Over the last few years, what with the recession and all, there has been increased pressure on post-secondary institutions to ensure that their graduates get jobs. Though that’s substantially the result of things like curriculum and one’s own personal characteristics, landing a job also depends on being able to get interviews and to do well in them. That’s where Career Services Offices (CSOs) come in.
Today, HESA released a paper that looks at CSOs and their activities. The study explores two questions. The first question deals specifically with university CSOs and what qualities and practices are associated with offices that receive high satisfaction ratings from their students. The second question deals with college career services – here we did not have any outcome measures like the Globe and Mail, so we focussed on a relatively simple question: how does their structure and offerings differ from what we see in the university sector?
Let’s deal with that second question first: college CSOs tend to be smaller and less sophisticated than those at universities of the same size. At first glance, that seems paradoxical – these are career-focussed organizations, aren’t they? But the reason for this is fairly straightforward: to a large extent, the responsibility for making connections between students and employers resides at the level of the individual program rather than with some central, non-academic service provider – a lot of what takes place in a CSO at universities takes place in the classroom at colleges.
Now, to universities, and the question: what is it that makes for a good career services department? To answer this question we interviewed CSO staff at high- medium- and low-performing institutions (as measured by the Globe and Mail’s pre-2012 student satisfaction surveys) to try to work out what practices distinguished the high-performers. So what is it that makes for a really good career services office? Turns out that the budget, staff size, and location of Career Services Offices aren’t really the issue. What really matters are the following:
- Use of Data. Everybody collects data on their operations, but not everyone puts it to good use. What distinguishes the very best CSOs is that they have an effective, regular feedback loop to make sure insights in the data are being used to modify the way services are delivered.
- Teaching Job-seeking Skills. Many CSOs view their mission as making as many links as possible between students and employers. The very best-performing CSOs find ways to teach job search and interview skills to students, so that they can more effectively capitalize on any connections.
- Better Outreach Within the Institution. It’s easy to focus on making partnerships outside the institution. The really successful CSOs also make partnerships inside the institution. One of the key relationships to be nurtured is academic staff. Students, for better or for worse, view profs as frontline staff and ask them lots of questions about things like jobs and careers. At many institutions, profs simply aren’t prepared for questions like that, and don’t know how to respond. The best CSOs take the time to reach out to staff and partner with them to ensure they have tools at their disposal to answer those questions, and to direct students to the right resources at the CSOs.
If you want better career services, there’s your recipe. Bonne chance.