As the world of higher education struggles in the crossroads of traditional academics versus the concept of “return on investment,” the world of career services faces a similar struggle. Many career services counselors and specialists in higher education are battling the designation of “career placement officers.” That misnomer is becoming more difficult to fight with the implementation of legislation such as the White House College Scorecard that supposedly measures the value of the education at an institution through various means, including post-graduation employment data.
This “placement” label totally devalues the role of career services professionals who continue to provide genuine guidance to students and alumni in making a solid connection between what they learn in class and their career pursuits. Ask most students why they attend college and the likely answer is: “To get a job.” So why is career services often reduced to a limited platform of resume reviews, career fairs, and checking a box when our students are “placed?” If we’re lucky, we might also get an opportunity to teach an elective course on career planning.
What if academics and career services were integrated, so that students leave school with as much knowledge of professional strategy, comportment, and branding sense as they do book sense? For my career services colleagues, this concept is not a new one. We have been promoting the idea for some time, but unfortunately and continuously, such ideas are often met with resistance. Sometimes this resistance is intentional and sometimes it is not.
After years of planning career workshops, seminars, and events where attendance was hit or miss and access to classroom time was limited, I realized that perhaps I needed to reevaluate my approach by providing a new service delivery. It’s one thing to ask for classroom time in hopes of getting students to think about career planning, but it’s an entirely different thing to help them make the longer term connection between their academic selves and their professional selves. This is hardly an epiphany for career professionals. Now the question is: “How do we get that message across to ALL of those involved in facilitating student career trajectories?”
Research Curriculum and Identify Areas of Potential Integration
Time is precious for everyone in academics. Faculty will not give up valuable class time if they feel the time will be wasted. Given an already over-committed workload, deans and department heads are not likely to want career counselors and specialists asking them for meeting times to plan career services integration. I learned that rather than asking faculty how we could come up with a plan to integrate career services with academia, showing them potential areas for such integration might go a long way toward developing their cooperation. For me this meant going through the academic catalog for each program and identifying courses in which I could offer something of value toward student professional development.
Next, I brought my ideas to the “go-to” faculty to gain buy-in. I approached this discussion in the same way I encourage students to approach an informational interview. I asked what they felt students struggled with in terms of career preparation, took notes, and incorporated their feedback into my approach. Then I continued to collaborate with these key faculty leaders to establish a plan so that professional development and academic knowledge complemented one another. Once faculty support was gained, it became a lot easier to approach program leads, department heads, and deans.
Be Innovative with Options
Sometimes we will encounter faculty who are not willing to give up class time, so be prepared. Provide choices to faculty that offer both synchronous and asynchronous learning options. Webinar software could be used to pre-record seminars or perhaps an asynchronous module could be developed in their classroom platform. Given technological advances, there are many innovative options that could be used to present career services classroom supplements.
Partner with Academic Advising
Academic advisors are an underutilized resource for the career services agenda. Partnering with them is a great way to reach students to provide career guidance. This partnership will help students better understand the importance of taking the right courses to graduate and the value of making the connection between those classes and the skills they will need in the work force.
For too long students have been graduating from universities and colleges in good academic standing, but struggling to brand, sell, and comport themselves as professionals. University career services professionals need to converge with students’ academic worlds in order to guide their required academic experiences toward increased success in their career pursuits.
I embrace a system that will use a proactive approach to help students take ownership of their careers by hybriding the academic world, where instructors facilitate learning, and the career services world, where counselors and specialists facilitate professional experiences. My hope is that such program integration will provide more structured opportunities to develop students professionally, increase their first employment destination opportunities, and add value to the return on their investment of time, money, and effort.
Esther Wallen, MA, GCDF, CPRW, is the Assistant Director of Career Services and Employer Relations at Resurrection University in Chicago, IL. She holds a Master of Arts in Communication. She has nearly a decade of experience serving students in higher education. Esther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.