Developing Career Goals Holistically

Melanie BufordMelanie Buford, Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Career Development Center, University of Cincinnati

Dan Blank, a career coach who works primarily with creative professionals, offers the following advice in his webinar “Take Back Your Creative Life.”

“Career goals should not be formed in isolation. You must take into account all of your responsibilities (personal and professional), and be sure to account for your own well-being. This includes physical and mental health.” Blank encourages his clients to integrate their career and personal goals in order to set themselves up for success.

Many undergraduate students start their career decision-making process by selecting a major based on the subjects they enjoyed in high school. Students interested in majoring in one of the applied sciences tend to follow this pattern. Several students I’ve worked with tell me they’ve chosen to major in engineering because they were “smart” in high school or strong in math and science, but they don’t know much about the field itself. Time and again, these students arrive at the career development center wondering why they’re not more interested in the engineering coursework and field experiences.

The problem isn’t engineering. The problem is that these students formed career goals in isolation. They didn’t consider the environment they’d be working in, the physical location of their organization, the skills they enjoy developing and want to build on, or the ways they hope to grow as people and as professionals. Fortunately, the University of Cincinnati provides a co-op program that allows engineering students to get full-time work experience before graduation.

Career goals, increasingly, need to be formed holistically. Gone are the days when choosing a career was simply a matter of matching your best school subject to an industry. The market is volatile; new opportunities are being created and other avenues are becoming less viable. A law career isn’t the safe choice it once was, and the nonprofit world has expanded to include diverse organizations tackling new social issues. It’s more common that professionals will relocate to a new city for a job opportunity, and more workers than ever are changing jobs and moving to new sectors over the course of their careers.

We are facing the so-called “paradox of choice.” Research has demonstrated that if we are presented with more opportunities, decision-making becomes more difficult and satisfaction less likely.

When a student steps into a career development office today, they’re faced with a much broader set of options than they would have been 30 years ago. They could go to medical school in their hometown or they could spend two years in the Peace Corps and teach grade school students in Lithuania. They could go to graduate school for computer science or launch a start-up with friends based on their ideas for a new app.

In order to make these decisions, students have to consider not only what talents they have, but what kind of life they want to lead.

It is critical, therefore, that students take a holistic approach to developing their career goals. We encourage them to apply this lens both to themselves and to the field they’re considering. Here are a few questions students should consider during the career exploration process:

What skills do I have and want to develop?

What type of work environment might best fit my temperament?

What type of diversity do I hope to have in my work environment?

How is the industry I’m considering expected to evolve in the next few decades?

What city, state, or country might I want to live in?

What have my career goals been and how have they changed?

What role would I like technology to play in my career?

How important is stability to me and how willing am I to take risks?

Each of these questions will take time to answer as students develop more clarity on their identities and values. Is it any wonder career goals formed at age 18 often feel premature? These are questions we wrestle with throughout our lives.

To me, this only underscores the importance of committing to a continuous career development process, not just for students, but for graduates. Attempting to build your life looking only through a narrow lens of career is bound to work against your happiness. We must support students around this process by acknowledging its complexity and encouraging them to consider the multiple implications of a potential career path.

NACE members can pick up a student-directed version of this blog, Develop Your Career Goals Holistically, in Grab & Go.


Blank, Dan. (2015). Take Back Your Creative Life Webinar. We Grow Media.

Cole, Marine. (2014). U.S. Job Market Has Changed Dramatically in 15 Year. The Fiscal Times.

Hedges, Kristi. (2012). The Surprising Poverty of Too Many Choices. Forbes.


Redefining Professional Development for Career Advisers

Ross WadeRoss Wade, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog:
LinkedIn URL:
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

Does professional development for career services staff need an update? Is the model of “go to a conference or do an assessment training” still as relevant as career services is changing so much and so quickly? What can we do to grow as professionals, connect more with employers and alumni, and gain credibility with our students and other stakeholders? I think it is time to consider redefining what professional development for career services staff means, and how it is done. I’m not talking about ditching annual conferences, they are of great value, what I’m saying is I think it is time to add a few more options.

In July of 2014, Farouk Dey and Christine Y. Cruzvergara, co-authored an article called “10 Future Trends in College Career Services.” Number 10 in their inspiring and thought provoking piece, “New Breed of Professionals,” resonated with me—especially the statement, “To be successful, career center staff must become agile content experts and network catalysts who will lead communities and develop meaningful connections among their constituents.” In my experience, in order to gain credibility with students, having experience in the field in which I advise (media, arts, and entertainment) is very important. When I tell students that I’ve worked in documentary and digital media, and know of some great companies that could be a good fit for them (based on my personal experience) I get student buy-in very quickly.

My ideas for tweaking career services staff professional development options involve creating opportunities for gaining industry experience; generating and growing relationships with employers, alumni, faculty, and staff; and serve as a means for staff to gain some “street cred” (with students, employers, and faculty).

The concept of career staff having the option to do some form of industry internship during the summer is very exciting to me. The internship doesn’t have to be full-time; it could be eight to 10 hours a week over four to six weeks. The internship could be hands-on, or more observational and include informational interviews. Regardless of the specifics, this experience would give staff a chance to understand industry skills and trends as well as positions and roles within specific industries and companies, and the chance to connect with experts and HR professionals.

For example, there is a wonderful art start-up in my area connecting artists to consumers via social media and storytelling—I’d love to intern there, creating content, connecting with artists, and growing the art scene in my community. Think of all the connections I’d make and skills I’d learn. My improved knowledge of this industry and number of contacts in art I’d make would generate credibility with faculty and students.

Approaching employers with the idea of hiring an “adult”/career staff intern may at first raise some eyebrows, but just as we tell our students, if one creates a pitch and plan (with a timeline, tasks, and goals), that is brand new or a modified version of an existing internship program, what could we lose? Don’t want to intern at company? Try an internship at another office at your institution.

For example, it would be a great opportunity to intern with the communications office at my home institution, or in the multicultural center. Think of the new connections to be made and opportunities to find points for future collaboration! Is research your thing? Approach a faculty member focused on an industry or topic of relevance to career development, and pitch a research idea. Spend 10 or so hours a week during the summer researching and writing. Career staff doing research with faculty – whaaaat?! It may sound crazy, but I think it is a wonderful idea, and I bet it is already happening at institutions across the country.

Other benefits include staff cross training opportunities after the internship or research is completed, heightened staff engagement and excitement, and great content (e.g. photos, blog posts, interviews with professionals) to share across campus via social media to generate interest in career services. What ideas do you have? I’d love to get employer thoughts on this. How would you redefine professional development for career services staff?

Career Services Becomes a Primary Focus for Student Affairs

Heather TranenHeather Tranen, Associate Director, University of Pennsylvania Career Services

With increasing attention on return on investment in higher education, it’s no wonder that the pressure subsequently increases on career services professionals to deliver. As a result, career services becomes a more central point of discussion within the realm of student affairs.

My former colleague, Leah Lattimore, and I submitted a career services focused workshop for National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to explore the effective communication strategies that promote lifelong career development.

Luckily, our crawfish dreams were answered and our proposal was New Orleans-bound for NASPA 2015: Navigating Courage.


We felt excited about presenting on our topic to a different audience. What I did not expect to find was the plethora of other career-related sessions throughout the conference. I was able to learn more about data/assessment, the future of career services, the importance of early engagement, and recruitment trends. Sessions were also well attended by a cross-section of departments (housing, student activities, and alumni relations to name a few).  Undoubtedly, other student affairs professionals are recognizing career development as a high impact area of their field.

A few weeks later, I am now fully able to digest (literally and figuratively), the main takeaways from the conference as they relate to our work as career services practitioners. None of this information is surprising. However, it all provides interesting insight into where the industry is at the moment, and reminds us how to focus our work.

Data, data, data. As you might suspect, data and showcasing ROI through hard numbers was a hot topic. I don’t mean to brag, but Penn collects data and showcases it in a way where it frames a story for its students (e.g. What can I do with my major, or Where are people with my major working geographically?). One question posed and potentially worth considering to include in your placement surveys would be, “Why didn’t students use career services?” I enjoyed learning what offices at John Jay and FSU are doing during these discussions, and think it is worth thinking beyond just our placement statistics to explore how the data creates a story.

Customized, targeted services. Thought leaders from RIT, NYU, Stanford, and George Mason talked about the future of career services. The need for the core services with a targeted approach will only become an increasing pressure on us as career services professionals. Additionally, Georgia State discussed their targeted programming/niche career fairs. This was also a leading theme in our presentation.

Early engagement. Schools like UConn are offering credit-bearing First-Year Experience (FYE) courses. This definitely seems like an interesting way to tie career services to the academic enterprise and to put career services at the forefront of students’ minds from the very beginning of their college experience.

Recruiting trends. Employers pursuing a “soft” recruiting approach by targeting candidates via social media and at career development events vs. the more traditional recruitment events (e.g. career fairs and information sessions) is also a trend schools are seeing.

That career services has become a central focus within higher education came when speaker Trudy Steinfeld addressed a standing-room only group. She said, “I presented at NASPA many years ago. Guess how many people were in my session? Six.”


Trudy Steinfeld said to a standing room only group, “I presented at NASPA many years ago. Guess how many people were in my session? Six.”

Now it’s up to us as professionals in the field to continue delivering top-tier work, and to innovate ways that connect our students to the placement numbers society seeks and to the careers that lead them to fulfilling work.



Career Services: Death Is Not an Option

Kelli Smith Director of University Career Services at the Fleish

Kelli K. Smith, Director of University Career Services, Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development, Binghamton University

Career services must live! Transform. Perhaps change its name.

If you are in the field of career services, you may have watched Wake Forest’s Andy Chan in a TED Talk, “Career Services Must Die,” recorded nearly two years ago. When Andy Chan and Wake Forest are discussed among colleagues, I hear responses ranging from, “They are doing some great things there,” to “Did you see the size of their staff?,” to “At least now people are actually paying attention to us,” to “Did you know that the university president committed millions of dollars to enhance their career programs before Chan arrived?”

Let me be clear. I have enormous respect for what is occurring at Wake Forest. I am excited about much of the work being done there and what the “Rethinking Success” movement has spurred within our field. I have been particularly inspired by their work in partnering with faculty and other campus entities, and by their commitment to undergraduate students’ professional development and success.

It is a fascinating time within our field. An #Elev8CS movement has begun on Twitter, and some colleagues call this “The Golden Age of Career Services.” It is not surprising to see director roles elevated in title and positional power at institutions as we are finally recognized for our direct link to recruitment, retention, and revenue. At the same time, at nearly all of our professional conferences, an expectation for transformation by campus leadership is clearly the underlying theme. This began to happen before the president’s College Scorecard focus on college outcomes  developed.

It may well be time for the typical name and nomenclature of “career services” to be buried. Yet, I worry the clearly attention-grabbing title of “Career Services Must Die” alone has prompted many in leadership positions at universities, particularly at large universities, to look critically at career services on their campuses without having the slightest idea of what career services does day-in and day-out.

This is the case even though research has indicated “getting a better job” is a top reason among prospective students for going to college.

Prior to Chan’s TED Talk and the College Scorecard initiative, many in our field believed top university leaders gave little, if any, attention to their career centers. It is critical that people understand a major reason why Wake Forest has been so successful in its transformation is that the university’s president made career development a priority, elevated the director role to a vice-president role and a direct report, assigned executive-level compensation to the position, and infused the career services team with millions of dollars to support their transformation effort.

In addition, according to the Rethinking Success website, Wake Forest raised more than $10 million to invest in their “college-to-career” efforts—with one result being the staff size quadrupled. Growing and elevating career services on a campus is much different than expecting departments to do more with less, or even more with the same.

Meanwhile, many of us at large public institutions feel we are being compared to Wake Forest, yet we are in a vastly different situation with regard to resources and positional power to have decision-making and a “seat at the table” granted by university leadership.

While Wake Forest had significant funds to assist in their transformation from the beginning, many public universities operate on very small budgets while serving relatively large populations of prospective students, current students, and alumni. And some have felt a reduction in resources over time, rather than an increase.

While (thankfully) the average career services operating budget has increased since 2012, still some campuses report decreases in in their budget than those reporting increases according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. At the same time, the national average students-per-staff ratio is 2,672 students per staff member; personalized attention for all students is simply not possible in such situations.

The significant focus finally placed our profession’s work within the last couple of years, prompted in large part by both Wake Forest and the College Scorecard, is promising. It has spurred innovation and change. I am convinced preparation of our students to enter the world of work will be bettered, and in the end, that is why those of us in my profession go to work every day.

We are ready for the expectations for change. My hope is that universities—public and private—put  resources behind their desire for transformation. It would not be fair to our students today or tomorrow.

I argue our field does not need to die, but rather needs attention and true support to become a university priority. While not yet ideal, I do feel fortunate for my own situation. In addition to the remarkable student profile of our public institution, a main reason I was willing to move my family across the country was because Binghamton recently built a new, state-of-the-art career center in the heart of campus, made possible by one of our alums. I also have a Vice President for Student Affairs who understands and values our work, supports the changes our team has made, and advocates for additional staffing resources. Stories of others in similar situations are more commonplace, and hopefully this trend will continue for all types of institutions across the country.

What’s happening on your campus?


Seeking Minimalism in a World of Clutter: My Office Décor Tour

tiffany waddellTiffany I. Waddell, Assistant Director for Career Development, Davidson College
Personal blog:
Twitter: @tiffanyiwaddell

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that the life of a career adviser, coach, or counselor (pick your fancy) requires a great deal of organization, balance, and efficiency. Particularly when we, as higher-ed administrators, are called to do and be more with student needs, ideas, and skill gaps—with the same amount of time to use each day. I consider myself a fairly good manager of my time—I am a list queen, of course. As an introvert, I tend to plan my attack on the day long before I get into the office, and I am at my best when I am organized.

However, I am always on a quest for more balance and clarity. For me, that often begins with the physical space around me. How can I maximize my productivity and create a warm and welcoming environment for students who visit my office? How can I create a space that encourages my own creativity and idea generation, but that is still professional and organized? Transitioning into a new role this year gave me the opportunity to try something new with my work space, though it is always evolving.

Here are a few pictures of my work space, and the items that make my home-away-from-home a comfortable space to coach, create, and conquer.  Enjoy!  I hope it inspires you to create a warm, comfortable work space of your own!

globe light

Fun globe light:  Most days I work in my office without the use of an overhead light.  Overhead lights can be rough on the eyes, contribute to headaches, and even make you feel a little blah. It’s not easy to turn off the overhead light when the weather is gloomy, but using lights like these instead help brighten up the room without being too jarring.


tissuesHand sanitizer, tissues, and an hourglass: Hand sanitizer and tissues?  Sometimes students and visitors bring flu and cold germs along, so I always recommend having some of both available within arm’s reach.  The hourglass was a fun find. I don’t actually use it to time sessions.  Ha!




Wall art: Prints courtesy of a Google search. I love to add a splash of color in an otherwise neutral space, because it’s unexpected, vibrant, and allows me to add a bit of my own flavor while still being professional.  The quotes are also two of my all-time favorites.



Workstation organizer: When I arrived, the organizer was already in my office—and I find that it comes in handy to store folders of commonly used teaching tools and handouts (like career assessment access instructions!). This also minimizes the amount of clutter floating around the office space, leaving the tabletop free for project work or program prep.

sound machine

Sound machine: A must have.  It helps calm the space, muffles  outside noise, and (I think) helps minimize noise that travels from my office into the larger office.  Also helpful when I’m writing, because it provides just the right amount of white noise.



Desk Mantra

Desk Mantra: Speaks for itself.  This is double-sided and serves as a reminder for me …and all of the students and staff who visit.  We can definitely do anything.  But not everything.

Thanks for reading! Please share in the comments below how you jazz up your office space and create a warm, inviting space to counsel and coach clients. I would love to hear from you.

Manage Your Time – Don’t Let It Manage You

Jason Bauer-Clapp

Jason Bauer-Clapp, associate director of Internships & Programs, Smith College, Lazarus Center for Career Development
Twitter: @jason_bc

Whether we’re helping students manage competing priorities and deadlines, or supporting ourselves and our colleagues’ efforts to stay on track with current responsibilities and new projects, most career services professionals are drawn to approaches that enable us to accomplish work more efficiently and effectively.

In this post I’ll share a few of my favorite workflow “hacks”—productivity practices that promote action rather than reaction, which can lead to checking items off our to-do lists more smoothly. This is a topic I have long been curious about, but it wasn’t until a few years ago (coinciding with becoming a parent) that I began actively exploring, practicing, and sharing these strategies.

Effective approaches to managing time—or, more precisely, how we focus our energy and effort during that time—will vary by individual, and I suspect many of these ideas will be familiar for readers. Here are my favorite tips:

Break projects into small action steps. With a large-scale undertaking, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the project’s scope, complexity, and how far it is to the finish line, all of which create resistance. Bypass this reaction by deconstructing a project into micro-steps, each of which will bring us a little closer towards our goal and create momentum. Use action verbs to define each step, and strive to make each action one that can be accomplished in a single sitting.

Externalize to-dos. As amazing as our brains are, they are relatively poor at remembering tasks and lists. By offloading the responsibility of remembering to-dos to a reliable, accessible, and external source (paper or digital), we free up cognitive resources for addressing the tasks. Choose a method that is simple to implement and easily accessed virtually anywhere: You want to be able to capture ideas quickly and have your list close at hand for regular review. I recommend using one integrated list rather than separate lists for home, school, work, and so forth.

Do your most complex work when you’re at your best. What time of day do you tend to be most alert and engaged? Each of us differs: for many it is early- to mid-morning, for others it is late at night. To the extent that is practical for you, reserve this time for your most mentally demanding work, those creative, strategic, or problem-solving tasks that benefit the most from your sustained focus.

Minimize “always on” e-mail. Do you find it difficult to resist checking your inbox when you know new messages are waiting? Few people enjoy being interrupted when immersed in a project or conversation, yet we do this to ourselves when e-mail inboxes are kept open throughout our work days, encouraging a state of constant vigilance and dispersed focus dubbed “continuous partial attention” by researcher Linda Stone. Set aside dedicated times throughout your day to review and respond to e-mail messages; outside of those times, close your e-mail client or inbox tab so you can focus on other tasks.

The list of individuals exploring and offering advice on productivity and time management is lengthy. Some I’ve found particularly helpful (and whose work inspired this post) include Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction; time management expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders; writer and researcher Daniel Goleman; David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done; and Scott Belsky, founder of 99U and author of Making Ideas Happen.

What practices or approaches help you stay productive? What’s missing from this list that you’d like others to know about?


Building Stronger Partnerships Between Career Centers and Employers

BlessVaiBless Vaidian, Director, Career Counseling for Pace Career Services – Westchester, and Founder, Career Transitions Guide

As we begin a new year, it’s a great time to reach out to employers to review 2014. Asking the right questions to see what can be done to improve relationships, meet goals, and place candidates is important to do on an ongoing basis, but especially now. Answers to these questions can then be applied to your 2015 strategy. Career centers can maintain long-lasting employer partnerships by surveying these areas:

How Can I Help Recruiters Meet Their Objectives?

Recruiters collaborate with the career services team for several reasons each semester: sourcing candidates for vacant positions, branding their company, and/or educating students on career-related topics. As career development professionals, we try to make sure the human resource goals are met for our employers when they partner with our office. Before we solicit speakers or attendees, we have to know what the employer’s recruitment goals are for that cycle or even beyond. Asking the right questions at the right time will help employers and the career office make strategic decisions as to whether the event will produce placements, or if the event is to brand and educate…or both. Never assume an employer is hiring. Know ahead of time what the goal is and tap the right student cohort into each program.

What Did the Recruiters Think of the Quality of Students?

Employers gauge the quality of students from a college using many criteria. How students represent themselves in person and in writing matters. Often students are placed in communications and writing programs to develop these needed skills as part of their academic curriculum. Interviews, resumes, and cover letters reflect the university at large. Bad impressions make an employer wonder if the student population is worth hiring from, or if they need to recruit elsewhere. Having employers run career center resume and interview workshops can make some employers feel vested in the student body. Preparing students for career success is a challenge. Not everyone comes into the career center office. Mandating appointments and attendance at career center programs is one way to change that. Webinars and online resources on a variety of career topics help students access resources within their time frames so they can make positive impressions when meeting employers.

What Can I Do to Help an Employer Find the Right Candidates?

An employer’s timeline for recruitment is not always congruent with career center events. Many recruiters have internship programs, rotational programs, and entry-level positions they are looking to fill during every cycle. But hundreds of others simply want a career center to find the right candidate as the need arises. Not being able to offer resumes when a recruiter requests them is bad business, and, if done often enough, it can move schools toward the bottom of lists that capture hiring outcomes. Career centers need contacts within various academic departments, student organizations, and other university offices to collaborate with. Targeted outreach needs to reach the appropriate pool of students. The resume of a student looking for entry-level jobs or internships can be sent out on the student’s behalf as positions are created, until the student is removed from the list of “seeking.” Once an employer-based event is put together it’s essential that the number of attendees that match company needs is high. All departments and organizations on campus (not just career services) should know about the event and encourage participation. There is nothing worse than having an event with an off-campus guest and not having the attendance to make it worthwhile. Student success stories are dependent on making matches happen.

Employers are sourcing candidates on campus earlier than ever and rank universities on quantifiable results. Every college wants successful outcomes for all their graduates, and that starts with collaboration with employers. Many companies have internship programs that they use as a gateway to fill entry-level postings. Employers also host information sessions and networking events to source students. Even if recruiters are on campus to conduct career-related educational workshops, they keep their eyes open for students who can be potential hires. The partnership between employers and career centers is an important one that needs to be nurtured all year long. Now is a great time to assess what worked and what didn’t in the partnerships you rely on.