Over a year ago, professionals around the world faced a dramatic new reality: in-person activities, including business, were suddenly canceled or significantly restricted. Many of us in higher education found ourselves not only pivoting but scaling up our virtual operations and programming to make up for it. In addition, we were preparing a new graduating class to enter a starkly different job market. It was a year of innovation, growth, and trial and error.
Simplification, however, got buried in many teams’ processes. In a logical and ambitious pursuit of enhanced new programming and events, quality can sometimes get compromised, leading to missed targets and, in worst-case scenarios, stakeholder disengagement.
Every business unit needs to master the pillars of its work. For career services teams, they are employer relations and career outcomes.
What does career services do for its students? Quite simply: they help them to find jobs. And who do you need for that? Well, you already have the students, so you need to get the employers. But many teams don’t have the capacity to spend substantial time building and maintaining relationships with companies because they’re too busy coaching students, planning student programs and events, learning new technologies, and doing a host of administrative tasks. But with strong employer relationships comes student engagement, followed by interviews, internships and jobs, and strong career outcomes rates, which is another core element of career services that is worthy of attention.
Leaders in career services should consider empowering and encouraging their staff to dedicate time to strictly employer relationship management. Just a few hours per week spent on cold outreach on LinkedIn, scheduling calls, and promoting employer events through email and social media can go a long way towards keeping your office and the students you serve top of mind for employers.
Our Career Design Lab team, like many career services offices last year, not only switched over to offering completely virtual student and employer events but also significantly increased the volume of our work. Fortunately, all this effort had a positive cumulative effect. We found that if students from the Class of 2020 attended just one of our events, it increased their chances of landing a job by 11%! The employer relationships we made through these events will hopefully continue to serve the next wave of students.
Everyone wants to see strong employment numbers for their graduates: admissions and marketing departments, academic directors and departmental chairs, and senior leaders. Good career outcomes can attract prospective students and give schools and academic programs a competitive advantage. Students want them because they want to see where their peers are going when they enter the job market with their degrees; students also want referrals and salary information. And who’s to give them to all these stakeholders? Career services.
Career services needs to double down on collecting employment statistics for all the reasons above, in addition to the fact that this data can be used to support employer relations. When you know which companies are hiring your students, you have one of the best hooks for reaching out and building relationships with these organizations. And there’s nothing better than having alumni come back to network with and recruit your students. Career outcomes can do this for you.
Career coaching isn’t listed as a standalone pillar of career services because, I believe, it’s embedded in career services and often a baseline requirement to work in the field. It’s important that career coaches have a counseling and/ or student-facing background. These are individuals who love supporting students in their careers; they’re good listeners and they’re nurturing. However, it is important to focus on finding or training people who can embrace the employer relations and career outcomes part of the work as well. This can lead to well-balanced teams that can counsel and connect students with the right employment opportunities. At a time when job seekers are entering a challenging job market, mastering these core basics and creating operational efficiencies can help teams cut through the noise and directly fulfill their missions: to help students and graduates secure jobs.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any other person or entity.