“Careers Advisors provide advice and guidance to our students; we do not fraudulently complete application forms on our students’ behalf” – Placement Officer[/one_fourth]An article that caught my attention recently had the headline ‘Universities failing on employability, students say’. As an HE professional working in a well respected Careers Service I was feeling pretty defensive before I reached the end of the first paragraph and by the end was seething. The gist of the Guardian article told the story of two students who encountered negative experiences when speaking with a Careers Advisor at their University. You read that correctly – two students, not two hundred students, not two thousand students but two students, and the conclusion drawn from them is that I and my colleagues are failing the students we are employed to serve.
Experience with Careers Service
You can probably tell I am still a little riled by the article, and judging by the comments section, a number of my colleagues in the industry were unimpressed too. However, after a period of reflection I thought this topic deserved more consideration. If either of the students quoted had attended my university, I would feel very sorry that their experience of the Careers Service had resulted in such a bad impression and would take steps to contact them to gain a greater understanding of where we went wrong. I’d also remind the students that our service is available to graduates for a couple of years after leaving the university, and so would be pleased to offer support or guidance if required.
Moving away from the complaints of these two individuals, it should not really be surprising if there are students who do come away from a Careers interaction feeling less than satisfied. I don’t believe any of my colleagues would ever deliberately set out to cause this, but just as with any service provision, you cannot guarantee that your customer will leave completely satisfied. Part of this can be attributed to the expectations of students. For example, if somebody comes to see me with ambitions of working in investment banking, but has below average A-levels and done poorly in their first year at the university, I would be very honest with them and look to manage those expectations. The reality is that the Morgan Stanleys of this world are not going to be interested. I take no joy in bursting bubbles, but I would not be doing my job properly if I did not explain just how competitive that industry is and signpost the required expectations of interns and graduates. Call me a party pooper if you will, but hearing it from me will save a lot of wasted time and effort making lengthy applications only to receive the dreaded automated “thanks but no thanks” email a few hours later.
What Does Careers Service Do?
There are often occasions where there is a misunderstanding of what the Careers Service is there to do. I’ve seen the colour drain from the faces of many students who have come in to see me with a blank application form thinking that I will fill in the details and secure them a job and been told in no uncertain terms that this is not my role. ‘But you have got more experience than me of applying to PWC’ is what I hear. Be that as it may, Careers Advisors and Placement Officers provide advice and guidance to our students; we do not fraudulently complete application forms on our students’ behalf. Show me a drafted application and I will be pleased to provide constructive criticism, but please don’t expect me to write in 200 words about why YOU want to work for this company, and what YOU can bring to the role.
I am not going to blindly admit that Careers Services are perfect because they are not. I have never yet met a head of Service who thinks that their department is sufficiently resourced to do all that they would like to do to support students. Even with the focus on employability at universities which has seen a raft of placement and careers roles advertised in recent months, there will inevitably be resourcing issues that will mean that careers provision is spread more thinly than is ideal. For example, if a service has one Careers Officer assigned to an Engineering faculty, that individual could find themselves providing guidance to a very broad spread of subjects. Mechanical Engineering, Electronics, Automotive, Avionics, Civil Engineering, Manufacturing, Systems etc. Throw in some niche postgraduate courses and that is an incredibly varied caseload. Yes, it is the job of the Careers Officer to know about the industry and the opportunities that companies offer to students, but if a student comes along to a drop-in appointment demanding to know information about environmental waste opportunities in the Middle East, it would be too much to expect the Careers Officer to have that level of detail immediately to hand.
Careers Services also need to evolve to reflect the needs of our clients. A modern service needs to embrace technology and social media because that can be the most effective way to reach out to our students. It is not simply a case of setting up a Twitter account or having a Facebook page that gets updated a couple of times a month. The information provided during office hours needs to be made available 24 hours a day so that our students can access quality resources to support their applications and interview preparation. A lot of services are already meeting this challenge head on, such as providing their students with innovative apps and websites, video resources that can be accessed on the move, and Skype access to Careers Officers for distance learners and international students. This is an ongoing process and as the technology develops so must Careers Service provision.
Articles such as the one published in The Guardian provide a very narrow snapshot of Careers Services in Higher Education. It is very rare that you see positive stories highlighting the great work that is done in helping students to secure employment, whether that is part-time work, internships or graduate roles. To anybody who reads this article, or who believes that Careers Services are failing students, I encourage you to pay a visit to your Careers Team and see for yourself what they can do for you.