Counselor or Editor? When Does Wordsmithing Stop Serving Our Students?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

While you don’t need an undergraduate English degree to become a higher education career counselor, I often draw on it as much as my counseling preparation and recruiting background. While the “juicier” student appointments may revolve around career exploration, interest assessments, and job-search strategies, a large percentage of appointments are dedicated to creating and revising resumes, cover letters, personal statements, and increasingly, LinkedIn profiles.

Our office, like most, conducts year-round workshops and posts online resources to help students with all of these communication formats. However, we find that the overall area of career-related written communication remains daunting for many students. This is neither an isolated nor insignificant finding.  A recent survey conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of The American Association of Colleges and Universities compared student and employer perceptions of career preparedness. While 65 percent of students surveyed believed that their written communication skills were work force ready, only 27 percent of the employers surveyed agreed.  NACE’s own extensive employer research revealed that oral communications ranks first among seven critical competencies associated with career readiness, with nearly 92 percent of respondents agreeing that is it absolutely essential or essential.

Like all of us, I want my students to succeed, whether in nabbing that long-shot, ultra-competitive  summer internship or gaining admission to a coveted graduate program. As an office, we are also keenly aware that the quality of written materials ultimately reviewed by potential employers and graduate schools reflects on institutional reputation.

While we can offer guidelines with supporting examples to assist in creating career deliverables, it is more difficult to help a student who struggles not only with the language of career-readiness, but with more basic issues of grammar, syntax, transitions, and overall flow. As both a student champion and a natural fixer, I struggle with where to draw the line between helpful wordsmithing and unhelpful enabling of a written communication deficit that begs to be addressed outside of the career services office. Like many of us, I tactfully refer students to our on-campus writing center. We can encourage, but not require.

Recently I assumed responsibility for leading our office’s assessment of student learning outcomes.  Among the areas we are examining as a team, the overarching area of what we have framed as career articulation, oral as well as written, has come to the forefront. While we will continue to use specific rubrics for resumes, essays, etc. as day-to-day teaching tools, we are exploring the use of a multi-measure rubric to help us better assess whether and to what extent students are applying learning from one form of communication to another.  For example, does mastering the 30-second elevator speech cross over to crafting a compelling LinkedIn summary or acing the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” interview question?

How is your career services office addressing the NACE written communications competency, both in your day-to-day operations and in assessment? What kinds of partnerships are you forming on campus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Counselor or Editor? When Does Wordsmithing Stop Serving Our Students?

  1. Very interesting way to phrase it, counselor or editor–but true in all accounts.

    Our office partners with a business course that includes a mock interview as part of the required assignments. If you fail to schedule the mock interview, don’t show, forget, etc–student fails the course (barring any exceptions from the Dean). We’ve received positive feedback from many students on having this as part of the course because there was no way to run away from having to interview. Mock interviews are conducted by working professionals who are given a rubric and scorecard.

    I’d love to hear on how other offices tackle the resume piece of your blog.

  2. This is a topic I’ve often struggled with, as well. I’ve started to partner with our campus’s Writing Center to create more cross-communication between our offices. We’ve even been in discussions about how to make our respective peer adviser programs stronger through cross-training. I’ve learned quite a bit from our Writing Center Director about how to more effectively train my peer career advisers so that they are coaching and teaching other students, rather than editing or writing their resumes for them.

    Down the line, I’d like to start creating training/best practices sessions that include peer advisers from both the career center and the Writing Center, so we can further our collaborations and serve our student workers by providing them with some hefty professional development.

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