Monday, June 10, 2013

Career Services Doesn't Mean "Job Placement"

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.


Anonymous said...

Agree that students need to take full ownership over their careers and seek out job opportunities on their own. Career services should support this process by building relationships with local businesses, setting up educational and networking forums, etc., and should not be seen as a solution to job placement in itself.

However, with the cost of tuition rising everywhere, it is not unreasonable for students to expect a return on their investment and for most, this means jobs after graduation. Otherwise, how do you justify the rising costs associated with higher education?

Mitchell Friedman, Ed.D., APR said...

I can only speak to the graduate student experience as that's where I have experience, and I'd agree that everyone attending a graduate program should incorporate a return on their investment into their thinking. That means the school bears the responsibility of doing all it can to support students in their goals, and should be accountable for doing so -- but NOT to guarantee jobs, as the thrust of this comment suggests.

Andres Traslavina said...

Career Services should support this process, completely agree, but when the national student to staff ratio is 1645 (NACE) to 1, it is impossible to scale their reach. Universities seem to put investment upfront recruiting students, but not as much attention to making career services talent incubators centers to help recruiters connect with students and vice-versa. It can be done, but career services offices need technology to scale their reach and to help recruiters be in front of the "passive" candidates. I recruited in colleges for five years and some of the current college recruitment solutions work for some students, but not for all. Getting students jobs is also a company's responsibility to create the right entry level jobs and hire "potential" and talent rather than skills and experience.