Leadership Lessons From Campus Career Consolidations—A Journey

By Kathryn Kaysen Jackson posted 04-23-2019 08:01


Prepare for the Captain Obvious statement in…3…2...1…

Change is difficult and, sometimes messy. Okay?  Allow me to drill down on that statement from the perspective of someone in university career service leadership in the midst of change.

I lead an interdisciplinary career services unit that serves students, alumni, executive education, and certificate programs. When we talk about career services at Loyola University Chicago, we are referring to:

  • Business Career Coaching
  • Career Counseling
  • Employer Operations & Communication
  • Employer Relations & Outreach
  • Federal Work-Study/Community-based Federal Work-Study
  • Fellowship Advising
  • PreHealth Advising
  • PreLaw Advising (Note: Law school has its own career advising unit)
  • Student Employment (on campus)

Loyola University Chicago’s Career Services was not always an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and connected unit—our evolution from a freestanding office to a multi-campus, multi-team group is the product of both a strategic vision and an institutional need to leverage resources more effectively. In 2013, we were separate offices without a shared purpose and today we are 24 full-time staff, 15 part-timers (interns, student employees, graduate student workers, etc.) with offices on two campuses in three different buildings. I’d like to offer some of the lessons from my experience of consolidations over the last five years (in no particular order).

First, the challenges:

  • Identity: Teams that were stand-alone are often uncomfortable with potentially losing their identitiy, influence, or voice; The work of balancing consolidation with team-based brand is never over;
  • Positioning: Consolidating for effectiveness does not necessarily equate to more resources; There is an assumption, as a unit grows, that a larger team equals more (people, money, etc.) and this is typically a myth. We are leveraging resources more effectively, yes, but not because we hired more people or received more budget, so being clear with everyone in your campus ecosystem about this is critical;
  • Advocacy: In my interpretation of leadership, I am an advocate for my teams and with an ever diversifying portfolio of specialists I had to learn the core of their work and the needs of their profession to be able to effectively speak on their behalf; and
  • Outcomes: Given a diverse portfolio of services, outcomes collection, and requirements take on a life of its own. 

Second, this is the good part, the advantages:

  • Colleagues: Formerly stand-alone teams or individuals receive a professional peer group to call on for support and consultation which reduces work-place isolation and information silos;
  • Cross-Training: No longer a training exercise, as an interdisciplinary unit, teams are constantly exposed to what their colleagues do and how they work which means better messaging and fewer service gaps to students;
  • Student “Bounce”: Connecting programs such as student employment and fellowship with career services reduces the potential for disconnected and unproductive student experiences; and
  • Diverse Perspectives: The creation of a leadership team, one person over each of the aforementioned areas, has provided me with an incredibly intelligent, mindful, and diverse set of perspectives to advise on issues that may impact each of their respective populations and/or operations painting a more holistic and collaborative landscape for me to lead within.

I believe we are in for a challenging decade in higher education, I know we are feeling the constant buzz of change in career services but I also believe that we can make change positive and productive given the right perspective and support. Our journey through consolidation has not always been easy and, operationally, needs constant management but I think it serves students more effectively and puts the institution in a unique space. We’re not finished with our change but we’ve come a long way and the lessons I’ve learned have helped me become a better leader and career professional. See you on the flip side!