August 24, 2020
Catherine Neiner is director of University Career Services at Georgia State University
Five months ago, we thought we would be back in the office in no time. Now, here we are entering this extraordinary Fall Semester 2020 still in that ambiguous situation. Some of us are still working remote, and some of us are working on a hybrid rotation—in the office some and remote some.
Here’s the thing about those of us who work in career services. We have always been flexible. And adaptable. And innovative. We have had to be. Often those characteristics are overlooked by others in our institutions because we mostly make it look so effortless. This time, these characteristics served us well. Because we had to rethink how we do our work. And that allowed us to leverage three unexpected gifts.
Allowed Us to Expand Our Reach to Students
Let’s be honest with ourselves: career services can be kind of intimidating to students. But as soon as we moved to a virtual presence, our engagement with students went up about 300 percent. I have to admit that I only have anecdotal reasons for this, but I think two main things happened. First, it was so easy for students to log on and connect for career counseling or a recruiting event. There was no need to put on professional dress or to hurry between classes, find the right room, and, most important, feel anxious about walking in. Second, when they logged on, students discovered all the resources available to them. It upped their use, and so doing, supported our work in educating the future workforce of our communities. We hope that, when we are fully face to face again, this easiness will be a part of the culture.
Allowed Us to Consult to Employers
What an opportunity we were given to become consultants to our employers! During this time, we were able to give them strategies to continue to feel engaged with our students. We were not asking them to help us with partnerships, panels, and fairs. Now, we could demonstrate to them optimal methods for recruitment—everything from how to use our virtual platform to weekly “coffee chats” to answer questions and provide important information about what the university was doing. We hope that, going forward, we will continue be in the enviable position of having employers look to us as experts and collaborating partners and not only someone who is always asking them for something.
Allowed Us to Reframe Our Value to the University
When it became knowledge around the university that our reach to students had increased and that our relationships with employers was not only maintained but enhanced, we were able to demonstrate that our value is so much more than resume review and first destination survey. It became apparent that career services plays a vital role that benefits not only students but the university as a whole for recruitment, retention, and alumni affinity. We hope that, going forward, our seat at the table will be amplified because this new perception.
A Bonus: Students Gained Career Readiness Competencies
We all tend to think that students are total experts in all things technology. Well, they are not. But now, they have gained numerous skills from learning how to use virtual meetings platforms to designing online presentations to, finally, using their e-portfolio. They have had to learn how to interact with others in a professional manner and with a professional look. And, interestingly, they have learned compassion and empathy for others and awareness of themselves. We certainly know that the world needs this now.
Someday, hopefully soon, we will be able to swagger around bragging that we were there in the Pandemic Fall Semester of 2020 and that we came out on the other side stronger than ever. Here’s to you, my friends and colleagues. Let’s get this show on the road.