Do we have to kill to get a job after we graduate?
At least that’s what Jerry Houser, Associate Dean / Director of Career Services at Willamette University, and Andy Chan, President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, are telling me.
What must we kill? Career Services.
At the start of Chan’s TED talk, “‘Career Services’ Must Die,” he describes where the trouble begins.
What Universities Advertise:
“A great holistic education. Students who attend will leave with a broader perspective and an ability to think critically in a way that will prepare them for life!”
What Students, Parents, and Employers Hear:
Attending this university will ensure that students leave prepared to get a job.
It has in the past, right?
But times have changed. The economy has changed. The world has changed—it’s getting flatter and flatter. Still, many people hold a college degree to the same standard as before.
Northeastern University conducted a public-opinion survey of American adults and employers on college educations and the workforce titled, “Innovation Imperative: Enhancing Higher Education Outcomes.” The survey found that:
70% of Americans rate a candidate’s level of education as the most important factor for success in today’s job market
74% of Americans believe that a college degree is more important today than it was in their parents’ generation
68% of Americans believe that the importance of a college degree will continue to increase in the next generations
But when asked about how they thought colleges were doing preparing students for the job search:
41% of survey takers thought that colleges were doing only a fair job of preparing students for the workforce after graduation. 21% felt that they were doing a poor job of it.
48% of survey takers said that colleges are “not in tune with today’s job market and are not preparing graduates accordingly.”
Why aren’t Career Services preparing college students effectively for the job search?
Because the current Career Services model is flawed.
Houser compares Career Services (as it is today) to a restaurant. Picture yourself walking through one of those boutique neighborhoods, like Hayes Valley here in San Francisco. What makes you choose one restaurant over another? Decorations? Yelp reviews? The “we’re organic” slogan? Each of those restaurants has put a lot of time and energy into attracting customers.
It’s the same on a college campus. With so many clubs and organizations being advertised around school on a daily basis, Career Services has to pull out all the stops just to get students to look their way.
Lori Hatfield, Director of Career Services at the University of Redlands says, “we do everything humanly possible to let students know we exist.” That includes advertising through the school paper, email, flyers, posters, a Facebook page, departmental outreach, and interaction with student clubs.
Houser talks about the seemingly endless pizza parties and life-size cutouts he’s had to go through to bring students into the career service office. The focus shifts from helping students to advertising.
Students still don’t take notice of career services.
Even with all of that effort, many students don’t even blink an eye at Career Services’ efforts. I would know. I was a student at the University of Redlands and cannot even tell you where the Career Services department is…
It’s not something that I’m proud of. I was naive and didn’t understand that writing cover letters/résumés, applying for jobs, and interviewing were skills that aren’t naturally ingrained in people. They have to be learned.
Students need more than the option of using Career Services. They need to be pushed.
Jessica Scheetz, a recent graduate from Truman State University, did not make much use of her Career Service center. But she didn’t completely disregard everything her school had to offer her.
Her Career Service center put on mock interview days. Jessica says that “interview experience like that simply cannot be replaced, so I highly recommend students try to take advantage of such opportunities.”
If you’re anything like me, you missed opportunities like these because they were optional and so didn’t seem very important.
As Lori Hatfield says, “It’s the old thing that students will find us when they feel they need us, I guess.” Because Career Services are an option rather than a requirement, it’s up to the student to decide when they “need” it.
For many students, that means Career Services does not enter the equation until Mom and Dad mention that moving back home is not an option, a.k.a. senior year.
Showing up as a senior severely limits what Career Services can do for you.
The amount of time available for exploring career options is cut down to less than a year. There’s no chance of internship guidance. Many companies want to hire sophomores and juniors as interns because they are at the optimal level to be trained and observed as potential fits for the company. It’s too late for any of those internship opportunities as a senior.
You’re also missing out on any help before, during, and after these internship experiences. Showing up as a senior also limits Career Fair/Event resources. Yes, AfterCollege can help you know when certain career fairs are coming your way with our Events listings, but we can’t help you prepare for these events. We can’t give you the inside scoop about certain companies we’ve seen alumni work well with. We can’t help you practice your elevator pitch for companies you’re interested in.
The only way to get that help is by having a relationship with your Career Service center.
So yes, Career Services must die. But then what? Does that solve the problem? No. Without a career service center, colleges would be even more unprepared to send their students off into the “real world.”
Solution: Transform Career Services into Career Development
Houser is a firm believer that Career Services should be focused on working with students on personal/career development. Helping a student discover their options and set goals is just as important as teaching the hard skills of job-seeking. He is working with Willamette’s new president to re-define Career Services as a part of a university.
How do we transform Career Services?
1. Make it a Requirement
With a new President, Willamette has added the career roadmap to its strategic plan. Now included in the school’s mission is a section that says that every student will have a thoughtful career plan before they graduate.
Though this is a very new addition, Houser is working hard to make career planning a requirement rather than an option. He’s working with faculty to incorporate career awareness in class.
Jessica Scheetz was a Communications Major with an emphasis in Journalism and knew that her small liberal arts school could not afford to keep a Career Service staff that had the resources to focus on each individualized field of study. That was why she took it upon herself to seek help and advice from professors, peers, and professionals in her industry.
Not all students are as ambitious and responsible as Jessica (I certainly wasn’t). Without the cooperation of faculty, professionals in the area, and alumni, Career Services does not have a chance at being truly effective.
What Houser says needs to happen is a culture change. Career preparation can no longer just be the Career Center’s job, but the job of the University. It has to become a required part of every student’s curriculum.
2. Make it Accessible
30% of academic majors at Willamette are participating so far. Professors of these majors have agreed to assign students at least one part of Houser’s Career Roadmap.
Then, Houser himself comes in for a follow-up workshop. When he first came to Willamette he interacted with about 100 students. Now he sees 700 to 800 because he is going to those classes and they HAVE to see him. It becomes a requirement for that class. Students are (hopefully) going to class anyway. Since part of the Career Roadmap is incorporated into the curriculum, they don’t have to go out of their way to start their career exploration.
The Career Roadmap steps are also online to make it as easy as possible for students to get started or continue what they began in class. What’s easier than flipping open your laptop while still on your dorm room bed and filling out a couple forms?
3. Help Students Re-Define Career Services
In his TED talk, Chan describes two typical interactions between a student and the Career Service center:
A student expects the Career Service center to tell them what they should do for the rest of their lives.
A student expects to walk into the Career Service center and walk out with a job.
Instead of just focusing on what job you’re supposed to have when you graduate, Houser and Chan focus on finding what direction you want to go in. Chan’s point of view is very similar to ours here at AfterCollege. He feels that a student who is majoring in history will benefit from knowing that others who have majored in history have gone on to work in medicine, law, teaching, and writing. It’s the same concept we use in our Explore feature. Did you know an English Major can go into Graphic Design?
Having a Career Service center that is focused on career development will also help students find internships that will allow them to not only gain experience, but find out what fields they like and dislike.
Houser encourages three-year planning. He thinks that you should be planning three years in advance. As a freshman, you should already be thinking about your Junior year of college. Do you want to study abroad? Should you go wwoofing in Argentina? That means as a sophomore you should already be thinking about where you want to be after you graduate. It’s appropriate to take gap years or decide on grad school rather than going straight into the workforce. These decisions are all part of your career development and can be prepared for with the help of a Career Development Center.
It’s Not All Bad: Career Services ARE Changing
Jerry Houser is making big moves with his Career Roadmap. Other career centers are changing as well. Andy Chan is working to create a supersized career office. Lori Hatfield is using “every available opportunity to get her face in front of faculty and that has resulted in an increased number of class presentations, especially to capstone courses.”
Christopher J. Gearon’s article, “A Degree and Work Skills, Too,” for the U.S. News print edition talks about schools that are becoming aware of the importance of internships and are working to better provide their students with these “real-world” experiences.
It’s important for students to be prepared for what happens after graduation. Does that mean that we have to murder Career Services? It just might. But we can’t stop there. Colleges must go through a culture change in order to meet the expectations of today’s parents, students, and employers. Career development must become part of a university’s plan.
Tell us! What do you think about Andy Chan’s and Jerry Houser’s opinion that Career Services (as they are today) must die? Do you think that career development should be a requirement for every student? We want to know. Leave a comment with your opinion below.