top of page

Structuring Career Services toward Student Personas

I've been thinking about how we describe our student cohorts. In Australia, we typically use the terms undergrad, postgrad, HDR (higher degree research or doctoral students). For undergrads we further break this down to first year, second year or penultimate, and final year (most undergraduate degrees in Australia are 3 years in duration).

When we were designing our employability program, Career Ready Advantage, we started discussions about the needs of different student cohorts. The wonderful Lynette Nixon and her team at PwC, guided us through the design process and challenged us to think of students, not based on how far they have progressed through their degree, but as different types of behavioral personas.

I was skeptical. Anyway, we let Lynette and her team go off and talk to students. A few weeks later we met, and they handed us some large pieces of paper with five proposed personas. After attempting to keep a straight face as I read the names of each persona, I looked at the descriptions and the behaviors and student faces appeared in my mind. I even joked that I was definitely the fifth persona on the list and occasionally the fourth. After reflecting, I thought, "OMG, they've nailed it here."

Here is how we now believe career services can take into account the new dimension of behavioral personas to be more strategically structured in meeting the demands of students today:

Performance Planners are organized and come to careers appointments well prepared. They are thinking about their future and doing the necessary things to secure a job at the end of their degree. They don't believe in luck, instead focus on achieving results by being well organized and working hard.

Tips for serving Performance Planners:

  • Publish your calendar of events and programs for the academic year. Performance planners need to schedule all their activities well in advance.

  • Have a tip sheet to prepare for a careers appointment. This will enable performance planners to run through the checklist, so they are confident they have all bases covered.

Friendly Seekers want support to feel more comfortable, and be guided through their journey at university. They are not sure what they should be doing, so keep asking for direction from others.

Tips for serving Friendly Seekers:

  • Your careers office should be open and relaxed and offer regular times for students to drop in or hang out.

  • Engage friendly seekers in conversation to get to know them. Make suggestions, ask questions, and reassure them they are on the right track.

Questioning Mavericks are driven to trying to find unusual and different ways of solving problems. They are confident in what they can do and are able to hold their own in ambitious situations. They don't often seek out help from others.

Tips for serving Questioning Mavericks:

  • Questioning Mavericks won't be fooled by your "cool" marketing campaigns. Engage them by inviting them to be a critical friend, to contribute to designing your programs and events. Once you've won them over, they'll be your best advocates.

Last-minute Scramblers are the epitome of last minute. They know they should be thinking about tomorrow, but there are other things on their mind right now. They will seek out help when it gets to crunch time.

Tips for serving Last-Minute Scramblers:

  • Create false deadlines. We've recently launched a mentoring program using software that students can log in and browse profiles of mentors and then click on a connect button to be matched to that mentor. However, most students have been looking around but not connecting. We're changing tactic. Next semester, we are going to set a deadline for students to connect to a mentor.

  • Work with the FOMO - make it look like your event is about to be booked out. Our careers system lists how many places are available in each workshop. We start off by setting the capacity at 20, then as we get students registering, we update the capacity to 50, and keep repeating until we have reached the actual room capacity.

Optimistic Cruisers love their time at the university, hanging out with people, getting involved in fun activities. They are focused on the present and think that the future will take care of itself - they'll think about getting a job when they need to. They are not seeking to be top of the class, they know that a pass is a pass.


  • When running an employer event or careers workshop, get your staff or pay some students to hand out flyers around campus 15-20 minutes before the start of the event. You'll be amazed at how many take up the offer.

Thinking about your students based on their behavioral characteristics can challenge you to reassess how you design programs and services and potentially reach out to those students who are perpetually hard to engage. Do these personas resonate with your context? Are there other types of personas you can think of? How would you tailor your services to them?

Jason Brown is a career development practitioner with 18 years’ experience specializing in developing and managing employment and career development programs. He has worked in higher education; employment services; and community/ not-for-profit; plus, dabbled in running an e-commerce business for a few years. As head of the careers service at La Trobe University, Australia, Jason has been actively involved in curriculum design through designing and teaching two career planning undergraduate level subjects; producing online career development modules; and collaborating with academic staff to embed career education into the curriculum. In his spare time, Jason is undertaking a Doctor of Education program where he is developing an employability curriculum framework and evaluating the impact of career interventions on enhancing student employability. Connect via LinkedIn or Twitter.

bottom of page