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Which Direction Should Your Career Center Go?

I spent much of February glued to the TV watching the Olympics. I’m drawn to it not so much for the individual sports – some of which I know nothing about – but for the allure of a big stage. I find it exhilarating, heart-breaking, pride-inducing, awe-inspiring, and moving. The amount of training and sacrifice that goes into preparing for that one moment to shine on one of the world’s biggest stages is inconceivable to me.

In an interview during the Games Meghan Duggan, captain of the U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team, reflected on the idea that the Olympics are just one moment in time. She said that for them (the athletes), the Olympics is every single day. The sacrifices, the decisions and the choices that they make day in and day out prepare them for that moment. In other words, it’s about the journey – the choices (big or small) that are made every day to take you in the direction you want to go.

Career Center teams across the nation are taking varied and unique directions: from career communities, to academic integrations, to advising networks, and virtual career learning. Defining the direction in which you want to go is part of the challenge for career services right now. Here are some tips to help you find your way:

Use Wayfinding

Some of the difficulty lies in not having a completely clear picture of the final destination like athletes do when training for the Olympics. In the book Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans argue that it’s not necessary to know your destination. Using a concept called wayfinding, you can figure out where you’re going when you don’t actually know your destination. Wayfinding proposes that you need a compass and a direction, but not a map.

At DePaul University, we have chosen to move in a direction where career exploration is not an “other” for students. It is not something extra that they may or may not take advantage of. Rather it is something that is woven into the very fabric of the student experience. While we don’t know exactly what that looks like, we know some of the components. It is the workshop, seminar or course that’s a required part of the curriculum; the messages students receive in the classroom and through their co-curriculars that help them understand the skills they’re building; the experiential learning opportunity that’s built into their program of study.

Reframe Your Frame of Reference

When you have a defined direction like this, you can utilize another concept in design thinking called ‘reframing’ to tackle the individual problems that come up along the way. Reframing helps you make sure you’re working on the right problems by challenging assumptions, taking an empathetic view and defining problems in different ways. You can only come up with the right solutions by identifying the right problems.

Reframing invites you to identify and challenge some of your long-held, yet sometimes dysfunctional beliefs, and redefine them. One classic example of reframing used in the book is the reframing of the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Reframing this question takes us to “Who or what do you want to grow into?” As we strive to become an essential component of the student experience at DePaul, we have used this concept to reframe some of our thinking.

Reframe #1

  • Dysfunctional belief: Only career services professionals are qualified to deliver career-related messages.

  • Reframe: Career messages can and should be delivered by anyone who is part of the student experience.

It’s not about “who,” it’s about “what” and “where.” The Career Center name does not need to be attached to the messages so long as you’re involved in determining the “what.” Career services’ role is to ensure the quality and consistency of the messages and identify the right places to embed them, rather than insisting that you be the ones to deliver them. This requires that you train your university colleagues to deliver some of your messages for you. As you contemplate how to do that, you have to evaluate how to convince others of the “why” for this. That leads me to our second effort at reframing at DePaul, which is targeted at the larger university community.

Reframe #2

  • Dysfunctional belief: Higher education is about the enrichment of the individual and the value of learning, not career preparation.

  • Reframe: Enrichment and career preparation are both vital parts of the equation when it comes to determining the value of a degree. They are not mutually exclusive.

A big part of the “where” for delivering career-related messages is in the classroom. This is where students spend the majority of their time and where they have the greatest opportunity to develop the skills that are most in-demand in today’s workplace. Getting into the classroom requires that you think differently about how to engage faculty. It requires that you use different language to explain why this is important and how it helps students be more successful. You need to talk about things like learning outcomes and metacognition, and figure out how to make incorporating career preparation easy and relevant.

Start Something Good

As you contemplate your direction, and as we all continue to define the direction of career services, here are some things you can do to set the tone and explore your options:

  1. Question your beliefs. What are the assumptions inherent in those beliefs? What happens if

you turn those beliefs upside down? How can you reframe your beliefs?

  1. Spark ideation. Get people thinking differently. For a few ideas on how to do this, check out this article from

  2. Let people know that it’s okay to fail. Redefine failure as a part of the process, so long as you learn from it. If you’re trying, you’re more than likely failing at some point. But if you’re not failing, you’re more than likely not even trying.

Choosing to begin this journey is the biggest step you can take. From there it is all about the smaller choices you make every day – where to put your energy, what to say “yes” and “no” to, how to frame your messages, how to respond in the face of failure. While career services may not have a destination like the Olympics, the curtain to our stage never closes. It is one in which we have the opportunity to impact thousands of students in their quest for success. We just need to keep moving in the right direction and follow our compass.

Karyn McCoy is the Assistant Vice President of the Career Center at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. She is motivated by figuring out how to best prepare and empower students to have the confidence and strategies to pursue exciting and fulfilling careers. She is currently focused on how career fits into the overall student experience. Karyn has worked in higher education for about 16 years - in both career services and alumni relations - at the Melbourne Business School, Kellogg School of Management and Northwestern University. She has a BA in Economics, with minors in Business and Psychology, from Washington University in St. Louis and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.

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