What if, instead of pushing out largely transactional, event and job related promotions, career service professionals embraced a news feed format and focused on offering career education content that encourages career exploration ahead of recruiting? Fortunately, it’s starting to happen, and when done well, positively influences how students are attracted to concepts, services, and learning.
In 2012 I collaborated with my alma mater to solve for a lack of student engagement with their career center. It started as a simple blog which, in a sense, became the home for campus career education; a place for the career center staff to share timely news and advice, and to promote valuable resources and success stories to students and the campus community. Wrapping this softer educational content around more transactional content created an experience that allowed students to navigate the process on their own terms.
A Common Problem: Low Attendance is Painful
This collaboration with my alma mater was inspired by a dismally attended recruiting event. At the time, I headed up the analyst team at a small private equity firm. Looking for finance interns, I decided to set up an event to share my story and meet students.
And then it happened – an empty information session.
I had reached out to the Director of Career Services, who I had met with on many occasions during my time as an undergrad, to organize the event. On the big day, I took the beautiful two-hour drive, from Boston to Amherst, only to find four students in attendance, on a campus of over 25,000. Needless to say, I was frustrated, as was the career center staff. When I asked the Director how they had marketed the event, she responded that she had sent out a special email and tweeted several times.
The sobering effects of the empty info session and the ultimate success of the work we did with my alma mater encouraged me to quit my job and launch uConnect shortly after the collaboration. This work still serves as a foundation for our mission today – helping schools scale their impact on student success by reaching more students with their career resources, programs and services.
Nearly five year later, I know that low event attendance and overall engagement continues to be a challenge for many in our field. Here are three hypotheses to consider:
- There has to be a better way to connect students with the valuable resources in the career center. With almost 80% of emails going unread according to Constant Contact, and more content than ever on mainstream social media platforms, traditional marketing methods are causing messages to get lost in the clutter, and for important resource to go overlooked.
- Recruiting and hiring content can be intimidating if students don’t feel they are Career Ready. If students relate career center engagement with recruiting events, job postings and application deadlines, versus more holistic career education, it can make it more difficult to reach students at scale.
- The disaggregation of information can impact visibility and engagement. At the time of my event, there were almost a dozen calendars where students could find professional development related events, and generally speaking, there were career resources scattered across various websites, portals and apps. Consolidating the career exploration experience or other key learning outcomes in one familiar and easily accessible place simplifies engagement and ensures students can access the career resources they needed in a self-service way – without having to dig through old emails and social media posts.
Many schools are already dedicating resources to content creation and marketing. Here are some savvy ways to work smarter and not harder – ensuring time spent on marketing is optimized to drive deeper utilization of career resources:
Consider WHAT your message is to students
Lots of undergraduate students have yet to decide on their academic concentration, much less thought about applying to internships and jobs. Underserved populations and international students may have a different set of needs entirely. We find these students benefit most from content and resources that provide perspective about how their academic experience can translate into a career.
- If I’m passionate about science and research, how does that translate to a career?
- Can history majors be doctors?
- If I’m an international student, do the same jobs and companies even apply to me?
This type of content is relevant at any point in the educational journey and should serve the purpose of sparking interest and directing students to resources to further establish their budding career identities.
Once students have honed in on their career interests, soft content serves as a way to drive deeper thought around the next step in the career exploration process.
- If I don’t have any work experience, how do I even begin to write a resume or draft a cover letter?
- What’s the best way to get more information about working at a start up?
- Do start-uppers actually wear jeans and t-shirts to the office?
Focusing the conversation around these commonly asked questions helps students envision an outcome and build confidence in the pursuit of their goals.
In a recent analysis by the BYU Marriott School of Management’s Business Career Center (BCC), ‘soft content’ articles focused on self-help, student success stories and general news received more than 3x the engagement than content related to transactional subject matter like events, jobs, and info sessions.
Consider WHO is Developing Content
We often hear, we know how important marketing is, but we can’t even think about creating content with our small staff. There are some key considerations that might ease this fear.
Firstly, many schools tell us they are increasingly being asked to be all things to all people. This is leaving career center professionals to answer a wide variety of questions, day in and day out, to students and other stakeholders like alumni, employers, and even parents. Documenting answers to commonly asked questions and making it easy for your community to access a library of FAQ’s can save your staff an insane amount of time.
If it takes 10 minutes to explain the answer to an FAQ in an advising appointment, and 30 minutes to document that answer in a blog, which receives 1,000 views, that makes for a lot of time saved.
Secondly, leverage influencers in your community to support students. Potential influencers like faculty, alumni and employers can help provide the high-touch and unique insight your students are looking for. Setting up an event and coming to campus isn’t always feasible, but sharing a career story or providing tactical advice, from their own home or office, can be just as effective. Consider how Assumption College is engaging alumni to share their successes as a way to inspire students, and how Indiana University is leveraging faculty members to help students connect their work in the classroom to their career goals. Creating an easy-to-follow template to help potential influencers can diversify content, take the onus off your staff and ultimately have a profound impact on a student’s perspective.
Lastly, while coordinating different stakeholders to contribute content seems like it would require an army to manage, there are lots of awesome (and cheap) editorial calendar tools that you can use to organize the process and create transparency into who is posting what, when and where.
Consider HOW You’re Getting Student Attention
Many schools we speak to struggle to determine if they should be relying more on email, or social media, or maybe even SMS to engage students. The key, in our experience, is twofold:
- Ensure that you are delivering targeted content, based on the unique academic and professional interests of your students
- Engage students in the same way content is consumed on popular social media platforms – with descriptive media, infographics, videos and GIF’s.
Our data shows these two rules can dramatically increase engagement with even the most traditional channels. In 2016, BYU’s Business Career Center saw an average 54% open rate for the year – more than 2x improvement from the previous year.
To touch on the question of “which channels do I focus on,” we encourage our clients to utilize an inbound marketing strategy. What does that mean? It means using channels like email and social media to attract users back to your website or blog. Think about this, you have an important message to share and decide to promote that message through email and social media. If a student doesn’t engage with the message in their inbox or newsfeed almost immediately, it’s likely gone forever, as it’s highly unlikely they’ll go digging through old emails or your Facebook page to find it later. If, on the other hand, your emails and posts are always promoting an important topic and then linking back to a central destination, students will begin to realize that they can go directly to your blog or website for the information they need. You no longer have to rely on your audience catching that email or post. In the future, they’ll simply serve as a reminder of your constant presence and relevance.
Go Create Amazing Content!
Dedicating time to marketing career resources can help solve for two challenges higher education has had to deal with for decades:
- A lack of visibility and utilization of career resources
- An over-matched career center staff.
Providing students with curated content and resources to self-educate is quickly becoming a requirement to be able to scale career center engagement and student success.
David Kozhuk is the Founder and CEO of uConnect based in Boston, MA. After graduating from UMass Amherst in 2008, David began his career in finance working as an Analyst for Brook Venture Partners. After a year at Brook, David seized the opportunity to join Arctaris Capital. He joined the founding team at Arctaris where he worked for 5 years as part of a small team which raised $80m+ in capital and closed 15+ transactions. As part of a failed experience trying to recruit students at his alma mater, David realized the under-consumption of career services was having a profound impact on student success and institutional effectiveness, inspiring David to leave Arctaris and launch uConnect in 2013. uConnect is a graduate of the LearnLaunchX accelerator and has received numerous awards for technology and innovation. Today, uConnect is an emerging player in the education technology ecosystem, working with top institutions across the country to make career education a part of the campus culture. David lives in Roxbury, MA, loves hip hop music, college sports and start-upping.