It’s Time to Expand the Vision for What Career Services Can Do

There’s never been a more challenging time to be in Career Services – unless it was last year, or maybe next year.  If you work in Career Services, you understand this. 

  • What’s the challenge?
  • How about students who are less likely to come to campus seeking support?
  • How about students (and their parents) who expect that a college degree guarantees sustainable employment?
  • How about local businesses demanding college graduates steeped in “employability skills” (and not just a degree)?
  • How about college administrators who are increasingly adopting a “do more with less” expectation?

And how about futurists who predict the modern university system is likely to go the way of brick-and-mortar mattress stores as consumers think – why GO to get something when they can point and click from home. Did I strike a nerve?

While it’s hard to be in Career Services, it’s also rewarding to be there. Every career services specialist I know loves their students and they love their jobs. They are well-trained, and they work long hours. It’s not about doing “more with less” but a desire to simply do more. But how to serve often students who are often “stunningly disconnected” and parents, administrators, and local businesses who have taken a page out of the songbook of the Andrea True Collection and are singing it “More, more, more?” (Google it.)

The time to expand #CareerServices is now. See what you can do to stay ahead of the curve:Click to Tweet

What to Do?

From my perspective, the key is to simplify. Instead of trying to solve multiple problems from multiple stakeholders, let’s solve one – How do we best steer students to meaningful careers that fit. Fortunately, that’s something career services specialists are already good at – and they have career compass platforms (like PathwayU) to help them do this effectively and at scale. And while even choosing a major that fits will not guarantee that every student with a major that fits will sit in the front of the class and turn their assignments in on time. But everyone who is has ever taught a college class knows that attendance is better, performance is higher, and persistence is stronger when students are interested in the topic and see the direct connection to a personally relevant outcome (like a meaningful career).

So guiding students to their purpose and better career choices solves one problem for one stakeholder group. How do we apply this to the other problems faced by Career Services?

Making Upper Administration Happy

Responding to upper administration is easy – what do college administrators want? To retain the students they have (to graduation) while increasing admission rates. Student retention is exactly why schools need to connect students to majors that fit as early as possible in their college careers. My co-founder Eric Leftwich makes the argument here and I hammer it home in this blog. There I write:

“Again, the research shows that people are more likely to persist and succeed when they choose career paths that match their interests. Persisting through school is all about staying on a path. Providing students with a clear compass is one of the best investments you can make to strengthen postsecondary enrollment and increase retention.”

Science emphatically supports the assertion that matching people to career paths that fit improves college retention. And everyday experience reveals this too. Anyone who has taught college has seen the students come to college and fail because they are doing what someone else wants them to do, not what they find compelling.

And recruitment and admissions?  We’ve recently addressed that in this blog for first generation students. The principles here apply to any student but it’s a bonus that first generation students are particularly helped. The author Jen Gose recommends using a platform like PathwayU to personalize the admissions process and connect potential students to successful career paths early. A rich platform that allows potential students to visualize what they would do and what they would earn is particularly powerful for first generation students.  This is great advice, but I would go further by putting QR codes linking to my career platform on every bus station in the city, enabling prospective students to enter my career guidance platform, discover a major, and leave behind a footprint.

Pro Tip: If you are in Career Services and you are ever asked about the cost of your career guidance platform, ask what the value is in retaining one more student or adding one additional new freshman. Point out that it’s not a cost it’s an investment.

Connecting Employers to Employers

What about supporting local businesses that want graduates who are job ready with employability skills?  A good career guidance platform like PathwayU should be able to provide school-level data about career choices. Career service professionals can share that data with local employer groups and the Chamber of Commerce to anticipate disconnects.  Are there likely to be gaps in 3-4 years between what majors students are choosing now and what employers want? That information can be used in one-on-ones with students at the time they select a major. While they should still be encouraged to pursue their purpose, in instances in which they have several possible paths, future employer needs can be useful information to guide their selections.

Follow your strengths in guiding students to purpose and meaningful careers. See what you can do with the power of #CareerServices:Click to Tweet

Finally, employability skills mean different things to different people. Many workforce development boards include job search or candidate presentation skills, e.g., how to create a resume or cover letter and how to present oneself in a job interview that shows a connection between one’s background and the job requirement. Our College of Business offers workshops on resumes and interviewing that cover how to talk about yourself using your career assessment results. For example, when an interviewer for a sales position asks: “why should we consider you for this job,” students learn to say things like “I’m a good fit because I like work that requires me to execute projects and make decisions. I value work that is results-oriented, let’s me make use of my abilities, and gives me a feeling of accomplishment."

What’s Next?

You got this. Career service professionals tell students to follow their strengths. Follow your strengths in guiding students to purpose and meaningful careers and then explore ways to satisfy other stakeholders in the process. And make sure that your career guidance system is up to that challenge!

Guide Your Learners to Their Purpose with PathwayU from Jobzology