Building a Career Services Culture on Campus
Ask a group of students when they first used their school’s career services office, and you may hear that they stopped in sometime during their final semester. They may even say they made use of those services only during their last month. Even worse, many -- perhaps nearly half -- would say they never visited the office at all.
It’s a worrying response that’s having an impact on students’ lives after graduation. But, for many students it’s a problem that starts with the lack of understanding of, and focus on careers and employment during their early college years. Against that backdrop, it should be no surprise that some 43 percent of recent graduates are underemployed in the U.S.
But rather than kill career services as some have argued, we will argue that career services must be integrated into a student’s educational journey from day one. At The College of Health Care Professions, we are taking that premise one step farther by integrating career services into our programs before classes even start.
The Extra Mile, Making Career Services Accessible
We are career service directors and in that role we make sure we are meeting with students as early as their first campus visit. We’re a presence at orientation, and again on the first day of class. And we work to remain visible and present every day after. Successful job searching is a learned skill -- and one that is just as important as the medical and health skills students learn in class.
In Austin, TX, prioritizing career services starts with the physical location of the career services office, located in the student lounge, encouraging students to visit us whenever they have a free moment. We ensure every student has a resume workshop, an understanding of professionalism and access to mock-interviews. It’s embedded into our curriculum.
We also partner directly with employers to identify externships and provide students with hands-on support in finding their first jobs. Long after our students graduate, we continue to stay in touch, either helping them find work later on or helping our alumni hire our current students and recent graduates. This is what it takes to be an effective career services office — especially working with historically at-risk student populations
Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college or go into a professional career, meaning few come to us knowing how to present themselves to employers, behave during interviews, or identify a workplace that is a proper fit for them. Often, our students are getting a late start with postsecondary education and have already overcome tough obstacles just to be there. It’s important to remember that designing effective career services is not only about helping students find an internship or a job opening. There is a social work and outreach aspect to the job, as well. Empathy is key.
At our Northwest Houston campus, Ian’s work is inherently personal. Originally, from Gary, Indiana, he watched many of his friends become drug dealers or even end up dead. They had few means of going to college or finding a career. An athletic scholarship helped him go to college and ultimately become a career services director. He sees himself and his old friends in the students he works with everyday, and he brings that understanding and empathy to the job. The students know he cares about and respects them.
Showing that you care about your students’ futures means going above and beyond. Sometimes, that might include helping them find clothes for a job interview, even when they cannot afford to buy a new outfit. It might mean providing students with bus passes so they can use public transportation to travel to and from those job interviews. It means instilling them with the understanding that there is nothing wrong with getting turned down for a position and the grit to keep applying to find that perfect fit.
Effective career services also means partnering directly with employers, not just students.
In addition to helping us build an effective curriculum, we work with employers to identify open positions and what kinds of employees they need, serving as extension of their talent departments. We then find the students with the exact right set of skills that match what employers are looking for. As a result, CHCP has an 80 percent job placement rate overall.
As career service directors, we know that every student is employable; they just need help identifying what their strengths are. And they need a compassionate, respectful, and accountable career services office that is there every step of their educational and career journey.