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3 ways to engage students with careers services

March 2019

If you're struggling to find new ways to get students to interact with your careers service, these tried and tested methods may be just what you need

'I didn't know about that, I wish someone had told me earlier'. How many times, as a careers adviser, have you heard a student say these words? In your mind you're probably banging your head against a brick wall in frustration because you have undoubtedly been shouting about the thing the student didn't know about for weeks, months or even years.

Regardless of what type of educational establishment you work in, I'm sure you have tried numerous weird, wonderful, innovative and sometimes plain old wacky ways to encourage students to make use of your services. Here are a few ideas that Solent Futures, the careers team at Solent University, have tried.

1. Outreach

With a myriad of distractions, attractions and park life separating our art students from the main university campus, taking those steps across the city centre can seem insurmountable to some. So, one intrepid careers adviser decided to go to them.

Under cover of an art installation comprising an umbrella draped in weighted tights to depict a jellyfish one week, and camouflaged against a mock graffiti wall complete with expletives the next, she seamlessly entered their world.

The result? At least 25 to 30 significant guidance interactions with fine art and graphic design students that may not have occurred otherwise.

Another adviser found her sea legs and accepted an invite to board the Princess Caroline and cruise along the Solent while promoting our services to the passengers, all of whom were students undertaking one of our maritime courses including: maritime business; shipping and port management, and maritime engineering.

Some of these students have only recently moved to a campus within the city centre, having previously been located at a satellite campus on the water's edge, so our interaction with them had been minimal. This was an excellent chance to meet them in an environment that was familiar to them and will hopefully result in increased engagement from this cohort of students.

Students will often only interact with professional services if they can clearly see what's in it for them

2. Free stuff

With so much else going on their lives, students will often only interact with professional services if they can clearly see what's in it for them, commonly known as WIIFM syndrome. We decided that one way to attract the students was to offer them something for free, something fun and something useful. This resulted in three ideas which have been useful separately but can easily be combined.

The first was a LinkedIn photo booth. Our initial trial was during graduation week when we knew the students would be dressed smartly. We have now expanded this as an offer to students attending our careers fairs too. By enticing students with the offer of a free photo, taken by one of the universities photography students, we were then able to chat to them about our other services and smuggle some useful literature into their bags.

At graduation, we combined the LinkedIn photo booth with the opportunity to have a fun single or group photo with a range of props. These included foam hands, trophies and a Smooglie. For those not in the know, a Smooglie is a handmade sock monkey. Solent Futures commissioned the creation of one for each school as well as a graduate Smooglie. These were an excellent talking points and attracted interested parents and children to our stand, thus bringing the graduate along with them.

The final freebie is the Solent Futures Clothing Closet. In brief, we provide access to free professional clothing for students and graduates attending job interviews, networking events or starting a new position. As well as providing the clothes, we have also engaged students in the promotion of the closet including undertaking photoshoots, makeover sessions and creating a Look Book. Again, while enticing them in with the offer of free clothes, we have been able to chat with them about mock interviews, CV checking, guidance and the other services we offer.

Solent Future Assistants have been invaluable in promoting our events across campus, posting on social media as well as plugging our services to their peers

3. Pay them!

Finally, we resorted to paying them.

In order to get our message out to those students who most need our help, we decided to take on a number of Solent Futures reps from targeted courses across the university. Their role was simple: we would email them about events, workshops or other significant opportunities, and they would make sure that everyone on their course heard about it. This has resulted in improved attendance at careers fairs and other events, with record numbers in attendance compared with previous years.

In addition to the Solent Futures reps, we have employed and trained a number of peer mentors, placement mentors, graduate interns and Solent Futures Assistants (SFAs). The SFAs are all second-year students employed for an average of 10 hours a week during term time. As well as undertaking a signposting and triage service within the Solent Futures Centre, their help has been invaluable in promoting our events across campus, posting on social media as well as plugging our services to their peers within appropriate lectures.

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