Collaboration: More Isn’t Always Better

by Kathy Douglas

Collaboration is taking over the workplace. — Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant

Teamwork, collaboration, stakeholder engagement—these are all buzzwords in job descriptions where interactions with clients and colleagues are integral to getting work done.   “Over the past two decades,” according to Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant in their article in the Harvard Business Review, Collaborative Overload, “the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more.”

What are the implications of this change in the workplace?  Workloads become lopsided — when “20 to 35 percent of value-added collaborations come from only 3 to 5 percent of employees.”  Women bear a disproportionate share of collaborative work. Top collaborators are in demand by colleagues, and tend to burn out fast. Top collaborators are often not recognized by senior management, and studies show that they have the lowest levels of job satisfaction.

As advisers, we encourage students to enter the work force with enthusiasm and to go the extra mile. Take on additional duties, we counsel. Do an extraordinary job.  But according to Cross, Rebele, and Grant, while “a single ‘extra miler’—an employee who frequently contributes beyond the scope of his or her role—can drive team performance more than all the other members combined…this ‘escalating citizenship’…only further fuels the demands placed on top collaborators.”

Should we then be telling our students a different story?  Should students entering the work force in large companies and organizations temper their enthusiasm when it comes to collaboration, and if so, how?

Part of the answer lies in knowing the nature of collaboration and collaborative resources, which Cross, Rebele, and Grant discuss.

Part of it lies in the corollary to the authors’ assertion that: “Leaders must learn to recognize, promote, and efficiently distribute the right kinds of collaborative work.” Namely, employees (and the students we advise) must also learn to recognize their own work, promote themselves, and create effective boundaries to avoid collaborative overload.

I think the message career advisers convey can still insist on doing a great job and expanding one’s role in ways that are in line with one’s talents and interests.  But I think it’s also important for students, before entering the work force, to develop strategies to avoid collaboration overload and the burn out it can generate.

As Cross, Rebele, and Grant aptly note: “Collaboration is indeed the answer to many of today’s most pressing business challenges. But more isn’t always better.”

Kathryn DouglasKathy Douglas, Senior Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Twitter: @fescdo

The Career Services Profession Is for Artists, Too

Tamara ClarksonTamara Clarkson, Career Services Consultant, Purdue University
Twitter: @tamcatcam

In the four years I’ve worked in career services, I’ve consistently heard we must recruit staff with diverse backgrounds and from various fields. I wholeheartedly agree, but that might just be my degree in art talking.

I began college, like many first-generation students, surprised I’d even gotten in. Now I was expected to pick a lifelong career? My freshman year, I studied studio art at a private university, but soon realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do and transferred to a community college closer to home. After a year of community college, I transferred to Texas State University, and when they wouldn’t take “undecided” as my choice for a major—as a junior—I hastily stuck with art. With that decision, I had seemingly selected my path for life. I focused on art education,n but found that the teaching profession did not suit my INFJ-ness. Then I thought, maybe art history could be a fulfilling career.

How many students have you seen that make life-altering decisions like these almost at random? If you’re keeping track, that’s three majors in as many schools and I was completely lost. I didn’t know how to evaluate what I loved or what I needed to feel satisfied in a career.

So I saw a career counselor.

Just kidding!

Like many first generation college students, I had no idea how to navigate the college system or find the resources that could provide direction. When I finally reflected, as a super senior, on what would give me true fulfillment and satisfaction in the workplace, I realized for the first time that what I was skilled at (creating art) did not align with what would bring me professional satisfaction (helping others).

The best professional decision I ever made was applying to the counseling program at Texas State after receiving my B.A. in art history. Luckily, the faculty saw my unique background as an asset. The program made me become who I am today and I’m so thankful to the professors and colleagues who helped shape me. It was there that I learned I needed a career that involved counseling, but also offered opportunities to work on projects and meet deadlines. I conducted several informational interviews with Texas State’s career services professionals and realized career services could provide the balance I was looking for. Four years later, I am a career services consultant at Purdue’s Center for Career Opportunities (CCO). If getting an M.A. in counseling was the best professional decision of my life, joining the CCO is my second.

When I see students struggling to stick with a career path that they have the skillset but not the passion for, or they simply don’t know what they’d be interested in pursuing outside of college, I enjoy telling them that so many others have struggled with the same dilemma. We are all unique, and as we change, so may our professional goals and interests. They don’t have to choose what they want to do for the rest of their lives, all they have to figure out is their first few steps. And I can tell them that diverse interests and a curiosity that exceeds a narrow career path are assets, not liabilities, because I am a career services professional, but I wouldn’t be here if I was not also an artist.

Helping Students Find Expertise

KKathryn Douglasathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Twitter: @fescdo

Words that rhyme with expertise:
Appease, Bhutanese, breeze, cerise, cheese, éminence grise, freeze, journalese, marquise, overseas, Portuguese, seize, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees,
trapeze, valise, vocalese, wheeze – selections from Oxford

Part of my job is to encourage students going on the job market to think about their areas of expertise. My goal is for them to confidently position themselves as candidates with specialized knowledge—not only as doers with hands-on experience to quantify on their resume with start and end dates, and not only as technical, language, or soft skill wizards with long lists of certifications and skills. Although these elements are important too.

I have read drafts of resumes where I can barely tell that a student has just spent two to six years taking courses, conducting complicated research, and learning broadly and deeply.

And so I ask them about coursework, concepts, areas of expertise.

  • Student: “But I can’t include x on my resume, I don’t have any experience doing it!”
  • Me: “Do you know anything about x?”
  • Student: “Well, yes, [insert impromptu dissertation on x].”

During these impromptu dissertations, I jot down some of the specific, interesting keywords that roll off a student’s tongue—COP21, LCA, renewables, EPI, deforestation free, paw paw, NRDC, camera trap, biophilic, Hotshot, CEQ, ecosystem services, bioswale, carbon neutral, Clean Air Act, systems thinking, Peace Corps, biochar. I might ask for clarification of a few terms, and suddenly there are more keywords. In a career counseling session, students do not have to worry about impressing me. And if I ask the right questions, they reveal that they do know something. And usually it is a lot of something.

It doesn’t matter if I’m working with a career-changing masters candidate with 10 years of work experience or an international student straight out of an undergraduate program—transitioning from student to expert is intimidating. Most students balk when I ask them to tell me about their expertise.

Afterall, students are students. They are learners. Faculty are the experts.

Surrounded by faculty experts and by peers who know a lot of the same things, students tend to think of themselves as:

  • knowing significantly less than others, and
  • not knowing anything special.

While I ask questions to tease out specific knowledge and reflect it back, I suggest the following knowledge scale to help students frame and think more objectively about their expertise:

  • For the past two years I have focused on…
  • I have expertise in…
  • I have thorough knowledge of…
  • I have knowledge of…
  • I am thoroughly familiar with…
  • I am familiar with…
  • I have heard of it.

When an advisee finishes describing the statewide coastal resiliency planning, renewable energy finance mechanisms, or conflict resolution strategies in small rural communities in a developing country they have been focusing on for two years (but failed to mention on their resume because it wasn’t part of their work experience), I hand them a Post-It note (or three) with keywords and concepts I have gleaned.

And then I prompt them with these questions:

  • Are there any areas included here in which you can confidently claim expertise?
  • Can you use some of this language to summarize a two-year academic or professional focus?
  • Can you identify two or three topics from this list in which you have thorough knowledge?
  • Do you have anything to add to knowledge and expertise you haven’t included in your cover letter and resume?

Unpacking knowledge, focus, and expertise is a key process for accurately and strongly presenting oneself.  Once these elements are thought out and well articulated, they can be emphasized on a resume (in a variety of ways including a bullet or bullets under degree of Selected Coursework, Projects, or Focus, or with a separate, brief “Research Interest” or “Special Focus” section), highlighted in a cover letter, and included when answering a range of interview questions.




Is Career Counseling for Everyone?

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

The other day, a colleague posed an intriguing question. I told her about my work in the career center at the University of Cincinnati, and after a contemplative pause, she said:

“Do you think career counseling is for everyone? I felt lost after graduation, but my husband never used career services. He knew what he wanted to do and he’s doing well now.”

I’m sure that most of us don’t find this surprising. Though a great many students come to career services desperate for some sort of post-graduate direction, there are certainly those who have chosen a path and may only want another set of eyes on their resume or some similarly light support. There are still those who never come at all, likely relying on their friends, family, and the Internet to fill in their gaps.

Of course, I can only speak from my own experience, but I believe that there are benefits to one-on-one career counseling that even the most prepared would find helpful. A few of those benefits are:

Career counseling creates space for exploration.

For every student who struggles to choose one career direction, there are those who have prematurely narrowed their options. Students bring different strengths and personalities to the career development process. Decisiveness can certainly be an asset, but so can the ability to tolerate the uncertainty of exploration. The best decisions combine reflection and action, and career counseling provides the space and support to do both.

Career counseling prepares students for a changing job market.

We know that as technology, Millennials, and global communication reshape the world of work, the relevance of today’s positions isn’t guaranteed. If a student chooses to pursue one career today, there is no guarantee that technology may not eliminate the need for that work before that student reaches retirement. With self-driving cars on the horizon, who’s to say what human services we’ll need in another 30 years? Students need to be familiar with current market trends, and the variety of talents and interests they have to offer. This knowledge, combined with the ability to self-promote, will prepare them for the possibility that their career of choice may not always be a viable path.

Career counseling provides frameworks and language for grappling with career challenges yet to come.

A core component of most career development programming is some sort of personality or skills assessment. One thing that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells you, for example, is whether or not you prefer introversion or extroversion. Those who prefer introversion tend to feel more comfortable in workspaces that allow for independent work and alone time to recharge and develop ideas. Those who prefer extroversion, on the other hand, tend to have a need for collaboration and the ability to work with other people for energy and inspiration.

One of the staff members at the UC Career Development Center tells a story about a young man she counseled a few years ago. We’ll call him David. David was an extremely hard-working student who graduated from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences with a near-perfect GPA. He was hired by a well-known tech company and was making a six-figure salary as a new graduate. Ostensibly, this was a career success story, and yet, within a few years, David came to us for help. He was shocked to find that despite his interest in the work, he was miserable in his new position. So much so that he reported feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness, classic symptoms of depression.

After a few sessions with David, it became clear that his unhappiness didn’t stem from the work itself, but from the environment. My colleague administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and David reported a clear preference for extroversion. During a typical workday, however, he had almost no human contact, from the moment he arrived to the moment he left. Once David had language for interpreting this experience—that he had needed more interaction with people as part of his day—he was able to communicate this need to his supervisor. He was eventually moved to a new role as a sales representative for the product and was much more satisfied.

David knew he was unhappy in his role, but without the language for interpreting these feelings, he struggled to act on them. Even students who are satisfied in their current work may reach a point where their needs are no longer being fulfilled. Career counseling can provide a framework to understand why they aren’t thriving.

As many career development programs at public colleges and universities are being downsized, the relevance of one-on-one counseling will be an increasingly pressing issue. We will need to be innovative as we prepare students for a lifetime of career success, not simply a post-graduate job.



Once More a Student: Will an Ed.D. Make Me a Better Counselor?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

When I made the transition from executive search to higher-ed career counseling a year ago, I felt pretty sure that my mid-life master’s degree in higher-ed student services completed my formal education. Gaining a foundation in a dozen counseling theories and learning about challenges such as lack of access for underrepresented groups provided important context for my role at an institution that serves many first-generation students. Graduate internships at very different types of institutions—one a religiously affiliated private university, the other of a large regional community college— offered invaluable opportunities for applied learning.

As I continued to apply this learning in my first formal higher-ed role, I realized there was still more to learn and integrate. In a moment of suspended sanity, I applied and was accepted to the higher ed doctoral program at my own institution, a continuation of the master’s degree I earned two years earlier. No one pressured me to do this or suggested that it might make me a better counselor, especially since the program’s focus is on leadership and administration. And yet, here I am a student once again, steeping in the literature, relearning APA-ese, and regaining my appreciation for nighttime caffeine. I can compare notes with my students on writing end-of-term papers, mastering SPSS, and keeping a complicated life in balance.

The past year, I feel like I won the lottery. As my institution’s career liaison to undergraduate liberal arts majors—from history to astronomy to anthropology— I’ve melded pure exploration with hands-on skills development and pulled out my back-in-the-day undergraduate English major when it underscored a point. I’ve also been humbled by how truly difficult it is to be a student today, how different it is from my previous experience when internships were a “nice-to-have” and a decent entry-level job for a hardworking English major was reasonably assured.

Most of my students compete for multiple internships—nearly always unpaid—while juggling at least one “gritty” part-time job, student research, significant community service, half a dozen extracurriculars, and full course loads.  As a group, they are inspiring, appreciative, exhausted—and fearful about the future. In short, they are like so many of the students that we support at our NACE member institutions. As their counselor, I celebrate every milestone with them—a sought-after interview, an offer, a grad program acceptance—and empathize with every disappointment.

In my alternative universe as a student, while two years away from formally starting my dissertation, I have begun to shape a research agenda around the career applications—and implications—of earning a liberal arts degree outside of a small liberal arts college. In this light, the dreaded advanced statistics courses become an avenue to discovering knowledge with the potential to make a difference for both my students and the organizations that might employ them. Will this make me a better counselor?  I certainly hope so.


Helping Students Grow: Quality Assurance for Career Coaches

Lakeisha Mathews

Lakeisha M. Mathews, Director, Career and Professional Development Center, University of Baltimore
Twitter: @RightResumes_CC
Blogs from Lakeisha Matthews.

Every career center has a different approach when it comes to helping students in scheduled appointment sessions. The three most frequently used approaches are career counseling, career advising, and career coaching. Each approach has its unique advantages and a distinct set of outcomes. Many career centers have a strong rationale for the helping approach used during scheduled appointments but have not identified the outcomes associated with their methodology. In the data driven culture that higher education has become due to consumer demands and increased focused on graduation surveys we not only need a clear rationale for the method of helping we offer in our centers, but should also have a clear understating of the outcomes associated with our methods.

Consider the following questions:

(1) Do career appointments in your office focus more on transactional information and resource sharing or transformational goal setting and action planning?
(2) What are students supposed to learn from meeting with a “helping” professional in the career center?
(3) Once students leave, is there a follow-up process that assesses their experience and next steps?

At the University of Baltimore we have opted for a coaching approach to student appointments that focuses on goal identification and action planning. We have also developed a feedback system that helps us evaluate each student’s experience and encourages accountability throughout the execution of their action plan. In addition, we have opted to use the GROW coaching model popularized by John Whitmore in the book Coaching for Performance to ensure quality assurance amongst our coaching staff while still providing room for freedom in individual helping styles. To aid in our coaching model development we asked ourselves a few key questions:

(1) Are students satisfied with their coaching experience?
(2) Is there a consistent method of engaging students in office appointments amongst the counseling team?
(3) What are the learning outcomes for student coaching appointments?
(4) What does our coaching after appointment survey tell us about student satisfaction and learning?

Regardless of the helping method used in a career center, the goal is that students are satisfied with the interaction and feel that they are a step closer to achieving their career goals. Coaching, counseling, and advising methodologies all have advantages to us as helpers, but it is the learning and career outcomes that mean the most to our students.

For more information on helping students comprehend the world of work, see this article on Student Learning Outcomes on NACEWeb.

Career Coaching Notes: How Are You Meeting Student Needs?

Rayna Anderson

Rayna A. Anderson, career counselor, University of Houston
Twitter: @Rayna_Anderson
Blogs from Rayna Anderson

Many of today’s college students are bold, hungry, and pressed for time. They have high expectations and want to be connected with the best opportunities in the fastest way possible. So is the traditional, one-hour appointment the most effective way for your staff to use its time? Not always.

You’ve seen it before: a student comes in for their scheduled appointment, but their cell phone keeps buzzing and they seem to be very preoccupied. They nod you along hurriedly as if to say, “Yeah, yeah. Just get to the good stuff already!” This behavior reflects several research findings that suggest that the average American attention span is getting shorter.

As professionals in a helping field, we get teased about the “fluffy” nature of our work and that we spend too much time on “touchy, feely” discussions. But in today’s world of easy access and instant gratification, the reality is that not every student needs a hug.

(Find tips and best practices in career counseling and coaching on NACEWeb.)

So, is your staff able to shift gears based on students’ needs? Are we acknowledging the difference between counseling and coaching and then adjusting our services accordingly? Or, have we made hour long appointments our standard? These longer appointments are great when a student has career concerns that require in-depth attention but in other cases, students just need quick and specific advice. Answer the poll and comment below; let us know your opinion on appointment duration and the need for a change of pace in career services!