In recent years, parents have been willing to pay the increasing costs of college tuition for one principal reason: they have believed a college degree is their child’s ticket to a better future. Getting a better job after graduation is also the number one reason given by incoming students for attending college.
There ought to be a second graduation speech just for parents, in the afternoon, after the celebratory lunch, while the kids are off whooping it up. It should go like this: We know you have a great kid. We also know that, as amazing as she is, she may not have a job lined up, and that this fact is eating away at you.
Oh, sure you may have heard that hiring on college campuses is up more than ten percent from the past few economically horrendous years, but you’ve also heard that there are still over 30 applicants for every job and a backlog of unemployed young people milling round out there. You want to hear a speech full of practical advice about how you can help your kid land a job. Here it is:
Get them to network in four different ways
You may have a bleak image in your mind: Your kid, sitting at the computer in your house day after day, responding to online job listings. Is this the new job search, you wonder? Thankfully no; that would be isolating and depressing. Your new grad will need to use the computer and social media in her job search, but she will also need to get out there and make connections with real people.
First, have her contact her college career center. Job opportunities these days
emanate from a diverse array of companies, far different from the Fortune 500 firms that dominated the landscape when you first looked for work. Many career centers’ counselors are knowledgeable about these opportunities. They may also help her compose her resume and cover letters; gain access to job and internships listings, and companies’ recruiting systems; and learn how to use social media in her search. Luckily, summer’s a quieter time for them. If she lives close enough to go in person, even better.
Next, suggest she join fellow alums of her alma mater on linkedin.com/alumni, after establishing her own linkedin.com profile. This will allow her to connect with alums who graduated within a few years of her, and to see what career paths they have taken. If they have listed their college major, she’ll be able to search by that, too. She may find that fellow alums are eager to help her once she has a better idea of what she’s looking for.
After that, she ought to visit the local Chamber of Commerce or State Office of Business Development, where employees can direct her to a wealth of information on local companies and potentially even opportunities for freelancers.
Lastly, have her seek informational interviews, in which she can learn how people in careers that interest her got their start, or what skills they deem important to their success. If you know someone in such a field, you could ask if they’d be open to talking with her. She should go in with thoughtful, focused questions. One warning: If your kid has never before emailed someone to ask for this particular favor, guide him in composing his first request so that he doesn’t naively ask too much of the person, as in, “Hi, I’d love to hear everything you know about becoming an entrepreneur.”
Convince them to do some research
Especially in the early days after graduation, many grads find it useful to initiate broad Google searches, such as: “What kind of jobs can a psychology major do?” Get yours to also stop by your largest local public library, and speak to the (always very helpful) business librarian. He or she can direct your child to databases, like hoovers.com, which contain vast amounts of information on industries, companies and their competitors.
The job search will be faster if your new grad taps into all of these resources. Example: while visiting the Chamber of Commerce, your daughter learns of a local start-up that has recently received a large contract. She researches its competition at the library, and discovers, on linkedin.com/alumni, a fellow graduate who has done freelance consulting for the firm. He gives her insight into its culture and goals, which helps your daughter go into an interview far better-informed than other applicants. He may also give her ideas on which Community College courses prepared him to be an effective freelancer.
Clue them in to what employers want to hear
When new grads hear about a particularly appealing job, they often get caught up in how happy it would make them to land it. What they neglect to focus on is: what kind of applicant, with what skills and personal qualities, is most likely to get the job? Offer to read through job listings with your grad and say, “Here’s what I think they’re looking for in an employee.” Emphasize that interviewers are looking not only for enthusiastic applicants, but also for ones who are focused on what they have to offer the company.
Urge them to learn one new skill a month
When your son sits down for an interview, the prospective employer may ask him what he’s been doing since he graduated. “Looking for a job,” he’ll say. How much more impressive if he can add: “I also learned Java and how to design a website,” The more talents he has, the more marketable he is. He’ll also come across as resourceful, a go-getter who will find ways to contribute to his team.
Assure them they will get hired if they persevere
There may well be days when you get as frustrated as your child with her continued lack of a job. Perhaps you come home after work to find her acting as if she has given up: parked glumly in front of the TV, or on Facebook. Worse, you’ve just talked to a few friends whose own new grads found work (for seemingly vast sums of money). If at those moments you can be supportive, you’ll help her to get back out there the next day.
Remind yourself that just as not all kids learned to walk exactly the same week of theirlives, they won’t all master job-hunting the same week. Swear to your child that her time will come—as long as she persists in networking, researching, and mastering new skills.
Now tell them they own the job search
Never invest more time in your kid’s quest to find a job than he is. It’s one thing (reasonable) to offer to proofread his resume. It’s another to actually compose it for him. If you are the one googling what careers math majors can have, or the one tracking down alums from his college for him to email, how will he learn to research or network on his own behalf? He needs to develop these skills for the next time, when he’s ready to jump further up the career ladder.
Okay, that’s the speech. Now you can drive off into the sunset with your kid, back home for a short while–until he sets off on his own for good. And maybe, just maybe, five years down the road, your one-time new grad will be offering you career advice.
Information gathered by Sheila J. Curran, March, 2009, revised July, 2012
Across the country, colleges and universities are re-thinking goals and aspirations in light of diminishing revenues and falling endowments. At the same time, prospective students and their families increasingly seek an economic value for their tuition investment. These realities conflict when it comes to providing exceptional career assistance to students and alumni. The following data support the assertion that colleges and universities need to focus not only on student learning outcomes, but also on ensuring the success of their graduates.
DATA ON COLLEGE GRADUATES (Bachelor’s degree and above)
Source: Chart A-4, Employment status of the college-educated civilian population 25 years and over, Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Unemployment rate 4.6% for college graduates over age 25 (June, 2012)
- Unemployment rate 5% for college graduates over age 25 (June, 2011)
- Unemployment rate 5.1% for college graduates over age 25 (June, 2010)
- Unemployment rate 5.5% for college graduates over age 25 (June, 2009)
- Unemployment rate 2.5% for college graduates over age 25 (June, 2008)
- 100% increase in unemployment over 4 years (June, 2008 – June, 2012)
- Highest unemployment rate among college graduates over 25: 5.9% in February, 2010; Lowest unemployment rate among college graduates over 25: 1.4% in December 2000
Source: BLS Table Ten (unpublished), Employment status of college and high school graduates under the age of 25, Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Unemployment rate for bachelors’ degree college graduates under the age of 25 was 9.9% in July, 2012 vs. 12% in July, 2011 vs. 10.9% in July, 2010 vs. 10.8% in July, 2009 vs. 6.5% in July, 2008, a 52% increase over the past four years.
- 30,000 more bachelor’s degree grads under 25 are currently unemployed than at this time last year (July, 2012 vs. July, 2011).
- 197,000 more bachelor’s degree grads under 25 are currently employed than at this time last year (April, 2012 vs. April, 2011).
- Unemployment rates for high school graduates with no college were 18.4% in July, 2012 vs. 18.2% in July, 2011, vs. 20.7% in July, 2010 vs 19.3% in July, 2009 vs. 12.9% in July, 2008. This represents a 42.6% increase over the last four years.
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, November 2010 information from Job Outlook 2011. Data was collected from 172 companies.
- Employers intend to increase entry-level hiring of college graduates by 13.5% in 2011, after a 5.3% increase in 2010, and a 22% decrease in 2008
- 19.7% of college graduates who applied for a job in 2009, actually have one by graduation. (News release, May 6, 2009, from NACE 2009 Student Survey.) This figure compares to 26% in the Class of 2008 and 51% of the Class of 2007
- 27% of the Class of 2009 planned to go on to further education (NACE 2009 Student Survey)
Sheila Curran prediction for the Class of 2009, made January, 2009: 70% of those students who wanted jobs would not have one lined up by graduation, and 30% of the Class of 2009 who wanted jobs would still be looking for appropriate work when the Class of 2010 graduates. These estimates are based on NACE statistics, statistics from Michigan State, observation of student behavior and career center informal reports from across the country.
Source: Unemployment at Highest Rate in over 25 years, Economic Policy Institute, March 6, 2009
“…more than one in seven workers in this country—an estimated 23.1 million people—was either unemployed or underemployed in February . Since the start of the recession, the number of involuntary part-time workers has increased by 4 million, from 4.6 million to 8.6 million.
Long-term unemployment—the share of the unemployed who have been without a job for more than six months—also remained high at 23.1%, which is unsurprising given that there are currently over 4 unemployed workers per job opening last month. In this labor market, unemployed workers are seeing their chances of finding a job grow ever dimmer”
Source: Almanac Issue, 2010-2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Degrees conferred in FY ’08
- 1,563,075 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2008
- 626,397 students graduated with a master’s degree in 2008 and
- 84,960 students graduated with a PhD in 2008
- 155,625 of the students graduating with a master’s degree studied Business, Management or Marketing
- 32,387 graduated with a J.D.
- 13,025 graduated with an M.D.
In FY ’08, 43% of students enrolled full-time in 4-year colleges also worked. Over a quarter of all students enrolled full-time in 4-year colleges worked more 20 hours per week.
DATA ON PROSPECTIVE STUDENT/PARENTAL EXPECTATIONS
Source: Key Drivers of Educational Value: The Emergence of Educational ROI, Eduventures, December 2006, 6000+ respondents
Leading drivers of educational value among freshmen are
- professional preparation (72%)
- strength of the academic program (62%), and
- affordability (47%)
Source: Messaging the Attributes of Academic Reputation, Eduventures, 2007 , 240 prospective students, question about expectations of their selected college, Scale of 1-7, with an answer of 7 meaning that it is most likely a selected college would lead to this result
- Ability to develop a career in which I will enjoy working: 6.3
- Ability to find a job quickly after graduation: 6.2
- Ability to get into graduate or professional school of my choice: 6.0
- Ability to develop a career that will provide a good salary: 6.0
- Ability to repay student loans: 5.7
Source: The American Freshman: National Norms for Fall, 2009, University of California, Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute
Reasons noted as very important in selecting college attended (2008 figures in parentheses:
- This college’s graduates get good jobs: 56.5% (54.8%)
- The cost of attending this college: 41.6% (39.9%)
- A visit to campus: 41.4% (41.4%)
- I wanted to go to a school about the size of this college: 39.8% (38.5%)
- This college’s graduates gain admission to top graduate/professional schools: 34.6% (35.1%)
THE COST OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF A COLLEGE DEGREE
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, (Sheila Curran analysis on the five-year period between 2004 and 2008)
- The median average salary for a college graduate (bachelor’s degree only) rose from $19474 to $22033
- The average annual percentage increase in salary between 2004 and 2008 for a college graduate was 2.6%
- The average increase in inflation between 2004 and 2008 was 3.2%
Source: Almanac Issue, 2010-2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Number of non-profit 4-year Colleges/Universities in US: 2204
Costs, including tuition, fees, accommodation, transportation, books
(FY ’09 data in parentheses)
- Average cost of private 4-year college: $39,028 ($37,390); 4.38% increase
- Average cost of public 4-year colleges (out-of-state): 30,916 ($29,193); 5.9% increase
- Average cost of public 4-year colleges (in-state): $19,388 ($18,326); 5.79% increase
Source: Trends in Higher Education Series, 2007, Table 3a, College Board
“The average annual rate of increase [college tuition] during this period [1997-98 to 2007-08] was 5.6%–2.9% after adjusting for inflation.”
Source: Up, Up, and Away, Boston.com
October 5, 2008 “For the first time in history,…the price of a year at these schools [Boston College, Boston University] and many others has surpassed the median US household income of $50,233”
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS
Last modified March 29, 2011, from BLS Table 10 data for December, 2008 and December, 2010.
Unemployment Rate in December 2010, vs. Unemployment Rate in December, 2008
Data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for graduates over the age of 25.
Bachelor’s degree, 2010: 5.3% (2008: 3.6%); 2010 under 25: 9.6%
Associate degree, 2010: 6.3% (2008: 4.3%); 2010 under 25: 7.9%
High school graduate, 2010: 10% (2008: 7.9%); 2010 under 25: 19%
Less than a high school diploma, 2010: 16.2% (2008: 12.1%); 2010 under 25: 25.8%
Annual Earnings in 2010 vs. 2008, based on December data from CPS
Bachelor’s degree: $53,976 in 2010 vs. $52,624 in 2008, a 2.5% increase
Associate degree:$38,168 in 2010 vs. $37, 544 in 2008, a 1.6% increase
High school graduate: $32,552 in 2010 vs. $32,136 in 2008, a 1.3% increase
Less than a high school diploma: $23,088 in 2010 vs. 23,556 in 2008, a 1.9% decrease
Source: Research, 2006-2007, National Association of Colleges and Universities (NACE),
512 institutions responded and NACE 2011 Career Services Benchmark Survey, 750 colleges and universities responded.
# of Careers Offices reporting to Student Affairs: 67.1% in FY07; 63.6% in FY11
# of Careers Offices reporting to Academic Affairs: 17.7% in FY07; 24% in FY11
35% more careers offices are reporting to Academic Affairs in FY11 than did so in FY07
Source: NACE Research Job Outlook 2011: From the section titled What Employers Want: Candidate Skills and Qualities.
- Communication skills (verbal)
- Strong work ethic
- Teamwork skills
- Analytical skills
- Problem solving skills
- Communication skills (written)
- Interpersonal skills
- Computer skills
The biggest gaps between skill sets required and skill sets demonstrated by new graduates (as perceived by employers) are:
1. Interpersonal skills
2. Strong work ethic
4. Verbal communication skills 5. Initiative Students’ computer skills are most in line with employer requirements.
In choosing between two candidates with equivalent skills, the following factors come into play:
1. Relevant work experience
2. Experience in a leadership capacity
4. High GPA
5. Involvement in extra-curricular activities 6. School attended 7. Volunteer involvement
Source: Doing More with Less, Development Learning Collaborative Roundtable, Eduventures, February 20, 2009. 33 respondents. Polling question on “What services is your institution increasing for alumni in response to the economy”.
• Online/Social Networking: 76%
• Alumni Networking Events: 64%
• Career counseling/advising: 48%
CAREER OUTCOMES FOR THE COLLEGE GRAD
75% of those who wanted jobs found jobs within six months of graduation
27% have remained with the same company
43% are in a different career field than the one they entered immediately after graduation
44% are still not sure they are in the right career field They have held an average of 2.79 jobs each
50% of the time, they found jobs through personal connections
60% of the time, their career choices were influenced somewhat or a great deal by their parents
The most useful skills gained through their college education were
• Organizational leadership
Source: 70% of Gen Y Leave First Job within Two Years, Experience, Inc., September, 2008
70% of recent graduates left their job within two years of their joining
43% are not in the career they expected to be in after college
60% are currently looking for another job or career
57% report being happy in their current job
74% of recent graduates are in a career that aligns with their college major.
Three years of high unemployment for recent graduates have convinced senior leaders in colleges and universities that they must pay greater attention to preparing their students for life after college. Increasingly, that means re-visioning the role of the career director and her department.
Many long-term career directors have recently observed significant increases in their 403B accounts and are choosing to retire. That means colleges now have the opportunity to go from vision to action.
Deans and vice presidents embrace the idea of finding new career leaders who think broadly and strategically about their role inside and outside their institutions. They are excited by the prospect of finding candidates who are “connectors”—leaders who are adept at bringing many parts of their institution together to support student career development, whether that development happens as part of a course, through internships, study abroad or leadership on the athletics field. And, senior leaders increasingly recognize that their career directors will be doing work that directly affects institutional strategic objectives.
Sadly, hiring managers often find their applicant pools lacking in appropriate candidates. It’s not surprising: In this economy, when selling a house or finding a job for a spouse is tough, good candidates are staying put. They will only move for a position that looks significantly better than their current situation. On paper, many of these new career director postings do not look inspiring.
Recently, I was sent job descriptions for career directors at three forward-thinking universities. With the exception of references to technology, the descriptions could have been written in the 1970s. For a search to generate good candidates, descriptions must reflect institutional excitement for a new model of career preparation, along with a clear articulation of what constitutes success.
The Career Center of 2012 demands a leader who understands both academia and the world students will enter when they graduate. It requires someone who is equally at ease presenting to students, the College’s trustees, and a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And, the director must be an “orchestrator of opportunity”, who leverages institutional relationships for the benefit of students. Leadership and an entrepreneurial spirit are critical.
Typical job descriptions have a brief summary of the position’s function, followed by sections for responsibilities and minimum qualifications. To attract good candidates, I recommend writing a new kind of description that answers the following questions: 1) Why does this position exist? 2) What are the expected results for the position? 3) Based on what metrics will success be determined? 4) With what departments, and with whom, will the position collaborate? 5) What is the organizational structure (both up and down)? Which positions are direct reports? 6) What are the key strategic functions? 7) What operational tasks will the incumbent perform herself? 8) What functions does this position oversee? 9) What percentage of the time will the incumbent devote to strategic, operational, and management functions? 10) What special needs or opportunities exist?
Candidates should be cognizant of what knowledge, skills and abilities are required. Rather than putting very high educational/experience requirements on the position, however, I recommend giving candidates the opportunity to truly understand the position and explain in a cover letter how their background and experience qualifies them to do a stellar job. It is incumbent upon hiring managers to carefully check references –and not just those references initially provided by the candidate.
There are talented and diverse candidates who could be exceptional career directors, but we have to get away from thinking that the only path to the position is through a master’s program and prior employment in a career services office. We must keep an open mind about applicants with different backgrounds, recognizing that few candidates will possess the ability to walk on water. Regardless of background, the new director will likely need support and coaching for success.
In 2008, Brittany Haas left college with a newly minted degree in Apparel Design. A few months later, the stock market took a nose dive, leading to years of double-digit unemployment for young college grads. Hit worst have been those with degrees in art and design and liberal arts. But this is not another story of doom and gloom. At age 24, Brittany is US Retail Planner for a world-renowned fashion house, managing a multi-million dollar budget—along with her own business.
So how did the youngest daughter of four, who grew up on Long Island without any connection to the fashion industry, come so far, so fast? Brittany’s story is a model for any student who wants to find meaningful work in a tough economic environment; unwittingly, she followed the five smartest moves identified in Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career.
1) Figure out who you are and where you want to go
2) Get experience
3) Build social and networking relationships
4) Identify your competence gaps
5) Find your hook
Figure out who you are and where you want to go
From an early age, Brittany was good at math and science. But she also had a strong creative side. In high school, dancing was usually Brittany’s activity of choice, and she often spent six hours a day in class or at practice. But at 16, Brittany attended the Pre-College program at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and fell in love with fashion. So, when it came to applying to college, RISD was a natural first choice. Brittany was devastated when RISD quickly rejected her application, telling her that her portfolio did not meet the requisite standard. Fortunately, Brittany had a Plan B: the Cornell University College of Human Ecology, where Brittany could study Fiber Science Apparel Design along with a huge dose of liberal arts. It was a blessing in disguise: in-state tuition, an education that combined rigor with practicality, and an Ivy-League degree. Brittany relished the academic work, taking eighteen credits per semester, instead of the required twelve. She also had an active social life and joined a sorority.
Brittany knew the key to her success in the fashion world would hinge on understanding the way the industry worked. And, from the time she entered college, both her parents and professors encouraged her to get internships. Brittany found all her internships using a very low-tech approach: she simply wrote personalized emails to sixty companies for whom she wanted to work. The first year Brittany received very few responses, but as her experience grew, so did the response rate. Brittany’s first internship was with the Israeli designer, Yigal Azrouel. It was unpaid and very low level, and she recalls hating it. But, in retrospect, Brittany was grateful for the opportunity to observe all aspects of a small company.
The first paid internship came the following summer, when Brittany worked for bridal boutique, Kleinfeld. This time, Brittany chose her internship specifically to gain experience in marketing. Finally, during the summer after junior year, Brittany found an internship as assistant manager at Nordstrom, which she describes as a “real job”. It gave her great experience on the retail floor, while paying her an excellent salary. To gain additional funds, Brittany also waitressed during the summer—often for four days a week.
Going to the career fair in her senior year, Brittany was an attractive candidate to the few retailers who came to campus. After two on-campus interviews, a retail math test, and a “Super Friday” at the company site, Brittany went to work for Ralph Lauren. Since then she has learned the department store side of the business by working for Saks Fifth Avenue, and started her third full-time post-graduation job in retail planning at Hermes. Asked whether Brittany is concerned that she is now totally on the business side of fashion, she replies that she takes care of her creative side by also running her own business, SomethingBorrowedNY, which rents out designer bridal accessories.
Build Social and Networking Relationships
Much of Brittany’s success can be traced to her uncanny ability to form relationships. Even so, she recalls that networking did not initially come easily to her, and she had to force herself to make the effort. If her business was to be successful, Brittany knew she had to find ways to get advice and publicity, so she started going to networking events in New York City. Organizations like Error! Hyperlink reference not valid., Women 2.0, the NY Entrepreneurs Business Network, and General Assembly, have been particularly helpful. At first, Brittany attended events with a friend and business partner, a strategy that made it easier to play off each other’s comments while discussing their new business with strangers. But, after a few years of meeting large numbers of people and talking about what she does, Brittany is now a networking pro.
Social media also plays a big part in Brittany’s life. In common with many small businesses, SomethingBorrowedNY grows through frequent use of blogging, and the effective use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Brittany reports that LinkedIn is also by far the best way of finding work in the business side of fashion—at least once you have experience. No longer does she have to seek work; now, companies and headhunters look for people like Brittany on LinkedIn.
Identify Your Competence Gaps
From the time she entered Cornell, Brittany was intent on entering the fashion world, and made decisions about academics and work experience based on what she would be able to learn. She had an interest in business, but believed she could learn those skills on the job. So, when given the option of majoring in Fashion Design Management or Apparel Design, Brittany chose the latter. She wanted to understand fabrics and garment construction—something it would be hard to do simply from working in the business. Brittany selected internships based on her desire to see all sides of fashion—from design, to planning, to retail. The variety of these experiences allowed her to relate much more effectively to potential employers. It didn’t hurt, of course, that one of those prospective employers was a Cornell grad and sorority sister.
Find Your Hook
Brittany doesn’t have one hook; she has dozens. They include:
* A work ethic second to none: she usually works from 9am to 6pm at Hermes, and from 7pm to 11pm on SomethingBorrowedNY.
* A clear focus on fashion, with an understanding of both design and business.
* Excellent math skills and a good knowledge of French—a real plus for her semi-annual business trips to Paris.
* An entrepreneurial spirit combined with the ability to get things done.
* A winning personality and unusual maturity. None of these “hooks” are extraordinary, but few candidates possess them all. In Brittany’s case, she simply took advantage of her natural aptitudes and interests.
For most college students and grads, finding or pursuing a career in 2012 will not be easy. But it can be done. In this economic environment it pays to focus, devote the requisite time for the job search, and persevere.
Too many of our new graduates are not getting jobs—or at least the kind of jobs that put them on a career path and provide sufficient compensation to pay back loans.
For three years, high unemployment rates have plagued some of our most talented young people. Colleges cannot change the economy or force companies to hire. But they can do a better job preparing their students to compete for available positions.
Colleges need to invest in their career services. But just doing more of the same won’t be enough. They must embrace a much more holistic vision of careers, with clear responsibilities for both student and institution.
Three strategies will help:
1) Clarify how students need to contribute to their own career success. Many students seem to think that their job is over when they decide to matriculate at a particular college; all they need to do after that is get good grades and a lucrative job will follow. Colleges need to clearly articulate from the freshman year on what students must do while they are in college to be competitive in the work world.
2) Identify the skills and characteristics required for post-graduate success—and help students develop them. The availability of a searchable database of hundreds of alumni profiles can help students better understand the connection between college and career. Students will learn more from reading about alumni experiences—especially when an alum graduated in a recession—than they will from any administration exhortations not to panic. With this kind of resource, students will likely see the need to make better use of Study Abroad and internship opportunities.
3) Develop a career community. Parents have a vested interest in the employment of their sons and daughters. Many alumni, and friends of an institution, also care deeply about graduate outcomes. Establishing a group of individuals who are willing to give career advice and assistance provides an excellent supplement to the work of on-site career professionals. At the same time, these volunteers expand both the career knowledge and opportunity base available to students and graduates.
Good jobs for college graduates do exist, but we need to do a much better job of preparing students to be competitive job applicants. And, we need to make sure that students are as invested in their own success as the schools they attend.
When college and university revenues decline and budgets are slashed, training and development is frequently the first item on the chopping block. Not so in the Student Affairs division at Duke University. Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Caroline Nisbet, gave her staff the opportunity to decide where to cut. Nisbet quickly acceded to staff requests to keep professional development coaching in the budget, recognizing that the value of coaching reached far beyond the individuals concerned: The entire Student Affairs division benefited from the coaching her staff received.
Management coaching is a relatively new phenomenon in academia, but it has a long history in corporate America. According to a 2008 article in Fast Company, coaching is now a billion‐dollar industry, with a significant percentage of chief executive officers and senior executives taking advantage of coaching services.
What is good for corporate senior executives is just as good for leaders in academia. But the word “coaching” has too frequently been associated with performance deficiencies. Writing in the Harvard Management Update in January 2007, Lauren Keller Johnson acknowledged there used to be a stigma attached to coaching, but claims that the stigma has largely disappeared. She explains that “coaching is now used largely to expand a talented individual’s repertoire of skills, and working with a coach has even become something of a status symbol.”
Coaching Comes of Age in Academia
Academia may have been a “late adapter” of coaching, but that is about to change, thanks in part to an economic situation requiring significant modifications in how universities are managed.
As work forces contract, some managers are finding themselves in charge of areas with which they have little familiarity. Other individuals must demonstrate leadership and strategic planning skills they did not learn in graduate school. Staff layoffs are causing significant management challenges.
Many colleges and universities rely on time‐tested ways of doing business. In 2009, however, leaders need to think creatively about everything from doing more and better with less, to finding non‐financial means to reward and motivate staff members. No longer is it acceptable to say “we’ve always done it that way.” For many long‐time directors and vice presidents, the new order will create discomfort and uncertainty.
Coaching provides the opportunity to help managers adapt to very different work environments by employing their strengths in the most effective ways and building their capacities to move successfully into a new era. The strategic use of coaching can be particularly effective in student affairs given its culture of assessment. Now is the time to apply learning outcomes to staff as well as students.
What is Coaching?
The types of coaching most frequently used in the academic workplace fall into five categories: management, professional development, performance improvement, transition, and leadership development. Coaching is, by definition, holistic, and recognizes that factors outside of the work environment affect an individual’s performance. As a result, coaches may employ many different types of coaching, including life coaching.
Stephanie Helms, director of assessment and professional development programs in student affairs at Duke University, speaks to the value of this holistic approach: “As people we are not compartmentalized. We don’t stop being parents, significant others, or caregivers when we arrive at the workplace.” She adds, “Having the opportunity to form a relationship with someone who is skilled at assisting with navigating each role, honing skills and defining success, cannot be underestimated.”
Though coaching styles and purpose may differ, any coaching assignment has three common elements: • a one‐on‐one relationship, • a goal and action orientation, and • a commitment to the process on the part of both client and coach.
The first step in developing a successful coaching relationship is to determine the goals of the assignment. The client is in the “driver’s seat” and needs to clearly identify issues, challenges, and opportunities, and discuss what new behaviors to explore or employ. This is where trust comes into play—the client must feel comfortable sharing situations he or she has not handled well, or in which he or she feels less confident, in addition to helping the coach become acquainted with his or her strengths. Further, the client must be open to observations, critique, and feedback that may conflict with his or her self-image.
The coach can only help if the client has provided sufficient information about his or her situation and is open to different interpretations and perspectives. Chandlee Bryan, president of Best Fit Forward, believes that a key value of good coaching is the ability to provide an independent assessment of the client’s situation while providing support for behavior change when necessary.
Ongoing coaching relationships provide opportunities for staff members to debrief situations with their coaches as they occur. This immediacy is enormously beneficial for clients and provides a professional sounding board for potential courses of action. A good coach will help a client clarify options, widen perspectives, and find solutions.
Find the Right Coach
Identifying and selecting an appropriate coach is much harder than it might seem. Anyone can hang out a shingle and proclaim a willingness to provide coaching services, and there are no universally respected qualification for coaches. Complicating matters is the breadth of the field—a life coach may be totally ineffective as an executive coach and vice versa.
Catherine Fitzgerald, an experienced executive coach, puts her finger on the problem of finding the right person: “The (coaching) field emerged outside of academic institutions, and there isn’t a solid base of theory and research on which coaches can agree.”
The coach search should concentrate first on finding someone with the ability to understand the client’s needs and environment from a first‐hand perspective. Ideally, the coach for a senior student affairs officer would be someone with high‐level administrative experience in academia.
Some clients prefer coaches who have actually walked in their professional “shoes,” but unless the coaching need is related to the subject matter of individuals’ professions, that is usually unnecessary. More important for professional development coaching is that coaches have keen appreciation for the problems and solutions associated with managing staff. Other prerequisites for strong coaches include listening well and helping clients solve their own problems using a wide variety of techniques.
Also, some clients assume that it is best to find coaches who closely resemble them, but there are no data to support the the conclusion that this is necessary for success. Helms agrees: “My coach does not share my race or gender. I have never found my coach to be ineffective based upon our cultural differences. In fact, they complement each other.”
As with any hiring situation, once a client has determined that the coach has the basic requirements, it comes down to fit. No coaching arrangement will work without mutual trust and good chemistry.
Some coaches push clients very hard to make changes, such as becoming more assertive or improving presentation skills. In these cases, the coach will often assign “homework” in between meetings. If a client does not want to have his or her feet held to the fire, it is important to make sure the coach is willing to employ a less directive style.
In cases of performance management coaching, the client’s supervisor may want the final say regarding the coach who is hired, and he or she will also want to be involved in setting clear expectations and timelines for observable change. Yet it would be counter‐productive for a manager to force a coach on an employee, if either party was convinced that coaching would not succeed. Before signing on the dotted line, clients will want to ensure that fees and logistical arrangements meet their criteria.
Logistical Issues and Costs
The length of a coaching assignment is typically six to12 months. It could be shorter if coaching is part of a performance improvement plan that requires that the staff member demonstrate a change in behavior by a certain date. The duration, frequency, and length of a coaching relationship are typically at the discretion of the client and are determined with budget issues in mind. Some managers prefer longer meetings every couple of weeks. Others enjoy the benefit of being able to pick up the phone to debrief situations as they arise. Of critical importance is the coach’s ability to get to know the client and his or her issues and goals very well because coaching is contextual. At the minimum, a two‐hour face‐to‐face meeting at the start of the coaching process is usually required. Follow-up meetings can take place by telephone if that method meets the needs of both parties.
The January 2007 Harvard Management Update reported that a six‐month arrangement with a highly qualified, highly experienced coach can cost between $15,000 and $30,000. Fortunately, coaches who work with academic leaders and managers have lower fee structures.
Nisbet reports that coaching fees for Duke University student affairs staff members typically range from $150 to $350. A discount of 10 to 15 percent can often be arranged if several staff members are working with the same coach or coaching company. Although fees are often quoted at an hourly rate, it may be possible to hire coaches on retainer for a certain period, during which time a staff member has access to the coach on an as‐needed basis.
Gain a Return on Investment
In 2008, Fast Company partnered with Brian Underhill of Coach Source to conduct a research project about coaching with 48 companies. The results of the survey attest to the value of coaching: 63 percent of the responding organizations reported that they planned to increase their use of coaching over the next five years, and 92 percent of the 86 leaders being coached said they expected to use a coach again.
Effective coaching can be valuable to organizations and individuals, but clear expectations about the scope of assignments and coaching styles are keys to success. Beyond agreed-upon expectations, the client must be committed to the process and be willing to leave his or her comfort zone. Both coach and client need to recognize that there are no one‐size‐fits‐all solutions, and there may be some trial and error involved in developing strategies. Openness, trust, and a willingness to hear and share observations are critical to successful coaching relationships.
It is important to note that coaching is not appropriate for all situations. If a manager or director has a particular skill deficiency, training may be more effective. Coaching is better suited to situations that are unique to the client, or where the ability to understand other “players” or the environment is important. No laws govern coaching confidentiality, and the person paying the bills may expect reports from either the coach or the client to validate the return on investment. The required scope of the report may be clearly articulated in the case of performance improvement coaching, or take the form of a loose request for occasional updates. When updates are voluntary, it is helpful for the coach and client to agree on what will be shared so that a strong sense of trust remains. A report requirement is often perceived negatively by employees, but for the client receiving professional development coaching, feedback to a manager provides an excellent opportunity to talk about career goals, professional development, and management expectations. The likelihood that an investment in coaching will continue is directly linked to the payer’s perception of value.
A Win-Win Solution
Up to 90 percent of a student affairs budget is devoted to employee salary and benefits. In addition, turnover, poor morale, and performance issues all have significant time and cost implications. It makes good economic sense, therefore, to address problems before they arise.
Anecdotal information in academia indicates that coaching is a win‐win for employees and their institutions. Staff members respond well to suggestions for change that take into consideration their styles, backgrounds, and environments. Their supervisors appreciate that results are immediate and targeted to areas that most benefit individual employees’ performance. During times of significant change, coaching has the advantage of timeliness and focus.
Student affairs is ideally situated to lead the way in developing coaching as a effective training method for its employees. In the process, it will benefit from a workforce that is skilled, motivated, and ready to accept the challenges of a new era in academia.
Sheila Curran is a professional coach, specializing in academia. She holds the highest qualification in human resources, the SPHR, and is the former executive director of the Duke University Career Center. She held a similar position at Brown University before starting Curran Career Consulting in 2008. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Example of a Coaching Assignment
Name: Stephanie Helms, EdD, Director, Assessment & Professional Development Programs Duke University, Division of Student Affairs
Type of coaching received? Professional development
When did the coaching relationship start? October 2007
How often do you receive coaching? Once a month, with occasional homework assignments
How long are the sessions? 45 to 60 minutes
What have you learned from coaching? I have strengthened my skills to be strategic in planning and deliberate in my actions. The opportunity to process every step from inception to implementation away from my work environment has been incredibly helpful.
What are the advantages of coaching versus other forms of professional development? Coaching is uniquely designed for the individual. It allows the ability to measure growth and development over time against pre‐identified variables.
What qualifications or experience does the coach have that make the individual particularly useful to you? I appreciate the coach being skilled in listening and demonstrating appreciative inquiry—asking the right questions. Having an understanding of the environments and cultures I need to explore is essential.
Would you recommend coaching to your peers? I would absolutely recommend coaching to my peers, and I have. Coaching has helped me be more reflective about experiences, as opposed to complaining or feeling stuck .
Why is this a good use of your budget? Coaching provides a return on investment that is immeasurable because it has more of a direct impact than a traditional experience. It is individually designed and tailored to fit the needs of one person.
Types of Coaching Examples
Management A manager of residential life is promoted to an assistant vice president position, in which he supervises former colleagues. His coach helps him navigate difficult human resource issues while becoming a sounding board for his work in a new area: strategic planning.
Professional Development A new career center director is hired from the corporate world. A coach works with her to capitalize on the strengths and knowledge she brings to the position, while helping her to adapt to the academic world.
Performance Improvement The director of student activities has developed wonderful relationships with students, but has been unable to develop a strong and competent staff. Working with a coach is part of a formal performance improvement plan.
Transition A 55-year-old director of judicial affairs has volunteered to take “early retirement” to save money for the department, yet she still needs to work. A coach is hired to help the director transition to a new position and life outside academia.
Leadership Development A mid-level manager is identified as someone with significant growth potential. She works with a coach to identify and address competence gaps and ensure a smooth transition to a higher-level position.
Advantages of Coaching over Other Forms of Training
• Tailored to an individual’s personal needs and context
• Focused on client’s goals
• On‐going and flexible
• Addresses situations as they arise
• Requires no travel
• Delivers proven return on investment
Questions to Address when Choosing a Coach
• Does the coach have a clear idea of how to achieve results through coaching?
• Does the coach have the required technical skill set (e.g., experience in management or human resources)? • Does the coach have the right personal characteristics (e.g., ability to establish rapport, trustworthiness, willingness to listen)?
• Does the coach have an understanding of the client’s work and organizational culture?
• Does the coach have a strong track record in coaching?
• Can the coach be available when needed and accommodate preferences for on‐site, in‐person, or telephone coaching?
• Are the coach’s fees within the budget for coaching?
Published in the NASPA Leadership Exchange magazine, Summer 2009 edition.
Are college career services offices fast becoming irrelevant? In this slideshow, presented for the Boston College Career Summit on June 24, 2009, Sheila Curran makes the case that career services offices can be an extraordinary strategic advantage to their institutions, but only if they embrace change.
Visitors to this site are invited to view and listen to the webinar slides and discussion on Revolutionizing Career Services: Meeting the Needs of Today’s Students and Alumni, presented by Sheila Curran, and Laura Boothroyd, Managing Director of Consulting Services at Eduventures. Please send comments and questions to email@example.com.
In this article, Sheila Curran, President of Curran Career Consulting, and Steve Goldenberg, CEO of Interfolio, share a candid and provocative discussion on the future of career services in colleges and universities.
Steve: Students graduating in 2009 are facing bleak employment prospects. Are Careers offices prepared for the onslaught of demand from worried students and laid-off graduates?
Sheila: That’s an interesting question, because in all the articles I’ve read about the impact of the economy on graduate hiring, I have only once seen reference to worried students flocking to career services. Contrary to conventional wisdom, in prior recessions, the number of visits to career services offices often fell compared to traffic during good times. And I haven’t heard of any student government organization demanding more assistance for their constituents.
Steve: Why are students not seeing the handwriting of unemployment on the wall?
Sheila: Probably the first reason is that many fall career fairs—and even some held in the winter—were full. To students, employers at career fairs means available jobs. But in late 2008, many employers were hedging their bets, not knowing where the economy was heading. The second reason students aren’t going to their career services office is that they may not be convinced that there is anything these offices can do to help.
Steve: Well, are they right? Can career services offices really do much to help when the whole economy is tanking?
Sheila: Absolutely, but they’ll need a completely different approach. Most colleges have now started doing seminars on finding jobs in a down economy, and that’s great, but it’s not enough. Careers offices need to re-invent themselves, just like they advise their laid-off clients.
Steve: Are you talking about a short-term fix to deal with this economy, or do you have something completely different in mind?
Sheila: Actually, I’m calling for a revolution in the way business is done in career services. The new model would be effective in both good economic times and bad, but its benefits would be immediately apparent.
Steve: And you’d implement this new plan now, when career services offices are under intense pressure to provide more with less? That sounds a little crazy.
Sheila: Absolutely. Here’s why. This recession is different. First, every area of the economy is affected, and probably will be for some time. We’re not only looking at large scale unemployment of college grads immediately after graduation, but also the continued unemployment or underemployment of thousands of college grads for some time to come. Remember, significantly over a million students will graduate this spring, trying to be absorbed into an economy where close to a million college grads lost their jobs in the past year.
My second point, which is probably even more important, is this: Parents who foot the bill are increasingly concerned about the value of their investment in higher education. Their involvement in their children’s futures is not surprising: The average cost of a four-year college education increased at a rate of 5.6% (2.9% above the rate of inflation) between 1998 and 2008. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education 2008 Almanac, the average annual cost for tuition, fees, and accommodation in 2007-2008 exceeded $35,000, and a number of colleges have now crossed the $50K a year threshold.
Steve: That makes sense, but it still makes me wonder how any office could organize itself to give its students or graduates an edge.
Sheila: It’s possible, but it’s not easy. A pre-requisite is university leadership that values the success of its students and graduates. Given that support, career services offices need to change the way they do business. Typically, careers offices are set up so that they are the hub: employers come to them and students come to them. At the end of the revolution that I advocate, careers offices will have much less control, but they’ll be much more effective. Step one is identifying and concentrating on core competencies. Step two is getting out ahead of the game. And step three is building and facilitating a career community.
Steve: I want you to go through your steps in detail, but before you do, are you saying that if something is not a core competency, a career services office should give it up?
Sheila: You’re absolutely right. Giving up programs, services and activities has always been difficult for colleges and universities, but this is the time to bite the bullet. Besides, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the task won’t be done, just that the careers office will not devote time to doing it.
Steve: I need an example.
Sheila: You probably provide the best example, Steve. Ten years ago, if colleges offered a credentials services, they probably offered it in-house through their career services office. Initially there was a lot of suspicion about whether companies like Interfolio could do as good a job as the in-house service. But taking your company as an example, it’s clear that not only can outsourcing save money, it can also provide additional, value-added services to its clients. Almost all careers offices do some outsourcing right now—usually in the form of a recruiting system—but there are other areas of untapped potential for outsourcing. For example, how many colleges have thought about outsourcing the administration of their on-campus interview scheduling or their career fair management? And how many universities re-invent the wheel every year producing career content that is readily available for free on the web. The bottom line is, if something is not your core competency, or if another entity does the same task more efficiently or effectively, careers offices need to consider changing how they do business.
Steve: What do you say to those career directors who don’t want to lay off the person who’s been performing the task in house?
Sheila: In my new model, the careers office would still have just as many staff; they’d just be working on different tasks. So I’d say this to the career director: If your credentials person is a great performer, re-train her for one of the new roles. Preparing students for careers is not rocket science. It will, however, require that staff embrace change and continuous education.
Steve: OK, let’s move on to your second point: Getting out ahead of the game. What does that mean?
Sheila: Any good public relations firm will advise that when you have bad news, you need to talk about it before it hits the media. The effect of the economy on the class of 2009 is not an exactly analogous situation, because the bad news is not focused on one particular university, but there are still enormous benefits to identifying the problem as early as possible and explaining how you’ll deal with it. Places like Babson College in Boston started a communication campaign months ago. Not coincidentally, they also have a plan to reach out to all their graduates and a commitment to help them until they find work. Few colleges have been as proactive as Babson, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. Students need to know that the college or university has a vested interest in their success, and that there is some kind of service safety net. I recently picked two students for dinner and asked them how they were doing. Met with complete silence, I probed further. It turns out they were incredibly worried about their internship and job searches, but felt totally alone. The successful careers office will make communication, concern and commitment to students the building blocks upon which they fashion programs and initiatives.
Steve: Are you talking about a proactive approach just for seniors?
Sheila: No, although it’s certainly essential to address the current needs of the class of 2009. What I’d like to see is an emphasis from the day a student sets foot on campus on developing interests and values, and taking advantage of opportunities. I’m a firm believer that the student who makes the most of education—inside and outside the classroom– is the one who is best prepared for whatever they choose to do after graduation. We need to make it the norm for students to not know what they want to do when they leave college and for the whole university or college to support their career development.
Steve: So getting out ahead of the game means communicating expectations about college and career from the time a student matriculates, and articulating the responsibilities of both student and institution?
Sheila: Yes, but the proactive approach must go way beyond setting expectations about how a student can get from college to a career they love. Careers offices must take the initiative to understand the organizations and industries in which their students are likely to be interested. And it can’t just be done through internet research. Careers staff have to get out and talk to employers and help employers determine where there might be a good pipeline of potential employees from a particular college. Essentially, I’m saying Careers offices need to add sales to their portfolio of skills.
Steve: I can imagine you’ll have a lot of pushback on that idea.
Sheila: Absolutely. Someone who is trained as a traditional career counselor may be uncomfortable in a role that asks them to promote their students to employers—even if the promotion is not of specific students but of students with certain characteristics and educational background. In many Careers offices it may be possible to limit the “sales” role to one of two people, and keep the traditional career counselor role the same. But there are enormous benefits to having an entrepreneurial and outward-looking philosophy pervade the whole careers arena.
Steve: I’ve always been a big fan of entrepreneurship. What does entrepreneurship mean in the context of a Careers office?
Sheila: It means we recognize that the careers world is constantly changing, and that we need to adapt with it. Different generations approach work differently. Employers, even Fortune 100 companies, come and go. Careers will exist next year that aren’t even on our radar screen today. The careers world is a fascinating place to be. But it’s not one where we can ever sit still and say “well, we’ve got that one down”. If we are not entrepreneurial in the way we help our students, we’ve lost the battle. I think there’s general agreement now that we must train students not just for their first job, but for a lifetime of changing jobs and careers. In the Careers office, we need to exhibit the same kind of flexibility and entrepreneurial attitude that we encourage in our clients.
Steve: This sounds like you’re advocating that Careers office staff act very differently from most university employees.
Sheila: You’re right. It’s the job of the Careers office to help students recognize how their educational experiences connect to their lives after college. Careers staff will never be taken seriously by their academic colleagues until they can prove that they understand the value of the education students receive.
Steve: That’s easy to do when a student studies a pre-professional subject like nursing or accounting. But isn’t it much more difficult when someone is studying a liberal arts subject? I know you got a bachelor’s degree in Russian and Persian. Is there really a case to be made for why that’s a good background for the work you do?
Sheila: The connection between a liberal arts degree and a career is definitely much less obvious when the subject matter of that degree is not the content of a person’s career. But I think we concentrate way too much on the subject matter of a student’s degree. All Careers staff need to be able to articulate what skills and characteristics a student can gain through education in and out of the classroom, and the ways in which students will need to supplement that education with experience in order to be qualified for the positions they seek. What I’m really advocating when I say that Careers offices need to get out ahead of the game is that they take the initiative to help both employers and students identify how they can meet each other’s needs. That doesn’t happen automatically. And it’s a place where Careers staff can really make a difference.
Steve: Let’s move on to your third point: Building a career community.
Sheila: I start from a very strong viewpoint that most Careers offices can’t get there from here.
Steve: OK. I’ll bite. Where’s the “there” that Careers offices can’t get to?
Sheila: I’m talking about mission “scope creep”. Most Careers office missions I’ve read are essentially missions impossible, trying to offer comprehensive services to undergraduates, graduate students and alumni. Even taking alumni out of the equation, the ratio of professional staff to students is about 1 to 1000 in private schools and 1:2000+ in public institutions. Yet, most offices still aim to provide in-person advising and counseling. With the lack of staff, it’s no wonder that most Careers offices get mediocre results in university-wide surveys.
Steve: Are you making the case for more staff?
Sheila: Absolutely, but the reality is that’s not going to happen in this economy—unless, of course, you happen to be in a business school that wants to increase its standing in the rankings. For most schools, I believe the only way to give students the services and expertise they need is to build a career community.
Steve: How does that work?
Most colleges and universities have alumni, parents and friends who are devoted to the school and would enjoy advising students about the career field in which they’re involved. Many times, schools have a formal alumni network, but what I advocate is a much more comprehensive initiative that is actively managed by the Careers office. Members of the Career Community would be tapped to give presentations on specific career fields; advise students one-on-one in their area of expertise; promote students to their companies; and source employment opportunities.
Steve: It sounds like a great idea, but how do you ensure that the Career Community gives good advice?
Sheila: The key is that the Career Community would be made up of individuals with whom Careers staff already have, or are prepared to build, a relationship. It would certainly be helpful to have Community members start providing service on a pilot basis, and it’s important that students have the opportunity to rate their advice and assistance. Steve: I imagine building a Career Community would be very time intensive for staff.
Sheila: You’re right, but it’s worth shifting some staff responsibilities, or eliminating less useful programs, in order to facilitate relationships with volunteers and expand Careers staff knowledge.
Steve: Wouldn’t a Career Community be expensive?
Sheila: Since the Career Community members would be volunteers, the only financial outlay would be for training and appreciation events. A Career Community provides an incredible engagement opportunity for alumni, so it might be possible to gain some funding from the Alumni Association or Development Office.
Steve: It seems that these offices would be natural allies of the Careers office, anyway.
Sheila: You’re right, but in a recent poll I conducted, almost two thirds of Alumni and Careers offices claimed to collaborate only occasionally or rarely.
Steve: How do you propose a Careers office remedy that?
Sheila: The Careers office of the future needs to be a key player on the institutional stage. It needs to articulate to senior administrators its value and the areas for which it can be held accountable. When these leaders understand that the Careers office can be a strategic advantage, they will be much more likely to appreciate and promote the value of a coordinated effort to enhance the success of graduates.
A couple of years ago at the first Career Summit at Duke, my Vice President of Student Affairs, Larry Moneta, asked the group to articulate why Careers offices were relevant. The fact is, senior university leadership is going to demand that Careers offices prove their worth.
Steve: Once colleges and universities have stopped slashing budgets, do you think that careers offices will get back to business as usual?
Sheila: The short answer is “no”. Over the past thirty years, careers have changed out of all recognition and parental demands for an economic value to their tuition investment have increased to a fever pitch. We can no longer “tweak” an outdated model. It’s time for revolution.
Fiscal year, 2009, will go down in the annals of history as one of the most difficult for higher education. Many colleges and universities have had to trim to the bone, collectively shedding thousands of positions, while they try to beef up financial aid budgets. A great deal of attention has been paid to managing the economic ramifications caused by falling endowments and high tuition.
But few colleges have addressed a related threat on the horizon: the inevitability of post-graduate unemployment. Prospects for high paying, high prestige jobs in finance are already as rare as a seven-figure donor. Outside of finance, the employment outlook is better, but realistically can be described as gloomy. And the bad news holds true, whether the student is completing undergraduate, graduate or professional school.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that significantly more than one million college graduates over the age of 25 lost their jobs in FY09, pushing the unemployment rate for their cohort to 4.8% in June, precisely double the rate of June, 2008. And, the unemployment rate for those new graduates currently seeking jobs is already at 10.8%.
Higher education might be tempted to avoid the issue of rising graduate unemployment and place its faith in the Career Services department to alleviate student anxiety about the future. Across the country, students are being advised to start their career searches early and be more flexible in their attitudes towards opportunities. But these initiatives, however valuable, are not enough. A situation of this magnitude requires a response from senior leadership at colleges and universities.
There are compelling reasons why higher education needs to address the impending career crisis. No college wants to field calls from hundreds of graduates (or their parents) who will be incapable of paying off student loans. Nor do they want to see their unemployed graduates profiled in the local or national media. For many schools, the career success of students also affects core issues like matriculation and retention.
In the summer of 2007, a leading educational research company, Eduventures, surveyed more than 5,500 freshmen and high school seniors about the factors that were important to them when choosing a college. Sixty percent, not surprisingly, considered the school’s overall academic reputation to be one of the top three factors. But an almost equal percentage cited the expectation that the school would prepare them for their careers.
The Eduventures data appears to suggest that students—and their parents—are willing to overlook the high cost of education if they believe there is an economic value to a degree. Students applying to college in 2009 are likely to carefully scrutinize the career outcomes for a particular institution. An expensive college whose graduates are still consistently unemployed may end up losing prospective matriculants to a public institution, or to a college that has found ways to mitigate the adverse effects of a poor economy.
The career crisis will undoubtedly be felt as we move into fall, but the problems for universities may begin much sooner, in the form of retention issues. Students, particularly those who attend school while working, may reconsider the wisdom of incurring substantial debt without a guarantee of a better position after graduation.
A recent advertisement for a part-time receptionist position in Rhode Island drew over one hundred applicants, a high proportion of whom were college graduates. Students who see recent graduates from their school accepting jobs that do not require college degrees may question their own educational investment.
So what is a college of university to do?
The first step is to recognize that graduate career success is essential to the long-term health of any institution of higher education. Even if matriculation and retention are not problems, the career success of alumni drives donations to the college and volunteer involvement.
Now, more than ever, colleges and universities must communicate their vision of graduate success, and take steps to ensure that desired outcomes are achieved—regardless of the economy. Bold career leadership is required to exploit opportunities for institutional impact on a student long after graduation, while addressing immediate career issues.
Second, universities must appreciate the value of a coordinated approach to career development–one that integrates the experiences of the student in and out of the classroom, and incorporates service learning, study abroad, athletics, student leadership, mentored research and internships. Currently, the divisions that house each of these functions often act more like silos than collaborators, leading to duplication of effort and confusion.
The recommendation to involve different areas in no way implies that everything that happens on a college campus is career-related, or that the academic agenda needs to be changed. Rather, it is recognition that without high-level oversight and common understanding, it will be more difficult to achieve post-graduate career success.
Third, colleges and universities must capitalize on their own resources. Many academic institutions have networks of alumni who have volunteered to give career advice to students and alumni. This is the time to expand the networks to include parents and friends, and to build more personal relationships with volunteers. A concerted effort must also be made to prepare students to take advantage of such networks.
A key requirement in this economy is to be aware of a volunteer’s work situation. When a volunteer is well situated, he may enjoy being tapped for job leads and advice. But when the volunteer has, himself, fallen victim to the economy, a college builds extraordinary good will and long term commitment by offering the option of advice for his own career.
Finally, it is important that any new initiative involve professionals in the career services department. These are the people who have their fingers on the pulse of university, student, and employer needs. Given clear goals, they can assist university leaders in designing strategies and initiatives. But they cannot do it alone. There must be an expectation that university departments will work together.
Institutions of higher education are currently facing significant financial restraints. Fortunately, the ability to address the career crisis requires a comparatively small financial investment, or the redistribution of existing funds. What is much more important than money is a new vision for careers and graduate success.
Colleges and universities that deal with increasing demand for career assistance by providing more of the same services to students will forego the benefits that accrue to institutions which adopt a more creative, coordinated, and inclusive approach to careers.
The holidays are coming! So what’s on your wish list? A Caribbean cruise? Playstation 3? Tickets to the revival of Les Miserables? All great choices. But the best gift—the one that you ultimately appreciate the most–may be the one that you give yourself: a career makeover.
When you’re busy and you’ve established a routine, it’s easy to put career thoughts on the backburner. It’s like your health. If a body part doesn’t actively hurt, you’re not forced to pay attention. In the same way, your career may seem on track. If you’re doing well and there’s no evidence of trouble on the horizon, it’s tempting to keep your head down, work hard, and maintain the status quo. But if you do that, you may not see opportunities that better match your values and interests.
Once you start looking around you may also find that your concept of career is no longer accurate. Employees now move jobs and change careers regularly. And there aren’t hard and fast rules for getting ahead anymore. Mid-career professionals can learn something younger grads already know: When it comes to finding a path to your ideal position, you’re the one in the driver’s seat. Don’t count on anyone taking you along for the ride.
So if you want a career makeover, where do you start? Here’s a four-pronged approach. First, examine yourself. Second, identify a good fit. Third, think like an employer. And finally, get your own board.
Your first task is to put yourself under the microscope, analyzing your preferences in the context of your career so far. When you consider the positions you’ve held, think about the work itself, the people, and the environment. • What did you love? Did you relish, for example, being the go-to person—the one who always got things done? Were you part of a team that worked cohesively and effectively? • What did you hate? Did you constantly bristle at the boss who looked over your shoulder? Did being in a cubicle pouring over Excel spreadsheets drive you nuts? • What skills did you feel proud to have possessed or developed? Did you learn to be a great manager? • What characteristics are important to you in any job? Is work-life balance a critical component? Do you know that you need challenging work? Identify a Good Fit
Your next task also requires some introspection and investigation. When you’re considering where to work, it’s hard to resist money and prestige. But the savvy job seeker knows that neither factor really matters unless the job opportunity is compatible with your style and personality.
The first step is to size up your current organization, evaluating organizational culture, the nature of your work responsibilities and supervision. Ask yourself whether your talents are being used effectively, whether you have the opportunity for professional growth, and if the way you’re supervised is consistent with the way you like to work. Ultimately the definition of fit comes down to the question of “are you happy going to work each day”?
Fit is something that may change over time. Perhaps you no longer want to work 80-hour weeks. Perhaps the person who hired you has left and the replacement could kindly be described as “the boss from hell”. Part of having a career makeover is figuring out whether your current employer is still good for you.
If your analysis indicates that switching employers is a prudent move, how do you find a good “fit” somewhere else? Many companies have comprehensive websites that explain their culture and values, so that’s a good place to start. But a much better strategy is to find someone who works in the organization to give you a personal assessment. Your alumni office may be able to point you to an appropriate contact. Sometimes employer rhetoric and reality don’t match!
Finally, you need to identify a series of “fit” questions to ask your prospective employer. They’re questions like “what kind of person does well in this organization?”, or “how would you characterize your management style?”. The time to do this is when you’re in the hiring “sweet spot”–after you’ve been offered the job and before you’ve accepted!
Think Like An Employer
Once you’ve identified where you’d like to work, visualize the hiring manager at your ideal employer reading your resume and cover letter. Imagine she’s reading hundreds of applications and within 10 seconds she’ll make a decision whether to pursue your candidacy.
When most people talk about their experience, they emphasize the areas in which they have achieved the most. But your highly developed technical skills and ability to create top quality websites may be perceived as irrelevant in a sales position. The key to thinking like an employer is to focus like a laser on the requirements of the position, and put your relevant qualifications front and center. Consider the format of your resume and the way you’ve ordered your accomplishments. Do the required abilities show up first? Does your cover letter make it easy for an employer to visualize you in the job?
Obviously your resume needs to be easy to read, up-to-date, with no typos. But your application materials also need to shout out “I have the qualifications, the experience, and the enthusiasm you need. I can add value.”
Get Your Own Board
Everyone can benefit from an outside review when they’re going through a career makeover. Have you set your sights too low? Do you have a major skill, like fundraising, that you developed through your volunteer work but is nowhere to be seen on your resume?
Appoint your own personal board of advisors—people whom you know and trust, but aren’t hopelessly biased in your favor. Often the best people are former bosses or colleagues. Good advisors support, but they also critique and ask difficult questions. They’re the people who can help you identify your competence gaps and suggest how you can make up for a lack of experience or education. They’re the ones who’ll tell you how to strengthen your cover letter or find a “hook” to rise above the competition. An added value is that your advisors will intimately know your interests and aspirations. Treat them well, and you’ll find them a great source of referrals to people in their own network of colleagues.
2007 is a great time for a career makeover. The job market is robust and excellent opportunities abound, particularly for those with college degrees. But that doesn’t mean you have to move on. After you’ve done your homework, you may decide that the best place to be is exactly where you are now.
If that’s the case, don’t think you wasted your time going through the four steps. This work will help you be much better prepared when you are ready to make a move. Anything that makes you count your blessings is truly a gift! Happy holidays.
Q. I graduated from college last year, and after many short term jobs, I’ve finally figured out what I really want to do: arts administration. Trouble is, my only relevant experience is from college. How do I get my foot in the door?
A. Congratulations on identifying your passion. You’ve saved yourself years of working in unsatisfying positions. But, you’re up against the classic Catch 22: To get experience you have to have experience. And in the world of entertainment, it’s also a case of who you know. Research interesting locations and organizations, and then focus on getting people in arts administration to know you and what you can do. If you’ve been able to save some money from your short term jobs (or you have a doting aunt), you could go “cold turkey” and find an internship in an arts organization which you admire. There are, of course, no guarantees here that you’ll find full-time work as a result—or that you’ll be paid anything. But with some diligence, you can find an opportunity that puts you in touch with arts administrators and helps you pick up essential skills.
If you can’t intern full-time, consider regular and extensive volunteer work. And don’t overlook the fact that lower level-level paid administrative positions, for example, in membership development or fundraising, can lead to higher level opportunities, You’ll soon discover that most people in arts administration started at the bottom.
One final piece of advice: Eat lunch. Make it a point to invite interesting arts administrators to join you and share their advice and knowledge about the field. Once they get invested in your success, you’re on your way.