6 ways to improve campus career centers

Engage students in career preparation

According to a 2014 survey by Barnes & Noble College, only 25% of juniors and seniors ever interacted with their school's career center.

In response, career centers are experimenting with new ways to get students in the door and prepare them for today's workforce. Writing for University Business, Melissa Ezarik rounds up six innovative strategies from college career offices.

1. Reflection courses

To successfully interview with employers, students must be comfortable reflecting on their strengths, weaknesses, and skills.  By providing for-credit courses on self-reflection, Ezarik says career centers can help foster the confidence needed to articulate answers to introspective interview questions.

She points to Wake Forest University's (WFU) College-To-Career courses, which include assignments on identifying personal values and asking mentors for feedback. Among other things, the classes prepare students to answer that infamous interview question, "tell me about yourself."

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology similarly offers its Mines Advantage course, which features 30 exercises in areas such as career preparation, diversity, community, involvement, personal development, and leadership/ teamwork, and communication.

2. Professional outfits

Business clothing is expensive, and many students cannot afford to buy a new suit for interviewing. Recognizing this, some career centers are offering suit closets so that students can dress professionally for interviews and networking events. The free clothing alleviates financial stress for students and boosts their confidence, while also giving community donors an opportunity to help students.

At Missouri University of Science and Technology, articles donated by faculty and staff were used almost 600 times this past year.

"It helps to talk to someone at school rather than trying to navigate J.C. Penney or Kohl's," says Christian Lehman, the closet's manager.

3. Holistic support

Career decisions can create anxiety and depression that bleed over into other parts of students' lives, and pre-existing mental health issues can make career preparation more complicated.

Some schools are tackling this vicious cycle by bringing counseling services and career services under one roof.

Co-locating the two kinds of support can also reduce stigma and make it easier for students to seek help.

At Howard Community College in Maryland, the same staff members at the Counseling and Career Services provide both services. By helping students through personal crises, the department's counselors build relationships with the students that can help during discussions about majors and careers.

4. Meaningful internships

Career centers are hiring students for internships as early as sophomore year—but not just the making-copies-all-day kind. Real-world work experience increases students' future marketability.

University of Indianapolis partnered with the nonprofit USA Funds to create a comprehensive internship program. The program, called coLAB, works with academically strong freshmen from the start to develop skills they will need in the workplace. By the end of the year, these freshmen are placed in various internships with select employers. At the end of the internships, employers then provide valuable feedback on the students' areas that might need work.  

Also see: Transform student employment into meaningful career development

5. Funded trips to big cities

For students to successfully land jobs, they must be able to physically visit companies and attend interviews. These opportunities should not be limited to students who can afford travel, which is why career centers are leading funded trips to big cities.

At WFU, the Career Treks program frequently brings students to New York; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco.

Mercy Eyadiel, the associate vice president for career development, says the program is in part about getting the students excited about career preparation. "Do we do résumés? Absolutely. But we've taken it up a few notches because we want students to be motivated about this process."

6. Mobile technology

For career services to become more central to their schools' missions, they must successfully reach their target audience: the students. According to Robert Angulo, CEO of AfterCollege, this means going mobile.

"New technology needs to be mobile-enabled... Students don't always put in the effort when it comes to starting their career. Technology that serves them where they are is better than technology that forces them to go somewhere," says Angulo. "Virtual is the way to go" (Ezarik, University Business, 9/30).

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