A student, Steve, approaches your career center looking for advice. Steve is a first generation, above average college junior, majoring in Economics. He chose your institution because he felt it would give him access to a better life so that he could support his parents in the future.
Although comfortable in the college environment, he has no idea what he wants to do and is concerned that he will not be able to pay off his student loans after he graduates. Fortunately, he knew that your office existed and took initiative.
As a career services advisor, what’s your first course of action? What do you tell Steve? Do you have a playbook or do you play it by ear?
Over the years of building Better Weekdays, I have heard many stories like this and am empathetic to the emotions felt by both the student and those of the advisor. Students have expressed frustration with long waits times, inconsistency in who they meet with, and confusing/contradictory/overwhelming information that’s shared.
On the other hand, career center professionals have expressed a wide range of emotions from “joy that someone visited my office” to “frustration that students are ill prepared.”
As an entrepreneur in this space – defined by observation, empathy, and risk taking – I’ve learned that the moment ‘Steve’ sought help is perhaps the most important data point career services can capture. If Steve’s 1st experience with career services was positive, then there is an extremely high likelihood that he will engage with your office again.
So what is the tried and true strategy? How do you engineer a positive experience?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
Ensuring that your university has designed guided career pathways through curriculum that connects learning outcomes to competencies and co-curricular activities to enhance the student experience is a great springboard for career center advisors.
Operationalizing Academic Maps for Career Advising
First, I think we’d all agree that students should understand what success looks like beyond the obvious points of completing ‘x’ credits for ‘y’ major. Academic maps ensure all program areas have a clear path to completion. Next, according to Manny Contomanoli, the Director of Career Services at Rochester Institute of Technology, your office should be thought of as the center of “career wisdom and knowledge.” Contomanoli argues that career services need to demonstrate thought leadership by providing information and perspective that students cannot find easily, including information about career trends or specific employers. While I agree with Manny’s sentiment that career services are a valuable resource, it seems to me that the internet and alumni are centers of career wisdom and knowledge. The job of career center staff is to simply facilitate and curate access to relevant resources while helping individuals become more self aware, so that they can discern great opportunities from good ones. (I’ll save that for another post).
The process of achieving successful career outcomes, however, begins and ends with great advising regardless of the existence of a formal role/office. Research has shown that students want a “go to” advisor who can provide accurate, personalized, and high-touch career support. Objectively providing advice using data available through Career One Stop, O*NET, or associations such as NACE will debias your advising sessions to ensure students receive a personalized experience.
Transition to Career Professional through Professional Development Programs
A practical way to help students transition from college to the working world is through UNCF’s professional development programs. These programs are designed to reinforce learning with professional education and industry exposure through training, summer internships, and online curriculums.
During the UNCFCPI convening, Taliah Givens spoke about what UNCF Student Professional Development Programs (SPDP) are doing to offer training and exposure that reinforce the college experience. Advising your students to apply to these programs will go a long way in helping them gain a competitive advantage for securing a full-time career opportunity and preparing for what’s to come.
Key Insights for University Leaders
1. Career Services has Evolved to an Ecosystem
Farouk Dey, an influential Dean of Career Education at Stanford University said that “the days of career services simply being a brick-and-mortar center are over. Today, career services must become a presence that permeates the institutional culture and experience.” I am not as eloquent. I simply say that if many services come to me (Uber), then why should I go somewhere to get something of value; especially if I’m buying!
In the beginning of our Career Pathways blog series, I highlighted the importance of getting the right people in the room to coordinate your implementation planning process. Dey emphasizes this same point when it comes to advising your students because student success is a shared responsibility; “it takes a village.” Career Services has to leverage everyone in the university network to develop an efficient ecosystem that leads to improved job outcomes.
Ensuring that everyone that has been involved in your planning process stays involved will lead to more continuous improvement.
2. Career Services for the 21st Century: Connections and Communities
For folks new to the field, you may find that Dey’s work on the evolution of career services and “10 Future Trends” is informative.
As essentially a “connector,” career services advisors play an important role in student achievement and success. The integrated ecosystem that advisors need to manage definitely makes this a huge role to fill.
In this data-driven age, my hypothesis is that career services will not be efficient and effective without leveraging the best that technology has to offer. High-touch career services that efficiently facilitates job outcomes requires technology that captures student and employer preferences so that no one wastes time. Said differently, relevant data delivered quickly will reduce friction in the job search/recruiting process. The more successful career center leaders will be those who recognize trends in technology and act swiftly to re-think strategies to better align with applications that students prefer to use. By adopting a “growth mindset” and a willingness to evaluate technology as an enabler rather than a threat will foster innovation among key vendors that will force competition on features and functionality that actually matter; features and functionality that address the problem of each audience. Isn’t this the very mindset that educators are trying to instill in its student population; a mindset that don’t employers require? There seems to be an opportunity to lead by example.
Get Started. See What Happens.
It’s time to address the seemingly chaotic and frustrating experience that students and career center advisors consistently describe. The Career Pathways Initiative is one that allows university leadership to be proactive and intentional in advising students at every stage of their experience—from recruiting through completion.
Identify the gaps students encounter when trying to connect the curriculum and co-curricular activities to career opportunities. Practice how you would respond and experiment with different approaches. Keep an eye out for emerging trends that allow you to influence students in the most engaging way so they can easily discover best fit internship/job opportunities and individuals that can help them secure them. Finally, maintain a positive perspective, it’s infectious and improves a student’s confidence. After all, you are helping the the next generation of graduates find their place in society.