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Sheila Curran presented to the CDPI fall conference on staying relevant in career services

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  • The great recession is over. According to Wikipedia—along with plenty of economic think tanks--we’re out of the woods. The downturn started in December, 2007 and ended over a year ago.

    Well, it’s true that the banks may be in a better situation, but for those of us in the careers world, we’re still dealing with the worst job situation most of us have ever seen.

    What I’m going to do today is an environmental scan of the challenges faced by careers offices and the students they serve. Then, we’ll spend most of time discussing how our offices can become relevant in this very difficult environment.

  • There is, of course, some good news:

    NACE employers project a 13.5% increase in hiring on top of a 5.3% increase in 2010. That, of course follows over a 20% decrease in hiring in 2009.

    More good news is that 24.4% of graduating seniors who applied for jobs had one in April, 2010, vs. 19.7% in 2009.

    But, I think we should be a little cautious in interpreting signs of recovery.. The total number of employers surveyed by NACE was 197, only 55 of whom, by the way, were from the midwest.

    So how do your students feel about the employment situation?

  • Would your students, thinking about their careers, identify more closely with the emotion on the left or on the right?

    The fact is, students are very worried about their futures, and with good cause. Here’s why: when most people talk about unemployment rates for college graduates, they are talking about the overall rate which includes young and very experienced graduates. That unemployment rate has been between 4 and 5 percent for most of the past two years. It’s a high rate, comparatively, but it’s not awful.

    But look at the statistics for college grads with bachelor’s degrees under the age of 25, and there’s a very different story. The unemployment rate of this group was 9.6% last month—even higher than the same month in 2009. There were, in fact, 17,000 more graduates under 25 who were unemployed this September than in the previous year.

    The situation is even worse for those new grads who decided to ride out the economy by getting a master’s degree. Master’s degree candidates did even worse in the employment stakes than bachelors’ grads. in September, 2010, they faced a 12.3% unemployment rate.

    What do we make of this? I think what the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is telling us is that even though the jobs picture is improving, there is a lot of pent-up demand for those jobs. Our students are facing an increasingly competitive job market. Small wonder then that 85% of them now go home to live after graduation.

    Economists expect a very slow jobs recovery, so the class of 2011 has reason to worry. And they need our offices to be at the forefront of helping them find acceptable positions as quickly as possible. We can’t hide behind the economic bad news. If our offices can’t make a difference to students’ prospects in bad times as well as good, why are we here?
  • Clearly, a best practices career services office affects the lives of its students, and perhaps even its alumni. It also makes a difference to the college or university where it resides. That’s because graduate success in finding desirable work or education affects matriculation, retention, alumni engagement, and college reputation.

    So, you might think that the silver lining in all the dire economic news is that presidents and provosts and VPs are finally paying attention to careers offices. In fact, in January 1999, I made a bold prediction to that effect. But, as they say, “not so fast”.

    Have any of you received an immediate influx of funds to help students beat the odds and find fantastic jobs?
    Are you players at the strategy table with senior leaders?
    Do you get the sense that your senior leaders want you to do much more than hold the hands of worried graduates?

    Later in the presentation, we’ll talk about some strategies to get your point across to senior leaders, but in the meantime, it’s worth thinking about ways that your Career Services office can contribute to areas that higher education typically believes are much more important priorities.

    Your president is likely to care a great deal about how to recruit great applicants, how these applicants can be encouraged to matriculate and the extent to which they graduate within 6 years. Matriculation and retention are major issues these days. And, almost certainly, your senior leaders will be concerned about having successful alumni who reflect well on your college and—hopefully—open their wallets.

    Careers offices can have a huge impact on institutional goals, but it will be up to the career director and staff to convince senior leaders of the important role they play.

  • We have some natural allies in the promotion of excellent career services because students and parents alike understand the importance of career preparation.

    It’s not surprising. The average cost of private education may come close to, or even exceed the median US household income. Tuition, room and board increases are running
    2.9% over the rate of inflation.

    At the same time, average salaries for new grads rose only 2.6% a year between 2004 and 2008—and those were the good years!

    Parents and students are worried. And increasingly, they are choosing schools because of their perception that those schools prepare students well for their futures.

    What is curious is that after matriculation, there is almost a leap of faith that the school will take care of a student’s career needs and will have the personnel and resources to do so. If only they knew! But the fact is, most parents groups are not demanding greater services from the careers office.

    We are often our own worst enemies, dealing with the day to day, rather than thinking strategically. Typically, careers offices have not been willing to get out there and talk to parents about the employment situation. We have not laid out what their sons and daughters need to do while they are in school to prepare themselves. And, we haven’t been out there, visibly demonstrating that we can make a difference in their students’ lives.

    Change is essential.

    Most people hate change, and I think if you looked at the Myers Briggs profiles of the people in this room, you’d discover that career services staff are probably no different from the general population. And, yet, change has to happen. Because career services are already becoming increasingly marginalized on campus. In a recent survey that I conducted of 16 careers offices, not one office had had an operational budget increase, and several had experienced very large budget decreases.

    Not only are budgets being cut, but the career services function is being pushed further down the organization chart, often with four layers of management between the director and the president. The reality is, Career Services offices are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

    To use General Shinseki’s quote which you see on this slide “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less”.

  • At this point, there are probably some of you who are saying to yourselves that you’re actually quite glad to be further away from the eagle eyes of senior administration cost-cutters. It may seem like a blessing that they’re not holding you accountable for the inability of your students to find work, simply blaming it on the economy. That certainly sounds like you’re off the hook. But it’s actually very dangerous, because if a careers office isn’t able to at least mitigate the effects of a poor economy can it really claim to be relevant?

    None of us want to go the way of the Dodo.

  • What I’m going to talk about now are four strategies to achieve relevance.

    The first is making careers a university-wide issue. For too long, careers offices have operated in their own orbit, divorced from other parts of the institution. Relevance will depend on getting out on campus, understanding the academic environment, and making the case for a concerted and coordinated push to help students achieve their post-graduation goals.

    The second strategy is to prove your value. To do that you’re going to need data.

    Third, we’ll talk about setting and communicating expectations

    And, finally, we’ll discuss why it’s essential to be visible—in person and on paper

  • The first question to ask yourself is: Do you have metrics and data that support your value proposition? Decision makers respond to data. Think about what data you are collecting and find ways to use the data to tell your story or to get you the right attention. One thing to bear in mind is that your metrics need to prove learning or other important outcomes. Any of you who have been through an institutional accreditation will know what I mean!

    There are two other questions you need to ask:
    • Do you have a strategic plan that relates your goals to those of your division and your institution? Align your office goals with that of the institution. If you do that, you’re likely to get greater support not only from college leadership but also from other units.

    • Do you walk the talk? Have you adapted to new economic realities like you’re requiring students to do? How proactive are you? Moving quickly when the economy is in flux is essential. Don’t wait for directives from your supervisor. Identify what changes need to be made, make them, and communicate your vision to your boss.
  • We are continuously asked to do more and more, of course with no new resources. As a result, our missions are becoming so broad that they have become watered down. When our mission statements no longer help us to focus our work, it’s very easy to become misguided and sometimes misdirected. It’s time to renegotiate our missions to gain greater focus and clarity on what the priorities are for our offices.

    As our missions become less focused, they become less relevant for our senior leaders. As a result, access to the senior leadership may become reduced and our participation in strategic planning on the larger scale may not exist. If we aren’t at the table, we’ll have a hard time influencing the direction the institution is headed or worse, not be in the position to communicate how career services is a relevant member of the campus community. If we want to play a key role in our institutions, we will need to educate our bosses and leaders about what we do, and how we can help the college achieve its goals.

    We have to be the institutional experts on careers. And that means talking and writing about the career issues that affect our students. We need to understand what it will take for our students to get hired, and what would make employers select or reject a candidate. The more we talk about careers, the more everyone on campus will see us as the people who can help, even in difficult times.
  • If you think honestly about how you’re viewed, and you think your image could use some work, how do you get people to start thinking about you differently?

    One place to start is by asking yourself what students really need most from your careers office, right now, in 2010. It’s really tempting when your budget is cut to decide that you won’t do anything new. In my opinion, that’s the worst thing you can do. This is the time to address student needs, even if it means killing a few sacred cows. Maybe it’s time to put your flagship program on hiatus for a year, so that you can deal with more compelling problems.

    This is not just about the director of a careers office. Everyone needs to be on board, and everyone has a role to play. Some people are better at presenting; some at writing; some at organizing; some at counseling; and some behind the scenes. Everyone can be an expert in something. But if you’re in a careers office, someone better be the careers subject matter expert. The more you blog, write and present, the more visibility you will get personally —and it’s good visibility for your institution, too.

    When I wrote my book, Duke University encouraged me to do tv and radio interviews and gave me media training; from their perspective, my success was their success.

  • It’s a temptation during times of change for the director to make all the decisions. But it’s never been more critical for everyone on the staff to pull together, share, and implement ideas. It is, however, the director’s responsibility to provide a clear vision and direction, so that all energy can be spent on the most critical tasks. The director plays a key role in ensuring that there is a university-wide approach to careers.

    One of the great things about change is that it’s an opportunity for growth and learning. Embrace that learning, and figure out who on your staff has expertise in a particular area. Then, commit to teaching each other what you don’t know.

    There’s a litmus test for your success in moving forward: Students must see its value. It’s worth asking yourself the difficult question “if my department was eliminated, would students revolt, and complain vehemently to the president? If the answer to your question is no, or you don’t know, it’s time to re-think the way you do business”.
  • Are you a General Motors or an Apple in the way you do business?

    Think about what you’d like students to say about you, and build your programs and services around that. Do students want more coaching about job search strategies than counseling, or vice versa? Are they asking you for connections, or simply better ways to tap into the connections they have? Are they looking for ways to translate the learning they gain through a liberal arts education into words that an employer will understand? You get the picture. The actual outcomes are for you to decide. But the bottom line is that in order for you to be valued, you have to be accountable for something, and you have to articulate exactly what you’re responsible for.

    As Skip Sturman says, we’ve been operating on an outdated model. The one size fits all approach has definitely seen its day. It’s now up to all of us to think about how we can provide exceptional value to our students, our stakeholders and institutions. Our existence depends on it.
  • When you’re considering how you might change your operations to more effectively manage in 2011, it’s important that five factors work together. The first things you need to consider are your philosophy and your mission. Then identify your approach and what functions you plan to perform, taking care to consider which functions you might need to change, outsource or eliminate. Finally, you’ll need to design an organizational structure that supports all of the above.
  • Your philosophy will be unique to your institution, but if you can relate career development and success to education in and out of the classroom, and if you can link your services to student interests and values, you are likely to be seen as an essential contributor to your college or university.

    Wherever possible, find ways to bridge classroom and career. Find faculty friends and discover what they want for their students. See if you can establish a collaborative relationship with academic advising.
  • Your mission should identify who you serve, why your office exists and the broad scope of what you intend to do. Mission statements should be quite short, and can be supported by objectives that show how you plan to accomplish the mission. The important point to remember is that you cannot be everything to everyone. It’s better to be accountable for a few really important things than to try to do it all. Plus, as we all know, the work never ends, and it’s really important to make sure that you and your colleagues can feel a sense of accomplishment, rather than being overwhelmed.

    Working hard has always been important, but working smart, combined with sensible delegation is paramount.
  • This is where the meat of change happens; this is where it also becomes clear that it’s not business as usual.

    Of all the questions on this slide, the one that is always most difficult to answer is what could you stop doing.

    Saying no or discontinuing a service is not an easy thing to do. But, once you weigh what is important to your institution with some of the other priorities in your office, you will likely need to let go of something. Consider where there seems to be duplication. If your office is spending time providing a service that is also offered elsewhere, consider discontinuing it. A good example might be alumni services. If your alumni affairs office is promoting your services perhaps you can partner with them on a more creative level so THEY can triage alumni requests for career services.

    The hardest part is trusting that if you give up an important responsibility, it will be done somewhere else, and it will be done just as well.
  • Through your approach, you will demonstrate that this is no longer business as usual.

    No longer will you be doing things just because you’ve always done them. In this brave new world, you’ll use data to identify needs, challenges and successes. From there, you’ll decide what tasks to do and how to do them

    You will need to be nimble. Your website will be continuously updated. If employers complain that students can’t articulate their skills, you’ll immediately develop a program to address the situation

    You’ll understand the importance of taking advantage of opportunities. If an alumni is coming to town next week and is willing to coach students who want to get into sports marketing, you’ll make it happen

    When you discover the Modern Language department is sponsoring an alumni panel presentation on international careers, you’ll volunteer to co-sponsor and get the word out

    You’ll hire a student worker who is tech savvy to guide you on how to reach students most effectively through social media. You’ll let students train the staff, and encourage them to blog about your office

    Finally, you’ll be pragmatic and proactive. You’ll recognize that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything you want, but you’ll make your whole staff is keeping the platesspinning in the air
  • To be relevant, and to demonstrate that relevance is going to require some new job descriptions:

    The kinds of people who will be successful in this new career services model are those who are comfortable with ambiguity and change. They’ll need to be connectors and collaborators—the kind of people who have an eye on the goal but don’t need to be in control.

    These difficult times also require staff to be adaptive and flexible, and to get out of their offices to find out what their students are facing in the real world.

    The new career services model is messy. It will incorporate counseling and employer relations functions, but staff will increasingly be orchestrators of opportunity.

  • Re-visioning Career Services and making bold changes takes courage. It means doing a SWOT analysis to identify your strengths and weaknesses in the context of new client needs. It means identifying opportunities, and leveraging resources and relationships. If you’re like most people, this is hard. We can give this advice to other people, but it’s much harder to take a long, unbiased look at what you, personally, are doing.

    This may be a time to request an external assessment. Yes, that costs money, but one thing you can do as part of the assessment, is to ask the external reviewers to help you figure out where you could potentially save money, while still providing essential services. Many people are afraid of external reviews, but if you initiate one and partner with the reviewers, what you gain is an external perspective that is really helpful when you’re up to your ears in alligators.

    To be successful, you need to have confidence that the direction you’re taking is the right direction for your school, and then find allies to collaborate with you and spread the message across campus.
    Wayne Gretzky, the greatest ice hockey player, attributed his success to knowing where the puck would be, not where it was. That’s what you need to do with your career program.
    When you know what you want to do, write a truly compelling strategic plan and communicate it. Find a way through your plan to make your boss successful, and you’ll get all the support you need!

    If all this seems too hard, just take Salman Rushdie’s message to heart “When thought becomes excessively painful, action is the finest remedy.”

  • We’ve talked about the economic and institutional context for the Career Services office of 2011
    We’ve identified particular ways in which you can change, as well as how to revision a Career Services office and its staff for 2011,
    and finally
    We’ve talked about action steps you can take to make sure that your office is seen to contribute to essential college or university goals

    Essentially, this whole session has been about how to make the Career Services office not only relevant, but a strategic asset for your institution. It’s not easy, and it will require understanding, validation and communication. But it’s essential for survival.

    Here are three things you can do immediately after this seminar to start the process of effective change in the Career Services office of 2011:
    Identify your value proposition for students and the outcomes for which you will be responsible
    Identify which are the on-campus and off-campus partners with whom you can collaborate to expand your reach
    3) Finally, Start talking with your bosses about how you can help them and your college or university be successful through the work you do in Career Services

    The career rules for this new decade have not yet been written. So I leave you with one last question: Will you set the agenda, or will you let others do so for you?
  • Possible questions

    Can you talk about what you mean by viral marketing?
    This is a lot to think about, we are up to our eyeballs in managing the day to day work. How do we find time to be strategic?
    We have a small office of 2 staff members, where should we start in leveraging our connections?
    What is the best strategy for getting our message across to senior leaders?
  • Sheila curran powerpoint

    1. 1. Change or Be Changed Demonstrating the Relevancy of Career Services Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    2. 2. Sheila J Curran  Career strategy consultant to colleges and universities  Career coach for students and graduates  Former executive director, Duke Career Center, and director, Brown Career Services  Coauthor, Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career, Ten Speed Press, 2006  Nationally known writer and speaker on career issues  Website:
    3. 3. Wikipedia: The “Great Recession” lasted from December, 2007 through June, 2009 Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 The Great Recession is OVER!
    4. 4. Good News from NACE, Job Outlook 2011 Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 NACE employers project a 13.5% increase in hiring on top of a 5.3% increase in 2010. That follows over a 20% decrease in hiring in 2009. 24.4% of graduating seniors who applied for jobs had one in April, 2010, vs. 19.7% in 2009.
    5. 5. The Unemployment Rate for College Graduates under 25 with a Bachelor’s Degree is close to an all time high, at 9.6%. 17,000 fewer graduates have jobs in September, 2010 vs. September, 2009 Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    6. 6. Graduate success in finding desirable work or education affects matriculation, retention, alumni engagement, and the reputation of their alma mater. Careers offices must connect their work to important institutional issues. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 The Institutional Impact of Careers Matriculation Retention Alumni Engagement Institutional Reputation
    7. 7. Salaries for College grads are not keeping up with inflation, while the cost of education has consistently increased above the rate of inflation. Multiple surveys attest to the importance of career preparation to school selection. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 Parental and Student Demand for ROI • Overall cost of education at private 4- year college=39K in 2010 • Annual increase in cost of education over 10 years from 1998-2008 was 5.6% • Average salary for new grads between 2004 and 2008 rose only 2.6% a year • A college’s success in getting its graduates good jobs is considered very important in college selection by 56.5% of entering freshmen
    8. 8. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less” -General Eric Shinseki, Veteran Affairs Secretary
    9. 9. Career Services offices must make conscious efforts to avoid the fate of the Dodo. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    10. 10. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 Four Strategies to Achieve Relevance 1) Make careers a university wide issue; involve university leaders, faculty, alumni, students, parents, friends and employers 2)Prove your value 3)Set appropriate expectations 1) Be visible Take the lead: Tell your bosses what you plan to do and why. Identify the problems you intend to solve. Value is NOT the absence of negatives.
    11. 11. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 • Do you have metrics and data that support your value proposition? • Do you have a strategic plan that relates your goals to those of your division and your institution? • Do you walk the talk? Have you adapted to new economic realities? How proactive are you? Prove your value Take the lead: Tell your bosses what they should expect of you. Value is NOT the absence of negatives. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know if you’ve successfully arrived? Make sure your goals will advance your students and your institution.
    12. 12. Set Appropriate Expectations Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010  Re-define your mission  Educate your boss and college leaders  Become the institutional career expert Don’t try to do the impossible; just go beyond the expected
    13. 13. If your department was eliminated, would students revolt, complaining to the President? Why do students think you exist? Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 Get on the Radar Screen  Be responsive to student needs: Be ahead of the game  Make sure everyone is on board and has a role  Become a careers subject matter expert  Blog, write, present
    14. 14. Change is much easier when there are common goals, office-wide participation and trust Going Forward on the Same Page • Involve staff and students in establishing goals and services • Teach each other • Play to your strengths Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    15. 15. It can’t be business as usual any more. We have to come up with a new model. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 “Our situation is not unlike General Motors in that our profession has been operating on an outdated model which doesn't necessarily speak to what consumers are looking for. Or how jobs get filled. The one size fits all approach definitely has seen its day.” Skip Sturman, former director, Dartmouth Career Services
    16. 16. “Everyone has to learn to think differently, bigger…open to possibilities.” – Oprah Winfrey Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 Becoming a strategic asset: A new model  Philosophy  Mission  Approach  Functions  People and Structure
    17. 17. You need to be the place that helps students enhance the value of their particular education through information, connections and opportunities. Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 Philosophy • Linked to education, in and out of the classroom • Linked to career success beyond the academy • Linked to student interest and values • Specific to a particular institution
    18. 18. You can’t be everything to everyone, without working a hundred hours a week. Don’t buy into the “mission impossible” syndrome. Mission Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 • Well-defined audience • Well-defined purpose • Well-defined goals
    19. 19. If another organization can perform a function more effectively or less expensively than you, let go of that function. Functions • What are core functions? • Where do you provide unique services? • What could be outsourced? • Where could you collaborate for mutual benefit? • What could you stop doing? Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    20. 20. If you’re worried that students don’t use your services, don’t hire a marketing person; concentrate on meeting their current needs effectively, and they will come! Approach  Data-driven  Quick to react to student and organizational needs  Opportunistic and entrepreneurial  Collaborative  High tech/High touch  Pragmatic and proactive Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    21. 21. The new career services model is messy. It will incorporate counseling and employer relations functions, but staff will increasingly be orchestrators of opportunity. People  Connectors  Collaborators  Adaptive and flexible  Knowledgeable about education and work  Experts and generalists Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    22. 22. “When thought becomes excessively painful, action is the finest remedy.” —Salman Rushdie Take Action  Conduct an honest internal assessment  Don’t be afraid: Request an external assessment  Write and communicate a compelling strategic plan  Find allies  Don’t be bound by the past  Get on the ice! Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    23. 23. “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there” – Will Rogers To Be a Strategic Asset You have to know your value to your students and your institution You have to prove your value with data You have to communicate your value YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO CHANGE! Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010
    24. 24. Questions/Reactions? Curran Career Consulting for CDPI October, 2010 Continue the conversation in the next session, or following the conference: Sheila J. Curran 401 861 2278