When I was a child, I hated eating vegetables. So my parents hid vegetables in foods I liked to provide me the necessary nutrients to grow up healthy. In career development, we are doing the same thing with students; we are hiding career development in a masked free lunch, prize, or giveaway. Incentives may get new students into your office or program, but budget constraints can limit how much you can do. Students want something unique to their individualized needs.
How do you individualize a program for each one of 30,000 students? It can be almost impossible.
I asked myself these same questions when trying to revamp our career workshop program. Our office was producing great workshops, but students were not showing up. How do we get students to attend with a budget of $0 for incentives? I had to figure out how to hide the vegetables in something they wanted to eat.
The solution was to create a multi-faceted 30-minute themed programming model. The model broke large topics into smaller and more manageable ones. By breaking the topics into 30-minute sessions, students received content in a fast-paced setting on a schedule that fit their needs. The 30-minute series model engaged new students with catchy titles like “Career Fair Crash Course” or “Slide Into Their DMs: Networking on LinkedIn.”
The 30-minute model began with two different week-long series. One was the “Career Fair Crash Course Week” and the other was “LinkedIn Week.” In our first attempt, we saw the program series draw in large student numbers. Workshops that used to draw in one to two students became packed rooms with wait lists. The programming model was hiding the needed career development in a quick session with a catchy title.
Another aspect that contributed to the success of the new model was the timing of all events. Career Centers often see an increase in student appointment requests before a career event, major declaration deadlines, and graduation. The long appointment wait times can lead to frustrated students and career advisors. By implementing the 30-minute programming model during peak times, students were able to get the content they needed when they needed it instead of waiting several weeks for an appointment. In addition, the sessions were held during the main lunch hour breaks. This allowed our high commuter population to engage with our office while on campus.
By changing the delivery method and approach, our career center saw an increase in services across the board.
In career development, we often have a tendency to try to engage students on our own timeline. Unfortunately, this can have the opposite effect and lead to student disengagement. When we as professionals provide students the needed content for success on their timeline and via their lens of success, they are more likely to eagerly engage. For career centers to illustrate their value for student success, we need to brainstorm how to approach students in an enticing way—beyond a giveaway item or a snack.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Cristina Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.