that career services practitioners consider how they will coach trans students on advocating for inclusive and equitable health benefits.43 While specific negotiation strategies may vary depending on students’ leverage, career services practitioners should be able to guide students’ conversational approaches with employers and help them advocate for themselves.
At times, unfortunately, trans students may encounter discrimination in the hiring process or on the job. If they choose to disclose this information to a member of a career services staff, it is vital that the revelation be taken seriously. While it may be difficult for some practitioners to believe that an employer acted in a discriminatory manner, especially if that employer has a recruiting relationship with the institution, they must not let suspicion interfere with their ability to effectively serve the student. Rather, practitioners should “trust what your trans clients tell you about the discrimination they have faced instead of questioning it.”44 Career services practitioners should actively listen to trans students’ accounts of discrimination and affirm their experiences without trivializing their stories or cross-examining them.
Creating Welcoming, Inclusive Office Environments
As the undergraduate student and graduate student revealed, trans students may assume that a particular environment is hostile until proven otherwise. They may seek clues or signals that help them gauge the inclusiveness or safety of a career services office before engaging with professional staff.
To ease trans students’ anxieties or help them determine that a particular office is not threatening, career services practitioners should take a thoughtful approach to the design of their workspaces. For example, career services practitioners can present handouts or resources that indicate trans inclusion throughout the office and display relevant symbols, e.g., flags or posters, that signify such inclusion.45 Practitioners need to recognize that those symbols must be backed up with competence.
Career services practitioners can also enhance the hospitableness of their office environments by removing outdated resources and replacing them with inclusive materials. Career services practitioners should offer resources that feature trans identities and speak to trans-specific issues. They should also be careful to include gender-neutral designs for professional dress and advise students to dress in a manner that best represents who they are.46, 47 Doing so may indicate to students of trans experience, particularly those whose gender identities do not neatly align within the rigid, false gender binary, that they are welcome in the career services space and that their identities will be valued and affirmed.
While visible affirmations of trans identities are helpful in creating welcoming and inclusive career services offices, they alone are not enough. The manners in which career services practitioners and other office staff communicate will likely be a strong indicator of inclusiveness or the lack thereof to students of trans experience.48, 49 Career services practitioners should revise the language employed in both oral and written communications. In their article, Dries and Inselman recommended that career services practitioners “disrupt gender” by eliminating the use of phrases that assume or perpetuate the rigid gender binary.50 They noted that language such as “ladies and gentlemen” or “hi, guys” are often thought of as neutral phrases, but actually serve to reaffirm the rigid, false gender binary. Career services practitioners should replace them with gender-neutral expressions, such as “Good afternoon, students” or “Hello, colleagues.”
Inclusive communication is also critical in digital spaces. For many students, their first interaction with a career services professional will take place through a digital communication medium, such as email or an online appointment-booking interface. Career services practitioners should ensure that their digital communications signal trans inclusiveness. Career services practitioners can feature their pronouns in their emails signatures as a method of affirming trans identities and normalizing the idea that gender cannot be assumed.51, 52 Seeing a practitioner’s pronouns in their email signature may diffuse students’ wariness and make them more comfortable engaging with career services staff before they set foot in the office environment.
Understanding the appointment booking interface career services practitioners and students use is also important. Career services practitioners should know the operational parameters of the interface used and what options it offers to students in terms of disclosure, such as ability to list a name other than a legal name and ability to indicate pronouns or honorifics.
Career services practitioners should also note whether the data entered into the system manually by the student—a name, pronouns, or honorifics—will be overridden when student information is batch uploaded or pulled from other pulled from other student information systems.
Further, at a minimum, career services practitioners should communicate honestly with students the options available to them in the appointment booking interfaces and how their information may be altered if the system overrides their entries. Ideally, career services practitioners should be able to work with service providers to ensure that the names, pronouns, and/or honorifics students enter are not overridden or deleted.
Career services practitioners should also consider the assessment tools they use and avoid those that are rooted in the false gender binary. Instead, they can provide tools, such as card sorts, that allow the student to shape the meaning-making process and exert agency.
Creating Career Opportunities for Trans Students
Effective career services practice is not limited to fostering students’ career development. It often involves creating career opportunities for students through the development and maintenance of mutually beneficial relationships with employers.53, 54
In service of trans students, practitioners may benefit from strategic approaches to networking and placement efforts. As is commonly done for many marginalized populations, career services practitioners should develop partnerships with employers and community partners, provide employers with education and resources regarding trans individuals and their specific employment concerns, and market the value proposition of recruiting students of trans experience and cultivating inclusive workspaces.55, 56, 57, 58 Career services practitioners should mindfully adapt diversity pipeline efforts to include trans student populations and carefully manage them to prevent undesired identity disclosures.59
In addition to developing and maintaining career opportunity pipelines for students of trans experience, career services practitioners may also find it beneficial to collaborate with other campus or community organizations that serve trans or LGBTQIA+ populations. Through these partnerships, practitioners can provide trainings and workshops that are specifically tailored to trans or LGBTQIA+ population needs. Collaborating with campus or community partners and offering customized services and resources to trans or LGBTQIA+ students may enhance their trust of career services offices and produce successful student career outcomes. Further, hosting customized trainings and workshops in the LGBTQIA+ campus spaces or community environments, rather than in the career services office, can help improve rapport with students as it demonstrates a willingness to go into their spaces.60
Effective Service Means Engaging in Continuous Education
To provide consistently effective service to trans students, it is important that career services practitioners continuously engage in educational efforts. The evolving nature of gender identity language, socio-political events, and individual and community needs necessitate that career services practitioners routinely update their knowledge base.61, 62, 63
Beemyn advised that, in addition to individual research and education, career services offices should hire professional experts and community members to consult with and train staff.64 Beemyn further noted that, while welcoming feedback from trans student populations may be effective and appropriate to some extent, career services practitioners should be cautious that they do not depend solely on students of trans experience for their education: Students’ primary role in the higher education environment is to learn—not to teach their campus service providers.
Practitioners as Advocates
While the approach, structure, and style of advocacy work carried out by career services practitioners and offices may differ depending on a variety of factors—institutional oversight, resources, geographic and social climates, state and local laws, employer attitudes, and the like—all college and university career services staff should engage in efforts to advance the rights, career options, and career outcomes of trans students.
Advocacy work in college and university career services can involve:
- Educating employers on trans issues;
- Consulting with employers on how to improve their recruitment and retention practices for trans populations;
- Asking employers to speak to their support of trans individuals in the workplace when they present on campus, e.g., by talking about relevant affinity groups, healthcare and benefits provided, trans representation in management roles, and such; and
- Collaborating with other offices or departments working to support LGBTQIA+ rights or—among a number of other things—employing accountability measures when employers discriminate against or mistreat trans students.
Advocacy work can also take place in the form of training aspiring allies of trans communities. Career services practitioners should promote the value-add of using the talent pipeline’s power to influence employers. For instance, if all students from the institution asked employers whether they offered trans-inclusive healthcare, employers would recognize that the issue is important—not just to those who may need trans-affirming care, but to the greater talent pool. The same goes for inclusive restrooms and other trans-affirming policies. The more everyone asks about these topics, the more important the employer is likely to perceive the issue. If the talent is setting expectations, employers will likely follow suit, particularly in candidate-favorable labor markets.
While advocacy work can take many forms, it is important for career services practitioners to prioritize this work. It is not enough to focus on individual practitioner and office improvements: Career services staff must also support the greater movement toward a more just labor market using the tools and resources available to them. Career services practitioners and leadership teams should research opportunities for advocacy work on their campuses, in their communities, and at the national level and strategize ways in which they can contribute to producing more positive career outcomes among people of trans experience.
1 Various definitions are used to refer to those whose gender identity does not mirror their assigned sex at birth or neatly align within the false gender binary. In this article, the definition developed by Genny Beemym is used to refer to individuals with both binary and nonbinary transgender identities. This definition applies to a variety of gender identities and should not be understood to apply only to those whose gender identity falls within the gender binary (trans male, male, trans female, or female). Beemyn’s definition is inclusive of those who identify as nonbinary, gender nonconforming, demigender, gender fluid, and genderqueer, and who use other terminology to define their gender. The reader should be mindful that numerous gender identities are captured under this broad definition and that gender identity terminology is highly personal and individualistic. As such, some individuals may not be comfortable with the fact that they have been included under the umbrella term “trans,” especially if they do not identify as “trans,” but rather as one of many gender identities incorporated in Beemyn’s definition. The author acknowledges that individuals covered under this umbrella terminology may not self-identify as trans and may not wish to be referred to using such language.
2 Undergraduate student, personal communication, September 20, 2019. All quotes from and references to this student are based on this communication. The student took part in one of four interviews used for the author’s research. At the time of the interview, the student, who was asked to participate, was enrolled at a Carnegie classified Research 1 institution, identifies as nonbinary, and was assigned female sex at birth.
3 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019. All quotes from and references to this student are based on this communication. The student took part in one of four interviews used for the author’s research. At the time of the interview, the student, who volunteered for the interview, was enrolled at a Carnegie classified Research 1 institution, identifies as trans nonbinary, and was assigned female sex at birth. The student uses they/them pronouns.
4 Kirk, J. and Belovics, R. (2008). Understanding and counseling transgender clients. Journal of Employment Counseling, (45), 29-43. Retrieved August 29, 2019, from 10.1002/j.2161-1920.2008.tb00042.x.
5 Undergraduate student, personal communication, September 20, 2019.
6 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
7 Kirk, J. and Belovics, R. (2008).
8 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
9 Beck, B.L. (2015, August 1). Supporting transgender and gender non-binary job seekers. National Career Development Association. Retrieved August 31, 2019. from www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/109566/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false.
10 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
11 Oches, R. (2019). Framing sexuality and identity to better serve victims and survivors. SUNY Spectrum Conference. July 8, 2019.
12 Beck, B.L. (2015, August 1).
13 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2). Creating positive spaces for career counseling with transgender clients. National Career Development Association. Retrieved August 31, 2019, from www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/159199/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false.
14 Undergraduate student, personal communication, September 20, 2019.
15 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
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21 McKay, M. (2019). Queering response: Exploring trans*inclusive practices for community colleges.SUNY Spectrum Conference. July 9, 2019.
22 Burns, T.R., Singh, A.A., Harper, A.J., Harper, B., Maxon-Kann, W, Pickering, D.L., Moundas, S., Scofield, T.R., Roan, A., and Hosea, J. (2010). American counseling association competencies for counseling with transgender clients. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, (4)3-4, 135-159. Retrieved August 31, 2019, from DOI: 10.1080/15538605.2010.524839.
23 Oches, R. (2019).
25 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2).
26 Beemyn, G. Personal communication, September, 24, 2019. Beemyn was one of four interviews conducted as part of the author’s research.
27 Undergraduate student, personal communication, September 20, 2019.
28 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
29 Beemyn, G. Personal communication, September, 24, 2019.
30 Budge, S. L., Tebbe, E. N., & Howard, K. A. S. (2010). The work experiences of transgender individuals: Negotiating the transition and career decision-making processes. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 57, 377-393. Retrieved September 13, 2019, from doi: 10.1037/a0020472.
31 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2).
32 Kirk, J. and Belovics, R. (2008).
33 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2).
34 Beck, B.L. (2015, August 1).
35 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
36 Undergraduate student, personal communication, September 20, 2019.
37 Career services practitioner, personal communication, September 10, 2019. The practitioner was one of four interviews conducted as part of the author’s research.
39 Beck, B.L. (2015, August 1).
40 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2).
41 Beck, B.L. (2015, August 1).
42 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2
43 Dries, K. and Inselman, K. (2018, May 1). Disrupting gender in career services & recruiting. National Association of Colleges and Employers. NACE Journal. Retrieved August 31, 2019, from www.naceweb.org/career-development/special-populations/disrupting-gender-in-career-services-recruiting/.
44 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2).
47 Beck, B.L. (2015, August 1).
48 Undergraduate student, personal communication, September 20, 2019.
49 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
50 Dries, K. and Inselman, K. (2018, May 1).
52 Motulsky, S. and Frank, E. (2018, April 2).
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59 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
60 Career services practitioner, personal communication, September 10, 2019.
61 Burns, T.R., et al. (2010).
62 Beemyn, G. Personal communication, September, 24, 2019.
63 Graduate student, personal communication, September 15, 2019.
64 Beemyn, G. Personal communication, September, 24, 2019.
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Sandra Buatti-Ramos (she/her) is principal, lead coach, and lead consultant at Hyphen Coaching + Consulting. She is a Certified Life Mapping Coach (CLMC), Academy Certified Resume Writer (ACRW), and certified MBTI® and Strong Interest Inventory® practitioner.
Buatti-Ramos holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from Stony Brook University, a master’s degree in communication from the University at Albany, a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from SUNY Oneonta, and an associate degree in media communications from Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
This article is based on her 2019 master’s thesis, “Moving Beyond the Binary: Modernizing College and University Career Services Practices for Effective Service of Trans Students.” The thesis also served as the basis for her article “Moving Beyond the Binary: Understanding Career-Related Issues and Concerns of Trans Students,” which appeared in the August 2021 issue of the NACE Journal. She was the 2021 recipient of the CSPA-NYS Champion of Diversity and Inclusion award. Buatti-Ramos continues to research issues related to serving trans students.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.