Career Services | Confessions of a Community College Dean

In the fox and hedgehog parable, the fox knows a little bit of many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. In senior management, circumstances force you to be a fox rather than a hedgehog. So, in that spirit, here we go.

Matthew Hora’s article on career preparation at IHE this week is worth reading. This is not an objection. It is a more prompted reflection.

As a student, I first set foot in a college career center in my senior year. It was not uncommon. I showed up to get some basic help with my resume. Oddly enough, I don’t remember a conversation about work. It certainly didn’t help me find anything, or even make sense of what I looked like. It seemed like they were there, but it wasn’t entirely clear to me why they were there or what I was supposed to do.

In that case there was no problem. I was accepted into a PhD program and dropped out. (Whether it is wise to go straight from undergraduate to PhD is another matter).

My first management experience in the Career Center was at DeVry. DeVry is a professionally oriented for-profit university. So the Career Center there held a lot more weight than anywhere else. Each curriculum included a compulsory Career Development class (CARD), where students learned job hunting, resume writing, and interview practice. The CARD class wasn’t perfect. Some older students found it insultingly basic. Most of the students there were working class and usually the first generation in their families to attend college. To the extent they were exposed to workplace norms, the workplace was usually either retail or construction. They were (mostly) aiming for office jobs, but they had little understanding of the unwritten rules of office work. Part of the theory behind the CARD class was that these students needed to clarify their tacit understanding of office culture.

For example, this is not a fictional story, but one of the instructors said he had to advise a male student how to choose a suit that doesn’t look cheap. (“Try folding up your sleeves and unfolding them. Can you still see the crease? Not good.”) needed coaching. These were not “academic” skills in the sense the term is usually used, but they were important ones. This class was a partially successful effort to give students the cultural capital that students from more affluent and professional backgrounds know without even trying.

That was 20 years ago. Now the code is even more subtle. Wearing a suit is now considered deviant at many tech companies. If you misread it, you are not culturally “fit”. Students from different backgrounds may need someone to help them read the unwritten rules. This is a bigger challenge than helping someone build their resume.

I love seeing students interact with the Career Center from their first semester. This is much more common and encouraging than it used to be. Many colleges and universities now include career guidance in new student orientations and college success classes, based on the (correct) theory that students who know their goals are likely to stay long enough to reach them. We have included a list of interests. The “Ethnography of Work” model for university success classes uses real workplaces as texts for students to learn to analyze to further their readability insights. increase. They develop college-level writing and synthesis skills in applied contexts where the unwritten rules of various workplaces are revealed through time and comparison.

What I haven’t seen, but would love to see, is a sustained interaction between the Career Services Office and the liberal arts academic department. If you have attended enough Employer Advisory Board meetings, you know that the most common complaints employers make are not about course content, but about communication skills and overall professionalism. . But I don’t know if students know that. Even taking a few minutes early in the semester to explain to students how a particular class will help them at work can make a difference. , once asked when that class would be useful. I asked him to imagine that he would like his boss to buy him something expensive. Equipment, training, travel, etc. But he was hesitant to spend the money. If you can organize your arguments and present them in a professional way, you are more likely to get two good results. First, you may get what you want. Second, even if you don’t, your boss will think you are an intelligent and competent professional. It can lead to much greater results over time. Even if you lose the battle, you may win the war. It’s a skill worth developing.

Fortunately, an older student in the same room immediately confirmed what I was saying.

Some liberal arts faculty see career considerations as a Trojan horse that ultimately leads to the elimination of liberal arts. I think you read it wrong. There is no quicker way to hasten the decline of the liberal arts than to pretend that making a living doesn’t matter. Students know very well that they can do it. What they don’t know is that the skills developed in liberal arts classes can make a difference. Faculty who work with Career Centers and share their lessons with students can make a big difference. You may have to switch from hedgehog mode to fox mode for a while, but that’s okay. Sometimes it’s even healthy.

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