The Great Resignation: Welcoming Newcomers into Career Services

Originally published by Dr. Alayna Hayes on The Career Leadership Collective in August 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted so much of our world. Even as we return to some bit of pre-pandemic life, one area where we’ve seen consistent change is in the world of work. Termed the Great Resignation by Professor Anthony Klotz, many folks who stuck it out in jobs they disliked during the pandemic are now resigning and seeking to make transitions to new jobs and careers. The range of reasons for leaving runs the gamut, including everything from seeking better salaries to finding careers that align more directly with personal values.

Over five years ago, though not during a period of nationwide career transition, I was at the crossroads of seeking more career fulfillment and the desire to transition to another field. In 2016, I left a career in pharmaceutical sales and joined the world of higher education as a newcomer with minimal knowledge of the career services field, but excited to share the valuable skills I developed in industry.

The current Great Resignation coincides with the cyclical “changing of the guards” that seems to occur each summer in career services. Currently, there are over 400 career development and services roles posted on HigherEdJobs.com that have been listed in the last two months. Of no surprise to many, the roles posted require education in counseling or higher education, oftentimes even preferring a master’s in the field. Additionally, most roles explicitly seek many years of career counseling experience and even coaching certifications. Given the intersection of these two unique periods and considering my own career transition experience, I can’t help but wonder, “Is it time to welcome more newcomers into career services?” While the question could be answered with some initial hesitation, I want to share why this could be helpful and some ways we can begin opening the door to newcomers.

Why Open the Doors

Seeking and hiring the same talent that resides in our offices will only lead to more of, you guessed it, the same. Just as the world of work is shifting, the needs and demands of our students to prepare for the evolving world will shift with it. As employed individuals are re-evaluating their current employment, our students are also re-evaluating the value of their degrees and reconsidering what employment is right for them. A recent CNBC article expressed how students are having to navigate big changes as their pre-COVID career plans no longer feel right. I believe having career staff that have navigated similar decisions during the pandemic and can relate to students would provide valuable insight and guidance as students make these decisions.

Beyond current students, more alumni are reaching out to their career centers for help in navigating career decisions. During this season’s The New Forward, my co-host Junior Delgado and I talked with colleagues at other universities who are having to find unique ways to support alumni. Industry career professionals who have transitioned into career services could be a strong resource for the alumni seeking guidance on career transitions. The needs of our alumni constituents may lean less on coaching and more on industry perspectives and the shared experience of career transitions.

Welcoming Newcomers

If you’ve gotten this far, you may be curious about how you might begin to welcome newcomers. The first step is making your interest in diverse talent known. At Johns Hopkins University, where under the leadership of Vice Provost Farouk Dey, we have several clear statements about our interest in a range of career backgrounds. We state boldly across the top of our departmental website, “We are looking for a different kind of leader and educator.” Our interest in career services newcomers has led to the hiring of immunologists, anthropologists, cancer researchers and more, all to work with and support students. Though these individuals had no career services experience, their knowledge of the world of work and fresh perspective has been well received by our students who seek to enter diverse fields. We have also used social media to share opportunities and open the door to newcomers. When sharing on social media, remember to utilize hashtags and tag various followers and influencers to get your positions visible. Career services newcomers may not be reviewing jobs on traditional higher education pages, but social media is viewed by everyone.

Re-evaluate Position Needs

As you seek to welcome newcomers into career services, taking the time to re-evaluate the vital needs of each role may be helpful. What is at the core of career services work? From my own experience in transitioning from pharmaceutical sales, I have found my greatest reliance has been on relationship building. The ability to listen for needs and seek to meet them has assisted me in connecting with students, employers, and campus partners. In addition, the ability to create relevant and creative content whether through curriculum, workshops, written resources and more has been extremely helpful. Finally, being comfortable in presentation and facilitation seems to be another vital need within career services. As you re-evaluate each position’s needs, I encourage you to also consider what fresh ideas and new perspectives will diverse employment backgrounds bring to your work? Would those from a data-driven background help you to determine more impactful ways to capture data and what story you tell? Might individuals from creative fields find novel ways of sharing your services and attract new partners for engagement? Whatever the position, consider what is really important and if there are requirements, like coaching certifications, that can be removed to encourage more newcomers to consider your roles. Through the re-evaluation of position needs, there is a real opportunity to leverage the NACE career readiness competencies as a guide to demonstrate how the world of work, from various fields, has prepared newcomers to support students in building their own competencies. Consider the following paradigm shift example below:

Leverage What You Have

So far you might be thinking I’m advocating to get rid of career coaching expertise. Quite the contrary! On teams where there is strong career coaching talent, I encourage you to lean into what you have and evaluate the strengths on the team. Is there an opportunity to create leadership and professional development among existing staff that can mentor or train incoming newcomers? With new positions open on your teams, perhaps leadership can hire for gaps and even allow cross training on areas of expertise among new and existing staff members.

Perhaps my interest in welcoming newcomers into career services is motivated by the awesome experience I’ve had to find work I love, that excites and invigorates me daily. Or it might be that I can empathize with those who are discontent in careers that on the surface look good but lack the fulfillment needed to commit 40 hours a week. Either way, this juncture provides a unique opportunity to meet the needs of two groups that may not have realized their necessity for each other.

Dr. Alayna Hayes is the Senior Director of Life Design-Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Life Design Lab at Johns Hopkins University where she currently leads the SOAR Team (Seizing Opportunities, Access, and Relationships), a group of six Life Design Educators who work in co-curricular spaces on campus focusing on connecting with first-generation and limited-income students. Having been at JHU for over 5 years, Alayna previously led employer relations efforts for the then-named Homewood Career Center. Prior to transitioning to higher education, Alayna worked in pharmaceutical sales for several companies including Pfizer Animal Health and GlaxoSmithKline. Alayna received her Doctorate of Education from JHU School of Education where her research interests were focused on first-generation college students and their access to social capital for internships and employment opportunities. She also has an MBA and BS from Florida A&M University.
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