Addressing Student Stress in the Job Search Process: A Collaborative Effort between the Career and Counseling Offices
By Krystle Forbes
Career centers and counseling offices have always responded to common student concerns, but the demand has increased and shifted as the pandemic continues to affect the job market (Griffin, 2020). When students enrolled at the University of Michigan Public Health expressed feelings of stress surrounding their job search or career development during individual advising sessions, career specialists collaborated with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to bring together data, resources, and strategies in support of students. Together, staff designed a collaborative workshop focused on responding to graduate students’ stress related to the career search process and promoted wellness. The presentation goals were two-fold.
- Open the door to conversations about stressors and normalize responses and behaviors, thus providing opportunities to address habits and practices before they become harmful.
- Discuss concrete and actionable stress responses including individual regulation, use of university resources, and advancement of personal goals.
Setting Up a Workshop
Understanding students might struggle to find time for career and professional development given the demands of their degree requirements, staff appealed to the students’ values and priorities by identifying achievable, immediate steps students could take to progress in their job searches (Rizzolo et al., 2016). This workshop intentionally utilized staff’s expertise and promoted existing university tools to provide tangible, readily accessible resources and strategies to meet students’ needs. By hosting a collaborative event, the CAPS counselor and career services removed silos common to higher education (Fong et al., 2016) and also amplified the multiple dimensions of wellness (University of Michigan, n.d.).
While career specialists aimed to highlight shared feelings and experiences, they also recognized the stigma associated with mental health and career challenges. Presenters recorded the session (keeping participants muted and unseen) to allow students to review the content and materials in the future. Also knowing some students needed immediate response or clarification, presenters hosted a post-recording question and answer session. Staff emailed all those who registered and anyone who requested a follow-up, to share the recording and its respective digital resources.
Presenters from both the careers office and the counseling center gathered data, resources, and strategies into a one-hour virtual session.
Data: Career specialists knew they would earn credibility with attendees if they provided scholarly evidence to support their claims while providing tailored resources or tools (Lehker & Furlong, 2006). To achieve this credibility, the presenters utilized school-specific data related to graduate students’ needs to build content interest and buy-in. For example, they highlighted employment outcomes and search data from the institution’s annual Careers Outcomes Report (University of Michigan School of Public Health, 2020), student surveys, and employer engagement history. Presenters also supplemented school-specific data with nationally recognized sources (like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021) to show field-specific projections. This empowered students to set realistic expectations and demystified the search process by specifically looking at the timeline for postings, hiring, and employment outcomes for graduates like them.
Coping Strategies: Given the presenters’ desire for students to learn to initiate conversations about stressors, students were taught language to name their feelings and responses. The presenting counselor discussed imposter phenomena (Perlus, 2018) and procrastination motivations, while the career coordinator promoted a continued sense of shared experience and normalization by including expressions they heard from other students. This encouraged students to reflect and make connections to statements that promoted self-acceptance and self-compassion.
Resources: Noting the intricate connection between personal well-being and career achievements, presenters wove together strategies supporting positive stress responses. These resources avoided generalities and instead focused on short, tangible activities. This included descriptions of short mindfulness activities, such as noticing the five senses (e.g., naming things you can see, touch, hear; Mayo Clinic Health System, 2020). Career specialists also highlighted tools and resources available to ease search-related demands. Some were as specific as setting up automatic position opening alerts, while others were more strategy-based like creating parallel plans (Bloom as cited in Johnson, 2015). When presenters highlighted both individual action steps and the tools available to support ongoing development, they empowered students to own their well-being while narrowing the scope to focus on tangible, actionable, and achievable results. Such narrowing and emphasis acknowledged that students’ best strategy is often to simply focus on the next step (Risley & Cooper, 2011).
Recommendations for Future Applications
Career specialists who choose to replicate this event should consider student needs, availability, and perceptions on content value to maximize effectiveness and reception of materials.
Timeline: Avoid high-stress periods (like major tests and project deadlines in the core curriculum) and accommodate students’ availability (such as class schedules and workshop time preferences). Accommodating this need permitted the career specialists to meet students when they were most available and avoid the perceived barrier of finding time to attend the event (Rizzolo et al, 2016).
Content: Be specific and as tailored as possible to enable students to see themselves in the data and to relate to the topic. Tailored materials and tools may prevent participants from dismissing information as not relevant to them (Fong et al, 2016).
Deepening Sense Well-being
By collaborating with expert counseling staff, career specialists provided a more comprehensive student support structure to meet career and mental health needs. While responding to stress related to job searching or career planning, the combination of data, resources, and tools provided students with an achievable sense of overall well-being.
Fong, B. L., Wang, M., White, K., & Tipton, R. (2016). Assessing and serving the workshop needs of graduate students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42, 569-580. http://cus.njla.org/sites/cus.njla.org/files/Assessing%20and%20Serving%20the%20Workshop%20Needs%20of%20Graduate%20Students.pdf
Griffin, A. (2020, August 17). A pandemic silver lining? Reimagined career services for students. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisongriffin/2020/08/17/a-pandemic-silver-lining-reimagined-career-services-for-students/?sh=1cb3015e1bce
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Perlus, J. (2018, November). Helping clients who feel like imposters. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/197507/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Risley, K., & Cooper, H. (2011). Professional coaching: an innovative and promising leadership development and career enhancement approach for public health professionals. Health promotion practice, 12(4), 497-501. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1524839911413127
Rizzolo, S., DeForest, A. R., DeCino, D. A., Strear, M., & Landram, S. (2016). Graduate student perceptions and experiences of professional development activities. Journal of Career Development, 43(3), 195-210.
University of Michigan Human Resources. (n.d). Well-being at U-M. https://hr.umich.edu/benefits-wellness/health-well-being/well-being-u-m
University of Michigan School of Public Health. (2020). Careers outcome reports. https://sph.umich.edu/admissions/career-outcomes.html
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Krystle Forbes is a Career and Internship Coordinator with the University of Michigan School of Public Health where she brings 10 years of experience related to professional development and coaching. She has her Masters in Student Affairs Administration from Michigan State University. Her focus has been on promoting student development through career advising and programming, including work with graduate students, student veterans, the MSU Broad College of Business, and Western University (London, ON). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.