Whenever someone asks me how to build a team that is successful and provides great service, I always mention an analogy of a three-legged stool. (Here’s where the team says: “Oh here she goes again about that stool.”) I’ve had the opportunity to help various career services (CS) teams throughout my 16-year career in career services and whenever there is an “issue” with services delivered or performance issues, it seems that one (or more) of the legs of their three-legged stool is broken or not receiving the time and attention it deserves.
Leg One—Students: What is the message your team sends to students? Are they open and flexible to meet with students or does it take weeks/months to set up an appointment? Are there self-service tools available for students to use if your office is closed? Is the team empowering the student body with knowledge and resources or building a dependency? This group and can also include alumni, parents, and prospective students depending on the structure of your university.
Leg Two—Employers: What is your relationship with the employers that hire your graduates? Do you make working with your CS team a pleasure or do you sense some dread when calling an employer? It is easy for an employer to share a job lead or do they have to enter each and every job lead into an antiquated job board system with the hope that a student might look at it? How do you promote sending job leads to students/alumni? What is the experience like for an employer that participates in an event with your university?
Leg Three—Faculty and Staff: Do other teams at your university know what the career services team does on a regular basis? Do you share feedback from employers with faculty, department chairs and deans? Do you get invited to present in the classroom on career issues? Do you work on projects with advising, student affairs, admissions, or financial aid?
In order for us to keep our “three legs” firmly planted and have a successful team, we meet in the first two months of the year to review all that we’ve accomplished over the previous year and start to brainstorm goals that enhance our relationships with students, employers, and faculty/staff. Everyone on our CS team is encouraged to join a working group that analyzes current relationships, brainstorms new goals to further the relationships, and builds metrics for achieving the goals. The working groups (one for students, one for employers, and one for faculty/staff) present their top three or four goals to the CS leadership team and we’ll discuss it as a group using SMART criteria. From there the team receives a “menu of goals” where they are encouraged to pick at least one from the student category, one from the employer category, and one from the faculty/staff category for their performance goals for the year. We review these goals mid-year with the teams to keep them all on track and set a deadline for completion at the end of the year. By creating this structure, the team feels that they have a role in their performance metrics goals and we build something together that we all feel is achievable. This will be our third year with this goal structure and I love to see our team get excited about it each and every year.
Jennifer Lasater is the vice president of Employer and Career Services at Kaplan University, serving more than 35,000 online students. She has 16 years of experience in higher education, specifically in the career services sector. Additionally, Jennifer is currently serving on the Board of Directors of NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers as a Director-College. The views expressed are solely her own.