When it comes to career services, I feel that a dual prong approach should be adopted. On one hand, you need to enable students with the relevant skills and at the same time, you also need to provide opportunities to secure a job.
It’s like teaching someone to fish, then bringing them out on a boat so they have the chance to fish. Imagine teaching someone to fish (enabling), but dumping them on a hill in a deserted island (no opportunity). Or conversely, bringing someone out on a boat in the middle of the sea (opportunity), but not teaching them how to fish (enabling).
The point I’m trying to bring across here is that both prongs are important and discussions on the matter shouldn’t be about one over the other.
Teach a man to fish
Ask anyone what someone who works in a career advisory department of a university does and they’re likely to mention things like running workshops on resume writing, interview skills and techniques, dressing for success and providing advice on courses to take to achieve career goals.
Assessing it right
If I dare say, the enabling component is the easier of the two. No doubt it takes effort to identify gaps in the students’ knowledge, designing a training intervention and rolling it out to a target audience that typically only starts panicking and approaching the team right before or after graduation.
But the problem with this is how it is assessed. Most training evaluations only scratch the most basic level of Kirkpatrick’s Training Evaluation Model – Reaction
Picture this, the course has ended, students are handed a survey form they have to complete before being allowed to leave the classroom. The form likely consists of questions on the students’ initial reaction to the training, venue, content and facilitator.
This survey form can literally be replaced by a piece of paper with a happy face or a sad face, which is why some refer to it as a “happy sheet”.
“Teaching does not necessarily mean that learning has occurred and it’s critical to understand that the objective of such programmes are learning and not teaching.”
You don’t know if students have learnt anything, you can’t see if their behaviour has changed because they’ll probably use the skills outside of school and you can’t be sure the training intervention had any impact on their ability to secure a job. Teaching does not necessarily mean that learning has occurred and it’s critical to understand that the objective of such programmes are learning and not teaching.
Bringing the horse to water
This prong involves substantial effort and could be slightly misaligned with the stereotypical idea of what people working in a career advisory team should look like. This is the “salesy” side of the job where the team needs to reach out to prospective employers and sell the idea that graduates of the university they represent are potentially great employees.
It involves things you’d normally expect of a B2B salesperson and not just any regular salesperson either. We’re talking about “hunters” or the business development folks. Identifying target companies, cold calling them, reaching out to the talent acquisition teams and convincing them to either take on interns, hire graduates or attend career fairs.
It’s networking, marketing, branding and sales.
“Students are increasingly being told to develop a second skill or even be multi-skilled, so why can’t our career advisers be trained as salespeople?”
Now, I understand that this is likely going to be a trade off. Those who move towards a career in education and career guidance (ECG) might recoil at the thought of doing sales. While those who’ve been in sales might come across as too aggressive to consider a career in ECG. But we need to take our own advice. Students are increasingly being told to develop a second skill or even be multi-skilled, so why can’t our career advisers be trained as salespeople?
If the existing team doesn’t want to be trained in this new role, they aren’t practicing what they preach and we’ve got to honestly ask if they’re still right for the job.
Sales is difficult, but necessary
Anyone who’s ever been in sales knows full well that they live and die by their sales numbers. Your performance is easily tracked and most of the time, is very obvious even to outsiders.
A career advisory team that focuses only on training and happy sheets can easily claim that they’ve imparted the knowledge, but any learning or change in behaviour is up to the student. And with so many external factors, it is near impossible to attribute results to the training.
Now, you cannot say the same about building relationships with employers. Like sales, you can easily see how many new employers come on board your internship programme or turn up at your career fairs.
The results are extremely visible and even an outsider, like a colleague from the facilities or finance department can reasonably make assumptions on how successful a career advisory team is in their networking and outreach to employers.
“It could well be that everything a career adviser teaches in a workshop is readily available on Youtube, a blog or a podcast.”
So why do I put such an emphasis on the “salesy” aspect of the job? It’s because we’re dealing with a target demographic who has never known a time before the internet. They are digital natives who have information at their fingertips. It could well be that everything a career adviser teaches in a workshop is readily available on Youtube, a blog or a podcast. Information might even come from sources with more social proof than the career adviser. Recruitment firms like Robert Half and Michael Page or job boards like CareerBuilder constantly publish articles on relevant topics.
What would give these graduates the edge however, is the opportunity to meet with talent acquisition teams, speak to hiring managers and learning what it takes to break into a certain industry or company from an alumni.
- Adopt a two prong approach to career services
- Evaluate more than just the initial emotional response of any training
- Consider hiring salespeople with the right attitudes and provide the relevant ECG training or train the career service team in sales and business development.
This is part 2 of a two part series on career services in higher education. In part 1, I wrote about how career services centres need to stay relevant.