Career Center Advisory Committees: Connecting with your Stakeholders
By Janet G. LenzA Committee in Search of a Mission
A critical first step in creating an advisory committee is to decide what the mission of the committee is going to be. As one long-time career center director often says: "There is nothing worse than a committee in search of a mission." An advisory committee is probably doomed to failure if its members cannot clearly articulate what purpose(s) they will serve in coming together. Also, the mission and goals of the committee will typically dictate who the center will seek out as committee members. Below is one example from a large university where the advisory committee has operated successfully for more than five years.
The Career Center Advisory Committee, composed of students, faculty/staff members and employers, assists the Director in strategic program development, evaluation and planning.
The career center may want to define what "gap" in their current functioning an advisory committee may help them fill. A center should also ask, are there other ways that this need can be addressed? Maybe several targeted focus groups with key stakeholders or periodic online surveys can accomplish the same purpose. If the determination is made to convene an advisory committee, several key factors should be considered.
Career center advisory committees may target students, faculty or staff, employers, community members, some subset of the above, or all of the above for membership. The Career Center at Florida State University has had success with a committee that includes students, employers, key faculty and staff, as well as representatives from the Center's staff. There is no magic formula for determining how many people to have on the committee. Over the past 5 years, our Center's committee has averaged around 25-30 members. We made a strategic decision to invite any of our employer partners and donors to sit on the committee, which was another "perk" to offer them in exchange for their financial support of the Center. While inviting these individuals creates the possibility that a large number of people will need to be accommodated at the meetings, the reality has been that the average attendance continues to be around thirty individuals. Faculty/staff members are typically representatives from key colleges with which the Career Center interacts, e.g., Arts & Sciences, Business, Communications. Students are drawn from a variety of areas, including direct staff referrals and from student organizations that may have some connection with the Center, e.g., the Pre-Law Society or student groups that have a Career Center staff member as their advisor.
Making It Work
It is important to have a designated staff member who handles the logistics for the meetings. In our setting the office manager handles the arrangements for inviting the committee members, confirms who will attend, arranges space, orders the food, and prepares the materials for the meeting. Materials include such things as the agenda, the list of committee members (specifically those in attendance at a particular meeting), key Center publications (including a student career guide with employer ads), the Center's organization chart, and related documents.
Determining how often to meet will be an important consideration. We have found that it works well to meet twice a year, in the fall and spring, on the day before our large career fair. The meetings are typically scheduled to last no more than 1 ½ to 2 hours. The committee meets in an easily accessible campus facility where food or hors d'oeuvres can be served. The agenda generally consists of the following:
- Introduction of members and review of meeting materials.
- Introduction of new staff and notes about other changes in staff (e.g., retirements)
- Highlight of key Career Center programs or new initiatives, e.g., online portfolio, implementing a new on-campus recruiting software system, plans for a new facility, etc.
- Members are often asked to react to specific projects or changes that the Center is considering undertaking, e.g., whether to participate in the surveys promoted by private vendors, Career Center fees for employers, etc.
- Students, faculty and staff, as well as the employers, are asked what the Center could be doing to better meet their needs.
- Employer members in particular are asked to share any thoughts they have about the state of the economy, hiring trends in their organization, their experience with recruiting and using the software system for on-campus interviewing, and related topics.
Typically several agenda topics are covered before there is a break to allow members to enjoy the food and to provide opportunities for networking, and then the group comes back together to finish the agenda topics.
Some of the challenges we have found in having an advisory committee over the last 5 years is that there never seems to be enough time to adequately address all the agenda topics and things are often rushed at the end of a meeting. Many times employer members have other events competing for their time, e.g., campus departments have employer receptions the night before the career fair. Some employers travel in from other career fairs and don't arrive until late that day. It is often necessary to repeat a lot of information for the benefit of new members and there are often a number of changes in employer and student representatives who attend. Despite these challenges, we have found the advisory committee to be a useful way to get valuable input from key campus and employer stakeholders.
Keys to Success
Keys to having a successful advisory committee include the following:
- Have a clear mission for the group and specific purposes for meetings
- Make sure members have a chance to be heard
- Schedule meetings at a time that is reasonably convenient for members to attend, particularly the employer members, and keep the meetings relatively short
- Demonstrate to members that their input has an impact on how the Career Center operates, designs it programs, etc.
Janet Lenz, Ph.D., is currently the Program Director for Career Advising, Counseling, and Programming in the Florida State University Career Center and served as the 2004-2005 President of the National Career Development Association (NCDA). She has a courtesy appointment in the FSU College of Education's Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems and teaches an undergraduate career development course. She serves as a Senior Research Associate in FSU's Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. She received her Bachelor's degree in Sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Masters degree in Student Personnel Administration and her Ph.D. in Counseling and Human Systems, both from Florida State University. Dr. Lenz is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Master Career Counselor.
In addition to her experience at Florida State University, Dr. Lenz worked at the University of Texas at Austin Career Center and as the Assistant Director in the Career Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has authored or co-authored more than 50 publications in the career area including books, book chapters, monographs, articles, and technical reports. With colleagues Sampson, Reardon, and Peterson, she co-authored the text Career Counseling & Services: A Cognitive Information Processing Approach and the text, student manual and instructor's manual for Career Development and Planning: A Comprehensive Approach. She is also a co-author of the Career Thoughts Inventory and the Career Thoughts Inventory Workbook. Dr. Lenz is also the co-author, with Bob Reardon, of The Self-Directed Search and Related Holland Materials: A Practitioner's Guide. She may be reached at (850) 644-9547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.