A myth seems to persist that the primary role of career services at a university is to “place” students in jobs. Most recently, I spoke with someone who touted that an institution had a “90% placement rate.”
The placement paradigm, at least as I’ve observed it at the graduate level, posits a seemingly all-powerful career services professional who matches supplicant students with equally submissive employers desperately looking to fill positions. The initiative and onus falls squarely on career services staff. By extension, students need to merely kick back and await an introduction to an opportunity at a desirable organization. There’s little need for initiative; in fact, entitlement often rules the day as students see their enrollment at an educational institution as tantamount to receiving a job offer upon graduation.
As I came into career development work from the private sector and moreover have not been trained as a career counselor, the origins of this perspective escape me although I’ve been told it’s based on historical patterns. Regardless, it paints a picture of a reality I’ve never known and one whose persistence harms students, employers, and in particular the reputation of career development professionals.
The bottom line is that the students I've known who've found meaningful employment post-graduation worked long and hard to create opportunities. Moreover employers, if you believe this piece, have constructed what amounts to a veritable labyrinth that students and other job seekers must skillfully navigate if they are to land that prized position.
And what does career services do? In general, we build relationships with employers with the hope that they’ll strongly consider our graduates for openings (and perhaps even give them preferential consideration). We stay in touch with alumni so that when their organizations hire our students receive top billing. And we promote these various opportunities enthusiastically and often individually (by alerting specific students about relevant opportunities), all the while encouraging our students to apply and helping them in any and all ways to put forward the best possible candidacy imaginable.
Despite my efforts and those of colleagues at other institutions, a lot can and will happen to derail this process to an extent that is sometimes mindboggling. The bottom line is that the job search process is maddening and frustrating, the exact opposite of the idyllic world that the placement mentality proffers. In short, it’s time to relegate this shopworn framework to the ash heap of history and instead spend our time and energy on helping students based on where they are, to respond to the real challenges posed by a job market where employers have become increasingly persnickety and demanding of candidates staking a claim to the best of available opportunities.