Enhancing college career development offices

I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Nathan Hatch’s (president of Wake Forest University) article, “Students need our help looking beyond paycheck.” Among other things, President Hatch argues that “universities should enhance career development programs to go beyond mere job placement” (Amen to that!). As a career development professional, I whole-heartedly agree. At the same time, however, I am faced with the reality that for some of our institutions, career development offices are simply not staffed or equipped to assist all of the students in desperate need of our help.  Moreover, some of our career development offices are not supported on a fundamental level by faculty, academic advisors and senior administrators. Allow me to explain using the faculty as an example. It is not uncommon to hear career counselors murmur and complain that faculty are unwilling to collaborate, to refer students to career centers, or to promote career services in tangible ways. Further, some faculty take it upon themselves to attempt their own versions of career counseling, on campus recruiting and career “placement.”

Does the “blame” lie solely at the feet of the faculty? No, of course not. The road goes both ways. Career offices need to do a better job of reaching out to faculty, especially newer ones, to let them know about the ways career services can assist students. Unfortunately, like many organizations, plenty of career development offices (mine included) must function with small operating budgets and vacant staff positions left un-filled, not to mention lay-offs. As much as we would like to implement faculty outreach, direct service to students and employers will often consume most of our resources, preventing us from making these much needed overtures in a way that would allow for consistent, productive relationships.

Career development offices have the knowledge, expertise and, perhaps more importantly, the desire to support students in “discovering what motivates and challenges them.” But students need first to know that our offices exist.  In general, career offices do a good job of allocating resources in order to market services to students, but with even the best marketing strategies in place, we cannot reach all students without assistance.   In fact, there is no stronger marketing tool on a college campus than encouragement from a faculty member, a parent or a friend to use our services.  

So where do we go from here? 

  • Career development offices must continue to do the best we can with the staffing, budgets, technology and equipment that is available to us.  We need to become even more creative about marketing our services to students, utilizing free technologies whenever possible. We must find ways to reach out to faculty and begin to eliminate the “us/them” mentality that often permeates the thinking of career development professionals – after all, we are all here to educate, challenge and support our students.
  • We need more university presidents like President Hatch, who recognize (tangibly) the important work that is being done in the career development office and encourage collaboration between faculty and career counselors.  Monetary assistance will only go so far to “enhance career development programs.”  What will go farther, however, is the support of faculty in encouraging student usage of career services.  
  • Parents need to encourage their students to begin visiting career development offices as first-year students, perhaps going so far as to incorporate an assessment of career services when choosing a college.  Further, parents need to encourage usage of a wide array of career services (i.e. choosing a major, self assessment, career planning, occupational assessment, internships, etc.) not just job placement.
  • Alumni need to look for ways to support (not just monetarily) career development offices: share internship opportunities, conduct mock interviews, host informational interviews, participate in alumni career events.

It would be too simplistic to think that the list above could remove all the challenges faced by career development offices. However, when President Hatch argues that “universities should enhance career development programs,” I believe this list offers a starting point, a place where universities can begin to “do more to capture students’ youthful excitement and help them turn it into a lifelong quest for discovering what motivates and challenges them – what gives them meaning and deeper purpose.”

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