I left my last job in higher education because I saw no professional path forward. When I looked at my options for professional development I saw a future with no chance to upgrade my skills.
Despite loving my job, the students, and my talented colleagues, I left my job in pursuit of new challenges.
I hear from many talented people in higher education who are curious about leaving. They feel torn. They love the work but worry about their professional futures. They don’t see a path forward. They have ambivalent managers. They also don’t know how to leave.
I hear this from others outside the higher ed too. These are common complaints in my generation:
My job doesn’t offer any opportunity to learn anything new.
My job doesn’t challenge me.
My manager has no idea how to help me.
The data shows that higher education staff want to upskill
While I’ve been collecting anecdotes from higher education staff, the researchers at Academic Impressions have been collecting quantitative data. In the report, Beating Turnover in Higher Ed,Academic Impressions surveyed 2,577 higher education professionals.
Among their top findings: people in higher education leave because they’re not provided with professional development opportunities.
The numbers are rather shocking, even for someone who is used to hearing from people asking how to leave higher education:
In the prior post I advocate for creating online career content that doesn’t recreate the wheel. I also make the case that career services leadership needs to hire people with content creation skills. Just because someone can coach doesn’t mean they can develop engaging content.
Today I just stumbled on this article about students creating their own content for university marketing (h/t to @TaylorLorenz who write about how students (teens) actually use the internet and whom I learn everything from):
More than 500 million learning-related videos are viewed on the platform every day. These videos are made and shared by a highly-motivated group of creators, such as Linda Raynier, whose videos teach job seekers how to nail an interview or write a resume that gets noticed; or Vanessa Van Edwards, who helps people master soft skills like how to use body language in an interview or communicate a great elevator pitch.
I just came across a job posting for a job in career services supporting online students. Online learning for higher education has grown significantly in the last few years. Inside Higher education reports that in 2017, “The proportion of all students who were enrolled exclusively online grew to 15.4 percent (up from 14.7 percent in 2016), or about one in six students.”
So it’s heartening to see a position that’s dedicated to supporting online learners. It was, however, disheartening to see the job description.
I originally wrote this as a guest post on Switchboard, an alumni platform that connects students and alumni. Switchboard is one of the few ed-tech companies who understand the nuances of higher education transformation. Their higher education innovation fellowship and upcoming conference ListenUpEDU are models for professional development in higher education. And they kill it with good advice for the future of alumni relations.
By now we’ve all seen the headlines about the future of work. Beyond headlines about job-stealing robots, the reality is that machine learning and artificial intelligence technology are disrupting career paths. According to the World Economic Forum’s latest report, The Future of Jobs 2018, AI will create 58 million new jobs within the next five years. In a 2017 Deloitte report, Catch the Wave: The 21st Century Career, the authors note that only 19 percent of companies even have traditional career pathways. The future of work is filled with ambiguity and non-linear career paths.
With so much change ahead, career centers need to rethink outdated career training models. Career centers’ primary focus should not be to prepare students for linear careers anymore. Instead, they should prepare students for a lifetime of career changes. Navigating these ambiguous career paths requires students and alumni to embrace upskilling and lifelong learning. This same advice applies to careers services staff too.
Results from an informal survey from the Career Leadership Collective which asked career services professionals: Which of the following do career teams spend way too much time and energy on?
Here’s a career coach confession: I hate resume critiques. This attitude was wildly inconvenient during my days as an MBA career coach in university career services. At the beginning of the school year my days were filled with helping students revise resumes. As the year progressed many coaching sessions slipped into tiny requests for additional reviews. Few people enjoyed the resume critique experience, me included.
Resume writing is a niche skill that few people master in the course of their career. The process is fraught with frustration. Students spend hours trying to get it right while career coaches spend hours telling them it’s not quite right. All of this so a recruiter can spend 6 seconds reviewing it. And now it’s no longer guaranteed that your resume will be reviewed by a human, as algorithms are increasingly being used to analyze candidate resumes.
The unpleasant experience of resume reviews is usually a student’s first exposure to career services. It’s a lame first impression for a department whose goal is to help students. Worse yet knowing how to write resumes does little to prepare students for a future in which 2.5 million new job types will be created. If career services exists to prepare students for future careers, resume reviews shouldn’t dominate staff’s time.
What if career services didn’t teach resume writing?
The resume of the near future will be a document with far more information—and information that is far more useful—than the ones we use now. Farther out, it may not be a resume at all, but rather a digital dossier, perhaps secured on the blockchain (paywall), and uploaded to a global job-pairing engine that is sorting you, and billions of other job seekers, against millions of openings to find the perfect match. – The Resume of the Future
Telling career services they should stop teaching resume writing and avoid resume reviews isn’t a popular opinion. I raised the idea once at the beginning of the year in my last job. My bosses both looked at me like I was crazy. They promptly ignored my question.I meant it as a thought exercise. I also meant it as a way to interrupt the autopilot that each MBA career office kicks into at the start of a new school year.
When I’ve raised the issue with colleagues respond, they often respond with “But who will teach resume writing?” A quick answer might be YouTube. Another option is VMOCK, Leap.ai and jobscan.co, two platforms which are using machine learning to give resume feedback and guidance at scale. Both platforms provide immediate, visual feedback, including language suggestions, at a scale no career coach can match.
Resume feedback by jobscan.co
Resumes aren’t dead. But in a world of resume reviews by algorithm, LinkedIn networks, and personal websites, they sure don’t hold the key to a successful job search and career like they used to. Career services should cut back on resume reviews now while focusing on the skills that better prepare students for the changing nature of work.
Below are a several focus areas to fill the space of resume reviews and better prepare our students for the future of work. These skills prepare students to adapt to the new workforce, succeed in the college job search, and every job search after.
Upskilling and lifelong learning
It’s something that has been a bit of a mantra in the educational field. Everyone is going to have to be a student for life and embark on lifelong learning. The fact is right now it’s still mainly a slogan. Even within jobs and companies there’s not lifelong training. In fact what we see in corporate training data at least in the United States, is that companies are spending less. As we know right now people expect that they get their education in the early 20s or late 20s and then they’re done. They’re going to go off and work for 40, 50 years. And that model of getting education up front and working for many decades, without ever going through formal or informal training again is clearly not going to be the reality for the next generation.” –How Will Automation Affect Jobs, Skills, and Wages?,
A bachelor’s degree is no guarantee for future job security. Students need to plan for lifelong learning beyond university. That includes understanding options for learning new skills. From online courses to bootcamps to nano-degrees, students need to training on how to identify skill gaps and match them with programs that close that gap. Whether it’s trying out virtual real-life projects, such as those at QLC, or pairing their studies with a coding bootcamp, students benefit from exploring these learning opportunities before they are on the open job market. This goes double for career services that serve alumni populations.
Strategic Research and Data Collection
From LinkedIn and Quora, to Glassdoor and AngelList, students are swimming in public data about companies. Students need to be taught methodologies for identifying and evaluating opportunities using a variety of sources. Let’s reframe informational interviews as a tool for learning and a method for collecting qualitative data through in-depth interviewing. Teach students how data helps them investigate a company to gain insights they can use to outsmart their competition, negotiate well, and plan their next career move.
Ability to Identify Emerging Jobs
Robots may be taking jobs but new jobs and career paths emerging in the chaos. As organizations change and experiment with new technology, so will the existing jobs inside those organizations. With an expected 133 million new jobs to be created from AI and automation comes an unquantifiable number of jobs that will have to change to support these new roles. We must teach students how to find these jobs.
For example the emerging field of conversation design is quite new. Job titles aren’t consistent. Jobs in conversation design include Voice Interaction Designer (VUI), Interaction Designer, User Experience Designer, Conversational Experience Designer, UX content Strategist, Conversation designer. The path into these roles is as varied as the job descriptions. While some job postings call for a background in linguistics, others prefer English majors, and for some a degree doesn’t even matter. A recent job posting for a Voice UI Designer for a virtual cooking assistant didn’t even require a degree. Instead they want someone who collaborates with visual design and software teams and has a love for foreign language. Career services must teach students how to identify and position themselves for emerging jobs.
Clean Google search results, LinkedIn profiles, and personal websites are must-haves in today’s job search. Newer HR technology, like Entelo, analyzes a job seekers’ digital footprints to determine if they’re a fit for a role. Students need to create an integrated online presencethat shows off their skills as they move throughout a lifetime of multiple career changes. Since the majority of a job search is done through email, students also need to be taught how to write concise, impactful messages to diverse people they’ll interact with in the job search. In a crowded world of emails, texts, and Slack messages, students must learn how to capture a contact’s attention and make the right ask to reach their goals.
Emotional intelligence and communication skills are top skills for the future of work. For the job search, they’re essential. Yet the ability to have face-to-face conversation is on the decline thanks to increasing use of digital technology in in our professional and personal lives. We must ensure students know how to have authentic conversations with all the people they’ll meet in the job search. Then we need to build on those skills to teach persuasion. Persuasion touches so many pieces of the job search, from informational interviews to negotiation. To persuade effectively, students must identify what they offer and choose the right message and method to communicate it to their audience.
Ditch the elevator pitches. Elevator pitches imply that students will always be pitching in the same context each time (you’ve only got 20 seconds to impress the CEO who’s probably checking her phone in the elevator anyway). They were designed for a time when access to important people was limited – a time before Twitter and LinkedIn allowed anyone to reach out and be seen by executives and founders. Moreover, pitches are static. Today’s job seekers are multidimensional with changing interests and goals over the course of their career. By teaching storytelling, students learn creative tactics to adapt their message in any context and stage of their professional life.
Students interact in virtual spaces like Snapchat and YouTube regularly. Let’s teach them to polish their virtual presence so they can present and collaborate in remote environments. With virtual interviews and interest in remote work among college graduates on the rise, students need to learn the skills to succeed in virtual teams. Let’s teach them how to work and build relationships in remote environments, where often their only connection to the team is Slack gifs.
So, to all the career services staff who dream of spending less time on resume reviews, I challenge you. At your next staff meeting, ask the question:
What if we didn’t teach resume writing or conduct review resumes? How might we teach students instead?
You might just come up with a new model for the future of career education.
Recently I came across a certificate in Higher Education Administration from Northwestern. For $19,975, I can “deepen (my) understanding of the field and expand (my) networks.” Details on career outcomes or paths are notably absent. Instead the page offers the basics of college career services: “access to ongoing professional development support, one-on-one career coaching, academic advising and networking opportunities.”
The certificate reminded me of a Northwestern ad I saw last year promoting a $10,000 global mobility online certificate. The ad was marketed towards future international education professionals. As someone who has worked in international education for over a decade, I got a bit riled up. Aside from the fact that you don’t need a $10K certificate to get a job in international education, the program’s career preparation promises were lackluster at best. The lack of testimonials from employers raving about the certificate, or explaining how the certificate signaled a candidate’s competitiveness, was telling.
Despite my frustrations with certificates with lackluster career promises, I recognize the role certificates play as career paths and institutions adapt to changes in the market. Certificates are revenue generating programs which help institutions shore up revenue from diverse sources. Certificates also provide an attractive option to employees who want to upskill or change careers. They usually take under a year to complete. Certificates are frequently associated with a university brand name. While affordability varies by institution and certificate program, they’re cheaper than a full degree and they qualify for financial aid.
However, data on career outcomes from non-degree credentialing – i.e. certificate holders – is hard to come by. Employers’ attitudes towards certificate holders are difficult to pin down, which makes it hard to know if certificates hold their value in the market or even determine the ROI on a $20K certificate.
Thankfully we’re a bit closer to understanding employer attitudes to non-degree credentials thanks to a new report by Burning Glass Technologies. A recently released report, The Narrow Ladder: The Value of Industry Certifications in the Job Market, examines how employers use certifications (not certificates) in the hiring process. Using their vast database of over 700 million job postings, Burning Glass Technologies examines the types of certifications that employers value, along with the skills and salary bump employees receive post-certification. It’s well worth a read for anyone who advises students or mid-career professionals about their upskill options.
“It’s not that the “non-degree” credentials are rare; more than a quarter of the employed U.S. population holds a license or certification, on top of any degrees they may hold. Certifications can be precisely tuned to industry needs, and they hold the promise of reducing the need for employers to rely on imperfect proxies, like college degrees. In certain occupations, certifications outline career ladders that define industries and give employers and job seekers alike guidance about what skills are necessary to advance.
Those occupations, however, are the exception, and if the nation is to close the skills gap, perhaps they should become the norm.”
Though the report focuses on certifications, its analysis provides material for examining certificate programs as well. Most importantly, it provides a clear difference between between certifications and certificates. The report examines employer attitudes towards certifications, which are “awarded by a certifying body, often an industry association or trade group, based on an examination process assessing whether an individual has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job.” This differs from certificates, which the report defines as “short-term, professionally oriented credentials awarded by an educational institution (as opposed to an industry body) based on completion of specific coursework.”
This distinction is important since few people outside of mobility circles realize the difference. There is a critical difference between these types of upskilling. With such similar terms an employee looking to upskill could be forgiven for thinking a university certificate in higher education administration will provide the same signal to future employers and salary bump as a CISCO Cisco Certified Network Professional certification (it doesn’t). The former is a revenue generation program from a university with little focus on skill building and an unclear career trajectory. The latter is an industry-approved career training model with clearly defined career paths.
What struck me most from this report was the role that certifications played in outlining both the skills and career paths that job seekers and employers agree on. Certifications are built from industry needs. Here’s an example of the skills needed for a AMA Digital Marketing Certification:
Are university certificate programs mapping their content offerings to industry needs? Maybe but we don’t know. The report also finds that employers value certifications that improve technical skills. Do employers feel the same about certificates? Hard to know.
On top of that, the report finds that employers vastly prefer certifications over certificates.
In 2015, the demand for certifications is approximately 1.5 million job postings, whereas only about 130,000 postings ask for certificates.
Is it possible that employer demand for certificates aren’t as in-demand as universities promise? Again, we don’t know, but this stat and the lack of employee perspectives in program marketing for certificates is telling.
Among the most important takeaways from the report, however, is this nugget:
Relatively few certifications actually have market value, and there is a shortage of easy-to-find information to sort out which credentials are pathways and which are blind alleys. More transparency in the certification market can significantly improve the returns people receive on their certification investments.
Finding out which credential pathways are legitimate is difficult. I’d argue the same for certificate programs. Will a certificate in higher education administration make a candidate more desirable than a candidate with 5+ years working in higher education? Will a certificate provide a salary bump or launch a job seeker into a more senior role? Will a certificate ensure the skills learned are still relevant in the next five years? The lack of this data makes it tough to answer these questions.
Since we don’t have those answers yet, it’s up to the job seeker/future certificate student to ask the hard questions before taking on a certificate. So for job seekers thinking about getting any certificate – online or in person – ask yourself these six questions before committing:
Does this certificate add to or improve your technical skills?
Does this certificate put you on a path to a hybrid job?
Does this certificate map to industry needs?
Does this certificate frequently appear as a requirement in your future job posting?
Will this certificate give you a salary or title bump?
Will this certificate be relevant in five years?
If you can’t answer these questions on your own or through a Google search, ask admissions. You’re investing in a certificate; it’s perfectly fine to ask about career outcomes. Ask to speak to participants in the program (don’t rely on testimonials). Look at LinkedIn profiles of certificate holders to understand their career paths. If you don’t get a clear answer, consider other options that are either cheaper (i.e. MOOCs), bootcamps, or certificate programs that detail the results.
Employees will need to upskill throughout their career. Certifications and certificates are one of many paths to do so. To make sure they’re actually beneficial to job seekers, we need a lot more data like the recent report from Burning Glass Technologies.
Higher education should do their part by ensuring their certificate programs bring career outcomes data – or employer perspectives towards their certificate – to the forefront of their marketing and information websites. Because right now career outcomes from all these certificate programs basically look like this:
The entire thread is worth reading but I’ll post my favorite parts here.
On how to figure out what you’re qualified for:
About a year before you graduate turn your new social science skills onto yourself. Do topic modeling of job ads you find interesting. Do a content analysis of jobs by different occupational codes. Find the underlying tasks and skills embedded in them.
Take your previous course assignments and do the same thing. Visualize the themes. Count the themes. Do they match up? Now describe how they match to a person without a degree. Once that person understands it, you have a career target.
You won't get that job but it is a beacon. You will get a crap job. Almost everyone does right after graduation, especially in this labor market. But crap jobs are field studies. Learn from them and keep job searching. You never stop job searching, sorry.
On in person informational interviews when you’re broke af
If you don't have money? Say, "I can treat if it's at this place I have a gift card for!". Most people will recognize the signal in that. If you can afford a cup of coffee? Ask them for exactly that and say in your note that you will gladly buy them a cup of coffee.
What tweaks could we make to the college curriculum that would help students prepare for the changing workforce? This quote from the article, The Global University Employability Ranking 2017, at the Times Higher Education, offers a clever solution:
“The way organisations have to work these days needs to be very fluid. In that kind of world it is important to have people who are really flexible, able to create networks within their organisations and very comfortable working in virtual teams and particularly [what we call] leading beyond authority: not necessarily having to get things done because they are in a team that has a boss,” he says.
But he is “not sure” that the implications of this are “well understood by the academic world and, therefore, when we throw a new graduate into [work] it can be quite overwhelming [for the graduate]”. One solution, he suggests, is for university courses to have more group projects, with assessment focused on the process that the participants go through, rather than the outcome.
Flourishing in such an environment requires “reflection and understanding”, and especially learning from mistakes, Saha says. He is sceptical that this aspect of professional competence is well explored in universities currently, but “in the working world, that is the bit that can be make or break”.
He’s spot on in his assessment and solution. Focusing on group work and assessing participants on their process, instead of outcomes, could go a long way to help students identify their strengths, weaknesses, and improve their leadership and collaboration skills. What really struck me in that sentence is that focusing on process, rather than outcomes, is the opposite of American business culture. American learning and working culture is focused specifically on outcomes – we’re obsessed with assessing programs. Managers evaluate employees based on their results, not collaboration.
I’ve never in my work life been on a team that was evaluated on how well they worked on a project together. It’s almost a revolutionary suggestion.
Universities are now collecting loads of data on students from physical whereabouts, to courses progress, to when they get online, to even what they do when they’re online.
The president of Purdue penned an op-ed to challenge higher education (and hopefully edtech) to think critically about how we use students’ data especially when it comes to behavioral nudging, lest we end up with a Chinese-like social rating system:
Somewhere between connecting a struggling student with a tutor and penalizing for life a person insufficiently enthusiastic of a reigning regime, judgment calls will be required and lines of self-restraint drawn. People serene in their assurance that they know what is best for others will have to stop and ask themselves, or be asked by the rest of us, on what authority they became the Nudgers and the Great Approvers. Many of us will have to stop and ask whether our good intentions are carrying us past boundaries where privacy and individual autonomy should still prevail.