Senior Lecturer Caroline Nielsen is writing a series for us on History and Employability. We know that your future employability will be of concern to many of you, especially in the current crisis, so we hope this series will help. This series will be running weekly.
Professional University Careers Guidance Services: Dedicated to Helping You
Or, Why You Should Learn to Love Your University Careers Guidance Team
I wasn’t entirely sure what to call this blog post, the second in our series on employability in the time of pandemic. My initial thought was ‘professional graduate careers advisors – the dedicated, the wonderful and the here-to-help-you so please contact them and use their services’. But that isn’t a very catchy title. Another contender for the title was ‘university careers guidance professionals – why everyone should love you!’ It is definitely an underlying sentiment for this post.
Why dedicate an entire blog post to them? These teams are key parts of the university and HE teaching family. I want to encourage more students to recognise the work of these teams and engage more with them.
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly do university career guidance and employability teams do? These specialist university teams work with students, graduates and alumni, helping them to develop their skills and develop for their future careers. They undertake professional training in this area. These are the teams behind careers fairs and events, working with representatives from different sectors to campuses to help students to network. They work in parallel with university teaching teams to design materials and help tutors to inspire and inform their students, not matter what stage of study or careers planning process they are at.
Sadly, in my experience as a tutor, I have found that some students and alumni don’t engage with these specialist support teams. There can be a range of reasons for this. People are sometimes not aware that they can access these services or they don’t know how to. Others mistakenly believe that careers and employability services are only for people with a clear idea of what they want to do post-degree, or are only for those about to graduate.
Let’s get that particular myth out of the way first: careers and employability services are for everyone on campus at all stages of their degree. Some services also support alumni, such as Northampton’s Changemaker team.
A bad early experience of ‘careers education’ at school or college can also put people off completely. Historically, regional economics, gender and class assumptions have influenced the advice given to schoolchildren. Some of my parents’ generation remember being told at school what careers they would go into based on their gender, class and/or whatever the dominant heavy industries were in the area. Their own views and interests were disregarded, other opportunities and subjects ignored. Assumptions about gender-specific careers and gender roles can still affect recruitment into some areas, with young men less likely to train for the healthcare and childcare sectors and young women less likely to enter engineering or science.
Very occasionally, some people make the decision that they ‘already know’ about employability and careers and so choose not to engage. That may be true for a small number of people.
But it is a risky assumption to make.
Firstly, the labour market can change very quickly. We are currently living in such a moment where the graduate labour market is going/about to go through a significant shift which we all need to respond to. It has literally changed in a few weeks.
Secondly, continuous professional development and training throughout one’s working life is important. No industry, role, culture or economy stays the same all of the time. Technology, markets, sectors, laws, best practice and cultural norms all change. Knowledge can go out of date very quickly. What was adequate or up-to-date knowledge when someone applies for, or starts, their degree may no longer be entirely accurate or relevant three or four years later. The longer the gap in the learning, the more likely this is to happen.
It is therefore better to accept that one needs to regularly refresh one’s knowledge (and challenging one’s assumptions) at the very beginning on one’s working life. It will help you establish a learning pattern, which will make recognising and taking advantage of future opportunities much easier. Being able to discuss and research one’s future personal and professional development is a good thing.
Having made my case for the importance of these services, here are my top tips for getting the most of your university guidance service:
- Look at their online platforms in advance. Nearly every UK university service will have an online presence. This will help you find information on what the service does (or does not) provide. There will also usually be a lot of links to other resources. This point is particularly important at the current time. Most services will currently be running virtually and remotely due to Covid-19.
- Book an appointment in advance. Ask if there is anything they would like you to do in advance.
- Interested in something specific? Highlight in your initial approach what you’d be interested in exploring with them. For example, ‘I want to apply for a summer job/paid internship, can you find me find some good quality resources?’ or ‘My old CV and LinkedIn profile doesn’t seem to be working as well for me any more. Any ideas of what I could do to improve it?’.
- But don’t worry if you don’t have a set idea about your future. Emailing and saying ‘I need help, I don’t know what I want to do’ is completely valid reason for contacting them.
- Think about what may help you. Contacting someone new to discuss future plans can be daunting. Is there anything they may be able to do that will make it easier for you to visit or engage with them? For example, would you prefer to work with someone one-on-one over an extended period of time? In a particular type of room or with a certain type of software? Would you be happier in a group work situation or working electronically? Would you like to bring a companion or supporter? Does a form need to be in a particular format or size? Do you need to record the meeting? Try to communicate your needs in advance. Careers services may also have suggestions or policies to guide you.
- Take time, reflect and follow up on their advice and suggestions. This sounds like an obvious point to make, but not everyone does this. Maybe the person wasn’t in the right mood or frame of mind when they visited/contacted them the first time around. Maybe they only went because they felt they had to. Maybe they felt that they couldn’t relate to them or their suggestions. Maybe there was a miscommunication of ideas or a difference in both parties’ expectations. If you reflect on your experience and think any of these points may have applied, try again.
- If you have had a bad experience before with school or college careers guidance, please don’t let it put you off talking to university services.
Northampton’s lovely team are available via the Changemaker Hub. To access: Log into the Student Hub and click on the ‘Changemaker Hub’ tile.
Until next time: happy browsing!
PS: If you want to learn more about careers guidance as a sector, check out either Prospects or the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS – the professional body).