Many of us spend quality time with friends and family. During this time, I face a common question that I am sure we all hear which is, “What kind of work do you do?” As I enter my second year as a career services professional there are several things I wish to learn, one of which is to find the best way to address this question after many personal failed attempts. As I reviewed different approaches I have taken in the past, I reached out to some friends in the field to see how they tackle this difficult question. After reflecting on my own thoughts and hearing what others had to say, I came to the conclusion that people answer this question in different ways depending on who they are talking to. This is not surprising to hear, but made me wonder if there is a uniform way to talk about the work we do in the field of career services regardless of the audience. In order to do this, I decided to reflect on the work of other departments in the field of higher education.
As with any department in higher education that does not include faculty, there are simple answers to explain what they do. What do people in residence life do? They plan pizza parties. What do people in student involvement do? They plan concerts and pizza parties. What do people at the wellness center do? They help students work out. Then of course, what do people in the career center do? They help students get jobs.
All have a little bit of truth to them but provide about as much insight as one puzzle piece does to a 100-piece puzzle.
I am sure some of you are wondering why I even decided to write about this. When it comes to some career options, a description is unnecessary for college students. They all pretty much know what a teacher, doctor, scientist, nurse, and musician do (or they think they know). That is great, but covers a small percentage of the career options that are available to them. Few people go into college thinking I want to be a career services professional, or I want to work in the claims department for an insurance company, or I want to work in one of the countless other jobs that most people do not think twice about. As a result, there are numerous opportunities that students miss out on because they are unaware of them, leading to some employers missing out on top talent. This is due to a lack of awareness that students have for unfamiliar career options and event when they are made aware if is articulated poorly the student may have little to no interest in pursuing that opportunity.
If we have the ability to articulate the work that we do as career service professionals, which many people are unaware of, we will be able to do the same for others. As a result, we will be better at articulating less common opportunities and marketing them in a way that students will be interested in. Therefore, students will be more likely to pursue these career paths, increasing the students’ chances to finding a career they are interested in and giving employers the opportunity to hire top talent. People finding interest in career fields they originally had no interest in has been occurring and I would say is borderline common place. Although, at the same time people have been denying opportunities because they have no interest in them. I hope that through articulating and marketing those less common career options in a way that is more interesting to the students, it will increase the former and decrease the latter.
Now, to get back to the topic at hand, talking about what we do as career service professionals and what others in the realm of higher education. In the previous descriptions of residence life, student involvement, wellness centers, and career centers, all were simple. Most people would have little interest unless you have a strong passion for pizza parties. It is this simple approach that I see some employers start off with when talking about the field or position. The same goes for career service professionals. However, they do not say that they help students get jobs. The ones I spoke to describe helping students with their career/professional development, helping students figure out what they want to do after graduation, helping students with job searching, helping students find internships and jobs (With the key difference from the one early in this article being “find” compared to “get”). These simpler explanations are insightful but do not probe curiosity and result in some inquiring to know further and others to move on in the conversation. I see similar results when talking with students about opportunities they are not aware of along with employers trying to market themselves to students.
In addition to taking the simple approach, one could use a more complex approach. Complex responses can include providing a common title associated with the work that we do by saying they are a career coach/counselor, which can be insightful but for those who do not know what they do or it still may miss the mark. Some provide official titles which can make things even more confusing. I often joke with students and others about being the Associate Director of Career Development and not knowing what that title even means. This provides a good example of how there are countless other job titles that people have never heard of but can still provide a meaningful and interesting career choice. Going further into complex responses involves providing details that can come off as intimidating or boring for those that are not interested. It may also be articulated in poor way resulting in a decrease of any interest they might of had. Again, this is something I have seen when speaking with students and observing employers doing the same. At times the student may find interest but more often than not, the student can lose interest and miss out on an opportunity.
When it comes to articulating an unfamiliar career field such as career services, a certain twist is needed in order to provide interest, while at the same time staying true to what it is that you do. There is a certain power that language has and the impact can vary depending on how it is used. For example, I first started to think about this because I do not like it when people say that I help students get jobs, because in reality I don’t. I look at my job as someone that helps students prepare themselves for life after college by providing them with multiple resources and tools. Yes, that does involve helpings students find jobs, but it is the students that get the jobs. Saying that we help students get jobs is giving us too much credit that I do not think we necessarily deserve. While at the same time saying that we help students with resumes and cover letters is true, but not all that interesting and is a very narrow scope to the services that we actually provide. When trying to use the power of language to talk about a job that most are unaware of in an interesting way, it can be more beneficial to describe the impact that the work has, compared to just talking about the work. I have found that Generation Z students are acquiring great experiences, yet they do not always see the impact the experience has on them and those involved. So as a result, students may not be interested in pursuing the same or similar experiences, but when the impact is discussed the interest increases. Talk about helping students with their resume and few would be interested, but talk about helping students see and reach their potential and the interest grows.
On one hand, I do not know if it will be possible to come up with a way one can talk about unknown fields in a uniform way regardless of the audience. Especially describing those fields in ways that student will find interesting and worth pursuing. On the other hand, it is possible to find new ways to discuss less common career options with students from this generation in a way that interest them enough to pursue further. Thus increasing their chances of finding a career they will enjoy and for employers to acquire top talent. All in all, If we can improve the way we speak about the work we do as an uncommon career choice, the better we can articulate other opportunities with students, leading to less missed opportunities and students finding themselves in a position to make a consequential impact.