• Peer Adviser Programs Allow Career Centers to Extend Their Reach

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
    October 2, 2013

    Kristin Eicholtz, director of career services at DeSales University, was her office's only full-time staff member and seeking to meet the growing needs of her students.

    "I was looking to extend my human resources in a way that is beneficial for the career center and for our student population," Eicholtz says.

    Two years ago, she started a peer ambassador program, through which selected students are trained to work with the career center to provide services to their fellow students, essentially acting as career advisers.

    The benefits, Eicholtz says, have been noticeable. For example, in addition to the 1,000-plus student appointments Eicholtz conducted last year, her office's student ambassadors handled 279 individual appointments.

    "That may not sound like a lot to a larger school, but for us, it is," she explains. "As the only full-time staff member in our career services office, I wouldn't have been able to conduct that many appointments. The peer ambassadors have really allowed us to meet the needs of all of our students."

    Stephanie Saunders, who was a career development specialist and supervised the peer educator program at Georgia Southern University prior to joining the staff at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in August, echoes the enthusiasm for peer programs.

    "I've found that students tend to relate better to their peers than they do to the regular career advisers," Saunders says. "The [peer advisers] offer a tremendous service for us, and, in turn, they learn leadership skills, are able to network with recruiters in ways other students can't, and typically come out of the experience as more polished candidates."

    Saunders and Eicholtz offer some tips for developing and managing an effective peer adviser program:

    • Plan to achieve your goals—Maybe you need help with outreach and marketing. Or you could use assistance covering resume reviews or drop-in students. Determine exactly what you want the program to be so you can identify the skills and qualities of your ambassadors, and provide the type of training they'll need to help your office achieve its goals.
    • Select the right students—Make sure the students you select are good matches. Have students apply for the program and ask them about their goals, what they can offer to the program, and what they hope to get out of the experience. Eicholtz asks interested students to submit a resume and one reference, and answer five questions. She then reviews the applications with the current ambassadors, before conducting interviews and making her selections.
    • Provide comprehensive training and follow-up—For your program to work, your ambassadors have to be capable and confident in what they are doing. Provide training that fully prepares them for their new responsibilities, and involve current ambassadors who have "been there and done that." Before the semester began, Saunders would provide Georgia Southern's student advisers with two days of training. Saunders and her staff then had the trainees sit in on appointments-including resume reviews, mock interviews, and more-until they were ready to handle their own appointments with students. During the semester, Eicholtz holds monthly meetings with her ambassadors to talk about what the ambassadors are seeing and hearing from students, address any questions or concerns, provide guidance, and let them share their success stories.
    • Reward their efforts—For example, the career center at Georgia Southern provides professional development opportunities to its student ambassadors. And DeSales University gives its ambassadors name tags and career services polo shirts, and hosts a thank-you dinner for them at the end of the academic year.
    • Work to make the program run itself—The ultimate goal is to make the program self-perpetuating, where experienced student ambassadors market the career services office, offer word-of-mouth advertising about their experience with the ambassador program, and help train students new to the program.

    "It does take a lot of effort to get a peer adviser program started, but the benefits are tremendous," Saunders says.