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Professional Opinion

How higher ed can make career services an institutional priority

Seven strategies that have proven successful
University Business, October 2017
Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University.
Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University.

Every college graduate wants a good job, but Gallup research reveals that only about half of students are actually going to career services, and only about 16 percent of those find the resources very helpful.

This should be a wake-up call for career education.

Universities today need to partner with faculty and other departments across campus to make sure students access career services early—and make the most of the experience.

Here are strategies that helped career services become a priority for us at Bentley University in Massachusetts.

1. Look at the big picture.

Focus on the whole supply chain—from students to the academic experience to employers—and then think about how all the pieces will build an integrated experience.

If your institution is considering new majors or programs, make connections between the faculty and corporate partners so they can answer the important questions: How will the market respond? Is this what employers are looking for?

2. Get buy-in from the top.

At Bentley, we created the PreparedU market research campaign, a popular national forum to discuss what needed to be done to provide students with a quality education and market-driven preparation for successful careers. This led to career preparation permeating the campus and being at the forefront of the president’s agenda.

Make career development part of your school’s identity and positive results will follow. Students will know they will have an amazing education and will be prepared for their career.

3. Start early with curriculum.

It’s often too late for students to connect with career services in their junior or senior year, so make students aware of its benefits early on.

We teamed with faculty to create a co-curricular experience to parallel career services’ core curriculum. The result: a six-week series of career development seminars—one designed for freshmen and another for sophomores—where students identify their personal strengths and create career tools, including their résumé and LinkedIn profile.

Students also learn how to search for internships, prepare for interviews and much more. This gives students a comprehensive career toolkit and the ability to tell their story.

4. Build credibility with faculty.

After many conversations, faculty at Bentley came to see career services as partners who can help prepare graduates for the marketplace. We made sure the career development seminar was a legitimate course with a syllabus, and that it brought in pedagogy and theory that aligned with curriculum.

We also guaranteed that all of the instructors, myself included, had graduate degrees and career expertise.

5. Create a network of advocates.

Career services can’t operate in a silo. Besides faculty, we rely on staff members to raise awareness about the importance of our services.

Academic advising and the Center for International Students and Scholars, for example, encourage F1-visa students to attend our career development seminar in finding an internship that meets academic requirements.

6. Understand students.

Bentley students said they didn’t have enough time for career programming, and suggested a dedicated class on the subject—hence our career development seminars.

Just remember: Student attitudes keep changing, so career services will need to keep evolving.

7. Assemble a talented team.

Today’s career professionals have to wear many hats. My team teaches in the classroom, coaches students and strategic partners, understands industries, manages communities and uses technology.

We also have an ability to partner with faculty, students and corporate professionals. It’s challenging to attract and recruit people for these roles and to motivate them to take on new roles.

Building a career services experience that’s integrated throughout campus will lead to students finding good jobs after graduation. Our 99 percent placement rate proves this is happening.


Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University.

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