Written by: Chris Motley
The college career center provides students with opportunities to enhance career development and exploratory learning through self-knowledge, job-search skill development, discernment, and an overall understanding of the world of work. And given that Millennials have been named the job-hopping generation, these skills are more important than ever.
But not all career centers are created equal. In fact, according to a recent survey by Gallup and Purdue University, only 16 percent of students feel like their career center is helpful.
In light of how much the workforce has changed over the past few decades, it might not be surprising that career services sometimes lag behind. Still, it demonstrates the opportunity institutions have to better prepare students for a far different “real world” than what existed years ago.
Colleges and universities must serve as institutions of learning that produce career-ready graduates. But that should go further than simply having top-notch faculty. Students may graduate with expert knowledge in their fields, but how will they land the job to show it?
Enter: Design Thinking
Design thinking methodology offers institutions a way to understand how their career centers can better bring students value.
This concept is a human-centered method that unlocks innovation through observation and empathy. In applying this thinking to students’ career needs, the first step is to understand how they engage with other products and services — what they consume is highly personalized, curated, and delivered to them via their mobile devices. The more intimate the subject matter — dating, for example — the more the private and personalized the experience.
Second, think about the attributes that define Millennials at work. They value meaningful work, mentorship, and professional growth. However, they also fear missing out, student loan debt, and making the wrong choice. Colleges and universities need to appeal to those needs if they hope to increase student engagement in career services.
Career services professionals may understand this, but the delivery of career services doesn’t always account for these points. Remember that students in college are professional students, not professionals in the job search. They have a lot of anxiety, and they want (and need) help.
Meeting Students Where They Are
In my role, I work with universities and employers every day. In recent interviews with more than 1,000 students from Ivy League schools, for-profit institutions, and Historically Black Colleges, my team learned that, more than anything, students value mentorship and knowing that someone is there to help as they transition into the workforce. That’s a proactive activity. Meeting students where they are with the products and services that get their attention and engagement is critical.
It’s easy for career services professionals to quickly dismiss important innovations by saying, “We’re already doing this!” It’s easy, but it’s dangerous. Just because something exists doesn’t mean it works.
The response should be a question itself: “Do our strategies produce the most desired outcomes that satisfy a student’s want or need? Why or why not?” That’s where a design thinking approach comes in.
Easier Said Than Done? Maybe Not
It is not lost upon me that career center resource constraints present a real problem. Currently, the budget for nonpersonnel expenses for career services at colleges and universities ranges between $14,000 (for smaller schools) and more than $25,000 (for larger schools).
Even with those constraints, universities can still offer valuable services at their career centers. There are myriad opportunities for innovative approaches that allow career centers to do more with less to produce the most important outcome: an increased number of students who obtain an internship or full-time job resulting from the services provided. This could even free up capital to invest in strategies that involve students, employers, and career services staff in the design phase.
Keep in mind that a good portion of this budget is spent on career services management technology, which can cost between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on the features used. CSM tools primarily provide a job posting service for each university environment, with on-campus recruiting functionality with which companies can register for career fairs, schedule interviews, and report progress.
That poses an opportunity for career centers, as many of those functions can be replaced by free services. That preserves resources (and even clears up some). Not only that, but finding methods that appeal to students’ preferences employs design thinking principles and delivers more value.
Here are five specific areas within career planning that institutions can outsource to free, more student-friendly services:
1. Career fair registration
Instead of spending thousands on technology facilitating event registry, career centers can lean on services like Eventbrite to plan career fairs. A university’s staff can also publish the fair’s information on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — applications that already aggregate your student population. It’s a way to reach them naturally, but don’t forget that content quality is king!
2. Event promotion
Normally used as a marketing tool to convert a company’s leads, landing pages can also encourage students to sign up for (and attend) career fairs. Unbounce is a service colleges and universities can use to create and test custom landing pages that match the school’s website — no web development or marketing experience required.
3. Reporting and surveys
Google Forms offers a simple and intuitive yet highly capable method of gathering and analyzing feedback and data. It’s easy for staff to organize and for students to respond to, and it reaches recipients right in their inbox.
4. The job search itself
If you’ve ever hunted for a job through a basic Google search, you know you’ve got to wade through the weeds for days (even weeks) until you find a good lead. Look for free job-matching platforms that connect students with prospective employers instead of having them search in the dark.
5. Scheduling time with advisors
Traditionally, how does scheduling time with a student go? It likely involves a lot of back and forth through email, with both parties struggling to find a time that works for a busy staff member’s meeting schedule and an equally busy student’s juggling act of student life. Tools like Calendly eliminate this tedious process, allowing students to simply click the time that works for them based on career services’ availability. Magically, the meeting is booked and appears in both calendars.
All of the above services are free and mobile-friendly, meaning a university’s students and its accountant can appreciate them. And through these tools, institutions are able to employ design thinking in delivering services students can truly relate to and work with, bringing them more value.
With the many challenges higher education faces regarding student job outcomes, career centers are more important than ever. Leveraging a design thinking approach to uncover better strategies that generate the most desired outcomes more efficiently presents a huge opportunity for seasoned and new career center professionals. It is the very definition of innovation: to make something better!
Chris Motley is the founder and CEO of Better Weekdays, an inbound recruiting platform in St. Louis that powers brand-driven campus hiring. Its flagship application, The Whether, matches top talent with personalized career pathways. The Whether creates the ideal conditions for employers to easily attract, engage, and hire millennials. Career advisors gain unprecedented visibility into the job search process while increasing engagement to help their students find careers they’ll love.