By Jeremy Podany
Founder & CEO
The Career Leadership Collective
Happy New Year! I hope that you find yourself refreshed and ready to revitalize the vision and direction of your Career Center in 2023!
I have dedicated my entire career to one vision: Ensuring Career Centers are the best they can be so that every student has the opportunity for high-quality career preparation, satisfaction, and economic growth. I am 1,000% behind the mission of Career Services, and fulfilling this mission requires regular change and growth and sometimes complete overhauls! After spending nearly two decades in higher education plus the last six years doing business with over 1,000 colleges and universities through consulting, training, and data services, the top challenges and needs of Career Centers could not be more clear to me.
My hope is that the list below will clarify what your Career Center needs to pursue in 2023 to grow its capacity, focus, and impact.
Here are the five most important and urgent needs for most Career Centers this year:
Clear and Known Strategy: Developing a workable strategy takes a lot of time, thought, and collaborative processing. It means listening to outside experts, distilling trends, and discerning your campus’s unique needs. Far too often, the Career Center strategic plan is in a drawer or on a hard-to-use annual planning form or is long and confusing because the staff wants to do everything. At the Collective, our consultants spend a great deal of time helping campuses distill their strategies to address the most pressing and impactful needs and goals. Most of the pain career teams experience comes down to a lack of clarity in vision and priorities. But if done well, once the quality of the strategic plan increases, and becomes known around campus, it impacts enrollment, assists with retention, enlivens student belief in their future, and bolsters career outcomes.
Courageous Leadership: Strategy is the foundation, but leaders make the change. I believe that any leader, at any time, can learn how to execute a new, fresh, and important redirection of the Career Center. This is one of the main reasons I started the Career Leadership Collective. Specifically, our Mastermind program has been one of the biggest joys of my career because I love seeing leaders understand how they can take practical and bold steps to move the needle on their campuses. It is also one of the reasons we have invested more staff and resources into Executive Search Services: Impactful leaders change everything. In that spirit, I encourage you to consider your approach when hiring leaders at any level in the career office: How can you tap into a broader network? How can you more specifically articulate what you are looking for in a leader? How can you plan to provide them with outstanding leadership training upon arrival? Perhaps 2023 is the year for your Career Center’s leadership to take bold steps to move the campus career readiness mission to a new level!
Robust Data Visualization: Here are two statements that career colleagues made to me during one of our recent regional lunches on leveraging career data: 1. ‘I think our team is unnecessarily fixated on response rate,’ and 2. ‘We really only collect three career outcome data points…we need much more if we want to compete.’ Perhaps you can relate. The real problem with your data is not moving the needle 5-10% on response rate or making sure everyone knows your 1st job placement rate (BTW: I love both, we have helped with both, and you do want to pursue both). Rather, the problem is when you don’t effectively gather robust data and strategically put it to use! You have to do the work of data storytelling regularly. Making the time for data storytelling will pay dividends to your Career Center and your campus. Data is the language of higher education, and you can’t afford to have all your data wrapped up in a stale chart or series of spreadsheets that cause you a high volume of work upon every request. Ensure you have interactive dashboards for your campus community. Identify your top 5-10 data storylines. Modernize how you design and portray your data. If you don’t have it, go get it. If you have it, use it more effectively. If I have learned anything from the last 4-years of our NACM survey and EMBARK survey services, it is this: data storytelling can be a game changer.
The Pursuit of Equity through Scaling and Commitment: Here is a phrase I have been saying for 10 years: ‘If career services are simply offered, we have a huge equity problem on our hands.’ It is not enough to do a handful of workshops to minoritized student orgs or provide a first gen career program (both are undoubtedly good). We have to offer career services at scale. We have to prioritize modern evergreen content at scale, high-impact career practices, and teaching students how to build social capital. We also have to frame career readiness as a campus expectation, a campus-wide commitment. Even if the untouchable word ‘required’ is not present in these expectations, we can still create an unavoidable culture of career readiness that is welcoming to every student. When I see a College President talking like this about a career readiness commitment, I say, yes! That is an expectation! Is there still a lot of work to be done to change the system, no doubt. But career readiness is no longer a passive offering for those who might happen to stop by the career office.
A Larger, Albeit Unique, Career Team: The biggest groan I hear from Career Center leaders today sounds like this: ‘I either need more staff or more time’. While I would love it if a few hundred cabinet members would read this blog and simply finance 5-10 more career staff in their career offices, that is just not in the cards for more than a handful of offices a year. So, ‘unique’ is the opportune word here. You have to get creative. The clear best practice for the last five years has been to pursue a career champions network. A follow-on practice has been to train and develop such a champion network, but that has yet to yield widespread and high-quality practices. If you lead a whiteboard session to solve key problems you are facing, answer this question first: How can we increase the capacity of our staff team without hiring more FT staff? We have spent hours on this question and believe there are answers. In fact, we just might launch a very needed solution to assist Career Teams in 2023…stay tuned!
Bonus Content: While the needs above can transform your efforts, it is important to identify a few hindrances that often prevent Career Center growth. There are many, but here are a few of the top barriers we see:
Your Career Center strategic plan has 10-20 priorities. Too many!
You lack time boundaries with student meetings, prohibiting bandwidth for strategic planning, leveraging data, and leading change.
You believe the myth that faculty and senior staff won’t get behind the career mission.
Identifying and eliminating these distractions can free up valuable time and energy to focus on your most impactful initiatives.
Happy New Year, and keep innovating!
Jeremy Podany | Founder & CEO | The Career Leadership Collective
Jeremy Podany is the Founder and CEO of The Career Leadership Collective, home of The National Alumni Career Mobility Survey and EMBARK. The Career Leadership Collective has done business with over 1,000 colleges and universities since 2017, providing big data and consulting solutions for the systemic career development needs of higher education. Jeremy is an innovation, leadership, and organizational growth connoisseur with niche expertise in 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 multiple unique start-ups inside and outside of universities. His inventions and consulting solutions have systemically helped thousands of university leaders and hundreds of thousands of college students with career education and social mobility.