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Crafting a Relatable Brand for Your Career Center: Building Trust Among Students

Crafting a Relatable Brand for Your Career Center: Building Trust Among Students

As someone with 13 years of experience teaching first-year composition and research writing courses to painters, animators, and film students in the context of an art school, I have learned to understand the importance of motivating engagement and earning trust with students. These students were eager to be in the studio and much less eager to learn about MLA citation or crafting a thesis statement. My long-term mentor called this work “selling spinach in a candy shop,” and I recognize the profound significance of establishing an approachable and credible brand for student-facing services.

Creating a well-defined brand for your career center is essential to fostering trust among students and ensuring they perceive the center as a valuable resource. Marketing any product or experience to students demands a deep understanding of the “new” 5Cs, outlined in this article from the Future of Commerce: Company DNA, Community, Global Culture, Circularity, and Customers.

Using this framework, let's explore how adopting these principles can transform your career center into a support hub for all students, regardless of their major, background, or aspirations.

  1. Company DNA: A Reflection of Identity and Purpose Much like the Gen Z market, which values authentic connections, your career center's brand must be rooted in its DNA - a reflection of its heritage, assets, and mission. When students see that your center values the diverse range of talents and aspirations across all majors, it speaks volumes about your commitment to their success. How do your values connect to different disciplines in meaningful ways where students can see themselves? Communicating your center's values and goals creates a connection that resonates with young minds seeking genuine support and guidance.

  2. Community: Bridging the Physical and Digital Realms Gen Z thrives on community, and your career center's brand should reflect this need for interconnectedness. Recognize that community can take various forms, extending beyond traditional boundaries. Just as brands build communities around specific interests, your career center can foster a sense of belonging for students from diverse backgrounds and fields of study. Custom partnerships with academic departments, campus identity centers, and student organizations bring your office into the lives of student stakeholders. This community-driven approach builds trust and encourages collaboration, leading to innovative solutions that address the ever-changing demands of the job market.

  3. Global Culture & Self-Expression: Embracing Diversity Today's students have grown up in a digital world transcending geographical borders, fostering a global perspective. Similarly, your career center's brand should embrace diversity and inclusion as central tenets. Showcasing the center's commitment to welcoming all identities and experiences resonates with students and prepares them for a workforce that values diversity. Are your marketing and branding materials reflective of your student populations and those you wish to engage with? Just as the rise of K-pop has demonstrated the power of global cultural phenomena, your center's brand can underscore the importance of cross-cultural understanding in career development.

  4. Circularity: A Sustainable Approach to Career Building Circularity refers to the state or quality of moving or occurring in a cycle and is a means to method of achieving sustainability. As the Gen Z demographic actively seeks sustainable solutions, your career center's brand should reflect a commitment to students' long-term success. By offering guidance and resources that empower students at every stage of the career exploration and job search process, your center becomes a place where students can refine their skills and navigate the dynamic world of work. Your career center's commitment to students' lasting success will resonate far more than empty promises. This can involve connecting students to alumni at various stages of their careers, custom programming/content for alumni and recent graduates, and providing students with upskilling opportunities.

  5. Customers' Starring Role: Real Stories, Real Trust For Gen Z, authenticity reigns supreme. Integrating real stories and experiences into your career center's brand narrative reinforces its trustworthiness. When students from various backgrounds and majors share their success stories, it demonstrates that the center is genuinely capable of helping every individual achieve their goals. Unlike traditional celebrity endorsements, showcasing real students as brand advocates strengthens the sense of community and empowers future generations to trust in the center's offerings. During my time at DePaul, the Career Center Marketing team collected and published a robust collection of DePaul Stories, which were integrated into advising, class presentations, and even faculty conversations.

Just as the "new" 5Cs of marketing provide a roadmap for connecting with Gen Z students, they also serve as a framework for building a compelling brand for your college campus career center. By aligning your center's values with these principles, you establish a foundation of trust that resonates with students seeking guidance, irrespective of their major or stage in their career journey. Remember, the strength of your career center's brand lies not just in its services but in its ability to inspire, guide, and support students as they shape their futures in a dynamic, digital-first world.

Now that we have considered the 5C's with our students, we can lean into 10 specific actions that connect to these areas.

Targeted Partnerships: Go where students are and build trust in their spaces by partnering with student organizations, academic departments, and employers to reach students who might not otherwise know about or value your services. These collaborations need to offer relevant content or experiences for each partner. For example, you could partner with a campus identity center for a workshop on Navigating Company Culture During the Job Search. Experiential Pop-ups: Create pop-up events on campus where students can learn about your services and resources in a fun and interactive way. For example, you could set up a photo booth where first-year students can take pictures with props related to different careers, or you could host a Valentine’s Day event with a “Love Your Future” theme. The goal for these kinds of events is less about learning outcomes and more about creating visibility for your services.  Vibe + Swag: Create a fun and inviting atmosphere in your career center. This could include things like playing music, having comfortable seating, and giving away branded swag that communicates approachability. The goal is to make students feel welcome and excited to visit your career center. (Cute swag image) Diverse Storytelling: Share stories of students who have used your services to achieve their career goals. This is a great way to show students that your career center is a valuable resource and that it can help them succeed. Make sure to highlight a diverse range of students from different majors, backgrounds, and career paths. (point to sample) Succinct Distinction: Be clear about what makes your career center unique. What unexpected services do you offer? What kind of expertise does your staff have? What kind of connections do you have with employers? Also, be prepared to tell students what’s unique about the institutional brand as a way to empower them to tell their educational story. Robust Resources: Ensure you have a robust digital library of resources available to students. You should also offer a variety of workshops and events on topics that are relevant to students. Both relevance and accessibility are key to gaining student trust. (Gen z data point) Career Champions: Identify staff and faculty passionate about helping their students with their careers. These faculty/staff can be trained as career champions and help promote your career center and its services. Make sure to create a training that empowers these champions to go beyond sending students back to your office.  Activate Peers: Leverage peer advisors and student employees as an approachable presence across campus. Peers can serve as brand ambassadors at non-career center events. Their interaction with peers can help normalize career exploration and engagement with the career center.  Career Pathways: Visualize career pathways that show students how their majors and interests can lead to different careers. This can help students to make informed decisions about their education and career goals. (point to example) Segment Your Audiences: Tailor your marketing and outreach efforts to different audiences of students. For example, you might target sophomores in January with information about summer internships or target recent graduates with a campaign designed to motivate them to network with last year’s graduating class.

By using these points as inspiration, you can build a strong brand for your career services office that will attract students and help them succeed.

Margie McGee-Newton, Creative and Content Manager, Consultant

The Career Leadership Collective

Portrait of the Author

Margie McGee-Newton has twenty years of experience in higher education. She has worked with a wide variety of institutions, including the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the University of Minnesota, Wellesley College, and DePaul University.

She is passionate about bringing sensitivity and appreciation for a user experience lens to higher education and leveraging accessible and engaging learning experiences to connect learners to meaningful and actionable content.


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