Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
In his landmark book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” author Stephen Covey touts the practice to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This approach can be a key step to overcoming the disconnect that exists between the language used by career services professionals and that understood by faculty.
“While it may seem like trivial semantics, it is important to understand that the terminology we use can make the difference in developing collaborative faculty relationships,” explains Tim Harding, associate dean of career development and engagement at The University of Tampa.
“Career center work is much more challenging when we do not have established faculty relationships that are built on a shared understanding.”
Harding says that many career center professionals reach out to faculty, but oftentimes, the purpose of the meeting is to share everything the career center is doing instead of taking the time to understand what challenges the faculty members face and how they are working with their students.
“It is more effective if we seek to understand their work and then consider ways in which the career center can work in tandem for mutual benefit,” Harding says.
He explains that to be effective in developing mutually beneficial partnerships with faculty, career center staff members must have a clearer understanding of the faculty’s daily work and then speak in their language.
“Career center professionals may be more inclined to use the language of talent recruitment, human resources, and career counseling as opposed to language that is teaching, learning, and even research focused, which is used by faculty in the halls of academe,” Harding says.
For example, he notes that career centers may use terms such as “first-destination data,” “career preparation,” and “job shadows” and “internships” related to career experience. Faculty, on the other hand, are more likely to use “student success outcomes data,” “competency development,” and “experiential education,” which includes internships focused on learning more so than on careers.
To be better communicators and partners, career center professionals need to learn more about faculty vernacular, goals, desired outcomes, challenges, and educational approaches, according to Harding. This work is being done at The University of Tampa, where the Division of Student Affairs is asking its staff to conduct 30-minute informational meetings with faculty members to understand how to effectively communicate and build stronger partnerships.
The student affairs leadership team has developed five questions that may be used to help facilitate the conversations. The staff submit their faculty member’s name to the leadership team, which confirms the request to avoid repetition. Staff then provide a brief meeting summary via an online form with prompts.
“The data will be condensed and presented at a monthly student affairs professional development meeting with a goal to provide better understanding of faculty work and how to effectively communicate with them for partnerships and mutual success,” Harding says.
Harding explains that effective communicators seek to recognize and adapt their language to their audience so that they may hear the message in familiar terms. Some faculty understand the career center professional’s work, making this interpretation less necessary.
“Other faculty, however, are unaware or may even dismiss career services work as ‘vocationalism’ and counter to their belief that education is learning to develop students’ intellectual capacity and critical thinking so that they can contribute to society,” Harding notes.
“Language adjustment is critical to develop collaborative partnerships with faculty with this mindset.”
To this end, Harding often asks faculty what they would say about each of their students as he or she walks across the stage at graduation.
“Inevitably, the conversation turns to the students’ success through application of their learning,” he says.
“Seldom do I hear the names of specific companies, job titles, or careers. Success is the focus. Faculty are proud of their students and the investment they have made into each.”
Another outlet for faculty to underscore their investment in the success of their students is by assisting career centers with their first-destination efforts. Harding says that during every NACE Conference he has attended, there is a theme around first-destination data collection.
“Colleagues network to seek advice and best practices for increasing response rates,” he says.
“Faculty are key allies in the pursuit of this data. It may be helpful to speak to faculty about ‘student success’ and seek information they may have about their students using that language while also acknowledging the faculty’s work with their students.”
Beyond the first-destination information, Harding has used the conversation about student success to discuss the skills and competencies that faculty believe their students are developing through their academic experience.
“The conversation is less about career and more about the competency development that their students have as a result of their academic experiences that contribute to the student success they describe,” he points out.
“With very few exceptions, the faculty member will articulate The University of Tampa’s Spartan Ready® competencies, though they may not have made a prior connection or even be aware of the competencies.”
The language barrier is perhaps the greatest challenge to successfully launching an effective institution-wide, co-curricular and curricular competency development initiative.
“Often, career center professionals introduce competency development strictly as career readiness, which will be a deterrent to some faculty,” Harding explains.
“An important, but often missed, step is to define the desired outcomes for a competency development initiative instead of solely presenting a list of competencies for career development.”
At The University of Tampa, Harding collaborated with the associate provost to define the university’s Spartan Ready® initiative using inclusive curricular and co-curricular language. The vision is: “The University of Tampa graduates students who are prepared to be successful individuals with an advanced understanding of their field of study, the interdisciplinary workplace, and how to be leaders who contribute to society.”
“This definition, used in concert with the specified Spartan Ready® competencies, frames the competency development initiative incorporating both academic and career outcomes,” he says.
“As we seek to infuse the competencies into the curriculum, it has been much more effective to be strategic in determining when we use ‘career readiness’ in describing the purpose of Spartan Ready® and when to speak more in general competency development.”
While language can be a barrier to some faculty partnerships, understanding the challenges faculty face and how they work with their students can help career center professionals adapt the language they use to fuel collaboration.
“If we speak in academic language and refer to competency development and student success, many faculty who might have been opposed embrace the initiative and see a direct correlation with learning outcomes in their classes,” he says.
“This does not diminish the career readiness goal, but it recognizes the broader holistic competency development and role that it plays in student success.”