A couple years ago when I was at The Career Center at Colorado State University, during a leadership team meeting, one of our staff recapped a short and simple conversation she had with a colleague from another institution.
Here is a paraphrase the conversation:
Outside Colleague: 'you all are doing such innovative work, who do you benchmark with?'
Lead Team member: 'well, we look at TED Talks, a lot of the big tech innovations, some local start-ups, and some of our employers that are doing creative initiatives.'
Outside Colleague: 'No, no, no, I mean who in career services?'
Lead Team member: 'Well, I am not sure we have done this on purpose, but we tend to benchmark outside the field. I mean, we keep abreast of trends and use some of them, but the problems we are trying to solve don't have a best practice yet.'
Boom! Her off-the-cuff, 15-second recap put words to both what we were pursing and how we needed to formalize going about it.
Best practices are good baseline if an institution wants a good career services office. Everyone should be on the hunt for these. However, hundreds of career centers around the world are hungry for BEYOND best practices insights, because they are trying to solve new problems.
When it comes to scaling career services, we are together (as a field) currently figuring out the new best practices. So, we have to consider the power of looking outside of our field for insights.
Here are five genius concepts from outsiders that are starting to take hold in the field of career services. As you read them, don't think about trying to replicate the company or the physical product (often a big mistake), think about trying synthesize the concept into your office - how could you massage it to make a larger impact and relieve your staff in the process?
1. The Uber and Lyft Concept: Train and empower mass amounts of ‘non-professionals’ to do one thing well.
For example, did you know it is possible to hire 50 student staff for the price of 1.5 new staff members, and take 25% of almost all your existing staff member jobs that is defined as 'triage work' off their plate, in order for those staff to focus more on higher level and crucial student development tasks. I have seen it happen many times. And there are other ways. How can you empower a mass amount of non-career services experts to do one thing well, and scale your services?
2. The TED Talks Concept: Various experts deliver outstanding content once, but millions can view it forever.
How many times do you say the same thing to students? That is okay to a certain extent, but all of your career education content should be online and easily accessible, in a fresh and magnetic manner. And for those that are tempted, that doesn't mean copying and pasting 168 pages worth of handout content onto your site - or trying to simply organize those pages with better headings. Think like TED - inspired via modern modalities with fresh voices. Use your experts in a new way as an inspiring new library of information!
3. The Food Truck Concept: Go where people are; give them something they love.
Some of the longstanding hybrid career services models with academic college physical spaces have given this concept some precedence, but let's think afresh about niche ideas. Think about those food trucks you love: The Waffle Lab in the morning. Authentic Taco Truck at lunch. Fresh Baked Cookies at 2:00 a.m. (very audience specific). How can you go where they are, and give them something they love? You might start by asking them what they love!
4. The Facebook Concept: Put content creation and education in the hands of the community.
At minimum, this is an amazing supplement to the work of our experts. This has not been tried by too many, but that is changing. The good news: The volume of tech companies in the alumni to student career engagement space is bursting right now, which gives us better ability to do this. The bad news: our field is built on experts and this scares us a bit, which makes change hard (c'mon, keep it real, fear is an okay feeling to acknowledge); we love our jobs as experts; loss of control is difficult. Note: Facebook is 13 years old. We can do this.
5. The Zappos Concept: Create a ‘talk of the town’ WOW experience for customers, which drives an authentic grass roots magnetism toward your services.
Think about what is magnetic for your students? What draws them? How can that connect with your vision. For a beyond best practices internal insight, take a read through The Art of The Wow, by Christian Garcia, Associate Dean & Executive Director, Toppel Career Center University of Miami. They recently hosted an event called ToppelFest that drew 2500+ first year students. It takes time, it takes energy, but scaled results are always worth it.
I encourage you to take each of these concepts and use them as a brainstorming session with your team to see what unique scaled solutions may emerge!
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 six unique start-ups, and is currently the Founder, CEO, and Senior Consultant of The Career Leadership Collective and the Co-Founder of The Fairs App. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.