Scaling Career Services (Part 7 of 7): The Financial Growth Mindset


How true is this statement in your opinion: Career Centers need a lot of additional financial resources to Scale effectively.

In the survey we gave to over 100 career leaders during our Summer 2017 Think Tanks, 0% said this statement was not very true. 78.8% said this was somewhat true to very true.

I don't believe the respondents are mistaken here. It is clear that we need financial resources to scale. We don't need tons of them if we are savvy, and many of the resources may be upfront costs to re-orient systems, but we do need resources.

Further, it is almost a tragedy if we can see what we need to scale, know how to scale, get buy-in for scaling, but get stalled by lack of money.

Ask a Different Question: Is it Money or Money Mindset that is your Barrier to Scale?

About 12 years ago, I was leading a fairly new career center in an academic college, and I was slapped on the wrist by the then CFO for spending $22 on a lunch interview with a prospective associate director candidate. We had a $25,000 reserve fund built up, so money wasn't the issue. They just didn't do lunch interviews in the college. No precedence. I pushed back a little, and it got worse. I was dumb-founded and frustrated.

I asked a good friend of mine for his advice on the politics of money. He has spent time in the upper echelons of a prominent international organization, and is a gifted academic departmental leader with lots of organizational insight. He smiled, and said, in all his wisdom:

'When it comes to money, things get funny!'

Really? That was the insight? Yep, and he was spot on. Money conversations don't get funny like HaHa. More accurately, funny like: illogical, agenda-filled, legal-scared, policy-burdened, tradition-yoked, and slow.

Yet, my friend also added:

'However, great leaders find a way'.

Let's talk about some practicalities with finding a way in the midst of 'funny.'

Deal with your Money Narrative

What is the current narrative about money on your campus? What's the narrative of your supervisor, or VP? What about in your office? What is the narrative about finances that you want to encourage all your staff to uphold? Is it growth-oriented, uplifting, generous? Perhaps it is left to chance. Perhaps its full of victim-speak. Regardless, identify the good and bad, and the contrasts.

Take for example, these narrative differences:

  • We can find the money for this cause, it is important -vs.- Our University is not the kind of institution that will ever have a lot of money

  • Let's provide more value to employers and raise career fair costs -vs.- We are nervous that employers might be upset if we raise the price on career fairs

  • When cuts happen, we invest in our people first, in order that they help us keep growing the mission and find new resources -vs.- when cuts happen, professional development is the first thing to go and people will need to understand we just can't do some things

Carol Dweck's idea of a growth mindset paints a stark picture of the difference between believing you can change and believing you cannot. See the contrast in this diagram from Queensland Academies in Australia.

What would happen if we were to combine the idea a growth mindset with our budgeting and financial strategies in the career center? When trying to scale, it might be that we cannot afford not to combine these concepts.

I believe that university career services staff at any seat in the office can thrive inside a bureaucratic and complex system, and in turn, bring resources to propel scaling efforts. Doing so is rooted in a three-pronged practice:

Be Vision-Driven, Data-Informed, and Find the Money

A great budget and financial growth plan comes from a great vision. Not from history and not from data. It rarely ever works in reverse order. We say data-driven all the time, and it can lead us down the path of focusing on everything. Really, data is quite secondary to vision. Data informs a great vision. The purpose embedded in our vision, if enlivened within a team through logical data, will emotionally rally a staff around finding resources for specific causes. Here are three principles to live by as you pursue this:

1. Upper-Administrators invest in Visions, not Complaints

I was recently chatting with a university VP about what she looks for in leaders, and she said this, 'I love a clear and big vision about our cause. And I never invest in complaining.' Very well put. Be Vision-Driven.

2. Find the Money, Dang-it!

There are so many ways to find resources in our field. I have facilitated a brainstorming activity with hundreds of career leaders over the last 3 years called 'find the money, dang it!' I think I have gathered over 50 ideas for how to find money in our field. You should try it with your staff. But, be vision driven as you proceed. Here are a few examples I have collected:

  • Create a strategic committee with staff inside and outside the career office for the express purpose of finding resources about your 3 biggest operational focus areas.

  • Analyze all budget lines - specifically look at the traditions in your budget to see which lines need to be changed or deleted to better align with your vision.

  • Consider student staff or FT staff job-shares with other offices in order to grow the mission into other parts of campus and save on new or existing salary lines.

  • Create a compelling video about the future of career services on your campus and get it in front of donors with specific asks.

In all of this, be Vision-Driven.

3. Constraints make you either Creative or Complacent; Choose Creative

As noted, we are not living in a system that makes it easy to employ a financial growth mindset. We are regularly told things like:

  • That is not our traditional process

  • But our policy states...

  • You'll need to talk to these five people to be able to get approval to add that type of funding

You might think of the process of interacting with this stodgy system as a complex puzzle to solve. Think about how you can gracefully bring well meaning bureaucrats onto your team to solve your objective. Regularly ask them, 'how can we achieve X goal?

Did I mention that it's important to be Vision-Driven? As you continue to transform your financial growth narrative, enjoy the challenge of creatively 'finding a way.'

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 Co-Owner of The Fairs App.


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