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Resourceful as an Entrepreneur: Hidden Budget and Resources for Career Centers

It was a beautiful morning walking into the Denver Center at Colorado State University. Coffee in hand, laptops closed, mind ready for expansion, thirty-five leaders in career education and technology settled in to discuss how we scale what we do.

Entrepreneurs are obsessed with scale. Our credo is to find a problem, test a solution, determine if it's repeatable, and scale it. One of the most discussed limitations of scale in the startup community is access to capital. “If only we had $$$, we could build all these great things!” Well... that attitude led to the Dotcom crash. Ever since then, lean and mean is the name of the game, and startups pride themselves on how far they can run with a small team.

By reputation, career services are also known for having no budget. Interestingly, however, when surveying the room about the most significant barrier to scaling career services, no financial resources was one of the top four, but the second least selected category of the top barriers to scale.

Source: The Career Leadership Collective: 2017 Survey on Scaling Career Services

Wait, what!? That’s right, career centers might be under resourced, but so are startups, and that doesn’t stop them from building some of the best products in the world. Both teams have limited resources, small teams, and face big challenges, but they can win with a Growth Mindset. The key to a growth mindset is never letting money get in the way.

At Wisr, we partner career services with alumni relations and advancement teams to create a mutual ‘win.' In doing so, we’ve seen more budget and better outcomes for our career teams. Here are a few of the ways we have learned that career services can find hidden budget through driving value for other departments:

Can’t give money? Give time!

Advancement teams call on thousands of alumni for gifts. If we’ve learned anything about engaging your young alumni (a.k.a. Millennials), they want to have an impact, and not just write a check. Talk to the director of your annual fund. Offer to take those alumni who won’t donate now and ask if they’ll give time to help a student. Pair them with a student, get them engaged, and warm them up for a follow-up call. Bigger pipeline of volunteers, more touch points for alumni relations, and a potential ‘earmark’ for a career center donation - Win, Win, Win.

Involve Parents

Parents are extremely eager to help. They can connect students with their network, create internships, and act as career mentors. The career outcome of their child is top priority, and this is a way for them to roll up their sleeves and feel like they are a part of the solution. They also provide you with a killer asset when asking your friends in alumni relations and advancement for help on projects. The relationships you build with them can lead to downstream giving, and introductions to their employers for corporate gifts.

Corporate Sponsors

This one is fairly obvious, but is almost always under-powered. Look at Case Western Reserve University for inspiration. Laura Papcum (Associate Director, Career Center) runs the Spartan Sponsor program, which has been highly successful at incorporating employers. These tend to be larger regional employers who are already engaged with the University in some way. Companies want to know, concretely, what they are getting. Being creative and developing more mechanisms for engagement can boost the perceived value of your sponsorship. Notice that Case offers the ability to create a podcast, join luncheons, etc. For Wisr users, employers can host their own community, creating a way for them to leverage alumni as brand ambassadors.

Trade Content for Budget

Career Services is an amazing source for content. You may not realize how valuable this is to other departments. At The University of Chicago, Lucie Sandel (Associate Director of Career Development) created a highly successful webinar series that provides industry-specific talks, skills workshops, and more that’s available for the alumni base to join. Alumni Relations has started presenting about this webinar series at conferences like the Alumni Career Services Network (ACSN) under the title of “How do you engage the unengaged?" The webinars engage thousands of young alumni by giving them value. Partner up on budget; these types of initiatives can be funded by your friends in Alumni Relations. It helps them, and gives you another arrow in your quiver for graduating students.

Admissions Needs You

Tying together a few of these concepts is partnering with Admissions. Parents and students are savvy shoppers. They are constantly asking the Admissions team to demonstrate the outcomes of an education at your institution. Career Services is extremely well positioned to help answer those questions, and provide Admissions with content to improve yield. Have your admissions counterparts help fund the creation of useful content that benefits both their initiatives, but also your students. This can include digital, print assets, and other creative campaigns. Arm tour guides with a searchable list of your alumni mentors. For some Wisr schools, tour guides like to show a little magic trick. Ask a prospective student what they’re interested in… “Marketing? Well, here are 74 alumni advisors you can talk to about becoming successful in the marketing industry, and what they studied.” As admissions teams say, "It’s always better to show than to tell." They need your content to do just that.

John Knific is Co-founder & President of Wisr. Wisr helps you build an online community for students, alumni, and supporters to connect, share knowledge, and drive meaningful career outcomes. John has dedicated his life to education technology and entrepreneurship having served as a staff member at Oberlin College, developing their entrepreneurship program, guest lecturing at many regional Ohio institutions, and co-founding two venture backed EdTech companies.

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