All Drop-ins, All the Time: Creating a Career Studio

By Kelly Dorner posted 11-09-2017 08:11

Fall is an exciting time in the world of career services. Following a summer of benchmarking and strategic planning, I found myself enthusiastic to pilot an idea I learned about at the NACE 2017 conference. I attended a session called “Flip your Career Center: Peer Mentoring That Goes Beyond the Resume Critique.” This session, led by Mary T. Calhoon, from the University of Nevada - Reno, challenged the mindset that students in need of career guidance are best serviced through a pre-scheduled 1:1 appointment.   Mary had the innate ability to help her standing room only crowd visualize the potential of a career studio, an interactive, high-touch space for students to receive on-demand career consultation in their moment of need.

I was captivated as Mary explained the University of Nevada - Reno’s Career Studio structure—all drop-ins, all the time—run by a team of her peer career mentors who encourage students to come in often and stay as long as they want. Mary went on to explain that the University of Nevada - Reno offered no scheduled individual appointments. I was blown away and began brainstorming how I could leverage my peer ambassador team to create Oakland University’s version of a career studio. 

In the weeks following NACE 2017, I continued to think about the career studio concept. Could there be a need for this at Oakland University? How was this different than our traditional drop-in approach? How could we make this concept work with our peer career ambassador team? For months leading up to the conference I had been pondering the balance of our pre-scheduled appointments and drop-in advising. Like other career services offices, we are very focused on student success. I recognized the need for on-demand resources. I suspected many students discover they need career related assistance as they are developing that resume or cover letter, and sometimes scheduling an appointment three to four business days out doesn’t meet that student’s need. I also thought about our students who may have writer’s block and those who have never developed a LinkedIn profile or used Handshake for their job search. I wasn’t sure our approach of offering a 15-minute drop-in was the right solution. Let’s face it, 15 minutes is barely time to scratch the surface. Could these students be better serviced by an interactive studio that allowed them to bring their laptop and work in our space with the opportunity to ask questions and receive in-the-moment guidance from a peer career ambassador?  

I decided that it was time to pick up the phone and seek Mary’s input on my vision for an Oakland University Career Studio.

I knew I wasn’t ready to swing the pendulum completely and nix our pre-scheduled appointments, but there had to be balance. I hoped Mary could help me figure out where that balance was for us. Lucky for me, Mary embraced the opportunity to help brainstorm. With her help, I developed a vision for Oakland University’s Career Studio.

I decided our approach would be to offer more drop-in hours than previous years, and train our peer ambassadors to have a “studio mind-set,” where students visiting our office would be encouraged to stay and work on their career-related documents as long as they like, and receive in-the-moment assistance from an ambassador equipped to answer their questions.  We trained our peer career ambassadors to dig deep and offer solutions beyond a student’s initial question. Let me give you a couple examples of how this works:

Student Question: What is Handshake?

Peer Ambassador Response:  Rather than simply responding to this question, our ambassadors invite the student to stay and learn about how to set up a Handshake profile, conduct a job search, and how to search for upcoming career-related events tailored to their interests. Further, the student was offered the option to work on their profile or conduct a job search in our space.

Student Question:  I would like to schedule an appointment for a resume review. 

Peer Ambassador Response:  Rather than scheduling an appointment for the following week and sending the student on their way, our ambassadors have been trained to probe a bit deeper. They will inquire whether the student had a resume on hand. They offer the student the option to stay and work on their resume with ambassador guidance in the moment, or minimally equip the student with resources to prepare should the student prefer a 1:1 resume consultation with a professional staff member. 

Through formal training and role playing, we found that our peer career ambassadors were ready and hungry to embrace the challenge of leading our Career Studio!

After weeks of strategizing, planning, and training it was finally time to launch a new academic year and our studio. We immediately found ourselves in the height of preparation mode for our upcoming career fairs, so the timing could not have been better to try this out! The great news is that our students love our Career Studio.

Within days of the launch, our office was buzzing with students preparing for career fairs. The impact was immediate—in our weeks leading up to the fall career fairs, our peer career ambassador student interaction increased by 36 percent!  

It has been exciting to see students taking advantage of our interactive space to work on resumes, prepare for interviews, and learn more about Handshake. Students seem to love the customizable, on-demand approach. Some stay for 10 to 15 minutes to ask a quick question, while others stay for an hour or more working on a resume. Our peer career ambassadors have done an amazing job of finding new ways to engage students in the studio and create a welcoming, interactive environment.

So, what’s next for our Career Studio? We are planning to try out extending our hours into the evening prior our winter career fair. We are also brainstorming creative ways for our peer career ambassadors to proactively reach out to students and invite them to check out our Career Studio. Stay tuned—I can’t wait to share more of our studio adventures with you as the year goes on!



11-13-2017 14:39

Hi Jennifer!  Our peer Career Ambassador program is a paid team of 12 undergraduate students.  Our ambassadors typically are able to commit to a minimum of one academic year with us, and, we also have some that stick with us for two more years.   We have found this peer to peer approach works very well for "drop ins" and first time visitors to our office.   We train them on a variety of topics including Handshake, resumes/cover letters, internship search, and interview skills.   The bulk of the training takes place in August prior to the launch of the academic year.  We also have ongoing training throughout the year as needed.   We are currently in the process of planning a training to kick off our Winter semester consisting of a variety of role plays related to managing traffic in our career studio.  I am happy to talk more about our team and our training approach.   I can be reached directly at

11-13-2017 13:02

Kelly, I'm interested in these types of service delivery models and yes, I echo your concerns about moving completely away from 1:1 appointment scheduling, yet understand the need to further develop a drop-in model. On the logistics side--what was the hiring process of the peer ambassadors and training involved? Is this something where peer ambassadors had to formally apply for the opportunities, and sign a semester or year contract for example? I am assuming the positions are paid student labor as well? Do you have ongoing training by either a professional staff member or coordinator designated for your program? Thanks! Jennifer

11-09-2017 13:48

Kelly, it has been so much fun to watch your vision for a Career Studio at Oakland University take shape. I love that students have responded so enthusiastically to the change! Our experience at UNR has been positive in the same way: students are more open to peer-led advising than we ever would have guessed. And the peer mentors themselves are more than ready to rise to the occasion. Keep up the great work!