October 9, 2018

Your beginner’s guide to setting up a career services department

Whether your career services department is starting from scratch or already a major resource for your institution’s students, there is always a way to do better. In this blog post, we’ve compiled what your career services department can do, ranging from the fundamentals everyone needs to get running to extras for the most established career services departments.

1. The fundamentals of setting up a career services department

Your job board is at the core of your activity

Very broadly put, the career services department’s first mission is to help students find employment once they graduate. When starting out, putting up job and internship offers for your students is a great first step. Create a webpage where you can post new offers, or use an outsourced management tool, which will be easier to maintain and may even be free.

On a platform like JobTeaser, you will be able to post the most relevant job and internship listings for your students and alumni.

Communication is key from the very beginning

From the very beginning of your career services’ activity, focus on communication to make your job easier and more impactful. Communication goes both ways: getting students to know what to do, but also targeting potential partner companies and make sure the corporate world knows they can count on you to recruit your alumni.

While there are several ways to reach out to students for maximum engagement, with very limited resources, it’s often better to follow what students already do. Work with student organisations: you can ask them to post on your behalf in their class’s Facebook group or to upload the job offers from their own partner companies to your job board. This way, not only do you work less: you also benefit from higher engagement, as students listen to their peers more than to their school administration.

2. Expanding to a more comprehensive range of services

You’ve got the whole “job board” thing nailed down. Great! Now, it’s time to diversify your range of services. You might not have the time or necessary staff to offer career counselling advice yet, and that’s absolutely fine, as there is a much more scalable thing to implement: events.

Career fairs, a stepping stone to all other events

Events can have a number of different forms, but when starting out, career fairs will be the basis to everything else. They allow you to start nurturing partnerships with companies and to start turning your career services department into a lively student hub.

A career fair is typically held once a year and doesn’t require a whole lot of logistics since every company is responsible for their booth. You could make things even easier with automating, digitalised services such as a virtual career fair or a paper-free fair. Some apps allow your students to upload their resume, then submit it by scanning a QR Code with their smartphone: it’s easier for everyone than having to print copies on the school’s printers without always getting the right number.

Use testimonials to boost engagement

Sometimes, when students don’t come to see you, it’s by sheer lack of understanding. Communications stay key to your activity, but this time, you may want to do more to show students that not only you are there, you are also useful.

Try to get dedicated students to create short testimonials, either as a short video or in text. In these testimonials, really focus on the benefits of what you do, more than on how it goes down. At that stage, students don’t care about processes so much as about what you can bring them: make them see this and get social proof. This is why trusted testimonials from their peers are the most important thing you can do for your internal communication.

Start giving out scalable advice

Your career services department is most likely still small at this point, but you’re not alone anymore. You can’t afford to meet every student for personal counselling yet, but you can start thinking of scalability already. For example, post written advice that everyone can read at any time, so students won’t need to contact you for common concerns.

A job search or internship search FAQ will save you a lot of time, as well as improve the students’ experience: they can find answers immediately, without needing interaction, and you will have more time to organise events and answer more specific individual issues.

Make the advice individualised with career counselling

As your department grows, you can start offering career counselling to students who need it. Career counselling is the key to growth: it’s the best thing you can do for students, but it can be very time-consuming.

Make sure that students know about this service. Booking an appointment should be as easy as possible and you can create a suggested path so they know what to expect and what to do. Most importantly, once a meeting is booked, make sure that the students will show up!

3. What to do when the essentials are covered

Once you’ve covered all these main services that universities can implement for their students, it’s time to think of scalability. Instead of organising new events and offering new services, try to improve what already exists and get to a maximum level of quality: it’s more sustainable and may have more impact on students.

Rely on a number of stakeholders for your initiatives. Involve alumni in your strategy and make them mentor current students. Ask partner companies to take part in recruiting sessions or CV proofreading workshops, or to organise on-site visits. Add more specific workshops to prepare students for job interviews, train them in management with psychological testing, or find out what their soft skills strengths are.

Make the events more fun and focus on communications so that everyone will want to attend events. You can make smaller events as well, adding targeted sessions for only a few students at a time for more personal help on a regular basis. Give great advice to your students, but this time, use a video format or post them on Instagram rather than only internally.

More generally, once you’ve got the essentials covered, it’s a matter of being a partner to students. Communication can be more creative, more positive, and you can stray further from the “mandatory” side of what you do. Time to be creative - as long as you keep scalability in mind.

When setting up a career services department, cover the basics: a job board and some good communication for students. Then, you can start organising a career fair and other events, giving out general and personalised advice, and keep working on communication. Once you’ve set up career counselling, it’s time to invest to keep improving the quality of what you offer.

Posted by
Lexane Sirac
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