As the focus on higher education affordability continues to rise, so does the attention paid to what colleges and universities are doing to prepare students and help them successfully transition to a career after graduation.
I don’t think that momentum is going to slow down any time soon. President Obama’s College Scorecard comes to mind as an example of emphasis on outcomes. This tool aims to help students and their families determine the cost and value of each college or university in the country, including statistics on average student loan debts, graduation rates, and, soon, information on post-graduate employment for each institution. Knowing that more national attention is coming, what are critical skills that career services professionals need to be successful in helping students reach their next destinations? While this is not an exhaustive list, here are my top three skills needed for the modern day career services professional.
Fluency in professionalism both offline and online. It’s no secret anymore that many employers use social media to screen candidates during the recruitment process. I’ve seen countless surveys and studies on this trend, and no matter what the methodology or statistics given, the conclusion is always the same: better to be safe than sorry online. In this challenge comes an opportunity, however. If it is known that candidates are getting "Googled" and those search results are informing hiring decisions, then it would make sense to proactively utilize this knowledge. What if we taught students how to create a positive professional image online and this online presence gets them hired?
As career services professionals, we need to be fluent in things like resume writing, interviewing skills, and networking strategies so that we can teach them well to students. Now, it’s critical to add a sense of social media literacy to that list. How can we learn this and where do we start?
An obvious choice is LinkedIn, which bills itself as the “World’s Largest Professional Network.” LinkedIn allows users to showcase their professional identity, and profiles on the site look something like a social networking resume, but with room to add a bit more personality. My top pick for learning about LinkedIn is their site dedicated to career services professionals: university.linkedin.com. Take it a step further and attend the "LinkedIn On Campus" webinar with the official ambassador, Lindsey Pollak. (Full disclosure: I moderate these webinars.) Of course, like any advice or guidance we give, it’s important to be diplomatic about social media. Every individual will have different thought about where and how they want to communicate about themselves.
Ability to synthesize feedback and turn it into smart marketing. The college student of today has grown up in an always connected, always on-the-go world, and that pattern continues in college. Rightfully so, too, as employers are often looking for candidates who have successfully juggled multiple extracurricular activities, leadership positions, internships, and academics at the same time. The bar is high for competitive opportunities.
So, amidst that nearly full schedule, career services professionals have to help students understand why coming to an event or visiting the office for an appointment is important and a worthy investment of time. It might not be enough to follow traditional marketing strategies on campus and wait. Heather Tranen, associate director at New York University's Wasserman Center for Career Development, agrees. "It’s important to reach students in all of their touch points, and knowing your audience makes all the difference in effective marketing,” she told me.
At the Wasserman Center, career advisers use digital and print strategies to catch students’ attention, but their efforts go beyond simply sending out the message. “We measure the ROI of our marketing efforts based on who is clicking on and viewing our Twitter and Facebook posts. We also track our emails to see who is deleting and who is engaging,” she said. This helps them focus their marketing and tailor their messaging. A little creativity in marketing career services events and services can go a long way, too. “Over all, it is important to not be afraid of altering what marketing messaging you think will work so you can define what actually will work for your audience.”
A mind for creating fund-raising and sponsorship opportunities. In an environment where the pressure to keep costs low is mounting, the heroes in higher education are those who can bring in funding. This challenge is not exclusive to faculty applying for grants or development officers asking for donations from alumni. The ability to raise money keeps us relevant and helps demonstrate the value of our work in higher education.
In career services, office constituents are not only students, but also employers who are looking to hire students. Herein lies an opportunity. As a link in the chain that connects education and business, we can play a part in uniting the two parties, leading to unique research, sponsorships of programs and projects, and opportunities to build brands on both sides of the coin. Using our unique positions within our colleges, we can be effective partners who help create mutually beneficial relationships for the institution and industry.
Examples of this mind for fund-raising abound. At Wake Forest University, Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development, has led a charge that raised millions of dollars to help fund its career development initiatives. At Brandeis University, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to help support students completing internships through the “World of Work” program. The ability to demonstrate the need for career services work and think creatively about funding is key for the success of career services functions.
There’s no question that the landscape of higher education is changing, and so professionals in all of its functions, including career services, are responding to this shift. What are other critical skills for those in career services? What advice or resources could you offer to help develop those skills and the field? I’m eager to hear from colleagues on their thoughts regarding what’s trending in career services.