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Beginning a new career is a challenge, no matter the field. It is logical, then, to view starting a new job in career services as borderline daunting. Landing a career where you help others develop their own careers? Yikes! But don’t sweat it. If you’re a newbie to career services, take a deep breath and check out these helpful tips from someone who has recently stood in your shoes.
That’s right. I’m right there with you. I have logged less than a year in career services – 10 months, actually – and I can tell you that it’s taken each day in those ten months for me to develop a clear picture of how I’d like the services this office provides to look in three years. I’ve also come to realize that to remain effective and relevant, this office can’t stay the same forever but must change with the times and the students who walk through its doors. I’ve learned so much in the last 10 months, and I’m content knowing that I have much more to learn and more opportunities to pursue within this office. That being said, here are eight necessities I’ve embraced in taking on my new role in career services. Good luck to you, and pay close attention to number one.
1) Get excited! I mean it! Get. Excited. This is an amazing, dynamic field where each day you’ll have clients leaving your office happier than when they arrived and where your colleagues are always looking forward. Hope abounds. Potential is realized. You’re part of one of the most important services a college campus can provide, in my opinion, because you help the future drivers of our economy and leaders of our workforce develop the skills they’ll need to succeed in life beyond college. What an awesome space to occupy!
2) Know your history. If you’re coming into a position previously occupied by another individual, be sure to network with that individual to determine the direction of the career center up to the point of your arrival – including the career center’s current strengths, challenges, and opportunities. Read last year’s annual report as well as those from two-three years prior. Knowing where you’re coming from helps you develop a map for where you’re trying to go.
3) Know your target audience. This is perhaps the key to effective operation of a career center. Whether you serve Millennials, non-traditional students, students of a particular academic background, or any other group, knowledge of your target audience is an integral factor in developing student programming, opportunities, marketing efforts, and career coaching practices. A resource I’ve enjoyed for learning more about Millennials (my primary target audience) is Lindsey Pollak’s book, Becoming the Boss, though I’ve also learned from her presentations at the Kennan Summit 2015 and the NACE Conference keynote address.
It’s important to note that there are more factors in identifying your target audience than generational attributes alone. For example, what percent of your students are first-generation? How many receive financial aid? How many are international students? How many are business majors? How many are from the state in which your institution operates? How have these things influenced your students’ career development thus far? All of these factors and more will help you create a clear picture of the human beings you’re going to help and how best to help them.
4) Inventory your resources. Any good carpenter can tell you what tools he/she has, what they’re used for, and how to access them. The same can be said of any good career services professional. Upon entering your new role, you’ll want to ascertain what tools you already have at your disposal – a website? Social media accounts? Job boards? Support staff? Professional memberships? Established student programming events? How about colleagues in other departments with whom you can potentially collaborate on future planning or programming?
This is something your predecessor can really help you with, but keep in mind that he/she is not your only resource. Support staff is always an EXCELLENT resource, particularly if they’ve been around a while. I am very lucky, for instance, to have come into a position where just 20 feet away sits the kindest, most professional administrative coordinator who has worked for the college for many years. Her knowledge of program and general institutional history comes in handy daily, and she is a wonderful sounding board.
Make yourself a list of resources such as those listed above. Go through existing files on the network drives to which you have access. Once you determine what you have, you’re able to decide what you need.
5) Prepare to partner. Career services professionals absolutely must partner with other departments on campus. Neglecting to do so will prohibit optimization of career center programming. In other words, you’ll be missing out, big time, and as a result, the students you’re hired to serve will as well. Collaboration spreads the workload and allows for use of resources your little office will not have on its own.
Partnering is an expectation and, in my opinion, a gift. Embrace it. And keep in mind that partnering isn’t limited to institutional departments. While it’s great to partner with faculty, for example, to market a career fair to students, it’s also excellent to partner with student organizations to boost participation in career center programming. For example, before that very same career fair, you could partner with Greek Life to host an interactive workshop where students prepare for the fair. You’re effectively providing programming for a large, “captive audience,” while at the same time bolstering attendance for your upcoming fair. Plus, your visible connection with this group will encourage other student organizations to partner with your office, thereby boosting your reach. I could go on and on about partnering. Don’t limit your work to the confines of your office! Get out there, and I can promise you, you’ll be happy and effective!
6) Attend a professional conference. The best ideas are often those you learn from colleagues, but your prospects are limited on campus. Professional conferences, such as the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conference, allow for a meeting of the minds, where career services staff and professionals from the working world can share best practices, trends, and ideas. I attended the NACE conference in June and came home with ideas for events, new partnerships, assessment and reporting techniques, and several new contacts – including employers and other career services professionals with invaluable knowledge and expertise. State and regional-level professional conferences are wonderful resources as well. Look online to find appropriate events for you.
7) Build your network(s). For a career services office to function successfully, the staff must have connections with employers, volunteer services organizations, graduate and professional school reps, other career services professionals – the list goes on. You want to develop a list of contacts you can access and refer to easily throughout your day. If this doesn’t exist upon your arrival, its development will be one of your top three priorities. You’ll refer to this document when you send invitations and save-the-dates for major events, such as career fairs, grad school expos, and student/alumni networking events.
The key to harnessing the power of these connections is getting started. Create a LinkedIn account, if you don’t have one, and begin connecting with company recruiters, career services professionals, and your institution’s alumni group. If you’re like me and are the sole career services professional for your office, consider forming a board of advisors with ten or so alums and professionals whose networks and influence can help you locate campus speakers, boost alumni support of career development efforts, and discover new career opportunities for current students. Remember that your network isn’t limited to you. You have access to your colleagues’ connections as well as the ones you forge yourself. Many times asking for help or advice is the best way to establish a connection, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
8) Keep records and get creative in reporting them. Most career services offices already keep track of how their programming is operating – how many students they reach, what the students are saying about their services, what types of services are used by which students, etc.; but this isn’t enough. Prospective students and their families want to see how your institution’s students are faring in the “real world” before making the financial commitment to attend. Along the same line, prospective donors and business partners like to see the impact of their donations of time and treasure. For these reasons, it’s imperative that career services professionals track current students’ and graduates’ experiential learning achievements and post-grad destinations (their first job or where they go to graduate or professional school) and share that information with other departments on campus. If your office isn’t currently pursuing this data, this is an effort you’ll want to initiate.
Annette Castleberry, Co-Director of Career Services at Lyon College
About the author, guest writer Annette Castleberry:
Currently Co-Director of Career Services, Annette Castleberry is excited to be promoted to Director of Career Development at Lyon College beginning August 1, 2016. You can connect with Annette and with the Lyon College Career Center on Facebook or www.lyon.edu.