Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
May 23, 2012
In an initiative that projects out over the next two to three years, the University of New Haven (UNH) is creating a virtual career center that mirrors the school’s physical office.
“From my experience, a traditional career center model of one-on-one appointments, in-person workshops and presentations, and more reaches between 25 and 50 percent of our students,” says Matt Caporale, UNH’s executive director of career development. “But 100 percent of our students need our help.”
Caporale says that with technology and the development of social media, students live in both a “real world” and a “virtual world.”
“We see this as an opportunity for us to exist in the virtual world as well, and to extend our reach and connect students to information and resources,” he explains, noting that the strategic plan for the virtual center was completed in January 2012 and rollout phases will extend over the next two-plus years.
UNH’s virtual career center is already making heavy use of social media. It uses Facebook as its hub and major distribution channel, and LinkedIn as a way to connect students, alumni, and employers to one another. The career center also creates peer-to-peer videos around job-search activities, posts them on YouTube, and markets them through Facebook and, starting this summer, Twitter.
“We’re using the communication vehicles the way they were intended to be used,” Caporale says.
For example, he and his staff found that using Facebook to post tips and links to articles generated scant traffic.
“Instead, we found it’s more valuable to us as a tool for taking the ‘scariness edge’ off of career development,” he says. “When we post pictures or videos of students interacting with us or with employers, the ‘likes’ start going up. We also ask a lot of questions on it to engage students and engender conversation.”
The career center’s content often is designed to stimulate interaction. Its videos are short, and designed to be appealing from the start and interesting throughout. A recent eight-minute video tutorial about how to write a resume covered the basics of the task. But when the camera zoomed in on the sample, the resume contained two planted errors.
“We encouraged viewers to go our Facebook page to identify the errors and discuss them,” Caporale says. “We have a very serious message to get out to lot of students, but through a vehicle like social media, the process can be more interactive and lighthearted.”
The virtual center will also have an educational component as Caporale and his staff develop online webinars delivered in a virtual classroom setting during which students can interact with instructors. Caporale plans to hold virtual career fairs to complement traditional ones and, further out, he intends to develop a smartphone app that will serve as a gateway to all of the virtual career center offerings.
“We’re not just trying one approach,” he says. “We’re incorporating a variety of tools into this initiative to maximize our effectiveness in reaching students in different ways.”
Caporale points out that conducting some programs and offerings—such as one-on-one counseling sessions, career assessments, resume reviews, preparation for in-person interviews, and workshops on soft skills or etiquette—don’t translate well to a virtual environment. That, he says, is further proof that a virtual career center is better suited as a complement to the traditional office than as its replacement.
Caporale has several tips for developing a virtual career center. First and foremost, he recommends tapping into the interests and expertise of students to help run it.
“We have two students on our virtual career center team—our webmaster and marketing intern—and they dominate this process,” he says. “They are social media savvy, provide great ideas and advice, and tie us into student preferences and what’s happening on campus and in the world from a student perspective.”
For the virtual career center to succeed, Caporale suggests that it become a recognized and critical part of career center operations. UNH’s social media team meets once a week to talk about content and processes, and to keep the initiative on task.
“[The virtual career center] needs to be part of the overall marketing plan, and the processes have to be managed,” he stresses. “Some say it’s not rocket science, but it is. There’s a lot of components of consumer behavior, psychology, timing, and more.”
For example, Caporale says early in the process, his instinct was to post the most important news, update, or notice first thing in the morning.
“We found that wasn’t effective,” he recalls. “In fact, posting the most important item at the end of the day generates the most traffic. We’re constantly learning.”
Finally, Caporale encourages others considering a similar initiative to start small and work in phases.
“It can get very overwhelming with planning for and managing all of the different elements involved,” he says. “Career centers should break it into phases and have various rollouts. They should manage each component, get comfortable with it, develop outcomes and goals, and check the analytics to make sure they’re being met. After that, then it’s time to add in something new.”