Reimagining Career Services Online
By Nona Haller and Melody Kruzic
Career practitioners are increasingly using technology in their programming efforts. We believe this is not just a trend but a new paradigm, and want to encourage our colleagues to reimagine their current delivery methods, adopting an online format, as appropriate. Because, in the end:
- Career centers want to provide what their clients need when they need it, while also managing costs, and
- Clients of career centers want just-in-time, self-service resources that are easy to access and understand.
At Capella University, an accredited online university, we offer virtual career counseling. Since we began presenting on this topic at the NCDA Conference in 2012, there has been significant and growing interest about how we advise effectively using virtual mediums. The following are best practices based on our combined 19 years of experience successfully supporting our clients from a distance, including common challenges and concerns, details on what we offer now, and lessons learned along the way.
Challenges and Concerns
We recognize career professionals may have reservations regarding virtual counseling and resources. Specific issues include:
- Students might multitask during counseling appointment (especially via phone), for example: picking up kids from school, driving, putting the counselor on hold to answer work calls, etc. Setting expectations for focusing only on the conversation is a critical step in arranging the appointment.
- Lack of visible body language, which could lead to difficulty understanding if the student “gets it” or is engaged in the conversation; this may present a challenge with rapport-building and the potential for miscommunication. Clear communication may be particularly challenging when a client is new to English or ESL.
- Some appointments may require additional accommodations, such as a virtual meeting room for counseling sessions involving assessment interpretation, so each party can view the material simultaneously.
While serving our 87,000 student/alumni population, we too face these challenges – and others. Below is a high-level overview of the resources we currently offer, to provide a sense of how we address these issues.
Snapshot of Services and Resources
Most of our resources are online, so that they are fully accessible to our clients 24/7:
Our Career Center website houses 121 pages of content on topics from career exploration to career advancement.
Career Planning Self-Assessment identifies the most relevant resources for learners based on their responses to questions about perceived career management efficacy.
Resume Builder is a “wizard” that educates clients on writing an effectively customized document.
On demand tutorials are 15-minute interactive recorded sessions, and our free career seminars in the courseroom are moderated by Career Counselors, enriched by discussion posts across students, and are focused on career exploration and job search strategy.
TheCareer Center YouTube channel, which provides “bite-sized” tips on interviewing and other career topics, has had nearly 300,000 views in its six-plus year tenure.
Interactive media pieces combine illustrations and audio to present complex topics in an interesting way (e.g. Professional Assets and Career Path and Planning).
InterviewStream allows clients to obtain feedback on their interview performance by using a webcam to review their practice.
Lastly,while we have many valuable online resources available to our clients, we also provide individual appointments – serving over 2,000 learners/alumni in 2014.
Tactics, Techniques, and Tips
Based on the successful use and growth of these resources, here are lessons learned and best practices we have identified over years of working in a cutting-edge online environment:
- When determining which online resources to develop, aim to convey information you repeat or direct advisees to most often
- Respond to student’s email questions using standardized message templates and signatures that include links to self-service resources, when possible
- Incorporate “flipped appointments,” where the client arrives to the meeting having explored recommended resources, allowing for a deeper, more individualized conversation
- When arranging an appointment, set clear expectations:
- confirm day, time, time zones,
- specify who will initiate the call,
- reiterate the topic and confirm any assigned pre-work, and
- mention that this is an appointment like any other and that it will be important to focus, not multi-task, during your conversation
- Don’t overwhelm clients with too much content. Send concise emails. During phone calls, check frequently for understanding and articulate your non-verbals. For example, state: “I am nodding and smiling my agreement.”
- Develop and train staff on an emergency process. Our process was created for a supportive team system in which staff watch/listen for pre-arranged signals from counselor talking with at-risk student in order to request assistance by contacting emergency personnel in the student’s community.
- Periodically evaluate effectiveness of online materials and virtual appointments, making adjustments as needed.
Benefits and Discoveries
As experienced career professionals, we have discovered a multitude of benefits that support the case for providing services in an online format. First, clients and counselors both save travel time and energy because resources are available 24/7 and appointments can be conducted virtually. This is particularly useful for students with multiple priorities or who are unable to travel to a specific physical location because they are active military, living abroad, or have a disability. Technology also allows for a variety of delivery methods that accommodate different learning styles and allows complex concepts to be explained in new ways (visually and interactively). In addition, developing online resources allows career professionals to take time to combine the ideas and perspectives of multiple counselors to ensure we are conveying complex thoughts in a way that is easy to understand and use.
The online format allows us to do “more with less” while still providing quality service. Career counselor time is better leveraged because services are scaled as a result of providing “flipped appointments” which enhance the depth of conversation and the quality of service, focusing on individual strategy. Finally, we have consistently found that clients “show up” for appointments via the phone just as they do in person, and rapport can actually be easier and faster to develop.
Providing resources and services online extends access and allows counselors to share their expertise and guidance with a greater number of people. Since most of us are asked to do more with less while maintaining a high level of quality, we believe the approaches outlined in this article can be implemented in a variety of settings to better support clients in the busy, technology-driven world we live in.
Nona Haller, MA is a Senior Career Counselor at Capella University(since 2007). Her philosophy in working with students is to “teach them how to fish;” she enjoys creating scalable, self-service resources available 24/7 for Capella’s student population of busy working-adults. Collaborating with faculty and other staff departments, Nona has been instrumental in embedding career resources and assignments into the curricula. She holds a Master's degree in Human Development from St. Mary's University, Minneapolis, Minnesota and has earned the designation Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute, San Rafael, California. You can connect with Nona at email@example.com.
Melody Kruzic is a Senior Career Counselor at Capella University and has over 10 years of experience in higher education career counseling. Currently her passion is helping students connect their classroom with their professional experience. Melody was a founding member of the Missouri Career Development Association where she is currently Past-President. She also served on the Board of the Minnesota Career Development Association and chaired the committee that launched a successful mentoring program. Having attained an MS in Industrial Relations, Melody is now working toward her second master’s degree in Higher Education and hopes to begin her doctorate studies over the next few years. You can connect with Melody at firstname.lastname@example.org.