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The Career Development Disconnect

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Just about to graduate from college? Or maybe you're a recent grad? Perhaps just enrolled in a graduate program.

How would you rate the assistance you've gotten from your academic Career Development Office?

Perhaps you've experienced a disconnect between you and the folks being paid to help you find work. You know there's a problem, but it's hard to describe. You wonder if it's your fault. Career Development professionals must know what they're doing. Right?

Many individuals do know what they're doing. There are wonderfully caring people who do help students and alumni find work. You might know one. Or be one. The Career Development Disconnect is not about individuals. It is about a system. A tired, old operational model that hasn't changed in decades. Seen from afar, it's a dangerous model, because it can look like everything is fine. Students make appointments. Assessment tests are administered, resume writing, interviewing and networking are taught. So what's the problem?

With systems problems, there's never one simple answer. Systems problems show their ugly heads as a series of interconnected problems. Like an elephant who has a problem with both his trunk and his tail. Systems problems demand a deeper, more thorough problem analysis. Because even the best career development pro will stumble without a solid system, without an operation relentlessly aimed at finding work for those standing at the door of the work force for the very first time.

To help see the full system of career development, start with these questions.

Are names used here? The first time I asked the tenured Professor to tell me who ran the Career Development Office and he didn't know the name, I thought it was a coincidence. But then it kept happening. At schools over the country. From Community Colleges to world ranked institutions, a common theme appeared. A disconnect between faculty and career development ran so deep that people literally didn't know each other's names.

Which way to the dumping ground? The prestigious technical school had a mutually beneficial partnership with a major Chicago tech company. No problem there, right? Well, not until I heard, and later confirmed, that it was common practice for favored executives who had lost a step in their performance but still maintained the good graces of senior management at the company to be shifted into new roles as Career Development professionals at the school.

Who is My Customer? Over the past year, in spreading the call for new thinking about connecting people and work at schools across the country, that is at the heart of Finding Work When There Are No Jobs, I would always ask career development leaders, "Who is your customer?" And with two exceptions, the answer I always got back was, "The student." Again, an answer that sounds good. Until you stop and think for a moment that the mission here is a job with someone else. So shouldn't that 'someone else' also be a customer of equal value?

Shouldn't business or any employing organization be served with equal focus here too?

In job search, one-size-fits all. Here's where new thinking can get uncomfortable, and entrenched career development operations can circle the wagons in defense. The old thinking, which was true for generations, goes like this: There is a set body of knowledge you must learn to get a job. My job as a career development professional is to teach you that body of knowledge. Which is convenient because its what I know. And when I'm done, you'll get a job!

And as every single person reading that last sentence knows . . . that doesn't always work anymore.

The old thinking isn't wrong. Assessment, self-presentation and networking aren't wrong. They are just not enough. Instead of buttons we push to find jobs, we need overarching principles that govern what will inevitably be an individual path to finding work. Instead of stopping at the end of resume class, career development professionals must prompt new and different ways of thinking.

Club Membership Closed! When a good friend told me that he couldn't get a call back from his own alma mater's Director of Career Services, I told him not to take it personally. She was probably busy that week. Missed the two voice mails and email. That's why she never responded. But over the past year, in working with those who connect people with jobs in almost every setting imaginable, I've seen a level of non-responsiveness from academic career development professionals that's called to mind an old comedy skit from the great comedienne Lily Tomlin. This was from back in the day when there was only one phone company. Tomlin played Ernestine The Phone Company Operator. And when confronted by a customer problem, her oft-repeated response was: "We're the phone company. We don't have to care."

Career development operations are being starved for funds in colleges across the country. Teaching what they know instead of prompting all their customers to think differently about finding work.

Imagine what could happen if these operations could think differently. Adapt new models of service.

Now, picture what that could mean to that young person who so badly needs a job.