I am hearing a lot of talk lately about career centers pondering the idea of changing their name. This is not to be taken lightly. In some cases, it can cost up to $50,000 and take 1-3 years of your time, and in others it is a massive staff distraction. Yet, it might be worth it in spades. Let's get to the heart of your reason for doing so.
Around the year 2001, when I was in career services at Indiana University, the truly amazing and award-winning Kelley School of Business Undergraduate Career Services Office, a group from which I have learned a lot about excellence, hosted a series of wildly popular educational sessions with employers and students. They were called P.O.O.P Sessions. That's right, they were literally called POOP. And, they were magnetic with employers and students. The name changed the following year, but the popularity continued.
This was the first time I realized a very important truth about naming something:
...The Name is not the Answer
Who knew what Google was by their name when it first came out? Nobody. Now it's in the dictionary as a verb. Why? Lest you think I am about to suggest we rename everything POOP or GOOGLE, let's get a bit more sophisticated about this topic of renaming a career office.
What's been happening with names?
Career Services, Career Center, Career Development, and Career Advising have been large on the scene in naming for for last 20 years. They work. Counseling, Placement, and Job are words that having slowly went by the wayside. Workforce has been largely considered a state or county career services word, rather than a word to be used by a university. Recently, Career Education, Success/Achievement, and Professional Development have made their way into the naming landscape at a faster clip. We are also seeing some carefully thought-out acronyms emerge; a well known example is, BEAM (Bridging, Education, Ambition, and Meaningful Work) at BEAM Stanford Career Education. And some goal-oriented names such as, The Centre for Future-ready Graduates, at The National University of Singapore, and the IU Walter Center for Career Achievement at the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences.
I get questions often about if changing the name can draw an increase in student, employer, or campus partner engagement. After consulting on this topic many times, and being in the trenches myself, I believe that a name will rarely do that alone. But, combined with a bold vision for change, it can be very powerful toward increased engagement.
Here is what I am seeing around the globe about the primary reasons for why or why not to change your career office name:
Why TO Change your Name
Rename because of a large new Vision: Vision is what draws more engagement. Living out a vision sustains engagement. In an interview I did with Farouk Dey at Stanford on this topic, (specific remarks at the 4:45 mark) he shares that a big vision without fresh names can leave stakeholders wondering if things are truly going to change. Vision is the biggest and most important reason to change a name. And, vision goes beyond the name of office, and into the name of staff teams, job titles, and programatic offerings. It is holistic. Might I suggest that a comprehensive fresh face is much more powerful to stakeholders, than one new trendy program name, or office name alone.
Rename because your current name is Confusing: Find out if your office name is making engagement confusing to decent number of student or employer users. Confusing means they think you serve a different purpose than you do. This may be a very good reason to change the name. I recently worked with a campus where their career office name was very similar to what you might name an HR office---and of course, staff, employers, and students were somewhat confused by it. Some have suggested the word Counseling may be confusing in an office name (a long entangled argument for sure), or that the word Career itself is confusing (an even more entangled discussion). Career is not confusing, but it may be disliked. Those are two different things. Overall, these nuances are good discussions to have. But remember that it's always best to ask the customer if something is confusing.
Rename because your current name is Irrelevant: Outdated anything is a big red flag for users today. While I love the parachute pants I had in the late 80's, you won't see me open our next Leadership Forum in them on stage. They are outdated (and they don't fit anymore - ugh). So might be your name. This can hurt your relevancy, connectedness, and your perceived value offering to students. Irrelevancy could be a great reason to change your name. Again, ask the customer, not yourselves.
Why NOT to Change your Name
Don't change because its trending elsewhere: I am not personally a big fan of doing something because everyone else is doing it. Peer benchmarking is a powerful motivator in higher education. The Joneses are everywhere. Better keep up, right? Not if you might be actually diluting your vision and direction to stay in the cool club. Again, this name change thing is a lot of work. I guarantee, your boots-on-the-ground staff are always asking 'why?'. And the answer they don't want to hear is, because everyone else is doing it. However, what is trending can be very good, and in line with your vision, purpose, and forward movement.
Don't change because your President or Provost or VP or Dean recommended a name: This is a hard one, that sometimes scares people. It's not meant to promote rebellion, nor to say that Upper Admins are foolish. It is rather meant to empower confident middle managers to respond with logical dialogue to very confident (but often off-the cuff + in a vacuum) ideas put forth by upper admins. Logical discussion in the spirit of 'let's work together to make the best decision' is something they love. They are (mostly) spending all their energy trying to be the best. You can help with that venture. Manage-up with a thorough vision-driven and logical decision process.
Because you want to make a name for Yourself: This might just happen, and it might be good. But if that is the primary motivation, it has high potential for backfire, and probably won't increase engagement. This is unfortunately a complaint I hear a lot from university staff: they are not sure of their purpose, but they know their unit leader wants to be popular. Ick. Purpose motivates, ego deflates! Do you need to push, and drive, and put your name behind it? Absolutely! But the authenticity of your motivation will be sniffed-out by users today, and by your staff. Jump in to the name change game in order to better serve your constituents. Listen wholeheartedly to what they need. They don't care what you need. I say this gently, and with a swift kick in the pants to some of you. :)
So, dig into the nuances of why you should or should not change your name.
And, REMEMBER THIS: If you take up this adventure, the headline in the newspaper should never be, 'Career Center gets a new Name,' but should rather be, 'Career Center has a bold new Vision'!
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.