We have met many individuals in the world of University Career Services who wish to become the Director a career office someday. So has Brandon Wright. So DID Brandon Wright...and fast!
Brandon received his bachelors in 2010, his masters in 2012, and has been in the career services field for 6.5 years, having two Director roles in the last 3.5 years, most recently as the new Director of the UAB Career Center at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Brandon accelerated to Director status quite quickly compared to most stories we hear. How did this happen, and what might others be able replicate to strive toward the Director role?
The Collective got time with Brandon to pick his brain on lessons learned regarding: The Fast Rack to becoming a Career Services Director
Embrace Your Unique Story and Lean-in
The Collective: Tell us a bit about your unique career story and your personal fast track to Director.
Brandon Wright: I played football in college while majoring in business. Never intended on using the degree, I was going to the NFL. I worked hard and got interviews with all 32 teams, but didn’t get the job. That was tough. How do you strike out 32 times? Suddenly, I was faced with the harsh reality of every athlete. I had to find my identity outside of a jersey. It was one of the toughest times of my life. I played football for 12 years. Football paid for both of my degrees. Now, I had to find something else to do. Through divine intervention, I went to visit the Office of Career Services while enrolled in a master's program. After, connecting with the coordinator, I decided to apply for an internship in the Office of Career Services. Upon completion, I reasoned that I missed out on this service because of my lack of awareness. I thought, "This office was here the whole time, and I never engaged with it?" I was upset with myself. In 2012, I graduated with my masters, and I wrote in my career plan, “Be a Director in three years and increase awareness of career services.” Guess what, it happened in less than two and half years. Then, I accepted my second Directorship in May 2018 at a larger institution. Believe it or not, things have moved faster than anticipated.
Master the Basics
The Collective: How does an emerging career services leader best learn to become a director?
Brandon Wright: I believe it is vitally important to master the basics! My coach would say, "Take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves." If you have tons of career advising experience and no employer relations experience or vice versa seek opportunities to increase your expertise in the appropriate area through cross functional collaboration, partnerships, and experiments.
In 2012, I started as Academic Advisor and Career Counselor at a small private institution serving 4,000 students. The career services area was nonexistent. I saw an opportunity to get an excellent foundation in the principles of career education and employer relations. I was the only career counselor on campus, and we were on a Trimester system, which means I was registering students for classes every eight weeks. That’s what you call, practice. I desperately wanted students to understand how their academic decisions connected to careers. I spent a lot of time researching career pathways and career competencies. On the other side, I got engaged with the local chamber of commerce to start building an employer network. I did not have a budget for a career management platform, which meant I had to beat the pavement. I went to every chamber of commerce networking event my schedule would allow. I amassed business cards and uploaded them into my employer directory excel spreadsheet. I was proud! Over my time in that role, I connected with more than 300 human resources personnel. I created and facilitated workshops, classroom presentations, and career fairs. I was a one-man show but, I had a passion and work ethic. I didn't ask for more money, technology, or human resources.
My love for ensuring people knew about career services pushed me to practice the fundamentals of career advising, employer relations, partnerships, marketing, and every type of task a career office performs.
Network with Purpose – It’s a Small World in Career Services
The Collective: Skills are not everything, what did you do to get known, and get to know influential people.
Brandon Wright: Start with who you know, and also get around a lot of career directors. In 2012, I had graduated with my master's degree and was jobless. I think it was late July, I talked with my adviser concerning a position that fit my profile. I applied, interviewed, accepted, and started August 15th. After getting settled into the new role, I met the Director of Residence Life. I found out she was the one that sent the job position to my adviser. Turns out, he was her adviser when she was in graduate school! It's a small world.
In 2015, I took a call concerning an opportunity to lead the very career center I interned in three years prior. This individual knew me and my mission. It didn’t matter where I worked because that mission was the same “Increase awareness of career services.” She felt I would be an excellent fit for the position and encouraged me to apply. I followed through and accepted the job.
In 2017, while at a conference, I was sitting a table having lunch with a group of career services professionals. The seat beside me was open an individual asked if she could join us for lunch. We continued to connect, and in early 2018 she recommended that I apply for a position…and I got it.
When I go to conferences, my goal is to connect with two mentors/leaders and one mentee. Leaders in career services are open and willing to share. Reach out for an informational interview or set-up an on-site visit. It is important for you to make the first move.
Seek Advice and Mentorship Often
The Collective: It sounds like you did more than just show up and act smart. What was your posture and approach as you grew your skill-set and interacted with so many career professionals?
Brandon Wright: The world of career services is filled with individuals who are willing to help. I have been very fortunate to meet great individuals who mentor me. My first time as director, I had a lot to learn so, I called, emailed, and conducted site visits. During that time, I developed valuable relationships with individuals who still mentor me to this day. I heard a wise piece of advice that stuck with me, "Lean on someone who is a few laps ahead of you on the track."
My mentors open my perspective, share resources, and inspire me to reach for greater heights. Also, be sure to apply what you learn from your mentors this way they will know you truly value their wisdom.
I encourage you to seek authentic connections because there is a mutual benefit. Make time a treat your mentor to lunch. When you come across an interesting article, send a quick email. Seek to add value to your mentors' life. The benefits of mentorship have played a considerable role in my growth, and I believe they can do the same for you.
The Collective: Any concluding thoughts?
Brandon Wright: Basically, if you seek to be on the fast track to Director you must master the basics, network, and acquire quality mentors. Doing so, will catapult any young professional in the direction of leadership.
Brandon Wright is Director of the UAB Career Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is inspired to help others accomplish their goals and increase awareness of career services. He is currently focused on integrating career education into the academic experience. Brandon has worked in higher education since 2012 – in career services and academic advising at William Carey University, Arkansas Tech University and now the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He earned both his BS in Business Administration and MS in College Student Personnel from Arkansas Tech University.