A Recruiter’s Perspective: If I Was Running Career Services

CareerServicesLearning good career management skills and practices is very much like learning good grooming and social habits: Good practices need to be taught and modeled by those who know them; practiced by those who use them; and reinforced by all.

Think of the years spent teaching a child good manners, how to ride a bike, brush their teeth, clean their room. With these in mind, think about this:

Can personal career management be learned in a few short weeks at the end of the senior year?

I can assure you that between all the “bricklayer” assessment tests of the day and clueless guidance counselors (which sadly includes parents), far too many of us were “guided” into making incorrect career choices. Even with all the technology available 24/7, today’s career advisors still rely too heavily on certifications that “give” them the “ability” to systematically assess and counsel under the assumption that old-school tools are valid and reliable.

Cronbach’s Alpha notwithstanding, I strongly believe that teens and young adults actually have a pretty good sense as to the careers that might jazz them – but far too few adults (this includes educators) know what activities and questions are needed to liberate this information from the would-be careerist.

The process below – one that will excite young talent and provide a mentoring platform for those counseling our young talent – isn’t comprised of difficult questions and challenging activities. It is instead, comprised of questions and activities every person needs to ask and answer 100% on their own – and then refine as they progress in their education, self-learning, internships and career.

This Career Services Service Model begins with the “Acceptance Season” – when the first letter to parents from college arrives with the Bill and Deposit notification. The B&D notification would also include a set of 10 questions and activities that must be completed by the incoming student two weeks prior to arriving on campus (and sent to Career Services) for freshmen orientation:

1. Incoming student walks around their house and environment (e.g., school, town, etc.) and makes a list of their most favorite products and services and why they like each. One focus is on identifying specific brands and brand qualities.

2. The personal qualities that the student likes in their best friend, their best sibling, and “favorite” parent or relative. And why.

3. Their favorite TV shows and movies and what they like about them. And why.

4. The person they admire most in the world and why they admire them the most in the world.

5. The first job they ever remember wanting to do. And why.

6. Describe in detail what their parents or guardians do for a living and what they find interesting – and not interesting – about these careers.

7. Research the five most famous Alumni who graduated from the school and why they believe these people became famous.

8. List the major(s) they’re thinking of pursuing. And why.

9. Describe what they would do if they could do anything in the world at all – even if they weren’t being paid to do it. And why.

10. A four-sentence paragraph describing themselves to their freshman roommate so their roommate’s reaction, upon reading is “WOW”.

With this information in hand at the beginning of freshman year, as part of orientation, Career Services personnel then:

  • Introduces each student to LinkedIn – and specifically toward developing a LinkedIn profile; the customized school-branded LinkedIn account is used in connecting new freshman with LinkedIn accounts maintained by current students and alumni.
  • Introduces Twitter as a professional career tool; the customized school-branded Twitter account is used just like LinkedIn in connecting new freshman with Twitter accounts maintained by current students and alumni.
  • Suggests three mentors outside the academic environment to guide the student toward – or from, if the fit isn’t right – their career choices.
  • Recommends specific “professionally focused” student clubs and local professional associations (these student clubs and organizations might have their own orientation) for students to join.
  • Requires each student to create a safe-for-work email address.
  • Shows five highly-regarded online career resources that offers high-quality advice tailored to college students and recent graduates

At the beginning of every subsequent school year, this process would be revisited; first by the student and then by their mentors and career services.

Through the answers, students would track their progress and see how they’re becoming more career self-aware. Since careers change with shifting priorities and personal responsibilities, shuffling social norms and new technologies, it then becomes the work of the career services center to facilitate this “professional” growth and add more tools, techniques and resources so that the students can continue to grow into their careers.

Throughout this process: No assessments; no old-school tools; no stereotyping. Just active research, active listening and mentoring. Sure does add lots of “quality” building material to each student’s career pathway.

We’ve missed out on teaching our children, teens and young adults that “finding” a career requires an incredible amount of introspection – and re-visiting the personal vision many times throughout their lives.

I understand this might be hard to accept but based on the employability of our college graduates, perhaps we have the wrong people, or the right people in the wrong system, providing guidance.

It is time to change that.

It is time for Career Services – as well as mentors, alumni, influencers and industry leaders – to take the lead.

Exhausted? Frustrated? Feel powerless and perhaps victimized? Just think how our students feel.

Now let’s get busy.






Steve_Levy_AuthorAbout the Author: Steve Levy is focused on recruiting, career counseling, social media, and organizational development consulting – and has been referred to as “the recruiting industry’s answer to Tom Peters”. Steve is an incurable blogger (recruitinginferno.com and RecruitingBlogs.com among many others) and social media participant who is passionate about veteran issues. Steve has been a COI with Armed Forces recruiting for many years, a Navy volunteer “fitness consultant”; his family has a storied history of service to our country.

Steve is a Tau Beta Pi engineer from the University of Vermont (there is no such thing as a former Engineer, Marine or Jesuit) with his graduate degree in Industrial / Organizational Psychology from Hofstra University. Follow Steve on Twitter!


Image courtesy of salisbury.edu… thank you!



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  • JM

    I think you need to work INSIDE career services to find out the challenges we have to get to students, encourage early engagement and increase reputation of the “self help” service for students. Professional advise and resources are available to all students and daily efforts are made to reach out to students and ask questions exactly like you mention.

    • Steve Levy

      JM-how did I miss your comment?

      If by work inside career services you mean “wait until they come to you” then I guess I do have to work there. In the recruiting world, that’s called “post and pray” – and it’s not a very effective recruiting strategy.

      What’s odd is that while you’re hoping students are proactive. you’re not.

      My questions are structured to get the students and their parents thinking about careers before they step onto campus.

      You can sit around waiting, hoping, praying for the fish to come to you, or you can learn about their habits and pick out a better lure, better bait, and go to where they’re swimming around.

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  • @RichCareer

    Steve, good starting point for a career planning / development model. I think you’d then need to layer on top of that some of the good work already being done by college career centers… job shadowing programs, discussions about knowledge, skills and abilities, internships, cooperative education, and all the workshops we do on resumes, networking, social media, interviewing and others. Then, as JM points out, overcoming the challenges of getting to students. Everything you are suggesting needs to be implemented at the institutional level. It needs to be incorporated into academics. I think Andy Chan from Wake Forest made this point in his massive report that resulted in a news story and TEDx talk “Career Services Must Die.”

  • Steve Levy

    Thx Rich…this is just pre-first year; I’ll be writing subsequent posts for other years. In order for these changes to be institutionalized, some roles within career services need to be filled with non-traditional people (at least to career services) who know how to make a business cases for change. As we’ve discussed, you’re different – you understand this because you’ve opened yourself up more substantially to people in the business world, and in particular, to people in recruiting.

    JM, sorry but when you start off a comment with the ubiquitous “you can’t understand what we go through because you haven’t been through it”, you lose your argument. I have more than 15 recruiting seasons on campuses interviewing students and speaking with CSPs, with many more spent assisting early careerists and discussing “issues” with CSPs. As far as the professional resources available, you’ll read in future posts how far too many career services resources lag market realities.

    If the job is tough then those doing just have to get tougher…

  • Great points Steve. I see in your bio that you are also involved with veteran recruiting. Many of these same ideas would be useful for military personnel early in their career in order to prepare them for the inevitable transition to the private sector.

    • Steve Levy

      Morning Rob and thanks for commenting. Regarding Vets, you’re right and these questions work…Collectively they’re like having a V8 moment (slapping forehead) because sadly, very little in TAP helps the transitioning Vet focus on what they really want to do – nor how to get there. The program is like reading an old textbook…

  • Anna

    Yeah I’ll get right on that – you know our staff of 4 with 5500 first year students every year.

    • Steve Levy

      Anna-sounds like your CS department needs a stronger leader who knows how to make a business case for a larger staff because 4/5500 makes CS sounds like lip service… Your frustrated? Imagine how your customers feel.

    • ProudMaryBoise

      Hi Anna,
      Initially I had a similar reaction. I know it may seem very difficult with a small staff but what I like about this article is that is a point of brainstorming with a call to action. Even with a small staff and limited resources, what CAN we do? What can we take from this? How can we evolve those small acts into larger acts. How do we convince others of the importance of the planning piece before these students even come into our office. Developing a university culture that values this type of initiative is key. With proper planning on the part of the students, graduation rates my climb because students feel more confident in their academic and professional plans. Imagine the data! Imagine the satisfied parents and students. Imagine how the reputation of the university will grow.

      • Steve Levy

        That’s right Mary. How about a Pilot Program? Data speaks as loud as or louder than defeatism…

  • Kyle Gantos

    Great article! I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. There are some amazingly passionate and informative career services professionals out there. Often time the ration Anna mentions hinders some of what they can do. At the same time, my experience conducting focus groups with university students on both small and large campuses is that the great majority do not feel the advice and or employers recruiting on campus measures up to the $$$ they have invested in their education. Part of this is the market, part of this is the entitlement generation and part of this is absolutely true. A speak to a lot of recruiters and the majority of them also indicate that the candidates from some universities are just better prepared than others – I’m not just talking about a flagship program vs. a community college, I’m talking within the supposes Top 25 programs. More emphasis should be put on following your passion, practicing communication skills, understanding how to network, etc. It’s beyond the scope of this discussion but another contributing factor is the education of the student before they even arrive on campus. All that being said, there are some pretty knowledgable recruiters and hiring manager out there who have real, meaningful advice and who are anxious to share it. At blog.meetyourgig.com, we are building a volunteer network of the industry professionals. Our goal is to augment career services by providing a resource for students to access expert advice from the people who actually do the interviewing and hiring. Steve’s article is a fantastic glimpse into some of the things we will be addressing. We also discover up and coming small to mid-size businesses and create rich media profiles that communicate their culture. Over time our mission is to partner with universities to help prepare their students and bring more jobs to campus. Great post Steve – If you or any other active recruiters/hiring managers would be interested in blogging for MYG, we would love to have you! Follow us @MeetYourgig on twitter.

    • Steve Levy

      Thanks Kyle for posting (and selling too); alas, when I blog about career stuff, it’s here. The career services model as a whole is dated – and far too few in CS are willing to let go of their valued hammer that sees everything as a nail. There are so few disruptors in CS – no idea why. Know what my “plan” does? Lays the groundwork for more students having realistic job/career expectations upon graduation and likely increases the number procuring meaningful work and a defined career path. Happy alumni turn into donating alumni and brand ambassadors. Put the work in CS and your numbers will increase. Complain and nothing changes…Sorry but a $200 handshake to go along with that $200K bill just doesn’t seem equitable to me.

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