Providing Career Services With Limited Staff, Budgets

April 6, 2021 | By Kevin Gray

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TAGS: best practices, career development, coronavirus, faculty, nace insights, technology,

Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

Solo or small-staff career services offices report implementing strategies—including bringing on student employees, using learning management systems (LMS) to house resources, and more—to sustain a satisfactory level of career services and, in some cases, grow their operations.

The Career Development Office at the Bryn Mawr College Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR) houses a collection of asynchronous resources in its LMS covering topics that are frequently requested. Resources include recorded PowerPoint workshops, handouts, articles, and more.

“These resources have helped tremendously because faculty and staff can use and share them with students, and I can reference them during workshops and one-on-one meetings,” says Sarah Slates, career counselor and writing coach in the GSSWSR.

The college hired an undergraduate student employee on a temporary basis to help with this project, which took about 18 months to complete. The GSSWSR recently also hired two Ph.D. students to help with academic and professional writing, including cover letters and resumes.

“I only have one or two major employer-related events per year,” Slates notes.

“This year, we're hosting two virtual career information sessions with small groups of employers via Zoom. These are open to students and alumni. During the weeks leading up to these events, I won't be meeting with students one on one and will shift these meetings to our Ph.D. student-employees.”

Slates changes her focus throughout the year depending on demand.

“I spend summers, which tend to have a lower demand for one-on-one meetings, generating and updating content for our LMS, workshops, and other resources,” she says.

“In the fall, I typically focus a bit more on academic writing support. During the spring, I turn toward our career info events, cover letter and resume reviews, and other career-related programs and events.”

Slates expects more services and support to be offered virtually going forward.

“Prior to the pandemic, most of our workshops and one-on-one meetings were campus-based,” she says.

“I'm hoping to move toward a more integrated model or ecosystem model that includes elective classes, in-class workshops, and more career services content embedded into our advising model. My hope is to invest more resources in analyzing equity in professional outcomes for our alumni."

Leanna Torres is the only full-time staff member in Anderson University’s Center for Career and Calling.  She oversees two graduate assistants who work 20 hours a week.

“This is helpful,” Torres says, “but still not the same as a full-time staff person.”

Torres stepped into the director role in August 2020. At that time, the position had been vacant for approximately five months.

“I have been able to piece together what has been done previously as the year has gone by and I have made more connections across campus,” Torres says.

Torres and her staff are meeting with students one on one and connecting with faculty to try and get presentations/services into the classrooms. 

“This increases our student presence,” she says.

“My hope is as I build a demand for student interaction, we can build a case for additional funding/staffing.”

On the other hand, the pandemic has decreased the Center for Career and Calling’s in-person interactions with employers. Torres and her staff are working to connect employers with specific courses in Anderson’s various academic departments.

“We have not been able to do any work on building connections with new employers and we have not been able to maintain our typical employer relations work due to the pandemic,” Torres notes.

“We finally have the bandwidth to try connecting students with employers through classroom conversations, but our typical networking/career fair on campus has not happened for obvious reasons.  This has been the key reason for the decrease in focus on employer relations.”

Going forward, Torres is focusing on creating deeper connections with faculty. 

“This is the best way to get more visibility for our office,” she explains.

“I am developing a plan to connect with students in courses each year and a course in which faculty can pull our resources and easily implement them into their coursework. If we can get into classes for a brief five- to 10-minute presentation or experience, then I am hoping to drive up the number of touchpoints we have each year.”

The hope, Torres notes, is to see this translate into growth in demand for career services at Anderson University. 

“I am working to network across campus, collaborate on several programs, and come along side faculty in their current efforts,” she says.

“As a university, we are beginning to shift our focus to retention efforts, not just recruitment. I believe that our programming can and will have a significant impact on both retention and recruitment.”

Lisa Laird, career center director at Snow College, says that “solo shops” take a lot of creativity, but they can be grown. When Laird started at Snow College—a two-year school in Utah—she was a career adviser working under the HR director, not the student service area, on a three-year grant to see if they could create “something from nothing.” 

“My HR director no longer had time to help students with resumes and employer requests to recruit on campus were overwhelming,” she recalls.

“Within a year, I got placed on ‘hard money,’ not ‘grant money,’ and it became a standalone career center in student services with a 120-square-foot office.”

Laird points out that career development is a bigger priority now, in part because she quantifies the work of the career center and shares courtesy reports to so many on campus. The office has grown from Laird and a part-time hire in 2013-14 to 2.5 employees and three to five student employees, depending on budget. She anticipates adding another half-time staff member next year. In spring 2019, career services moved to a 1,300-square-foot office.

The career center now reports to economic development and the vice president for technical education, and delivers services through a career decisions course, career center module inclusion in Snow College’s 34 sections of the freshman ‘foundations’ course required of all students, and workshops. Career services works with deans, department heads, provost, and the vice president for strategic enrollment.

“We were also invited to provide modules in a GE sandbox course in our campus learning system,” Laird notes.

“There are six core topics, so faculty can pick and choose. Everything is branded career center. Alumni co-sponsor two events per year with us: Career & Professional Development Day and the Alumni Career Fair. We offer training for the admissions ambassador program and labor market/graduate outcome data to their administrators. Though we serve the whole college, we now have a greater institutional emphasis on exit outcomes and career success.”

She offers several recommendations to solo and small-staff career offices for providing effective services and growing their presence:

  • Use technology—The more students can self-serve, the better you can meet demand. If you can afford a resume/cover letter AI software, it is like gaining a second adviser. Students still come in one-on-one, but the conversations have greater substance after they have used online resources and tools first.
  • Your supervisor and your school's strategic plan will determine your priorities—Some things may go away. My priorities in Year 1 and 2 were employer relations, dean and faculty relations, and small-group workshops. Year 3 added more one-on-one interactions, but also one part-time adviser. Nine years later, employer relationships are on autopilot and I no longer travel out to employers, except at community/local conference/chamber of commerce events. I have a core of 200 that come to campus each year and one adviser, and I work the phones, email, and LinkedIn. 
  • Continue to pivot when you need to—Our services and campus are 93% live, but we offer staggered work hours for later office hours. For instance, we offer evening "Online Office Hours" via zoom one night per week primarily for our online and non-traditional students, but it is open to all students.
  • Sometimes “no” is a good answer—Make sure your supervisor and other leaders are regularly informed of your progress, services, and any pivots you make to emerging needs/tech so they will support your choices. I dropped the “Career & Professional Development Day” this year (COVID) in exchange for an online non-credit course with 13+ modules on happiness, ethics, time management, workplace etiquette, and more. It is provided by a third party contracted with our student life and leadership office.
  • Quantify and document everything you do so you can grow your office—NACE's Career Services Benchmarks Survey Report gives me good data on national averages and trends. Work to ensure your office is mentioned many times in any strategic plans or goals that your institution uses; even if you are not on the planning committee, you will know people on those groups. With greater national emphasis on employment outcomes, your office will be vital to your institution’s success.
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