Back in 2011, Purdue University Global (formerly Kaplan University) decided to build an internal career services site that was available for our students 24 hours a day since the great majority of our students are adults balancing work, family, and personal responsibilities. Our goal was to build a site that was inviting, easily accessible, and hassle free, using technology as a tool to advance our long-term strategy of career support and relationship building. Our focus was to build tools that would be of value for everyone, especially the student who was trying to get career advice at midnight when they finally had time to prepare for their interview the next morning, not just those that needed help during traditional “office hours.”
One of our first tools was a question-and-answer “river” where our students could have questions answered in real time by staff members. We chose to have staff answer the questions as opposed to using a “chat bot” that gave canned generic advice. The choice to use staff to answer questions in real time may have seemed more extravagant, but we wanted to ensure this was a personalized experience that was beneficial for the student and represented our service level from career services. The quality factor was with our team and their advice. To start, we built a schedule where staff would have “portal duty.” They would have the river open in a window on their laptop and answer questions in as soon as they came in. Our service level agreement was that we would respond within 24 hours of a post, but usually questions were answered within a few minutes after posting on the site. Staff was scheduled in four-hour shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week, and we also scheduled staff to “check in” during weekends. In addition, we built in a search box feature where students could search previously answered questions to ensure career tools and information were always readily available.
When we launched the site, we noticed two very important things:
1) “Lurkers” who regularly visited the site, but didn’t always post questions
2) Students started to answer each other’s questions
To address both of these new issues, we adopted some best practices to assist our students.
We made it a priority to answer posted questions with full answers so that everyone learned something. We worked with staff on practice questions and reminded them not only to answer the question from the student, but also to write an answer for the benefit of “lurkers” on the site. We challenged the staff to think about how they can share information that would benefit everyone. That meant writing actual advice on topics versus “that’s a great question, let’s make an appointment to discuss that.” As a result, students kept coming back and staff was positioned as subject matter experts, thus personalizing the student experience and building a bond between the staff member and the student.
For the students who answered each other’s questions, we agreed to encourage and support this practice as it built a good sense of community. We would only get involved in the post if the student gave poor advice. Then we’d write “or you could look at things this way," giving a better answer to the question. Then we would watch how the thread progressed. Many times our students supported and encouraged each other, even sharing information on how to access human resources at their company, which was a win-win for everyone involved!
As you embark on adding tools and technology into your suite of career offerings, be sure to consider the following:
Who are your students?
What time of day do your students need career advice? How can you and your team support that? Do you need to adjust schedules to offer more services to students when they need them? How can you build a community of support? What can you automate and what needs individualized assistance?
How can you use technology to advance your strategy?
We knew that our students wanted online resources, so we built something that was available at all times, searchable, and had multiple options for students’ needs. We also designed it in a way for students to request social media profiles online with just the click of a button. We most recently worked with a Google team to build an app so that students can easily submit resumes and cover letters for review without issue. So use technology as a way to advance your relationships and offerings.
How does this tool impact your staff and advance relationships?
We were moving from a task-focused model to one that was highly focused on relationship building with valuable interactions each time we met with a student, whether it was online, during a phone call, in an email, or on the CareerNetwork. We also needed to position the staff as subject matter experts for their respective fields of study. Then, when the staff took the time to answer questions with great insight and advice, they were positioned as subject matter experts who students wanted to meet and engage with during their time with the university.
Over the last eight years, we’ve added and changed features to our internal CareerNetwork, but the river has been a constant source of information and support for our students that has not only helped our students, but also helped support our long-term strategy of a relationship-based department focused on successful graduate outcomes.