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Why having a formal Career Champions Network is the most important career services trend of 2020

Since the birth of The Career Leadership Collective we have advocated for one consistent concept: student career education is bigger than the career office.

You've probably seen this in our ground breaking article on Scaling Career Services, in our online accelerator series titled Redefining We, if you experienced our Spring Forum last year around the theme: 'Beyond the Career Center Walls,' or if you have ever heard me speak at a conference, consortium, or on your campus.

Forward thinking College and University leaders everywhere have spent a great amount of time on this topic, as they desire to better serve every student, but one practical manifestation is taking hold like wildfire, and we encourage you not to miss out, but to create a version of it that fits your campus: A Career Champions Network

I believe the career champions trend will be not only the biggest, but also the most important trend in both 2019 and 2020 in the career services field.

When done well, it is one of the most personal and user-centric ways to scale career services!

This is more than popular, it's strategic and important. There are two operational effectiveness topics about which we get the most requests for training, facilitation, or speaking. The first is all about Scaling Career Services, and the second is, you guessed it, Creating a Career Champions Network. We are, of course, happy to chat with you about helping your specific campus, but rather, I mention this to reinforce the point that this is an extremely popular emerging practice.

So, here is the skinny on what you need to know...

How is this different from past iterations?

Let's be clear, having a formalized champions network is certainly different than saying you have great partners across campus. The question of the 1990's and early 2000's was, do you have good career partners? And by now, most career centers do. The question used to sound something like: do people on campus like us in the career office? Which, BTW meant, do they send students to us, tell us they love what we do, have us into their classes, are not rude, go on trips with us, and etc. Partners are of course good, but not nearly as good as a formalized career champions network.

In contrast, a formalized group of champions means they are bought-in, trained, have some rhythm of regular meetings, messaging, encouragement, and awards and recognition for their work. The have a badge of honor that says, I am am part of something specific that is helping students in my context.

Who is doing this?

Well, a lot of campuses are starting something, and you have probably heard a bit of buzz. Ask around and you'll hear quite a diversity of campuses like University of South Carolina, Rollins College, Louisiana State University, Santa Clara University, Binghamton University, and many more.

We must give credit to some early leaders of the concept:

  • The George Mason University Career Influencers Network has certainly been a gold standard, focusing on training and empowering up to 250 staff and faculty, and increasing the number of known and higher quality career conversations outside of the career center by nearly 25,000 annually (no, that is not a typo). Saskia Campbell and team should be highly commended! Here's a 60 second taste of some of the insights that Saskia provided to Collective friends.

  • The terrific faculty initiative that was started by Kelly Dries when she was at the University of Utah, which she is now super-charging at University of Redlands as their new Executive Director, embedded into Academic Affairs under amazing Provost Kathy Ogren. Her work is a game-changer for understanding the heart of faculty, awarding them, and empowering them to integrate career education into their context. Here is a 60 second taste of insights from Kelly, and professor Kody Powell, about creating a system to empower faculty:

And, there are many others we can mention that have started something in unique ways.

This past April, we received survey data from 92 career leaders about this topic, on the following question:


The graph shows that 82.7% said they have plans or they somewhat have plans! Wow! This is not a small number! This train is moving. Are you on board?

Why is it so important?

Simply put, students are already doing this model without you. They are leaning into career champions everywhere (but those 'champions' are not yet trained or empowered as champions). Students are talking to people they trust about their future, and they spend more time with those individuals than they do with career advisors. Take a look at what some students said in this short 2 minute video:

Another big reason why this is important is that the sheer scale, on a very personalized level, that is present when many faculty, staff and others are empowered to participate in portions of career education, will triple your impact.

What to Name it?

It has various names depending on your campus culture. Here are a few we have seen:

  • Career Influencers

  • Career Champions

  • Career Advocates

  • Career Allies

  • Career Ambassadors

  • Career Network

Play with the words that fit your campus the best!

Who are the champions?

Well, that depends on what you build:

  • Sometimes they are one conglomerate of mixed together faculty, staff, alumni, students, etc. known as the single champions group on campus.

  • In other cases, the career center leads multiple separate champion efforts: one for faculty, one for peers, one for alumni, and etc.

  • Sometimes, it is best to start with one target group as a pilot. For instance, only faculty champions.

  • Sometimes it envelopes a career communities effort on your campus, and the trainings happen inside academic schools or per industry cluster. In this case, you might have, for example, Science Careers Advocates and Arts Community Career Advocates - each domain which is a mix of students, faculty, and staff.

It all depends on your structure, and your goals.

Will we will lose our value?

Ok change haters, this is the most common question we hear from hesitant career teams. If we train everyone else, will we lose our value? Will we still be needed? The answer?

10 times more value! And, known as a much bigger partner and expert than you ever were before. A CAREER CHAMPIONS NETWORK DOES NOT REPLACE YOUR TEAM, IT DIVERSIFIES IT!

The bigger question is: are we too controlling, or too perfectionist about student career interventions, to the point were we are frustrated if anyone does anything less than our standard or approach - which BTW is killing your ability to scale and play nice in the sandbox. Please know, your career champions are busy people, and they don't want to become fully certified career coaches, nor should you ask them to do so - you are simply empowering them to help on a few topics that will make their lives easier and help a truckload of students. So, no, you will not lose your value, you will dramatically increase it in the eyes of the campus community.

You don't have that many haters, do you?

Okay, perhaps you think none of your faculty or staff are interested in having career conversations with students. Well, frankly, I think you are wrong. So let's test it. I challenge you to prove it by meeting face to face with 100 of them to earnestly listen to them about what students are saying to them about their future. Also find out if they would appreciate knowing when to refer, how to have a great convo, what resources exist, and more. Don't invite them to anything, just listen. If you have 90% or more that complain, think it is a waste of their time, and say the topic is useless, then I will buy dinner for your career team and edit this post to reflect that in some cases this just won't work. But know this, if you can get just 20% of your faculty and staff involved, then you have a HUGE number of advocates that will transform your reach.

There is so much more!

There is so much more that goes into a truly successful champions network. A lot of implementation details and key questions. I could probably write a book about what campuses are doing. If you'd like more information, I invite you to attend our deep-dive pre-conference session on this topic at our Annual Conference this April. I also invite you to reach out to us. We are delighted to help.

Happy Innovating!

Jeremy Podany is the Founder and CEO of The Career Leadership Collective. Jeremy is an innovation, leadership, and organizational growth connoisseur with unique expertise on the confluence of university career services, systems-thinking, leadership, and organizational growth. Jeremy enjoyed nearly 20 years working inside higher education in career services and corporate education, and has helped build six unique start-ups inside and outside of universities. His inventions and consulting solutions have systemically helped hundreds of thousands of college students with career education and mobility. Jeremy regularly writes, speaks, trains, and consults for universities, businesses, and tech start-ups. His specialty involves helping university upper-administrators to weave career education into the fabric of the campus and maximize results. Jeremy’s reputation as a speaker and consultant is built on his engaging ability to communicate about complex and challenging leadership and organizational integration topics in higher education, business, and university career services with incredible authenticity, humility, and humor. He is a thought-leader, inventor, and a trusted advisor with the rare ability to both inspire organizations and audiences and provide them with practical takeaway strategies. Jeremy has a BA in English Education from Western Michigan University, and a Masters in Higher Education Administration from Indiana University. Jeremy lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife and four children. He loves college basketball and driving his jeep thru, hiking in, or gazing at the Rocky Mountains.

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