About a decade ago, I was speaking at the Council for Advancement and Support for Education conference in Great Britain on the effectiveness of alumni online communities, when I met Jim Black, President of SEMworks. Jim was at the same conference speaking about the benefits of creating a culture on campus that focused on student satisfaction.
Jim works with admissions and student affairs offices auditing their procedures and processes and offers suggestions to improve systems to increase enrollment, retention and student satisfaction. He’s in high demand by institutions who are building successful and sustainable recruiting strategies.
In reviewing some of Jim’s white papers recently, I started to wonder if his principals could be applied to career services. It got me asking:
- Are career centers focused on continual improvement?
- Are students, graduates and alumni satisfied with the career centers’ services?
- Could career centers reorganize themselves to be more relevant to students, grads and alumni in an employment market that has dramatically changed since 2008?
I realized I couldn’t answer these questions, because I haven’t been privy to polls from individual colleges that could answer them. Over the years, I’ve been impressed with the surveys and data provided by NACE to help career professionals benchmark their industry salaries, staffing, student engagement, employment and budgets. The information has been helpful for organizations to determine if they are keeping pace with peer institutions.
What the surveys don’t do however, is give career centers a view of how effective their departments are at providing the services students/grads and alumni want, nor do they capture their overall satisfaction.
It got me thinking about the types of questions your career center could ask students and grads. While not a complete list, here are some questions I came up with while listening to an Enya music channel on Pandora!
- What is the number one outcome your students expect of your service?
- How do students rate your overall service?
- How would they rate your department on:
- Helping them evaluate career opportunities?
- Teaching them to build career plans?
- Showing them job search skills?
- Connecting them with alumni?
- Preparing them for interviews?
- Helping them get jobs?
- Resources you provide?
- Would they likely recommend your services to fellow students?
- Which of your services do students think needs to be improved?
- What hours of operation would your students like you to be open?
- What new services would your students like you to provide?
- Which service do they rate as providing them the least value? Best value? Why?
- What do students say keeps them from using more of your services?
- How do they rate your services and availability post graduation?
If you are doing a survey of your students, consider talking to students ahead of time and even holding a focus group to learn what questions you should be asking them. Your survey may not ask the right questions if you don’t listen to your customers first!
Don’t be afraid of the results!
It’s no secret that you are short staffed, that you have a limited, if not diminishing budget and that your college administration is not focused on your department. Properly done, your survey will show why your department needs more resources!
I don’t want you focusing ONLY on sugar-coated questions designed to make your department look good!
Your survey should include tough questions. In my opinion your goal in doing the survey is to show the administration what your customers are expecting of you. You can use this opportunity to show the administration that your hands are tied to improve customer satisfaction until you get the right resources.
I specifically listed the first question because you and I know what the answer is without polling your students. Your students expect that your services will help them secure a job!
So if your students, who belong to a generation who are mortgaging their future by attending your college, expect you to help them get a job, why don’t you explore ways to help more of them get internships and have jobs by graduation day?
- If they indicate the hours you are open are inconvenient for them, why not explore ways you can be open on evenings, weekends, or provide 24/7 career advice and help?
- If your resume advice is not rated 5 stars, why not come up with ways you can make it five-star including offering online resources and even a course on resume development?
- If they indicate they needmore help in basic skills after they graduated, why not develop strategies to provide “distance education” career services and coaching after they graduate?
In an era when you are being asked to take budget and staffing cuts – instead of being a “good soldier” and accepting the cuts – consider using surveys to show how short changing your department in resources will result in:
- More students dropping out of college.
- Fewer grads having a job by graduation day.
- Alumni having less successful careers – which result in less contributions!
You have an incredible opportunity to change the lives of your students and grads. We are standing at the cross roads where the political climate, economic environment, students’ and parents’ demands – will FORCE colleges to do more to help students prepare for their careers.
You can either be pushed to come up with strategies that will satisfy your customers’ demands or, you can lead the way and build successful strategies which will literally transform lives, and build successful careers!
Which will it be on your campus?