Calling for a Return to Relationships

Irene Hillman

Irene Hillman, Manager of Career Development, College of Business, Decosimo Success Center, The University of Tennessee Chattanooga
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/irenehillman

When I was first introduced to the world of student services as an educational psychology student, what intrigued me was the coaching aspect. I was taught that the key to successful coaching was to recognize your student as resourceful and whole, and to “meet them where they are.” That phrase, a decade and a half later, still floats into my brain when I talk with a client.

It takes a good deal of curiosity to really find out where a student is in her path of life and where she wants that journey to lead. Probing questions are called for, along with the ability to offer real encouragement and very often a sense of humor plus a sympathetic ear. In short, challenging a student to head toward his or her individual goals requires an authentic connection—an honest-to-goodness old fashioned relationship where you know the other person and where she’s been, where she is, and where she is going.

But I see this art of coaching frequently dwindling in career development departments. As colleges and parents focus on the ROI of the ever-increasing tuition payment, the focus has tipped, in my opinion, towards “checking the box” of offering services.

As we struggle to serve a large population, automating processes has become the norm. Resumes are dropped off by students, checked for typos by career services associates, and picked up the next morning again with rarely a discussion of what type of job the resume is trying to target or transferable skills a student might have left uncovered. Students are given access to a myriad of career assessment tests but may never have a conversation with an adviser about how results should be interpreted or how the results might affect their college experience. Pamphlets about the importance of job shadows, professional associations, networking—you name it—are developed and distributed without follow up to see if students understood the advice, are ready to get their feet wet, or have the support they need to make real progress.

In this stunted model, the responsibility is placed on the student to build their own career development program using the bits and pieces we provide. Have you ever heard of a baseball coach putting bats, gloves, and balls on the field and then sitting in the dugout? Our intentions are good and the resources are solid, but our efforts are in danger of falling flat in terms of providing support that actually moves a student toward career success.

I propose that the way to help a student is to know a student. Have all these resources and tools ready to use and share, but at the right moment—when your client is ready to take that particular step in her journey.

And, I should mention, only in a real relationship can you expect accountability from a student. In any other scenario, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope students are listening to the advice out there—on your department’s website, in the pamphlets, in your class visit—but they are more likely listening to whatever is streaming through their headphones. I have heard many career services professionals complain that students are unresponsive and lackadaisical. I am positive that those same students would be attentive and engaged if a relationship was in place with their career adviser.

Another thing to consider is the impact not having relationships with your students will have on employers. How would I identify which job opportunity or company I would recommend to a student without understanding his/her objectives and strengths? I would be failing my employers as a result of not knowing my students.
If I’m worth my salt as a career development professional, I want to be able to push a student toward progress—and progress is a highly subjective term. I need to be keenly aware of what progress would mean to the individual in front of me. There is no standard or bulk option. Does this stretch me thin? Heck yeah. Is it worth it? Heck yeah. Relationships are what make me love being a career development professional. Seeing my students transform into flourishing professionals is the best feeling in the world. And if I was busy checking the box, I would miss it.

Is “Follow Your Bliss” B.S.?

Ross WadeRoss Wade, assistant director, Duke University Career Center
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
Twitter: @rrwade
Blogs from Ross Wade.

I don’t have a “passion” or “bliss” to follow. I just don’t. I really enjoy a lot of things—photography, writing, listening to music, design, real estate, and documentary—but do I love them enough to sacrifice everything to pursue one of them professionally? Nope. Maybe my passion is routine, security, and a little artsy fartsy on the side? Jeez…that sounds lame.

As a career adviser who doesn’t necessarily believe in bliss or passion, I feel like a traitor to my vocation—like I need to keep my views on this topic “in the closet.” Does anyone else feel this way? I think some of you do. I know some of my students do. I’ve had countless students, literally whisper to me in sessions, “Ross…I don’t think I have a passion. Is that okay? What do I do if I don’t have a passion? How can I find one? How can I choose a major or career if I don’t have a passion?!”

It appears to me the “passionless” are really stressed out…and I totally get it! Most of what we hear about on the news, television, music, and literature is the only way to be happy and successful is to follow your passion. But I’ve got to ask…is this a healthy and realistic philosophy? Does it cause more harm than good?

I became a victim to this one size fits all philosophy, and for years it caused me a lot a grief. I was trying to find my passion, but was trying to fit it in to what I thought it was supposed to be—based on what others (e.g., media, peers, family) told me it should be. It was pretty miserable. I think some of our students are feeling the same way. Now, in my 30s, I’m finally feeling comfortable with my own career philosophy. It took me a long time to piece it together, and seems rather simple. Hunter S. Thompson said it best: pick the kind of life you want and build everything else around it.

What do I do when a student “comes out” to me that s/he has no burning passion to pursue? I reply, “I don’t have a passion either. In fact, most of the students I meet with don’t, but they feel like they are supposed to. Being passionless is ok.”

Students seem shocked and relieved to hear me say this. Next, I normally say “Let’s forget about passion and career, and talk about the kind of life you want. Tell me about that.” This tends to get them talking…it is more nuts and bolts, and basic values, but it gives us a starting point. I know this doesn’t seem like an innovative or energizing type of session, but I think it is really important. Students need to be able to be released from this passion myth, so they can start thinking about a real life, rather than trying to live up to some (nearly impossible) cultural standard. They need to know, and be taught by us, that they can create their own career philosophy—that’s what I wish someone had taught me.

Don’t get me wrong, some folks really do have a passion, and they by all means should pursue it—but that standard or philosophy shouldn’t be universal. Let’s empower our passionless!