3 Ways to Empower Students in Their Career Paths Despite the Uncertain Future

Perhaps one of the greatest losses in the world of student affairs due to COVID-19 was our ability to fully celebrate the graduating class of 2020.

As both a current student affairs professional and Class of 2020 graduate (with my M.Ed in Student Affairs Administration from Springfield College), I understand the feelings of frustrations coming from both sides of the coin.

With the unemployment rate being at an all-time high, advising students within academic advising, career services, and other student support students can feel daunting.

So how should we have conversations with students about their future careers when the future is so uncertain? As an academic or career advisor how do I advocate for my students to succeed in the midst of a pandemic?

Here’s what I’ve found success in.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

gif of a man saying 'communication is key' with a woman responding 'yes! Oprah said that'

For many students, being physically away from campus can create a disconnect. They don’t feel as in tune with their institutions and may be unaware of the services available to support them from afar.

Combat this issue by communicating with students that your office is still available to help. Share the ways in which they can access your services and what kinds of support you can offer.

Update your website and social media accounts, or consider even emailing students  the following information:

  • How to make a virtual appointment, with a link for doing so (Be sure to include your office hours and information on available staff members)
  • Information on remote services, such as advising sessions, resume reviews, LinkedIn polishing, and virtual interview practice calls
  • Updates on vital events such as course registration, graduation, and career fairs
  • Links to information about job sectors that are currently hiring, along with open job postings for both on- and off-campus positions
  • Information for alumni on career resources available to them, if applicable
  • International student career resources, if applicable
  • Resources for potential and current graduate school and continuing education applicants
  • FAQs for common logistical questions on official transcripts, diplomas, graduation, and much more

You can see some phenomenal examples of this type of communication from MIT’s Career Advising and Professional Development.

2. Know your resources and share them with students

Stay up-to-date on the latest career trends and support available to students struggling to find employment. This way, you’ll always be ready to share the highest-quality knowledge with your advisees.

Oftentimes, career and academic advisors can be the first points of contact in referring students to these resources. Send an email or create a flyer on social media for students including:

  • Campus resources such as counseling, food pantries, financial aid, international student services, and any other services offered remotely. 
  • Government resources, such as filing for unemployment and COVID-19 relief bills and laws (Students might be unaware of government resources but advisors may want to bring these up proactively.)
  • Resources on local relief efforts, such as meal support, deferred student loan and debt repayments, and delayed rent and mortgage payments laws
  • Links to digestible information on career trends during and after COVID-19 that outline which job sectors are adjusting well to the disruption and which were hit the hardest
  • Resources on work-life balance while working from home and professionalism in the home office

These resources may feel like lifelines to students who are struggling with unemployment, working from home, or are feeling lost in their career searches due to the pandemic.

3. Address the present with a growth mindset

Reiterate to students that the pandemic is temporary and that the job market is already slowly starting to recover from its lowest point. Students can take their experiences with life disruptions caused by the pandemic to inform their future careers and job searches.

In your one-on-one or group meetings, you can:

  • Discuss how COVID-19 has affected your students’ perspectives on their future careers. 
  • Emphasize areas that are growing. Employment has risen sharply in the fields of leisure and hospitality, construction, education, and health services.
  • Discuss alternative career options such as short-term jobs, remote work, side gigs, and other interests/projects your students have that could lead to a temporary (or even a long-term) career.
  • Bring up continuing education and professional training options that’ll help students to continue developing professionally while keeping in mind financial constraints. There are many low-cost or even free resources available — including Khan Academy, Coursera, and Code with Google — that students can use to cultivate new skills while job searching.
  • Talk about transferable skills that students already have that could translate well into new career fields.
  • Create and/or share opportunities for students to virtually network, such as an alumni mentorship program
  • Provide online workshops for students to polish up their LinkedIn profiles, resumes, cover letters, and online presence.

Focusing on growth can help students maintain a positive outlook towards their job search. They can begin to view this time as an opportunity to continue improving and achieving.

gif of Han Solo saying 'let's keep a little optimism here'

I know that discussing future careers during a global pandemic isn’t ideal. But with empathy, resourcefulness, and communication, you can build constructive career advising experiences that are supportive of student career development. 

Whether you’re discussing summer internships, resume building, or obtaining a fulfilling job after graduation, advising students through COVID-19 with best practices in mind will lead to increasingly improved student experiences and outcomes.

What tips did we miss? Connect with us on Twitter @themoderncampus.

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Corinna Kraemer

About the author: Corinna Kraemer (she/her) works in ed tech and loves painting, running, and hanging out with her cat, Mr. K. She hopes her posts will finally help her dad understand what her career in student affairs is all about. Learn how we can help get your students involved.