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18 ideas for campus career center events and services

Become freshman-friendly, fund internships, host virtual job fairs and offer participation incentives
University Business, October 2016
Various campus communities have different expectations of the career center. (Click to enlarge)
Various campus communities have different expectations of the career center. (Click to enlarge)

1. Encourage drop-ins.

During “career cafés” at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan campus in New Jersey, students can stop in for coffee and cookies, enjoy some music and chat with career counselors.

“With this generation, something pops into their head and they want to deal with it right then and there,” says Donna J. Robertson, university director of career development for the three-campus institution.

The career cafés were launched in spring 2016 and five were held. “We did one the week before the career fair—it was packed,” she says, adding that some formal workshops were also available that day but it appeared most students really came to just drop in.

2. Offer remote assistance.

Brandman University, which serves adult students at 27 campuses in California and Washington, does mainly virtual career coaching sessions, which many students schedule during their day-job lunch breaks.

The coaching can be done via phone, online chat or Skype. “It takes a little more prep on both people’s parts, but honestly I don’t think it’s that much different than in person. It just opens up the population you’re able to serve,” says Kathryn Curameng, director of career planning and development.

Before the meeting, students receive a list of preparation items, including things to submit and to simply think about in advance. “The concept of a résumé is not new to them, but being able to articulate their skills and how it can be valuable to an organization is usually what’s lacking,” she says of adult students.

To help promote the idea of seeking help, Curameng’s department sends an email in the third week of the semester with a short welcome message, including a “meet with a career coach” action button. “By the fourth week, our calendars are booked with appointments,” she says.

3. Become freshman-friendly.

When the career center at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts hosts a first-year orientation session, students get introduced to the Career Development Center as well as campus employment options, which are managed from the same office and often of more interest to freshmen.

The challenge with freshmen, says Rich Davino, executive director of the Center for Career Education and Advising at Becker College in Massachusetts, is that career planning just isn’t yet a priority. They’re thinking, “I just got here.” Davino’s office makes it a priority to engage with these first-year students as much as possible. “We’ll hold their hand, but ultimately they’ve got to be able to do this,” he says.

4. Allow the outside community to access services.

Free career counseling and access to job fairs is available to community members who live near Howard Community College, which is located between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. That means Dave Tirpak, assistant director of career and employment counseling, might meet with a 17-year-old student and then a community member with an MBA. “The juice is worth the squeeze,” he says of the busy days. “If we have resources that can help somebody, why exclude certain people?”

Counselors, meanwhile, become more educated about careers throughout the lifespan, which in turn benefits their interactions with students. The service can also directly benefit the institution, in instances where a community member decides to go to or back to college after getting career counseling.

Tirpak estimates that about one-quarter of career counseling appointments are not for current students.

5. Pull resources together.

Students at Wake Forest University in North Carolina can access Marketplace, a homegrown tool that aggregates job board and career outlook information, along with perspectives on “movers and shakers” in an industry (this includes a list of bloggers and Twitter feeds to follow).

“It becomes this portal of deep information on a particular area of interest,” says Mercy Eyadiel, associate vice president for career development and corporate engagement. Before the tool, she adds, “we had all the information but it was scattered in different areas. So it was confusing to the student. They’re used to having things centralized in one area.”

In essence, Wake Forest is prioritizing information based on market knowledge. Students “just need to go in, explore it and digest it,” she says.

Right now, only students can access the tool, but Eyadiel says it might be made available to other institutions in the future.

6. Make wait times productive.

Monthly career prep content plays on a large display in the atrium lounge area of Washington State University’s business school success center. In September of this year, the video content had a welcome-back theme, and the October videos cover “refocusing on school,” says Suzi Billington, director of the Carson Center for Student Success.

The videos—featuring advice, for example, on making a positive first impression or on networking—are filmed and edited in-house by marketing and communication administrators in the Carson College of Business.

The Carson Center also helps students use wait time leading up the fall career expo productively. “Rather than put them right into the career fair, we’ll bring a panel in from industries to talk about how networking played a role in their career advancement and how networking plays a role in their industries,” Billington says. After the panel, students can practice speaking with those professionals to build further confidence before the big event.

This extra support is crucial in helping students who may be more introverted, Billington adds. “Students say, ‘It’s great you’re putting on these events, but we’re still apprehensive going into this.’ They’ve never been in an environment where they had to put themselves out to total strangers before.”

7. Allow counselors to “own” academic areas.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s Florham and Metro campuses assign specific disciplines to career counselors—providing students and faculty the chance to form bonds with the professionals.

The team includes two full-time professionals on each campus, plus one additional part-time counselor, with similar disciplines divvied up, says Robertson, the career development director.

For example, one counselor handles arts and sciences, and another’s focus is on the undergraduate side of computer science and engineering. QR codes on postcards help students link easily to the right person for their academic area. It’s all about providing a name and a friendly face for future visits and making students less intimidated about the career development process, she says.

8. Record mock interviews.

As part of a required career prep course, students at Daemen College in New York participate in a mock interview with advisors, who then lead a video debrief where students can pinpoint missteps.

That involves sitting with the student and playing the interview back, pausing at certain points. “We don’t have to say too much,” says Maureen Millane, associate vice president for community engagement, creativity and career development. “They say, ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe how I answered that!’ or ‘I was twirling my hair!’ or their phone goes off in the middle of the interview. It’s just such an awareness opportunity for a student.”

The counselor will go through better ways to answer particular questions and asks the student if anything about personal appearance stands out and should be changed (e.g., does the shirt look unironed? Should that tattoo be covered?).

The student gets a pass/fail for the exercise, rather than a grade for the course. “If they flub an answer, this is a great, safe environment to practice, so that when they have a real opportunity they are just so well prepared,” Millane says.

After the debrief, the student can put the video on a flash drive for viewing later.  

9. Encourage student social sharing.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s recent career fair featured a selfie spot that promoted grassroots event promotion via social media, and students completing internships are asked to share their experiences on Facebook and Twitter.

10. Fund internships.

Mount Holyoke is one of just a handful of schools nationwide offering internship funding guarantees, rather than a competitive process for funding. It’s available for any experience deemed both “substantive” and “relevant” (to a student’s individual goals, discovered during the advising process).

After completing some training modules on workplace preparation, they’ll secure an internship and then apply for the funding, explains Liz Lierman, director of the Career Development Center.

Most students also take an internship course that includes facilitated reflection on their experience. Then, during a campus symposium, they present on their internships.

Sophomore Institute—which Lierman’s department and the school’s Weissman Center for Leadership host each January—offers additional opportunities to kick off the internship search process by honing career management skills. It began three years ago and is part of the college’s Lynk initiative, a customized program that helps students connect their academic coursework to career and life goals.

11. Build a platform to connect employers and students.

Through a platform to be released this or next year by nonprofit USA Funds, employers will have access to a site with profiles of students from a particular school to help find the best match. The idea is being piloted by University of Indianapolis as part of its coLab program, codeveloped to encourage employers to hire students part-time for long-term jobs (rather than internships).

Right now, the matching is done manually. The new system is “a more accessible way to view the talent we’re bringing to them,” says Tom Dawson, a senior vice president for USA Funds. “Rather than taking our word for it, employers could access a site where student profiles could be uploaded, and on their own they could explore different students.”

The idea is also to help students “unpack and discover not just interests but what they’re good at on the job, and what they need extra training and support in,” Dawson says.

12. Partner with other groups on campus to plan events.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s career-oriented events—big or small—are rarely organized solely by career development, with other departments providing promotional assistance and often event space, as well.

“I have made it a goal for every team member that when they’re setting up any kind of event, think about who want to you collaborate with—such as a student, a particular class, a professor,” says Robertson. “You should try to have at least one collaborator for everything you do. This helps ensure attendance and a worthwhile event.”

13. Offer intense learning opportunities.

For three days, from 9 to 5, Borough of Manhattan Community College students can participate in career development workshops covering everything from leadership skill-building to balancing school with work/home life, to expressing themselves through storytelling.

Won Kang, director of the Center for Career Development, likens the program to a boot camp. His office collaborated with business management faculty, the counseling center and the student activities office to offer the event, which had about 10 students in each of the two sessions.

Their participation is helping the broader student community as well, since in the storytelling segment the stories are recorded to help inspire other students.

14. Organize a speed-networking event.

The Carson College of Business at Washington State invited student leaders to practice the art of the “elevator pitch” during four 12-minute rounds with advisory board members, who include successful industry leaders with companies such as Amazon and Microsoft.

At Holyoke, a similar event serves as the end to the annual Sophomore Institute. Each student strikes up a conversation with a senior or an alumna in attendance, and after a few minutes a bell rings and discrete feedback is provided on the exchange to the sophomore before she moves on to chat with another person in the room.

15. Partner up for a virtual job fair.

The University of Tulsa in Oklahoma has, with help from a local organization, held a virtual job fair specific to veterans and a full-day virtual information day with Nestlé Purina for grad students.

Such programs are possible because the Phillips 66 Career Services Center, a new facility, has 10 interview rooms, each equipped with a 32-inch monitor with Skype capability.

“It’s expensive [for employers] to travel and put somebody up for the night and do interviews all day, so a lot of employers are going to a more virtual interview process,” says Shelly Holly, director of career services.

The technology is also used by students who are studying abroad.

16. Try a reverse job fair.

The night before a job fair, student organizations at Tulsa will set up tables so employers can meet students from, for example, the Biology Honors Association or Society for Women Engineers.

Besides making contact with individual students, the employer reps may visit campus again later for a presentation at an organization’s meeting.   

17. Track engagement.

Students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College swipe a card at a kiosk before entering the career center for advising, workshops and career fairs. 

This allows administrators to track engagement with center events and, in some cases, report attendance back to a professor who has required attendance or offered extra credit for attending.

18. Dangle participation incentives.

Borough of Manhattan Community College also uses a “passport” program, and any student who attends the required number of events over the course of a year has a chance to win an iPad in an end-of-year raffle.

Rather than covering specific events, the checklist contains requirement categories, such as attending one workshop or one networking event, having a career advising appointment, or completing a career assessment.

See our feature on expanding services in career centers here.

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