UNC Chapel Hill’s Innovation in Career Services: Climate, Leadership, and Process!

Heather TranenA post by Guest Blogger, Heather Tranen
Associate Director, Global Communications & Strategic Outreach, NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development
Twitter: @htranen
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/heathertranen


UNC Chapel Hill never ceases to amaze me. They remain on the cutting edge with social media and innovation, and I am always excited to hear what they have to say. Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles’s workshop shed light on fascinating data about what either fosters or impedes innovation in career services offices. With the increased emphasis on ROI in higher education, it is even more crucial that career services professionals consider the  factors that produce innovation. UNC Chapel Hill took the assessment method that PricewaterhouseCoopers uses, and looked at what makes an organization MORE likely to be innovative.

Climate, Leadership, and Process were the factors considered.

Gary and Katherine showed that 79% of offices who think they are innovative, also feel comfortable taking bold action. The majority also agree or strongly agree that they feel comfortable being bold because leadership supports them. More about leadership in a bit. Not surprisingly, lack of time and lack of budget are reasons that the innovation process was stifled. I highlighted some of the main ideas that came out of the small group discussions that took place throughout the workshop.


Hiring the right people Let’s not mess around with our talent. From the very beginning, make sure that you are hiring people with not only a vision, but an ability to enact their vision and yield concrete results. My favorite interviewing question to ask potential hires is, “Tell me about a time you had an idea, brought it into fruition, and it yielded positive results.” Feel free to steal that.

Freedom – with boundaries and mentoring Young talent often come in bright eyed and bushy tailed – fearless of failure. As managers its important to let them initiate their ideas, but with guidance. Don’t be a dream killer. Rather, ask them questions that force them to see where there might be holes in their ideas. Support them in finding the right strategy. It takes a bit more time, but the long term investment is worthwhile. You never know, it might just result in a NACE Excellence Award.

Talking to outside constituents about their strategies Sharing ideas and best practices is so crucial to success. That’s why I love conferences like NACE. However, even if you can’t swing going to a large conference, simply reaching out to individuals who are doing work you are inspired by is a great way to build your network, and to find out how others overcame challenges you currently face.


The data shared definitely showed that leadership is instrumental in whether or not an office innovates. Those who felt supported, also felt comfortable innovating. It is important as leaders to make sure these ideas are fostered so our offices can continue to grow, and our students are exposed to the most cutting edge resources possible.

During the small group discussion, we brainstormed leadership tactics to create an innovative office.

Provide alternate forms of communication I definitely related to the “introvert’s nightmare” comment during the NACE awards. Introverted staff members might feel awkward bringing up ideas in large meetings. Being open to an email or other online discussion to get the conversation going can generate a wider range of ideas.

Take the time to cultivate new leadership I don’t mean to brag, but my boss is pretty awesome. I have worked for her over the course of five years, starting out as an entry level employee, and now as an Associate Director and senior member of her staff. My ideas have literally never been shot down. As a result, our social media presence has grown exponentially, and the office continues to innovate.

Empathize It gets harder to relate to the day-to-day activities of your staff. Taking the time to see what’s going on with their projects and empathizing with their stress will help them feel supported and cared for within the office.


Gary and Katherine discussed the most utilized resources career services use to innovate. Some of these were pretty surprising.

Top 5 Resources Used 



Career Services

Professional Associations


Top 5 Resources Not Used


Social media

Other service organizations

News media



Entrepreneurship Program Partnerships

Mobile Apps

Kiosks on campus to search jobs

Virtual fairs



“You don’t want to be blind to routine things that we are blind to making things better.”

“Sometimes we might live in the iterative. I can make this better by stapling it on the left side instead of the right.”


Gary’s Recommendation:

10 Faces of Innovation byTom Kelley

My Recommendation

Leadership in Career Services: Voices from the Field by Manny Contomanolis and Trudy Steinfeld

That’s all for this fabulous session! I hope everyone is enjoying the rest of their time at NACE! Stay tuned for my next blog!

One thought on “UNC Chapel Hill’s Innovation in Career Services: Climate, Leadership, and Process!

  1. Let’s face it, I’m a tad biased but I think that Gary Alan Miller and Katherine Nobles are rock stars and I’m so impressed with the work they did on this project. I was not involved in this research and was blown away when I first heard them deliver a workshop on this topic at the SoACE Conference in December 2012. They inspire me to be a better boss and a better career services professional. Thanks for the shout-out to UNC Chapel Hill University Career Services.

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