Career Check Up: Implementing a Campus-Wide Screening to Assess Students’ Career Needs
By Jessamyn Perlus and Nicholas Debernardi
There are national screening days for mental and physical well-being, such as National Depression Screening Day and National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. What about career development (Mindwise Innovations, n.d.)? Career and academic concerns are abundant on college campuses but there are few system-wide efforts to help students identify their career development needs. Grand Valley State University (GVSU), an institution with 26,000+ bachelor and master’s degree programs, implemented an annual campus-wide screening day. This event broke down barriers by reaching the students where they were located: at hot spots throughout campus. Convenient screenings overcame obstacles in decision making such as uncertainty about scheduling an appointment or avoidance due to unhelpful thinking (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004).
The brevity of the interaction between students and career services personnel aligned with a solution-focused approach, particularly the encouraging and questioning components (Looby 2014). Furthermore, it increased opportunities to connect with students from underrepresented groups and spread overall awareness of campus career development services. To permit career practitioners to replicate the event on their campus, the program is described in more detail below.
The event’s goals were designed to align with the university’s broad student learning outcomes. This included the following:
- Increase awareness and utilization of career development resources;
- Assess the career-related needs of students;
- Briefly assist as many students as possible with their career related questions; and
- Generate referrals for students experiencing career distress.
The Screening Tool
After reviewing dozens of existing measures and finding that a suitable tool did not exist, staff created a new survey to gather information and initiate students' thinking about their career needs. The one-page survey encompassed three aspects of career development: self-assessment, options, and synthesis/action. The recommendations checklist replicated the sections to facilitate counselor referrals. From a health promotion perspective, this event served two levels of prevention (Institute for Work & Health, 2015). At the primary prevention level, it disseminated important information to many individuals before more difficult career problems arise. Secondarily, it identified individuals who may be reluctant to seek assistance but could benefit from follow-up or specialized services.
Posters and quarter-sheet flyers were distributed around campus, given to each staff member, and provided at events prior to screening day. Readers may view sample marketing materials at www.gvsu.edu. Digital advertisements included a website banner, announcement in campus recruitment system, and social media posts leading up to the event (see Figure 1). Staff timed the Career Check Up screening to coincide with career fairs and other important events to ensure students did not miss relevant career-related opportunities.
Figure 1. Sample Marketing
Acknowledgement: Special thank you to Kelsey Martin for the graphic design on the website and marketing materials.
Set Up and Procedure
Staff set up stations in entryways of campus unions to get as much traffic as possible. Career practitioners invited passersby to take a quick survey. Students completed the 3 to 5-minute paper survey at a nearby table. After completing the survey, they met with staff and shared their survey results. The career specialist established rapport, briefly skimmed the results, and made two or three recommendations. Students received a branded notebook in exchange for participating. The whole process took between 5 to 15 minutes per student, depending on how busy it was. Stations were staffed from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with two to three career specialists.
Attendance was evenly distribution among grades and majors, including undecided individuals. Sixty percent of students had not been to the Career Center prior to the screening event.
The three areas of most confidence were:
- “I know what my interests are”;
- “I am excited about my career plan”; and
- “I have considered how social media can help and harm my application for a job or graduate school.”
The three areas of least career confidence were:
- “I know how to “test out” my short- and long-term career goals”;
- “I know resources and strategies to search for a job/internship”; and
- “I do not have enough information about the variety of occupations that exist.”
While this survey was anonymous to maximize self-disclosure of students, other institutions could request students’ names to provide follow-up outreach if desired.
The event also generated ideas for future implementation. Based on the survey results, new students may not be aware of many career resources GVSU already offers, such as how to identify and test short and long-term goals. Staff are in the process of increasing outreach efforts, such as by rebranding existing workshops and materials (e.g., How to Test Out Your Career Goals) and advertise more heavily through social media. Other adjustments include shortening the survey and offering an online version available year-round.
Recommendations for Offering a Screening Day at Your Institution
A coordinated screening day can be a wonderful way to reach students about their career related needs. Institutions could unite and host such an event on National Career Development Day, November 13, 2019, which is sponsored by NCDA. This resembles the national movement affiliated with other screen days. Consider the points below.
- Carefully select a day and/or duration for screening day. Consider timing near events such as career fairs or wellness fairs.
- Find a screening tool and referral sheet or modify the one referenced in this article. (To receive a copy of the screening tool, reference sheet, and setup diagram, simply email Jessamyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
- Recruit volunteers and train them for outreach roles.
- Develop and disseminate marketing materials in print and online via email, posters, and social media.
- Figure out logistics such as table reservations, printing materials and screeners, ordering giveaways, etc.
- Conduct post-event data entry and analysis.
Improving Career Readiness and Well-being
The Career Check Up was a way to proactively reach students to increase awareness and use of career services. It increased the visibility of career services and allowed staff to build connections with students. Through brief, solution-focused approaches, staff provided career education while improving students’ career readiness and wellbeing.
Institute for Work & Health. (2015, April). Primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Retrieved from https://www.iwh.on.ca/what-researchers-mean-by/primary-secondary-and-tertiary-prevention
Looby, M. A. (2014, June). Solution-focused career counseling. Career Convergence. Retrieved from https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/89853/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false
Mindwise Innovations. (n.d.). Special initiatives: Screening for mental health. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/initiatives
Sampson, J. P., Jr., Reardon, R. C., Peterson, G. W., & Lenz, J. G. (2004). Career counseling & services: A cognitive information processing approach. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Jessamyn Perlus, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director and Manager of the Career Exploration Unit at Cornell University’s Career Services. She planned and carried out Career Check Up in 2019 and developed the survey instruments. Jessamyn can be reached at email@example.com.
Nicholas Debernardi, Ph.D. is the Coordinator of Career Assessment and Career Development Training at Grand Valley State University’s Counseling Center. Nicholas assists with the coordination of doctoral and masters level trainees in facilitating career development counseling and outreach initiatives. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.