Why don’t more students use the career center? Shane J. Lopez argues that the traditional career center has not kept up with students’ needs. He suggests that they reimagine themselves as places where students identify and nurture their strengths in order to ﬁnd fulﬁlling work and create fulﬁlling lives.
By Shane J. Lopez
A Good Job Is Hard to Find . . . Until Students
Know What They Do Best
HAT ARE YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS FOR THE FUTURE? Take a The implicit psychological agreement between modern colleges and universities and today’s students begins and ends with a good job. As I will discuss in this article, the promise of a good job inﬂuences where a student goes to school, and the student securing a good job partly determines a school’s success. Students’ of today. pursuit of a good job, and the crafting of it into one they can love, is made easier when they know what Wfew seconds to think about your answer to that question.
Your hopes and dreams are what pull you forward in life. The more vivid and compelling, the more these images help you get through the challenges and hassles So what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
At Gallup, we asked people around the world they do best. to participate in this thought experiment.We found what the world wants in the future is a good job. I was reminded of this point recently while visiting with a dozen passionate, community-minded students at the University of Kansas.When I asked them the hopes and dreams question, they told interesting stories about their missions and passions, all of which hinged on them getting a good job ﬁrst. Carson Levine, a 23-yearold senior at KU, was very precise in her answer:“I hope to obtain my teaching certiﬁcate and become an elementary school teacher.”
SEARCHING FOR A GOOD JOB
A GOOD JOB IS AT THE TOP OF MIND
WHEN students think about college. We have long known that the desire for a good job might determine if students go to college, but we now know it plays a role in where students go to college. In a poll Gallup conducted in collaboration with the Lumina Foundation, we asked Americans to identify the most important factor in choosing which college or university to
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ABOUT CAMPUS / MARCH–APRIL 2014 Regarding the connectivity between a college and its top employers, we need to know which organizations are oﬀering good jobs to graduates and then cultivate strong relationships with them. attend. It turns out Americans pick colleges based on jobs data and price point. That is, Americans are as likely to say that the percentage of a school’s graduates who are able to get a good job is the most important factor in choosing which college or university to attend as they are to say the price. Both of these factors are apparently more inﬂuential than any other selection criteria.
This finding made me wonder how many colleges and universities can say they have a great track record of placing students in good jobs. Given the new expectations for collecting longitudinal data on graduates, we soon will be able to answer that question more deﬁnitely. For now, consider this: Gallup
ﬁndings suggest a college degree doesn’t guarantee a good job.
In the Gallup 2013 State of the American Workplace report, which summarizes representative polling of employed Americans of all ages and education levels,
Gallup highlights a study that asked employees a series of questions measuring one characteristic of a good job—the extent to which employees were involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Based on their responses, people were classified as engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged at work. The results were counterintuitive. We thought higher education would increase the likelihood that people did work they found demanding and exciting. Yet we discovered that workers with college degrees are less likely to be engaged at work than are their respective peers with a high school education or less. of college-educated workers, some colleges and universities can’t inﬂuence and some they can.
Certainly the slow economic recovery contributes to this startling engagement ﬁnding. Results of another national poll reported in State of the American Workplace suggest as much. In a survey of recent college graduates,
Gallup found that half are in jobs that don’t require a college degree. It appears that our graduates are accepting the job oﬀers they are fortunate enough to get, even if they don’t require a college education. Doing work that they would have been qualiﬁed for before college may foster a disappointment that undermines engagement.
This lack of employee engagement also may be attributable to the quality of the pipelines built between an institution’s current students and graduates and between our colleges and universities and the hiring agents at organizations with ties to our schools.
How strong are your college-to-career connections?
Can a ﬁrst-year student majoring in philosophy at your school pick up the phone and call ﬁve recent philosophy majors who have graduated and found engaging jobs? Unfortunately, most institutions do a poor job of maintaining contact with their alumni to help foster our current students’ career development. Regarding the connectivity between a college and its top employers, we need to know which organizations are oﬀering good jobs to graduates and then cultivate strong relationships with them. We need to recruit great employers as hard as we recruit great students.
Finding a good job is hard enough, and a sluggish economy and limited college-to-career connectivity don’t help. In search of a strategy for making a good job more attainable, we dug deeper into the data that suggested that college-educated American workers’ engagement is lower than their less educated peers.
By examining engagement scores at the item level, we found that the lower-than-expected involvement in and enthusiasm about work mainly stems from college graduates being less likely to agree with the following statement: “At work I have the opportunity to do what
I do best every day.” Put simply, people with college degrees are less likely to use their strengths at work than people with less education.
How could this be? How could the investment in a four-year degree not result in an engaging job? There are several possible contributors to the disengagement
Shane J. Lopez is a senior scientist at Gallup, research director of the Clifton Strengths Institute, and professor of the practice at the University of Kansas School of Business. He is also the architect of the Gallup Student Poll and the author of Making Hope Happen. His Top 5 on StrengthsFinder are futuristic, maximizer, arranger, ideation, and strategic.
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ABOUT CAMPUS / MARCH–APRIL 2014 around the world. Personal strengths development and an appreciation of others’ strengths help students see each other as unique and resourceful partners. Students learn to collaborate with others to do big jobs that they could not complete by themselves. Under the supervision of faculty and internship supervisors, students practice building eﬀective teams to solve real-world problems and develop sound collaborative skills.
DOING WHAT THEY DO BEST
AS COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES WARM up to the idea that they are in the business of preparing students for good jobs, they are also moving away from a long tradition of studying failure (and answering questions about why students don’t return to school) and establishing a new tradition of studying success and helping students do what they do best. To assist students in their pursuit of a good job and a good life, thousands of schools have adopted StrengthsFinder
(also known as StrengthsQuest on some campuses) as a tool for identifying each student’s top ﬁve talent themes that can be developed into strengths with the investment of time, energy, and effort. This assessment and other strengths surveys encourage students to reﬂect on what they do best, possibly for the ﬁrst time in their lives.
Getting a job where you get to do what you do best every day requires students to first learn their strengths and for parents, faculty, and staﬀ to indulge them in the use of those strengths in daily life. Simply encouraging students to spend more time doing what they do best and less time ﬁxing their weakness can give them the conﬁdence and energy they need to be more successful in school. Here are three more reasons why students are better oﬀ when developing their strengths.
3. People who use their strengths are more productive.
As students develop their strengths, choose the most beneﬁcial experiences, and collaborate with colleagues who are doing what they do best, they are more productive. They get more work done at a higher quality. These students are more able to manage long-term projects from beginning to end, a core skill wanted by most employers.
When the time comes for students to apply for good jobs, career development oﬃces play a big role in preparing them to capitalize on what they have learned over their time on campus and oﬀ and to give a captivating answer to the common job interview question:
“What are your strengths?” Unfortunately, not enough students seek out career counseling, and thus most are unprepared with the personal and career knowledge needed for making important decisions about their majors, their jobs, and their lives.
1. Strengths help students sort. Many students suffer the anxiety of choice when they arrive at school. The number of courses, professors, majors, and clubs available on modern campuses can be overwhelming. Knowing your strengths helps students cut through the clutter and pick the most rewarding college experiences. With the help of career development services and other student aﬀairs oﬃces, students learn to use their strengths as a means of sorting through courses, majors, and internships that might lead to a good job.
REIMAGINING CAREER DEVELOPMENT SERVICES
WHEN I ASKED CARSON, THE KU SENIOR
(who is majoring in art history but wants to be an elementary teacher), if she ever received career counseling, she said she had never even visited the career services oﬃce. On the typical campus, fewer than 10 percent of students take advantage of the free or lowcost career development offerings. Why do so few students go to career services? Having worked in a university career center for years, I know it is not due to a lack of eﬀort on the part of student aﬀairs professionals. We did everything we could do to reach out to students and pull them into the center. In retrospect,
2. Knowing your strengths and the strengths of others fosters a collaborative spirit. Today’s jobs require our graduates to work collaboratively with peers in the same office and in offices
As students develop their strengths, choose the most beneﬁcial experiences, and collaborate with colleagues who are doing what they do best, they are more productive.
ABOUT CAMPUS / MARCH–APRIL 2014 It seems that as hard as colleges and universities are working to help students learn about themselves and then land a good job, career services as currently designed and oﬀered aren’t appealing to students.
I grudgingly realize that if our career center wasn’t engaging students, it was unlikely we could help stu- ended up. dents build engaging careers. where all the graduates from all the Carleton majors Our students have big hopes for the future and they could really use the help provided by highly trained career counselors. Unfortunately, student needs are going unmet because our career development services have not evolved as quickly as the world of work and have not kept up with the cultural trends that aﬀect how young people access services. Through a reimagining of our services, we can make career development an engaging experience and increase the likelihood of graduates landing good jobs and even help them strive for something more.
Unfortunately, it seems that as hard as colleges and universities are working to help students learn about themselves and then land a good job, career services as currently designed and oﬀered aren’t appealing to students. Maybe Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development at Wake Forest University, is right when he argues,“Career services must die.” In the 2013 crowdsourced paper “A Roadmap for Transforming the College-to-Career Experience,” Chan and Tommy Derry contend that the “career services” brand is antiquated, that the service oﬀerings are misleading, and that we run the risk of failing to keep our promise of preparing students for life if we don’t change our approach to career development. He states,“We cannot aﬀord to wait any longer to change how we prepare them, and our students cannot aﬀord for us to wait either” (p. 2). He also explains that a good job after graduation is only the ﬁrst outcome that matters and that our new and improved career development oﬃces should prepare our students in a way that readies them for a lifetime of work.
Wake Forest—which under Chan’s leadership rebuilt and rebranded its eﬀorts to help students ﬁnd good jobs, manage career transitions, and build good lives—is one of many schools currently reimagining what career development services can be. For example, as June Pierce Youatt, Wyl McCully, and Sue
A. Blanshan describe elsewhere in this issue, Michigan State University now brings career development strategies to one of the ﬁve “neighborhoods” where students are encouraged to grow and develop with the support of long-lasting relationships with counselors, advisors, and friends. As Maura Lerner reports, to boost its college-to-career connectivity, Carleton College created “Pathways,” a one-stop website designed for students trying to figure out how to turn a liberal arts degree into a meaningful career. The site was built by identifying the majors and career paths of all graduates since 1990. These data were transformed into a “career path visualization” that shows students
HOPING FOR SOMETHING MORE
AT A RECENT CAREER DEVELOPMENT conference, I visited with a well-known vocational psychologist, Mark Savickas, a professor at Northeast
Ohio Medical University. He told me, “Work won’t love you back anymore.” We’ve all heard that we should balance our lives because, unlike our families, our jobs won’t love us back. But what Savickas meant was a little diﬀerent. What he was saying is that there’s no loyalty in the modern American workplace. You’re not going to get a ton of professional development anymore. You’re not going to be on a team that lasts two or three years anymore. You’re not going to spend your career in one place anymore.
Savickas’s comment that “work won’t love you back anymore” made me wonder about what it takes to buck the trends in the modern workplace. In my study of a representative sample of 10,000 employed
Americans, I found some people who have jobs they love and that love them back. And these people did not subscribe to the Confucian notion of “ﬁnd the job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
No, the people who love their jobs aren’t ﬁnding jobs they love—they’re making jobs they love.
Over the last six months or so, I have been interviewing people who love their jobs. They’ve taught me the formula for job loving. I’ll share it with you so you can share it with your students.
ABOUT CAMPUS / MARCH–APRIL 2014 •
Find a job where you can do what you do best alongside people who genuinely care about your well-being. Using your strengths at work feels even better when you are sharing your talents with people who really care about you. Getting to do what you do best and collaborating with people who are invested in your happiness should be non-negotiable when considering a job oﬀer.
•at a crappy job. What can college and university educators do to help more graduates land good jobs and build good lives? Building on the “doing what you do best” ﬁnding, we can give every student the opportunity to discover their strengths so they can better sort through the overwhelming number of opportunities and experiences that come their way. And we can start to reimagine career development services and help students learn a set of life skills needed to make their hopes and dreams come true.
Slowly and intentionally shape the good job through job crafting into a great job that is more rewarding and meaningful. By exercising small bits of autonomy and agency,you can redesign your job by taking on more of some tasks and less of others, interacting more deeply with some of the people on your team and inviting others to make meaningful contributions, and reconsidering how your work aﬀects the people in your life in positive ways.
Chan, A., Derry, T. (2013). A roadmap for transforming the college-to-career experience. Winston-Salem, NC: Wake
Gallup. (2013). State of American Workplace. Washington,
Gallup/Lumina Foundation. (2013). America’s call for higher education redesign: The 2012 Lumina Foundation study of the American public’s opinion on higher education. Washington,
Lerner, M. (2013, November 4). Carleton College website asks: What can you do with a liberal arts degree. Star
Tribune. Retrieved from
Shop for the right boss within the organization who will support you and your talents for the long haul. Seek out the leader who can get the most out of you while simultaneously promoting your growth. Once employed within an organization, be vigilant and patient in your search for the boss who can make your job great and your life happier.
Lopez, S. J. (2013, May 25). Honing the job you have into one you love. The New York Times. Retrieved from
I know that not all of your students will craft jobs they can love. But none of your students are aiming years of their lives and thousands of dollars of tuition
ABOUT CAMPUS / MARCH–APRIL 2014