The need to find a better way of doing things was evident to Troy Behrens from the day he arrived as the new assistant vice president for student affairs at Southern Methodist University (Texas) and walked into SMU’s Hegi Family Career Development Center. “The red flag that I noticed right away was stacks and stacks of job postings,” he recalls. “They went back three or four years. There were binders upon binders piled up. It was nearly impossible for students to find what they were seeking, and it was impossible to guarantee to employers that what they were sending us was being seen. We were getting complaints.”
And for good reason. Each of the 3,000 job and internship listings received annually from 700 employers had to be submitted on paper, photocopied three times, placed into binders that were displayed around campus, and entered by one (and only one) administrator into an HTML template for online posting. The average wait time for an employer’s position to be posted was a whopping six weeks, by which time the job often was filled. SMU calculated the cost of copies, binders, and wasted time at $45,000 a year.
Behrens convened an employer relations team to triage the handling of submissions. The team’s first step was to eliminate copying every listing and inserting it into a binder. All positions would be placed into an online database. Next, SMU purchased an online career services system from the company CSO that helped to automate the web-based posting process and reduce duplication. At the same time, responsibility for reviewing and posting was decentralized, freeing up the time of the administrator who had been solely responsible for all postings. Finally, Behrens designed and developed from scratch an online orientation program, SaddleUp, to familiarize students and alumni with the new job posting and searching system.
While the software solutions improved things a great deal?a student now can easily search for internships targeted at philosophy majors, say, where previously those opportunities were buried in paperwork?Behrens believes that untangling the process and workflow was the primary factor in streamlining the Hegi Center’s operations.
The center has gone from being able to post fewer than 200 jobs a semester to 1,000. The wait time for posted jobs was reduced drastically, and the $45,000 in savings was used to hire a job developer, who increased on-campus recruiting activity by 64 percent. The SaddleUp orientation program helps SMU electronically orient and register 3,000 students and alumni every year. “We cut those six weeks down to six minutes and couldn’t be happier,” Behrens says. “It’s almost a just-in-time project now, which is what it should be.”
University officials aren’t the only happy ones. Before SMU implemented these changes, only about 11 percent of graduates surveyed reported securing their positions through the university’s placement system. Today that number is in the high 30s to low 40s.
Perhaps the most eye-opening quantification, though, involves not students served or wait times reduced or even money saved, but binders and paperwork. Specifically, the old materials that the Hegi Family Career Center pitched as it converted from hard copies to digital files: In cleaning out and cleaning up, Behrens and his team filled a staggering seven industrial-sized dumpsters.
“We have a more efficient system, it’s easier to access, and students aren’t met with frustration,” concludes Behrens, who adds: “To say nothing of the fact that instead of making copies in triplicate and putting them in binders, our staff are out trying to find jobs and internships for students.”