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Anytime Access gets Personal

It's fresh in my mind; the big question that shaped our future growth. Three or so years ago we were in the midst of a career staff retreat activity that had us thoughtfully studying a large wall where we had placed 63 career learning topics under 4 categories. We decided to shrink the number of topics to only the essentials for student career learning. Over the next 6 months, we valiantly argued the list down to 51 topics. Still quite voluminous.

The Big Question

What stood out most to me however, was a point near the end of that discussion, when someone authentically asked: How do students gain access to know what they are supposed to know? That question was like punch in the gut to me. It was also the impetus for a phrase that I now use often: how can kill what leaving why lost.

We had some phenomenal what, but our three answers to how our students could access those 51 VERY IMPORTANT career learning topics, frankly, sucked. They were:

  1. Students can find most of the content on our website (ah yes, that 100+ page, scattered, relevance-elusive, beast of a website...sure they can).

  2. Students can get a paper handout from our office called a 4-year plan (and I bet all 30% who stopped by were sure to hang that golden handout on their refrigerator for four straight years, making careful notes on it during every step of the journey).

  3. Students can meet with a staff member who can explain it to them (And everybody loves the meeting where we go over 51 items).

So we had identified a very large problem. And many career offices have the same one: How do students get anytime access to the most important things we want them to know?

The more we played around with curriculum and usage and anytime access, we also realized that unless a student was in a one-on-one meeting, we had very little to offer in terms of personalization. To add insult to injury, our student advisory board focus group showed us that there were three things our students desired with regards to receiving information:

  1. fast

  2. simple

  3. personal

Ouch! We were not good those things, but our users wanted them.

Maybe you have heard some of these Scenarios

  • Anna has her very first interview tomorrow, but she has put off preparation. It is 11pm at night, and the interview starts at 8am.

  • Xavier is an international student, a chemist, an athlete, and is in search any type of internship in Arizona to be near his family. He is on your website trying to find resource recommendations specific to his situation.

  • Your Career Education Team offered seven (7), sixty (60) minute workshops on your most important topics, and a collective total of only 39 students came, and 12 of them were your student staff from the office.

  • Your Institutional Research department just published survey results which states there are 7,000 students enrolled who are adult learners, working parents, or online students, 92% of who would rather not visit on-campus offices during regular business hours.

All of these are common, and can be solved with a deeper ability to provide anytime access in a personalized way. These scenarios should bring us back to a deep empathy for our users. Honestly, I think I spent years trying random things, throwing lots of spaghetti on the wall, rather than listening deeply to what the user base was telling us. Starting with smarts or brainstorming can often prove to be a colossal mistake in the re-design process of initiatives. Starting with user empathy can change your world!

Anytime Access Progress

Thankfully, we are making strides as a field, with technology and fresh leadership approaches as the two main driving factors, and I am sure there are more.

However, if you are among the few and the proud that still tout the size of your paperback career library, or still think adding office hours on Tuesday evenings gives them an option, or if you still spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on that thick career fair paper program given out at the door, then consider this an intervention: C'mon my friends - you can save AND make money, let alone become more relevant. You got this! Change like ya mean it! ...I digress.

For decades, college and university career offices have driven students toward five basic and overarching career services:

  • Job Postings

  • Resources

  • Expertise

  • Networking

  • Events

The below chart that I created last year describes the height of our technology advancement in regards to student accessibility per 10 year increment. Where is your office on each service? Or better put, what decade are you in?

Here is an example of how Colorado State University dramatically simplified our Career Services website and provided a front door portal for each of these 5 topics. We used to have a very large and cumbersome website and our goal was to reduce it to about 10 pages; minor on the text, major on the graphics, and focus on portals where students can socially search scads of information in a personalized manner. This took 3 years change, but it is worth it in spades!

This year alone, our students and alumni will have:

  • Completed over 10,000 online learning milestones on our Career Ready system. Completed! 10,000! And honestly, we didn't do much publicity for that system.

  • Viewed 475+ different online career resources over 30,000 times, in a personally relevant search manner. Three years ago they viewed 40-50 resources about 2,500 times.

  • Used our events app for 17 mid-sized to large-sized events, yielding nearly 4,000 unique visitors getting educated inside the technology.

  • And, 1500+ joined our online career communities in its inaugural year.

I believe technology can be worth the strength of 10 staff members, and should be budgeted at the value of 2 full-time salaries. This also takes time and re-working current practices, but when our goal is to better serve more students with the most important information we have, it's worth the effort.

I encourage you to consider how your students, alumni, and employers are able to have anytime access in a personalized manner to your important career learning topics. May your students be thrilled by the fresh and relevant approaches you pursue!

Jeremy Podany is an innovation, leadership, and organization growth connoisseur who has helped nearly 1,000 organizations and 500 leaders, having nearly 40 leadership roles in the last 20 years. Jeremy has enjoyed a career in higher education, has helped build five unique start-ups, and is currently the Executive Director of Ascend and The Career Center at Colorado State University, the CEO & Co-Founder of The Fairs App, the Inventor and Managing Partner of Career Tools, and the founder of The Career Leadership Collective. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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